While I am familiar with these claims simply by living in a culture in which such claims are largely taken for granted by non-Christians, I do not think a fair reading of the synoptic gospels warrants such an assessment. To that end, I will briefly recap the first chapter of the book of Mark. The following is organized by the NIV section headings in Mark chapter 1.
John the Baptist Prepares the Way (Mark 1:1-8)
A superficial glance shows that Jesus is important enough to have a herald announcing his arrival. Attention to detail shows some other points of interest:
- The original prophecy has a messenger preparing the way for the LORD (using the name of God). According to Mark, the fulfillment has John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.
- The one coming after will John baptize with the Holy Spirit – will pour out the Holy Spirit on the people, again the work of God.
A voice from heaven announces that Jesus is His Son. “Son of God” calls up images of the Wisdom of God, the Anointed King, and the people of God. The question becomes how many of these meanings are intended. Granted that we are all children of God, still the author of Mark has already put the title "Christ" (Messiah) on the table, so at least the meaning of the Anointed King should also be considered as intended.
The Calling of the First Disciples (Mark 1:14-20)
Jesus’ arrival on the public scene coincides with the approaching kingdom of God and the announcement of good news.
Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit (Mark 1:21-28)
Jesus is identified as the Holy One of God. He has power over evil. He is said to teach with authority. It raises the question: by whose authority? While this is the first time the question of Jesus’ authority arises in Mark, it is far from the last.
Jesus Heals Many (Mark 1:29-34)
Jesus is shown to have power also to heal diseases. He does not allow demons to speak because they know who he is. The disciples are left wondering.
Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place (Mark 1:35-39)
News of Jesus spreads.
A Man With Leprosy (Mark 1:40-45)
The only certain point is that Jesus heals leprosy. Leprosy was a disease which was considered to defile a person.
After only one chapter of Mark we have already had a prophecy in which someone who is supposed to be preparing the way for the LORD (God) announces the coming of Jesus, followed by several references to Jesus possessing the same power as God, a voice from heaven calling him Son, and demons calling him the Holy One of God. I know there are those who say that in the synoptic gospels there is no sure sign of Jesus being anything other than a human Messiah (and maybe not even a Messiah), but I wonder how carefully they’re reading the text.