The Book of Mark - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 3 Lesson 01 - The Beginning of the Gospel

Teachers Comments
Jun 29 - Jul 05

Key Text: Mark 1:1

Study Focus: Mark 1

Introduction: In the first verse of his Gospel, Mark encapsulates the theme not only of the opening chapter but of his entire account: “the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In a century in which people often were enticed by the allure of “a gospel contrary to that which [they] received” (Gal. 1:9, RSV), Mark introduces his account with its transcendent opening statement in order to highlight the essence of the Christian religion: the good news about Jesus Christ. Jesus revealed the gospel not only to those who were restored by His healing touch but also to a disparate faith community that needed to believe it. According to Mark’s perspective, Jesus, ultimately, is the gospel.

Lesson Themes: This week’s study reviews two components of the first verse of the Gospel according to Mark: the phrase “the gospel of Jesus Christ,” and then, more specifically, the name “Jesus Christ” itself.

1. “The gospel of Jesus Christ.” For Mark, the gospel, or euangeliou, is God’s good news, rooted in the Holy Scriptures, proclaimed by Christ in the synagogues and revealed in His earthly ministry. As such, the good news of God also is, in verity, the good news of Jesus.

2. “Jesus Christ.” Mark presents Jesus in the many facets of His ministry. Jesus is the Son of God and the Holy One. He also is referred to as a great teacher and preacher, as well as a compassionate healer, in the region of Galilee and beyond.

Part II: Commentary

“The Beginning of . . .”

Each of the four New Testament Gospels commence with references to “the beginning” of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Matthew starts with the ancestral origin of Jesus, specifically His human lineage, as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1, NASB). Luke prefaces his Gospel account with the disclosure that it starts from “the beginning” of Jesus’ public ministry, as narrated by eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2, NASB). “The beginning” of John is special because it refers to a time before the dawn of human history, a time beyond “the beginning” of Genesis itself. “The beginning” of John goes back to the eternity of Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1, NASB). In contrast, Mark begins his account with the words “[t]he beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1, NASB). That is, Mark purposes to narrate the gospel of Jesus Christ right from its start.

Mark introduces his Gospel with a statement that summarizes the topic of his book: “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, NASB). In this sentence, the two main words or phrases we shall consider closely are “gospel” and “Jesus Christ.”

“The Gospel of Jesus Christ”

With the exception of Mark, no other Gospel writer uses the expression “the gospel of Jesus Christ” [euangeliou Iēsou] (Mark 1:1) in his writings. This expression is found only in Mark. It tells us that Jesus and His gospel constitute the focus, and the essence, of Mark’s narrative.

Thus, we would do well in our study of Mark’s Gospel to begin by asking, What is the gospel? From lexicographical studies, the Greek expression euangelion, commonly translated as “gospel,” has more than a single meaning. Euangelion refers to “God’s good news to humans, good news as proclamation.” It also pertains to “a book dealing with the life and teaching of Jesus, a gospel account.” The expression euangelion also is connected with the “details relating to the life and ministry of Jesus, [the] good news of Jesus.”—William Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, Frederick W. Danker, eds., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 403. With these definitions in mind, we may reason that Mark uses the expression “gospel” to describe the merciful acts of Jesus during His ministry, as well as to designate the idea of the gospel itself as “good news” from God.

Jesus’ Acts as Gospel

Mark presents “the gospel of Jesus Christ” in the context of Jesus’ activity on behalf of humankind. Thus, from the beginning of his Gospel, Mark portrays the good news as it is seen in Jesus’ teaching and preaching (Mark 1:22, 39), in His dominion over the unclean spirits (Mark 1:27), and in His various acts of healing. These healing acts include the restoration of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30, 31) and of many who were ill with various diseases (Mark 1:32, 34, 40–42).

As we study the Gospels, we note that John starts his Gospel with the pre-existence of the Logos and the credentials of Jesus, as presented by John the Baptist. Matthew and Luke dedicate an ample section to the human origin of Jesus and His early years on this earth. However, Mark, from the very beginning, presents Jesus as the Doer. Jesus’ actions are central to Mark’s narrative. Thus, the account of Mark is the gospel in motion.

Gospel as “Good News” to Be Preached

The Gospel according to Mark also is rooted in God’s Word, specifically in His revelation. Immediately following the statement in verse 1, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mark quotes from the Old Testament Scriptures, including select verses from the book of Isaiah (Mark 1:2, 3), with an allusion to the 70 weeks of the book of Daniel (Mark 1:15; compare Dan. 9:24–27). Here we can clearly see the gospel as content, as good “news” or tidings. Mark defines this news as “the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14, NASB). Therefore, the good news is a divine proclamation to humanity.

In short, Mark implies that the gospel is both the Word of God and the acts of Jesus during His earthly ministry.

“Jesus Christ”

Another key set of words at the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark is “Jesus Christ.” How does Mark portray Jesus?

Throughout his account, Mark depicts Jesus as the “Son of God” (Mark 1:1), “the Son of Man” (Mark 9:31, NKJV), and the “Son of David” (Mark 10:47). Of these three identities, Jesus’ divine credentials are presented at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel.

Jesus as the Son of God

In the Incarnation, Jesus, the eternal Son, has assumed the redemptive role in His submission to the authority of God the Father (Mark 1:11), voluntarily placing Himself under the Father’s guidance and under the direction of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:10, 11). In Mark’s reference to Jesus as the Son of Man, we see a reference to Daniel 7. By attributing the identity and title of the Son of Man to Jesus Christ, Mark confirms that the kingdom of God (Dan. 7:14, 27) belongs to Jesus, and that this kingdom—in Mark’s own time—was at hand (Mark 1:15).

Mark amply describes Jesus’ acts as a human being, but not before presenting Him as a divine being first.

Jesus as the Holy One

In line with the idea of Jesus as divine, Mark also presents Jesus Christ as “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). This depiction may be an al­lusion to Isaiah 6, in which the Lord is presented as holy (Isa. 6:3). Holy is the preferred expression used by heavenly beings to refer to the Lord. In Mark, even the demons recognize Jesus as the Holy One [ho hagios] (Mark 1:24); that is, they recognize Jesus as pure (Frederick W. Danker, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 11). Purity is the essence of God’s being. Therefore, the demons or unclean spirits cannot stand before Him. Moreover, they recognize that they will be destroyed before His presence (Mark 1:24).

Jesus as a Teacher and Preacher

Mark also presents Jesus as the Master Teacher and Preacher. Jesus Himself points out these facets of His ministry as the purpose of His first coming: “I may preach there also; for that is what I came for” (Mark 1:38, NASB1995). It seems that the preferred place to teach/preach in those days was within the precincts of the synagogue. This venue is mentioned four times in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:21, 23, 29, 39). Jesus’ teaching and preaching had a divine seal, being rooted in revelation, which He sought to make relevant and meaningful to His audience, saying, “ ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand’ ” (Mark 1:15). After the incident in the synagogue in which Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from a man, the people “were all amazed, so [that] they debated among themselves, saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him’ ” (Mark 1:27, NASB).

Although Mark states that Jesus did not teach or preach as the scribes did (Mark 1:22), His message was essentially in accordance with the message that John the Baptist preached. John preached a message of repentance (Mark 1:4), and along the same lines, Jesus preached a message of repentance and appealed to His audience to believe and embrace it (Mark 1:14, 15).

Even though He frequented the city synagogues to preach, Jesus was not confined to any city, such as Capernaum (Mark 1:21), also called “the city of Jesus.” He was an itinerant preacher. As such, “He went into their synagogues preaching throughout Galilee” (Mark 1:39, NASB).

Jesus as a Healer

As we just noted, the ministry of Jesus, as portrayed in the first chapter of Mark, is not linked to a specific city. Nor is it linked to a specific place, such as the synagogue. Thus, Mark presents Jesus as “going along by the Sea of Galilee” (Mark 1:16, NASB1995). Mark also tells us that Jesus goes to the house of Simon and Andrew (Mark 1:29). Jesus ventures to a secluded place (Mark 1:35). His ministry reaches all regions of Galilee and the surrounding areas (Mark 1:28), including the unpopulated areas (Mark 1:45). He actively seeks to reach people where they are.

In addition to an active ministry in teaching and preaching, Jesus was very active in bringing healing to suffering souls. Jesus’ mission involved the wholistic restoration of the human being. He healed a man who was afflicted with convulsions (Mark 1:23–26). He restored Simon’s mother-in-law, who was prostrate with fever (Mark 1:30, 31). Jesus liberated and healed the demon-possessed (Mark 1:32–34, 39). He was not indifferent to the woeful plight of a leper who came to Him in desperation. Undeterred by the contagion, Jesus laid His hand upon him and healed him (Mark 1:40–42). Jesus is the incarnation of the good news, the gospel, for many people, as narrated by Mark. “And the whole city had gathered at the door” (Mark 1:33, NASB), “they were coming to Him from everywhere” (Mark 1:45, NASB). His ministry brought restoration to the entire being. Restoration is the substance of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its most practical terms.

Part III: Life Application

From Paul, we learn of the prevalence of many “other” gospels during the first century, apart from the one that he taught. Sad to say, many Christians were duped by “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6, NASB) or a distorted one. Invite your students to contemplate the following questions:

What does the gospel mean to me?

What is the essence of the gospel that I believe?

Nowadays, social media shapes many aspects of our lives—how we communicate, how we stay in touch, how we share news and information, and so on. What is the source of the gospel that I believe in?

Is God’s Word still relevant as the source of His good news? Discuss.

Jesus dedicated a great deal of His ministry to teaching in ad­dition to preaching, healing, and praying. Share with your class an aspect of Jesus’ ministry that has impacted your life the most as a teacher. Now ask your class members, in turn, which aspect of the ministry of Jesus has most impacted their lives.