An Introduction to Mark’s Gospel :: By Donald Whitchard

Mark 1:1-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Acts 12:25; Acts 15:36-41; 2 Timothy 4:11

Summary: This is the first of a series of messages on Mark’s account of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, focusing on the background, theme, purpose, and testimony of those who were changed by the message and compassion of Jesus, both then and now.

The testimonies of the Early Church Fathers (A.D. 100-400) affirm that the man known as John Mark, first introduced in the book of Acts as a traveling companion of the Apostle Paul and his associate Barnabas, was the author of the Gospel that bears his name. John Mark was also known as the member of the mission group who abruptly left them to head back to Jerusalem without giving a reason. Barnabas’ desire to give Mark another opportunity in accompanying him and Paul on another missionary journey resulted in an argument that split them as a team and them going their separate ways (Acts 12:25, 13:13, 15:36-41).

In his final days, Paul asked Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes to Rome (2 Timothy 4:11). Mark had by now matured both in age and faith, demonstrating his effectiveness, commitment to the Lord Jesus, and his “usefulness for ministry.”

Most Bible scholars and the aforementioned testimonies of the early Christians tend to put the writing of Mark’s Gospel somewhere between A.D. 50-60, which was the time in which Matthew and Luke’s accounts were written, mainly for the fact that Paul and Peter’s martyrdom had not occurred, and that Mark’s account was the primary source for the other Gospels.

The first three Gospels are known as the Synoptics because of similarities found in all three accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. This is certain proof that what we have in Scripture is a solid and verifiable record of the events, persons, and situations that happened — along with the witness of the hundreds of individuals to whom the Lord Jesus appeared to after His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; 2 Peter 1:19-21) — along with the testimony of Paul himself while on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-6) — along with the conversions of Jesus’ half-brothers James and Jude (Matt.13:55; Mark 6:3; John 7:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:7).

James ended up being the author of the letter that bears his name in the New Testament as well as the pastor of the Jerusalem church until his martyrdom around A.D. 62. Jude also wrote a short but salient letter to the church concerning the rise of false teachers and their heresies.

When you read Mark’s Gospel, one of the things that gets attention is the way it is written, as if it were an action story without diversions or subplots. The pace is rapid and to the point. One of the common words Mark uses is “immediately.” Much of what Matthew and Luke tend to put into detail, such as the ancestry and birth of Jesus (Matt.1:1-25; Luke 2:1-20; 3:23-38), the ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3; Luke 3), and the temptations from Satan in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), Mark either does not mention or gives just a brief mention (Mark 1:1-13) of these events. Why?

Think for a moment. When Mark wrote this Gospel, all of the apostles, except for James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2), were living and spreading the story of Jesus throughout Judea and the Roman Empire. With this story also came the birth narratives and other early works of the Lord Jesus that were preached to the people. Luke began his travels with Paul and heard the gospel from both him and the other apostles, along with the stories of people who had been healed by Jesus, or delivered from demons, or had heard His teachings, as well as the accounts from Jesus’ own family, such as His mother Mary (Luke 1:26-38, 2:19, 34-35).

Mark allowed Matthew and Luke to furnish the details and background as directed by the Holy Spirit. He wrote his Gospel primarily for the Romans, who were people of action and not really prone to long detailed messages or background material. Mark’s Gospel gets to the point and does not waste words in describing the life and ministry of Jesus. It keeps your interest, as do the other Gospels, and gives the reader a well-constructed synopsis of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry; that was to show the reader that He was here to bring salvation to His people and to present and defend His universal call to discipleship.

This Gospel gives the briefest account of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which ends abruptly. Bible scholars have written and taught that the resurrection narrative is so blunt and precise that the actual conclusion may have been lost, thus the necessity on the part of later scribes to add verses 9-20 at the end of what would be Chapter 16. It is an interesting concept and apparently an ending that met with the approval of God, since He forbade anything to be added or deleted to what He presented in His Word (Revelation 22:18-19).

There is also the possibility that the Gospel originally ended with what would be verse 8, keeping in line with the method of writing Mark used. It could be summarized as “Jesus rose from the dead like He promised and would meet everyone in Galilee later. The End.” There is no post-resurrection narrative here. To put it in modern terms, “Jesus is the Savior of the World. His words and work proved it. So did His resurrection. What more do you need?”

Mark’s Gospel is not a multi-volume biography or omnibus of everything the Lord Jesus did and said (John 21:25). The Sovereign God of All Creation, who is the Author of our salvation, has provided in all four gospels everything we need to not just be informed about the Lord Jesus, but to show that His love for us is such that He does not want anyone to perish in their sins, nor be ignorant of the free offer of redemption, forgiveness, and restoration (Matthew 11:28-30) that He provides to anyone who will come and bow before Him as Lord and God, as millions have done in the progression of history.

When we see Him face to face at the promised “Blessed Hope” (John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 3:10), we can talk to Him about the other things He did and said, but I would rather just be embraced by Him and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I am sure that the Gospel writers and everyone else in heaven would agree.