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A. The title of the book 1:1 (cf. Luke 3:1-2)
Mark may have intended this sentence to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist since that is what follows immediately. It could also refer to the inception of Jesus’ public ministry and therefore be a title of the Gospel’s introduction (Mark 1:1-13). It seems more probable, however, that this verse is a title for the whole book. It summarizes Mark’s whole Gospel. Incidentally the New Testament never uses the word "Gospel" to describe a book of the Bible. That is a more recent use of the word.
"The term ’gospel’ or ’evangel’ was not a word first coined among the Christians. On the contrary, the concept was significant both in pagan and Jewish culture. Among the Romans it meant ’joyful tidings’ and was associated with the cult of the emperor, whose birthday, attainment to majority and accession to power were celebrated as festival occasions for the whole world. The reports of such festivals were called ’evangels’ in the inscriptions and papyri of the Imperial Age." [Note: Ibid., pp. 42-43.]
Possibly Mark began his Gospel as he did to recall the opening verse of Genesis. The good news about Jesus Christ provides a beginning of as great significance as the creation of the cosmos. When Jesus’ came to earth and began His ministry, God created something new. This Gospel presents a new beginning in which God revealed good news about Jesus Christ. Thus this title might be a clue to the divine origin of the second Gospel.
"In Galatians 4:4-6, Paul viewed the gospel story as in two parts, God’s sending ’his Son’ and the sending to ’the Spirit of his Son.’ Mark covers the first of these two sendings. The full apostolic message also included the sending of the Holy Spirit. But the story of the sending of the Son of God had its historical beginning with the coming of John the forerunner." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, Mark: A Portrait of the Servant, p. 27]
The word "gospel" is the modern equivalent of the old English "god-spel" meaning good news. The Greek word is euangelion. The gospel is the good news that God has provided eternal salvation through the ministry of Jesus Christ (cf. Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 41:27; Isaiah 52:7; Isaiah 61:1-3; Romans 1:16). This term is important in the theological emphasis of Mark’s narrative (cf. Mark 1:14-15; Mark 8:35; Mark 10:29; Mark 13:9-10; Mark 14:9).
"’The Gospel is neither a discussion nor a debate,’ said Dr. Paul S. Rees. ’It is an announcement!’" [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1:110.]
The word "gospel" also describes a certain type of literature, a literary genre. Gospel literature is not just history or biography. It is "preaching materials, designed to tell the story of God’s saving action in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth." [Note: R. P. Martin, Mark: Evangelist and Theologian, p. 21.] Mark’s Gospel contains the good news that the early Christians preached (cf. Acts 2:36). [Note: C. F. D. Moule, The Gospel According to Mark, p. 8.]
"Mark does not write as a disinterested historian. He writes as a preacher conveying God’s good news of salvation by emphasizing Jesus’ saving ministry . . . Mark also writes as a theologian, arranging and interpreting the tradition to meet the needs of his hearers." [Note: Wessel, p. 611.]
Jesus Christ is the subject of this gospel (objective genitive). He is also the source of it (subjective genitive). Probably the former meaning is what Mark had in mind here. He seems to have wanted to provide an account of Jesus’ ministry so his readers could have a factual basis for their understanding of the gospel they had believed.
"Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew "Joshua" meaning "Yahweh is salvation" or "salvation of Yahweh." "Christ" transliterates the Greek word kristos that means "anointed." The Hebrew word for "anointed" is mesiah from which we get "Messiah." By the time Mark wrote his Gospel, "Jesus Christ" had become a proper name, not a name (Jesus) and a title (Christ), the original meanings of these words. However, Mark intended "Christ" to have its full titular meaning as well (cf. Mark 8:29; Mark 12:35; Mark 14:61; Mark 15:32).
Mark further identified Jesus Christ as the "Son of God." This title does not appear is some important early manuscripts of Mark, but it is probably legitimate. [Note: See Carson and Moo, p. 187.] It expresses Jesus’ unique relationship to God and identifies an important theme in the second Gospel (cf. Mark 1:11; Mark 3:11; Mark 5:7; Mark 9:7; Mark 12:6; Mark 13:32; Mark 14:36; Mark 14:61; Mark 15:39). The title is messianic, but it connotes a subordinate relationship to God. Mark presented Jesus as the Servant of God particularly in this book. Rather than recording a nativity narrative that showed that Jesus was the Son of God, Mark simply stated that fact with this title. [Note: See Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Defining the Titles ’Christ’ and ’Son of God’ in Mark’s Narrative Presentation of Jesus," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:3 (September 2007):537-59.]
". . . from the start the narrator of Mark’s story establishes with the reader a relationship of confidence by divulging the secret of Jesus’ identity long before it becomes known to characters in the story, for the first line is an aside to the reader revealing that Jesus is the anointed one, the son of God. This technique puts the reader on the inside, among those who know, and enables the reader to understand more than many of the characters in the drama understand. This technique is an important foundation in this story which is concerned with what is hidden and what is secret." [Note: David M. Rhoads and Donald M. Michie, Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel, p. 41.]
"The Gospel is not a mystery story in which the identity of the main character has to be guessed; from the outset it is made clear who this is-the Son of God." [Note: E. Best, The Temptation and the Passion, p. 168.]
Taken together "Jesus," "Christ," and "Son of God" present Jesus as a man who was God’s special agent but who was also fully divine.
"The superscription refers to Jesus as ’the anointed one, the son of God.’ At the end of the first half of the story, Peter acknowledges Jesus as ’the anointed one’ [Mark 8:29] and at the end of Jesus’ life the centurion identifies Jesus as ’son of God’ [Mark 15:39]. The first half of the gospel emphasizes the authority of Jesus to do acts of power. The second half emphasizes the suffering of Jesus in filial obedience to God. Although the characterization of Jesus is consistent throughout, there appears, nevertheless, a clear development in the portrayal of Jesus from one half of the gospel to the next. In the first step, he serves with power; in the second, he serves as the one who suffers. Throughout the style and the structure of episodes the two-step progressions prepare the reader to be drawn more readily into seeing this larger second step and accepting this clearer, more precise understanding of Jesus." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, pp. 48-49.]
"In the gospel story he narrates, Mark tells, of course, of Jesus. Intertwined with the story of Jesus, however, are two other story lines: that of the religious authorities and that of the disciples." [Note: Kingsbury, p. vii.]
I. INTRODUCTION 1:1-13
This opening section of the book sets the stage for the presentation of Jesus Christ as the unique Servant of the Lord. Mark omitted references to Jesus’ birth and youth. These subjects are irrelevant when presenting the life of a servant.
"The accent falls upon the disclosure that Jesus is the Messiah, the very Son of God, whose mission is to affirm his sonship in the wilderness. His encounter with Satan provides the background for the delineation of the conflict between the Son of God and the forces of Satan which is so prominent an element in the Marcan narrative of Jesus’ ministry." [Note: Lane, p. 40.]
Mark began with a quotation from the Old Testament. A proper understanding of Jesus’ ministry requires understand of prophecy concerning Messiah. He wrote literally, "It stands written" (perfect tense in the Greek text). The early Christians believed that the Old Testament was God’s authoritative Word.
This quotation is a blend of words taken from the Septuagint version of Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and Isaiah 40:3. Mark shaped this quotation to stress the messianic emphasis in these Old Testament passages. He probably introduced this quotation by referring to Isaiah because the Isaiah part contains the main point he wanted to stress (Mark 1:3) or perhaps because Isaiah was the more prominent of the prophets he quoted.
The desert where God met with His people was a significant Old Testament motif. Messiah would come out of the desert. "The Lord" proved to be Jesus. Mark’s introduction of the word "way" (Gr. hodos, lit. road or highway) begins one of his themes, namely, the path through life. This is what a disciple of Jesus must follow (cf. Mark 8:27; Mark 9:33; Mark 10:17; Mark 10:32; Mark 10:52; Mark 12:14).
This is the only time Mark quoted an Old Testament passage other than when he quoted Jesus referring to the Old Testament. The one in Mark 15:28 lacks ancient manuscript authority. What a contrast with Matthew!
"The point of the whole quotation is that John’s preparatory ministry, in fulfillment of prophecy, authenticated Jesus’ Messiahship and prepared for the beginning of His official ministry as the Messiah." [Note: Hiebert, p. 29.]
1. The ministry of John the Baptist 1:2-8 (cf. Matthew 3:1-6, 11-12; Luke 3:3-6; 15-18)
The writer pointed out that the ministry of Jesus’ forerunner fulfilled prophecy. It made a significant impact on those whom John contacted. [Note: For parallels between the ministries of John the Baptist and Elijah, See Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 1:255-56.] Then Mark recorded the essence of John’s message.
B. Jesus’ preparation for ministry 1:2-13
Mark proceeded to record three events that the reader needs to understand to appreciate Jesus’ ministry correctly. They are John the Baptist’s ministry, Jesus’ baptism, and Jesus’ temptation. Two words that recur through this section of the text are key to understanding Mark’s emphasis: desert and the Spirit. [Note: See Frank J. Matera, "The Prologue as the Interpretive Key to Mark’s Gospel," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 34 (October 1988):3-20.]
The wilderness or desert (Gr. eremos) where John ministered was dry and uninhabited. It was the wilderness of Judea west and north of the Dead Sea (Matthew 3:1).
John baptized people when they gave evidence of repentance. "A baptism of repentance" means a baptism characterized by repentance. The Jews John baptized not only changed their minds, the basic meaning of metanoia, but they also changed their behavior. This is the only occurrence of metanoia in Mark. The changes were for and resulted in the forgiveness of sins. Change of behavior does not earn forgiveness, but change of behavior demonstrates genuine contrition that results in forgiveness. The unusual thing about John’s baptism was that in his day Gentiles baptized themselves when they converted to Judaism, and the Jews baptized themselves for ritual cleansing.
"As Israel long ago had been separated from Egypt by a pilgrimage through the waters of the Red Sea, the nation is exhorted again to experience separation; the people are called to a second exodus in preparation for a new covenant with God." [Note: Lane, p. 50.]
Peter’s sermon in Acts 10:37 began at the same place as Mark’s Gospel, with the ministry of John the Baptist. This is one hint of Peter’s influence on the second Gospel.
Multitudes of Jews responded enthusiastically to John’s ministry. Large crowds from southern Palestine and Jerusalem went to the Jordan River in response to his call to prepare for Messiah’s appearance. Mark’s use of "all" was hyperbolic. Every individual did not come out to John, but very many did. Those who did confessed their sins by submitting to baptism. By allowing the forerunner of Messiah to baptize them, the Jews who submitted to his baptism were pledging to receive Messiah when He came.
This description of John would have identified him as a typical "holy man" of the ancient East who lived in the desert. His clothing was woven camel’s hair held in place with a leather belt (cf. 2 Kings 1:8; cf. Malachi 4:5-6). This is how prophets typically dressed (cf. Zechariah 13:4). His diet consisted of dried locusts and the honey of wild bees. This was clean food for the Jews (cf. Leviticus 11:21-22). John may have been a lifelong Nazirite, or he may simply have lived an ascetic life out of devotion to God (Luke 1:15). His personal appearance and behavior encouraged the Jews who came to him to abandon self-indulgent living in preparation for Messiah’s appearing.
"A careful comparison of the Qumran Covenanters with John the Baptist . . . reveals differences so extensive as to make the possibility of contact unimportant." [Note: Ibid., p. 48.]
"At last that solemn silence was broken by an appearance, a proclamation, a rite, and a ministry as startling as that of Elijah had been. In many respects, indeed, the two messengers and their times bore singular likeness. It was to a society secure, prosperous, and luxurious, yet in imminent danger of perishing from hidden, festering disease; and to a religious community which presented the appearance of hopeless perversion, and yet contained the germs of a possible regeneration, that both Elijah and John the Baptist came. Both suddenly appeared to threaten terrible judgment, but also to open unthought-of possibilities of good. And, as if to deepen still more the impression of this contrast, both appeared in a manner unexpected, and even antithetic to the habits of their contemporaries. John came suddenly out of the wilderness of Jueaea [sic], as Elijah from the wilds of Gilead; John bore the same strange ascetic appearance as his predecessor; the message of John was the counterpart of that of Elijah; his baptism that of Elijah’s novel rite on Mount Carmel. And, as if to make complete the parallelism, with all of memory and hope which it awakened, even the more minute details surrounding the life of Elijah found their counterpart in that of John." [Note: Edersheim, 1:255.]
Mark’s synopsis of John’s message is brief (cf. Matthew 3:7-10; Luke 3:10-14). It stresses the coming of the mighty One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John described the greatness of this One by contrasting himself with the Messiah. Slaves did not have to untie their masters’ sandals, but John felt unworthy to do even this most menial task for Messiah. This emphasis on the humility of God’s servants persists through this Gospel.
Another contrast is the baptisms of the two men (Mark 1:8). This one shows the superior ministry of the Coming One.
"The Baptist evidently meant that the great coming One would not merely cleanse with water but would bring to bear, like a deluge, the purging, purifying, judging presence of God himself." [Note: Moule, p. 10.]
Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit probably looks forward to a baptism yet future from our viewpoint in history. In Matthew and in Luke’s account of this statement John said Jesus would baptize "with the Holy Spirit and fire." The single article before two nouns in the Greek text implies a single baptism with Spirit and fire. While such a baptism happened on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:5; Acts 2:32-33), not all of what the prophets predicted would happen when this baptism took place really transpired then (cf. Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28-32). Consequently we anticipate a future baptism with the Spirit and fire that will fulfill these prophecies completely.
The fact that Mark identified Jesus simply as Jesus may show that he wrote his Gospel to people familiar with Jesus. Jesus did not come to John from Judea or Jerusalem (cf. Mark 1:5) but from Nazareth in Galilee where He had grown up and was living. [Note: See the map "Places Mentioned in Mark’s Gospel" at the end of these notes.] The obscurity of this little town is clear from the fact that not the Old Testament, Josephus, or the Talmud ever mentioned it.
Jesus underwent John’s baptism to identify with man and man’s sin (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). He did not do so because He needed to repent. He did not. He also submitted to baptism because by doing so He identified with the particular group of people that John was baptizing, namely, the Israelites. Jesus associated His baptism with His death (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50). Consequently it is probably proper to conclude that He viewed His baptism as a public acceptance of His role as Israel’s Suffering Servant, Messiah. Jesus was about 30 years old then (Luke 3:23).
2. The baptism of Jesus 1:9-11 (cf. Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-23)
Mark next recorded two events that immediately preceded the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, His baptism and His temptation. The first of these events signaled His appearing as Messiah and His induction into that office. Mark simply recorded the fact of Jesus’ baptism and two attendant events that confirmed that He was the Messiah.
This is the first of Mark’s 42 uses of the Greek adverb euthys ("immediately") that give his narrative a feeling of rapidly moving action. Mark used this word more than the other three evangelists combined.
"As the story progresses, the frequency of the word ’immediately’ drops off, but reappears later to reinforce how quickly the arrest and trial of Jesus take place. And the tempo varies. Whereas early in the narrative the action shifts rapidly from one location to another, the end of the journey slows to a day-by-day description of what happens in a single location, Jerusalem, and then an hour-by-hour depiction of the crucifixion. Because the whole narrative moves toward Jerusalem and toward crucifixion, the slowing of the tempo greatly intensifies the experience of this event for the reader." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 45.]
Mark described Jesus seeing the heavens opened, though John at least saw this too (John 1:32-34). He used the vivid word schizomenous, meaning tearing or rending. This word recalls Isaiah 64:1 where the prophet called on God to rend the heavens and come down (cf. Psalms 18:9; Psalms 18:16-19; Psalms 144:5-8). God now answered Isaiah’s prayer. The descent of the Spirit on Jesus constituted His anointing for ministry (cf. Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38). He was God’s anointed servant ("Christ;" cf. David, another anointed of the Lord).
The dove is a bird that symbolizes the humble self-sacrifice that characterizes it. It was a bird that poor Israelites’ offered in sacrifice to the Lord. The same spirit of humble self-sacrifice indwelt Jesus.
The Spirit coming on Jesus here does not imply that Jesus had lacked Holy Spirit empowering previously. Here the Spirit came to empower Jesus specifically for His messianic ministry, which began now.
The Father’s voice from heaven expressed approval of Jesus and His mission in words recalling Genesis 22:2. What the voice said identified the speaker. God’s words from heaven fused the concepts of King (Psalms 2:7) and Servant (Isaiah 42:1). This combination constituted the unique sonship of Jesus.
"The first clause of the [Father’s] declaration (with the verb in the present tense of the indicative mood) expresses an eternal and essential relationship. The second clause (the verb is in the aorist indicative) implies a past choice for the performance of a particular function in history." [Note: Lane, p. 58.]
From this point on, the reader of Mark’s Gospel knows God’s authoritative evaluation of Jesus. This evaluation becomes the norm by which we judge the correctness or incorrectness of every other character’s understanding of Him.
"If Mark refuses knowledge of Jesus’ identity to human characters in the beginning and middle of his story, who, then, knows of his identity? The answer is Mark himself as narrator, the reader, and such supernatural beings as God, Satan, and demons." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 38.]
Jesus began His official role as the Messiah at His baptism (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalms 89:26; Hebrews 1:5). He also began His official role as the Suffering Servant of the Lord then (cf. Mark 8:31; Mark 9:30-31; Mark 10:32-34; Mark 10:45; Mark 15:33-39).
"Jesus’ baptism did not change His divine status. He did not become the Son of God at His baptism (or at the transfiguration, Mark 9:7). Rather, His baptism showed the far-reaching significance of His acceptance of His messianic vocation as the suffering Servant of the Lord as well as the Davidic Messiah. Because He is the Son of God, the One approved by the Father and empowered by the Spirit, He is the Messiah (not vice versa)." [Note: Grassmick, pp. 105-6.]
"Immediately" connects the temptation closely with the baptism. The same Spirit that came on Jesus at His baptism now "impelled" or drove (Gr. ekballo) Him into the wilderness for testing. [Note: See Sydney H. T. Page, "Satan: God’s Servant," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:3 (September 2007):449-65.] In the Old Testament the Israelites associated inhabited and cultivated land with God’s blessing and wilderness with His curse. Jesus had submitted humbly to identification with humankind and Israel in particular. Now he experienced the consequences of that identification: temptation. Temptation is not an indication that one is out of God’s will. It sometimes results from following the Spirit’s leading.
"Mark’s expression does not mean that Jesus was forced out into the wilderness against His will but that He went with a strong sense of the Spirit’s compulsion upon Him. Since the object of His Messianic mission was to ’destroy the works of the devil’ (1 John 3:8), Jesus recognized that His acceptance of the Servant vocation made the encounter essential. It was the initiation of His mission to overthrow the devil. His miracle-working ministry of authority over demons was based on the victory won in this encounter." [Note: Hiebert, p. 39.]
"Mark makes evident that the wilderness in his story carries a dual significance: At times it is a hostile and threatening atmosphere, at other times it is a place of preparation." [Note: B. Dale Ellenburg, "A Review of Selected Narrative-Critical Conventions in Mark’s Use of Miracle Material," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:2 (June 1995):175-76.]
3. The temptation of Jesus 1:12-13 (cf. Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13)
Jesus’ temptation by Satan was another event that prepared the divine Servant for His ministry. [Note: For comparison of Moses’, Elijah’s, and Jesus’ 40-day periods of temptation, see Edersheim, 1:294.] Mark’s account is brief, and it stresses the great spiritual conflict that this temptation posed for Jesus. The writer omitted any reference to Jesus’ feelings about the temptation. A servant’s response to his trials is more important than his feelings about them.
The traditional site of this temptation, dating back to the twelfth century A.D., is the Mons Quarantania, the Hill of the 40 Days. It stands just west of Jericho. However the exact location is unknown.
The Greek word peirazo means to put someone or something through a trial to demonstrate its character. God allowed Satan to tempt Jesus for two reasons: to show that He would not draw away from the Father’s will, and to demonstrate His qualification for His mission. The name "Satan" is a transliteration of the Hebrew word satan, meaning adversary.
By omitting reference to the three tempting offers that Satan posed, Mark focused the reader’s attention on the fact that Jesus endured continuous testing for 40 days. He pointed out this continuing conflict throughout this Gospel (Mark 8:11; Mark 8:32-33; Mark 10:2; Mark 12:15). Mark’s unique reference to the wild beasts heightens the fierceness of the temptation. The Jews associated the wilderness with wild beasts and Satanic hostility (cf. Isaiah 13:20-22; Isaiah 34:8-15; Psalms 22:11-21; Psalms 91:11-13).
". . . in His exposure to the assaults of Satan, Jesus was ’Adam’ as well as ’Israel.’ Israel’s sonship was modeled on Adam’s, since God is the Creator-Father in both instances. The wilderness forges a link between the two, for it represents reverse imagery, especially with Mark’s mention of the ’the wild beasts’ (Mark 1:13). Opinion on the proper location of the animals is divided between the paradise and wilderness settings. However, it may be that the Gospels glance at the beasts both in Adam’s mandate to rule the earth (Genesis 1:26-28) and in their association with satanic powers (Psalms 22:11-21; Ezekiel 34:5; Ezekiel 34:8; Ezekiel 34:25; Luke 10:19), thus suggesting the chaos that threatens to (re)impose itself on the ordered world (e.g., Job 5:22; Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 14:21; . . .)." [Note: Don B. Garlington, "Jesus, the Unique Son of God: Tested and Faithful," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:603 (July-September 1994):288-89. See also Guelich, p. 39.]
God’s angelic servants ministered to Jesus during His time of testing (cf. Hebrews 1:14). God did not leave His Son alone but provided grace to help in this time of need.
"The presence of angels to sustain Jesus underlines the cosmic dimension of the temptation: Jesus’ struggle with Satan is a clash between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil. In the temptation, then, Jesus Son of God shows what his ministry will be about: the binding of Satan and the inauguration of the end-time age of salvation (Mark 3:27)." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 35.]
"The first Adam succumbed in an environment that was beautiful and friendly; the last Adam maintained His purity in an environment that was desolate and hostile." [Note: Hiebert, p. 40.]
In the introduction to his Gospel, Mark stressed the humility and faithful service that Jesus rendered to God at the commencement of His public ministry. Jesus was fully human but approved by the Father and aided by the Spirit as well as by God’s angelic helpers. He was also fully deity. Readers undergoing persecution for their faith can find great encouragement in this section, especially in Jesus’ victory over temptation from Satan.
II. THE SERVANT’S EARLY GALILEAN MINISTRY 1:14-3:6
Mark omitted Jesus’ year of early Judean ministry (Joh_1:15 to Joh_4:42), as did the other Synoptic evangelists. He began his account of Jesus’ ministry of service in Galilee, northern Israel (Mark 1:14 to Mark 6:6 a). Because of increasing opposition and rejection, Jesus made several withdrawals from Galilee followed by returns to this region. Mark recorded four of these (Mark 6:6 to Mark 8:30). Then Jesus left Galilee for Jerusalem. Mark recorded lessons on four important subjects pertinent to discipleship that Jesus taught His disciples during this transition for his readers’ benefit (ch. 10). Next Jesus ministered in Jerusalem, and Mark selected three significant events there for inclusion in his story (chs. 11-13).
"Four major characters stand out, as do two groups of minor characters: Jesus, the religious authorities, the disciples, the crowd, and those groups of minor characters who either exhibit faith or somehow exemplify what it means to serve." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 4.]
Examples of minor characters who model great faith in Jesus are the leper who requested cleansing (Mark 1:40-45), the friends of the paralytic (Mark 2:3-5), Jairus (Mark 5:21-24; Mark 5:35-43), the woman with the hemorrhage (Mark 5:25-34), the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30), the father of the demon possessed boy (Mark 9:14-29), and blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). Those who model service are the woman who anointed Jesus for burial (i.e., Mary; Mark 14:3-9), Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21), Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:42-46), and the women who visited Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body (Mark 16:1).
Mark stressed Jesus’ ministry as a servant in his Gospel. The rest of the book details how He served God and man. During the first part of Jesus’ ministry, He laid down His life in service (Mark 1:14 to Mark 13:37). His passion is the record of His laying down His life in self-sacrifice (chs. 14-16). Mark began his account of Jesus’ service with an overview of selected events in Jesus’ early Galilean ministry that were typical of His whole ministry (Mark 1:14 to Mark 3:6).
Jesus began His Galilean ministry, the first major phase of His public ministry, after His forerunner had ended his ministry. Jesus’ forerunner suffered a fate that prefigured what Jesus would experience (cf. Mark 9:31; Mark 14:18). Mark used the same root word in Greek to describe both men. The passive voice of the verb paradidomi ("taken into custody" or "put in prison," lit. delivered up) suggests God’s sovereign control over both men’s situations.
Probably Jesus chose Galilee as His site of ministry because the influence of hostile Pharisees and chief priests was less there than it was in Judea. Fewer Jews lived in Samaria, which lay between Judea and Galilee.
". . . Jesus changes setting more than forty times in his travels throughout Galilee and into gentile territory." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 68.]
Jesus heralded the good news of God. The Greek construction permits two different translations: "the good news about God" and "the good news from God." Mark probably intended the second meaning because the next verse explains what the good news that God revealed through Jesus was. Preaching this good news was Jesus’ characteristic activity, and it was foundational for all the other forms of His ministry.
1. The message of the Servant 1:14-15 (cf. Matthew 4:12, 17; Luke 4:14-15)
This topic sentence summarizes Jesus’ whole ministry in Galilee. It identifies when it started, where it happened, and the essence of what Jesus’ proclaimed that was the basis of His ministry.
A. The beginning of Jesus’ ministry 1:14-20
Mark introduced his readers to the message of the Servant (Mark 1:14-15) and the first disciples of the Servant (Mark 1:16-20).
Jesus’ message consisted of two declarations and two commands. First, He declared that the time that God had predicted in the Old Testament had arrived. He was referring to the end of the present age and the beginning of the messianic age, as His second declaration clarified (cf. Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 1:2; Hebrews 9:6-15).
The term "kingdom" (Gr. basileia) as it occurs with "the kingdom of God" in Scripture does not just mean everything over which God exercises sovereign authority. The term "kingdom of God" occurs 14 times in Mark: Mark 1:15; Mark 4:11; Mark 4:26; Mark 4:30; Mark 9:1; Mark 9:47; Mark 10:14-15; Mark 10:23-25; Mark 12:34; Mark 14:25; and Mark 15:43. It means a particular worldwide kingdom over which He Himself will rule directly. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "basilia," by K. L. Schmidt, 1:579-81.] Of course God does sovereignly rule over all, and over His people in a more particular sense (1 Chronicles 29:12; Psalms 103:19-20). However this is not the rule of God that the Old Testament prophets spoke of when they described a descendant of David ruling over all the earth from Jerusalem. Many Old Testament passages predicted the coming of this kingdom (2 Samuel 7:8-17; Isaiah 11:1-9; Isaiah 24:23; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Daniel 2:34; Micah 4:6-7; Zechariah 9:9-10; Zechariah 14:9; cf. Matthew 20:21; Mark 10:37; Mark 11:10; Mark 12:35-37; Mark 15:43; Luke 1:31-33; Luke 2:25; Luke 2:38; Acts 1:6). Jesus’ Jewish hearers knew exactly what He meant when He said the kingdom of God was at hand, or they should have if they did not. The presence of the King argued for the nearness of His kingdom, but it was still in the future (cf. Mark 9:47-48).
The Jews needed to make a double response since the kingdom of God was at hand. They needed to repent and believe. These two words call for successive actions, but the action is really one act that involves two steps taken almost simultaneously. Repenting involves turning from something, and believing involves embracing something else. For example, a drowning man who is clinging to a scrap of wood needs to do two things when a lifeguard reaches him. He needs to release the wood and entrust himself to the lifeguard.
When John the Baptist called the Jews to repent, he urged them to abandon their former hope of salvation because the Lifeguard was there to save them. When Jesus said, "Believe in the gospel," He meant, "Believe the good news that Messiah is here." Messiah was the subject of the gospel and the object of belief.
This is the only occurrence of the phrase "believe in [Gr. en] the gospel" in the New Testament. It points to the gospel as the basis of faith.
The Sea of Galilee was the scene of a thriving fishing industry in Jesus’ day. Simon and Andrew were fishermen by trade. Fishermen on this lake did not enjoy high social standing, but their work required skill. The Greek word for net describes a circular rope with a tent-shaped net attached. Fishermen threw this type of net out into the water, let it sink, and then drew the rope that closed the neck of the trap and secured the fish inside.
2. The first disciples of the Servant 1:16-20 (cf. Matthew 4:16-22; Luke 5:1-11)
The account of the calling of these first disciples clarifies that repenting and believing the gospel (Mark 1:15) should result in abandoning one’s former life to follow Jesus from then on. This is the appropriate response that Mark commended to his readers with these disciples’ example.
Simon (Peter) and Andrew had met Jesus previously (John 1:35-42). Mark stressed the urgency of Jesus’ call and the immediacy of the disciples’ response. Normally young men who wanted to learn from a rabbi sought one out, but Jesus called Simon and Andrew to participate in an urgent task with Him.
"Follow me" meant "come behind me as a disciple." It was an invitation, but in view of who Jesus was it had the force of a command. These men would have understood it as a call to become a permanent disciple of Jesus. [Note: Edersheim, 1:474.] The figure of fishing people out of divine judgment comes from the Old Testament (Jeremiah 16:16; Ezekiel 29:4-5; Ezekiel 38:4; Amos 4:2; Habakkuk 1:14-17). God was the fisher of men. Likewise the sea had a metaphorical meaning of sin and death (Isaiah 57:20-21). This illustration would have appealed to fishermen. Jesus was calling these men to assist Him in delivering people from divine judgment by taking the gospel to them. As fishing, this calling would also involve hard work, self-sacrifice, and skill.
"First, the call came after the open breach with, and initial persecution of, the Jewish authorities. It was, therefore, a call to fellowship in His peculiar relationship to the Synagogue. Secondly, it necessitated the abandonment of all their former occupations, and, indeed, of all earthly ties. (Matthew 4:20; Matthew 4:22) Thirdly, it was from the first, and clearly, marked as totally different from a call to such discipleship, as that of any other Master in Israel. It was not to learn more of doctrine, nor more fully to follow out a life-direction already taken, but to begin and to become, something quite new, of which their former occupation offered an emblem." [Note: Ibid., 1:474-75.]
"Jesus did not invent the term ’fishers of men.’ In that day, it was a common description of philosophers and other teachers who ’captured men’s minds’ through teaching and persuasion." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:112.]
The brothers’ response was admirably immediate (Gr. euthys). They began to follow Jesus by quitting their jobs as fishermen. Their commitment to Jesus increased as time passed. There is a strong emphasis on discipleship in the second Gospel. Evidently Simon and Andrew believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but they had much to learn about His full identity (cf. John 3:22-30).
"Precisely because Jesus has come fishing becomes necessary." [Note: Lane, p. 68.]
Jesus then issued the same call to two similar brothers with the same response. All four men were evidently partners in the fishing business (cf. Luke 5:7; Luke 5:10). James and John had also come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah (John 1:35-42). Mark recorded more about their decision to follow Jesus than he did about Simon and Andrew’s. James (Jacob in Hebrew) and John broke family ties to follow Jesus. The mention of hired men suggests that Zebedee owned a prosperous business that James and John left. It also shows that these brothers did not leave their father all alone; they were not being irresponsible. The main point, however, is the immediacy of their response to Jesus. This reflects Jesus’ great authority over people. James and John were Jesus’ cousins (cf. Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25). However, they did not yet know that He was also God.
"Noteworthy is that the call of each pair of brothers conforms to an identical pattern, to wit: (a) Underway, (b) Jesus sees the brothers, (c) calls them, and (d) immediately they go after him. By means of this pattern, Mark sets forth the nature and purpose of discipleship.
"The nature of discipleship is joining oneself to Jesus in total allegiance. . . .
"The purpose of discipleship is announced by Jesus in his call to Simon and Andrew: ’Come after me, and I shall make you become fishers of men’ (Mark 1:17). Plainly, discipleship has ’mission work’ as its purpose. Striking is the universal nature of the mission Jesus envisages." [Note: Kingsbury, pp. 90, 91.]
"Except perhaps for Judas, the disciples do not greatly influence the plot, or course of events, in Mark’s story. . . .
"Though a group, the disciples plainly stand out as a single character.
". . . the many traits the disciples exhibit spring from two conflicting traits: The disciples are at once ’loyal’ and ’uncomprehending.’ On the one hand, the disciples are ’loyal’: Jesus summons them to follow him and they immediately leave behind their former way of life and give him their total allegiance. On the other hand, the disciples are ’uncomprehending’: Understanding fully neither the identity nor the destiny of Jesus and not at all the essential meaning of discipleship, they forsake Jesus during his passion." [Note: Ibid., pp. 8, 9.]
Capernaum became Jesus’ base of ministry in Galilee (cf. Luke 4:16-31). It stood on the Sea of Galilee’s northwest shore and was the hub of the most populous district in Galilee. Archaeologists have done extensive restoration work there. They have reconstructed a synagogue that stood here in the third and fourth centuries.
The synagogues came into existence during the Babylonian exile. The word originally described a group of people, but it later became associated with the building in which the people met. The word "church" has experienced a similar evolution. Customarily the leaders of a local synagogue would invite recognized visiting teachers to speak to the congregation. Mark referred to Jesus’ teaching ministry frequently, but he did not record much of what Jesus taught. Jesus’ actions were of more interest to him. This seems to reflect the active disposition of Peter who influenced Mark’s writing and perhaps the active character of the Romans for whom Mark wrote.
"What Jesus says discloses his understanding of himself and his purposes. What Jesus does reveals primarily the extent and nature of his authority from God. Both what Jesus does and says determine his values and the dynamics of his relations with other characters. They also show Jesus’ integrity in living up to his values and commitments." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 103.]
1. Jesus’ teaching and healing in the Capernaum synagogue 1:21-28 (cf. Luke 4:31-37)
B. Early demonstrations of the Servant’s authority in Capernaum 1:21-34
This section of the Gospel records three instances of ministry in Capernaum. These were Jesus’ teaching and healing in the synagogue, His healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and His healing of many others. These events further demonstrated Jesus’ authority. They all occurred on one day, or two days from the Jewish perspective in which a new day began at sunset. Mark implied that this was a typical day of ministry for Jesus.
Mark used a strong Greek word to describe the reaction of Jesus’ hearers, though he did not record what Jesus taught. The word is exeplessonto meaning that Jesus’ words astounded or overwhelmed the people. A distinguishing feature of Mark’s Gospel is his references to people’s emotional reactions (cf. Mark 1:27; Mark 2:12; Mark 5:20; Mark 5:42; Mark 6:2; Mark 6:51; Mark 7:37; Mark 10:26; Mark 11:18), even those of Jesus (Mark 6:6). It was Jesus’ great authority that impressed them. He was, of course, not a mere scribe (teacher of the law) but a prophet, even the greatest prophet ever to appear. Jesus proclaimed revelation directly from God rather than just interpreting the former revelations that God had given to others and reiterating the traditional rabbinic interpretations of the law.
"They [the scribes] habitually established their views by long learned quotations from other rabbis. At best, they could only claim an authority derived from their understanding of the law. Their teaching was generally pedantic and dull, occupied with minute distinctions concerning Levitical regulations and petty legalistic requirements." [Note: Hiebert, p. 52.]
"Fundamentally . . . Mark presents Jesus’ conflict with the religious authorities as one of authority: Does Jesus or does he not discharge his ministry as one authorized by God? As this conflict unfolds, it becomes progressively more intense, until it finally ends in Jesus’ death." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 67.]
"The narrator paints the authorities in a consistently negative light from their first mention as legal experts who teach without authority. The narrator builds their characterization on their opposition to Jesus. What the authorities say involves primarily questions which imply accusations or aim at trapping Jesus. As for what they do, they primarily work at plotting the destruction of Jesus. Neither Jesus nor the narrator says anything favorable about them. And the narrator’s inside views on their thoughts and feelings regularly distance the reader from the authorities. Apart from attributing a few favorable attitudes to Herod and Pilate, the narrator depicts the authorities as thoroughly untrustworthy characters." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 117.]
An outburst from a man in the congregation interrupted the service. He was under the influence of a demonic spirit. The Jews spoke of demonic spirits as evil or unclean spirits. Mark used the terms "demon" and "unclean spirit" interchangeably. This is his first reference to demonic influence on human beings. [Note: For additional information on demonic influence, see William M. Alexander, Demonic Possession in the New Testament: Its Relations Historical, Medical, and Theological; Merrill F. Unger, Biblical Demonology: A Study of the Spiritual Forces Behind the Present World Unrest, ch. 6; and idem., Demons in the World Today, ch. 6.] The man cried out with a strong emotional shriek (Gr. anekraxen).
"Neither the New Testament, nor even Rabbinic literature, conveys the idea of permanent demonic indwelling, to which the later term ’possession’ owes its origin." [Note: Edersheim, 1:481.]
The man cried out, but it was really the demon speaking through him. This is clear because Jesus replied to the demon (Mark 1:25). The words "what do we have to do with you" represent a Hebrew idiom that introduces conflict (cf. Mark 5:7; Joshua 22:24; Judges 11:12; 2 Samuel 16:10; 2 Samuel 19:22). Today we might express the same thought by saying, "Why are you meddling with us?"
The demon recognized Jesus, and it knew about His mission. It was common for the Jews to identify a person by his place of origin (cf. Mark 10:47; Mark 14:67; Mark 16:6). In Jesus’ case this was Nazareth. We could just as accurately translate the words rendered "Have you come to destroy us" as a statement of fact: "You have come to destroy us." In either case the demon expressed dread. Clearly this demon recognized Jesus as its judge. This showed Jesus’ great authority.
By calling Jesus the Holy One of God the demon testified to His empowerment by the Holy Spirit, the enemy of all unclean spirits. This title also probably implies belief in Jesus’ deity. The title "Holy One" was a popular designation of God in the Old Testament. Isaiah called God the Holy One about 30 times (Isaiah 1:4; Isaiah 5:19; Isaiah 5:24; et al.). Whereas people referred to Jesus as "Lord" (Mark 7:8), "teacher" (Mark 9:17), "Son of David" (Mark 10:47-48), and "master" (Mark 10:52), the demons called Him "the holy One of God" (Mark 1:24), "the Son of God" (Mark 3:11) or "the Son of the Most High God" (Mark 5:7).
Jesus did not need a magical formula to exorcize this demon, as other exorcists of His day did. [Note: Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 8:2:5.] He simply ordered it to be quiet and to leave the man. Jesus probably commanded the demon to "be muzzled" (Gr. phimotheti) because He desired to maintain control as He revealed His identity. The Jews might have mobbed Jesus because He fed and healed them. The Romans might have concluded that He was mobilizing an insurrection to overthrow the government and could have arrested Him prematurely.
"At his trial we discover why Jesus hides his identity. Upon openly declaring who he is, the authorities condemn him to death for blasphemy. The dilemma for Jesus is this: how can he inaugurate God’s rule, yet evade the efforts of the authorities to trap him? Many aspects of the secrecy motif are related to this problem." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 84.]
The malignant nature of the demon is evident in its treatment of the man.
Jesus’ authority over demons showed that He had power as God’s Servant to destroy the devil and his agents. Mark continued to stress Jesus’ continuing conflict with demonic forces and power over them in his Gospel. This emphasis would have given his original suffering readers encouragement that Jesus’ power could overcome any enemy that might assail them.
"We expect a servant to be under authority and to take orders, but God’s Servant exercises authority and gives orders-even to demons-and His orders are obeyed." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:111.]
"To have allowed the defensive utterance of the demon to go unrebuked would have been to compromise the purpose for which Jesus came into the world, to confront Satan and strip him of his power. As such, this initial act of exorcism in the ministry of Jesus is programmatic of the sustained conflict with the demons which is a marked characteristic in the Marcan presentation of the gospel." [Note: Lane, p. 75.]
The people’s reaction to this exorcism was an important part of Mark’s narrative. The witnesses expressed alarm as well as amazement at this unique demonstration of authority by word and by deed. This was the typical result of the "fishing" that Jesus and His disciples did.
"One surprise following close on another provoked wondering inquiry as to the whole phenomenon." [Note: A. B. Bruce, "The Synoptic Gospels," in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1:346.]
The result of this miracle was that people all over that part of Galilee heard about Jesus.
"Despite the fact that the crowd reacts to Jesus’ teaching and healing with amazement, or astonishment, this is an expression not of understanding but of incomprehension.
". . . the crowd in Mark’s story is at once ’well disposed’ toward Jesus and ’without faith’ in him. In being well disposed toward Jesus, the crowd stands in contrast to its leaders, the religious authorities. In being without faith in Jesus, the crowd stands in contrast to the disciples." [Note: Kingsbury, pp. 23, 24. Cf. 6:51-52.]
This incident highlights the authority of Jesus that the worshippers in Capernaum first observed in His teaching and then witnessed in His exorcism. The people should have concluded that only a great prophet of Yahweh could possess such authority. Jesus did not reveal who He was completely on this occasion, but He did give these practicing Jews enough revelation about Himself so they should have accepted it and asked for more. James Edwards clarified the divine authority of Jesus, as Mark recorded it in many places, that demonstrated His deity. [Note: See James R. Edwards, "The Authority of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:2 (June 1994):217-33.]
2. The healing of Peter’s mother-in-law 1:29-31 (cf. Matthew 8:14-15; Luke 4:38-39)
This incident, which happened immediately after the previous one, displays a different aspect of Jesus’ authority, His power over physical sickness. In Jesus day, people regarded fever as a disease not necessarily related to other maladies. [Note: Lane, p. 77.]
"The Talmud gives this disease precisely the same name . . ., ’burning fever,’ and prescribes for it a magical remedy, of which the principal part is to tie a knife wholly of iron by a braid of hair to a thornbush, and to repeat on successive days Exodus 3:2-3, then Exodus 3:4, and finally Exodus 3:5, after which the bush is to be cut down, while a certain magical formula is pronounced. (Shabb. 37a)." [Note: Edersheim, 1:486.]
The account is full of detail that must have come to Mark through Peter, who had a special interest in this healing. Evidently Andrew and Simon shared this house with Simon’s mother-in-law and perhaps other family members. Jesus’ power resulted in instantaneous and complete recovery. The fact that Peter had a family helps us appreciate the sacrifice he made to follow Jesus.
3. Jesus’ healing of many Galileans after sundown 1:32-34 (cf. Matthew 8:16-17; Luke 4:40-41)
This little pericope shows that the former two healings were not isolated cases. Jesus’ power benefited many people who came to Peter’s house after sundown ended the Sabbath and enabled the Jews to travel farther to obtain His help (cf. Exodus 20:10; Mark 3:1-5).
"The two-step progression is the most pervasive stylistic feature in the gospel. It occurs in phrases, sentences, pairs of sentences, and the structure of episodes. It is a key to understanding many lines and episodes. A simple example is, ’When it was evening, after the sun set. . . .’ The time reference, ’When it was evening,’ is repeated in ’after the sun set.’ However, this is no mere repetition, for the second part adds precision and clarifies the first part. Both parts comprise a two-step progressive description. The first part is important, yet the emphasis often lies on the second step which usually contains the more significant element. In this example, the second step refers to the setting sun, which denoted precisely the end of the Sabbath when people were again permitted to travel and could therefore seek out Jesus for healing." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 47. See pp. 47-49 for several other examples of this narrative device.]
"Jesus forces healing on no one. He does not seek people out to heal but heals only those who come to him. He initiates a healing only when he takes responsibility for healing on the Sabbath. And Jesus heals freely, with no strings attached to those healings. He does not demand that people believe he is the anointed one (none do) or even believe in the Jewish God. He does not require a person to be morally good . . . . Jesus does not expect to gain personally from healing, for he never asks anyone he heals to follow him. Usually he orders them, often harshly, to keep quiet or go home. They proclaim or follow on their own, and Jesus does not consider either action a condition for healing." [Note: Ibid, p. 110.]
"What a symbol of this world’s misery, need, and hope; what a symbol, also, of what the Christ really is as the Consoler in the world’s manifold woe! Never, surely, was He more truly the Christ; nor is He in symbol more truly such to us and to all time, than when, in the stillness of that evening, under the starlit sky, He went through that suffering throng, laying His hands in the blessing of healing on every one of them, and casting out many devils. No picture of the Christ more dear to us, than this of the unlimited healing of whatever disease of body or soul. In its blessed indefiniteness it conveys the infinite potentiality of relief, whatever misery have fallen on us, or whatever care or sorrow oppress us." [Note: Edersheim, 1:487.]
Jesus’ healings demonstrate His compassion for people.
"No scene [sic is] more characteristic of the Christ than that on this autumn evening at Capernaum." [Note: Ibid., 1:486.]
Probably Jesus did not permit the demons to identify Him because this would have encouraged the people to think of Him as most of the Jews then thought of the Messiah. He wanted to avoid this stereotype as much as He could because it did not represent the type of Messiah He was. Notice the clear distinction between demon influence and mere physical illness (cf. Mark 6:13).
This section of the Gospel (Mark 1:21-34) shows Jesus doing miracles to identify Himself as God’s Servant and to authenticate His message (Mark 1:15).
Mark implied that these events happened the next day. Many people would have slept late after such a busy day, but Jesus rose early, even before dawn, and went to a remote (Gr. eremon, Mark 1:4, wilderness, cf. Mark 1:12) place to pray (Gr. proseucho, the general word for prayer). This sacrificial act paints Jesus as consciously dependent on His Father for strength and direction for what lay ahead of Him (i.e., a servant; cf. Isaiah 50:4). It also implies further conflict with Satan since Satan had confronted Him in the wilderness previously. Prayerlessness typically manifests self-sufficiency, but prayerfulness reveals humility.
"Mark selectively portrayed Jesus at prayer on three crucial occasions, each in a setting of darkness and aloneness: near the beginning of his account (Mark 1:35), near the middle (Mark 6:46), and near the end (Mark 14:32-42). All three were occasions when He was faced with the possibility of achieving His messianic mission in a more attractive, less costly way. But in each case He gained strength through prayer." [Note: Grassmick, p. 110.]
In this case the crest of popular support that Jesus had ridden the day before threatened to carry Him into political leadership that might have washed out the Cross.
1. The first preaching tour of Galilee 1:35-39 (cf. Luke 4:42-44)
While these verses record the itinerant ministry of Jesus, Mark’s emphasis was clearly on Jesus’ spiritual preparation for that ministry. It highlighted His dependence on His Father.
C. Jesus’ early ministry throughout Galilee 1:35-45
Jesus made several preaching tours throughout Galilee. Mark summarized the first of these (Mark 1:35-39) and then related one especially significant event during that tour (Mark 1:40-45). This section continues to present Jesus as the Servant of the Lord who went about doing the messianic work that His Father had assigned to Him.
Simon and his companions-who they were is unimportant-did not understand Jesus’ need for prayer. They seem to have had the common attitude that when things are favorable we do not need God’s help. Their words implied annoyance. Apparently they felt Jesus was not taking advantage of His popularity to promote His mission. They did not realize that God directed Jesus’ mission, not the responses of people. This is the first instance of Peter’s impetuous leadership that Mark recorded.
"His [Jesus’] purpose is not to heal as many people as possible as a manifestation of the kingdom of God drawn near in his person, but to confront men with the demand for decision in the perspective of God’s absolute claim upon their person." [Note: Lane, p. 82.]
Peter viewed the healing ministry of Jesus as primary, as did many of his companions. Jesus viewed them as only a small part of His larger mission. He had "come out" from God to fulfill this mission. Peter encouraged Jesus to stay where He could not escape pressure to perform miracles (cf. John 7:3-5). Jesus chose to move on to other parts of Galilee where He could present the gospel (Mark 1:14) and His claims (Mark 1:15).
Mark 1:39 summarizes this preaching tour throughout Galilee. It may have lasted several weeks or even months (cf. Matthew 4:23-25). Jesus centered His ministry during this time in the synagogues because His mission was essentially religious rather than political or economic. His main activity was heralding (Gr. kerysso) the gospel, but He authenticated His preaching with miracles, the most dramatic of which were exorcisms.
Josephus wrote that Galilee, which contained much rich agricultural land, was full of cities and villages, not the least of which contained 15,000 inhabitants. [Note: Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 3:3:2.] This figure may refer to the cities and their surrounding villages, however, because there is evidence that towns like Capernaum and Bethsaida, both on the Sea of Galilee, had only 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants each. [Note: Lane, p. 232.] Each group of villages had its head city, and synagogues existed in these regional capitals. [Note: Ibid., p. 83.]
2. The cleansing of a leprous Jew 1:40-45 (cf. Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-16)
This pericope evidently describes one incident during the Galilean preaching tour just summarized. It provides a striking example of Jesus’ supernatural power. This is only one of two healings of lepers that the Gospels record, though Jesus healed other lepers (cf. Matthew 11:5). The other recorded incident involved Jesus cleansing 10 lepers in Samaria (cf. Luke 17:11-19). The only Old Testament instances of lepers experiencing healing involved Miriam (Numbers 12:10-15) and Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5). This incident that Mark recorded was significant because it brought the religious leaders from Jerusalem into Galilee to investigate Jesus. This is the beginning of the hostility motif in Mark.
"Lepers were allowed to live unhampered wherever they chose, except in Jerusalem and cities which had been walled from antiquity. They could even attend the synagogue services if a screen was provided to isolate them from the rest of the congregation. In spite of these two provisions, however, leprosy brought deep physical and mental anguish for both the afflicted individual and the community in which or near which he lived." [Note: Ibid., p. 85.]
Mark is the only evangelist who recorded that compassion moved Jesus to heal this pitiable man (Mark 1:41). However his version of this miracle stressed what the leper did after Jesus healed him. Jesus had "sternly warned" (Gr. embrimaomai) the cleansed leper not to tell anyone what Jesus had done for him (Mark 1:43-44; cf. Mark 1:25; Mark 1:34; Mark 3:12; Mark 5:43; Mark 7:36; Mark 9:9). Only Mark used this strong word. Jesus wanted to avoid becoming known simply as a miracle worker, which might lead to pressure to avoid the Cross. However the man disobeyed Jesus even though he probably thought he had good reason to do so, namely, to bring praise to Jesus. His disobedience to Jesus’ word frustrated Jesus’ work rather than advancing it. Jesus needed to minister to people, but the leper’s action forced Him to spend more time in uninhabited, solitary places (Gr. eremon, Mark 1:4; Mark 1:35).
Perhaps Mark pointed this out to encourage his Christian readers to follow the Word of God carefully. Sometimes believers disobey God because we think our way will be better than His. It never is. Frequently it has the same result as this cleansed leper’s disobedience. It retards God’s mission rather than advancing it. The fact that this man was a cleansed leper makes believers’ identification with him easy since leprosy in the Bible is similar to sin, and believers are cleansed sinners.
The leper’s disobedience did not destroy God’s plan but only created complications. The Galileans still kept seeking Jesus out (Mark 1:45). [Note: See Joel F. Williams, "Discipleship and Minor Characters in Mark’s Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:611 (July-September 1996):332-43; Kingsbury, pp. 24-27.]
"We should learn some important spiritual lessons from this chapter. To begin with, if the Son of God came as a servant, then being a servant is the highest of all callings. We are never more like the Lord Jesus than when we are serving others. Second, God shares His authority with His servants. Only those who are under authority have the right to exercise authority. Finally, if you are going to be a servant, be sure you have compassion; because people will come to you for help and rarely ask if it is convenient!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:114.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19