New Testament | Study Guide

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New Testament | Gospel of Mark | Summary

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Summary

Chapters 1–13

Jesus travels throughout the Roman province of Judea, teaching, gathering disciples, and performing miracles.

  • John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the Jordan River, and a voice from heaven proclaims to Jesus, "You are my beloved son" (Mark 1:11).
  • Jesus performs healings and exorcisms for many and teaches using parables, short symbolic narratives that culminate with a moral teaching.
  • He calls followers and chooses 12 to be his apostles.
  • Jesus exorcises a demon called Legion.
  • Rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus continues teaching and also sends The Twelve out to preach, heal, and exorcise demons.
  • Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah, and Jesus responds by giving the first of three predictions of his own impending death: he will be handed over, killed, and then raised from the dead (Mark 8:31).
  • When Jesus enters Jerusalem crowds greet him, shouting "Hosanna" and "blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David" (Mark 11:9–10).
  • Jesus foretells a period of suffering and religious persecution his followers will have to face, and he promises after the suffering the "Son of Man" will come.
  • Chapter 13 is often called the "little apocalypse" of Mark. This is paralleled in Matthew 24–25 and Luke 21.

Chapters 14–16

Jesus is betrayed and crucified, and then resurrected from the dead.

  • Jesus and the disciples celebrate a Passover meal in Jerusalem; he shares bread and wine with The Twelve, describing these as his body and blood.
  • Judas arrives where Jesus is praying in the garden at Gethsemane, and identifies Jesus by kissing him on the cheek, so Jesus is arrested.
  • A council of Jewish leaders and the high priest accuse Jesus of blasphemy and announce he deserves to die.
  • In the morning Jesus is tried by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate and sentenced to death.
  • At Golgotha, Jesus is put on the cross and dies.
  • After the Sabbath women among Jesus's followers find the tomb open and empty, and a young man in white clothing tells them Jesus has been raised.
  • Early manuscripts end with Mark 16:8: "And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid."
  • Later manuscripts include an additional ending or endings that describe the resurrected Jesus appearing to his followers and instructing them to spread the good news.

Analysis

One of the most notable features of the Gospel of Mark is its identification of Jesus as the Christ or Messiah. This claim appears right away in Mark 1:1, where the evangelist announces the narrative is "the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." The title "good news" might describe the genre of the text, but it also characterizes the way the author would like readers to think about the content of the story: this whole account is good news for the reading and listening audience.

Yet Mark's good news is surprising, because the narrative connects being Messiah with suffering. In his three passion predictions and in the passion scene (Mark 15), Jesus emphasizes suffering and even explains that those who follow him will face persecution. This suffering figure overturns traditional Jewish expectations about who the messiah (Hebrew for "anointed one") would be. Most Jews at the time of Jesus expected the messiah would be a new king from the line of David, or a prophet, or even a new Adam (the first human being created in Genesis 2). Jesus's criminal sentence and violent death were certainly not what most Jews imagined when they thought of God's anointed one "coming on the clouds of heaven." That particular image originally appears in the visions described in the text of Daniel 7, but Jesus quotes it twice in ways that appear to refer to himself, in Mark 13:26 in the so-called "little apocalypse" (a short section of apocalyptic teaching in Mark 13) and again during his trial before Jewish authorities in Mark 14:62.

Even The Twelve, Jesus's apostles, do not seem to understand who he is during his lifetime. They misunderstand his teaching (Mark 8:14–18) and wonder among themselves about who he is (Mark 4:41). Some even push back against his prophetic statements about his impending death; Simon Peter is reprimanded in Mark 8:33 when he tries to argue that Jesus will not suffer and die. The Twelve are prime examples of what it looks like to grapple with a puzzle scholars call "the Messianic secret" in the Gospel of Mark: Jesus is the Messiah, but most people who encounter him are unable to recognize or understand this fact, at least until after his death.

The unusual and composite ending of the gospel offers some insight into what the evangelist hopes to accomplish and what he means by calling this text an euangelion or "good news." The addition of verses 9–20 suggests the earliest readers found the abrupt ending confusing or unsatisfying. If the women who spoke with the mysterious figure in 16:6–7 did not tell anyone about the empty tomb, how did news of Jesus's resurrection spread? Some scholars argue the original, shorter ending of the Gospel of Mark might have been written intentionally to inspire the readers themselves to take on the role of ambassadors for the good news. After all, readers were told in the very first line that Jesus is the Christ and that his story is good news.

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