A Basic Survey of the Shortest Gospel
Background to Mark's Life
Mark was a man intimately involved in the life of the early church. His unique story is revealed to us in pieces throughout the New Testament. Acts 12 describes Mark’s house as the functional prayer headquarters for Christians during Peter’s imprisonment:
“When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.” (Acts 12:12, ESV)
This Mark is also the cousin to Barnabas, another prominent figure in the New Testament. While Mark was surrounded by great people of faith, he did have his own crisis moment. Later in Acts, we read of a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas as to whether they should take Mark with them on another missionary trip.
Running From the Faith, Restored to the Faith
This is because Mark had recently separated from them during a missionary journey, fearing persecution. Paul did not think Mark was reliable to bring along again and he parted ways with Barnabas over the dispute.
Mark is not mentioned again in the book of Acts, leading us to ask, was Mark an apostate? Thankfully, we are not left to speculate. Mark is mentioned again by Paul in his final epistle- and it is in very optimistic terms:
“Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” (2nd Timothy 4:11 ESV)
What an amazing demonstration of Mark’s repentance and resolve to follow The Truth!
But in addition to Paul, Mark has another notable relationship- one that brings context to the gospel account that bears his name. This relationship is with the apostle Peter. In fact, Peter’s relationship with Mark seems to be analogous to Paul and Timothy in terms of the close bond. Consider the following:
“To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2 ESV)
“She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.” (1 Peter 5:13 ESV)
When Did Mark Write His Gospel?
Christian scholars agree that Peter was martyred under Emperor Nero in Rome, just before 70 AD. This confines the gospel account to a pre-70 AD penning.
As to the early range, there are more historical details:
Peter’s presence in Rome in the later years of his life has to do with the death of Roman Emperor Claudius in 54 AD. Claudius’ death played a providential role in missionary efforts, as it ended a banishment of Jews from dwelling in Rome. This opened up opportunities for evangelism to Jews and Gentiles in Rome, which prompted the ministry of Peter and his companion Mark.
The 3rd-4th century historian Eusebuis writes about the formation of Mark’s gospel as it relates to Peter’s missionary work in Rome:
“So greatly, however, did the splendor of piety enlighten the minds of Peter’s hearers that it was not sufficient to hear but once, nor to receive the unwritten doctrine of the gospel of God, but they persevered in every variety of entreaties to solicit Mark as the companion of Peter, and whose Gospel we have, that he should leave them a monument in writing of the doctrine thus orally communicated.
Nor did they cease their solicitations until they had prevailed with the man and thus became the means of that history which is called the Gospel according to Mark. They say also that the apostle Peter, having ascertained what was done by the revelation of the Spirit, was delighted with the zealous ardor expressed by these men and that the history obtained his authority for the purpose of being read in the churches.”
While scholars argue as to whether Mark wrote will Peter was still alive or after his martyrdom, it is generally agreed that Mark’s gospel was written before Peter’s death, around 65 AD.
What is the Gospel of Mark all About?
Mark is the shortest of the four gospels, having only sixteen chapters. While the gospel is short in length, it does not lack in substance. In fact, people often called Mark the action-packed gospel due to Mark’s fast-moving writing style.
Our English Bibles show this fast-moving action by the phrase used repeatedly in Mark's gospel: Immediately.
The Immediacy of the Kingdom
Mark’s writing style is quite unique as well. He writes in a way that brings us into the gospel narrative as a spectator in the crowd with nothing but the bare, essential witness of Jesus’ power and the sudden coming of the kingdom of God. There is no genealogy in like that of Matthew and Luke, nor is there a theological introduction like that of John. Instead, Jesus shows up suddenly and powerfully on the scene with the message of immediacy: “repent and believe in the gospel”.
Mark's Gospel: The True Gospel of Peter
Since Mark’s gospel lends itself to Peter’s testimony, the theme of the gospel is also applicable to Peter. In fact, one distinct aspect of Mark’s gospel is the descriptive nature of the events involving Peter, compared to the other gospel accounts.
We can appreciate Peter’s transparency in this gospel, especially in that Mark’s gospel is descriptive in Peter’s sins and failures. In this way, we see Peter’s desire to point us to Jesus. This is the proper and true gospel of Peter, contra the gnostic writing that claims to come from the pen of Peter.
Mark Emphasizes Jesus, Son of Man and Suffering Servant
Another thematic phrase is Mark is the reference to Jesus as The Son of Man. The key verse in Mark is recognized as Mark 10:45
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus is depicted in Mark as the suffering servant who comes to care for his people. This theme is no doubt evidence of Peter’s theology, as we note that suffering and serving are the key themes of the Petrine epistles- especially noting that Peter calls his readers to consider Isaiah 53 (the suffering servant chapter) as hope and motivation for their own suffering.
Both Peter and Mark are wavering men, but men brought back into the fold by their faithful Shepherd. If you’re looking for a good general overview of Christ’s earthly life, especially one that you can read in one sitting. Mark is a great gospel that gives us that. Take up and read this wonderful gospel account!
If you missed my previous article about the Gospel of Matthew, be sure to check it out here!