The Gospel of Mark: An Overview

Forty-one times Mark describes the events flowing around Jesus’ life with the word immediately (in Greek, euthus), propelling the reader toward the cross where Jesus would die, giving His life as a ransom for many. Mark uniquely focuses on the action in the story of Jesus’ life, making his account both short and compelling to read.

This blog post is adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 2: Intertestamental Era, New Testament, and Bible Dictionary.


Clement of Alexandria reports an early tradition that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome at the request of those who had heard Peter preach there. Since Christianity had been established in Italy and Rome before Peter ever worked
there, both these notices are taken most naturally as referring to a teaching activity of Peter in Rome rather than to a strictly missionary activity.

The ancient tradition that Mark wrote his Gospel for Gentiles, specifically at the request of Roman Christians, is confirmed by the Gospel itself. Hebrew and Aramaic expressions are elucidated (3:17; 5:41; 7:11; 15:22), and Jewish customs are explained (7:2–4; 15:42). The evangelist himself quotes the Old Testament explicitly but once (1:2), though his narrative shows by allusion and echo that the narrator is conscious of the Old Testament background of the Gospel story (e.g., 9:2–8, cf Exodus 24:12; 12:1–12, cf Is 5:1). Mark reduces Greek money to terms of Roman currency (12:42) and explains an unfamiliar Greek term by means of a Latin one (15:16, praetorium). Latinisms, that is, the direct taking over of Latin terms into the Greek, are more frequent in Mark’s language than in that of
the other evangelists.


As compared with Matthew, Mark emphasizes the deeds of Jesus. The deeds of Jesus are by no means isolated from His words; the word is Jesus’ instrument in His deeds too—He speaks, and it is done. And Mark, besides giving two longer discourses of Jesus (4:1–34; 13:1–37), repeatedly emphasizes the centrality of the word in the ministry of Jesus and the effect of its authority upon people (1:14, 22, 38; 2:2, 13; 4:1; 6:1–7; 9:7; 10:1; 11:18; cf also 8:38). But it is chiefly by His works that Jesus is marked as the proclaimer and the bringer of the almighty grace of the kingdom of God, as the Anointed King in whom we can trust, the Son of God in whom we can believe.

The Gospel according to Mark is also the Gospel of Peter. Papias’s statement that Mark “became Peter’s interpreter” can be variously interpreted, but his assertion that Mark’s Gospel incorporates the preaching of Peter
is certainly confirmed by the character of the Gospel itself: it begins with
Peter’s call (1:16); it reaches its critical point when Peter in the name of the
Twelve confesses the Christ (8:29); it closes with a message from the risen
Lord to “His disciples and Peter” (16:7). Peter’s house is the center of operations at Capernaum (1:29), the followers of Jesus are called “Simon and those who were with him” (1:36), and Mark’s use of an indefinite “they” for the disciples is most naturally understood as reproducing Peter’s use of “we” (e.g., 1:21; 6:53). The resemblance of the structure of the Gospel to that of Peter’s sermon in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:34–43) points in the same direction.

Summary Commentary

1:1–13 Mark begins by telling of (1) John’s call to repentance, (2) Baptism, and (3) eager expectation of the Messiah’s coming. The Father declares Jesus is His Son as the Spirit descends on Jesus—note all three persons of the Trinity in the account. However, Jesus’ status as God’s Son makes Him a target of Satan’s assaults (1:12–13). Jesus’ successful struggle against temptation in the wilderness prefigures His final victory at the cross over our ancient foe.

1:14–3:12 At first, Jesus’ message sounds much like the message of John and the prophets. On the other hand, the arrival of the Messiah fulfills prophecy and ushers in a new era. The first thing Jesus does in His public ministry is call two pairs of brothers. They respond by dropping everything, following Him, and
becoming “fishers of men.” Jesus’ authoritative teaching and power over the unclean spirits create an immediate stir among those beholding Him in the early days of His ministry in Galilee.

3:13–6:6 Even as Jesus seeks to expand His ministry by appointing and sending 12 apostles, His family comes and tries to make Him stop what He is doing. Those who refuse to recognize Jesus as God’s Son and acknowledge His works as manifestations of the Holy Spirit remain under the dominion of Satan. Loyalty to God takes precedence over loyalty to blood relations.

6:7–8:30 The disciples multiply Jesus’ healing and revealing ministry, building on the foundation laid by John the Baptist and anticipating their own ministries, which will bear full fruit after Jesus’ ascension. Even as Jesus sends the Twelve, He anticipates that not everyone will welcome the Gospel. Coming just after the story about Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth, the tragic story of John gives an unmistakable foreshadowing of what awaits Jesus: rejection and even violent hostility.

8:31–10:52 At the heart of the Gospel, Jesus warns that He has come to suffer, die, and rise and that everyone who follows Him must carry the cross. Jesus is transfigured to display His divine glory and to prepare His disciples for His death and resurrection. When Jesus descends from the transfiguration, He meets a defiant demon, an anxious father, an astonished crowd, and despairing disciples. Jesus repeats the prophecy of His Passion and resurrection while the disciples listen in frightened silence. Confused by Jesus’ prediction of His death, the disciples return to a subject they know well—their own greatness. Jesus shows them that true status is found in serving those whom God values. Jesus opens the disciples’ eyes to see those who do God’s work in dramatic or simple ways. Nothing is more important than retaining the faith unto eternal life.

Chs 11–13 Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly as King, openly accepting messianic titles and fulfilling several Old Testament prophecies. The disciples and the crowds expect Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom. They celebrate His arrival at Jerusalem without a clear view of His express purpose: to die for the sins of the world. The curse and destruction of the fig tree warns Jesus’ disciples of impending judgment against the temple and the unfruitful people. As  prophesied in Mal 3:1–5, Jesus purifies the temple of those who use religion to line their pockets. He does so in the temple court, where genuine worship has been disrupted. Jesus teaches that saving faith rescues us from God’s judgment and that, through faith, we have the power to do the work God gives us. Opponents of Jesus confront Him and question His authority. Jesus refuses to engage them since He confidently knows the true character of His authority.

14:1–42 The Jewish leaders desperately try to find a way to execute Jesus quickly and quietly before He gains full support for His mission. A woman anoints Jesus for His burial, sacrificing expensive ointment out of love for Him. Judas, one of the Twelve whom Jesus appointed, decides to betray Him to the authorities. Jesus arranged for the Passover to be eaten at a secret location in Jerusalem. He establishes the Lord’s Supper, giving communicants His true body and blood for the forgiveness of sins under the bread and wine. Jesus fulfills the Scripture that promises the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of the Shepherd, even though all His sheep desert Him. On the eve of His Passion, Jesus prays in agony, yet He concludes by praying that the Father’s will be done. The disciples fall asleep while praying, unfaithful in the critical hour.

14:43–15:15 Representatives of the Jewish ruling Council arrest Jesus, apprehending Him at night outside the city to avoid causing a riot among His supporters. Jesus is abandoned by His disciples, including a young man (possibly Mark) who has witnessed the arrest. The Jewish ruling Council convicts Jesus of blasphemy for claiming to be the messianic King. While Jesus stands firm before Caiaphas, on trial for His life, Peter three times denies knowing Jesus. The Jewish leaders bring Jesus to Pilate, hoping to get a death penalty conviction from him. The world does not understand the kingdom of God, where God rules by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, nor does the world understand its King. Jesus endures His trial silently, without making a legal defense. Despite knowing that Jesus is innocent, Pilate condemns Him to death by crucifixion under pressure from the Jewish leadership and the crowds. Even though Pilate wants to release Jesus, he sentences Him to death to keep himself out of trouble.

15:16–16:8 Roman soldiers mock Jesus as the King of the Jews, inflicting terrible physical and emotional pain. Jesus is crucified, bearing the punishment for the
sins of the world. He opens the way to God through faith in Him. Friends bury the body of Jesus quickly because the approaching Sabbath Day is holy to the
Lord, and no work can be done on it (Ex 20:8–11). On the third day, the women undertake the job of properly preparing Jesus’ body for burial, which the press
of time prevented earlier. When they arrive at the tomb, they find it empty and hear the wonderful (and temporarily paralyzing) message that Jesus has risen
from the dead and the tomb is empty. Despite Jesus’ clear predictions on at least three occasions (8:31– 32; 9:31; 10:33–34), His disciples do not understand
or believe.

16:9–20 This is the “long ending” of Mark, which may not be part of the original composition. Mary Magdalene sees the resurrected Jesus and tells the disciples about Him, but they do not believe it. The pattern of unbelief continues despite additional eyewitness accounts. Jesus commissions His followers to proclaim the message of salvation throughout the world.

Martin Luther on the Gospels

In his prefaces to the New Testament (1522, 1546, etc.) Luther wrote that there is only one Gospel, which is proclaimed throughout the Scriptures. He introduced the four Gospels as follows:

“The notion must be given up that there are four gospels and only four evangelists. . . . ‘Gospel’ [Euangelium ] is a Greek word and means in Greek a good message, good tidings, good news, a good report, which one sings and tells with gladness. For example, when David overcame the great Goliath, there came among the Jewish people the good report and encouraging news that their terrible enemy had been struck down and that they had been rescued and given joy and peace; and they sang and danced and were glad for it [I Sam. 18:6]."

012293Read more about the entirety of the Bible, including the Gospel of Mark, in Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 2: Intertestamental Era, New Testament, and Bible Dictionary.

Order the Lutheran Bible Companion


Previous Article
Digging Deeper into Scripture: The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–21)
Digging Deeper into Scripture: The Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–21)

Upon finishing my teaching degree at what is now Concordia University Chicago, I was recruited to ...

Next Article
Digging Deeper into Scripture: John 20:19–31
Digging Deeper into Scripture: John 20:19–31

When we use the expression “take my word for it,” we are asking another person or group to trust t...

Browse Books for Pastors

Learn More