The second book in chronological order in the New Testament is the Gospel of Mark. As you read in my posts with an Introduction to The Gospels and the MANual Lessons in Matthew, many scholars believe that Mark was the first Gospel written since Matthew and Luke both used it as one of their sources. The three Synoptic Gospels tell many of the same stories, often in the same words, and frequently follow the same order of events. But Mark is different since it begins with Jesus as an adult and with a different theme than Matthew and Luke.
Early Christian authors, including Papias of Hierapolis (60-130 A.D.), Irenaeus of Lyons (130-200 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.), Tertullian, Origen, and Jerome, all were unanimous in attributing this gospel to a “Mark” who was a close associate of the Apostle Peter. It’s generally agreed today that this person is the John Mark who accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey (Acts 13:13).
Traditionally, Mark’s Gospel is based on Peter’s preaching. This is significant since there is no tendency to call the work the “Gospel According to Peter.” Additionally, the canonization (ordering of the books) in the New Testament normally required authorship by an apostle to qualify for acceptance. This evidence increases the likelihood that Mark was actually the author since the early church would not assign a Gospel to a minor figure like John Mark unless he were in fact its author.
About Mark’s Gospel
Mark is a short, succinct, and fast-moving narrative of only 16 chapters, often using words like “immediately.” Although all four Gospel writers devote significant time to Jesus’ last days, His death and humility are central to the entire Gospel of Mark.
Mark also includes the “messianic secret,” which is one of the most notable themes of this Gospel. Mark’s Jesus is a secretive and mysterious figure. He teaches his disciples in secret, He commands those He has healed not to tell anyone. He commands demons to be quiet when they begin to announce His identity. The disciples seem to rarely understand what Jesus is talking about.
One reason Mark may have emphasized a messianic secret is to demonstrate that the Messiah must suffer and die, which was contrary to the expectation by Jesus’ followers of a conquering King. The followers witness His miracles and listen to His wisdom. They correctly identify Him as the Messiah. But they never expected Him to be executed at a young age.
Thus, the key verse is Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (NIV)
Written to Romans
The Gospel of Mark is dated sometime between 55 A.D. and 65 A.D. primarily written for Christian Gentiles; people of a non-Jewish faith living in Rome. Mark often explains Jewish terms and customs (e.g., 7:3f., 11:13, 12:42) to the intended audience that seems to have been experiencing persecution (see 8:34-38, 10:38f., 13:9-13). Mark most likely wrote from Rome since it is believed that Peter spent the last part of his life in Rome. Other New Testament books also place John Mark there at the same time (e.g. 2 Timothy 4:11).
The Blueprint for Mark’s Gospel
Again, Mark’s narrative begins not at Jesus’ birth (as in Matthew and Luke), but at Jesus’ baptism as an adult. His Gospel is organized into seven sections that describe Jesus’ life and ministry.
Chapter 1 begins with a quotation from Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, about John the Baptist, who prophesied the coming of the Messiah. This chapter briefly describes the baptism as an adult and the temptation of Jesus.
The beginning of the second section of the book (1:14-6:29) describes when Jesus calls Simon Peter and his brother Andrew to follow Him for ministry along with the other ten disciples (1:14-20). Mark continues this section, known as His Galilean Ministry, by explaining about Jesus teaching with authority and performing miracles.
Men of God: Peter
Although Mark wrote this Gospel, he learned a lot from Simon Peter. Jesus apparently saw some basic character traits in fishermen that drew Him to build His disciple team around guys with that background. He started with Peter (whom Jesus later named Peter meaning “rock”) and his younger brother, Andrew. Peter was a guy who often put his foot in his mouth by speaking before thinking. He was impulsive and first to jump out of the boat to join Jesus on the water before wavering in his faith and sinking like a stone until Jesus rescued him. Peter was also identified as a disciple three times and denied Jesus three times. But he eventually came to the right answer whenever Jesus questioned him.
- Do you have the tendency to think before you speak? How can the examples of Peter in the New Testament show us how to follow Jesus?
- Peter passed on the wisdom gained from his life following Jesus to Mark for his Gospel. Do you have a younger guy to teach about life?
Section three (6:1- 9:32) depicts Jesus and His disciples’ ministry beyond Galilee. It describes the miracle of feeding five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. It also describes the miracle of Jesus walking on water (6:49), Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah (8:29), the transfiguration (9:2-5), and when Jesus predicts His death and resurrection (9:32).
Section four (9:33-36) covers the period when Jesus goes to Capernaum. He preaches to His disciples about who is the greatest, “If anyone wants to be first, they must become last, and a servant to all.” (9:35) and warns about all types of temptations.
At Issue: Humility
Is there a tougher principle in Scripture for men to come to terms with than Mark 9:35? We’ve had it drilled into our heads that who comes in last is a loser. Competition is the key to getting ahead. Most of us are conditioned to do whatever it takes to finish first since grade school.
Changing our mindset to become more like Jesus is extremely hard. But it can be done. The process starts with a big swallow of our pride. Reversing the course of our quest to be the best begins by viewing things from God’s perspective.
- In what areas do you struggle with pride?
- Who can help you learn to become more of a humble servant, like Christ?
Jesus then goes to Judea in section five (Mark 10). There, He teaches on marriage after the Pharisees tried to trap Him with their questions about divorce. Jesus taught about keeping our child-like faith (10:15). He spoke to the rich young man about selling all his possessions to gain eternal life (10:17-31). He predicted His death and resurrection again to His disciples (10:33-34). Jesus taught about serving others (10:35-45) and performs the miracle of restoring sight to a blind man who shows faith (10:52).
Section six (chapters 11- 15) starts with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the back of a colt (11:1-11). In Jerusalem, the religious leaders start questioning Jesus’ authority. He teaches many lessons through answering questions, telling parables, and warning the people. Jesus clears the Temple by overturning the tables of the money changers. He tells of the future and about His return. Mark tells us about Jesus’ ultimate deed of servanthood- dying on the cross. The Lord’s Supper is recounted (14:17-26) before Jesus is then arrested, tried, and crucified on the cross.
The last section of Mark has a peculiar feature: two endings. In some translations, Mark’s Gospel ends in 16:8 saying the women who came to the tomb said nothing because they were afraid. But many translations include verses 9-20 not found in the earliest manuscripts. Most scholars believe those were not composed by John Mark but were added later in order to give more closure to the Gospel.
God Buddy Focus
Critics like Bart Ehrman and others claim these inconsistencies in the Bible should have us question our faith. Uncertainty with the ending of Mark’s Gospel may make you uncomfortable or lose confidence in the accuracy of Scripture. But the purpose of the Bible is not to defend the faith, but to actually help increase it. God calls us to trust Him in the face of uncertainty or when confronted about our faith.
We will learn in later lessons from the book of Hebrews that faith is the assurance of things unseen and hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). Whenever you have doubts about your faith, look to the evidence and experiences of those who came before you.
- Who do you go to with questions about your faith: a pastor, professor, spiritual mentor, or GodBuddy?
- What tools can you use to help investigate the evidence of the Bible?
My next post will provide an overview of the Gospel of Luke.