The Gospel According to Mark (Part 4 of 5)

The Gospel According to Mark (Part 4 of 5)

This week we’re beginning the third and final Act of the Gospel According to Mark which tells the story of how Jesus became King through his suffering death and resurrection. Because this is the most important part of the Gospel we’ll be breaking Act 3 into two parts. This week we’ll be exploring Jesus’ Royal Entrance and Conflict with Israel’s Leaders (Mark 11:1-13:37) and next week we’ll focus on Jesus’ Suffering, Death and Resurrection (Mark 14:1-16:8).

The approach we’re taking to this study breaks Mark down into 3 Acts. You can find a helpful 10 minute video summary of the whole Gospel and poster summarizing the 3 Acts in Part 1 of our study.

Bible Project - Mark Act 3

Act 3: Jerusalem

The final act of Mark’s Gospel explains how Jesus became the Messianic King and established God’s reign on earth. Everything in the Gospel has been leading up to this moment. Part 1 of this final act begins with Jesus’ royal entry into the holy city of Jerusalem and then moves into a series of conflicts Jesus has with the leaders of Israel as he asserts his authority as King. After Jesus defeats his challengers in a series of debates he warns his disciples of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and God’s Temple, as well as prophesying their role in the extension of God’s Kingdom on earth.

Jesus’ Royal Entry (Mark 11:1-11)

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey at the start of the annual Passover festival, publicly claiming to be the Messiah for the first time. In doing this he was claiming to fulfill the prophesy of Zechariah 9:9-17 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The pilgrims to the festival welcome Jesus as king with the words of the great Passover song Psalm 118: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! ” (Mark 11:9)

It’s important to know that in the 1st Century the Passover festival, which celebrates God freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt, had become focused on the hope that God would soon act again to rescue his people. The Israelite kingdom of Judea had been under some form of Roman rule since 63 BC, but things had become steadily more oppressive since it became a Roman province in 6 AD. Judea was overseen by a junior Roman governor whose main role was to keep order and ensure taxes were collected. Day to day governance was placed in the hands of a local ruling Council made up of the Jewish priesthood, elders and scribes under the leadership of the High Priest.

There was a high level of Messianic expectation and nationalist fervor around most of the major Jewish festivals, but especially at Passover. The Roman governors would come to Jerusalem with a full garrison of soldiers from their administrative capital of Caesarea Maritima to keep order. It was a time of great tension which could easily explode in rioting or revolt.

Jesus Judges the Temple as King and Prophet (Mark 11:12-25)

By overturning the tables of the money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals, Jesus asserts his royal authority over the Temple and announces God’s judgement in the words of the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. His reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy is especially significant as Jeremiah was the prophet who announced the destruction of the first Temple in 589 BC, and was nearly killed for daring to announce God’s judgement.

Jesus’ condemnation of the priests is partially for bringing the commerce needed for the Temple into the court of the Gentiles, which was supposed to be a place of prayer for the non-Jewish nations of the world. However, the main issue is that the priests, scribes and elders think that the Temple will shelter them from the consequences of their corruption and injustice in colluding with the Roman occupation: “you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:17/Jeremiah 7:11) Mark frames Jesus’ actions in the Temple with the story of him cursing of the fig tree. This was a symbol of Israel, and foreshadows God’s coming judgement.

Debates in the Temple (Mark 11:27-12:34)

When Jesus returns to the city the next day Israel’s formal leaders (the priests, elders and scribes) and other leading groups (Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees) all challenge Jesus in a series of debates. Jesus emerges victorious, defeating his would be accusers, and winning the respect of the one person who asks him an honest question.

  • 11:27-33 The priests, scribes and elders question Jesus’ royal and prophetic claims and Jesus exposes their total disregard for truth.
  • 12:1-12 Jesus prophesies that Israel’s leaders will kill him and then be destroyed by God in the Parable of the Vineyard (another symbol of Israel). Jesus presents the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple as a result of Israel’s leaders rejecting God’s last offer of mercy and forgiveness. It should be noted that this condemnation is for the Jewish leaders, not the Jewish people as a whole.
  • 12:13-17 The Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus with a question about Roman taxes and end up condemning themselves. There needed to be money changers at the Temple because Roman coinage was blasphemous. Yet the Pharisees and Herodians have a Roman denarius in their purses, showing their hypocrisy. This story isn’t about separation of church and state, but giving Caesar back the corrupt coins stamped with his image, and giving God the human lives that he has stamped with his image.
  • 12:18-27 The Sadducees challenge Jesus about the Resurrection and are also defeated. The Sadducees accepted only the authority of the 5 books of Moses (the Torah) and a smaller collection of prophetic writings. They did not believe in newer Jewish beliefs such as the Messiah, the Resurrection of the Dead or the future Day of the Lord. Hence Jesus silences them from a central passage in the Torah.
  • 12:28-34 A righteous scribe asks the only honest question of the day, wanting to see which commandment Jesus believes is the greatest in God’s Law (another name for the Torah). While others had summed up the Law with the words of Leviticus 19:18, Jesus is revolutionary in combining it with the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (Israel’s central confession of faith). The scribe approves of Jesus’ answer, and no one else dares ask him another question.

Final Teaching in the Temple (Mark 12:35-44)

As he’s done with the disciples, Jesus addresses the crowds with the question of whether the Messiah is merely a human king  in the line of King David, or something much more. He does this by turning to one the Scriptures that was widely believed to prophecy about the Messiah, Psalm 110. Jesus then condemns the scribes, who were the learned teachers of the Torah and other sacred writings of the Jewish people. The scribes and Pharisees are not exactly same. Many of the most influential scribes were Pharisees, but not all. Mark depicts a variety of groups questioning and opposing Jesus where Matthew and Luke put more of the focus on the Pharisees. This is likely because they wrote in the period after the destruction of the Temple when the Pharisees were taking their first steps of becoming the new leaders of the Jewish people and coming into conflict with the Jewish followers of Jesus.

Prophesy of the Temple’s Destruction and the Coming of God’s Kingdom (Mark 13:1-37)

Jesus uses Apocalyptic imagery to prophesy the destruction of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem within one generation. This was fulfilled in the disastrous Jewish Revolt of 66-70AD which was ruthlessly crushed by the Roman Empire. The ‘Abomination of Desolation’ in 13:14 refers to the vision in the chapter 9 of the book of Daniel. In Daniel this expression refers to the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes placing an idol in the Temple, which ignited the last revolution against foreign rule by the Maccabees. However, this time military revolution will bring about Judea’s destruction. Early traditions show that most Jewish Christians did heed Jesus’ warnings and fled Jerusalem ahead of the Roman siege.

Jesus continues his Apocalyptic prophesy with the coming of the Son of Man in power and the end of history. He closes with warnings to be prepared and to “keep awake.” Jesus actually says relatively little about the end times here, and what he does say is very cryptic. The main point is to not despair over Jerusalem’s destruction, but live in hope for the final victory of God’s Kingdom and Jesus’ return. We might interpret 13:27 as a prophecy of Christian missionaries (the Greek word angelos refers to both divine and human messengers) spreading through the world to gather the elect into God’s Kingdom.

Next Week: Act 3, Part 2 (Mark 14:1-16:8)


The Gospel According to Mark (Part 3 of 5)

The Gospel According to Mark (Part 3 of 5)

This week we’re looking Act 2 of the Gospel According to Mark, which covers Mark 8:27-10:52. The approach we’re taking to this study breaks Mark down into 3 Acts. You can find a helpful 10 minute video summary of the whole Gospel and poster summarizing the 3 Acts in Part 1 of our study.

Bible Project - Mark Act 2

Act 2: On The Way

The second part of Mark’s Gospel moves from announcing Jesus’ as the promised Messiah or King, to showing showing that Jesus is a very different kind of king. Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem and over three conversations tells his disciples that he will become king by suffering, dying and rising again. This shakes the group the core, and they struggle with what Jesus is saying throughout this section. In fact Act 2 can be seen as a journey from one blind man (in Mark 8:22-26) to another (in 10:46-52). The first story prepares us for the struggle of the disciples to see and understand. The second affirms that in spite of their difficulties and failures in Act 2, by the end of Act 3 they will see, understand and faithfully follow Jesus on the Way.

The Messiah Will Suffer & Sacrifice: Take 1 (Mark 8:27-9:1)

In the region of Caesarea Philippi, which was home to a temple to the Divine Emperor of the Rome, Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is. Simon Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, perhaps hoping that this is the first step toward Jesus toppling that false god and freeing Israel from Roman rule. Instead Jesus tells Peter and the others that he will be rejected by Israel’s leaders, be killed and after 3 days rise again. Peter is stunned and challenges him, before being put in his place for presenting Jesus with a dangerous temptation.

Jesus then tells the disciples and the crowd that anyone who follows him must follow his example by denying themselves and taking up a cross of their own. The mark of Jesus’ followers will be sacrificing their lives for him and his good news, which will end up being their path to true life. Jesus also warns of the danger of denying him, while presenting the hope that some the people following him in Galilee will see God’s Kingdom come with power. This has been a confusing prophecy for many, but refers to Jesus’ Resurrection and the resulting empowerment of his disciples to extend God’s Kingdom throughout the world.

The Mountain and Valley: The Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-29)

Peter, James and John get a sneak preview of the Resurrection when Jesus takes them up a mountain to reveal his true glory. Jesus is transformed and joined on the mountain by the prophets Moses and Elijah, who had also seen God’s glory on a mountain top. As he has before, God speaks from a cloud, only this time he confirms that Jesus is his Son, and that the must “Listen to him!” The three are then sworn to keep this event to themselves until after Jesus is raised, something that continues to confuse them.

When they get down to the bottom of the mountain, they see another scene inspired by the Old Testament. Just as Moses found chaos and unfaithfulness when he came down the mountain, so too does Jesus. The other disciples are arguing with some Pharisees after they were unable to heal a boy with life threatening seizures. Jesus is deeply frustrated, but shows compassion to the boy’s father who cries out, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” The boy is healed and freed from the spirit causing his illness, and the disciples wonder why they couldn’t cast it out when they had been able to heal in Jesus’ name before. Jesus says the answer is to spend more time in prayer. Only then will they have the faith they need to handle more difficult tasks.

The Messiah Will Suffer & Sacrifice: Take 2 (Mark 9:30-50)

Jesus announces his coming suffering a second time, and for a second time has to challenge the disciples on what this means for following him. The disciples make the mistake of arguing about who is first when Jesus has just spoken about putting himself last. He welcomes a child into their midst and tells them the measure of those who are first is in how they welcome and care for those who are least and last in the world.

But John can’t contain himself. Wanting Jesus to affirm that the disciples are first into the Kingdom, he tries to get Jesus to approve their attempt to shut down another exorcist who was using Jesus name. But Jesus is bigger than the company of his followers, and calls on them to welcome anyone who shows love and reverence for Jesus, for “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Bottom line: the company of Jesus’ followers have an essential role in his mission, but they are not the gatekeepers to Jesus.

In fact, if you’re going to be first in Jesus’ Kingdom and his mission you have an incredible responsibility. His disciples must always be an open door to him, never a stumbling block for the little ones who love and trust in him. If you cause others to stumble you’re better off being thrown into the sea. Therefore disciples need to cut everything out of their lives that might make them a barrier to others coming to Jesus. That includes stupid arguments about who is most important.

Living as Jesus’ Followers in the World (Mark 10:1-31)

Mark then provides a few stories that provide concrete examples of what following the crucified King looks like in day to day life. First some Pharisees debate Jesus over the question of divorce. Jesus replies they are asking the wrong question, and taking divorce too lightly. Moses allowed divorce on account of human weakness, but God’s intention from the beginning was for marriage to be a lifelong relationship. Divorce then is a serious thing, not to be undertaken lightly or seen as morally indifferent (in fact remarriage after divorce is technically adultery). This was radical teaching in a time where many men would divorce their wives for trivial reasons and leave them destitute. Instead, followers of Jesus should be marked by faithfulness, even when the road gets hard. Divorce is a concession to human frailty, but comes at a high personal cost and should always be a last resort.

From marriage, Mark takes us to a story about children. The disciples try to stop people from bringing their children to be blessed by Jesus and get a sharp rebuke in return:  “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

Then along comes someone the disciples would love to see join Jesus’ movement: a right-living rich man. But as much as Jesus loves this man, he sees that the man’s wealth will be an obstacle to him taking up his cross and following. Jesus challenges the man to give it all away and the man walks away sadly. The disciples are shocked because it was often assumed that wealth was a sign of God’s favour (and still is). Instead, Jesus teaches that wealth is barrier to following him – it’s hard to deny yourself when you have everything. But in the end no one can get right with God by their own efforts, we’re saved and welcomed by God’s grace alone. And if we give up our possessions and even our loved ones we’ll find we get them back in a new a deeper way, though not without the challenges that come from following Jesus in this world.

The Messiah Will Suffer & Sacrifice: Take 3 (Mark 10:32-45)

As the group nears Jerusalem, Jesus turns on last time and announces what’s to come. Once again the disciples show their blindness. James and John come forward to ask for the number one and two positions when he becomes King. Jesus asks if they can do what’s necessary to be first in his Kingdom and they say, “Absolutely!” Jesus prophecies that they will (indeed both will suffer for Jesus and at least one will die a martyr – Acts 12:1-12), but that the places on the right and left of his throne are already spoken for. Indeed, when we fast forward to chapter 15 we see that Jesus’ throne is the cross, and it will be two bandits beside him in his moment of shocking glory.

Jesus then reminds the rest of the disciples (who are naturally grumpy about the brothers’ arrogance) that to be first in his kingdom you have to be last, and if you want be great you must be a servant and slave of all, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” This is a key saying, because Jesus is pointing to the prophecy he will fulfill by his death and resurrection: the Suffering Servant foretold in Isaiah 52:13-52:13.

Conclusion to Act 2 (10:46-52)

As Jesus leaves Jericho (the last stop before Jerusalem) a blind man named Bartimaeus cries out for help:  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even though the crowd tries to silence him, Bartimaeus continues to cry out and Jesus hears and heals him. Jesus tells him that his faith has allowed him to see and be well. Bartimaeus then follows Jesus “on the Way.” This is a significant turn of phrase because early Christians referred to themselves as “The Way.” Like Bartimaeus, Jesus’ disciples will now finally find faith and sight, and they will learn how to faitfully walk in Jesus’ Way. It won’t be an easy journey, but they and we can walk it because the Son of David has shown us his mercy and walked the Way ahead of us – as we’ll see in the closing two sessions of this study.


The Gospel According to Mark (Part 2 of 5)

The Gospel According to Mark (Part 2 of 5)

This week we’re looking Act 1 of the Gospel According to Mark, which covers Mark 1:1-8:26. The approach we’re taking to this study breaks Mark down into 3 Acts. You can find a helpful 10 minute video summary of the whole Gospel and poster summarizing the 3 Acts in Part 1 of our study.

Bible Project - Mark Act 1

Act 1: Galilee

The first part of Mark’s Gospel addresses the question of who Jesus is. Jesus arrives, is anointed by God’s Spirit, announces the arrival of God’s Kingdom, then begins performing signs of power to show that he’s the Anointed King (Messiah) who has come to make God’s Kingdom on earth a reality.

Mark’s Opening (Mark 1)

The Prologue (Mark 1:1-13)

  • The book opens with the title: “The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and presents the ancient promise of the prophets that God himself would come to reign as king on earth one day.
  • John the Baptist appears as the messenger announcing God’s arrival, and tells the people to get ready for the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
  • When Jesus arrives he is baptized by John, is anointed as Messiah by God’s Spirit, and affirmed in his identity as God’s Son. The Spirit then sends Jesus out into the wilderness for a 40 day period of testing where he overcomes the Satan, the representative of evil in the world.

The Start of Jesus’ Ministry (Mark 1:14-45)

  • After John is put in jail, Jesus announces that God’s Kingdom is arriving and calls on people to change their lives and believe this Good News.
  • Jesus then begins to invite people to join his Kingdom movement, starting with the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John.
  • In this chapter we see how Jesus’ arrival signals that the rule of evil over the world is beginning to end and God is starting to set things right. The key sign of this is Jesus healing people of illness and driving out the hidden spiritual evil behind the brokenness and suffering of the world.
  • A key theme introduced here that extends throughout all of Act 1 is that Jesus is a secret king. The spirits know who he is, but Jesus silences them. When people are healed he tells them to keep this to themselves. He doesn’t want people to get the wrong idea about what kind of king he is. Only the cross and resurrection will give the complete picture.
  • Jesus starts in the major town of Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, but quickly moves out into the whole of Galilee to spread the message of the Kingdom and bring God’s healing to everyone.

Jesus’ Signs, Their Meaning and Peoples’ Response (Mark 2:1-8:26)

Here’s a quick summary of Jesus’ main actions in Act 1 and what they mean.

  • Mark 2:1-17 Jesus heals and forgives people their sins. But… only God can forgive.
  • Mark 2:23-3:6 Jesus asserts his authority over the weekly Sabbath to heal and show mercy… but only God or the King of Israel can do that.
  • Mark 3:13-19 Jesus appoints Twelve of his followers to be Apostles… just like God created Israel as a nation made up of Twelve tribes.
  • Mark 3:20-30 Jesus is rejected as insane by his family or as a servant of evil by a group of religious leaders. But how can that be true if Jesus is driving out evil spirits and actually healing people? If evil is being defeated then maybe Jesus is the one sent by God to rule the world…
  • Mark 4:35-41 Jesus now shows power over nature as he saves his friends from a storm on the sea. Who is this man?
  • Mark 5:21-43 Jesus takes his healings to a new level and even brings a dead girl back to life. Yet somehow faith is needed for Jesus to have full power to do this work.
  • Mark 6:7-16 Jesus sends out the Twelve to do everything he has done. This gets the fearful attention of Herod Antipas, the local ruler who reports to the Romans. He also starts asking, “Who is this Jesus?”
  • Mark 6:31-44 & 8:1-10 Jesus miraculously feeds a group of 5000 people, then does it again with a group of 4000 people. This is eerily similar to how God fed the people of Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. Yet still the disciples don’t really understand what’s going on.
  • Mark 6:45-52 Jesus walks on water. Not only is this a lot like God parting the Red Sea, but walking on water is another thing that only God can do…
  • Mark 7:1-23 Jesus now turns the tables on the religious leaders demanding to know why their traditions seem more important than following what’s God’s prophets have written down in the Bible. Who is really being faithful to God here?
  • Mark 7:22-37 After Jesus confronts unfaithfulness by many of Israel’s leaders we are given two stories of Gentiles (non-Jews) welcoming Jesus and believing him. Is Jesus opening the door of God’s Kingdom to all nations?

The Parables of the Kingdom

In the middle of all the action (Mark 4:1-34) Jesus tells a number of parables (symbolic stories) to explain what’s really going on. The Parable of the Sower explains why some accept the message while others don’t. And all the parables explain that though Jesus’ ministry is highly unconventional and unexpected it’s like seeds being planted that will grow into the amazing reality of God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom is like a huge plant that grows from a tiny seed and a surprisingly big crop of good food for the whole world.

Conclusion to Act 1 (8:11-26)

Act 1 ends with even more opposition from the religious leaders of God’s people (8:11-13) and continued misunderstanding and confusion from the disciples (8:14-21). Yet all is not lost. The section ends with a meaningful story of Jesus healing a blind man (8:22-26). It takes Jesus two tries to get this man to see. The first time he can see a little with blurred vision, before having his vision fully restored with the second attempt. Act 2 will see Jesus bring the disciples to a partial understanding of who is and what he’s doing, before bringing them to full understanding with his death and resurrection in Act 3.

Next Week: Act 2 (Mark 8:27-10:52)