Some think Mark was the first Gospel written and that Matthew and Luke used Mark to write their Gospels. I don’t agree. I think the evidence shows that all four Gospels were written independently, without each other having seen the works of the other writers.
How do we explain, then, all the common wording in Matthew, Mark, and Luke? God promised that He would give His apostles perfect recall of everything Jesus said and did (John 14:26). Since Jesus did much of His teaching in Greek, it is easy to see how the Synoptic Gospels would have common wording.
Mark was the cousin of Barnabas. He served with Paul and Barnabas. He also had close ties with Peter. Though not an apostle, he had close ties with three apostles.
Mark is written to believers so that they might walk in fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no formal purpose statement in Mark’s Gospel. Benjamin W. Bacon, in a 1910 article on the purpose of Mark’s Gospel, says, “Mark…remains utterly silent regarding his purpose. We must draw our inferences from the structure of the work itself” (JBL, Vol. 29 No. 1, p. 46). Gotquestions.org says that Mark wrote to believers in Rome “that they have a biographical story of Jesus Christ as Servant of the Lord and Savior of the world in order to strengthen their faith in the face of severe persecution and to teach them what it meant to be His disciples.”
The introduction of Mark’s Gospel is found in Mark 1:1-15 (though some commentators think the introduction ends in verse 13).
There are four sections in the introduction.
Verses 1-8 deal with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, going back to OT prophecies and the ministry of John the Baptist, the Messiah’s forerunner. John prepared the way for the nation to receive Jesus and the kingdom He would be offering Israel.
Verses 9-11 present in the briefest of forms the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Mark does not give us the details. For example, Mark does not tell us that John the Baptist initially objected to baptizing Jesus (“And John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?’” [Matt 3:14]), nor does he report the reply of Jesus (“Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” [Matt 3:15]). Alfred Plummer writes, “John’s baptism was a preparation for the kingdom. For everyone else it was a repentance-baptism. Jesus needed no repentance, He could make use of preparation” (Mark, p. 58). In other words, Jesus’ ministry would build upon and refer to the ministry of John the Baptist. Like an opening act that prepares the crowd for the headliner, John prepared the way for the Messiah King.
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is briefly reported in verses 12-13. We are not told how many temptations there were (3), what they were, or how Jesus responded (with God’s Word). Mark is giving the big picture. The Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. He was there for 40 days.
Remember that Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years. Now Jesus, the embodiment of the nation, is Himself in the wilderness. The 40 days remind the readers of Israel’s 40 years. The difference is that during those 40 years Israel was tested by God and failed again and again, wherein these 40 days the Lord was tempted by Satan and was victorious again and again. After it was over, “the angels ministered to Him.”
Cole writes, “The meaning is quite clear, especially from the narrative which follows: while Israel, God’s child, had failed in the desert, Jesus, God’s Son, triumphed” (p. 110).
Another parallel is between Israel of Moses’ day and Israel of Jesus’ day. At Kadesh Barnea, Israel failed to accept God’s command to go up and take the Promised Land. So that entire generation, except Caleb and Joshua, died in the wilderness.
Mark is implying that with the ministry of Jesus, Israel failed to accept the promised kingdom. So that entire generation died without entering the kingdom in their lifetimes.
The fourth and final section of the introduction concerns the kingdom preaching of Jesus in Mark 1:14-15. Mark says Jesus preached “the gospel of the kingdom of God.”
Let’s unpack that.
The word gospel means good news. This is the good news that the kingdom of God was being offered to that first-century generation of Jews. Compare Matt 23:37-39.
It is wrong to think that this refers to the evangelistic message of Jesus to the Jews. We know from John’s Gospel that is not the case. His evangelistic message to Israel was that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life (John 3:16; 5:24; 6:47).
Here Jesus is offering the nation the kingdom. There were two conditions for the kingdom to come: 1) repent and 2) believe in the gospel, that is, the good news of the kingdom. Of course, believing in the good news of the kingdom would mean believing in Jesus as the Messiah, King, and Savior. There could be no kingdom without the King saving His people.
Repentance and faith here are national, not individual. The entire adult nation had to be repentant and believing before the kingdom would come.
I. Howard Marshall says, “the time of waiting and expectation (cf. Dan 7:22) had ended and the kingdom of God had drawn near” and “The announcement of [the kingdom’s] coming was therefore truly a piece of good news” (Mark, p. 6).
For individual Jews, the condition of the new birth was simply faith in Jesus. But for the kingdom to come, they had to both repent and believe that He was bringing in the kingdom.
The introduction to Mark’s Gospel exalts the Lord Jesus Christ. Believers are to love Him, follow Him, serve Him. Our focus is always to be on Him and His soon return to establish His kingdom. We should long to hear Him say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17).
There is much power in God’s Word, even in the introduction to the shortest Gospel.