As we begin a series of articles on the Gospel of Mark, it seems appropriate to deal with some preliminaries before diving into the text. As with any study of Scripture, an examination of the author, audience, purpose, and structure of the writing should be understood before digging into chapter 1, verse 1. The Gospel of Mark is no exception, and in a study of the author, we will find a powerful story of struggle, encouragement, and growth.

Mark’s Family Life in Jerusalem

The author of this gospel is John Mark, the son of Mary (Acts 12:12) and the cousin of Paul’s traveling companion Barnabas (Col 4:10). Mark’s mother, Mary, lived in Jerusalem, near where Peter was imprisoned after his arrest by Herod (Acts 12). Mary seems to be a woman of some financial means. She has at least one servant (Acts 12:14), and her house is large enough for many to meet there to pray (Acts 12:12). This may suggest that Mark grew up in a financially well-off family.

The Apostle Peter is particularly connected to this family. When Peter is released from prison by an angel, he goes directly to Mark’s mother’s house, where the text is very specific to mention Mark – “he [Peter] went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12). When he arrives at Mary house, a servant girl named Rhoda recognizes Peter by his voice (Acts 12:14) which would also seem to indicate that Peter well know to the people of Mary’s house. This connection to Mark’s family may also be seen at the end of his first letter to the early Church, where he refers to Mark as “his son” (1 Peter 5:13). This is likely similar to the way Paul viewed Timothy, his son in the faith (1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim 2:1). This reference by Peter may indicate that he was instrumental in Mark’s conversion to Christianity. There is little doubt that as a young man, Mark grew spiritually with great influences around him. Imagine having Peter as a family friend who came to the house regularly. Wouldn’t you have liked to be around for those conversations after dinner? Early church writings reveal that this close connection between Mark and Peter remained until after Peter’s death. By all accounts, Mark flourished spiritually under his mother’s guidance, his uncle’s influence, and directly by the Apostle Peter.

John Mark’s First Mission Experience

During this same time, Paul and Barnabas traveled from Antioch to Jerusalem, bringing contributions to the saints in Judea (Acts 11:28-30). While the text does not tell us how they met Mark (probably through Peter at Mary’s home), once they have completed their mission and delivered the funds in Jerusalem, they begin their travel long travel back to Antioch (a little over 300 miles). They take John Mark with them (Acts 12:25).

Mark’s Struggle on the Mission Field

Once back in Antioch, it wasn’t long before Paul and Barnabas set out on the first missionary journey. Barnabas’ young nephew Mark goes with them “as a helper” (Acts 13:5). But the text is clear that once they reach Pamphylia, “…John [Mark] left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). The details of why John Mark left them are not given in the text. Any speculation is exactly that. But it is not hard to imagine that Mark, as a young Christian far from home, finds the mission field and the work overwhelming and wants to go home. Some have suggested that life on the road for a well-to-do young man was rougher than he anticipated, so he wants to go home. We don’t know why, but we know he left Paul and Barnabas and traveled back to Jerusalem.

Mark Given Encouragement and a Second Chance

The other thing we know about this situation is that Paul was not happy with John Mark for leaving. After Paul and Barnabas travel to Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Council meeting (Acts 15 – AD 49-50), they prepare for the second missionary journey. and Barnabas wants to take Mark along with them, but Paul keeps insisting they should not take “him who deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to work” (Acts 15:38). It is clear that Paul lost trust in John Mark and felt “deserted.” He had no interest in taking Mark with them again to suffer the same situation. But Barnabas (whom the apostles called the Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36)) was so insistent on giving Mark a second chance that he and Paul separated. Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus (Acts 15:39), and Paul traveled with Silas through Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:40-41).

Mark Rises to the Work

The text doesn’t tell us about Mark for a while after that. It is not until some 12 years later, when Paul writes his letter to Philemon (AD 62), that we hear that Mark is now with him in Rome, and Paul describes him as a “fellow worker” (Philemon 24). A few years later, when Paul writes Timothy in Ephesus (2 Timothy – AD 66), he writes – “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service (2 Timothy 4:11). Barnabasconfidence in Mark seems to have been well placed. While Scripture doesn’t tell us where Mark is, it is logical that he is in Rome, or at the very least, somewhere between Ephesus and Rome. Early church writings of Eusebius place Mark in Rome with Peter at this time – “As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel of the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings should write them out” (Eusebius, The Church History of Eusebius, 6.13.2). That is exactly what he does, and his writing becomes what we now know as The Gospel of Mark, which has impacted the spiritual lives of millions for generations.

What Can We Learn From Mark’s Journey

So, what can we learn from our study of Mark’s experiences in ministry? First, we should never define an entire life by a person’s worst day or their first failure. In leaving the mission field in Pamphylia, Mark undoubtedly messed up. Some people counted on him, and he let them down. But Barnabas refused to let that define Mark’s usefulness in ministry, and apparently, Mark refused to let it define him either. When given a second chance, Mark took it and sought to grow and become useful in the Kingdom.

Maybe we know someone who wanted to serve the Lord more fully. Still, their first attempt didn’t go so well: a missionary who suffered culture shock, a deacon who couldn’t handle the responsibility, and a member whom we trusted to organize an event that dropped the ball. We can choose not to trust them again. We can define them by the first failure, as we often tend to do, or we can choose to be the Barnabas in their life, take them under our wing, and help them get back on the horse.

Maybe we suffered that first failure, and it soured us to be willing to keep working, keep trying, and keep growing until we find ourselves useful to the Lord in His Kingdom. We can learn from Mark’s experiences that growth is possible. We can do it. Given the chance, we ministry. Are must be willing to try again.

Second, we can never know what someone might grow to become. Given the second chance, Mark became a strong “fellow worker” and a useful partner in spreading the gospel. Ultimately, his writing on the life and ministry of Jesus has now affected millions of souls! But none of that would have been possible without someone willing to take a risk and give him a second chance. We need to strive to be the Barnabas in someone’s life. Who knows what impact we can make by giving someone a simple word of encouragement or offering them a second chance? The transformation could be world-changing. We need to take a page from Barnabas and be the son or daughter of encouragement, which some struggling Mark needs.

Third, Mark’s Gospel centers around Jesus’ teaching that if we want to follow Him, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross (put our own desires to death), and follow Him (Mark 8:34-35). Maybe Mark struggled to deny himself, that crippled his first attempt at the ministry, and caused him to desert Paul and Barnabas on the field and go back home. Maybe he learned from that failure that putting his needs and desires ahead of the needs of others wasn’t what discipleship was all about and that if we want to be great in the Kingdom, we have to put others before ourselves (Mark 9:35; 10:31, 43-44). These lessons are strong themes throughout His Gospel. Maybe we need to learn these lessons as well.

Fourth, by understanding the author’s struggles, the power of encouragement, and the impact that one life can make on the world, we might read this Gospel account with greater hope for our usefulness in serving the Lord.

Let us look for the Marks in our lives. The ones discouraged by their failures or have struggled in their defeats. If we invest in them, mentor them, and show that we believe in them, they can grow to be a force in the Kingdom that we never imagined they could be! And if we suffer from failures and defeats – let us recognize that we don’t have to be defined by our worst day either. There is a road back – and it is found through a commitment to follow Jesus Christ and work to make ourselves useful in His Kingdom.

Michael Hite
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Michael Hite joined the staff of the Bear Valley Bible Institute in 2002 where he now serves as a teacher and the Vice President of Operations. He currently teaches exegetical textual courses on the Gospel of Mark, The Gospel of Luke, and the General Epistles as well as specialized courses on research, teaching, and the use technology in ministry. Michael has particular expertise in exegesis and the use of Logos Bible Software. He has done short term mission work and teaching in different countries around the world. He and his wife Lynn married in 1987 and they have two grown children, Melissa (who is married and living in Little Rock, AR) and Matthew (who is also married and a Youth Minister in Houston, TX). He and his wife Lynn are also the proud grandparents of Kaylynn Rey who was born to Matthew and his wife Haley in 2022.