Bible Book Number 41—Mark
Place Written: Rome
Writing Completed: c. 60–65 C.E.
Time Covered: 29–33 C.E.
1. What is known concerning Mark and his family?
WHEN Jesus was arrested at Gethsemane and the apostles fled, he was followed by “a certain young man wearing a fine linen garment over his naked body.” When the crowd tried to seize him too, “he left his linen garment behind and got away naked.” This young man is generally believed to be Mark. He is described in Acts as “John who was surnamed Mark” and may have come from a comfortably situated family in Jerusalem, for they had their own house and servants. His mother, Mary, was also a Christian, and the early congregation used her home as a meeting place. On the occasion when he was delivered by the angel from prison, Peter went to this house and found the brothers assembled there.—Mark 14:51, 52; Acts 12:12, 13.
2, 3. (a) What no doubt stirred Mark to enter missionary service? (b) What association did he have with other missionaries, particularly with Peter and Paul?
2 The missionary Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus, was the cousin of Mark. (Acts 4:36; Col. 4:10) When Barnabas came with Paul to Jerusalem in connection with famine relief, Mark also got to know Paul. These associations in the congregation and with zealous visiting ministers no doubt instilled in Mark the desire to enter missionary service. So we find him as companion and attendant to Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. For some reason, however, Mark left them in Perga, Pamphylia, and returned to Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29, 30; 12:25; 13:5, 13) Because of this, Paul refused to take Mark along on the second missionary tour, and this resulted in a break between Paul and Barnabas. Paul took Silas, while Barnabas took his cousin Mark and sailed with him to Cyprus.—Acts 15:36-41.
3 Mark proved himself in the ministry and became a valuable help not only to Barnabas but later also to the apostles Peter and Paul. Mark was with Paul (c. 60-61 C.E.) during his first imprisonment in Rome. (Philem. 1, 24) Then we find Mark with Peter in Babylon between the years 62 and 64 C.E. (1 Pet. 5:13) Paul is again a prisoner in Rome probably in the year 65 C.E., and in a letter he asks Timothy to bring Mark with him, saying, “for he is useful to me for ministering.” (2 Tim. 1:8; 4:11) This is the latest mention of Mark in the Bible record.
4-6. (a) How was Mark able to get the intimate details for his Gospel? (b) What indicates his close association with Peter? (c) Give examples of Peter’s characteristics in the Gospel.
4 The composition of this shortest of the Gospels is credited to this Mark. He was a coworker with Jesus’ apostles and one who placed his own life in the service of the good news. But Mark was not one of the 12 apostles, and he was not an immediate companion of Jesus. Where did he get the intimate details that make his account of Jesus’ ministry really live from beginning to end? According to the earliest tradition of Papias, Origen, and Tertullian, this source was Peter, with whom Mark was closely associated.a Did not Peter call him “my son”? (1 Pet. 5:13) Peter was an eyewitness of practically all that Mark recorded, so he could have learned from Peter many descriptive points that are lacking in the other Gospels. For example, Mark speaks of “the hired men” that worked for Zebedee, the leper entreating Jesus “on bended knee,” the demonized man “slashing himself with stones,” and Jesus’ giving his prophecy about the ‘coming of the Son of man with great power and glory’ while he was sitting on the Mount of Olives “with the temple in view.”—Mark 1:20, 40; 5:5; 13:3, 26.
5 Peter himself was a man of deep emotions and so could appreciate and describe to Mark the feelings and emotions of Jesus. So it is that Mark frequently records how Jesus felt and reacted; for example, that he looked “around upon them with indignation, being thoroughly grieved,” that he “sighed deeply,” and that he “groaned deeply with his spirit.” (3:5; 7:34; 8:12) It is Mark who tells us of Jesus’ sentiments toward the rich young ruler, saying that he “felt love for him.” (10:21) And what warmth we find in the account that Jesus not only stood a young child in the midst of his disciples but also “put his arms around it,” and that on another occasion “he took the children into his arms”!—9:36; 10:13-16.
6 Some of Peter’s characteristics are to be seen in Mark’s style, which is impulsive, living, vigorous, vital, and descriptive. It seems he can hardly relate events fast enough. For example, the word “immediately” occurs again and again, carrying the story along in dramatic style.
7. What distinguishes Mark’s Gospel from that of Matthew?
7 Although Mark had access to the Gospel of Matthew and his record contains only 7 percent that is not contained in the other Gospels, it would be a mistake to believe that Mark simply condensed Matthew’s Gospel and added a few special details. Whereas Matthew had portrayed Jesus as the promised Messiah and King, Mark now considers his life and works from another angle. He portrays Jesus as the miracle-working Son of God, the conquering Savior. Mark puts stress on the activities of Christ rather than on his sermons and teachings. Only a small proportion of the parables and one of Jesus’ longer discourses are reported, and the Sermon on the Mount is omitted. It is for this reason that Mark’s Gospel is shorter, though it contains just as much action as the others. At least 19 miracles are specifically referred to.
8. What features indicate Mark’s Gospel was evidently written for the Romans?
8 While Matthew wrote his Gospel for the Jews, Mark evidently wrote primarily for the Romans. How do we know this? The Law of Moses is mentioned only when reporting conversation that referred to it, and the genealogy of Jesus is left out. The gospel of Christ is represented as of universal importance. He makes explanatory comments on Jewish customs and teachings with which non-Jewish readers might be unfamiliar. (2:18; 7:3, 4; 14:12; 15:42) Aramaic expressions are translated. (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36; 15:22, 34) He qualifies Palestinian geographic names and plant life with explanations. (1:5, 13; 11:13; 13:3) The value of Jewish coins is given in Roman money. (12:42, footnote) He uses more Latin words than the other Gospel writers, examples being speculator (body guardsman), praetorium (governor’s palace), and centurio (army officer).—6:27; 15:16, 39.
9. Where and when was the book of Mark written, and what confirms its authenticity?
9 Since Mark evidently wrote primarily for the Romans, he most likely did his writing in Rome. Both earliest tradition and the contents of the book allow for the conclusion that it was composed in Rome during either the first or the second imprisonment of the apostle Paul, and hence during the years 60-65 C.E. In those years Mark was in Rome at least once, and likely twice. All the leading authorities of the second and third centuries confirm that Mark was the writer. The Gospel was already in circulation among Christians by the middle of the second century. Its appearance in all the early catalogs of the Christian Greek Scriptures confirms the authenticity of Mark’s Gospel.
10. How are the long and short conclusions of Mark to be regarded, and why?
10 However, the long and short conclusions that are sometimes added after chapter 16, verse 8, are not to be regarded as authentic. They are missing in most of the ancient manuscripts, such as the Sinaitic and the Vatican No. 1209. The fourth-century scholars Eusebius and Jerome are in agreement that the authentic record closes with the words “they were in fear.” The other conclusions were probably added with a view to smoothing over the abruptness with which the Gospel ends.
11. (a) What proves Mark’s Gospel to be accurate, and what authority is emphasized? (b) Why is this “good news,” and what period does Mark’s Gospel cover?
11 That Mark’s account is accurate is to be seen from the full harmony of his Gospel not only with the other Gospels but also with all the Holy Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. Moreover, Jesus is shown again and again as one having authority not only in his spoken word but over the forces of nature, over Satan and the demons, over sickness and disease, yes, over death itself. So Mark opens his narrative with the impressive introduction: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ.” His coming and ministry meant “good news,” and hence the study of Mark’s Gospel must be beneficial to all readers. The events described by Mark cover the period from spring 29 C.E. to spring 33 C.E.
CONTENTS OF MARK
12. What is packed into the first 13 verses of Mark?
12 Baptism and temptation of Jesus (1:1-13). Mark begins the good news by identifying John the Baptizer. He is the foretold messenger, sent to proclaim: “Prepare the way of Jehovah, you people, make his roads straight.” Of the One soon to come, the baptizer says, ‘He is stronger than I.’ Yes, he will baptize, not with water, but with holy spirit. Jesus now comes from Nazareth of Galilee, and John baptizes him. The spirit descends on Jesus like a dove, and a voice is heard out of the heavens: “You are my Son, the beloved; I have approved you.” (1:3, 7, 11) Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and angels minister to him. All these dramatic events are packed into Mark’s first 13 verses.
13. In what ways does Jesus early demonstrate his authority as “the Holy One of God”?
13 Jesus begins ministry in Galilee (1:14–6:6). After John is arrested, Jesus goes preaching the good news of God in Galilee. What a startling message he has! “The kingdom of God has drawn near. Be repentant, you people, and have faith in the good news.” (1:15) He calls Simon and Andrew and James and John from their fishing nets to be his disciples. On the Sabbath he begins to teach in the synagogue at Capernaum. The people are astounded, for he teaches “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” He demonstrates his authority as “the Holy One of God” by driving an unclean spirit out of a possessed man and by healing Simon’s mother-in-law, who was sick with a fever. The news spreads like wildfire, and by nighttime “the whole city” has gathered outside Simon’s house. Jesus cures many that are sick and expels many demons.—1:22, 24, 33.
14. How does Jesus give proof of his authority to forgive sins?
14 Jesus declares his mission: “That I may preach.” (1:38) Throughout the whole of Galilee he preaches. Wherever he goes, he expels demons and heals the sick, including a leper and a paralytic to whom he says: “Your sins are forgiven.” Some of the scribes reason in their hearts, ‘This is blasphemy. Who can forgive sins but God?’ Discerning their thoughts, Jesus proves that “the Son of man has authority to forgive sins” by telling the paralytic to get up and go home. The people glorify God. When the tax collector Levi (Matthew) becomes his follower, Jesus tells the scribes: “I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.” He shows himself to be “Lord even of the sabbath.”—2:5, 7, 10, 17, 28.
15. What does Jesus declare about those who deny his miracles, and what does he say about family ties?
15 Jesus now forms the group of 12 apostles. His relatives manifest some opposition, and then some scribes from Jerusalem accuse him of expelling demons by means of the ruler of the demons. Jesus asks them, “How can Satan expel Satan?” and warns them: “Whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit has no forgiveness forever, but is guilty of everlasting sin.” During the discussion, his mother and brothers come seeking him, and Jesus is moved to declare: “Whoever does the will of God, this one is my brother and sister and mother.”—3:23, 29, 35.
16. By illustrations, what does Jesus teach about “the kingdom of God”?
16 Jesus starts teaching “the sacred secret of the kingdom of God” by illustrations. He speaks of the man who sows seed that falls on various kinds of soil (illustrating the different kinds of hearers of the word) and of the lamp shining from its lampstand. In another illustration, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is as when a man casts the seed upon the ground: “Of its own self the ground bears fruit gradually, first the grass-blade, then the stalk head, finally the full grain in the head.” (4:11, 28) He also gives the illustration of a mustard grain, which, though the tiniest of all seeds, grows large with great branches for shelter.
17. How do Jesus’ miracles demonstrate the extent of his authority?
17 As they cross the Sea of Galilee, Jesus miraculously causes a violent wind to abate, and the stormy sea becomes calm at his command: “Hush! Be quiet!” (4:39) Over in the country of the Gerasenes, Jesus expels a “Legion” of demons from one man and permits them to enter into a herd of about 2,000 swine, which, in turn, rush over a precipice and are drowned in the sea. (5:8-13) After this, Jesus crosses back to the opposite shore. A woman is healed of a flow of blood, incurable for 12 years, merely by touching Jesus’ outer garment, as he is on the way to raise the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus to life again. Truly, the Son of man has authority over both life and death! However, the people in Jesus’ home territory dispute his authority. He wonders at their lack of faith but continues “round about to the villages in a circuit, teaching.”—6:6.
18. (a) How is Jesus’ ministry expanded? (b) What moves Jesus to teach and to perform miracles?
18 Galilean ministry expanded (6:7–9:50). The 12 are sent out 2 by 2 with instructions and authority to preach and teach, to cure people, and to expel demons. The name of Jesus is becoming well-known, some thinking it is John the Baptizer raised from the dead. This possibility worries Herod, during whose birthday party John had been beheaded. The apostles return from their preaching tour and make a report of their activity to Jesus. A great crowd of people follow Jesus around Galilee, and he is ‘moved with pity for them, because they are as sheep without a shepherd.’ So he starts to teach them many things. (6:34) He lovingly provides material food too, feeding 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fishes. Shortly after, when the disciples in their boat are hard put battling against a windstorm as they make for Bethsaida, he comes walking to them on the sea and calms the wind. No wonder that even his disciples are “much amazed”!—6:51.
19, 20. (a) How does Jesus give reproof to the scribes and Pharisees? (b) What circumstances lead to Peter’s also being reproved?
19 In the district of Gennesaret, Jesus gets into a discussion with the scribes and Pharisees from Jerusalem about eating with unwashed hands, and he rebukes them for ‘letting go the commandment of God and holding fast the tradition of men.’ He says it is not what enters from outside that defiles a man, but it is what issues from inside, out of the heart, namely, “injurious reasonings.” (7:8, 21) Going north into the regions of Tyre and Sidon, he performs a miracle for a Gentile, expelling a demon from the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman.
20 Back in Galilee, Jesus again feels pity for the crowd following him and feeds 4,000 men with seven loaves and a few little fishes. He warns his disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, but at the time they fail to get the point. Then, another miracle—the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida. In a discussion on the way to the villages in Caesarea Philippi, Peter convincingly identifies Jesus as “the Christ” but then objects strongly when Jesus speaks of the approaching sufferings and death of the Son of man. For this, Jesus reproves him: “Get behind me, Satan, because you think, not God’s thoughts, but those of men.” (8:29, 33) Jesus exhorts his disciples to follow him continually for the sake of the good news; if they become ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of them when he arrives in the glory of his Father.
21. (a) Who see “the kingdom of God already come in power,” and how? (b) How does Jesus emphasize putting the Kingdom first?
21 Six days later, when up on a lofty mountain, Peter, James, and John are privileged to see “the kingdom of God already come in power” as they behold Jesus transfigured in glory. (9:1) Jesus again demonstrates his authority by expelling a speechless spirit from a boy, and a second time he speaks of his coming suffering and death. He counsels his disciples not to allow anything to hinder them from entering into life. Does your hand make you stumble? Cut it off! Your foot? Cut it off! Your eye? Throw it away! It is far better to enter into the Kingdom of God maimed than to be pitched whole into Gehenna.
22. What counsel highlights Jesus’ ministry in Perea?
22 Ministry in Perea (10:1-52). Jesus comes to the frontiers of Judea and “across the Jordan” (into Perea). Pharisees now question him about divorce, and he uses the opportunity to state godly principles for marriage. A rich young man questions him about inheriting everlasting life but is grieved at hearing that to have treasure in heaven, he must sell his possessions and become Jesus’ follower. Jesus tells his disciples: “It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.” He encourages those who have forsaken all on account of the good news, promising them “a hundredfold now . . . with persecutions, and in the coming system of things everlasting life.”—10:1, 25, 30.
23. What conversation and miracle ensue on the way to Jerusalem?
23 Jesus and the 12 now set out on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus tells them a third time about the suffering before him and also of his resurrection. He asks them if they are able to drink the same cup that he is drinking, and he tells them: “Whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.” On their way out of Jericho, a blind beggar calls from the roadside: “Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me!” Jesus makes the blind man see—his last miraculous healing as recorded by Mark.—10:44, 47, 48.
24, 25. (a) By what actions does Jesus testify to his authority? (b) With what arguments does he answer his opponents? (c) What warning does Jesus give the crowd, and what does he commend to his disciples?
24 Jesus in and around Jerusalem (11:1–15:47). The account moves quickly! Jesus rides upon a colt into the city, and the people acclaim him as King. The next day he cleanses the temple. The chief priests and the scribes become fearful of him and seek his death. “By what authority do you do these things?” they ask. (11:28) Jesus skillfully turns the question back on them and tells the illustration of the cultivators who killed the heir of the vineyard. They see the point and leave him.
25 Next they send some of the Pharisees to catch him on the tax question. Calling for a denarius, he asks: “Whose image and inscription is this?” They reply: “Caesar’s.” Jesus then says: “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” No wonder they marvel at him! (12:16, 17) Now the Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection, try to catch him with the question: ‘If a woman had seven husbands in succession, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?’ Jesus promptly replies that those who rise from the dead will be “as angels in the heavens,” for they will not marry. (12:19-23, 25) “Which commandment is first of all?” asks one of the scribes. Jesus answers: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.’ The second is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’” (12:28-31) After this, nobody dares to question him. Jesus’ authority as the perfect teacher is upheld. The great crowd listen with pleasure, and Jesus warns them against the pompous scribes. Then he commends to his disciples the poor widow who put more into the temple treasury chest than all the others, for her two small coins were “all of what she had, her whole living.”—12:44.
26. What is the only long discourse recorded by Mark, and with what admonition does it end?
26 Seated on the Mount of Olives with the temple in view, Jesus tells four of his disciples privately of “the sign” of the conclusion of these things. (This is the only long discourse recorded by Mark, and it parallels that of Matthew chapters 24 and 25.) It closes with Jesus’ admonition: “Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father. But what I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.”—13:4, 32, 37.
27. Describe the events leading up to Jesus’ betrayal in Gethsemane.
27 At nearby Bethany a woman anoints Jesus with costly perfumed oil. Some protest this as a waste, but Jesus says it is a fine deed, a preparation for his burial. At the appointed time, Jesus and the 12 assemble in the city for the Passover. He identifies his betrayer and institutes the memorial supper with his faithful disciples, and they depart for the Mount of Olives. On the way Jesus tells them that they will all be stumbled. “I will not be,” exclaims Peter. But Jesus says to him: “This night, before a cock crows twice, even you will disown me three times.” On reaching the spot named Gethsemane, Jesus withdraws to pray, asking his disciples to keep on the watch. His prayer is climaxed with the words: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.” Three times Jesus returns to his disciples, and three times he finds them sleeping, even “at such a time as this”! (14:29, 30, 36, 41) But the hour has come! Look!—the betrayer!
28. What are the circumstances of Jesus’ arrest and appearance before the high priest?
28 Judas draws close and kisses Jesus. This is the sign for the chief priests’ armed men to arrest him. They bring him to the court of the high priest, where many bear false witness against him, but their testimonies are not in agreement. Jesus himself keeps silent. Finally, the high priest questions him: “Are you the Christ the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus replies, “I am.” The high priest cries, ‘Blasphemy!’ and they all condemn him to be liable to death. (14:61-64) In the courtyard below, Peter has denied Jesus three times. A cock crows a second time, and Peter, recalling Jesus’ words, breaks down and weeps.
29. What record does Mark make of Jesus’ final trial and execution, and how is the Kingdom shown to be at issue?
29 Immediately at dawn the Sanhedrin consults and sends Jesus bound to Pilate. He quickly recognizes that Jesus is no criminal and tries to release him. However, at the insistence of the mob incited by the chief priests, he finally hands Jesus over to be impaled. Jesus is brought to Golgotha (meaning, “Skull Place”) and is impaled, with the charge against him written above: “The King of the Jews.” Passersby reproach him: “Others he saved; himself he cannot save!” At noon (the sixth hour) a darkness falls over the whole land until three o’clock. Then Jesus cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and expires. At seeing these things, an army officer remarks: “Certainly this man was God’s Son.” Joseph of Arimathea, one of the Sanhedrin but a believer in the Kingdom of God, asks Pilate for Jesus’ body and lays it in a tomb quarried out of rock.—15:22, 26, 31, 34, 39.
30. On the first day of the week, what happens at the tomb?
30 Events after Jesus’ death (16:1-8). Very early on the first day of the week, three women go out to the tomb. To their surprise they find that the large stone at the entrance has been rolled away. “A young man” who is sitting inside tells them that Jesus is raised up. (16:5) He is no longer there but is going ahead of them into Galilee. They flee from the tomb, trembling and in fear.
31. (a) How does Mark testify to Jesus’ being the Messiah? (b) What proves Jesus’ authority as the Son of God, and what did he emphasize?
31 Through this vivid pen picture of Jesus Christ, all readers of Mark, from early Christian times until now, have been able to identify the fulfillment of many prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the Messiah. From the opening quotation, “Look! I am sending forth my messenger before your face,” to Jesus’ agonized words on the stake, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the entire account of his zealous ministry, as recorded by Mark, is in accord with what the Hebrew Scriptures foretold. (Mark 1:2; 15:34; Mal. 3:1; Ps. 22:1) Moreover, his miracles and marvelous works, his healthful teaching, his flawless refutations, his utter dependence on Jehovah’s Word and spirit, and his tender shepherding of the sheep—all these things mark him as the One who came with authority as the Son of God. He taught “as one having authority,” authority received from Jehovah, and he emphasized “preaching the good news of God,” namely, that “the kingdom of God has drawn near,” as his primary work here on earth. His teaching has proved to be of inestimable benefit to all who have paid heed to it.—Mark 1:22, 14, 15.
32. How many times does Mark use the expression “kingdom of God,” and what are some of the guiding principles he sets out for gaining life through the Kingdom?
32 Jesus said to his disciples: “To you the sacred secret of the kingdom of God has been given.” Mark uses this expression “kingdom of God” 14 times and sets out many guiding principles for those who would gain life through the Kingdom. Jesus stated: “Whoever loses his soul for the sake of me and the good news will save it.” Every hindrance to gaining life must be removed: “It is finer for you to enter one-eyed into the kingdom of God than with two eyes to be pitched into Gehenna.” Jesus further declared: “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a young child will by no means enter into it,” and, “How difficult a thing it will be for those with money to enter into the kingdom of God!” He said that the one who discerns that keeping the two great commandments is worth far more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices is “not far from the kingdom of God.” These and other Kingdom teachings of Mark’s Gospel contain much good admonition that we can apply in our daily lives.—4:11; 8:35; 9:43-48; 10:13-15, 23-25; 12:28-34.
33. (a) How may we gain benefit from Mark’s Gospel? (b) To what course should Mark encourage us, and why?
33 The good news “according to Mark” can perhaps be read through entirely in one or two hours, giving the reader a thrilling, quick, and dynamic review of Jesus’ ministry. Such straight reading of this inspired account, as well as closer study and meditation on it, will always prove beneficial. Mark’s Gospel is of benefit to persecuted Christians today in the same way as in the first century, for true Christians now face “critical times hard to deal with” and have need for such inspired guidance as is found in this record concerning our Exemplar, Jesus Christ. Read it, thrill to its dramatic action, and draw encouragement to follow in the steps of the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus, with the same invincible joy that he showed. (2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 12:2) Yes, see him as a man of action, be imbued with his zeal, and copy his uncompromising integrity and courage amid trial and opposition. Gain comfort from this rich portion of the inspired Scriptures. Let it benefit you in your pursuit of everlasting life!