Why would God put four gospels in the Bible? Why isn’t one account of Jesus’ life sufficient? Because Jesus is such a larger-than-life figure he must be viewed from many different angles for man to see his fullness. The Gospel of Mark does not have many large blocks of Jesus’ teaching as other gospels do. Instead, he focuses on the actions of Jesus. In doing this, he reveals the heart of Jesus in a unique way. This gospel uniquely reveals both the absolute authority of Jesus and the servant nature of Jesus.
John Mark, the writer of this gospel, was not an eye witness of Jesus. But early church fathers write of the close relationship between Peter and Mark and early tradition holds that Mark wrote down what Peter dictated to him. Even Peter himself considered Mark his “son” (see 1 Peter 5:13).
Early church history also teaches this gospel was written in Rome and to Romans. This is indicated by Mark’s use of Latin words and because he also explains certain Aramaic words or phrases which the Romans would not have naturally been able to understand. We know for sure that Mark’s intention was to write a clear account of the good news of Jesus (Mark 1:1). He evidently did this to evangelize the Romans and also to encourage Christians in Rome who were suffering under the persecution of Nero.
The Romans were an action-oriented people, and so this gospel is packed with action. A key word in this gospel is straightway (in other versions immediately, or at once). This word is used at least nine times in this first chapter alone! Mark’s gospel is like the “action film” of the gospels. Everything moves quickly and it is written in a story-telling mode. In this first chapter, John the Baptist is given only five verses. The temptation of Jesus is given only two verses.
Note the astonishing amount of action in this first chapter:
- John is introduced and introduces Jesus
- Jesus is baptized and affirmed from heaven by His Father
- The Spirit comes upon Jesus and leads him into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan
- Jesus calls his first disciples
- Jesus begins his ministry by teaching in the synagogues
- Jesus casts out demons and heals many who were sick, including a man with leprosy.
What a way to start a story! But it is also important to note the Messianic thread that goes back into the Old Testament. At Jesus’ baptism, we hear echoes of the prophets and wisdom literature. Jesus is portrayed as the suffering servant of Isaiah 42:1. He is the subject of the Messianic prophecy of Psalm 2:7 to whom the nations will be given.
There are the two key portraits of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. First, Jesus is a man of great authority. Satan, demons and sicknesses obey him. His teaching was not like any other man, but filled with wisdom and authority. Yet, secondly, he is also a man who serves those around him by setting them free and preaching the good news of the kingdom. He is a man like no other, who gives hope to those who are without it.
The great power of God in the form of a serving human being. This is the picture of Jesus John Mark paints.