Gospel of Mark Overview – Part 1

Title: Jesus Christ the Servant of God

Key Verse: Mark 10:45

1-10 The Servant’s History

11-16 The Servant’s Suffering


What is significant about this book that commonly defines it as the Gospel of the Servant? Probably the most common verse authors use to paint the different portraits of the four gospels is Ezekiel 1:10 with the vision of the four living beast:

NASB Ezekiel 1:10 As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle.

It’s become common for teachers to take each face and apply it to a gospel—Mark generally as the face of the ox representing service. Whether God definitely intended for this parallel to happen I really couldn’t tell you. There’s a whole lot of inference that needs to be made in saying with absolute certainty God is using Ezekiel’s vision to make the symbolic point about the Gospels. Nevertheless, it is very popular to do this and I would not want to disappoint anyone so I called this book, Jesus Christ, the Servant of God.

To locate who first used the vision of the beasts as symbolism for the gospels you need to go back all the way to the first century. The first recorded writer of the subject was Irenaeus of Lyons (120-202 AD), disciple of Polycarp, disciple of John. He is the earliest witness to the recognition of the canonical character of all four gospels using the beasts.[1] However, Jerome of the fourth century is the one who made the symbolism popular. He included the explanation when he did the newer translation of the bible into Latin—which became known as the Vulgate.[2] Interestingly though, the heads were actually arranged different then what is most commonly interpreted today.[3] In fact, Irenaeus had a different interpretation of the heads compared to the themes also.

To me, you really don’t even need Ezekiel’s beasts to present these themes of the Gospels. Each Evangel has his own emphasis and purpose. My opinion is the themes result more from having to do with the target audience or who the writers were burdened in writing to. Matthew is directed toward the Jews and so we see the Kingdom. Mark is said to have targeted the Christian-Roman churches so there is an emphasis on deeds more than message resulting in Jesus appearing as the Servant. Luke’s emphasis was toward the Gentile world so we see a focus of Jesus as the Son of Man in His humanity from a greater educated historical perspective. John was the last gospel written filling in where the others had not in respect to the deity of Christ. He wrote at the close of the first century as Gnostic heresies began infiltrating the churches diminishing the uniqueness of the Godhead.

More than anything, the order of when the Gospels were written directs and bares the greatest weight upon the emphasis and focus. These books were not a collaborated effort between the four men. They didn’t sit down and figure out who would write what beforehand. They were done at separate times, the following writer always aware of what the previous author had written. They were able to fill in gaps of time and give different perspectives to the same events. That’s why there’s diversity between the 4 writers, especially the synoptic gospels.

The general thinking is Mark’s theme is directed at Romans believers. He was either in Rome or Palestine when writing. Wherever it was written from, the gospel was read first throughout the Roman churches and then circulated throughout all the churches. It was immediately received as inspired of God without any questions. Mark wrote the Gospel in a very common, oral Aramaic idiom style of Greek.

How was the book developed? Mark had become Peter’s personal translator. Most scholars think Mark was with Peter in Rome as a companion toward the end of His days. Peter mentions him when he writes his first epistle. Before I read the verse be aware that Rome was commonly called Babylon throughout Christendom at that time:

NASB 1 Peter 5:13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.

Peter is thought to have led Mark to Christ as a very young man in Galilee and this association together made Mark perfect for the job of being Peter’s personal helper in older age. There are experts who think the Gospel was written just prior to Peter’s death, from Rome to the Roman believers. It is very probable the gospel is a collation of Peter’s memories while Mark was listening in on his lifetime of stories. He heard and translated Peter in his preaching, instructing, relating, teaching and reflections of Jesus’ ministry. The gospel comes across as Peter remembering his life with the Savior during those three years of service. Mark would have been more than qualified to write what Peter’s spoke from memory.

There are a tremendous amount of personal details given in events that give rise to this speculation. For example: the day Jesus calmed the stormy sea. Mark records the event with the details of a person with firsthand experience; something only one of 12 people would have known because they were there. Listen to the fine detail:

NASB Mark 4:38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

It isn’t enough that we’re told He’s asleep in the back of the boat, we’re also told he was also asleep on a cushion! This kind of detail is none existent in the other synoptic Gospels—they did not enjoy the same experiences. This is the Savior in real life! It’s what makes the Gospel of Mark unique. And, these things were written to give the Gentile believers in Rome an exact idea who this Savior of the world was in real time and space.

You can see why it didn’t take long before the Gospel of Mark began circulating throughout all the churches with as much weight as Paul’s epistles. This gospel was the first thing written in light of the specific daily life of Jesus for three historical years! It was a needed picture of who this man was practically. That is why the emphasis of Mark’s gospel is more of what Christ did than what He said. The other three gospels are heavy on the words and sayings of Christ; Mark is focused on His deeds and actions of service. He’s demonstrating the service of Jesus as a man to humanity. When it comes to a servant you’re more interested in what he does then that what he talks about. Talk is cheap, actions: priceless!

In fact, the Lord said Himself (and this I take as the key verse for the whole book):

NASB 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.”

This book appears as the book of the servant because Mark presented Him that way to demonstrate Jesus was the Son of God. Mark tells us up front that is why He is writing:

NASB Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

He presents Jesus as the Servant of God, servant to men to demonstrate He is the Son of God! That was totally different than the Roman pagan world. As Peter and Mark were visiting the churches in Rome they saw and became aware of the believer’s prior backgrounds. In heathen Rome the gods are selfish and self-serving. It was expected that the gods would use humanity for their own ends—men were just tools for their whims; all the way to heathen sacrifice. A clear distinction had to be made between Christianity and the heathen religious cultures. Mark is showing the true Son of God was just the opposite as He lived His life on this earth. Opposite to these heathen gods, Jesus served humanity and that service demonstrated He was the Son of God—all the way to giving His own life on the cross. In fact, the book ends with just that success as a revelation to a Roman centurion:

NASB Mark 15:39 When the centurion, who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

For Mark this was mission complete! It was in His ultimate service and sacrifice for humanity that He is revealed as the Son of God! And that is what we will see as we go through Mark’s gospel.

J. Robert Hanson

[1] Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament, p. 14. Anchor Bible; 1st edition

[2] Philip Schaff (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Volume 3, Second Series, T. & T. Clark, 1991 P. 384.

[3] http://www.sacred-destinations.com/reference/four-evangelists.htm


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