Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. II Timothy 4:11
The year was AD 50. The first missionary journey was complete. The early church judged it a success, for faithful missionaries were used to plant new churches. Then, through conflict with certain Jews, the celebration continued as the church rejoiced in the Spirit’s development of truth through the significant decision of the Jerusalem Council: Do not require laws to burden the Gentiles (Acts 15:19).
The gospel of pure grace was preserved as the church understood more fully that there is free salvation in Jesus Christ and that the laws of the Old Testament, including circumcision, are not required for a believer to be received into the church.
But unforeseen conflict arose. Paul and Barnabas, the mission leaders, had a sharp contention as plans were being made for a second journey. So sharp, that “they departed asunder” (Acts 15:39). The contention? The reliability of John Mark.
Paul refused to bring him along because he left them mid-way through the first journey (Acts 13:13, 15:38). Paul’s concern was whether Mark would show himself unreliable once again. Paul knew that on the second missionary journey there would be new challenges and more difficulties in the planting of churches. The contention led Paul to choose Silas (15:40-41).
Barnabas was adamant that they bring Mark (Acts 15:37) but, through Paul’s refusal, Barnabas returned to Cyprus, taking the ‘unreliable’ Mark with him (15:38).
Who was right in the disagreement?
In the church, respected leaders can disagree. They can have the same information, the same objectives, yet their perspectives on the process can differ. In the end, diverse perspectives can be used to reach the same end.
So, was John Mark reliable? He certainly was, for he matured through special friendships with the great apostles, Paul and Peter, and showed himself faithful in the early church.
John. Mark. John Mark. Marcus. Four different designations for a Jew born in Jerusalem. It was to his house that Peter first traveled after his miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12:12). We can speculate that his home was the location of the Last Supper (Mark 14:12-25), and he may have even seen Jesus directly in the Garden of Gethsemane (14:51-52).1
But it was with Peter that Mark had his first real encounters with the gospel. For a few verses after Peter’s appearance at his home, we read that Barnabas and Paul chose Mark for the first missionary journey (Acts 12:25). Based on Luke’s narrative in Acts, Barnabas began as the leader, but then Paul took the lead role as his name is mentioned prior to Barnabas soon into the first journey (13:9). So perhaps Barnabas saw something in Mark right away.
Barnabas may have seen gifts in Mark that led to his perspective in his disagreement with Paul. We do not know why Mark left them on the first journey—perhaps he felt he had had enough experience, but it is possible that he felt apprehension about the dangers that awaited them as they would travel into Pamphylia and Galatia.2 We can understand young Mark’s concern over his own ability to continue being a valuable assistant to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5).
While Paul interpreted Mark’s departure as desertion, Barnabas gave him the benefit of the doubt, and as it turns out, he was right about Mark.3
It should be noted that Mark was the nephew of Barnabas (Col 4:10). We know the strength of family ties; therefore, that might lead one to side with Paul in the disagreement from Acts 15. But the references to Mark following this episode tell a much different story.
So, who was Mark? He was the human writer of the Gospel according to Mark, and he may have been a man of brevity as deduced from the multiple uses in his gospel of the words “straightway,” “suddenly,” and “immediately” (roughly 40 times in the sixteen chapters). This personality trait may have led to his returning to Jerusalem on the first missionary journey once they reached the shores of Pamphylia.
But Mark was reliable, and a crucial player in the growth of the early church.
Peter saw it first, and a special friendship formed through that first appearance at his home. The clearest example is from Peter’s first epistle. “The church that is at Babylon [Rome] elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son” (I Pet. 5:13). My son! Peter demonstrated the reliability of Mark through this simple greeting, and showed that Mark was one with him in the faith, a spiritual son.
In addition, Mark’s friendship with Peter contributed to Mark being a reliable author of his own gospel account. He may have written it during his time with Peter in Rome in the mid-60s AD. Mark may not have been an apostle, but his close association with Peter helped solidify the authority of what he wrote as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
And this gives special meaning to what Mark records concerning the resurrection, as the angel brought comfort to those standing at Jesus’ tomb. “But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you” (Mark 16:7). And Peter. As a friend of Peter, and especially as one writing these words in the presence of Peter in Rome, the comfort for Peter is especially powerful.4 Three denials of his Lord. But through Mark’s gospel, words of the angel were recorded for all posterity that he was forgiven of all his sins, and that his salvation was confirmed through the resurrection of his Lord!
Yet Mark is a unique figure in the New Testament because he had special double-relationships with the great apostles Peter and Paul. Barnabas and Peter recognized it before Paul. But Paul did come to that same conclusion, for from his house arrest (first Roman imprisonment), he brought a greeting to the Colossians from Mark himself (Col. 4:10, Phile. 24). Mark very well could have reached Rome in the same manner as Paul, on the ship that experienced great perils (Acts 27).
Nonetheless, he came to seek out Paul and support him in the gospel ministry, and stayed until Peter came and wrote his epistles in Rome.
Upon Mark’s coming to Rome, ten years had passed since Paul and Barnabas argued over his reliability. Now he came to Paul to demonstrate a love for further missionary work. I can envision Paul and Mark reconciling their differences and grasping one another with their right hands of fellowship. What a beautiful thing when men can once again come to see one another as brothers in the Lord!
Paul’s new understanding that Mark was profitable for the gospel ministry was further strengthened during his second Roman imprisonment in AD 67. Facing execution under the cruel hands of Emperor Nero, a reflective Paul wrote to Timothy in Ephesus, and sought out Mark. “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (II Tim 4:11). Mark had left Rome for Asia previously, but now was being remembered and sought out once again by Paul.
Remember, at one time, Paul and Barnabas had stood face to face in uncompromising stature, at odds over the reliability of Mark. Now Paul beckons for him, for his thoughts in his final penned chapter continued to be on those he loved, many who ministered to him during his time as a missionary and prisoner (II Tim. 4:9-22). And Mark makes the list.
We cannot be certain whether Mark made it to Rome in time to see Paul this last time, but we can be certain that Mark was such a man as described by Paul: profitable [useful], and faithful in his calling to the church.
What was the end of Mark? Tradition has cited martyrdom in the city of Alexandria (for it has been suggested he had a hand in the church’s origin), but his association with that city seems a likely concoction of the early church.5 It is difficult to solidify his time in Alexandria, but due to ease of travel, it is certainly plausible. If true, then he was profitable and reliable to the end, willing to give himself for the cause of Christ.
But remember the disagreement in Acts 15. The point was not whether Paul or Barnabas was right. Again, different perspectives using the same information. What was important was that in the end, Mark showed himself reliable. God used Mark to write a gospel account and provide spiritual support to both Peter and Paul.
Significantly, he understood through his associations with Peter and Paul the different perspectives of God’s people at that time: the Gentiles (through Paul’s influence as a missionary) and the Jews (through Peter’s min- istry in Judea). Gentiles and Jews holding different perspectives themselves—yet one as a body of Christ. This balance God used in Mark for the good of His church.
And through our study of Mark, we have seen something of Barnabas. He was a man who saw something special in Mark, for Barnabas was a man of second chances. To him we turn next time.
1 J. Gresham Machen. The New Testament: An Introduction to Its Literature and History (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), 200.
2 Don Doezema, Upon This Rock, (Grand Rapids, MI: Protestant Reformed Sunday School Teachers Association, 2003), 181.
3 Cory Griess. “Barnabas” (sermon preached May 6, 2018). https:// www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=5618116167
4 Kenneth Koole. “I know not the Man” (sermon preached July 11, 2021). https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo. asp?SD=7112 1152955723
5 F.F. Bruce, New Testament History (New York: Doubleday & Company, 1980), 419.