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How to Read the Bible Book by Book: Mark

Mark 1:14-15: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said, ‘the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.’”

The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four gospels. According to tradition, it was the first gospel to be written, and the likely author was John Mark, the man who was originally a companion of the apostle Paul, but later became a friend of Peter. It is often asserted that the Gospel of Mark was the account of Jesus from Peter’s point of view. Tradition says Peter is responsible for the main content of the book, but it is John Mark who actually writes it in the years after Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome. If this is true, he wrote the gospel during the time of Christian persecution in Rome under Nero.

The book moves at a fast face and regularly emphasizes that the way of Christ is the way of suffering and the cross. This would make sense if tradition is correct about the historical circumstances of its writing. One of Mark’s favorite words is “immediately.” The book has a quick pace and gives one the feeling that Mark is getting down to the core issues. Jesus is the promised Messiah. But the people misunderstood what the Messiah would do. Before he is glorified and rules the earth as king, first he must be rejected and die a death for the sins of the people. The way of discipleship is to follow this same pattern. Glory is coming, but first comes the cross.

There are a number of potential ways to outline the book of Mark, but perhaps the easiest way for our purposes in this article is to see how it splits up into four different sections. In the first section (1:1-3:6) Jesus publicly proclaims the coming of the kingdom of God. The book opens with a prologue which introduces this as a book about the good news of Christ, but then quickly moves into an early proclamation of the kingdom, the calling of disciples, and various actions and miracles that demonstrate the power of the coming king. The crowds are amazed at Jesus’ power, but opposition from the religious rulers begins at the very outset of the story.

Part two (3:7-8:21) develops the role of three different groups that are important to the gospel—the crowd, the disciples, and Jesus’ opponents. The crowd continues to be amazed at the public works of Jesus, while the disciples receive private instruction from him. All the while, opposition is mounting as many people are not impressed with what Jesus is doing, and even see him as a danger to their nation.

In part three (8:22-10:45), the attention focuses on Jesus and his teaching of the disciples. On three different occasions he tries to explain the nature of his kingship, but each time the disciples are unable to comprehend Jesus’ true meaning. The emphasis in this section is on the way of the cross. Jesus, as king, must take the way of the cross, and anyone who follows after him as his disciple must also do the same.

Finally, in part four (10:46-16:8), the story reaches its climax. Jesus is received with an exuberate welcome by the crowds as he enters the city of Jerusalem. But it does not take long for the opposition to overcome the crowd’s enthusiasm. All of these events lead to Jesus’ trial and suffering, ultimately climaxing in his crucifixion. The book ends with a short story about resurrection morning, and with an interesting note that the women who went away from the empty tomb were bewildered and afraid.

Mark’s gospel is often a good place to begin a study about the life of Jesus. Because the narrative is short, it is easy to read and follow, and gives one a picture by picture look at the events in Jesus’ life. Other gospels expand upon this material and add layers of depth, but if tradition is right in saying that this was the first gospel written, certainly it holds its place in history as a special account of the life of Jesus, the crucified king.

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