A Study of the Book of Mark

Peter is one of my favorite Bible characters. In Peter, we see a man who loves Jesus deeply but repeatedly flounders in his walk with God. The Gospel of Mark is Peter’s eyewitness account, as retold by Mark, of his time with Jesus and the other disciples before Jesus ascended. Mark vividly portrays Jesus and the shortcomings of Peter and the other disciples. There is hope for you and me!

Over the next few weeks, I will be teaching from the Gospel of Mark on Sunday mornings and writing subsequent blogs from this sermon series. The Gospel of Mark is fascinating—I hope you enjoy our study!

Who is Mark?

According to ancient tradition, Mark was a disciple of Simon Peter who wrote his gospel based on Peter’s preaching in Rome. He was not actually an eyewitness to what happened in the life of Jesus, rather he was Peter’s interpreter after the crucifixion and the resurrection. (This tradition is attested by Papias (ca. AD-60-140), a third generation Christian and bishop of the Church of Hierapolis, and other early Church leaders.)

Mark’s close association with Peter appears in the New Testament. In 1 Pet. 5:13, Peter sends greetings from “Mark, my son” who is with him in “Babylon,” which is a code name for Rome. We see in Acts 10:36-43, the writing structure is similar to the structure and style of Mark. Reading Mark, one gets the impression of discovering Jesus, day to day, through Peter’s eyes. Mark is essentially recording Peter’s eyewitness testimony with vivid details.

Later tradition holds that after serving Peter in Rome, Mark went on to establish the church in Alexandria in Egypt, and became the first bishop of that city.

For Whom Did Mark Write?

It is historically believed that Mark’s first readers were Roman Christians. Under Emperor Nero (AD 64-68), the church in Rome suffered brutal persecution.

After blaming Christians for the fire that destroyed Rome in 64, Nero punished these first-century believers by crucifying them, setting them on fire, and feeding them to the wild beasts. Some, under torture or threats, abandoned the faith or even betrayed other believers.

Mark seems to be writing to Christians in crisis. To the list of rewards promised to Jesus’ disciples, Mark makes sure to add: “with persecutions” (Mark 10:30). Only Mark records the saying that “everyone will be seasoned with fire” (Mark 9:49). He emphasizes Jesus’ warnings that the disciples will suffer betrayal by relatives and persecution at the hands of authorities (Mark 13:9-13).

Mark also portrays the fears, flaws, and failures of Jesus’ first disciples—known to his audience as the eminent leaders of the Church—with glaring honesty. The sons of Zebedee were reprimanded for seeking earthly prominence, yet Jesus promises that they will share in his destiny (Mark 10:39-40). Peter caved in under pressure (Mark 14:29-31), yet Mark’s audience knows of Peter’s forgiveness and restoration, his courageous leadership, and eventually his heroic martyrdom.

Mark encourages his readers, showing that God’s purposes are not foiled by human failure or opposition. The weakness of Jesus’ followers and the violent hostility of his enemies only play into God’s hands. We will all make mistakes, none of us are immune to missing the mark. Even in the midst of our imperfections, Jesus will have His church!

Realize that in this world, two kingdoms are in conflict—the kingdom of darkness opposing the kingdom of God. Jesus has defeated the darkness and God’s kingdom is advancing—not retreating!

When was the Book of Mark written?

Most scholars agree that Mark was written within a few decades of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Scripture as well as historical evidence indicate that Mark was most likely written either before the death of Peter (ca. AD 64-67), or shortly thereafter, but before the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD (Mark 13 suggests this).

Most scholars today believe that the gospel of Mark was written first, and used by Matthew and Luke. That said, not all agree with this view, including St. Augustine who believed Mark to be an abbreviated version of Matthew.

The Book of Mark for Today

Mark writes in “street language” Greek that made his writing easy to understand and accessible to all. His literary style is perhaps the most vivid of the gospels. One of his favorite Greek words is euthys, “immediately,” used over forty times (as compared to six times in Matthew and once in Luke), giving his narrative a sense of urgency and faced-paced action. The gospel of Mark emphasizes the passion of Jesus.

Mark urges the reader to decide who Jesus is. “Who is Jesus? How will I respond to Him?” Is His death on the cross a miserable failure, or is it God’s plan of salvation for the world? The focus of Mark’s gospel is the reality of the coming of the Messiah, or Christ, who enters His glorious reign through His death and His resurrection.

Jesus’ teachings direct his listeners’ attention to the eternal life that He has come to give them. His resurrection is the culmination of the gospel message and provides hope for the believer—many who are suffering.

His resurrection demonstrates the superiority of God’s kingdom over the kingdom of darkness. His deliverances and miracles demonstrated the present reality of God’s kingdom, and they prefigure His definitive victory over sin and Satan. They are to be believed and pursued today—they are fundamental in confirming the Kingdom message.

For Mark, because Jesus is alive, all that He said and did in His earthly life is not merely a past event, but a present source of grace and power to those who believe in Him. He writes so as to invite his readers to access that grace & power through faith.

Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (ca. AD 35-110), on his way to martyrdom at Rome wrote, “I flee to the Gospel as to the flesh of Jesus Christ.” What he meant is that the gospels do not merely tell him about Jesus but bring him into living contact with Jesus.  Don’t reduce the gospel to the application of exegetical methods. Sound methods are of course important, but Jesus is the Living Word!

The setting in which Mark wrote his gospel is not unlike the situation we face today as Christians. Those desiring to be faithful to Jesus may sometimes feel frightened in society, like the disciples in the boat on the stormy sea. Our world is frequently hostile to the gospel and to Jesus. Mark provides rich insight as to what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

I was in a tailor shop last week to pick up some clothes I had dropped off. I began to visit with the woman working there and noticed she had her hand in a cast. I asked her, “Can I pray for your hand?” She responded, “Please do!”

She said, “I so love it when a man is not afraid to pray in public.” As I was paying for my clothes, she continued, “The school my granddaughter attends has let everyone know they are going to begin teaching the Koran in school. My granddaughter raised her hand and asked the teacher, ‘If you teach the Koran, then can you teach the Bible as much as you teach the Koran?’

“‘But we have an atheist in room,’ the teacher responded. My granddaughter was astute enough to ask, ‘Well if the atheist is okay with the Koran, why is he not okay with the Bible?’” Great question!

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Even though we are living in this post-Christian nation, it does not minimize the reality of the gospels and who Jesus is. Our job is, therefore, to love people and bring them into an encounter with the King.

Mark’s gospel teaches us that a life of discipleship means following Jesus along the same path of misunderstanding and rejection that He encountered. For followers of Jesus of all ages the warning and promise are sure:

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

Your faith is demonstrated through your daily surrender to Jesus. Mark’s gospel displays that believers empowered by the Holy Spirit can and should expect to heal the sick and deliver the oppressed. (Mark 16:17-18)

In Conclusion

Our confidence is in Christ, His resurrection, and authority. Mark demonstrates that we have been given the authority of His name and filled with the Holy Spirit. We can live empowered and surrendered each day, walking in all that God has called us to do! [1]

Bob Sawvelle



[1] Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), passim. New Spirit Filled Life Bible, Thomas Nelson

For a more in-depth look at the Book of Mark, watch my recent sermon, A Study of the Book of Mark,  from Passion Church:

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