Mark recorded the shortest and fastest-moving of the four Gospels. He emphasized the miraculous power yet the humanity of the suffering Servant of God.
Mark is the shortest Gospel, and it is action-packed from start to finish. He does not record anything about Jesus’ birth or childhood, as Matthew and Luke do, but instead launches into the ministry of John the Baptist.
After just nine verses, Jesus appears and is baptized: “And immediately, coming up from the water, He saw the heavens parting and the Spirit descending upon Him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, ‘You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’” (Mark 1:10-11).
The word immediately appears again in the next verse, introducing two verses about Satan’s tempting Jesus in the wilderness. Mark uses immediately another 39 times, stressing the urgency of the story and the message.
Jesus’ message is paramount in the book of Mark. Mark’s first quote of Jesus sets the tone: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The word gospel simply means good news. Jesus’ good news was about the Kingdom of God—God’s government that He will bring to the earth at His second coming to provide the solutions to all of the evils of this age. At His first coming He set the stage for this by dying to pay the penalty for our sins, making it possible for us to repent and be forgiven. Without that reconciliation and conversion, we can never be part of His wonderful Kingdom.
Many more details of the meaning of this passage are covered in our five-part Discern magazine series on the “Messiah’s Message.”
Themes in Mark
The Gospel of Mark shows Jesus as the Messiah and proves it by His supernatural power. The book focuses more on miracles than any of the other Gospels (based on percentage of the book). This short book records 18 of the 35 miracles of Jesus found in the Bible.
Mark’s book is an action adventure. He stresses events more than longer teaching discourses as found in Matthew, Luke and John.
But he also tells a human story, focusing on the feelings of those involved. He uses descriptive words to highlight the feelings of the crowds (Mark 1:27; 4:41; 7:37) and to draw attention to Jesus’ emotions as well (3:5; 14:34).
As the conflict with the Jewish leaders grew, Jesus made it clear that He must suffer and be killed, but that He would rise from the dead (Mark 8:31). He taught that His followers must also be willing to suffer (verse 34), but that His Kingdom would come with power (9:1).
Jesus set the example as a servant (Mark 10:45), and He compared His followers to servants waiting for their master to return, telling them to watch and pray “lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36).Jesus set the example as a servant (Mark 10:45), and He compared His followers to servants waiting for their master to return, telling them to watch and pray “lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36).
He gave them a job to do: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That mission to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God continues to this day. (See our article “What Is the Mission of the Church?”)
Outline of Mark
Here is a brief outline of the book of Mark:
- Prologue (1:1-13): John the Baptist; Jesus’ baptism and temptation.
- Ministry in Galilee (1:14 to 9:50), including training the disciples, growing conflict and predictions of Jesus’ death.
- On the road to Jerusalem (10:1-52).
- Ministry in Jerusalem (11:1 to 13:37), including the Olivet Prophecy.
- Jesus’ final days (14:1 to 16:20), including Passover and His arrest, crucifixion and resurrection.
Who wrote the book of Mark?
The Gospel of Mark does not mention its author. “However, numerous documents from the early church unanimously point to Mark as the author. Papias, bishop of Hierapolis (A.D. 140), claimed that Mark, as Peter’s interpreter, wrote an accurate Gospel. The Roman Prologue to Mark, dating from A.D. 160-180, also named Mark as the author, and Irenaeus, in France around A.D. 180, claimed that Mark wrote down Peter’s preaching. This is repeated by Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria, both in North Africa around A.D. 200” (Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, 1997, introduction to Mark).
Mark may have included a story about himself in the book. The passage in Mark 14:51-52 is possibly Mark’s self-identification, since the other Gospel accounts do not include this “certain young man” who followed Jesus and ended up fleeing away naked.
He was related to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). Mark’s father may have died, and this may have been why he was so close to his cousin Barnabas. He joined Barnabas and Paul on what is often called the first missionary journey; but when he left unexpectedly, Paul lost confidence in him (Acts 15:37-39). Barnabas, however, was willing to give Mark another chance. Years later, Paul indicated that he himself had regained confidence in Mark (Colossians 4:10-11; Philemon 1:24).
Mark also assisted Peter (1 Peter 5:13), and many traditions say that the Gospel of Mark includes the recollections of Peter.
The last mention of Mark is in 2 Timothy 4:11, where Paul says, “He is useful to me for ministry.”
Language and style of Mark
John Mark, like all the earliest followers of Jesus, would have grown up speaking Aramaic in daily life and learning Hebrew for religious purposes. Greek and Latin, the languages of the Roman Empire, would likely have been third or fourth languages to the disciples.
Scholars see influences of other languages in what Mark wrote in Greek. “He is fond of transliterating Latin words (at least ten of them) into Greek, and occasionally his Greek shows an underlying Latin construction or expression.
“A more important influence on Mark’s language is Aramaic. … It reads as if it might have come from those who spoke Aramaic as their mother tongue.
“Although Mark’s facility with the Greek language is clearly inferior to that of Luke and other [New Testament] writers, he manages to achieve a remarkably forceful, fresh, and vigorous style. He uses the historical present over 150 times, and the adverb ‘immediately’ occurs 41 times. Thus he gives his readers the impression of listening to an on-the-spot report. …
“Mark wants his readers to be participants, not mere observers. He wants them to respond to what he tells them about Jesus by saying of him, ‘He is the Christ, Son of God’” (Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Vol. 2: New Testament, 1994, p. 139).
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.