While the Gospel of Mark is second in the order of the books of the New Testament, it is probable that this work was the first to be written (c. AD 56-65). The purpose of the writing was to reach the Roman world with the good news of redemption. Mark was uniquely gifted to do this, as his life’s story reveals.
Mark was the son of Mary, known as “Mary of Jerusalem,” (Acts 12:12) to distinguish her from four ladies with the same name. According to Luke, his full name was John Mark (Acts 15:27). Paul and Peter referred to him by his Latin, or Roman name of Marcus (Col. 4:10; Phil.1:24; 1 Pet. 5:13). John Mark came from a wealthy family which enjoyed having its own house and employed servants. But the gifts of God’s grace were not used for selfish things. As a follower of the Lord, Mark’s mother, Mary, opened her home to the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12-17). Some have suggested that the Last Supper was held in the Upper Room of her home. If that is true, then it helps to explain the presence of an obscure personage in Mark 14:51. “And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him”.
If the young man referred to in this gospel is Mark, then there was one dreadful night that he never forgot. It was the night Jesus was arrested. As the tragic event began to unfold, there was a great noise in the streets of Jerusalem. John Mark was awakened at midnight by the commotion in the courtyards. Draping a linen cloth about his body, Mark hastily ran outside to find the fate of the One he knew so well, Jesus.
But the situation proved overwhelming, and terrifying, and John Mark fled in fear into the night, along the side of more mature men (14:50). There they go. With the blood of a severed ear still smeared on his sword, Peter ran into the night. Not to be left behind was James, the son of Zebedee, and John, the brother of James. On that night, the Sons of Thunder became like little children, and were terrified into silence. Andrew, who left all to follow Christ, now left Christ to follow all others in flight. Eleven men ran in eleven directions.
“Philip, where are you going?” “Bartholomew! Come back!” But they all fled. Matthew, Thomas, James, the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite. They all joined the rest in a hasty journey from Jesus.
Despite that terrible night, in the years to come John Mark went on to become a disciple of the resurrected Christ, and friends of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas. Perhaps Peter led John Mark to the Lord. “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son” (1 Pet. 5:13).
As time went on, and the gospel began to be taken to other parts of the Roman world, John Mark was honored to join the group of apostles, and evangelists who were sent out by the Church in Jerusalem to the churches in Judea and Samaria, and then to Antioch in Syria, and then ever onward to Ephesus in the West in Asia Minor, and finally to Rome.
The years passed quickly. We come to AD 44. John Mark is found to be a traveling companion of Barnabas, and Saul, who have been sent by the church at Antioch with contributions for the suffering saints of Jerusalem following a famine. Barnabas and Saul arrived safely, delivered the money, and were ready to go back to Antioch when a question arose. Could John Mark travel with them? Of course! And so it was that Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark returned to Antioch to preach the gospel with great power and results.
Then the Holy Spirit prompted Barnabas and Saul, to embark on their First Missionary Journey. In AD 45 the adventure began. Could John Mark go? Of course! The missionaries got on board a boat whose sails were set for the island of Cyprus. From there, the journey would be made to the mainland of Asia Minor, in the districts of Pamphylia and Galatia. But then something happened. At the town of Perga, John Mark made a decision to go no further.
Perhaps he had grown weary with the ordeal of travel. Perhaps he grew afraid of the known robbers to inhabit the area. Perhaps he did not like Saul, now being called Paul, asserting his new influence over his cousin Barnabas. People do not like change, especially when that change involves a transferring of authority. People will do many things to maintain their position of power and authority, even to the point of ruining a ministry. Whatever his motive, John Mark withdrew from the pilgrimage, and returned to Jerusalem.
A few years later, in AD 50, a Second Missionary Journey was proposed. Once more it was suggested that John Mark go along. However, unlike the first time, Paul would not agree. John Mark had deserted them. John Mark had proven unfaithful. John Mark was not to be trusted. John Mark was a coward when the cause of Christ demanded brave soldiers of the Cross. Heated words were exchanged between Barnabas and Paul. Passions heated up.
Finally, a decision was made. Paul would leave the area with Silas. Barnabas could travel with John Mark to Cyprus. And that is what happened. Professing Christians had to divide in the name of unity, in order to advance the kingdom of heaven.
Twelve years later the story resumes. Nothing has been heard of John Mark during the interval. Suddenly, he appears in two Pauline letters. Whatever differences of opinion there had been, reconciliation had taken place. Writing from a prison cell in Rome c. AD 61, Paul refers to John Mark as his companion, and fellow-laborer.
Colossians 4:10 Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him 😉
Philemon 23 There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus; 24 Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow-labourers.
If there is anything to learn from the tragic events between Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark, it might be that there is hope for hurting relationships. Hope for renewed fellowship comes from the healing that time brings. Time and distance allows new perspectives to be brought to a situation. Events are often seen in a different light with the passing of time.
Hope for renewed fellowship comes from the change of language. It is possible, that in his anger, Paul might have called John Mark many ugly things: traitor, deserter, weak, vacillating, non-dependable. Later, we know that he called John Mark a companion, and fellow-laborer.
Hope for renewed fellowship comes from new opportunities to touch and teach, to laugh and love, to forgive and to forget.
The remaining life of John Mark is shrouded with mystery. It is believed that he worked closely with Peter, until the apostle met a martyr’s death in AD 67, during the reign of Nero.
Following the martyrdom of Peter, John Mark, according to legend, became the founder, and first bishop of the Church in Alexandria, Egypt, the second largest city of the Roman Empire at the time. Whatever his ultimate fate may have been, it is certain that John Mark has given to the world an authentic gospel of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.