Books

Cover Image: The Cross from a Distance

The Cross from a Distance:
Atonement in Mark's Gospel (NSBT)

Peter Bolt (Apollos, 2004)

Blurb Review by Justin Mote

Review by Justin Mote

Peter Bolt, lecturer in NT at Moore College, Sydney, has contributed a study on atonement in Mark's gospel in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series edited by Don Carson. The title comes from the description of some women who were watching as Jesus died ‘from a distance', Mark 15:40. However Bolt shows that at the cross God has come close to us.

In five chapters the book looks at the theme of the cross as it develops through the narrative of Mark's gospel. In the first chapter, dealing with 1:14-8:26, Bolt argues that the ‘bridegroom' parable of 2:20 refers to the cross, which abolishes all religion (even God's own religion of the OT) and therefore must lead to faith in Jesus alone, the theme of 4:35-8:26. In the second chapter Bolt focuses on Jesus' three predictions of the cross in the central section of Mark from 8:27-10:52. He shows the divine necessity of the cross as Jesus will drink the cup of God's wrath, be baptised in suffering and give his life as a ransom for many. There is, therefore, the impossible possibility that those with faith receive mercy.

In the third chapter Bolt focuses largely on Mark 13, which he believes is all about Jesus' death and resurrection ‘rather than about the second coming or the destruction of the temple in AD70.' (p91) Bolt describes the chapter as ‘an apocalyptic preparation for the passion.' The cross is the destructive act of sacrifice, the worst suffering that there has ever been and is the event prior to ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds'. Bolt sees the predictions of chapter 13 fulfilled in the resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Jesus. In the fourth chapter Bolt takes us to the events at the cross. He shows in a compelling way that as Jesus is handed over, mocked and cries in dereliction He is under the wrath of God. The final chapter of the book deals with 15:40-16:8. In it we are shown how Jesus' resurrection not only fulfils earlier predictions, but as ‘the foretaste of his exaltation, the resurrection is Mark's way of indicating that the Son of Man has now come to the Ancient of Days... and is now seated at the right hand of God, installed in power' (p151).

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book for a number of reasons. First, Bolt made me open the text of Mark and read it carefully. Although his book surveys the whole of Mark's Gospel it does so in a way that makes the reader look at what Mark actually says. Secondly, I found it refreshing to look at a theological theme through reading a single book of the Bible. Bolt is not systematising but rather showing us Mark's perspective on the cross. Thirdly, I found Bolt's applications of the cross insightful and helpful. Bolt is not just presenting an academic study of the atonement. At the end of each section he shows the impact of the cross on the first century world and on ours too. For example, the cross has abolished religion and calls for faith. The cross shows God's plan for mercy to the world. The cross guarantees for us that the future of the world is in God's hands. The cross shows us that we need not be forsaken by God. The cross proclaims that we have hope for the future; there is ‘no need to fear the grave any more.'(p172)

It is not often that a ‘theological' book makes the reader want to go and tell people about the achievement of the cross. This book did that for me! It deserves to be widely read.

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