When trying to determine a specific theme for each of the gospels, a person encounters some difficulty. Evidence of this can be seen in the variety of themes suggested for this gospel of Mark. Among them we find Jesus, the Son of God; the gospel of the Lion of Judah’s Tribe; Jesus the Mighty King; Jesus the Servant of Jehovah. Some draw their theme from a general overview of the entire book; others focus attention upon some specific text. In this instance, it would seem appropriate to view this gospel as a record of the ministry of Jesus, culminating in the cross. He is the Servant of Jehovah, Isaiah 42:1-2, Who is “come not to be ministered unto but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many,” Mark 10:45.
The authorship of this gospel by Mark is uncontested. All agree that he is the John Mark mentioned in Acts 12:12: “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.” This is a reference to Peter, who after the angel had led him out of the prison gates, went to the home of John Mark’s mother.
This tells us something about him. We do not know much detail about his personal family. We do know he was a cousin of Barnabas. We learn of this in Colossians 4:10, “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him).” Barnabas hailed from the island of Cyprus. He is mentioned in Acts 4:36-37 as one who contributed money to the coffers of the early church and he is called, “Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is being interpreted, the son of consolation), a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus.” Whether this means that Mark was also from Cyprus, we cannot be sure.
We do learn from the gospel accounts that Mary, Mark’s mother, was a wealthy woman. She evidently owned her own house in Jerusalem and had servants. This is drawn from the fact that her house became the meeting place for important events. It is generally agreed that the “upper room” was in her house. Here Jesus celebrated the last Passover. The disciples met there after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit to this place. This explains why Peter, being released from prison, went there without hesitation, because it was there he was sure to find his fellow saints.
This being true, Mark witnessed at least some of the ministry of Jesus. As a young man, the presence of Jesus in his house was common. He must have heard Jesus preach, saw His miracles, and personally, to some degree at least, received the gospel of the Son of God. The garden scene which he describes so vividly in chapter 14:43-53, contains a reference to a young man who followed Jesus, even after the disciples fled, whom the soldiers grabbed, but he fled away naked. This is mentioned only by Mark and we consider this a personal reference to himself. In addition to this, he made a reference to “Simon the Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus,” Mark 15:21. These probably were personal acquaintances of Mark and known to his readers, giving indication that Mark was knowledgeable of the people associated with the history of the crucifixion.
John Mark became involved in the active ministry of the early church. In Acts 12:25 we read, “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.” This same Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, Acts.13:5. However, according to Acts 13:13 John Mark left them at Perga and returned to Jerusalem. Why, we do not know; but Paul considered this to be disloyalty and refused to take him along on the second journey. Barnabas felt differently, and this difference brought about the separation of the two. Paul took Silas on his journey and Barnabas went in a different direction with Mark.
Evidently, Paul and Mark were reconciled to each other later on. The reference in Colossians 4:10 indicates that Mark was with Paul while the latter was imprisoned in Rome. The same is indicated in Philemon 24. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, instructs him to “take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (II Tim. 4:11).
Finally, we also conclude from Peter’s reference to Mark in I Peter 5:13, “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son,” that he was with Peter to a great extent. This is confirmed by the early church fathers, such as Iranaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Jerome that Mark spent much time with Peter, in fact wrote down much of what Peter preached, and that this makes up the bulk of the material in his gospel. It is confirmed to this extent that Peter’s sermon, recorded in Acts 10:34-43, preached in the home of Cornelius, is a condensation of this gospel. The gospel of Mark follows precisely the order mentioned in that sermon of Peter.
DATE, PURPOSE, AND THEME
The question of date of authorship is closely connected with another question which deals with Marks relationship with Peter. Did Mark write during the lifetime of Peter and therefore have his personal authorization to publish what he had preached, or did he write after Peter’s death? It cannot be proven with conviction either way. The earlier date would place it about A.D. 60, and the later date A.D. 70. It is quite commonly agreed among conservative Bible scholars that Mark wrote first and that Luke and Matthew used his gospel as source material.
There are a number of considerations that lead us to believe that Mark had a Roman audience in mind as he wrote this gospel. A first consideration is the reference to Simon of Cyrene, who is identified as “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21). Not only does this tell us that Mark knew the people involved in the history of the crucifixion, but one thing further must be stated and that is that this Rufus became a member of the church at Rome. Paul extends his personal greetings to him in his letter (see Romans 16:13): “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” We would ask why would Mark identify the man who carried Jesus’ cross as the father of Alexander and Rufus unless he thought it would bring the gospel closer to those who would read it? They would be able to identify with Rufus because they were Romans.
Mark also used Latin expressions which he favored over against similar Greek ones which he could have used. Examples of this include modion for bushel inMark 4:21, keenson (census) for tribute in Mark 12:14,kenturion for centurion in Mark 15:39. He used these Latinized forms because they would be more understood by his readers.
One cannot help but read this gospel narrative and conclude that there is little reference to Jewish law and custom. This is especially noticeable when compared to Matthew. Mark did not see the need for such when he had Romans in mind.
The style of writing also leads to the same conclusion. I suppose that the style reflected the character of Mark, just as the style of other books of the Bible reflected their respective authors. He writes in short, concise sentences, omitting long discourses, stating the facts and moving on to more events. This was especially adapted to the Roman world and, we might add, to our day and age as well. In the gospel of Mark we find a concise statement about the ministry of Jesus. A few things serve to illustrate this. The conjunction “and” is used 1,331 times in this gospel. It serves to join long sequences of events. Also the Greek word translated “straightway, immediately, forthwith” is used 42 times in Mark, more than all the rest of the New Testament put together. The present tense of the verb is used 151 times, this too indicating action.
This is not to say that Mark was not concerned about the gospel and its impact upon his readers and the church of all ages. It certainly would not do for us to say that the gospel of Mark is nothing more than a record of events. The opening sentence disproves this idea, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). The gospel contains a record of events in the life of Jesus which make up the good news, the evangel. Jesus’ ministry of teaching, miracles, warning the wicked, comforting His people, climbing the hill of Calvary, rising from the dead, and His promise of return make up the content of the gospel. Mark’s record is the beginning, the setting forth of the first principles, of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This leads us to consider briefly what the theme of this gospel is. It would seem that we should follow the identification given in the first verse of the gospel, “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The identification “Son of God” is not included in the Nestle’s Greek text though included in the KJV. This becomes a disputed point dealing with the reliability of manuscripts. Besides this, it would seem proper to bring together the general emphasis that Jesus worked and taught and did miracles as God’s servant. He came to be busy in the things of His Father’s house. Mark records this in detail and we must conclude from this that Jesus is in truth God’s servant.
His service however is not external, that is, He has not come to serve man, but He is God’s servant to do His will. As Isaiah declared, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street” (Isaiah 42:1-2). Mark gives us an account of the ministry of this Servant of Jehovah.
Well may all who read take comfort in the work which the Lord Jesus accomplished as God’s servant. Bear in mind that the Christian Romans of Mark’s day were in the midst of the severest persecution. Mark more than likely lost his trusted spiritual fathers, both Peter and Paul, in the blood bath of Nero. This monster hunted, burned, tore apart, ruthlessly made the sport of the wicked, God’s saints in order to please the bloodthirsty lust of these depraved people.
The comfort comes in Mark 10:29-30 where Jesus assured Peter, “There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”
That is good news from the Servant of Jehovah.
Well may we read and believe.