At a Glance
Author: John Mark
Audience: Roman Christians
Date: AD 50–55
Type of Literature: Ancient historical biography
Major Themes: The person of Jesus, the mission of Jesus, the work of Jesus, discipleship and faith, the kingdom realm
Prologue — 1:1–13
Jesus’ Galilee Ministry: Phase 1 — 1:14–3:6
Jesus’ Galilee Ministry: Phase 2 — 3:7–6:13
Jesus Leaves Galilee — 6:14–8:21
Jesus Journeys to Jerusalem — 8:22–10:52
Jesus’ Jerusalem Ministry — 11:1–13:37
Jesus’ Passion — 14:1–15:47
Jesus’ Resurrection — 16:1–8 (9–20)
God has given the world a treasure with the Gospel of Mark! What a beautiful description we find of Jesus, the Anointed One, within its pages. Mark unveils the Lord Jesus before our eyes as the true Servant of God, holy, harmless, and merciful! As God’s Servant we find Jesus very busy in this Gospel healing, teaching, and working wonders. You will fall in love with Jesus Christ as you read this inspired account of his life.
Many believe Mark was a disciple of Peter and received much of the material given in his Gospel from Peter, for Peter describes Mark as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). The church fathers Papias and Clement of Alexandria both state that Mark wrote a factual and inspired Gospel with the help of Peter while Peter was still living. We know for sure that Mark wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and gave us a vibrant, striking picture of the life of the Messiah, Jesus, the Servant of the Lord. It is likely that Mark wrote this Gospel about AD 50–55. The book easily divides itself between Jesus’ Galilean ministry (1:1–8:21) and his Judean ministry (8:22–16:8).
Mark omits the narrative of Jesus’ birth and genealogy, for a servant needs no pedigree. But rather, he introduces Jesus as the one with a mission of love and power to change the world. Forty times Mark uses the Greek word eutheos, which means “immediately”! There is urgency with Jesus as he works toward completing his task of providing salvation and power to all who believe in him.
Mark records over three times as many miracles as parables. This is a Gospel of miracles! Twenty-one miracles are recorded here with two unique to Mark’s Gospel. There is a freshness and vitality about this Gospel that is gripping to the reader. See if you can read the entire Gospel through in one sitting—you’ll be on the edge of your seat! Although it is the briefest of the four Gospels, you’ll still enjoy reading about Jesus’ supreme power over both the invisible and visible worlds. He was with the wild beasts in the wilderness and subdued the even wilder nature of demon-controlled souls. He is Master over creation, man, and the devil, for he is the perfect servant who came to do the Father’s will.
Mercy triumphs in every page of Mark’s Gospel, for he writes as one set free from his past and as one who has discovered the divine surprise of mercy. May you also find mercy triumphant as you read the translation of this book. Today is the day for you to become a fervent follower of the Lord Jesus Christ!
While John Mark likely had a variety of reasons for writing his Gospel, two broad themes stand out: (1) to confirm Jesus’ messianic identity; and (2) to call believers to follow Jesus’ example. The first purpose is confirmed by the dramatic moment (Mark 8:29) where Peter confesses, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” The whole story pivots around this confirmation, though Jesus won’t be confined to anyone’s definition. Because while Peter and Israel expected a conquering hero Messiah, Jesus is the Suffering Servant Messiah. It is through the cross he achieves his full glory and full identity!
In his second purpose, Mark builds on his first by exhorting believers to follow Jesus’ example. The disciples aren’t the ones we are to model, however, for they repeatedly fail and remain relatively faithless throughout; their example is one to avoid! Instead, we are to pattern our lives after Jesus’ own faithful, cross-shaped life. As Jesus said, “If you truly want to follow me, you should at once completely disown your own life. And you must be willing to share my cross and experience it as your own” (Mark 8:34).
Author and Audience
The author of the Gospel of Mark is nearly universally recognized to be the John Mark who was related to Barnabas and lived in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). He and Barnabas and Paul once traveled together in their missionary work (Acts 13:4) until some kind of failure took place in Mark’s life and he left his team for a short period. Because of his abrupt departure, Paul refused to have Mark rejoin them from that time forward, which caused a rift between Paul and Barnabas. Even so, Barnabas the encourager still took Mark with him to advance the work of the gospel (Acts 15:36–39). It is also likely that Mark is the individual he mentions in Mark 14:51, using the common literary tool of that day when speaking of oneself by allusion.
Isn’t it amazing how God does not give up on us because of our failures? It is comforting to see how God’s mercy restored Mark and used him to write this inspired record, a gospel that will endure for all eternity. Later, while Paul was imprisoned, he asked Timothy to bring Mark to him, saying, “For he (Mark) is a tremendous help for me in my ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). So we learn that none of our failures need disqualify us if we continue to love and follow Jesus Christ. When you get to heaven, ask Mark. He will tell you that mercy triumphs over judgment!
While the Gospels were written for the church at large, the writers often had specific audiences in mind and addressed needs and concerns relevant to them. Early Christian tradition closely identifies Mark’s Gospel with Rome. This is supported by church fathers like Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. Since Mark translates Aramaic words into Greek for his readers and explains Jewish customs, a Palestinian audience seems to be ruled out. And because he uses Roman words in place of Greek ones, Christians in Rome were a likely target audience. He wrote to these Roman Christians to bring encouragement and assurance in their faith.
The Person of Jesus. Mark wrote his Gospel to write Jesus’ story; the unfolding story itself reveals who Jesus is. He clues us into the revelation of his Person in the opening stanza: “This is the beginning of the wonderful news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” These two titles, “Messiah” and “Son of God,” point to what Jesus has come to do, which is key to understanding who Jesus is: He is the bearer of God’s salvation, announced in words and deeds, teaching and miracles, and ultimately his sacrifice!
The Messianic Mission of Jesus. One of the most peculiar aspects of Mark’s Gospel is the so-called “Messianic Secret.” At various times Jesus commands his disciples not to reveal his true messianic identity. He tells others whom he’s healed to keep his identity a secret too. In fact, the demons are commanded to keep the secret! Though he clearly demonstrated his identity through his miracle and teaching ministry, his full identity as Israel’s awaited Messiah wouldn’t be revealed until the end of Mark when he was resurrected in full glory.
The Work of Jesus. Some have said Mark is a Passion narrative with a lengthy introduction. Perhaps this is a bit of an overstatement, but Jesus’ death plays a central role in this Gospel. While the work of Christ on the cross doesn’t appear until the fourteenth chapter, Mark peppers references to Jesus’ crucifixion throughout. He wrote to show that Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t a tragedy or mistake, but God’s plan from the beginning. Through suffering and death Jesus brings in the last days of God’s kingdom realm. Through the crucifixion we see Jesus was both the long-awaited Messiah as well as the Son of God, which comes through the climactic confession of the Roman centurion: “There is no doubt this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
Discipleship and Faith. At every turn in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is inviting people to follow him. This is the essence of discipleship. It’s an invitation extended to everyone and anyone. Jesus taught that this kind of following involves three things: self-denial, cross bearing, and daily living. Denying oneself is about submitting to the lordship of Christ over every ounce of one’s life. Taking up one’s cross reminds us of Jesus’ own self-denial on that cross of execution and his committal of himself fully to God’s will; it is a radical and total commitment. Finally, following Jesus is a continuous, daily act that requires living out Jesus’ teachings and example. This relationship is built on faith, which isn’t some magical formula, but comes from a repeated hearing of Jesus’ teachings and participation in his way of life.
The Kingdom Realm of God. “It is time for God’s kingdom to be experienced in its fullness!” Jesus announced at the beginning of his ministry. “Turn your lives back to God and put your trust in the hope-filled gospel!” As with the other Gospels, God’s kingdom realm takes center stage in Mark from the beginning where this opening stanza summarizes the good news Jesus brought. Later, in chapter four, Mark summarizes the entire ministry of Jesus and its effects with the term kingdom. The world is brought under “God’s kingship” in and through the work of Jesus. For Mark the kingdom realm is already dynamically in the present, yet fully experienced in the future. It’s surprising and small, yet powerful and great; beyond understanding for many, yet accessible to all; and calls people to a radical new way of living and challenges every human value.
Miracles and Mercy