This is part 1 of a multi-part series on the book of Mark.
The word gospel was used in the ancient world often for military victories, but the apostles and writers of the Scriptures co-opted it for language of being saved from the enemy’s kingdom into the Kingdom of God for Eternity.
The word beginning means not just the first in a sequence but the origin of something.
Mark quotes from Exodus 23:20, Malachi 3:1, and Isaiah 40:3. John the Baptist got to play an incredible role in preparing people for the Messiah. In a way, this is now the job for every follower of Jesus. Our attitude should be like his: “After me comes one who is mightier than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (1:7).
John was baptizing in the wilderness in the River Jordan, intentionally calling everyone to re-cross the river and enter the promised land from the wilderness (the place of preparation before they were allowed after the Exodus).
Others in the first century also led Israelites to re-enact the Exodus into the wilderness and the crossing of the Jordan in hopes of getting to experience liberation from Rome. But deliverance from Rome was to follow deliverance from sin, because without freedom from sin they would simply find another captor. We will only ever be free from captivity when we are free from the root of our slavery from within and fully living within the Kingdom of God.
Mark says that when Jesus came out of the water, the heavens were “torn open” (1:10), thus fulfilling Isaiah’s cry: “Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1). Instead of all hell breaking loose, all heaven was breaking loose. Heaven was beginning to come down and make its dwelling among us. Praise God!
The beginning of Mark records the tearing of heaven so Jesus could come down to us (1:10), and the end records the tearing of the temple curtain so that we could go up to Him (15:38).
The language of the wilderness and the number “40” (though days instead of years) was meant to harken us back to the Exodus.
Jesus would be the new Adam. Adam was tempted in the garden paradise and cast out for sinning. Jesus left paradise and went to the wilderness to be tempted (1:12-13) so that He could bring us back to paradise!
Jesus would be the new Elijah. Elijah failed and fled to the wilderness and asked the LORD to take his life out of pity, and angels ministered to him (1 Kings 19:1-8). Jesus went to the wilderness in the power of the Spirit and refused to succumb to self-pity, instead strengthening Himself to die for us out of love (1:12-13).
Once John was arrested, Jesus went back to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God). In Judea and Jerusalem there was opposition (John was arrested) and it was too early. In Galilee Jesus was more accepted early on. The Kingdom of God was now in their presence!
Jesus started not by making himself attractive so that potential disciples would approach him, but by approaching them and commanding (not asking, highly unusual for a rabbi) them to follow Him. Further, Jesus tells Simon and Andrew that He will make them fishers of men. God had told His people in Jeremiah 16:16 that He would bring fishers to catch men. Now Jesus is saying that He is doing that same thing, making an obvious connection statement between himself and His Father.
Many seminarians argue that Jesus came primarily to preach and that miracles and healings were secondary, only serving to prove that He was who He said He was. Meyer argues that He came to preach (1:38), and thus everything else was of secondary importance.
It’s as if Peter and Andrew left their nets (1:17) for good and James and John left their father, Zebedee (1:20), for good. Yet, we know Peter and the gang continued to fish and that Zebedee is mentioned later still associated with his sons. We read way too far into the Scriptures to claim that they “left” things never to return because now they realized “ministry” was more important.
Yet, is this true? Is there a separation in Jesus’ mind between preaching and His other activities?
When we lived in Alaska, we were regulars at a wonderful restaurant called Glacier Brewhouse. They have the best dessert I’ve ever had to this day: the epic peanut butter pie. What if I told you of the gospel of peanut butter pie, and I offered you a piece only to prove that it’s really that good? Then I didn’t give you anymore, but expected just the news of peanut butter to satisfy you (after all, I’ve only had the memory to go on between trips back to Anchorage!). It would be strange, wouldn’t it? Both the anticipation that causes your mouth to water as you hear about peanut butter pie and the taste itself are part of this good news. Jesus didn’t just use miracles to prove his words – both were necessary to create the peanut butter pie effect: the anticipation and the taste go together hand-in-glove.
The gospel of the Kingdom is that there is a King who is here to fully establish His rule and reign. Jesus didn’t have the same dichotomy that we have, so in His mind all of His activities were working toward the fulfillment of His Kingdom’s reign. His rule is no good if He only preaches of something and doesn’t wipe out the evil in our midst. The truth is, He IS doing that but because of a timeline lag we think the preaching is more important. It will take a good long time to wipe out the evil completely from our planet, but make no mistake – Jesus has been doing that since the inauguration 2,000 years ago.
Instead, we should realize that for His rule to be firmly established we must have changed hearts. Without transformation, we would continue on in our evil and ugliness, and His casting our of demons would be replaced by others being infested. When we have transformed hearts, we can begin bringing His Kingdom to bear in ways we couldn’t before. That is why preaching the Good News of salvation by grace through faith precedes the fullness of the Kingdom. It’s not in order of importance but simply in chronological order.
In fact, those who argue that Jesus rebuked his disciples in 1:38 by responding that He must go to the next town and preach (rather than continue to cast out demons in Capernaum), must contend with the very next verse:
“And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (1:39). He didn’t stop casting out demons because preaching was more important, but because He needed to continue doing both all throughout Galilee on his limited time table.
We must stop thinking of B4T as a method of a strategy and instead as a lifestyle. Conceptually, it threads the word and the action, the speaking and the doing, together so that the fullness of the Kingdom is inaugurated.
 David Rhoads and Donald Michie, Mark as Story, p 69.
 Jason Meyer, Mark For You, p 37.
Greg is the President of OPEN USA. He used his education to work as a tentmaker in the Middle East for 8.5 years seeking to plant a church amongst a least-reached people group. Currently back in the USA with his wife and children, they aim to return to finish what the LORD used them to start.
To learn more about B4T, read Business for Transformation by Patrick Lai.