Around the world today, Christians will gather together to do what they have done for 2,000 years. They will open their Bibles to see and hear the Word of God. But the big question that many ask, is this: “Is the Bible reliable? Is it really the Word of God?” I want to begin by considering that question and by focusing on the Gospel according to Mark. Stay tuned!
Some have claimed that the Gospels are forgeries, imaginary stories that were the product mostly of legends that had developed about the life of Jesus well into the second century, many decades after the events in the life of Christ. We are told that the earliest witnesses to the New Testament documents got it wrong. Two thousand years have passed and somehow some think that we are in a much better position to determine what actually happened and who wrote the Gospels and letters of the New Testament. We are told that the Gospels which bear the names of Matthew and of John, for example, were not actually written by Matthew and John. They may not even have been written in the first century.
We are told that as time passed, people began to put their faith in this legendary Jesus, one that was the product of vivid imaginations. A Jesus that could walk on water, opened blinded eyes, feed multitudes with a meager lunch, raise the dead, and even die himself and come back to life again. Stories that gullible people of days gone by could swallow, but impossible to believe for intelligent people of the 21st century.
In order to get people to believe such myths, the authors of such works would attribute their works to such people as Thomas, Mary, Philip, and Nicodemus. In fact, we do have documents by those names
- The Gospel of Thomas (2nd century)
- The Gospel of Mary (2nd century)
- The Gospel of Philip (3rd century)
- The Gospel of Nicodemus (5th century)
- There is even a Gospel of Judas
We are told that these books have just as much right to be in the New Testament as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
But in fact, the so-called Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Philip, Nicodemus, and Judas have very little to do with the life and ministry of Jesus and were mostly unknown in theological discussions and writings. They never played an important role in the life or teaching of the church.
Some people dismiss the Gospels that we find in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as inventions of the church. They want us to believe that these books were not actually written by their namesakes. They want to believe that the early church invented these Gospels and then attached the names of important people to them. That is certainly the case in the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Philip, and Nicodemus. On that point, everyone is in agreement.
But if the early church were making up these stories, why would they ever attribute a Gospel to someone like Mark? Mark? Who was Mark? Mark was not one of the twelve apostles. He was not one of the seven chosen deacons of Acts 6. No, Mark was not the illustrious name that you would want to attribute a Gospel to. Besides the fact that such a theory makes no sens, it goes against history and the testimony of over 5,700 Greek manuscripts, some from as early as the first century.
No, the reason that this so-called second Gospel is attributed to Mark is simply because it was written by Mark.
1. So Who Was Mark?
Mark was also called John Mark, and he was a cousin of Barnabas. Barnabas and Paul were sent by the church at Antioch to take an offering to the brothers in Judea (Acts 11:29),
When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them (Act 12:25 NLT).
Later when Barnabas and Saul are sent by the church at Antioch on their first missionary journey, they take Mark with them, but the story does not end well. Luke describes that first missionary journey in 75 verses, but by the time he gets to the tenth verse of his narration, John Mark has abandoned Paul and Barnabas, returning to Jerusalem. John Mark turns out to be a missionary dropout. On his first missionary journey with the Apostle Paul, Mark went crying home to Mama. Paul was so disappointed with Mark, that he refused to let him go with him on his next missionary journey, so Barnabas took his cousin and they went to Cyprus.
The “Gospel according to Mark the Dropout” doesn’t sound like it will hit the bestseller list.
But of course, the story does not end there. Paul and Mark are eventually reconciled and Paul acknowledges that Mark “will be helpful to me in my ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11. See also Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 24.)
1.1. Mark’s Source
But where did Mark get his information? How did he write this gospel?
Some people have a very mysterious idea about Scripture. They think that everything that we read in the Bible came be revelation. The Bible states that all Scripture is given by inspiration, not by revelation. God inspired and directed the writers of the Bible to write what they wrote, but when it comes to history, it was not simply revealed to them; they already knew what had happened. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses to what Jesus did. Luke tells us that he carefully researched everything that he wrote and consulted eyewitnesses, as he says in his introduction,
Luke 1:4 NET so that you may know for certain the things you were taught.
Matthew and John were eyewitnesses. Luke carefully researched and consulted eyewitnesses. So how did Mark know what to write?
Mark may have been a witness to Jesus. Perhaps he had seen Jesus with his own eyes. We know that he lived in Jerusalem. And some New Testament scholars think that he may be that young man who escaped being taken prisoner by the guards the night that Jesus was arrested. Mark alone records these lines that seem to have nothing else to do with the story:
Mark 14:51-52 ESV And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
That may be Mark’s signature. But one thing is certain. He has seen Jesus through the eyes of Peter. Yes, there is huge evidence in the New Testament itself and in the testimony of the early church that Mark travelled with Peter as his interpreter.
The first and last references to John Mark in the New Testament are quite interesting because in both references, Mark is associated with the Apostle Peter. In Acts 12, Peter had been imprisoned. King Herod intended to execute Peter but an angel opened the prison doors and Peter found his way to the house of Mary, the mother of — John Mark where the believers were praying for Peter’s release.
Acts 12:12 ESV When he [Peter] realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.
That means that John Mark was well known to the believers and to the Apostle Peter.
The final New Testament reference to Mark is in Peter’s letter from Rome:
1 Peter 5:13 NLT Your sister church here in Babylon [Rome] sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.
Peter calls Mark his son. Mark would be his spiritual son. This fits in perfectly with what early and reliable witnesses tell us about Mark. He served as Peter’s interpreter, and the Apostle Peter himself was the chief source of Mark’s Gospel.
It is also interesting to note that Simone Peter is the first and last disciple to be mentioned in the Gospel according to Mark. Simon Peter is the first disciple to be mentioned in the first chapter when Jesus says to him, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). Peter is also the last disciple mentioned in this Gospel when the angels tell the women,
Mark 16:7 ESV But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
Mark’s Gospel is not about Peter; it’s about Jesus Christ, but it is through the eyes of Peter, that John Mark has seen him clearly.
1.2. Title: The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
So we come to the title: The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mark begins at the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry. Unlike John, Mark does not start in eternity past. John starts like this:
John 1:1-3 (ESV) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not give us the genealogy of Christ, tracing his earthy parentage back through King David to Abraham or back to Adam like Matthew and Luke. Mark contains no birth narratives, no angelic appearances to Mary and Joseph, no trip to Bethlehem, no flight to Egypt, no return to Israel, no visits to the temple as a young boy.
No, Mark begins at the beginning of the earthly ministry of Christ. This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
1.2.1. Major Theme
Here we come to the major theme of each of the Gospels: the man called Jesus. Mark entitles his Gospel, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The question is, Who is Jesus Christ? The question of “Who?” comes up again and again in this gospel.
For example, in chapter 4 of Mark, Jesus and the disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is sleeping in the bottom of the boat when the disciples find themselves in a terrible storm in the middle of the Sea. Water begins to fill the boat and the disciples fear for their very lives. They wake up Jesus.
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mar 4:38 ESV)
Jesus rebukes the wind and the waves, and suddenly the wind stopped and there was a great calm.
Mark 4:41 NLT The disciples were absolutely terrified. [They are apparently more terrified by Jesus than they had been of the storm.] “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
That is the question: Who is this man?
On another occasion, four men bring a paralytic to Jesus. There is such a crowd in the house that they cannot get close to Jesus, but they have an idea. They go up to the rooftop — roofs were very accessible. They remove part of the roof and lower the man down, right in front of Jesus!
Mark 2:5-7 ESV And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
To show that this is not empty talk and that he did indeed have the authority to forgive sins, Jesus healed the paralytic.
Mark 2:12 NLT And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”
The scribes had asked, “Who can forbid sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7).
Later, at an important turning point in this Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples,
Mark 8:27 NLT …”Who do people say I am?”
After hearing their answer, he asks them a second question,
Mark 8:29 NLT …”But who do you say I am?” …
That is also a question that you will have to answer. What do you think of Jesus Christ? Who is he? Who is this man?
The demons know who he is. As Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum,
Mark 1:23-25 NLT Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, 24 “Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are– the Holy One of God!” 25 Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered.
A few verses later we read,
Mark 1:34 NLT So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak.
Over and over again, Mark wants us to see who Jesus is, but already in the title he tells us exactly what he wants us to know:
Mark 1:1 ESV The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mark tells us that this is all about Jesus. Immediately he tells us two things about Jesus:
- Jesus is the Christ. The word Christ is a title. It comes from the Greek word χριστὸς (christos) and is a translation of the Hebrew word for Messiah which mean anointed. Three classes of people were anointed: priests, prophets, and kings. The anointing meant that they were especially qualified serve by the help — the anointing — of the Holy Spirit. Through the centuries, God had promised to send His Anointed One. Now the time had come. Jesus is that Christ. So Mark gives the title of his book: “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
- But Jesus is more than anointed with the Holy Spirit. The full title of Mark’s book is, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus is not only the Anointed One, the one that God had promised through the ages. This Anointed One, born of the virgin Mary, is also the Son of God. Mark tells us in the title what he will show in this Gospel. Jesus demonstrates time and again that he is the Son of God. This speaks of his divine nature. He is not another god. He is, as the New Testament says elsewhere, God “manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16).
Here you have, then in the title of this Gospel, the message that Mark wants to communicate: This is the Good News that the promised Christ has come, and he is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
1.2.2. John the Baptist, Forerunner of Christ
In the next verses, we read about John the Baptist. It may be surprising that John is suddenly introduced since this gospel is all about Jesus Christ. What does John have to do with it?
John the Baptist has a unique role in the Gospel story. His role is so important that even his coming was prophesied in the Old Testament and is highlighted in each of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. John the Baptist is the forerunner of Jesus Christ. He was sent before Christ to announce his coming. He points not to himself, but to Jesus Christ. Jesus does not suddenly appear on the scene announcing a new message. He is announced ahead of time.
The Old Testament had announced in many ways and with great precision the coming of the Christ so that when he came, we would have proof that he was the one who was promised because he would have the proper credentials. Hundreds of years before his birth, the details of his parentage, his birth, his mission, his life, his death, and his resurrection were announced by the prophets.
But it was also announced that he would have a forerunner, someone who would go before him and prepare the way. Isaiah and Malachi declare that a forerunner would prepare the way for the Messiah. The way we read it in Malachi, God Himself will come but His messenger will come first to prepare the way.
Malachi 3:1 ESV “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me…
Isaiah tells us that the one who comes to prepare the way, John the Baptist, prepares the way of the LORD who is Yahweh.
Isaiah 40:3 ESV A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Mark thus begins his Gospel, rooting it in its Old Testament foundation:
Mark 1:2-3 ESV As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”
Jesus is not simply some new prophet that has suddenly appeared; he has a forerunner. The ministry of both Jesus and his forerunner had been prophesied hundreds of years before their coming.
There is nothing like this in any other religion. No other so-called prophet had a forerunner. Mohamed did not. The Bahá’u’lláh did not. Joseph Smith did not. These men claimed to be prophets of God, undoing what had been done, reversing it, overturning it, modifying it, changing it with their own teaching. But none of them were announced and none of them had a forerunner.
By great contrast, Jesus did not come to reverse, overturn, modify or annul what had been revealed; he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. And he alone had a forerunner announcing that he, Jesus, was the one.
New Testament scholar Jakob van Bruggen wrote,
“There are three great religions of the book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three recognize the great value of Moses. But Judaism criticizes Christianity for threatening monotheism by confessing Jesus as God’s Son, and Islam makes the same criticism. While the Jews rally around Moses, Islam moves on to the great prophet Mohammed. The two religions [Judaism and Islam] differ over prophets. But between the two of them and Christianity stands the acknowledgment of a man, Jesus of Nazareth, as “more than a prophet,” as true God. Immanuel. [“God with us.”]
“By what right does Jesus elevate himself above Moses and Mohammed? Dare a human being make himself equal to God? Does Jesus not lack a prophet such as Yahweh has in Moses and Allah in Mohammed?
“The answer to this question is John the Baptist. Jesus is great (Luke 1:32) and John is his prophet (Luke 1:76)!”
In fact, John the Baptist was the greatest prophet to be born of woman. Greater than Moses and greater than Mohammed. And John the Baptist is the prophet of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus quotes the same passage that Mark quotes and then says,
Luke 7:28 ESV I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John…”
And who did John announce? He announced Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2. The Ministry of John the Baptist
2.1. The Ministry of John was a ministry of preparation.
John was called to prepare the Jewish people for the coming of their Messiah. One would have thought that as the people of God, they would have been ready. They were the descendants of Abraham. They had received the Law from Moses. They were the people of the covenant.
But the great shock is that we do not have a personal relationship with God through our heritage. We are not made right with God through what our parents did or through our church or through our nation.
John appears in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. You will remember that the nation of Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness. They had crossed over the Jordan river on dry ground.
Now John is treating the nation of Israel as a pagan nation and telling them that they need to repent of their sins. Put not your trust in Abraham. Put not your trust in Moses. Put not your trust in the Law. They need to leave the wilderness, as it were, and cross over the Jordan river. They are to cross over not on dry ground, but by being baptized, by drowning their past sinful life. John’s ministry is a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). John is preparing the way for the Christ, the Messiah. The road they walk has to be straight. They must change their way of thinking. They must change their way of living.
Mark 1:3 ESV …’Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”
2.2. The Message of John the Baptist
The ministry of John the Baptist was one of preparation. The message of John the Baptist was a message of proclamation. John proclaimed the coming of Jesus Christ. As we have seen, Jesus said of John,
Luke 7:28 NLT I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John…”
But the focus of John’s ministry was Jesus Christ. This greatest of all men pointed to one who was infinitely greater. His message was the superiority of Jesus Christ. John shows Christ’s superiority in three ways:
2.2.1. Christ Is Superior in Rank
This is what John said of Jesus:
Mark 1:7 NLT John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am– so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals.
Here the greatest man who ever lived, the forerunner of Jesus Christ, said that Jesus Christ is so greater that John is not even worthy to be the slave of Christ. Untying the straps of Jesus’ sandals would be too great of an honor of the greatest of all men. That is how incomparably greater Jesus Christ is to the greatest man who ever lived.
2.2.2. Christ Is Superior in Ministry
John makes a strong contrast between his ministry and Christ’s ministry:
Mark 1:8 NLT I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”
There is a great difference between water and the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to even compare them. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He has all the attributes of a person.
Now, when we talk about the three persons of the Trinity, we are not talking about three people or three human beings. “God is not a man” (Numbers 23:19). But the Holy Spirit has all the qualities of personhood including thought, will, and emotion. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit has all these characteristics and is distinct from both the Father and from the Son.
John says that his ministry is one of preparation. Jesus’ ministry is the fulfillment. John baptizes with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. Jesus himself makes the same comparison after his resurrection and shortly before he ascended into heaven:
Acts 1:4-5 NLT …he commanded them [his disciples], “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. 5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
The baptism in the Holy Spirit is for empowering. It is the baptism in the Holy Spirit that gives us the power of God himself to live for him and to serve him. Three verses later, Jesus told the disciples that this baptism in the Holy Spirit would give them the power they needed to be his witnesses.
Acts 1:8 NLT But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere– in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.
2.2.3. Christ Is Superior in Relationship to God
So first, John tells us that Christ is infinitely superior in rank. John, the greatest man to be born of woman, is not even worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals.
Second, John tells us that Christ is superior in ministry. While John baptizes people only in water, Jesus baptizes people into the Spirit of God Himself.
Finally, Christ is superior to John in relationship to God.
Mark 1:9-11 ESV In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
We might wonder why Jesus was baptized by John. Jesus identified with us. He took upon himself our sins. We read in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians,
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.
Another version says it like this,
2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
Jesus identified with us in his baptism. He took our sins upon himself. He showed us the way of confession and repentance.
But then, an amazing thing happened. When Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens split open and the Holy Spirit come down on him like a dove. Jesus, as the Word made flesh, as the God-man, was anointed by the Holy Spirit. We read in Acts
Acts 10:38 ESV how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
There was the baptism as Christ fulfilled all righteousness.
Then there was the anointing as the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus, showing that he was the Anointed One, for that is what the word Christ means.
Then there was the voice.
Mark 1:11 ESV And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
John the Baptist was a prophet, but he was not the Son of God. It is in the voice of God, declaring that Jesus was the Son of God, that we find confirmation that Mark had justly titled his book, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
As the Son, Jesus is of the same nature as God. As the Son, He is infinitely superior in relation to God. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father loves the Son and the Son does always that which is pleasing in the Father’s sight.
The Son came that we might be forgiven, that we might have eternal life now and for eternity. The Son came to show us the way: we must follow Him. We must confess our sins and turn from them. The Son came to do more than show the way; He is the way. It is through faith in Him alone and His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead that you and I can be restored to a right relationship with God.
Mark says that this book is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the Good News. It is the Best News. You can be forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
 Jakob van Bruggen, Jesus the Son of God, p. 71-72.
See also “Gospel of Mark”: