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Introduction to Mark Study

  • Thomas Klock
  • 2007 21 Sep
Introduction to Mark Study
Between the Old and New Testaments
Son of Man, Son of God
Studies in Mark's Gospel

Free at last!  The Jews were freed from years of bondage under first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, and lastly the Persians.  They returned a changed people facing a drastically changing world.  The Judaism they knew in earlier days would be transformed through all they experienced.[i]  Examining these changes will help us better understand the world in which Jesus walked.  Throughout our studies in Mark’s Gospel we will be clarifying many of these factors to help us grasp what they signified.  Before looking specifically at Mark’s Gospel, let’s take an overview look at the many changes and challenges that shaped the experiences of those living in Jesus’ day.

  • The majority of the Jews returned to Palestine but many did not, spreading out throughout the Greek world in what is referred to as the Diaspora; the Diaspora Jews and their practices often took on a more liberal flavor.
  • Those living in Palestine were essentially peasants, farmers, and day laborers with a very basic education, struggling to survive day to day.  It was with these hopeless and downtrodden people that the teachings of Jesus found a home.
  • The temple had been rebuilt by 515 BC under Ezra, Nehemiah, and other courageous Jews, but while they were in Babylon their substitute for the temple had become the Synagogue, a gathering place for worship, study, prayer, etc. This practice was continued by those living both in and outside of Palestine, anywhere there were at least ten male Jews.  The Synagogue later became the launching pad for the ministry of Paul in the Roman world.
  • Many political powers struggled over or controlled Palestine in the years between the Testaments.  First was Alexander the Great, who conquered basically the entire known world, and then used the Greek language to unite his vast empire, through which he spread Greek culture and its philosophies.
  • After Alexander died in a drinking binge at age 33, his four generals divided up the empire.  Ptolemy controlled the areas south of Palestine, and Seleucus controlled the area north of Palestine.  These two forces fought back and forth for the control of Palestine from 323 BC to 167 BC.  At times the Jews were allowed to practice their religion without harassment, but under the Seleucids and the evil Antiochus IV Epiphanes, their practices were squelched.  Eventually, the people had all they could take of this foreign control.
  • During this time, two main political groups in Judaism developed:  the Hasidim (pious ones), who were committed to traditional Judaism, and the Hellenizers, those sympathetic to the Greek way of life.  Over time, these two parties would become what we see in the Gospels as the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
  • In 167 BC, a brave Hasidic family stood against the wrongs the Jews suffered under the Seleucids.  Judas Maccabeus (Maccabeus means the hammer) and his followers used guerilla warfare tactics, and with home-made weapons and faith in their God, they broke the control of the Seleucids over them by December 164 BC.  This victory is still celebrated by the Jews today in the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah.
  • From 164-134 BC, the descendents of the Maccabees ruled the land and expanded it, renaming the country Judah.  Yet there grew again a greater liberalism; the Hellenizers gained power and changed way the high priesthood was established.  By 134 BC the Hellenizers held the power over Judah, which continued under the Sadducees of Jesus’ day. 
  • Between 69 and 63 BC, a violent civil war broke out between these two factions.  A delegation of Jews went to Rome, asking for help in putting down this civil war and restoring peace in the land.  Little did they know what the consequences of this would bring for the Jewish people.  In 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey led the invasion of Palestine, not only putting down the civil war but conquering the nation!  Judah then became a province of the Roman Empire.
  • The Romans tried various ineffective ways of governing Judah, such as the false Herod line, or Procurators such as Pontius Pilate who were military men promoted far above their level of competence.  Horrible taxation crushed the Jewish people as they struggled for survival (the poorest peasants had to pay about the equivalent of 40% of their meager income); both economic and environmental disasters also perplexed the people.  Many longed for the coming of the Messiah, and several mini-Messianic revolts arose, but were unsuccessful. 
  • During the inter-testament times, the Jews had to deal with the influence of Greco-Roman philosophies and lifestyles completely contrary to what the Law had taught.  But more than being concerned about the Law, the Pharisees especially began treasuring oral traditions and interpretations of the Law as much as or more than the Scripture itself, and despite their conservative religious practices, because of this they came under the greatest scrutiny of Jesus.  His conflicts with the Sadducees would come on their turf, which was the Temple and its related practices.

Despite the negative experiences of the years between the Testaments, we can see that God was at work and, much like we saw in the Book of Esther, He would take a tragic time and bring about a turn of events that none really expected.  The way had been well paved for Jesus’ coming to this earth.  Think about it:  the universal use of the Greek language opened the way for communication with wide groups of people; the roadways built by Rome making for relatively easy travel throughout the Roman empire; its postal system was advanced for the day; and the struggle of the Jews and their hopes for Messiah to come and deliver them all prepared the way for Jesus, the Gospel, and its rapid and powerful spread to both Jew and Gentile throughout the First Century AD and beyond.  As the Apostle Paul well summarized,

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Galatians 4:4-7, nkjv).


Nowhere in this Gospel is it actually stated that Mark was its author, but early church fathers such as Papias, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen defend this Gospel as being written by Mark, stating that its writing was based on the testimony of the apostle Peter.[ii]  In fact the only possible reference to Mark included would be the event recorded in Mark 14:51, 52, where a young man wearing nothing but a sheet was grabbed during the arrest of Jesus, and ran away naked.[iii]

Peter referred to Mark as his son (1 Peter 5:13), and indeed his influence may be seen in this Gospel.  If that is the case, then Mark and Peter have another thing in common. Both of them had a tremendous failure in service, but experienced restoration by God’s grace.[iv]  If you have read the Book of Acts, you know that Barnabas brought his nephew John Mark on a missionary journey with Paul, but Mark abandoned the mission and high-tailed it home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).  When Barnabas wanted Paul to give Mark a second chance, Paul vehemently opposed him to the point that he and Barnabas split, and Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus (Acts 15:37–40).  Yet before the end of his life, Paul was reconciled with both Barnabas and Mark (see Colossians 4:10, Philemon v. 24 , 2 Timothy 4:11).  Similarly, Peter had a major failure of faith after Jesus’ arrest, when he denied three times that he even knew Him.  Yet Jesus restored Peter and used him mightily to touch his world with the Gospel.

Different dates for the writing of Mark’s Gospel have been suggested by various Bible scholars, ranging from about 55 to 70 AD, and although there are good arguments that this Gospel could have been written in the 50s since Acts was probably written in 63 AD,[v] it was probably completed around 60 AD or so.[vi]  The Gospel of course was written in Greek, but not the formal Greek used by Luke; in this Gospel, Mark transliterated at least ten Latin words into Greek, and was very influenced by Aramaic words and phrases, yet he was able to present a vigorous, fresh, and forceful account to his readers.[vii]  Mark is one of the three synoptic Gospels along with Matthew and Luke, which means that they follow basically the same pattern but with different emphases.  Mentioned in this Gospel is what is called the Messianic secret, which was Jesus telling those He healed and delivered not to reveal who He was.  We’ll discuss reasons for this as we progress through the Gospel.  As David DeSilva well said, “Perhaps it is the mysterious, shadowy dimension of Mark that accounts for its ongoing appeal.”[viii]

One thing that can frustrate us as we read Mark and the other Gospels is that they are not intended as biographies of Jesus, so things are not always presented exactly in order; we have no description of what He looked like; and many details that are normally included in biographical writings are omitted.  As we’ll see, Mark had a specific reason for writing what he did, to whom he did, as well as for what was omitted.


Mark clearly presents Jesus as the Servant of the Lord, the Son of Man as well as the Son of God.  He emphasizes the Kingdom of God, especially its futuristic aspects.  He also presents Jesus as a solitary figure, suffering alone, facing great difficulty on our behalf.  This is why some conclude that Mark wrote around 65-70 AD, as his message is addressed to a Roman audience, and during that time the Christians in the Roman Empire for the first time under the hands of Rome experienced tremendous persecution because of the maniacal Nero.[ix]  Because of his emphasis, we can assume that Mark’s key verse would be Mark 10:45:  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (nkjv). 


Mark’s Gospel has several unique features.  As mentioned above, Mark wrote to a Roman, Gentile audience, so many things that would not be as meaningful to them are omitted such as genealogy and fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, and references to specific laws and Jewish customs downplayed; this is not a bibliography, but a topical narrative that would mean much to those it was addressed to.[x]  Jesus is presented as an active, compassionate, and obedient servant; in fact the urgency of this Gospel can be seen in the use of the word immediately over 40 times.[xi]  Despite being the shortest of the four Gospels, it is the most graphic; it records 18 of Jesus’ miracles; over one-third of the book covers the last eight days of Jesus’ life, but records fewer of Jesus’ teachings than the other three Gospels; and interestingly this is the only Gospel that tells us that Jesus was a carpenter.[xii]


Many Bible commentators and scholars have created good outlines of this Gospel, but for our purposes we want to keep things fairly straightforward and simple.  This Bible Fellowship year we will be completing a total of 23 lessons, and they can be simply outlined and categorized as follows:

     I.  Jesus’ Galilean Ministry, Mark 1:1-8:26 (Lessons 1-12)

     II.  From Galilee to Jerusalem, Mark 8:27-10:52 (Lessons 12-16)

     III. The Passion of the Son of Man, Mark 11-16 (Lessons 17-23)

Here are some of the highlights of things that we will encounter and examine:

  • Jesus’ love for people and concern about the whole person. 
  • Jesus’ conflicts with religious leaders and their false views about the Law. 
  • Jesus’ call of 12 ordinary men who would turn their world upside down. 
  • Jesus’ teachings and parables about the dawning of the Kingdom of God, repentance, faith in the goodness of God, worship, humility, family, loving others, the dangers of worldliness, our need of a sense of urgency, and discipleship.
  • Jesus’ Passion Week:  The triumphal entry, demonstrating His Messiahship; cleansing of the temple; dealing with hypocrisy; future aspects of God’s kingdom; the real Passover plot of Judas; the Last Supper; Jesus’ illegal arrest and trials; His horrible crucifixion, death, and burial; and greatest of all, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead!  We’ll also examine the controversial Mark 16:9-20 and discuss whether or not it was truly part of Mark’s Gospel.

This will indeed be an exciting study, and we’ll learn much from the things recorded well over 1,900 years ago, yet they are so pertinent to us today!  Perhaps the words of William Barclay[xiii] best summarize this introduction to Mark’s Gospel:

It would not be unfair to call Mark the essential gospel.  We will do well to study with loving care the earliest gospel we possess, the gospel where we hear again the preaching of Peter himself.


Each of these 23 lessons is divided into six days’ study.  Days One through Five are designed to help us focus in on the text at hand, as well as providing additional information and references from time to time so we can more fully understand it.  Day Six will be devoted to an expanded application of the passage. This will help us tie the week’s thoughts together so we can better live them out.  Other notes and information will be provided occasionally to help us gain a better understanding of the passage and subjects as well.  Each week we’ll also have a memory verse from the passage we examine.  These will be crucial or inspirational passages that should be fairly easy to memorize.  Make every effort to memorize these verses.  As you do, you’ll find that all the more God is strengthening and helping you grasp the truths you are examining. 

Now for some Bible Fellowship ground rules.  First, make every effort to get all the way through the study each week.  If you are struggling with any part of a lesson, remember your group leader is there to help you.  The more effort you put into getting through the study, the more you and your group will benefit as you share what God is teaching you.  It is very helpful to read the whole passage for the week first and then go back and examine the individual sections each day.

Second, use a major translation of the Bible when you study.  Harvest Christian Fellowship, the publisher of these lessons, uses the New King James Version (nkjv) so these studies and memory verses are based on it.  However, feel free to use a different translation if it is more helpful for you.  Many prefer the good old King James Version (kjv), which is a great translation, but don’t be scared off from using translations like the New International Version (niv) and the New American Standard Bible (nasb).  Newer believers might want to use The New Living Translation (nlt) as it is very straightforward.  This writer refers to all of the above while preparing these lessons.  Paraphrases such as The Living Bible, The Amplified Bible, or The Message are good for comparing and may help you, but please base your answers on a translation.  Talk to your leader or one of the senior leaders if you need more information on Bible usage. 

Third, try to put your answers in your own words as much as possible.  Copying down word for word what the Bible says doesn’t help you learn as much, nor should you depend on other study books or commentaries for your answers.  We want you to learn how to dig into and interpret God’s Word as fully as you can, and to encourage you to do as much additional study as you have time for.  But remember that although study books and helps can be wonderful, they are sometimes just someone’s opinion, learned as they may be.  Depending on them is less helpful in the long run than what God is saying directly to you through His Word, but they will help you gain a greater insight into things you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.


What on earth is Christology?  It is the study and theology of who Jesus was and is.  There have been great books written over the years that can help you learn more about Jesus and what these things all mean to us today.  Here is a list of resources which may or may not be referred to in our lessons but that you might want to check into so you can develop a higher Christology, in other words knowing more about Jesus and being able to make Him better known to others:

F.F. Bruce.  Jesus Lord and Savior.  Downer’s Grove:  InterVarsity Press, 1986.

Gayle D. Erwin. The Jesus Style.  Dallas:  Word Publishing, 1983, 1988.

Donald Guthrie.  Jesus the Messiah.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1972.  NOTE: This book may be out of print by now, but find it used if you can!

John F. MacArthur. The Gospel According to Jesus.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.

Josh McDowell.  The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999.

Josh McDowell and Bart Larson.  Jesus:  A Biblical Defense of His Deity.  San Bernardin  Here’s Life Publishers, 1983. 

Josh McDowell and Bill Wilson.  He Walked Among Us.  San Bernardin  Here’s Life Publishers, Inc., 1988.

G. Campbell Morgan.  The Crises of the Christ. Grand Rapids:  Kregel Publications, 1903, 1989.

J. Dwight Pentecost. The Words and Works of Jesus Christ.  Grand Rapids:  The Zondervan Corporation, 1981.

Charles H. Spurgeon.  Christ in the Old Testament.  Chattanooga:  AMG Publishers, 1899, 1994.

Charles H. Spurgeon.  The Miracles and Parables of our Lord (3 Volumes).  Grand Rapids:  Baker Book House, 1988.

John F. Walvoord. Jesus Christ Our Lord. Chicag  The Moody Bible Institute, 1969.

[i] The information in this opening section is based loosely on F.F. Bruce, New Testament History (Garden City, NY:  Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1969); Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd Edition  (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1987, 1993, 2003); Richard L. Niswonger, New Testament History (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing Co., 1988); Calvin J. Roetzel, The World that Shaped the New Testament (Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1980); and D.S. Russell, Between the Testaments (Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1960, 1965).

[ii] Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), p. 319.

[iii] Everett F. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964, 1971), p. 185.

[iv] Jeff Lasseigne, Highway 66:  A Unique Journey Through the 66 Books of the Bible (Santa Ana:  Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2004), p. 129.

[v] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), p. 1189.

[vi] F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents:  Are They Reliable?  (Grand Rapids:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), pp. 10-13.

[vii] Walter W. Wessell, Mark.  In Frank E. Gaebelein ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8 (Grand Rapids:  Regency Reference Library, 1984), p. 612.

[viii] David A. DeSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament (Downer’s Grove:  InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 201.

[ix] Everett F. Harrison, Introduction to the New Testament, p. 185.

[x] Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible, p. 320. 

[xi] Oxford University Press, The Scofield Study Bible, New King James Version (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 1362.

[xii] Jeff Lasseigne, Highway 66:  A Unique Journey through the 66 Books of the Bible, p. 127, 128.

[xiii] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 9.

Scripture Quotations marked (nkjv) are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.  Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture Quotations marked (niv) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®.  NIV ®.  Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.  Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.  All rights reserved.

Scripture Quotations marked (nasb) are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ® , © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995.  Used by permission.

Scripture Quotations marked (nlt) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996.  Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton Illinois 60189, U.S.A.  All rights reserved.

© 2005 by Thomas Klock.  Written for Harvest Christian Fellowship Men’s Bible Fellowship, 6115 Arlington Ave., Riverside CA 92504, U.S.A..  All rights reserved.