How the Sacrament of Baptism is related to the Lord’s Passion and Pascha in the Orthodox Church – Mark 10:32-45, Matthew 20:17-19, Luke 9:22-27

Mark 10:32-45 – How the Sacrament of Baptism is related to the Lord’s Passion and Pascha

This Gospel reading is the third time that Jesus Christ teaches of His crucifixion and resurrection to the 12 Apostles.   The first time Jesus speaks of His Passion is in Mark 8:31-38 (Matthew 16:21-28; Luke 9:22-27); and, the second time is in Mark 10:30-32 (Matthew 17:22, 23; Luke 9:43-45).   Biblical scholars refer to these three events as the Lord’s prophecies of His Passion and they speculate that the Lord brings up the issue of His impending sacrifice to create awareness in the Apostles of the events that would soon unfold and also to teach them that He will endure this of His own free will for the salvation of mankind.  What is interesting is the reactions of the Apostles when the Lord speaks on this subject each time. In the Lord’s first prophecy (Mark 8:31-38, Matthew 16:21-28, Luke 9:22-27), Jesus and His disciples had just arrived to the region of Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea Philippi was a pagan Hellenistic city. Scholars debate the reason Jesus took His disciples there, but most agree that Jesus wanted His disciples to confess that He was truly the Messiah. He begins this conversation by asking His disciples about who other people said He was. They said that some people thought He was John the Baptizer, others thought He was Elijah from heaven, and still others thought He was an ancient prophet, perhaps Jeremiah who was the defender of Israel in times of trouble (2 Macc. 15:13-16).   After hearing this, Jesus asks them who they thought He was. It was Peter who gave his own answer: “You Yourself are the Christ.” Now that the confession of Jesus’ Messiahship had been received, Jesus then had to teach them what type of Messiah He was. The Jewish people believed that the Messiah would be a powerful military figure who would smite the enemies of God and exalt Israel. Jesus was not this image of a Messiah that the Jewish people were waiting for. He instead was a humble and peaceful person and Peter making this confession could have only been done through revelation from God. It is at this point that Jesus declares that, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it….I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven…”(Matthew 16:18-19).   The Apostles thought that Peter was given preferential treatment over them by the Lord and they were rather envious because they considered each other equal in their work for the glory of God.  Many theologians believe that this recognition was misunderstood by the other Apostles and Jesus didn’t just confer this recognition to Peter, but to all the Apostles.  Some scholars also think that Jesus used Peter’s name not to single him out to bestow an honor on him but because Peter acted as the primary spokesperson for the group.  Jesus then proceeds to teach the Apostles about His impending crucifixion and resurrection. The Apostles were stunned by the disclosure. The Jews expected that the true Messiah would reign forever and Jesus telling His Apostles that He would die and be resurrected contradicted that expectation. One finds that in 1 Corinthians 1:23, the Lord’s crucifixion and death was a definite stumbling block for the Jews in believing that Jesus Christ was truly the Messiah and the Greeks considered the idea as foolishness. After Jesus tells His Apostles these things, he then takes Peter, James and John up the mountain where He is transfigured into His Divinity and the Holy Trinity manifests Himself before the Apostles eyes declaring Jesus’ Divine Sonship (Matt 17:2-8, Mark 9:2-13; Luke 9:28-36).

     The second time the Lord prophesied about His crucifixion and resurrection is in Mark 30-32 (Matt. 17:22, 23; Luke 9:43-45) after healing an epileptic. The disciples could not understand why they could not heal the man, only Jesus could and Jesus compares faith to a mustard seed and the moving of mountains (overwhelming obstacles) – if faith is strong”… nothing will be impossible..” (Matthew 17:14-23; Mark 9:17-31; Luke 9:37-42).  The third time the Lord prophesied about His crucifixion and resurrection is in Mark 10:32-45 (Matthew 20:17-19; Luke 18:31-34). In this passage the Apostles James and John requested that Jesus bestow on them the right to sit on the right and left of His Throne. Many biblical scholars believe that the Apostles really did not understand Jesus’ message and that earlier in scripture, it probably seemed to them that Peter had a special honor bestowed on Him (Matthew 16:18-19), so perhaps they felt an honor should be afforded them as well when Jesus Ascends to His Heavenly throne.    Scholars clarify this by saying that a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words and actions was entirely possible since the only reference the Apostles had for a kingdom and a throne was an earthly one. Scripturally, Jesus did not promise a visible earthly kingdom in the secular sense.  The Kingdom of God is beyond human understanding.   As history records, the Apostles would endure different struggles in their lifetime for their faith as Jesus confirms by saying to them, “you will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized..” (Mark 10:39-40) – which, they accepted willingly. (Mark 10:39).

     Most theologians agree that the cup that Jesus speaks of in these scriptural passages refer to the cup of humility and suffering and the baptism that the Lord speaks of refers to His death, Resurrection and Ascension into the Kingdom of God. Theologians align this with the Sacrament of Baptism in the Church. The Sacrament of Baptism is our death, burial and resurrection in union with Jesus Christ – an entrance into the Kingdom of God and eternal life (John 3:3) – bestowing newness of life (Romans 6:4). Orthodox Christians are reminded of this every time they witness a baptism and hear the hymn, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. Alleluia.” During the Sacrament of Baptism in the Orthodox Church, immediately after this hymn, the Reader reads St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (6:3-11) which confirms this teaching, “Brethren do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His…….”  

References:  Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, InterVarsity Press; Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware, The Lenten Triodion, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press; Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament, Luke and Acts, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke, Conciliar Press; NKJV