Introduction to the Gospel of Mark
Although the Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four gospels, it may very well be the most important of the four. Due to the beauty and simplicity of the text, the Gospel of Mark is a great introduction to the Christian faith. The text flows quickly from scene to scene—like a person telling a dream. However, this is no dream, but rather it is here where we see Jesus rolling up his sleeves as he came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45 KJV).
According to Papias, bishop of Hierpolis (circa 140 A.D.), Mark was the interpreter of Peter’s account as he wrote down on paper all of his sermons and teaching. This tradition is confirmed by other writers as well (Sanner 264). Here is what Papias says:
Mark, who was Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, all that he recollected of what Christ had said or done. For he was not a hearer of the Lord or a follower of his. He followed Peter, as I have said, at a later date, and Peter adapted his instruction to practical needs, without any attempt to give the Lord’s words systematically. So that Mark was not wrong in writing down some things in this way from memory, for his one concern was neither to omit or to falsify anything that he had heard (Barclay 4).
Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Tertulian, and the Anti-Marcionite Prologue to Mark all concur (MacDonald 133).
As noted, tradition believes that Peter influenced the author greatly, calling him “my son” (1 Pet 5:13). Since Mark was so close to Peter’s heart, this makes it very likely that he received the eyewitness account of Peter. This, combined with what he had learned in his mother’s house (Acts 12:12) and from other leaders in the church, helped him to pen this gospel.
In this text we find that the author must have known Jerusalem and Palestine very well due to his descriptive accounts (i.e. The Upper Room). The use of the Aramaic language as well as the elaborate descriptions of Jewish customs further strengthens the case for Marcan authorship. In Matthew Henry’s commentary Dr. Whitby suggests that although
…it is true that Mark was no apostle, yet we have all the reason in the world to think that both he and Luke were of the number of the seventy disciples, who companied with the apostles all along (Acts 1:21), Who had a commission like that of the apostles (Luke 10:19 compared with Mark 16:18), and who, it is highly probable, received the Holy Ghost when they did (Acts 1:15; 2:1-4), so that it is no dimutation at all to the validity or value of this gospel (Henry 364).
If what Matthew Henry’s commentary says is true, Mark was one of the original seventy disciples that followed Jesus, was filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and through his growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ, contributed to the early church. As mentioned earlier, we know that the house of Mark’s mother was a place of gathering for believers like a home church. As he grew up in this protected environment his faith was never really tested.
But the word of God grew and multiplied (Acts:12:24). As Saul (who later became known as Paul) and Barnabas set out on the first ever missionary journey, they decided to take along young John Mark; who, disillusioned and discouraged, decided to return to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).
Due to the success of the first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas decide to set out on another missionary journey, visiting their “brethren in every city where [they] have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they [are doing]” (Acts 15:36). Barnabas
“determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus (Acts 15:37-39).
What Happened Afterward?
Fortunately, the story doesn’t end here. God wasn’t through with John Mark. Tradition states that sometime after Barnabas and Mark went to Cyprus, he left Barnabas and went to Egypt and founded the church of Alexandria. Not only was he the founder of the church of Alexandria, but he was also the first bishop of that city (Lockyer 680). It is worthwhile noting that “so great were his converts, both in number and in sincerity of commitment, says Eusebius, that the great Jewish philosopher, Plilo, was amazed” (Lockyer 680). It is assuring to know that when we fall our God is gracious enough to pick us up, wipe the dust off our backs, and continue to use us.
When Mark resurfaces in the Bible, he has gone from being viewed as a deserter and a traitor to a valuable instrument of the Lord. When Paul was imprisoned in Rome the Bible states that Mark was with him (Col. 4:10). Paul, who earlier did not trust Mark to accompany him on the second missionary journey, now regards him as a fellow laborer in Christ (Philemon 24). As a matter of fact, the apostle esteems Mark so much that, near his death, Paul wrote to Timothy asking him to
“Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry (2 Tim 4:9-11).
Date and Place
Since Peter greatly influenced John Mark, it can be deduced that the gospel was written before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which occurred in 70 A.D. It is believed that the gospel was written after Peter’s death (circa 64-65 A.D.). Thus, Mark penned his gospel between 65-70 A.D.
It is believed that John Mark wrote this gospel from Rome. There are three principal reasons that lead to this conclusion. The first is that Mark translates Aramaic terms (5:41, 7:34, 7:11, 14:36, 15:34) as well as expounds on Jewish customs (7:3-4). If he was writing the gospel from Palestine, there would not be any reason to translate terms or expound on customs that people are familiar with. Also the author chose to use a number of Latin words (i.e. centurion, denarius, legion, praetorium).
The third reason can be found in Peter’s first epistle. Peter mentions that Mark was with him in Babylon (1 Pet 5:13). During the New Testament period Rome was frequently referred to as Babylon. (BBC 264). If the gospel was written in Rome, this could explain why Mark emphasized action and movement as he writes of Jesus being the humble Servant. There is always movement through this gospel. According to NASB “the Gospel of Mark has been called a moving picture of the ministry of Jesus” (983).
As mentioned earlier, Mark’s gospel does not emphasize words or long sermons; but rather flows from one action-packed event to another. Unlike the other Gospels, Mark records only four parables and nineteen miracles. Mark changes from one event to another by frequenting the use of the Greek word Euthus. This colorful word, which is used forty-seven times in this Gospel, describes “directly, at once, soon, as soon as, forthwith, immediately, shortly, straightway” (Strong 33, 1112).
Attention to Details
Even though Mark has essentially the same elements as Matthew and Luke, it is distinguished because of its attention to details. The following are several examples:
“…and Jesus went before them to Jerusalem” (10:32; cp. Matthew 16:21; Luke 17:11; )
“…asleep on a pillow (4:38; cp. Matthew 8:23-27)
“…in hundreds and fifties (6:40; cp. Matthew 14:15-21)
“…and he took them in his arms (10:13-16; cp. Matthew 19:13-15, Luke 18:15-17)
Humanity of Jesus
It is in this Gospel that Mark gives one of the clearest accounts concerning the humanity of Jesus. Even though Jesus is completely God, he is also the hypostatic union; that is, completely God and completely human. A few of Mark’s examples are listed below:
He was amazed (6:6);
He was disappointed (8:12);
He was displeased (10:4);
He was angry (11:15-17);
He was sorrowful (14:34);
In the original text the Gospel stops at Mark 16:8. This is known because the early manuscripts do not contain verses nine through twenty. Also the literary style of these verses seems to indicate that that this section of the book was not authored by Mark himself. It is possible that one or some of the early church fathers added it in order to give the Gospel a complete ending.
Hypostatic Union of Christ
One of Mark’s purposes can be stated in one phrase—the hypostatic union of Christ. This union of Christ, fully God and fully man, cannot be found more vividly than in this gospel. Even though Jesus was human and laid aside his divine privileges, he did not cease to be God. Mark clearly present’s Jesus as God’s Son (1:1, 1:24, 3:11, 5:7, 9:7). Christ’s divinity is also displayed in no less than nineteen miracles. He also asserted his authority as God when he dealt with the Pharisees concerning the Sabbath day (2:23-3:6), unclean hearts (7:1-23), and concerning his authority (11:27-33). Clearly he is God—the only one who could appease the wrath of the Holy and Infinite God.
As mentioned earlier, Mark’s gospel demonstrates the humanity of Jesus. Not only did Jesus humble himself by becoming human, he “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). He truly was the “Suffering Servant” mentioned in Isaiah. Mark 10:45 succinctly summarizes the purpose behind the Perfect and Suffering Servant: “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The Servant's Love for Sinners
The Parable of the Tenants (12:1-12) shows just how much Jesus loved us. While we were still sinners (Rom 5:8), Christ came as a suffering servant and died a shameful death, “even the death of the cross” (Phil 2:8). He sacrificed his life, so that “ they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). He came to this earth as an obedient and humble servant to forgive people of their sins and to give them eternal life.
Mark describes the Suffering Servant’s death, burial, and resurrection to demonstrate the Lord as Victor. He wanted to hearten and galvanize believers as they girded themselves to face ostracism, ridicule, and brutal martyrdom under hostile Roman emperors (Sanner 267). If believers want to be true imitators of Jesus Christ, then the Gospel According to Mark will help immensely in the Christians task to become true and faithful servants.
Structure of the Gospel
The Servanthood of Jesus
This Gospel can be neatly divided into two parts. The first part is the servanthood of Jesus. This part clearly displays the Servant ministering to other people through miracles and through his authority over death, disease, and sickness. Jesus was serving others in a very publicly oriented ministry as he served the multitudes. In the first section there is action in which Jesus, through ministering, surfaces as a dominant, revolutionary leader as he rebukes the proud, exhorts the disheartened, and encourages the weary. It is easily comprehensible how the Jews could believe that Jesus could be the Messiah that would liberate them from their bondage to Rome, instead of from their sin.
The Road to Calvary
The second part of the gospel focuses on the road to Calvary. The key passage which leads to the shift in emphasis is stated in 8:27-31:
“And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist: but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets. And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ. And he charged them that they should tell no man of him. And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”
More than forty percent of this Gospel is devoted to the events that lead to and include the death, burial, and resurrection of the Suffering Servant. Instead of having an emphasis on serving others, Jesus focused on sacrificing himself for others, and in particular, for the lost sinner. His focus shifted primarily from the large multitudes to an individual level, particularly the twelve disciples. The second part of the Gospel can be summarized by the following verse: “And it came to pass…he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Even though he was rejected by the people who, only a short while earlier, were proclaiming him as the Messiah,
“God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).
1. The Introduction to the Gospel (1:1-1:13)
2. The Beginning of the Ministry (1:14-3:6)
3. The Expansion of the Ministry (3:7-8:26)
4. The Ministry to the Twelve (8:27-10:52)
5. The Ministry in Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)
6. The Suffering of the Servant (14:1-15:47)
7. The Resurrection of the Servant (16:1-20)
Barclay, William. The Gospel of Mark. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975.
Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible. Vol. 5 Matthew Henry’s Commentary. 6 vols. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 1992.
Lockyer, Herbert. Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.
MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary: New Testament. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, Inc., 1990.
Sanner, A. Elwood. Mark. Vol. 6 of Beacons Bible Commentary. 10 vols. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964.
Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.
Swift, C.E. Graham. “The Gospel According to Mark.” The New Bible Commentary. Ed. F. Davidson. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953.
Vine, W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers.
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