1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Here we have the title of the book; it is not actually the gospel of Mark but the gospel (good news) about Jesus Christ. Mark declares that the promises God had made throughout the Old Testament of a coming deliverer (e.g. Gen. 3:15) had been fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ. So the good news is all about Jesus.
In Hebrew, the name “Jesus” is “Jeshua” which means “Jehovah is salvation”. This is the name that the angel told Joseph to give to the child born of the Virgin Mary; “for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
Mark calls Jesus the “Christ”, the one anointed by God to become the saviour of world through his death and resurrection. In the beginning of Mark’s gospel we also see that Jesus is called the “Son of God”. The apostle Paul also preached that Jesus was the Son of God (e.g. Acts 9:20). Such is the importance of this Christian belief that 1 John 4:15 tells us “whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him and he dwells in God.” It is as Son of God that Jesus embodies the perfect image of his Father (Heb. 1:3).
Old Testament Prophecy Fulfilled
1:2–3 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.'
Mark unites the Old Testament with the new to show that the new is a fulfilment of the old (Matt. 5:17). The quotations from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3 refer to John the Baptist as the forerunner of Christ; the one who came before him as a herald to announce the arrival of the Saviour and to prepare the hearts of the people to receive him. In those days heralds were employed to run before reigning monarchs to clear a pathway for them so that they were not hindered in their journey. John was sent to remove the obstacles of sin and unbelief from the people of Israel so that they might be ready to accept the Christ. He did not take his message to the towns and cities to be heard, but into the wilderness. His message was that the people should return to God by turning from their sin. John was to make the way straight for Jesus by calling the people to a change of heart which would result in a change of conduct.
1:4–5 In the wilderness John the baptizer began preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People from the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem were going out to him, and he was baptizing them in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.
John told them that they needed to repent, that is, “a change of one's mind for the better and heartily to amend one's ways with abhorrence of past sins in order to obtain forgiveness of and release from sins” (Amp. N. T.). John's baptism was not Christian baptism as we know it today, but an outward sign that those who came to him had responded to his message with repentance. It is clear from Matthew 3:7–8 that John demanded the peoples’ lives be changed to show that their repentance was genuine. Notice that John did not go to the people, but they came to him from every city, town and village throughout Judah (it would seem as if this was through the influence of the Holy Spirit); and on confession of their sins he baptised the repentant in the Jordan River.
John's Abode and Appearance
1:6 John wore a garment made of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
John's dwelling place, dress and food showed him to be a prophet after the order of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8) and he was recognised at once being a messenger from the Lord.
Pre-eminence of Christ
1:7 He proclaimed, ‘One more powerful than I am is coming after me; I am not worthy to bend down and untie the strap of his sandals.
John made it very clear that he had not come to project his own image but that he was merely the signpost to the one that was coming after him, Jesus Christ. He was very conscious of his own unworthiness and esteemed himself of no value compared to the one that would come in power and who would far exceed him and anything that he could achieve.
1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
Here we have the first mention of the promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John baptised in water, but it is only Jesus Christ who can baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire (Acts 2:38). This verse can be taken as an assertion of Christ’s divinity—for only God can be said to be the giver of the Spirit of God.
Christ's Baptism and Temptation
1:9 Now in those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River.
Jesus came to John to be baptised; not for the remission of his sins, for he had none (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15). He came rather because he had a desire to “fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15).
1:10–11 And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my one dear Son; in you I take great delight.’
In this verse is depicted the Christian belief of God as a trinity: God the Son (Jesus) is seen coming up out of the water as God the Holy Spirit descends on him and God the Father speaks to him from heaven. The voice of God confirmed Jesus to be his only beloved Son with whom he was well pleased.
1:12–13 The Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, enduring temptations from Satan. He was with wild animals, and angels were ministering to his needs.
Immediately after the Holy Spirit came on Jesus, he (that is, the Spirit) impelled Christ to go into the wilderness, where he remained for forty days and nights being tempted by Satan. This “corresponds to the forty years of testing that Israel endured in the desert” (A. Cole). The desert to the Hebrew was a place of gloomy terror, the abode of devils and wild beasts; a place to be avoided. During all this time God protected his Son (Psalm 91:11); and after he had faced the temptations of Satan the angels of God came and ministered to him. Both Matthew 4 and Luke 4 provide further details of this temptation of Christ.
John the Baptist came before the first appearance of Christ to prepare the way for him by preaching repentance. Today, we can prepare others in a similar way for the second coming of Christ by living a life that reflects his character and by preaching the gospel message. Our hope is that others may come to know Jesus as their Saviour. John said “I must decrease but he must increase” (John 3:30) and to be good witnesses like John, we too must wear humility as a cloak, allowing the Lord to reign in every area of our lives. When this is so, it will be “no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20); God will be able to use us in whatever way he will.
Whenever we are tempted and tried, let us remember that Jesus understands, for he suffered the same temptations that we do, so that he might help us in time of need (Heb. 2:18). God has sent his angels to watch over us and minister to us (Heb. 1:14).
1:14 Now after John was imprisoned, Jesus went into Galilee and proclaimed the gospel of God.
God's ways are not our ways; his ways are past finding out. Therefore we cannot fully understand why it was that John was removed from the scene by being put in prison and eventually beheaded. Yet it was at this point in time that Jesus started his ministry. It was not to Judea, the most important region, nor to Jerusalem, but to Galilee that Jesus went. Galilee is seen by some commentators as a picture of spiritual bondage, as historically it had always been the first area to fall into the hands of invaders. It was this region of spiritual darkness that the prophet Isaiah foretold would first receive the light (Isaiah 9:1–2).
1:15 He said, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!’
Jesus's message differed from John's in as much as Jesus brought the “good news”; indeed, he was the good news! Christ had come to make a way for people to enter the kingdom of God so that through him we might be able to live the life of that kingdom. This kingdom would be found within the hearts of people (Luke 17:21); for it was not an earthly kingdom but a heavenly (or spiritual) one (John 18:36, Rom. 14:17). Jesus proclaimed that the hour had come which all the prophets had pointed to: the kingdom of God had come, for the king had arrived. Like John, Jesus called the people to repent so that they could have their sins forgiven. But Jesus added one thing more; he said, “Believe the gospel”. They were to believe on him as the Son of God, the promised one; the way into God’s kingdom (John 14:6).
The Call of the First Disciples
1:16 As he went along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon's brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen).
It was not by chance that Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee; he purposed to do so that he might call these men to follow him. Simon, Andrew, James and John were about their daily work, what they had been doing since they were old enough to go fishing and what they expected to be doing for the rest of their lives; but Jesus had other plans for them. So it can be with us. We may have been doing the same thing for ages never expecting anything different to happen, and then Jesus comes along and changes our lives.
1:17–20 Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people.’ They left their nets immediately and followed him. Going on a little farther, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John his brother in their boat mending nets. Immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
This was probably not the first time that these disciples had seen Jesus. They may have been present when he was baptised by John, but they certainly would not yet have known Jesus well. Nevertheless, at his bidding they immediately left what they were doing (their livelihood) and followed him. He would teach them the new trade of winning souls. “They abandoned all that they held dear, and all earthly security in simple committal to Christ” (A. Cole). This is the minimum requirement for every Christian (Luke 14:33).
A Demonic Delivered
1:21 Then they went to Capernaum. When the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.
It was the consistent practice of Jesus to attend the synagogue and the temple, and on this Sabbath, being in Capernaum, it was to the local synagogue he went. This may have been the same synagogue which Luke informs us had been built by a Roman centurion (whose servant was healed in Luke 7:2–10). It was customary in the meeting for the Rabbi to invite someone to read and explain the scriptures. So Jesus would have done this by invitation.
1:22 The people there were amazed by his teaching, because he taught them like one who had authority, not like the experts in the law.
This was no ordinary meeting and no ordinary teacher, for he spoke to them as one who not only knew the scriptures but also the full truth of them, which the scribes did not. The words came from him with life and power and the people were astounded; even the powers of darkness were stirred up.
1:23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit, and he cried out,
It would appear from this verse that the man was a regular attendee at the synagogue and would have been well known. It was the demon within the man that cried out (not the man) and made itself known to Jesus.
1:24 ‘Leave us alone, Jesus the Nazarene! Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!’
The first thing he cried was for Jesus to “leave us alone”. As there is only one demon mentioned in verse 23, 25 and 26 the “us” might possibly be a reference to the man and the demon (unless the demon is speaking on behalf of his kind). “What have we to do with you” that is, “what have we got in common with you?” Of course the answer is “nothing” for Jesus is pure—the demon unclean; Jesus is light—the demon darkness; Jesus came from God—the demon from the devil; and Jesus came from heaven—the demon from hell. The demon addressed Jesus in the first instance by his earthly name “Jesus of Nazareth”. He knew that Christ had come to destroy all the works of the devil (1 John 3:8); and he confessed who Jesus was (James 2:19). Since all power has been given to Jesus in heaven and earth, even demons are compelled to obey him.
1:25 But Jesus rebuked him: ‘Silence! Come out of him!’
Note that Jesus did not lay hands on the man—and he did not speak to him, only to the demon—nor did he pray for him. He rebuked the unclean spirit by commanding him to shut up, or “be muzzled”, and then to come out of the man.
1:26 After throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him.
The demon could not do any other than obey Jesus’ command. As he left the man, he convulsed him violently and gave a loud screech. The power of the Lord Jesus caused the demon to be wrenched away from the man.
1:27 They were all amazed so that they asked each other, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits and they obey him.’
The man was set free! This deliverance caused a great stir among the people, for although they had most probably seen the priests exorcising unclean spirits, this was the first time that they had witnessed someone actually having authority over them and casting them out by his word of command.
1:28 So the news about him spread quickly throughout all the region around Galilee.
This demonstration of the power and authority of Jesus caused his fame to spread right throughout Galilee. But although the people were amazed and wondered at these things, Mark does not say that they believed on him.
To view commentary for each chapter, click desired chapter number.
This study is taken from our Bible study guide Faithbuilders - The Gospel of Mark