So I knew a lot (relatively, I guess) about the Gospel of Matthew when I started this project. In college I took a Bible as Literature class, and out of the gospels we spent the most time on Matthew. So I knew a lot more about the background and purpose of Matthew than the other books. Also, after graduation, I did a Bible Study book about Matthew, so that gave me even more perspective than I had before.
But as I started thinking about finishing Matthew and starting Mark I realized that I had no idea anything about Mark. Why was it written? I know it’s similar to Matthew but shorter. Why is it so short? Who was Mark? So I figured before I started I’d better do some brief research.
Here’s what I found. First, Mark was the first of the Gospels. It was written before any of the others, probably some time between 50 and 70 CE. While none of the gospel writers were actual witnesses to the life and death of Jesus, Mark is the closest we have to a first-hand source. The writer was most likely John Mark, a close friend of Peter’s in Acts. So he knew the disciples and gathered most of his research from them. So it’s a second-hand account. While not as reliable (obviously) as first-hand accounts, historians approve of and use second-hand accounts regularly. Also, the writers of the other gospels (especially Matthew and Luke) would have read Mark, and used it to help guide how their gospels were written.
Mark was written in Rome during the early church. At this time the early Christians were still being persecuted. Most likely Mark was written both to educate young believers, and to prepare followers for the persecution they were about to face. Many Christians were martyred at this time, and Mark may have been the encouragement they needed to stand up for their faith. But it was only intended to be an introduction to Jesus’s story and following Him, which is why it is so short. The author intended for you to continue your education through church leaders.
Mark does not focus as much on the teachings of Jesus as it does on His miracles and death. The Message Mark is trying to send is that Jesus was the Messiah, you can tell through His works. But Jesus was not the Messiah people were expecting. He emphasizes Jesus’s servant attitude, sacrifice, and secrecy to show the reader exactly how he was different than what the Jews expected. This is how they were able to be confused so easily into believing Jesus was not the Messiah. But Mark was written probably for a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles. While early, it was still written after Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Christians in Mark’s time were all sorts of people, anyone willing to accept Jesus’s message.
To sum up:
1. Mark is the earliest gospel
2. Mark’s primary goals were to teach about Jesus, prove He was the Messiah, and encourage early believers.