The Gospel According to Mark

Mark 1 Key Terms

Gospel (Good News) - Jesus - Christ (Messiah) - Son of God - Sin - Repentance - Synagogue |=> Mark 1

(Greek euaggelion) This term means "good news." Its Old Testament (OT) equivalent is often associated with military victories [ref], and in the NT "it denotes the 'good tidings' of the kingdom of God and of salvation through Christ, to be received by faith, on the basis of His expiatory death, His burial, resurrection, and ascension." [ref]

Although the Greeks used this term to refer to significant events in the life of the emperor, whom they worshiped as a god, the New Testament "associates it with the scandal of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:17), penitence, and judgment, so that it must have seemed ironical to some (Acts 17:32). Caesar and Christ confront one another. They have much in common, for both claim to be gospel, but they belong to different worlds." [ref]

The Gospel is both a source of confrontation and a source of comfort. Whenever we try to live according to our own personal standards of right and wrong, the Gospel confronts us with our need to make Jesus the Lord of our lives. Whenever our choice to live by God's standards results in personal hardship, the Gospel comforts us with the knowledge that Jesus has made a way for us to receive both guidance and strength from God.

"In a number of languages the expression 'the gospel' or 'the good news' must be rendered by a phrase, for example, 'news that makes one happy' or 'information that causes one joy' or 'words that bring smiles' or 'a message that causes the heart to be sweet.'" [ref]

(Greek I─ôsous) This word, which is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew Joshua (meaning, "Jehovah is salvation"), was a common name among the Jews. There are five men with this name in the NT. [ref]

(Greek Christos) This word, meaning "anointed one," is the NT equivalent of the OT "Messiah," the promised future deliverer of Israel. Popular opinion held that the Messiah would be a political and military ruler who would redeem Israel, rule over God's restored kingdom, and make known all the purposes and plans of God. And he would be nothing less than the "Son of the Blessed One." [ref]

In the OT, special anointing was reserved for three classes of people: high priests, prophets, and kings. And as God's supreme Anointed One ("Christ"), Jesus perfectly fulfills all three offices simultaneously.

High Priest
Aaron was the first who was solemnly set apart to this office (Exodus 29:7; 30:23; Leviticus 8:12). He wore a peculiar dress, which on his death passed to his successor in office (Exodus 29:29-30).

To the high priest alone it was permitted to enter the holy of holies, which he did only once a year, on the great Day of Atonement ... Wearing his gorgeous priestly vestments, he entered the temple before all the people, and then, laying them aside and assuming only his linen garments in secret, he entered the holy of holies alone, and made expiation, sprinkling the blood of the sin offering on the mercy seat, and offering up incense. Then resuming his splendid robes, he reappeared before the people (Leviticus 16). Thus the wearing of these robes came to be identified with the Day of Atonement.

The office, dress, and ministration of the high priest were typical of the priesthood of our Lord (Hebrews 4:14; 7:25; 9:12, etc.).

It is supposed that there were in all eighty-three high priests, beginning with Aaron (1657 B.C.) and ending with Phannias (A.D. 70). At its first institution the office of high priest was held for life (but compare 1 Kings 2:27), and was hereditary in the family of Aaron (Numbers 3:10). [ref]

Jesus Christ's priesthood is spelled out in some detail in the NT book of Hebrews:

  • Appointed and called by God (Hebrews 3:1, 2; 5:4, 5)
  • After the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:6; 6:20; 7:15, 7:17)
  • Superior to Aaron and the Levitical priests (Hebrews 7:11, 16, 22; 8:1, 2, 6)
  • Consecrated with an oath (Hebrews 7:20, 21)
  • Has an unchangeable priesthood (Hebrews 7:23, 28)
  • Is of unblemished purity (Hebrews 7:26, 28)
  • Faithful (Hebrews 3:2)
  • Needed no sacrifice for himself (Hebrews 7:27)
  • Offered himself as a sacrifice (Hebrews 9:14, 26)
  • His sacrifice superior to all others (Hebrews 9:13, 14, 23)
  • Offered sacrifice only once (Hebrews 7:27)
  • Made reconciliation (Hebrews 2:17)
  • Obtained redemption for us (Hebrews 9:12)
  • Entered into heaven (Hebrews 4:14; 10:12)
  • Sympathizes with saints (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15)
  • Intercedes (Hebrews 7:25; 9:24)
  • Appointment of [is] an encouragement to steadfastness (Hebrews 4:14) [ref]

The "prophet" proclaimed the message given to him, as the "seer" beheld the vision of God. (See Numbers 12:6, 8.) Thus a prophet was a spokesman for God; he spake in God's name and by his authority (Exodus 7:1). He is the mouth by which God speaks to men (Jeremiah 1:9; Isaiah 51:16), and hence what the prophet says is not of man but of God (2 Peter 1:20-21; compare Hebrews 3:7; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Prophets were the immediate organs of God for the communication of his mind and will to men (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). The whole Word of God may in this general sense be spoken of as prophetic, inasmuch as it was written by men who received the revelation they communicated from God, no matter what its nature might be. The foretelling of future events was not a necessary but only an incidental part of the prophetic office. The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among the people was "to correct moral and religious abuses, to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government."

Any one being a spokesman for God to man might thus be called a prophet. Thus Enoch, Abraham, and the patriarchs, as bearers of God's message (Genesis 20:7; Exodus 7:1; Psalms 105:15), as also Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; 34:10; Hosea 12:13), are ranked among the prophets. The seventy elders of Israel (Numbers 11:16-29), "when the spirit rested upon them, prophesied"; Asaph and Jeduthun "prophesied with a harp" (1 Chronicles 25:3). Miriam and Deborah were prophetesses (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4). The title thus has a general application to all who have messages from God to men.

But while the prophetic gift was thus exercised from the beginning, the prophetical order as such began with Samuel. Colleges, "schools of the prophets," were instituted for the training of prophets, who were constituted, a distinct order (1 Samuel 19:18-24; 2 Kings 2:3, 15; 4:38), which continued to the close of the Old Testament. Such "schools" were established at Ramah, Bethel, Gilgal, Gibeah, and Jericho. The "sons" or "disciples" of the prophets were young men (2 Kings 5:22; 9:1, 4) who lived together at these different "schools" (2 Kings 4:38-41). These young men were taught not only the rudiments of secular knowledge, but they were brought up to exercise the office of prophet, "to preach pure morality and the heart-felt worship of Jehovah, and to act along and coordinately with the priesthood and monarchy in guiding the state aright and checking all attempts at illegality and tyranny." [ref]

Regarding Jesus' office of and status as prophet:

  • Foretold (Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 1:15)
  • Anointed with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 42:1; 61:1; Luke 4:18; John 3:34)
  • Reveals God (Matthew 11:27; John 3:2, 13, 34; 17:6, 14, 26; Hebrews 1:1, 2)
  • Declared his doctrine to be that of the Father (John 8:26, 28; 12:45, 50; 14:10, 24; 15:15; 17:8, 26)
  • Foretold things to come (Matthew 24:3-35; Luke 19:41-44)
  • Faithful (Luke 4:43; John 17:8; Hebrews 3:2; Revelation 1:5; 3:14)
  • Abounded in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 47, 52; Colossians 2:3)
  • Mighty in deed and word (Matthew 13:54; Mark 1:27; Luke 4:32; John 7:46)
  • Unostentatious in his teaching (Isaiah 42:2; Matthew 12:17-20)
  • God commands us to hear (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22)
  • God will severely punish those who reject him (Deuteronomy 18:10, 15; Acts 3:22, 23; 7:37; Matthew 21:11, 46; Luke 7:16, 39; 13:33; 24:19; John 3:2; 4:19; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17) [ref]

Is in Scripture very generally used to denote one invested with authority, whether extensive or limited. There were thirty-one kings in Canaan (Joshua 12:9, 24), whom Joshua subdued. Adonibezek subdued seventy kings (Judges 1:7). In the New Testament the Roman emperor is spoken of as a king (1 Peter 2:13, 17); and Herod Antipas, who was only a tetrarch, is also called a king (Matthew 14:9; Mark 6:22).

This title is applied to God (1 Timothy 1:17), and to Christ, the Son of God (1 Timothy 6:15-16; Matthew 27:11). The people of God are also called "kings" (Daniel 7:22, 27; Matthew 19:28; Revelation 1:6, etc.). Death is called the "king of terrors" (Job 18:14).

Jehovah was the sole King of the Jewish nation (1 Samuel 8:7; Isaiah 33:22). But there came a time in the history of that people when a king was demanded, that they might be like other nations (1 Samuel 8:5). The prophet Samuel remonstrated with them, but the people cried out, "Nay, but we will have a king over us." The misconduct of Samuel's sons was the immediate cause of this demand.

The Hebrew kings did not rule in their own right, nor in name of the people who had chosen them, but partly as servants and partly as representatives of Jehovah, the true King of Israel (1 SAMUEL 10:1). The limits of the king's power were prescribed (1 Samuel 10:25). [ref]

Jesus rules over God's kingdom. As noted elsewhere, the "kingdom of God" can be defined as "the sovereignty of God under which people place themselves by accepting the message of Jesus in faith and undergoing a spiritual rebirth." [ref] While on earth Jesus confirmed his kingship (Matthew 27:11; John 18:37); offered many and various parables regarding the kingdom; and described life in the kingdom (see the "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 5-7). Jesus' kingship is a major theme found throughout the entire NT.

This title or its equivalent ("the Son," "my Son," etc.) occurs more than 124 times in the NT. Divine sonship is, in fact, the NT's characteristic description for the relationship between Jesus and God. [ref] Mark's gospel begins and ends with Jesus being declared the Son of God ([Mark 1:1;] Mark 1:11; 15:39). Jesus' teachings and miracles testify to his power and authority, although his true identity remains hidden to all but a few. Mark lets his readers in on the "secret" early on, thus providing them with an insider's perspective.

Some contemporary critical scholars have compared Jesus to the "Divine Man," which is "an alleged type of religio-philosophical hero, legendary or historical" within the Greek world who was "characterized by moral virtue, wisdom and/or miraculous power" such that he was "held to be divine." [ref] According to this theory, Gentile Christians fabricated the miracle stories of Jesus in order to present him as the ultimate Divine Man, superior to the Greek heroes with whom he competed for the people's affection and allegiance. In point of fact, however, Jesus had much more in common with the (Jewish) OT prophets, especially Moses, than he did with any of the variety of Greek so-called Divine Men. While it's possible to see some parallels between the miracle stories of Greek heroes and those of the gospel writers, such parallels can also be found in the OT and reflect a general style of storytelling more so than a particular genre of literature. Moreover, Jesus' primary purpose is very different from his alleged Greek counterparts, in that he came to offer himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and to usher in a new age in God's plan to redeem a lost and dying world. [ref] It is no coincidence that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) focus most of their attention on the last week of Jesus' life, and all the gospels include Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

The most common word for "sin" means a missing of the mark. [ref] The mark, of course, is God's standard of right and wrong as expressed in his law, the goal of which is to foster holy living and spiritual wholeness. [ref] What's more, missing the right mark necessarily means hitting the wrong one. [ref]

The first occurrence of sin in the Bible is when Adam and Eve choose to disobey God by eating of the forbidden fruit. In so doing they choose their will over God's, failing to believe that God will provide for their every legitimate need. Three major themes emerge from the circumstances surrounding that first sin, themes that have played themselves out ever since: 1) we are responsible for our sin, 2) sin alienates us from God, and 3) God graciously makes a way for us to overcome our sin. [ref]

The first sin also teaches us just how deceptive sin is. Losing sight of any potential harm, we reach out for whatever promises instant gratification. We justify our actions by telling ourselves that the sin, whatever it is, will make us feel good. And oftentimes it does -- but only for a season. In the final analysis, sin is about a choice: we choose either to trust in and obey God or we choose to rebel against God. [ref]

Sin is a highly toxic poison that damages everything it touches. Our common humanity which binds us together and makes us accountable to God is also the pathway over which sin travels. Thus it should come as no surprise that sin negatively impacts our relationship with God, our own selves, and other people. God: We experience divine disfavor, and stand guilty and deserving of punishment and death. In the first and most important place, all sin is wrong against God, thus nullifying the argument that whatever consenting adults do is okay. Ourselves: We are enslaved to sin, flee from reality, deny our sin, deceive ourselves, are insensitive and self-centered, and are restless. Other People: We compete with others, are unable to empathize with them, reject authority, and are unable to truly love others as we should. [ref]

In both the OT and the NT, to repent is to make a commitment that results in a complete reversal of direction. [ref] Mark's gospel opens with John the Baptist summoning people from every walk of life to turn from their sins and prepare to meet God. The other gospel accounts reveal John's understanding of what it means to repent: abandoning sinful ways and doing good to those with whom we come in contact on a daily basis. Whereas for John judgment is the primary motivator for repentance, for Jesus it is love. This is because while John's message preceded the coming of the kingdom, Christ's message actually inaugurated it. Those who refuse to repent will be judged; those who repent enter into God's kingdom. [ref]


Central to Mark's gospel is the cross of Christ. The cross affirms our position as sinners in dire need of repentance. But it also affirms God's love for us, which is the ultimate source of our personal worth and value. [ref]


The word synagogue (sunagoge), which means a "congregation", is used, in the New Testament, to signify a recognized place of worship. A knowledge of the history and worship of the synagogues is of great importance, since, they are the characteristic institution of the later phase of Judaism. They appear to have arisen during the exile, in the abeyance of the Temple-worship, and to have received their full development, on the return of the Jews from captivity. The whole history of Ezra presupposes the habit of solemn, probably of periodic, meetings. Ezra 8:15; Nehemiah 8:2; 9:1; Zechariah 7:5.

After the Maccabaean struggle for independence, we find almost every town or village had its one or more synagogues. Where the Jews were not in sufficient numbers to be able to erect and fill a building, there was the proseucha (proseuche), or place of prayer, sometimes open, sometimes covered in, commonly by a running stream, or on the seashore, in which devout Jews and proselytes met to worship, and perhaps to read. Acts 16:13 Juven. Sat. Iii. 296. It is hardly possible to overestimate the influence of the system thus developed. To it, we may ascribe the tenacity with which, after the Maccabaean struggle, the Jews adhered to the religion of their fathers, and never again relapsed into idolatry.

The size of a synagogue varied with the population. Its position was, however, determinate. It stood, if possible, on the highest ground, in or near the city to which it belonged. And its direction too was fixed. Jerusalem was the Kibleh of Jewish devotion. The synagogue was so constructed that the worshippers, as they entered and as they prayed, looked toward it. The building was commonly erected at the cost of the district. Sometimes, it was built by a rich Jew, or even, as in Luke 7:5, by a friend or proselyte.

In the internal arrangement of the synagogue, we trace an obvious analogy to the type of the Tabernacle. At the upper or Jerusalem end stood the ark, the chest which, like the older and more sacred Ark, contained the Book of the Law. It gave to that end, the name and character of a sanctuary. This part of the synagogue was naturally the place of honor. Here were the "chief seats," for which Pharisees and scribes strove so eagerly, Matthew 23:6, and to which the wealthy and honored worshipper was invited. James 2:2-3.

Here too, in front of the ark, still reproducing the type of the Tabernacle, was the eight-branched lamp, lighted only on the greater festivals. Besides this, there was one lamp kept burning perpetually. More toward the middle of the building was a raised platform, on which several persons could stand at once, and in the middle of this, rose a pulpit, in which the reader stood to read the lesson, or sat down to teach.

The congregation were divided, men on one side, women on the other, with a low partition, five or six feet high, running between them. The arrangements of modern synagogues, for many centuries, have made the separation more complete by placing the women in low side galleries, screened off a lattice-work.

In smaller towns, there was often, but one rabbi. Where a fuller organization was possible, there was a college of elders, Luke 7:3, presided over by one, who was "the chief of the synagogue." Luke 8:41, 49; 13:14; Acts 18:8, 17. The most prominent functionary, in a large synagogue, was known as the sheliach, (legatus).

The officiating minister, who acted as the delegate of the congregation, and was, therefore, the chief reader of prayers, etc., in their name. The chazzan, or "minister" of the synagogue, Luke 4:20, had duties of a lower kind, resembling those of the Christian deacon, or sub-deacon. He was to open the doors, and to prepare the building for service. Besides these, there were ten men attached to every synagogue, known as the ballanim, (otiosi). They were supposed to be men of leisure, not obliged to labor for their livelihood, able, therefore, to attend the week-day as well as the Sabbath services. The legatus of the synagogues appears in the angel, Revelation 1:20; 2:1, perhaps, also in the apostle of the Christian Church.

It will be enough, in this place, to notice in what way, the ritual, no less than the organization, was connected with the facts of the New Testament history, and with the life and order of the Christian Church. From the synagogue, came the use of fixed forms of prayer. To that, the first disciples had been accustomed from their youth. They had asked their Master to give them a distinctive one, and he had complied with their request, Luke 11:1, as the Baptist had done before for his disciples, as every rabbi did for his.

"Moses" was "read in the synagogues every Sabbath day," Acts 15:21, the whole law being read consecutively, so as to be completed, according to one cycle, in three years. The writings of the prophets were read, as second lessons, in a corresponding order. They were followed by the derash, Acts 13:15, the exposition, the sermon of the synagogue.

The conformity extends, also, to the times of prayer. In the hours of service, this was obviously the case. The third, sixth and ninth hours were in the times of the New Testament, Acts 3:1; 10:3, 9 , and had been, probably, for some time before, Psalms 55:17; Daniel 6:10, the fixed times of devotion. The same hours, it is well known, were recognized in the Church, of the second century, probably, in that of the first also.

The solemn days of the synagogue were the second, the fifth and the seventh, the last, or Sabbath, being the conclusion of the whole. The transfer of the sanctity of the Sabbath to the Lord's Day involved a corresponding change in the order of the week, and the first, the fourth, the sixth, became to the Christian society what the other days had been to the Jewish.

From the synagogue, lastly, come many less conspicuous practices, which meet us in the liturgical life of the first three centuries: Ablution, entire or partial, before entering the place of meeting, John 13:1-15; Hebrews 10:22; standing, and not kneeling, as the attitude of prayer, Luke 18:11; the arms stretched out; the face turned toward the Kibleh of the east; the responsive, amen, of the congregation to the prayers and benedictions of the elders. 1 Corinthians 14:16.

Judicial Functions
The language of the New Testament shows that the officers of the synagogue exercised, in certain cases, a judicial power. If is not quite so easy, however, to define the nature of the tribunal, and the precise limits of its jurisdiction. In two of the passages referred to -- Matthew 10:17; Mark 13:9 -- they are carefully distinguished from the councils. It seems probable that the council was the larger tribunal of twenty-three, which sat in every city, and that, under the term, synagogue, we are to understand a smaller court, probably that of the ten judges, mentioned in the Talmud.

Here also, we trace the outline of a Christian institution. The Church, either by itself, or by appointed delegates, was to act as a court of arbitration, in all disputes its members. The elders of the church were not, however , to descend to the trivial disputes of daily life. For the elders, as for those of the synagogue, were reserved the graver offences, against religion and morals. [ref]