Gospel of Mark (Chapter 1 – 16) – Be Diligent
Selected Themes in Mark
1. Main and Sub-themes
The main thrust of the Gospel of Mark is to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and should therefore be followed.
Mark presents Jesus as the suffering Servant of the Lord.
- Mark 10:45 – For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
His focus is on the deeds of the Lord Jesus more than on His teaching – particularly emphasizing service and sacrifice. In fact, Mark’s gospel reads as a very fast-paced narrative – the word “immediately” is used often to connect story to story within the Gospel.
Mark omits the lengthy discourses and sermons of the Lord Jesus which are prominent in the other gospels, often relating only brief excerpts which give the gist of Jesus’ teaching. In this way, Mark is very valuable for summarizing, accurately, the main point of Jesus’ lengthy sermons.
Mark also leaves out accounts of Jesus’ ancestry and birth, starting at his public ministry.
Some other important sub-themes in the Gospel of Mark include the Kingdom of God, the Power of Satan and the Miracles of Jesus.
2. The Kingdom of God
a. Throughout the gospels, Jesus Christ proclaims the Kingdom of God. The good news is, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This phrase is introduced emphatically at the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Mark and it is very important, both to Christ’s message, and to the Gospel of Mark. Christ is presented as a King over a kingdom which is “at hand”, meaning that it was impending, or imminent.
First, the kingdom of God is a literal Kingdom. The Macarthur Study Bible describes the kingdom of God as “God’s sovereign rule over the sphere of salvation, in the hearts of his People, and over a literal earthly kingdom in (Rev 20:4-6)”. There are two aspects of the kingdom of God. It is both spiritual and literal.
A literal kingdom means that the Kingdom of God exists in a tangible sense and all prophecy assert this. For example, Isaiah 33:17 describes the ruler of the Kingdom of God – “Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty, they will see a land that stretches afar“.
In Daniel 2, the kingdom is described as one that will destroy and supplant all other kingdoms. Those other kingdoms are literal, so the Kingdom of God that supplants them will also be literal.
The Old Testament Prophets also insist that the coming kingdom will actually be a revival and a restoration of the Old Testament kingdom of history. Micah 4:8 reads, “And you, O tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion [this refers to Jerusalem, the site of the Temple, the capital city of Israel], to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem [this tells us that the future kingdom will be literal like the former kingdom].”
Hence the Kingdom of God is certainly one that is tangible and real, where Jesus Christ is King and the center of the kingdom is Jerusalem. When Jesus Christ presented the Kingdom in the opening of Mark, he was referring to this tangible kingdom, and not merely a spiritual one.
b. Next, the kingdom announced by the Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom set forth by the Old Testament prophets is identical. Why do I say this?
First, the term “Kingdom of heaven”, used by Christ, is clearly derived from the Old Testament prophecies of Daniel in 2:44 and 7:13-14.
Second, the Lord Jesus Christ constantly appealed to Old Testament prophets and there is no place in Scripture where Christ said that his Kingdom was different from that of the prophets.
Thirdly, the prophecy about the coming of the Messiah was fulfilled as written by the prophets.
- Mic 5:2 – But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
- Zec 9:9 to10 – Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
All these have come to pass, and their fulfillment is recorded for us in the Gospels. Hence, it shows that the kingdom of God in the Old Testament and the Kingdom of God in the gospels are exactly the same.
The Kingdom of God was preached without any formal explanation of its character. It was assumed that the audiences would know what was being referred to. Israel certainly knew, they had the prophets who were read and taught in every synagogue.
c. The third thing we need to understand about the Kingdom of God is its all-encompassing nature. The leaders of Jesus’ day envisioned and desired the Kingdom of God to be mostly social and political in character. However, Jesus took great pains to show them that the kingdom was not merely to be a social and political kingdom, it was an all encompassing kingdom comprising six characteristics:
- One, the Kingdom of God is spiritual, a person has to be born again to enter the kingdom of God
Mark 1:15 – The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
One has to repent and believe, that is, to be born again into new life, to enter the kingdom of God.
- Two, the Kingdom of God is ethical; it is a kingdom when moral righteousness is important, and evil and wickedness will be judged. The sermon on the Mount and the beatitudes illustrate this. Remember also the words of Jesus in Mark 9:47 – And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell. This verse shows that the one entering the Kingdom of God has to ruthlessly deal with sin, because the Kingdom of God is an ethical kingdom.
- Three, the Kingdom of God is social. There would be correction of social ills and at the establishment of the Kingdom. All wickedness will be removed by supernatural agency, and the righteous will establish a new social order in the Kingdom of God. Mat 13:41 to 43 – The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
- Four, the Kingdom of God will be ecclesiastical, the worship of God would be central to the kingdom. The Lord Jesus chased the money changers out of the temple, because as the mediatoral Priest-king, Christ lays claim to the Jewish temple, citing an Old Testament prophecy of the kingdom in defense of this action. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
- Mark 11:17 – And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.”
- Isa 56:7 to 8 – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”
- The Kingdom of God will also be a political kingdom – Jesus promises the twelve disciples that they will sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, and also that Jesus Christ himself will sit upon a throne of glory judging the nations on the earth.
- Mat 19:28 – Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
- Finally, the Kingdom of God will be physical. This is shown is Jesus assurance to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2 to 6 – Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?“ And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Thus, the kingdom of God would be all encompassing.
d. In Mark, the Kingdom of God is preached at the outset (Mark 1:15). And in the initial years of the Lord Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, He gained incredible popularity.
- Mark 1:32 – That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.
- Mark 1:37 – and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”
- Mark 3:7 to 9 – Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem and Idumea and from beyond the Jordan and from around Tyre and Sidon. When the great crowd heard all that he was doing, they came to him. And he told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, lest they crush him.
However, the Jews quickly rejected their King. When they rejected Jesus Christ, their King, they also rejected the Kingdom. From then on, there is a turning point in the book of Mark. We must be sensitive to this turning point. At the outset, the good news is announced to Israel alone. “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. (Matt 15:24) This means that the establishment of the kingdom was contingent upon the attitude of the nation of Israel. The announcement that the Kingdom of God was at hand forced Israel to make a decision. But they made the wrong one. They rejected their Messiah.
In Mark 3:22 – the scribes accused Jesus of being possessed by Beelzubul, saying that he cast out demons by the ruler of the demons. Their statement was representative of the perspectives of the Jews in general. Not only did they reject him, they accused him of casting out demons in Satan’s name. When the Jews rejected their Messiah, everything changed. The kingdom of God as prophesied in the Old Testament was one where Jesus would be King, ruling from Jerusalem and where the blessings would thereafter flow to all peoples. Having been rejected, the Kingdom message changed. Following this rejection, no longer was the kingdom proclaimed to be “at hand”.
It is important to note that God certainly knew that Israel would reject the Messiah. There was no change in God’s sovereign plan, determined before the foundation of the world. Nevertheless, the kingdom programme took on a different track following the rejection by the Jews of their king.
Jesus hence began to teach in parables, in stories so that Gentiles could understand the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus begins announcing the concept of a church, which has never been taught before. Although the kingdom plan has changed, the kingdom is not abandoned – only postponed. The supernatural effects in the physical realm will recede into the background during the era of the church. Its operation will be largely behind the veil of divine providential control.
As we study the Gospel of Mark, we will see this turning point in the life of Christ. Once the kingdom was boldly and openly proclaimed, but later, it would be taught only in parables to conceal the truth from the unbelieving. One day, Israel will recognise Jesus as their Messiah, and the Kingdom of God will begin to be fulfilled then. This future turning point is prophesied in Zec 12:10 – “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”
a. According to the Biblical Studies Foundation, a miracle “is an unusual and significant event which requires the working of a supernatural agent and is performed for the purpose of authenticating the message or the messenger”.
During the course of His three-year public ministry, Jesus performed miracles that demonstrated His ability to heal, to master the elements, to affect the outcome of human endeavors, and even to raise the dead. Every one of His miracles occurred outside the bounds of natural law, and all of them had a beneficial result.
The miracles of our Lord abound in the Gospel of Mark. There are 18 miracles recorded, 15 of them concentrated in Mk 1:14 – 8:30.
- Delivering a man in the synagogue from demonic spirits (Mk 1:21-28)
- Healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk 1:29-31)
- Healing many sick people and casting out many demons (Mk 1:32-34)
- Cleansing a leper (Mk 1:40-45)
- Healing a paralytic (Mk 2:1-12)
- Healing a man with a withered hand (Mk 3:1-5)
- Calming a storm (Mk 4:35-41)
- Healing a man possessed by demons at Gadara (Mk 5:1-20)
- Healing a woman with an issue of blood (Mk 5:25-34)
- Raising Jairus’ daughter (Mk 5:21-43)
- Feeding more than 5,000 with five loaves and two fish (Mk 6:32-44)
- Walking on water (Mk 6:45-52)
- Healing a deaf and dumb man (Mk 7:31-37)
- Feeding another about 4,000 people(Mk 8:1-10)
- Healing the blind man at Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-26)
- Casting demons out of a lunatic boy (Mk 9:14-29)
- Healing the blind man Bartimeaus (Mk 10:46-52)
- Cursing the fig tree (Mk 11:12-26)
Let’s talk about the feeding of the 5000 for a moment. Somewhere, between the time that Jesus received the 5 loaves and 2 fish and the time that He handed it back to the disciples to feed the people, the meal had multiplied. Here is the invisible interaction between the divine and the natural world. When did the change take place? How did the multiplication occur? We do not know, and are unable to explain.
But miracles are only miracles to man; miracles are what God does by virtue of who He is and the power inherent in His being.
b. What Can We Observe from these Miracles?
First, it is clear that the Lord had power over His created world and its order. He had no difficulty circumventing the normal natural functioning of the world with His divine powers.
Second, the record of these miracles prove clearly Mark’s main point – that this was the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The miracles prove that the Lord Jesus Christ, even though a man, was not just a man. He was no mere man who was also the Son of God.
Third, Jesus saw the needs of the people through His eyes of compassion. He virtually banished demons and diseases wherever He went.
But we also have to note that the Lord did not heal every instance of disease. When he was told that everyone was looking for him because of the miracles and healings He performed, he told his disciples, “Let us to on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out” (Mark 1:38). His main mission was to preach the good news of the kingdom of God, and He subordinated His healing ministry to that main mission of preaching the Word of God.
Jesus saw a need through His eyes of compassion; Through feeding or through healing, He, through the power of God simply did what needed to be done. There is always the two-fold significance to the acts of Jesus. He meets a need and He shows forth the glory of God. Hence, on his return visit to Nazareth, the Lord performed but very few miracles because the people doubted Him. Mark 6:5 – And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. Where the desire for miracles was mixed with faithless doubt, the Lord refrained from doing miracles.
Finally, there is always the two-fold significance to the miracles of Jesus. He met needs and showed forth the glory of God. Miracles are a mingling of love and power.
4. The Disciples
a. Jesus is the leader of a small itinerant group made up of the 12 disciples. Even though the majority of incidents narrated the Twelve do not play a central role, they are always there as silent presence, watching, learning, reacting, and gradually being moulded into the focused community who will become the spearhead of the new movement of the kingdom of God after Jesus has gone.
Jesus throughout his ministry had placed emphasis in training of his disciples, teaching them about Jesus’ own mission and the new values of the kingdom of God which he has come to establish.
b. The 12 disciples chosen by Jesus are:
1) Simon, who is also called Peter
2) Andrew, Simon’s brother
3) James, son of Zebedee
4) John, James’ brother
7) Thomas, the tax collector
8) Matthew, the tax collector
9) James, the son of Alphaeus
11) Simon, the Zealot
12) Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus
“The story Mark tells is to a large extent the story of Jesus as seen by his disciples. It is the story of their gradual ‘conversion’, with its new insights and sacrificial commitments as well as its gaffes and failures. It is about how 12 ordinary men met Jesus and entered into a new dimension of living.”
c. Significant Observations of the Disciples
We can draw some significant observations about the disciples.
We can learn from their wholehearted commitment as they leave everything to follow Jesus.
- Mark 10:28 to 30 – Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”
The disciples had privileged insight into the secret of the kingdom of God.
- Mark 4:11 – And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.”
They also shared in the Lord’s work of proclamation and deliverance.
- Mark 3:14 to 15 – And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.
d. Weaknesses and Failures of the Disciples
Mark has also revealed the many weakness and failures of the disciples. What Mark has done is to allow his readers to trace the weakness which led to that failure, so that history might not be allowed to repeat itself.
Some of the weakness and failures of the disciples are:
- Their fear and faithlessness – after Jesus stilled the storm, he had this to say to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40)
- Their selfish ambition – while they were walking along the road, they had a huge argument, and when the Lord inquired of them what they were talking about, Mark 9:34 tells us “But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” They knew it was wrong to jostle for greatness this way.
- Their spiritual failure – when faced with a boy possessed by an unclean spirit, the disciples were unable to cast out the demon. The Lord told them that “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” in Mark 9:29. Perhaps emboldened by their earlier successes, they became over confident of their own power, and neglected to pray!
- Their ultimate desertion of their master – a situation was later reversed at the Pentecost. This is most prominently pictured by Peter’s denial of Christ in Mark 14:66 to72.
- Their inability to grasp the basic principle of Jesus’ teaching and mission – Mark 8:14 to 21 – contains a most poignant account of this. When the Lord cautioned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees, they thought that it was because they had no bread! And Jesus ended patient explanation in that instance with the question, “Do you not yet understand?”
e. The Book of Mark dwells extensively on who Christ is and what it means to be a disciple. Both of these require us to fully understand who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him. Mark set out in his gospel to present the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God (Mk 1:1).
The Lord Himself, as Son of God, said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34)
As Dick France put it, “Discipleship is the proper outcome of a healthy Christology.”