The Gospel of Mark is chronologically the first Gospel that was written. It was actually one of the first books written in the New Testament—not the first, but one of the first. It was probably written from Rome prior to a.d. 63.
This man Mark was one of the writers of the New Testament who was not actually an apostle. Matthew was an apostle, of course, and so was John. Luke was a very close friend and an intimate of Paul the apostle.
Mark’s full name was John Mark—John was his Jewish name, while Mark was his Latin surname (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 referring to the time when Simon Peter was released from prison.) Actually, this is the first historical reference to John Mark that we have in Scripture. Obviously, his mother was a wealthy and prominent Christian in the Jerusalem church, and evidently the church there met in her home.
Mark was one who went with Paul on the first missionary journey. He was a nephew of Barnabas. Paul tells us that in Colossians 4:10. He evidently was the spiritual son of Simon Peter, because Peter, writing in 1 Peter 5:13, says, “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.” The Gospel of Mark has long been considered Simon Peter’s gospel. I think there is evidence for that; we’ll look at that a little more closely in a moment.
John Mark joined Paul and Barnabas before the first missionary journey. We’re told in Acts 13:5: “And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister.” But this man turned back at Perga in Pamphylia, and apparently it was a fact that he was maybe a little “yellow” or “chicken,” as we would say today. I don’t think we need to defend John Mark for turning back. He may have had an excuse, but Paul didn’t want to take him on the second missionary journey, although Uncle Barnabas did. Barnabas was a great fellow and was ready to forgive; but not Paul. In Acts 15:37–38 we read, “And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work.” Now, that looks to me like Paul thought Mark had failed. We’re told in verse 39 of that chapter, “And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus.” As far as we are concerned, he sails right off the pages of Scripture. We know very little about the ministry of John Mark.
We do know that John Mark made good. When Paul wrote his swan song in 2 Timothy 4:11 he says, “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
There has always been a question of whether he is mentioned somewhere in the Gospel record. While I call attention to it, I personally do not think that there is any basis to that supposition at all.
We are told that this man, Mark, got his facts of the gospel from Peter. Others say that he got the explanation of the gospel from Paul. I’m willing to accept that.
Why are there four Gospels? One reason is that they were written to different people. Matthew was written for the nation Israel; it was written for the religious man. Mark was written specifically for the Roman, and it was suited for the Roman times. It was written for the strong man. The Romans ruled the world for a millennium. The Gospel of Mark was written for such people. The Romans actually had subjugated the world; they had brought peace and justice, good roads, law and order, protection; but it was a forced peace. The iron heel of Rome was on mankind, and it had to pay a price. Rome was a strong dictatorship. Dr. D. S. Gregory has expressed it like this: “[The Roman] was to try whether human power, taking the form of law, regulated by political principles of which a regard for law and justice was most conspicuous, could perfect humanity by subordinating the individual to the state and making the state universal” (Gregory, Key to the Gospels, p. 53). Dr. Robert D. Culver, in his book Daniel and the Latter Days, says that the Roman gave to the world the kind of peace that the League of Nations and now the United Nations try to give to the world. This kind of peace has already been tried by the Romans, and it must be a peace that is pushed down on the world, forced on the world, and held in the hands of a very strong man. The world today, of course, is looking again for that strong man to come along.
Rome represented active, human power in the ancient world, and it led to dictatorship. The power was actually vested in one man, which, of course, was the thing that was dangerous. Again that is the danger today, as we are moving in that direction. I’d like to quote Dr. D. S. Gregory again in this connection. “The grandest Roman, the ideal man of the race, was therefore the mightiest worker, conqueror, organizer, and ruler,—the man who as Caesar could sway the sceptre of the universal empire. Caesar and Caesarism were the inevitable result of Roman development…. When [the Roman] had been made to feel most deeply that natural justice in the hands of a human despot is a dreadful thing for sinful man,—the Holy Ghost proposes to commend to his acceptance Jesus of Nazareth as his Sovereign and Saviour, the expected deliverer of the world.” We’re moving into a position today where there will come a police state, ruled by one man. He’ll be satanic, ruling over sinful men so that they will cry out for deliverance. The only One who will be able to deliver will be the Lord Jesus Christ when He comes!
Paul wrote to the Romans, “… I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth …” (Rom. 1:16). That power is the power that can extend mercy. In the days when the Caesars ruled, the world longed for mercy and all they got was power. It was a day in which no man dared to resist that power because to resist it was fatal. To flee from it was impossible—one could never get beyond it. It was in that day that God sent a message to that segment of the population, and John Mark is the writer.
John Mark is giving Simon Peter’s account of the gospel. The early church felt that this was true and took that position. For example, Papias, one of the early church fathers, recorded that John Mark got his gospel from Simon Peter: “Mark, the interpreter of Peter, wrote carefully down all that he recollected, but not according to the order of Christ’s speaking or working.” Eusebius says that “such a light of piety shone into the minds of those who heard Peter that they were not satisfied with once hearing, nor with the unwritten doctrine that was delivered, but earnestly besought Mark (whose gospel is now spread abroad) that he would leave in writing for them the doctrine which he had received by preaching.” So it was, therefore, that we got Simon Peter’s gospel through John Mark.
It is a Gospel of action because Simon Peter was that kind of man. It is a Gospel of action, written to the Roman who was also a man of action.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus lays aside the regal robes of kingship and girds Himself with the towel of service. He is King in Matthew’s Gospel: He is the Servant in the Gospel of Mark. But He is no man’s servant; He is God’s Servant. Mark expresses it by stating the words of our Lord, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is presented as the Servant of Jehovah. This fulfills Isaiah 42:1–2: “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.”
Bernard, way back in 1864, said of the Gospel of Mark: “St. Peter’s saying to Cornelius has been well noticed as a fit motto for this gospel: ‘God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; who went about doing good and healing all those who were oppressed of the devil.’”
Someone has put it like this:
In a book
Where a man called
Went about doing good.
It is very disconcerting
That I am so easily
We read a great deal today about protesting and marches, and we hear about do–gooders, both the politicians and the preachers. They all talk about doing good, but they are just going about. The Lord Jesus came in the winsomeness of His humanity and the fulness of His deity doing good. This was only the beginning of the gospel. He died and rose again. Then He said to His own, “Go.” The gospel was then completed. This is the gospel today.
The style of Mark is brief and blunt, pertinent and pithy, short and sweet. Mark is stripped of excess verbiage and goes right to the point. This is the Gospel of action and accomplishment. Here Jesus is not adorned with words and narrative, but He is stripped and girded for action.
Mark is written in a simple style. It is designed for the masses of the street. It is interesting to note that the connective and occurs more than any other word in the Gospel. It is said to occur 1,331 times. I didn’t count that, friend, but if you doubt that statement, you count them. Very frankly, if I had turned in a college English paper with that many ands in it, I would have been flunked. Yet it is a potent word when it is used correctly. It is a word of action, and it means something must follow. I’ve heard a lot of speakers, especially young preachers, and when they are reaching for something to say they will use the word and. The minute they say that, my friend, they’ve got to say something else. No sentence can end with and. And always leads to further action.
Mark wrote this Gospel, I believe, in Rome, evidently for Romans, because they were a busy people and believed in power and action. They wanted the answer to this question: Is Jesus able to do the job? This Gospel is brief enough for a busy man to read. Few Old Testament Scriptures are quoted and Jewish customs are explained, which gives additional proof that it was written for foreigners.
Matthew gives us a genealogy because a king must have a genealogy. Mark does not give one because a servant doesn’t need a genealogy, he needs references. A servant needs to do the job. We’re going to see that in this Gospel because that is the way Jesus is presented.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 36: Mark. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)