Few general ground rules for this expositional study:
1. This is not a harmony of the Gospel’s study. We’re going to stay mainly tied to the Gospel of Mark and only deviate to other Gospel narratives when it is absolutely essential for context or understanding.
2. This is an in-depth study with a reasonable pace. This is an in-depth study through Mark so we will approach every aspect of the text with care and reverence, but we’re going to try to keep ourselves from getting bogged down in any one place to long.
Background Profile of the Author:
There is no debate as to the historical figure known as Mark writing this Gospel. You should note some of the other Biblical and historical names: John Mark, Mark the cousin of Barnabas, Mark the Evangelist.
Church History indicates Mark was of Jewish heritage from the tribe of Levi. He was born in North Africa (modern day Libya), but later moved to and grew up in Jerusalem. Most scholars believe Mark’s family was affluent.
Mark’s mother Mary was an early disciple of Jesus (Acts 12:12), and we never see his father mentioned in Scripture. Some have claimed Mark’s father was the cousin of Peter’s wife and died when Mark was a young man. This would account for Peter’s obvious connections to Mark’s mother and why Peter would fill a dominate male role in Mark’s life.
Three times in Scripture we see Mark referred to as “John Mark.” His Jewish name “John” meant “The Kindness of God” and his Roman name “Mark” meant “Hammer.” We can easily conclude because of the dual name Mark was a Roman citizen.
Though we don’t find Mark mentioned in any of the gospel narrative, doesn’t mean he didn’t witness or participate in the earthly ministry of Jesus.
Coptic tradition claims Mark was an early disciple of Jesus presumably even one of the “70 Disciples” sent out to do ministry in Jesus’ name in Luke 9.
Some identify Mark as being the man who set up the Upper Room for Passover (Mark 14:13). And maybe even the young man who ran away naked when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52).
We can certainly say that Mark’s home played a central role in the early church.
It seems to be the central meeting spot for the first church in Jerusalem (Acts 12).
It is believed to be the home Jesus used for His final Passover with his disciples.
It housed the disciples in the days that followed Jesus death.
It was the house the resurrected Jesus would later return (John 20).
It is also seen as the house upon which the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost.
Mark was a missionary. He was included in the Apostle Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 12:25), but seemed to fall out of Paul’s favor when he abandon the mission prematurely (Acts 15:37). He would later join his cousin Barnabas and embark on another missionary endeavor.
Though his relationship with Paul wouldn’t begin so well, 2 Timothy 4:11 indicated Mark would later redeemed himself. Paul said concerning Mark, “he is useful to me for ministry.”
Philemon 1:24 indicated Mark was one of a few trusted men that stood by Paul in Rome as he awaited trial before Nero.
Paul would later send him to be his representative in dealing with some of the issues facing the Colossian church (Colossians 4:10).
Mark would ultimately end up planting a church in Alexandria where he would ultimately be martyred for his faith in Jesus. He died in approximately 68 A.D.
One important detail concerning Mark’s life....
According to Roman historian Eusebius, after the events of Acts 12, Peter would leave Jerusalem - travel to Antioch - then through Asia Minor visiting the churches - before eventually arriving in Rome in the 2nd year of Emperor Claudius in 42 A.D.
Somewhere along the way, Peter picked up Mark and brought him on as a traveling companion and interpreter. Historically, it’s believed that it was during this time spent with the Apostle Peter that Mark penned his Gospel making the first addition in circulation as early as 43 A.D.
General Background of the Gospel:
1. The Gospel of Mark (though penned by Mark) contains more specifically the eyewitness account of events as remembered by the Apostle Peter.
The key word is “immediately” used some 42 times in 16 chapters.
2. Mark’s account of Jesus’ life aimed at presenting Jesus as the “Ultimate Servant” to a larger Roman society comprised predominately of slaves (3/4 of the world’s population was in some form of servitude).
This is why the Gospel focuses on the actions and activity of Jesus.
3. Historically, the Gospel of Mark was the first written and laid the framework for the remaining two “Synoptic Gospels.”
Matthew and Luke (both who had direct relational ties to Mark) filled in many of the details that Mark’s gospel intentionally glance over.
John would later write his Gospel to provide an entirely different perspective then the one given by the first three writers.
Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Mark’s intro into the story - though abrupt and brief - provides an important feature we shouldn’t overlook. Mark wants his readers to know who’s story he’s going to be telling by using three key names in his introduction:
“Jesus” - Is the Greek translation for the Hebrew word “Yeshua” - “Joshua” in English. It was a common, nondescript, run-of-the-mill name for a 1st century Hebrew male.
“Christ (the Christ)” - Is the Greek translation for the Hebrew word “Messiah” - literally, “anointed one.” This was a Hebrew title that had been reserved specifically for the future descendant of King David who would rule and reign from Israel over the earth for all of eternity. The Messiah was seen by the Jews as a “Savior King.”
“Son of God” - Let’s take a moment to address this title that is often twisted to mean something it was never intended to mean. For example: the Mormon’s will use this phrase to refer to all kinds of twisted stuff.
Understand this phrase was never used to imply that Jesus was the literal “son” of God in the sense of a typical human father / son relationship.
Culturally this phrase was always used to identify the nature of the person it was qualified too. To refer to someone as the “Son of Something” was to say you were of the same nature - of the same kind. For example: If you were the “Son of an Elephant” it would be consistent to conclude you were actually an elephant.
To claim that someone is the “Son of God” is to claim that person to be of the same nature as God - or in fact to be God. This phrase was understood in this context by even the O.T. scholars of Jesus’ day. In Matthew 26:63 during the trail of Jesus the High Priest demanded, “I charge you under oath of the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God.”
In ch. 1 vs. 1 Mark is basically saying.... “This is who Jesus is (a man with a common name, who was the long awaited Jewish Messiah, who possessed a divine nature as the Son of God).... now let me tell you how the story began by starting with the Prophets of old....”
Mark 1:2-3 “As it is written in the Prophets: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’”
Since both Malachi (3:1) and Isaiah (40:3) foretold that the coming Jewish King (Messiah) would have a “forerunner” or what we’ll just call an “Advance Man” - and since Mark has already established the Jesus was indeed this Messiah - he decides this is a detail that can’t be overlooked.
According to these two prophecies this Advance Man would have two specific jobs:
1. He would be God’s messenger or literally he would be a prophet sent by God.
Israel had a long pedigree of prophets sent by God to communicate a timely and relevant message to His people, but since Malachi God had been silent for some 400 years. The people were waiting - even questioning - whether God would speak to them again. The Advance Man for the Messiah would bring a prophetic message from God and break this period of silence.
2. His job would be to prepare the way for the coming King.
This was a common custom for the day. Whenever royalty would make a trip they would send out a “forerunner” who’s job it was to make sure the path was void of any obstacles that might hinder the journey. He would literally prepare the way.
Mark continues by introducing us to the Advance Man....
Mark 1:4-8 “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.... Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.... Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey....
And he preached, saying, “There comes One after me who is mightier than I, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose. I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark introduces us to the Advance Man - John the Baptist (or literally the baptizer)! Needless to say this man is one of the most colorful characters in all of Scripture - a true throwback even by 1st century standards.
His Pedigree: Miraculously conceived to an old priest named Zacharias and a virtuous woman named Elizabeth (Luke 1), John was born - and one can even make the case - groomed for the role of Advance Man. John’s childhood and upbringing are shrouded in mystery until he came bursting onto the scene from seemingly obscurity, but as the cousin of Jesus we know there had to of been a relational connection.
His Appearance: We’re told in verse 6 that he “was clothed with camel’s hair - a leather belt - and he ate locusts and wild honey.”
John was the original REI hippy.... he lived in the outdoors - he was a year round camper - bathing was optional - grooming was not necessary - with the honey and locusts he took granola to a whole new level.
Though this is only speculation there was an early Jewish legend that his “camel hair coat” was actually the coat handed down from Elijah to Elisha. He was a wild-looking character.
His Location: In many ways John ministry was unique because of the location he chose to set up shop. John rejected formal ministry in the religious centers, or for that matter in area’s of concentrated population. We’re told his auditorium was instead the wilderness - according to John 1:28 an area known as Bethabara.
3rd century scholar Origen build a solid case that Bethabara was actually an area on the shore of the Jordan due east of Jerusalem and Judea. In Joshua 4 to mark the children of Israel entering the land of promise, Joshua piled up 12 stones representing the 12 tribes of Israel.... Origen believed the location was Bethabara.
Interestingly in Matthew 3:7-9 we read that, “when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”
His Message: According to verse 4 at the center of John’s preaching was “repentance for the remission of sins.” Let’s unpack this by looking at a few key words:
“Repentance” literally means “to change the mind” or “about face.”
The word we translate as “for” would be better translated “unto.” The repentance John exhorted the people towards couldn’t provide an actual remission of sins. John instead wanted to the people to change their minds when it came to how they viewed their sin.
And why was this important.... in verse 7 John provides urgency to his message.... “There comes One after me who is mightier than me.... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
His message was simple.... The promised Messiah is coming soon and you need to get yourself ready for His arrival!
His Effect: Verse 5 gives us the effects of his ministry.... “Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem went out to him.”
1st century Jewish historian Josephus says that over John’s one year ministry somewhere between 300,000 - 500,000 people came out to be baptized by John. That’s well over 1,000 baptisms a day.
And what’s interesting is they had to travel rough terrain - out of the mountainous regions of Judea - to get to the Jordan valley where John was preaching.
Why did John’s message resonate the way it did?
For 400 years the people had lived in a time period of Israel’s history marked by extreme religious zeal and dedication. They had been exiled to Babylon because they had refused to obey God’s commands.
Once they returned to the land and rebuilt their temple they got serious about not repeating the mistakes of the past. Sadly, this didn’t lead to holiness, but rather self-righteousness and hypocrisy. It lead to dead religion and silence from God.
John’s words were like droplets of water falling upon parched soil.... He spoke truth in a religious culture that had yielded no real life change.
His Method: In both verse 4 and again in verse 8 there was an interesting component to John’s preaching ministry and that was the response to be Baptized.
Before we get into the particulars of baptism, don’t miss the subtle brilliance of John’s tactic. Sometimes it’s easier for us to hear a message and wish we had a better relationship with the Lord, than it is for us to actually do something to have a better relationship. John’s call to repentance ended with a symbolic act to do something not just wish something!
Culturally, baptism wasn’t a completely foreign concept to the religious Jew. According to Judaism, if a Gentile wanted to become a legal Jew - a member of the “Seed of Abraham” - he could do so by being circumcised and then being baptized.
But this is what made John’s choice of baptism as a response to his message so fascinating. The people were literally communicating to the world when they entered the water, “I’ve been living like a pagan, godless, condemned, lost gentile unfit to be considered a child of God and I repent.” John would then immerse them and symbolically they’d emerge from water a rededicated child of God.
Though John’s baptism and N.T. baptism are similar in that they are both symbolic, the comparisons really end there. John even recognized a difference when he said, “I indeed baptize you with water, but He (speaking of Jesus) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The real baptism altitude by John is later described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 6:3-10 when he says, “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be [in the likeness] of [His] resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with [Him], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For [the death] that He died, He died to sin once for all; but [the life] that He lives, He lives to God.”
Post-conversion Christian water baptism is an outward, physical demonstration of an inward, spiritual transformation brought on by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Sure it’s like John’s baptism in that they were both symbolic of something greater. The comparisons though end there.
His Ministry: Think about how different John’s ministry was to our “modern ministry.”
Before today’s modern ministry even get’s off the ground we’ve been taught to consult community demographics, examine population movements, and take into account the median income of the families moving into the area. Before we find a building or settle into a location, we’re supposed to check migration and traffic patterns, preform studies to rate street exposure, and on and on the advice will go. John instead went into the wilderness.
The modern ministry preaches marketing and image consulting. You want to make sure you’re putting off an image that’s consistent with your message. Dress modern. Look slick. Be relevant. John instead wore a camel’s outfit - never bathed - and cared nothing of the outward appearance.
The modern ministry stresses the importance of a well crafted - family friendly - non confrontational message marketed for mass appeal. Don’t speak of sin. Don’t speak of judgment. Never mention hell. Instead focus on 12 steps people can use to better themselves. John instead brought a non-apologetic, straightforward message of man’s need of repentance from sin and a Savior.
The modern ministry has sadly become messenger-centric. With intention the spotlight never leaves the man behind the pulpit. Church consultants will teach the importance of having a leader people can identify with - relate too - rally around - and follow. John’s ministry was instead message-centric. John kept the spotlight off of himself and onto the expectant Messiah. He even goes so far as to say, “His sandal strap I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.”
In summary and conclusion.... I want to address how John fulfilled the two prophetic requirements of the Forerunner:
1. As Prophet - John was sent by God with a message warning the people that the Messiah was coming soon and they needed to get ready for His arrival.
2. In regards to preparing the way.... as the Advance Man, John prepared the way for Jesus spiritually in 3 fundamental ways:
1. John challenged the people to think logically for themselves. He wanted them to see beyond their dead religion. His preaching made them rethink everything they had previously known and trusted.
2. John then challenged people to recognize the true condition of their sin. Religion hadn’t bettered them. Rather religion had created nothing more than a false sense of moralism.
3. John challenged people to do something about the conviction they felt.... repent - turn from sin - and make a decision to turn back to God.
The Result: They were ready for Jesus. When Jesus arrived onto the scene the people had already been brought to the point were they recognized their need for a Savior and were ready to receive Him.