The Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Mark depicts Christ as the suffering yet powerful Servant of the Lord (Bailey & Constable 1999:67). Perhaps appropriate for a servant, Mark omits any genealogy. Christ fulfils the various Servant songs of Isaiah (42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12) and is presented as a Person of action. 42 times Jesus is shown to act “immediately” (euthus), as a servant should. 18 miraculous deeds of Jesus is recorded, as befitting the Servant of the Lord. The authority of this Servant is evident in His power over disease and demons (1:23-26, 30-31; etc.), nature (4:37-41; 6:35-44, etc.) and over death (5:22-24, 38-42). Perhaps appropriate for a servant, Mark shows Jesus’ feelings (cf. 3:5; 7:34; 10:21). This narrative, the shortest of the Gospels, moves along quickly.
External evidence strongly suggests that Mark, an associate of the apostle Peter, wrote this Gospel. Many well-known early Christians (Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, etc.) testify that Mark wrote this Gospel (Grassmick 1983:95). Many believe this Mark to be the same person who is mentioned 10 times in the New Testament (Acts 12:12, 25; Colossians 4:10; etc.). Mark seems to be a Jewish Christian who lived in a spacious house in Jerusalem with Mary, his well-to-do widowed mother (cf. Hiebert 1994:4-8; Bailey & Constable 1999:65). The detailed description of the “guest room” at the last Passover meal (14:12-16) may suggest that Mark is writing about his own home (cf. Acts 12:12; Bailey & Constable 1999:65). The (only) record of the young man who fled from Gethsemane (14:51-52) may indirectly point to the author himself (cf. Tenney 1985:163). Peter calls Mark “his son” (1 Peter 5:13), perhaps indicating that Mark became a Christian under Peter’s influence (Grassmick 1983:96) and so Mark may well have recorded Peter’s eyewitness account, explaining why this Gospel has such vivid details of Jesus’ life. So, internal evidence also points to Mark as being the author.
The Gospel of Mark could not have been written after AD 70, because the Olivet discourse depicts Jerusalem and the temple as still standing (13:2, 14-23). Many opt for a date either between AD 64-68 (Tenney 1985:161-164; Bailey & Constable 1999:66), ‘earlier’ (Cole 2008:24), or perhaps as early as the late AD 50’s (Grassmick 1983:99).
The purpose of the Gospel of Mark may be to explain the apparent paradox of how ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (1:1) can serve with authority as the Servant of the Lord and yet ‘did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (10:45). Santos (1997:452, 460) rightly calls this the paradox of authority and servanthood in Mark’s Gospel: ‘The paradox highlights the relationship of two important Marcan motifs: the Christological motif of authority and the discipleship motif of servanthood – motifs that interact intricately in Mark’. According to Lowery (1994:75), ‘This combination of great authority and abject humiliation in Jesus’ life understandably bewildered even those closest to Him’. Christ reveals his true identity to those who have recognised and accepted His authority and who follow Him in faith (Lowery 1994:70; Cole 2008:87).
It is difficult to outline this action-packed Gospel. Bailey & Constable (1999:68) identify three main sections: The Servant to the multitudes (1:1-8:26); The Servant to the disciples (8:27-10:52); and The Sacrifice for the world (11:1-16:20). Hiebert (1994:14-18) proposes a more detailed outline: The Coming of the Servant (1:1-13); The Ministry of the Servant (1:14-13:37); The self-sacrifice of the Servant (14:1-15:47); and The resurrection [and ascension] of the Servant (16:1-20).
Certainly some sort of transition can be identified in Mark 8 (Cole 2008:84). In agreement with Santos (1997:459, slightly amended), this chiastic structure for Mark 8:22-10:52 may be important:
A Healing of a blind man (8:22-26)
B Discourse (8:27-38) — including paradox in 8:35
C Expressions of Jesus’s authority (9:1-29)
B’ Discourse (9:30-50) — including paradox in 9:35
C’ Expressions of opposition/misunderstanding/little faith (10:1-31)
B’’ Discourse (10:32-45) — including paradox in 10:45
A’ Healing of a blind man (10:46-52)
Conclusion and application
This structure emphasises not only the authority of the Servant of the Lord, but also the difficulty Jesus had to teach his disciples that suffering comes before exaltation. Lowery (1994:78-85) notes that Jesus’ disciples were prone to misunderstand (4:13; 6:50-52; 7:18; 8:33), were hard of heart (6:52; 14:32-38) and sometimes exercised little faith (4:40; 8:26; 9:19). Santos (2000:15) highlights three paradoxes that Jesus uses to teach His disciples: First, ‘whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it but whoever loses it for My sake and the gospel’s will save it’ (8:35). Second, ‘if any one wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’ (9:35). Third, ‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first must be slave of all’ (10:43-44). Such is the servant heart of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1; 10:45), whom the Gospel of Mark vividly depicts as the suffering yet powerful Servant of the Lord. As bond-servants of Jesus Christ, we too should have hearts like that of our Lord.
Bailey, M.L. & Constable, T.L., 1999, Nelson’s New Testament survey, Thomas Nelson, Nashville.
Cole, R.A., 1989, The Gospel according to Mark: An introduction and commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 2), IVP Academic, Downers Grove/Nottingham.
Grassmick, J.D., 1983, ‘Mark’, in J.F. Walvoord & R.B. Zuck (eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, pp 95-197, David C Cook, Colorado Springs.
Hiebert, D.E., 1994, The Gospel of Mark: An expositional commentary, Bob Jones University Press, Greenville.
Lowery, D.K., 1994, ‘A theology of Mark’, in R.B. Zuck (ed.), A Biblical theology of the New Testament, pp. 65-86, Moody Publishers, Chicago.
Santos, N.F., 1997, ‘The paradox of authority and servanthood in the Gospel of Mark’, Bibliotheca Sacra 154(616), 452-460.
Santos, N.F., 2000, ‘Jesus’ paradoxical teaching in Mark 8:35; 9:35; and 10:43-44’, Bibliotheca Sacra 157(625), 15-25.
Tenney, M.C., 1985, New Testament Survey, revised edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids.
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