Mark’s account of the gospel is action oriented. Mark shifts scenes rapidly. The Greek word euthys which means “immediately” is the standard link between the different scenes of Jesus life and ministry. “The Gospel of Mark is a succinct, unadorned yet vivid account of the ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.”
Simply put, “Mark gives us a vigorous and lively account of Jesus’ life.” Yet Mark structures his gospel to create ‘literary suspense’ for a theological purpose, as an “interweaving of…events, [and structures those events] in such a way that one helps interpret the other.”
Many New Testament scholars regard the gospel of Mark as the earliest account of Jesus life and work. The Gospel of Mark is a book of witness written “in order to call men to faith.”
To use the phrase of early church father Justin Martyr (ca. A.D. 100-165), all of our gospel accounts are “memoirs of the apostles.” One might quickly retort that ‘Mark’ was not an apostle since the unbroken tradition puts forth John Mark as the author of this gospel account. History affirms that the evangelist was “intimately associated with the apostle Peter.” Therefore when we read Mark, we are, in many ways reading the “Gospel according to Peter.” The raw and graphic details in this gospel narrative reflect the ‘eyewitness report’ of Peter. In 140 A.D. the early church father Papias wrote:
“Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he remembered of the things said and done by our Lord, but not, however, in order.
- Acts 10:36 – “The good news of Jesus Christ” – Mark 1:1
- Acts 10:38 – “God anointed Jesus with Holy Spirit” – Mark 1:10
- Acts 10:37 – “Jesus Galilean ministry” – Mark 1:16-8:26
- Acts 10:38 – “Jesus ministry of healing and exorcism” – Mark (period)
- Acts 10:39 – “Jesus Jerusalem ministry” – Mark 11-14
- Acts 10:39 – “Jesus sacrificial death” – Mark 15
- Acts 10:40 – “Jesus victorious resurrection” – Mark 16:6
Note: Garland argues along the same lines with Acts 2:22-24.
Historical Context and Situation
Many have argued that the Gospel according to Mark is a pastoral projection of the Christian faith in the context of suffering and martyrdom in Rome (mid to late 50’s). (Mark 8:38) This community of believers faced increasing pressure both from the Jews and from the Roman Empire from AD 40 on, most notably from Nero, who persecuted the Christians in AD 64.
These Gentile Christians needed to be strengthened and the Gospel needed to be faithfully proclaimed. In other words, “Mark’s task was to project Christian faith in a climate of uncertainty where martyrdom had been a reality.” This gospel account is very pastoral in nature. There are a hurting people who are in need of such comfort and encouragement. It was becoming clear that these believers could not follow Jesus without facing suffering and rejection; this requires devoted and sacrificial discipleship. Even more so, Bock argues that “for Mark, the Roman conflict was less important than the larger spiritual battle with Satan and the forces of evil” which is an obvious element even in the first chapter. As Carson and Moo note, “Mark wants his readers to understand that Jesus is the Son of God, but especially the suffering Son of God.” (Mark 8:34, Mark 10:35-45) 
Purpose and Theme
Kostenberger draws from the historical context to propose the purposes of Mark in constructing this account. There was a;
- Pastoral Purpose: To teach Christians about the nature of true Christ-centered discipleship.
- Missional Purpose: To explain how Jesus prepared his followers to take on his mission and show others how to do so as well.
- Apologetic Purpose: To demonstrate to non-Christians that Jesus is the Son of God because of his great power in spite of his crucifixion.
- Anti-Imperial Purpose: To show that Jesus, not Caesar, is the true Son of God, Savior, and Lord.”
Edwards writes, “the characteristic of Jesus that left the most lasting impression…and caused the greatest offense… his sovereign freedom and magisterial authority. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus continues to manifest his presence and authority among his people. Simply put, Mark’s overarching theme is “Jesus the authoritative Son of God.” Under that banner there are other theological themes that help us understand the totality of Mark’s purpose.
1. The Kingdom of God
“The kingdom of God is a central theme in Jesus’ ministry…When Jesus referred to God’s kingdom; he had in mind God’s saving power, [namely] the fulfillment of his saving promises.” Jesus inaugurates His kingdom through preaching the gospel. Now, the kingdom belongs only to those who are brought in as “kingdom insiders.” (Mark 4:11)
“The kingdom Jesus proclaims is not identifiable with any existing social norms and institutions, but in uniquely centered on his own person.” This understanding only comes “from the vantage point of the cross (Mark 15:38-39), where the temple curtain is torn and the meaning of Jesus divine sonship is finally and fully revealed.” The kingdom promises are fulfilled in Jesus ministry and in his death and resurrection.
2. Jesus is the Messiah
He inaugurates the kingdom in preaching the gospel. He authenticates the preaching as the miracle working Son of God. Jesus also displays his power over nature, demons, sickness, and death. He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. (Mark 4:35-5:43) These two titles identify him with humanity in general, and the one who receives all authority from the Father in glory after suffering. Notice that Jesus often hides his identity as the Messiah (“Messianic Secret”) during his life and ministry to protect himself from false messianic expectations. It is interesting to note that the demons are the only ones who quickly recognize who Jesus actually is. Plus Jesus understood that true faith would not be coerced by miraculous performances. The cross is the final and fullest revelation of who he is, the messiah who sacrifices himself for us, and whose vicarious death serves the penalty for our ransom. (Mark 10:45)
3. The Failure of the Disciples
Mark also emphasizes discipleship failure. “The experience of rejection and suffering challenged even the apostles’ commitment to discipleship.” Consider this emphasis in light of the one who is the source for this gospel account, Peter. (Mark 14:66-72) Or even the writer John Mark. (Acts 13:13) In light of the “messianic secret” and “kingdom insiders theme”, it seems obvious that the disciples would fail and do fail throughout Mark. The disciples are often shown as having a lack of understanding and even depicted as hard hearted. (Mark 8:14-26) The models in the negative sense;
- They show fear and faithlessness (Mark 4:40; 6:49-50)
- They show selfish ambition (Mark 9:34; 10:35-45)
- They show spiritual failure (Mark 9:14-29) 
In many ways “the disciples generally represent the community as a whole.” Faith is a gift, and so we cry, “we believe! help our unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) The cost of discipleship is high, involving suffering, loss, and opposition, but it will ultimately result in glory. Discipleship entails total dependence upon God.
Preaching and Teaching a Gospel Account
- Avoid flattening the story into a series of instructive points. You do not want to exchange the exalting of Christ for a “do these things” self-righteous legalistic message. A gospel brings us ‘news’ primarily, rather than instruction.
- Avoid focusing on the details of the story to the extent that the listener misses the main point of the narrative. Weave the details in as part of the grand narrative of the gospel account. Keep the larger context in view!
- Avoid automatically equating the ancient audience with the modern audience. Be sure to discern between normative patterns and descriptive patterns.
- Finally, this may seem obvious, but, your application can simply be “have faith in Jesus.” Remember, the gospel is about what God has done for His children, and we need to be reminded of that, and trust in Him!
Also, see my post of the Literary Nature of the Gospel Accounts.
- All Biblical texts are taken from the English Standard Version.
- D.A. Carson and Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 169.
- Walter Wessel, Mark, 603.
- Mark Dever, The Message of the New Testament, 61.
- R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, 19.
- Acts 12:12, 25; 13:13; 15:37-39; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24; 1 Peter 5:13
- William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark, 7.
- See Mark 1:27; 2:12; 9:5; 10:24, 32, 1:41, 43; 3:5; 7:34
- Adapted from Carson and Moo, 193.
- David Garland, Mark, 17.
- Lane, 25.
- Mark 1:17, 20; 2:14; 10:28
- Darrell Bock, The Gospel of Mark, 396.
- Mark 1:21-34, 39; 4:35-5:43
- Carson and Moo, 186.
- Andreas Kostenberger, Scott Kellum, and Charles Quarles, The Cradle, The Cross, and The Crown, 240.
- In my opinion the best discussion on these themes is found in R.T. France (20-35) and James Edwards (12-20) commentaries on Mark.
- Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology, 79.
- James Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, 18.
- Edwards, 16.
- Mark 1:1, 11; 5:7; 9:7; 15:39
- This theme is “key” to understanding the theology and Christology presented in Mark. (Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20, lxx-lxxii.)
- Mark stresses the ‘messianic secret’, showing how Jesus messianic nature was rejected by and hidden from the leaders, misunderstood by the crowds and disciples, yet acknowledged by the demons. (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 207)
- Most likely this was to avoid the “triumphalist view of the nationalistic Judaism.” Jesus was not to be seen as a political messiah. (Alan Cole, Mark, 62.)
- Mark 1:23-27; 3:11; 5:7-13
- Mark 4:40; 6:51-52; 8:16-21, 33; 9:18-19; 14:66-72; 16:8
- Bock, 398.
- R.T. France, 28-29.
- Robert Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, xl.
- This is an adapted form of what appears in Scott Duvall and Daniel hays book Grasping God’s Word.