Mark 1 Commentary

Mark 1:5-8

It is clear that the ministry of John was mightily effective, for they flocked out to listen to him and to submit to his baptism. Why was it that John made an impact such as this upon his nation?

(i) He was a man who lived his message. Not only his words, but also his whole life was a protest. Three things about him marked the reality of his protest against contemporary life.

(a) There was the place in which he stayed—the wilderness. Between the centre of Judaea and the Dead Sea lies one of the most terrible deserts in the world. It is a limestone desert; it looks warped and twisted; it shimmers in the haze of the heat; the rock is hot and blistering and sounds hollow to the feet as if there was some vast furnace underneath; it moves out to the Dead Sea and then descends in dreadful and unscalable precipices down to the shore. In the Old Testament it is sometimes called Jeshimmon, which means The Devastation. John was no city-dweller. He was a man from the desert and from its solitudes and its desolations. He was a man who had given himself a chance to hear the voice of God.

(b) There were the clothes he wore—a garment woven of camel’s hair and a leather belt about his waist. So did Elijah (2 Kings 1:8). To look at the man was to be reminded, not of the fashionable orators of the day, but of the ancient prophets who lived close to the great simplicities and avoided the soft and effeminate luxuries which kill the soul.[1]

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Many a man comes with a message which he himself denies. Many a man with a comfortable bank account preaches about not laying up treasures upon earth. Many a man extols the blessings of poverty from a comfortable home. But in the case of John, the man was the message, and because of that people listened.

(ii) His message was effective because he told people what in their heart of hearts they knew and brought them what in the depths of their souls they were waiting for.[2]

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(iii) His message was effective because he was completely humble. His own verdict on himself was that he was not fit for the duty of a slave. Sandals were composed simply of leather soles fastened to the foot by straps passing through the toes. The roads were unsurfaced. In dry weather they were dust heaps; in wet weather rivers of mud. To remove the sandals was the work and office of a slave. John asked nothing for himself but everything for the Christ whom he proclaimed. The man’s obvious self-forgottenness, his patent yieldedness, his complete self-effacement, his utter lostness in his message compelled people to listen.

(iv) His message was effective because he pointed to something and someone beyond himself. He told men that his baptism drenched them in water, but one was coming who would drench them in the Holy Spirit; and while water could cleanse a man’s body, the Holy Spirit could cleanse his life and self and heart.[3]

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Mark 1:9-11

To any thinking person the baptism of Jesus presents a problem. John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, meant for those who were sorry for their sins and who wished to express their determination to have done with them. What had such a baptism to do with Jesus? Was he not the sinless one, and was not such a baptism unnecessary and quite irrelevant as far as he was concerned? For Jesus the baptism was four things.

(i) It was the moment of decision. For thirty years he had stayed in Nazareth. Faithfully he had done his day’s work and discharged his duties to his home. For long he must have been conscious that the time for him to go out had to come. He must have waited for a sign. The emergence of John was that sign. This, he saw, was the moment when he had to launch out upon his task.[4]

(ii) It was the moment of identification. It is true that Jesus did not need to repent from sin; but here was a movement of the people back to God; and with that Godward movement he was determined to identify himself. A man might himself possess ease and comfort and wealth and still identify himself with a movement to bring better things to the downtrodden and the poor and the ill-housed and the over-worked and the underpaid. The really great identification is when a man identifies himself with a movement, not for his own sake, but for the sake of others.[5]

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(i)     The beasts were his companions. In the desert there roamed the leopard, the bear, the wild boar and the jackal. This is usually taken to be a vivid detail that adds to the grim terror of the scene. But perhaps it is not so. Perhaps this is a lovely thing, for perhaps it means that the beasts were Jesus’ friends. Amidst the dreams of the golden age when the Messiah would come, the Jews dreamed of a day when the enmity between man and the beasts would no longer exist. “I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground.” (Hosea 2:18.) “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. … The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den; they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:6–9.) In later days St. Francis preached to the beasts; and it may be that here we have a first foretaste of the loveliness when man and the beasts shall be at peace[6]

(ii) The angels were helping him. There are ever the divine reinforcements in the hour of trial. When Elisha and his servant were shut up in Dothan with their enemies pressing in upon them and no apparent way of escape, Elisha opened the young man’s eyes and all around he saw the horses and the chariots of fire which belonged to God. (2 Kings 6:17.) Jesus was not left to fight his battle alone—and neither are we. [7]

Mark 1:14-15

(ii) There is the word repent. Now repentance is not so easy as sometimes we think. The Greek word metanoia literally means a change of mind. We are very apt to confuse two things—sorrow for the consequences of sin and sorrow for sin. Many a man is desperately sorry because of the mess that sin has got him into, but he very well knows that, if he could be reasonably sure that he could escape the consequences, he would do the same thing again. It is not the sin that he hates; it is its consequences.

Real repentance means that a man has come, not only to be sorry for the consequences of his sin, but to hate sin itself. Long ago that wise old writer, Montaigne, wrote in his autobiography, “Children should be taught to hate vice for its own texture, so that they will not only avoid it in action, but abominate it in their hearts—that the very thought of it may disgust them whatever form it takes.” Repentance means that the man who was in love with sin comes to hate sin because of its exceeding sinfulness.

(iii) There is the word believe. “Believe,” says Jesus, “in the good news.” To believe in the good news simply means to take Jesus at his word, to believe that God is the kind of God that Jesus has told us about, to believe that God so loves the world that he will make any sacrifice to bring us back to himself, to believe that what sounds too good to be true is really true.[8]

The words in v. 14—“after John was put in prison …”  Ominious words.  The world is not friendly to prophets.  Such a man of God, yet the response of his generation would be to ultimately do away with him.  Forshadows the fate that would eventually befall Jesus himself.  Froshadows the environment of persecution, hostility and rejection that will accompany all future christian witness—in the midst of the people who confess their sins, repent and get baptized, there are other powers at work which will attempt to thwart God’s work.

Kingdom of God – Jesus FIRST task was to preach the good news.  What’s the good news?  That the kingdom of God is near, and that people can enter into it by trusting that this is so, and repenting fo their sins.  What is KOG?  Man has been in rebellion against the rightful Lord and King of their lives—God, their creator and heavenly King.  They’ve done so by rejecting his authority in the form of moral rebellion and claiming personal autonomy. They’ve each set up their own little kingdom in which each man claims to be his own God, setting down his own rules, and affirming himself by himself, violating God’s boundaries, and refusing to acknowledge the one from whom life, and all good things have come.  This is about to be changed by God himself, as he comes close to rebellious man in the form of the Gospel of Jesus.  To repent means to enter into this kingdom of God—i.e., the place of God’s rule, when man yeilds the throneroom of his heart back to God.  God will not punish. This is the good news.  Amnesty is declared for the rebels, if they will lay down the weapons of their rebellion and come home.  Jesus comes to declare the message of this amnesty, and also to make the amnesty possible through his death on the cross.

(i)     We must notice what they were. They were simple folk. They did not come from the schools and the colleges; they were not drawn from the ecclesiastics or the aristocracy; they were neither learned nor wealthy. They were fishermen. That is to say, they were ordinary people. No one ever believed in the ordinary man as Jesus did.

It was as if Jesus said, “Give me twelve ordinary men and with them, if they will give themselves to me, I will change the world.” A man should never think so much of what he is as of what Jesus Christ can make him.

(iv) Lastly we must note what Jesus offered them. He offered them a task. He called them not to ease but to service. Someone has said that what every man needs is “something in which he can invest his life.” So Jesus called his men, not to a comfortable ease and not to a lethargic inactivity; he called them to a task in which they would have to spend themselves and burn themselves up, and, in the end, die for his sake and for the sake of their fellow men. He called them to a task wherein they could win something for themselves only by giving their all to him and to others.[9]

(a) The synagogue was primarily a teaching institution. The synagogue service consisted of only three things—prayer, the reading of God’s word, and the exposition of it. There was no music, no singing and no sacrifice. It may be said that the Temple was the place of worship and sacrifice; the synagogue was the place of teaching and instruction. The synagogue was by far the more influential, for there was only one Temple. But the law laid it down that wherever there were ten Jewish families there must be a synagogue, and, therefore, wherever there was a colony of Jews, there was a synagogue. If a man had a new message to preach, the synagogue was the obvious place in which to preach it.[10]

Mark 1:16–20

Mark gave only the briefest description of the events surrounding the call of Jesus’ disciples. Andrew and Peter had earlier contact with Jesus, according to Jn 1:35–42, and Peter’s call was more extended than Mark’s presentation of it, according to Lk 5:1–11. This does not undermine the historicity of Mark’s account; his narrative interest was not in the historical details but in the authority of Jesus. He was not concerned to tell us precisely how the disciples were called but rather that they were called and that they responded in complete submission to Jesus.[11]

Mark 1:21–28
Authority over Demons

The account of the fishermen demonstrates the claims Jesus’ authority makes on his followers’ lives, but the verses that follow it demonstrate his authority over evil spirits (cf. 1:12–13). ..

The place that Jesus encounters his first demon may shock Mark’s readers: it is in a religious institution.[12]

Mark 1:32–34.

The sabbath ended Saturday at sundown. Mark mentions that it was “after sunset” to let us know that the sabbath is over, because it would have violated the sabbath for anyone to have carried someone on the sabbath.[13]

Three times we have seen Jesus healing people. First he healed in the synagogue; second, he healed in the house of his friends; and now he healed in the street. Jesus recognized the claim of everyone.[14]

The people flocked to Jesus because they recognized in him a man who could do things. There were plenty who could talk and expound and lecture and preach; but here was one who dealt not only in words but also in actions. [i.e. actual life transformation … this is what the world hungers to see]

But there is the beginning of tragedy here. The crowds came, but they came because they wanted something out of Jesus. They did not come because they loved him; they did not come because they had caught a glimpse of some new vision; in the last analysis they wanted to use him. [15]


[1] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (15–16). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[2] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (16–17). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[3] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (17–18). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[4] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (18–19). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[5] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (19–20). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[6] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (23–24). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[7] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (24). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[8] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (26). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[9] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (29). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[10] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (30). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[11] Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (1468–1469). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[12] Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[13] Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[14] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (39). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[15] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (39–40). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

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