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October 17, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“In summary, Mark’s gospel is short, to the point, colorful, and powerful. It tells the simple story of Jesus without much background information and then ends with a challenge: Believe, be baptized, and be saved or disbelieve and be condemned. The reader is forced to deal with the facts by deciding.”— Mike Mazzalongo
As we get ready to start our study of Mark, we thought it would be a good idea to provide you with some context for this Gospel account. Why did he write it? Who is he writing to? What are some of the key themes in this book? These are all questions we’ll address to help you get a full picture of this powerful New Testament book. So, let’s dive right in!
The word gospel is Anglo-Saxon meaning “God’s spell” or “good news.” It is the Anglo rendering of the Greek word euangelion, which means, “good news.” In ancient Greek literature and language, it was a word used when one brings good tidings. In reference to the Bible, it specifically refers to “the glad tidings of the kingdom of God, and also of Jesus, the Messiah, the founder of this kingdom” (Strong’s Greek Concordance).
What are the four books of the Bible we call the Gospels? They are four accounts of the life, missions, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These four narratives, which tell the same story from unique perspectives and for diverse audiences, were written to share the good news of salvation that comes through Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark is one of the four Gospels found in the New Testament.
The narrative we now call the Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark most likely somewhere between A.D. 50 and 68, with many pinpointing 64 as the year it was written. Based on this date, it is likely that Mark was the earliest Gospel account that was written.
While we know that John Mark was an eyewitness to some of Jesus’ ministry and to the establishment of the Church, unlike John and Matthew, John Mark was not one of the apostles. So, who was he? John Mark (or just Mark to avoid confusion with the apostle John) and his mother were among the earliest followers of Jesus (1 Peter 5:13). In fact, his home was used as a meeting place for the apostles and early disciples, as is noted in Acts 12:12. He was cousins with Barnabas, one of Paul’s companions, and even travelled with Paul for a season. He then served with the apostle Peter as his secretary up until Peter’s death in Rome in 68 AD.
Thus, Mark’s Gospel is actually a record of what Peter said, saw, and taught. Similar to how the Gospel of John was John’s perspective and memories of Jesus and Matthew was the account of the former tax collector, the Gospel of Mark was Peter’s biography and memories of Jesus, transcribed for him by Mark.
The Gospel of Mark was written while Peter and Mark were in Rome working with Roman Christians—the original intended audience of the letter. Whereas the Gospel of Matthew was clearly written to a Jewish audience (as evidenced by the meticulous notations every time Jesus fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy), the Gospel of Mark was penned primarily to a Roman audience. It was clearly aimed at people who did not have a Jewish background, which explains why there were so few references to Jewish history.
Based on all the other documents, letters, and other writings we have, scholars have noted that the typical Roman wanted information in summary form. Mark leans into this by crafting a Gospel record that is short and to the point, providing the reader with a big picture point of view.
The Gospel of Mark is a historical narrative describing Jesus’ life, work, teaching, miracles, death, and resurrection. It has very little background information. Starting with His baptism, it doesn’t record the events surrounding Jesus’ birth or early life at all. It has even less abstract thought or philosophy—we see a fair amount of this in The Gospels of John and Matthew. Think of Mark like a snap shot or a postcard. It’s short, to the point, and powerful. It tells the simple story of Jesus and then ends with a challenge: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16 NIV). The reader is forced to deal with the facts by deciding.
Mark is a Gospel of action and reaction. Not interested in character development or doctrinal development, more space is given to miracles in this Gospel than the others. In fact, 18 of the 35 recorded miracles across the four Gospels are found in Mark, more than any other Gospel.
He also takes a lot of time to describe the reactions of people to Jesus’ words and work. This 16-chapter account contains more than 20 references to people who were “amazed,” “astonished,” “puzzled,” or “hostile.”
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.