Mark

A verse-by-verse exegetical commentary on the New Testament Greek text

Introduction

"Very possibly the oldest written account of Jesus' ministry that we possess, the Gospel of Mark is a vivid and fast-paced writing that holds the interest of the popular reader and the biblical scholar alike. When Christians first began discussions about drawing up a list of writings that would be regarded as authoritative for Christian faith, the Gospel of Mark was among the first writings selected for inclusion in this list and is today, of course, still regarded as one of the four 'canonical', or authoritative, written portraits of Jesus in the New Testament", Larry Hurtado.

 
The structure of Mark
 

The journey begins, 1:1-5:43

The children of God in the 15th Century BC., set out from Egypt under the mighty hand of God. They soon discovered their special place in God's purpose as they struggled on their journey to meet him at Mount Sinai. God made their way straight, overcoming their enemies, even making nature submit to his plan. Similarly Jesus, the Son of God, set forth from the river Jordan into the wilderness, his way made straight. A way for us to follow. This first section in Mark's gospel answers the question "Who is this man Jesus?".

1. Introduction, 1:1-13

i] The forerunner John the Baptist, 1:1-8

ii] The Exodus in the wilderness - Jesus' baptism and temptation, 1:9-13

2. Jesus the Son of God, Messiah, 1:14-45

i] The call to set out on the journey to the promised land and gather in others for the kingdom, 1:14-20

ii] A day in the journey - New teaching, 1:21-28

iii] A day in the journey - Jesus brings release, 1:29-39

iv] Popularity - A leper cleansed, 1:40-45

3. Conflict in the journey, 2:1-3:6

i] Authority to forgive sins, 2:1-12

ii] Call and response, 2:13-22

iii] Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, 2:23-3:6

4. True Israel defined, 3:7-35

i] The new Israel of God, 3:7-19

ii] Satan defeated, 3:20-35

5. The Word - the good news of the kingdom, 4:1-34

i] The parable of the sower, 4:1-25

ii] The parable of the growing seed and mustard seed, 4:26-34

6. The powers defeated, 4:35-5:43

i] Nature - calming the sea, 4:35-41

ii] Demons - Gerasene demoniac, 5:1-20

iii] Sickness - Jairus' daughter and a woman with a hemorrhage, 5:21-43

 

The journey to God's mountain, 6:1-10:52

The children of God, filled with distrust and discontent, reach Mount Sinai and receive God's law. Jesus similarly makes his way to the mountain surrounded by disbelief. To a remnant who see (believe) he reveals God's word. This section in Mark's gospel is marked by a growing awareness of who Jesus is. Amazement and bewilderment leads to disbelief, or belief.

1. Growing division, 6:1-8:21

i] Jesus' own countrymen are astonished and take offence at his teaching, 6:1-6

ii] The twelve are sent out, 6:7-13

iii] John the Baptist's end, 6:14-29

iv] The feeding of the 5,000 - Manna for all in the wilderness, 6:30-44

v] Jesus walks on the water - He is Lord over the powers of darkness, 6:45-56

vi] The religious leaders are also without understanding, 7:1-23

vii] Israel's blindness forces Jesus amongst the Gentiles, 7:24-37

viii] Feeding the 4,000. Jesus again reveals his true identity, 8:1-21

2. Growing faith, 8:22-10:52

i] Christ opens the eyes of the blind and even the disciples begin to see, 8:22-30

ii] Jesus' teaches suffering and true discipleship #1. Deny self, 8:31-9:1

iii] The transfiguration - The ultimate revelation upon God's mountain. "Hear Him", 9:2-13

iv] The healing of a possessed boy - It is by grace through faith, 9:14-29

v] Jesus teaches suffering and true discipleship #2. True greatness, humility, 9:30-37

vi] Partners in discipleship, 9:38-50

vii] Ideals and principles, 10:1-16

viii] The rich young ruler - By grace through faith and not works of the law, 10:17-31

ix] Jesus teaches suffering and true discipleship #3. Service, 10:32-45

x] A blind man comes to see through faith and follows his master, 10:46-52

 

Entering the promised land, 11:1-16:20

Under Joshua, the children of God marched into Canaan to execute God's judgement on an evil people, to overcome the enemies of God in preparation for the establishment of the kingdom. Jesus, the warrior king, Son of God, now enters Jerusalem with sword in hand. The evil and blindness of Israel is developed in this section and is associated with conflict and judgement themes. The actual judgement on Israel took place in 70AD. Here Jesus overcomes Satanic Israel (Jesus called the Pharisees "children of darkness") and prefigures judgement in symbols and prophecy, cf. Ch.13. The conflict here is in preparation for the ultimate conflict with Satan at Calvary. The period of time from Jesus' entry into Jerusalem to his death is usually seen as one week. He teaches in Jerusalem during the day and sleeps at Bethany. Mark's gospel could easily allow something longer, even six months.

1. Judgement in symbol and parable upon Israel, 11:1-12:12

i] The entry into Jerusalem, 11:1-11

ii] The temple cleansed, 11:12-26

iii] The controversy over Jesus' authority, 11:27-33

iv] The parable of the defiant tenants - Judgement on Israel, 12:1-12

2. The blindness of Israel exposed, 12:13-44

i] The question concerning paying taxes, 12:13-17

ii] The question concerning the resurrection, 12:18-27

iii] The question concerning the greatest commandment, 12:28-34

iv] Jesus' question concerning David's son, 12:35-37

v] The religious poverty of Israel, 12:38-44

3. Prophecies concerning the kingdom of Israel, 13:1-37

These prophecies primarily concern the destruction of historic Israel, the present spiritual kingdom and the heavenly kingdom. Jesus' words are a word of warning. Israel, God's historic people, have been blinded and judged for their evil, their lack of faith. The nation will soon be destroyed. Therefore, we ourselves need to take the warning to heart. We must be faithful as we await the day of the Lord's coming, and don't be caught unaware as they were. "Watch!".

i] The beginning of the birth pangs, 13:1-13

ii] The desolating sacrilege, 13:14-23

iii] The coming of the Son of Man, 13:24-27

iv] Jesus answers the disciples' question, 13:28-31

v] Be prepared for the coming day, 13:32-37

4. Victory, 14:1-16:20

As David overcame Goliath, so Jesus the Son of God overcomes Satan upon the cross of Calvary. With the enemy destroyed, the prisoners released from the bondage of sin and death, the king enters his rest. The new age has dawned, the kingdom has come with power.

i] The anointing, 14:1-11

ii] The last supper, 14:12-25

iii] Gethsemane, 14:26-52

iv] Peter's denial, 14:53-72

v] The trial of Jesus before Pilate's tribunal, 15:1-20

vi] The crucifixion of Jesus, 15:21-41

vii] The Resurrection of Jesus, 16:1-8

{viii] The ascension, 16:9-20}

 

Mark's gospel proclaims that the time is fulfilled; it reveals the preliminary events that inaugurate the kingdom. So, his account begins at Jesus' baptism (imaging the Exodus) and concludes with the cross and empty tomb, (imaging Davids ultimate conquest of the promised land - victory, the enemy subdued). As the women leave the empty tomb, amazed and trembling with fear, the only conclusion to draw from the events that Mark has unfolded is that the kingdom of God is at hand.

The structure of Mark's gospel aligns with a sequents of events established in the life of the historic people of Israel; See The Theology of the Kingdom of God.

[Kingdom diagram]
 

These events are both thematic and sequential.

[Kingdom diagram]

Mark covers the preliminary events, "the time is fulfilled", which establish the truth that "the kingdom of God is at hand". The prophets foretold that prior to the establishment of the kingdom of God, certain events must take place. All these are fulfilled in the life of Jesus the Son of God. Unlike Israel of old, Jesus did not put God to the test in the wilderness. Moses led the people into the desert and they grumbled, even when God supplied bread from heaven. The people heard God speak to them from the mountain, but they quickly forgot and worshipped the gods of Egypt. Moses led them to the borders of the promised land, Canaan, but they refused to enter and take the land. They were afraid. So they were cursed to wander in the desert until all those who had doubted God were dead. Then they entered the promised land under the leadership of Joshua, but it was not until David that they finally captured the land.

Mark depicts Jesus as the faithful son of God, the Israel of God; he depicts the journey of the faithful son of God, of the new Israel:

Through the waters of release;

Standing the test and trial of the wilderness;

Struggling against the powers of darkness;

Finally winning the victory;

Entering into his rest, into blessing.

Jesus, as the representative Israel, the faithful son of God, is the people, the prophet like unto Moses", the priest like Aaron, the pure sacrifice, the Lamb of God, the king like David and Solomon, the Davidic Messiah. As the faithful people of God, he is the bearer of truth and master of all.

 
Interpretation

As noted above, Mark uses a gospel structure which, in its minimalist form, is "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel." "The time is fulfilled" is the announcement that Jesus in his life, death and resurrection, has completed the events that were prophesied in the Old Testament, events that were to proceed the establishment of God's kingdom. Thus, the kingdom is a present reality which may be entered at this very moment, although in another sense a reality yet to be realized. The kingdom primarily is seen in God's righteous rule over his people with its associated blessings - new life in Christ. Note the pattern in 1Corinthians 15:3-8. Mark uses this literary form to shape his gospel.

Although Mark paints Jesus' life as a replay of the Old Testament history of Israel from the Exodus to the establishment of the kingdom under David and Solomon, his gospel is not just a collection of fulfillment stories. Mark also reveals the realization of the kingdom both in Jesus' actions and words. He certainly doesn't do so with the same systematic teaching format as in Matthew, but none-the-less the reader is confronted by two profound truths impressed upon the disciples, and through Mark, impressed upon us:

For those in Christ, his Exodus journey is our journey - tests, trials, struggle ..., victory:

[Kingdom diagram]

For those in Christ, the kingdom is a now / not-yet reality (illustrated by a curser rollover) - eternally reigning with Christ, but at the same time dwelling within the shadows of the realm of light.


Authorship

Tradition strongly points to Mark, the friend, disciple and interpreter of Peter, as the author of this gospel. Possibly it is the same Mark mentioned in Acts and Paul's Epistles. Eusebius, a Christian Bishop and historian around 300 AD, quotes from a paper written by Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis 140 AD as follows: "Mark, who became Peter's interpreter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been one of his followers, but afterwards, as I said, he had followed Peter, who used to compose his discourses with a view to the needs (of his hearers), but not as if he were composing a systematic account of the Lord's sayings. So, Mark did nothing blameworthy in thus writing some things just as he remembered them; for he was careful of this one thing, to omit none of the things he had heard and to make no untrue statement therein."

We need to remember that the title of the gospel, "Mark", is a later addition. So we don't really know who wrote the gospel.

 
Sources

Where did Mark get his information from?

i] If Papias was right, Peter's sermons were obviously the main source.

ii] Interviews with the disciples and other eye witnesses was an important source. It looks as if Mark himself was not an eye witness, although the reference to the young man who followed Jesus after his arrest could be taken as a personal experience - was this Mark? Mk.14:51-52.

iii] Quite a large amount of stock stories and sayings of Jesus were obviously common knowledge in Christian circles. Some of this material was possibly written down, although there would be nothing unusual if it was just retained as the common oral tradition of the first century church. Mark could have well used such material. It's impossible to know how much of it Mark used, but we do know that he ignored large slabs of it, especially sayings of Jesus. Jesus taught in poetical form and so it was easily remembered. Matthew preserves much of this teaching tradition.

 
Date

The gospel was probably written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD and after the death of Peter. Tradition has it that Peter died in Rome during Nero's persecution of Christians around 64AD.

 
Place of writing

The weight of tradition points to Rome.

 
Authenticity

From the beginning there were virtually no doubts as to the apostolic authenticity of this gospel, ie. the early church regarded that this gospel was a faithful record of the apostolic tradition. The early church was certainly confident about its links with Peter. We are too far from the events to be able to make any sound judgement ourselves and so must rest on the judgement of the first century Christians, none-the-less, in comparison with the later apocryphal gospels Mark reads like the genuine article.

 
Relationship with the other synoptic gospels

A quick reading of Matthew, Mark and Luke leaves the impression that someone is into copying. Most scholars today agree that Mark was first to write, then Luke used Mark as the source for his gospel and added some extra material and then finally Matthew used both Mark and Luke, again with extra material. The problem is, why would Luke, a scholar, follow Mark's gospel so closely? It is possible that Mark's gospel was accepted as the standard for apostolic tradition. Luke would then be bound to follow closely Mark's record. Some scholars propose the order Mark, Matthew and then Luke. It is possible that all three worked from stock oral tradition, or even an existing document of sayings and stories, this would explain their similarity, and also the differences. It is of course the differences which prompt our interest in the synoptic problem.

 
Mark's purpose

Numerous suggestions are proposed:

i] To write an historic record of the life and teachings of Jesus. The original eye witnesses had now virtually all passed away and therefore it was imperative to record their testimony of Jesus. Yet, there is far too much missing in the gospel for it to be just a historic account.

ii] To write an evangelistic tract. Yet, the cost would be prohibitive.

iii] To write an evangelistic/exhortatory manual for new Christians - Pre-baptismal instruction. Yet, the book is much too subtle for such a limited perspective, although it could be used in this way.

iv] To record Peter's sermons for posterity. Literary form implies something deeper.

v] To produce a piece of exhortatory writing, even theology, for use by Christians.

 
Message

Mark lets us into a secret, a mystery, a secret that is actually revealed in the gospel. It concerns the kingdom of God (God's righteous reign, his gathered and blessing a people for himself) and the relationship of Jesus and ourselves to it. The mystery that Mark sets out to unlock for us is that Jesus, in his person, work and word, ushers in the new age of the kingdom. He himself is faithful Israel, the servant of the Lord, obedient unto death. Thus, as representative Israel, he fulfills the preliminary events as prophesied in the Old Testament, and so enters his rest and receives his reward. By aligning ourselves with Jesus, we are similarly accepted as God's sons (faithful Israel), for we follow in the footsteps of one who has gone before and who has opened the way into the kingdom. The way that we must travel may bring hardship and strife, it will certainly require dedication, for the way is narrow that leads to life and there are many things that would draw us aside. Yet, victory is ultimately assured, by grace through faith.

 
Key words

1. Son of God. The title given to Jesus by:

(a) the demons/evil spirits;

(b) Mark 1:1;

(c) God the Father 1:1, 9:7;

(d) the Gentile soldier at Jesus' crucifixion and

(e) accepted by Jesus.

The possible meanings are:

a) Messiah - common Old Testament usage.

b) King - David was "Son of God".

c) Actual father/son relationship.

d) Israel/people of God. Although not a common Old Testament usage, it is most likely the way Mark wants us to understand the term. Thus Jesus represents corporate Israel. We become children of God in union with Christ.

 

2. Son of Man. Jesus' title for himself. The title has two aspects:

a) Glorified Son of Man. A messianic title found in Daniel and referring to the one who comes to the Ancient of Days to take us his heavenly rule, Mk.14:62. It was not a common title for the messiah so Jesus was able to use it and still maintain the secret of his identity.

b) Suffering Son of Man. This describes Jesus' lowly role - humiliated, despised. Note: whenever he says the "Son of Man must suffer", he always follows the statement up with a call to true discipleship. The disciple is also to be a suffering son of man.

 

3. Response words. A person's initial response to Jesus is one of "awe", "fear", "amazement", "wonder" and "astonishment". This is the result of being "without understanding" or having "hardened hearts".

This initial response leads to either:

a) "Offense", "unbelief", or

b) "faith", "belief".

Mark emphasizes people's response to Jesus because he wants us to respond correctly, ie. in "faith". The gospel begins with people astonished and questioning ("What is this?") and finishes with the women "wondering" and "afraid" at the empty tomb. We must move beyond "wonder" to "belief".

 

4. Movement words. Words such as "immediately" give a sense of speed and movement to the gospel. They give us a sense of journey similar to the journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan. Such words image the necessary movement of the Son of God toward his victorious overcoming of evil upon the cross.

 
The apostolic preaching and Mark's gospel

The structure of Mark's gospel follows very closely the sermons in Acts (especially Peter's), but minus the Old Testament support texts. Obviously Mark is writing to Gentiles and therefore doesn't need to show that Jesus has fulfilled prophecy. Yet, he is faithful to the gospel structure.

The sermons in Acts stress "the time is fulfilled", that is they recount the preliminary events fulfilled by Jesus. Naturally, if these events stand proved then the "times of refreshing" (the kingdom) must come. Mark similarly stresses "the time is fulfilled" and so proclaims that the "times of refreshing" have come. We inturn should follow in Jesus' footsteps and so "work to hasten the day".

 
Bibliography: Commentaries - Mark

Anderson, NCB. Allen, London, 1915. Brandscomb, MNTC, 1937. Boring, NTL, 2006. Brooks, NAC. Cahill, trans. of, 600AD, Oxford University Press. Cole, Tyndale, 2nd. ed. 1989. Cooper, HNTC. Cranfield, CGTC. Danahue, Sacra Pagina. Decker, HGT, 2014. Doudna, The Greek of the Gospel of Mark, SBL, 1961. Edwards, Pillar. Evans, Word. 8:27-16:20. France, NIGTC. Gould, ICC, 1896. Guelich, Word. 1-8:26. Gundry, Eerdmans. Hamilton, Libra / Association Press. Hare, John Knox. Hendriksen, Banner of Truth. Hooker, Black's. Hunter, Torch. Hurtado, NIBC. Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, SCM. Johnson, Black's, Replaced. Lane, NICNT. Mann, Anchor. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus, SCM, 1949. Marcus, Anchor, 2005. Minear, Layman's, 1963. Moule, CBC. Nineham, Pelican. Painter, New Testament Readings/Routledge. Plummer, CGTSC, 1914. Rawlinson, Westminster, 1947. Schweizer, SPCK. Stein, BECNT, 2008. Strelan, ChiRho. Swete, Macmillan, 1913. Taylor, Macmillan, 1966.

 

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