The Gospel of Mark

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring Justice to the nations.” —Isaiah 42:1, NIV

EACH OF THE four Gospel writers described Jesus from quite different perspectives. Matthew wrote for Jewish readers, presenting Jesus as a king—the long-awaited Messiah. Luke presented Jesus as a perfect man, one who loved even the despised classes of humanity. John described Jesus as the Son of God, God’s personal representative on earth.

The Prophet Isaiah provided the right setting for Mark’s presentation of Jesus: “Here is my servant,” which is quite a different viewpoint than that taken by the other three writers. Mark’s Gospel is considered the best for young people because it is the shortest Gospel, and it is a book of action—many more miracles are here described than in the other Gospels. Mark recorded few of Jesus’ discourses, and only four of his parables. There are four “Branch” scriptures in the Old Testament that characterized Jesus in four different ways. Zechariah provided the one that characterizes Mark: “Behold, I will bring forth my Servant, the BRANCH.”—Zech. 3:8

How many views of a building would we want to see before judging it? Certainly more than one. We would prefer to see it from all of its sides. The four Gospels are like four views of Jesus’ life. They have similarities, but they also have differences. Their composite accounts result in a word-picture of Jesus that is lifelike and three-dimensional.

Who was Mark?

First of all, Mark was not one of the Twelve Apostles. From the eight references to Mark, or Marcus, we learn several things about him, which we will deal with as we go on. No doubt both names, Mark and Marcus, refer to the same person—the one who wrote the Gospel of Mark, since it is a single Greek word in the New Testament that is translated five times as ‘Mark’ and three times as ‘Marcus’.

In addition to the Roman name, Mark, he also had the name John, which is a Jewish name. (Acts 12:25) This was not unusual at that time, since Israel was under the control of the Romans. We notice the same thing in the Apostle Paul’s case—Paul is a Roman name; Saul is a Jewish name.—Acts 13:9

After Peter was thrown into prison in Jerusalem by Herod, he was miraculously released by an angel. He went immediately to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where a prayer meeting was taking place. (Acts 12:12) This shows us that Mary and her son, Mark, were early believers in the Gospel message. Peter was so impressed with Mark that he called him his “son.” (I Pet. 5:13) The term does not imply that he was Mark’s father by blood, but that he may have been instrumental in bringing him to the Lord through his personal ministry.

Mark accompanied Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey, but before the trip was over he left them. (Acts 13:13) Because Mark did not accompany them to the end of the journey, some time later Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp contention” about taking Mark with them a second time. (Acts 15:39) Paul was upset because Mark had previously left them, no doubt resulting in a more difficult journey. Because they could not agree, Paul and Barnabas separated over this issue—Barnabas went in one direction with Mark, Paul went in another with Silas.

Barnabas was related to Mark, either as a cousin or a nephew. Colossians 4:10 says Mark was “sister’s son to Barnabas.” However, although Wilson’s Emphatic Diaglott says Mark was “nephew” to Barnabas, most translations say he was Barnabas’ “cousin.” Because they were kinsmen, Barnabas may have taken a more charitable view of Mark’s actions. But the Apostle Paul later changed his mind about him, stating that Mark was a great help to him. See II Timothy 4:11.

So Mark was a man who came to a knowledge of the truth early in the Gospel Age. Although not an apostle, he could have heard Jesus speak at Jerusalem. His mother is spoken of as one of the Early Christians, quite possibly learning the truth through the ministry of Peter.

Some Bible scholars claim that Mark received the information described in his Gospel from Peter. Certainly Peter would have had a great influence on Mark’s mind, because he could speak from first-hand knowledge. But Mark also had contact with many others who attended the meetings in his mother’s home who had been with Jesus and learned of him, and who could also have given first-hand accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and death, and all the many events concerning which Mark wrote.

The Gospel Itself

Mark wrote for Gentile readership. Therefore, because genealogies would be of no interest to them, he included none. Any Old Testament references given are generally those that Jesus himself quoted, or that others quoted when speaking to him. Since he assumed that his readers did not know the Aramaic language, he often defined they Aramaic words. For two examples: “If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift. …” (Mark 7:11) “At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why past thou forsaken me?”—Mark 15:34

In contrast to Matthew, who showed Jesus in the highest of earthly positions—as a king, Mark showed him as a lowly servant. Jesus was, of course, the perfect servant, and is the model we must copy. There are no preliminaries in this Gospel. Jesus, as God’s servant, went about his ministry quickly and effectively. Several words which Mark uses frequently denote this idea of quickness: “Straightway coming up out of the water he saw the heavens opened. … Immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.”—Mark 1:10,12

Mark used the words meaning ‘straightway’ and ‘immediately’ in the Greek language, 26 times in connection with Jesus and his acts—three times more often than the other Gospel writers combined! Because Mark described a man of action, his account is the most complete concerning the miracles of Jesus. Of the 27 miracles performed by Jesus described in the four Gospels, two-thirds of them can be found recorded in Mark, six of which are only found in his Gospel. One of these concerns healing one who not only was deaf, but who also had a serious speech impediment:

“Some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, Ephphatha! [This was an Aramaic word which Mark proceeded to define] (which means, Be opened!) At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly.”—Mark 7:32-35, NIV

There is one important word which the other Gospel writers used 73 times, but of which Mark completely avoids the use. This is the title Lord. The word does occur twice in his writings—once when a Gentile woman addressed Jesus as Lord. (Mark 7:28) And the other time is when the word appears in the King James, but it is not found in the oldest Greek manuscripts. (Mark 9:24) Why did Mark choose to avoid the title Lord? Possibly because Mark elected to emphasize Jesus’ special role as God’s servant during his earthly ministry, and considered it inappropriate to his purpose to address him as Lord.

Unique Passages

Many events that Mark wrote about can also be found recorded in the other Gospels. Of the four parables included in Mark, one was unique. “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29, NIV) In the parable of the sower (Matt.13:3-9), the kind of soil determines what happened to the seed. But in Mark’s unique account, the mysterious power of the seed itself is emphasized. In this parable Jesus showed that the Gospel message itself [the seed] contained its own power to grow and produce fruit, and would eventually result in a time of harvest. This is an important lesson.

Many Bible scholars have stated that the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel are spurious, based on the opinion of Prof. Tischendorf. He discovered that the texts were omitted from what is understood to be one of the oldest Greek manuscripts available today. Therefore, it is unnecessary to explain these verses which might be difficult, but not impossible, to explain.

Son of Man Vs. the Son of God

Whose son was Jesus? There are many correct answers. In Mark 6:3, when Jesus preached to his neighbors in the synagogue, they were astonished and said, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary.” In Mark 10:47 a blind beggar, hearing that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.” And in the very first verse of his Gospel, Mark said, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

But the title Mark made most use of was, “Son of Man.” This title was first used by Jesus of himself, “That ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”—Mark 2:10

The phrase, ‘Son of God’, appears only four times in Mark; whereas the title, ‘Son of Man’, occurs 14 times. Matthew and Luke also use both of these expressions in about the same proportion; John uses each about the same number of times. However, the phrase, ‘Son of man’, occurs 84 times in the four Gospels. Sometimes Jesus almost insisted on the use of this title: “The High Priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? [“Son of God,” Matt. 26:63] And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61,62) Why did Jesus emphasi7p the use of this title? Should we think of him as the Son of man, or as the Son of God? To understand the importance of these designations, let us first look at the title, Son of David.

“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” (Matt. 1:1) Matthew used the title, Son of David, 9 times in his Gospel, emphasizing it by mentioning it in the very beginning words of his Book. He did this because he wanted his readers to see Jesus as the heir of David, the prophetic fulfillment of the prophecy God gave to David through the Prophet Nathan: “When thy [David’s] days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. … And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever.”—II Sam. 7:12,16

Matthew’s Gospel showed Jesus as king, the rightful descendent of David’s royal house. Therefore, by saying, Son of David, Matthew was essentially saying that Jesus was the ‘inheritor’ of what was David’s. David had had a dominion. The Jews were living under Roman occupation and certainly knew that dominion had been lost. But they looked for David’s heir who would reestablish that dominion.

When God created the first man, Adam, he gave him a dominion. “God said … have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:28) “What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.”—Ps. 8:4-6

Because of disobedience, Adam and his children lost their original right to dominion. Who could rightfully claim it? Who would be Adam’s rightful inheritor? The ‘Son of Adam’—‘Son of man’, could rightfully claim this title. In Hebrews 2:8,9, the apostle quoted Psalm 8, and then continued, saying: “Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”—Heb. 2:8,9

Jesus, as the ‘Son of God’ was the “heir of all things.” (Heb. 1:2) As the ‘Son of man’ he was the heir to the dominion of earth originally entrusted to the first man, but forfeited by him. He was the great kinsman of mankind who possessed the ransoming power to redeem them from sin and death. His miracles manifested his divine origins. Yet Jesus stressed his kinship with humanity. When asked if he were the Son of God, Jesus answered the High Priest, indicating that what he associated with the title, Son of God, actually belonged to the one who rightfully held the title, Son of man. He echoed the prophetic words of Daniel: “I saw in the night visions and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days.”—Dan. 7:13

In John 1:14 we read, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” He did not materialize in a human body, as angels had done before him. He was actually flesh because he had a human mother; he was perfect because his father was God. In this way, it was possible for him to inherit Adam’s dominion, without inheriting the condemnation that passed upon Adam’s posterity.

John stressed the importance of acknowledging that Jesus was truly human, saying, “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.”—I John 4:2,3

It is amazing that in spite of such a clear statement, so many Christians continue to insist that Jesus was really divine—part God and part man. He was not divine at his First Advent—he was made human flesh, the Son of man. And even though he is now divine, he still retains this title, and the rightful dominion to which he is entitled. Note Stephen’s words: “Behold I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.”—Acts 7:56

Concluding Thoughts

The Gospel of Mark is one of four views of Jesus and his ministry. In Mark’s presentation we see Jesus as the perfect servant of God. We likewise should consider his life a model for our own. Let us, as he did, do all our tasks quickly, without hesitation.

The last 12 verses of Mark are spurious.

The title, ‘Son of man’, refers to Jesus as the inheritor of Adam, one who is worthy to inherit the dominion lost by the first man. In like manner he is the ‘Son of David’, inherits the throne and dominion of his Father David. But to us, his footstep followers, he is the ‘Son of God’. If faithful, we will be with him in heaven as members of his body and joint-heirs in the ‘all things’ that have become his.

May the example given to us in Mark’s Gospel energize us to greater faithfulness and peal in the service of our Heavenly Father.

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