What does Mark 1:4 mean?
ESV: John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
NIV: And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
NASB: John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
CSB: John came baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
NLT: This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.
KJV: John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
NKJV: John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Verse Commentary:
John 1:6–8 describes John the Baptist as the witness to the Light, which is Jesus. Luke 1:5–25 goes into greater detail about John's birth to an elderly priest and his formerly barren wife. Mark simply says, "John appeared." He introduces John as an adult already performing his public ministry—calling people to repent of their sins and baptizing those who did.

Baptism did not originate with John. According to Jewish sources, a stepped bath, called a mikveh, was ordained by the Midrash to purify people before entering the Temple, to cleanse the bride and groom before marriage, and for women after birth (Leviticus 12:1–5) or after menstruation (Leviticus 15:19–30). Its most revered use, however, was for Jewish converts. The mikveh needed to be filled (or mixed) with God-given water, as from rain, a river, or a melted glacier. Although the Jews currently have no temple to enter, the mikveh is still used for the latter purposes. In Jesus' time, it's believed it was also used to convert from one Jewish sect (Essene, Pharisee, etc.) to another.

"John's baptism," then, is a purification rite for those who agreed with his call to repent for the forgiveness of their sins. Rather than asking people to offer a sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem, John offers a radical alternative for his era: simply repenting and being baptized. This message of repentance would be continued and furthered by Jesus.
Verse Context:
Mark 1:1–13 rapidly introduces the ministry of Jesus, as introduced by John the Baptist. While other Gospels include many details, the Gospel of Mark briefly sets the stage for Jesus' baptism by John. In a few short verses, we are told that John preached a message of repentance, that Jesus came to be baptized, and that Jesus spent forty days being tempted in the wilderness. The narrative quickly moves on to describe Jesus' miraculous healings.
Chapter Summary:
John the Baptist is introduced as a figure preparing the world for the arrival of the Messiah. John's baptism teaches people about their need for repentance. When Jesus arrives, and is baptized, it signals the coming of God's fulfillment and the need of people to recognize their Savior. Mark briefly notes Jesus' baptism, desert temptation, and the calling of the first four disciples. After this, Jesus begins teaching in the synagogue and performs miraculous healings which spread His fame around the region.
Chapter Context:
The first chapter of the Gospel of Mark sets the tone for the rest of the story. Mark's writing is concise, action-packed, and short on details. Within a few verses, Mark establishes the transition from the wilderness ministry of John the Baptist to the healing and preaching of Jesus Christ. This first chapter includes the calling of Jesus' earliest disciples, His early miracles, and His early teaching. This establishes the pattern shown throughout the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus mingles His teaching with miraculous signs.
Book Summary:
The Gospel of Mark emphasizes both Jesus' servanthood and His role as the promised Messiah: the Son of God. This is done through a concise, action-packed style. Mark provides relatively few details, instead focusing on actions and simple statements. This relates to the Gospel's authorship, which is believed to be based on the memories of the apostle Peter. These include many of Jesus' miracles, in contrast to other Gospels which include many more of Jesus' teachings and parables. Mark also makes frequent mention of Jesus' ministry being misunderstood by others.
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