Today we begin the New Testament. We have already considered the Gospel according to Matthew, Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, and the book of Hebrews to better understand them as they claim Christ fulfilled Old Testament promises. We will now go through the rest of the New Testament. We will necessarily only be able to touch the very tip of the iceberg as we go. We will begin with the Gospel according to Mark.
This is likely the first of the Gospel accounts. Mark wrote under the direction of the Apostle Peter. The style is different from Matthew, as Mark’s narrative moves very quickly. We will see the word “immediately” used a lot which gives the reader a sense of constant movement toward the climax of the story. He even begins somewhat abruptly and to the point: “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (1:1). Verse 2 picks up on the theme Malachi left off with, quoting Malachi 3:1. While verse 3 is a quote of Isaiah 40:3, that Mark applies both verses to Isaiah means that he views Malachi 3:1 as an interpretation of Isaiah’s prediction.
Mark is also fond of the word “all.” He uses it hyperbolically in many places to communicate the cosmic scale of these events. The entire country did not literally come out to John the Baptist (1:5). In his record of the baptism of Jesus, Mark speaks of the heavens being “torn open” or “split apart” (v. 10). This is the same term the Septuagint uses to describe the parting of the Red Sea. Mark is picturing a New Exodus with the beginning of Christ’s ministry.
Mark pulls from the book of Isaiah quite often. Verses 9-11 ring with echoes of Isaiah 9:1, 42:1, and 62:1. Verses 12-13 emphasize the wilderness and the wild animals that are there. This is an image Isaiah used often when speaking of judgment – the judged nation would be a wasteland or wilderness. Conversely, Isaiah spoke of God’s salvation as turning a wilderness into a fruitful field (see Isa 32:14-16). Mark is pointing to Jesus as the One bringing salvation from the wilderness, which He declares in verses 14-15, bringing to mind the promises of Isaiah 52:7 and 61:1. Note also that whereas Matthew speaks of the Spirit “leading” Jesus into the wilderness (Matt 4:1), here Mark says the Spirit “drove” Jesus there (immediately!). If both statements are true (which they are!), we see the sovereignty of God at work on the humanity of Jesus, and yet His voluntary following of God’s command. This is our example.
Mark’s record of the calling of the first disciples is similar to Matthew’s account. But whereas Matthew speaks broadly of the start of Jesus’s ministry in Capernaum, Mark gives us some detail. Jesus “immediately” begins preaching in the synagogue (v. 21), where there was “immediately” a demon possessed man (v. 23) who recognizes Who Jesus is (v. 24) even though the people wondered (v. 22, 27). Jesus then casts the demon out (vv. 25-26). This continues the New Exodus theme as part of that salvation was the judgment of false gods (demons – see Ex 12:12). This exorcism results in “all” who were demon possessed to be brought to Jesus (v. 32) Who demonstrates His authority over them all (v. 34).
However, casting out demons on an individual basis is not why Christ came. Healing the sick on an individual basis was not why Christ came. He came to preach the Gospel (v. 38). The salvation that Christ would provide on the cross would heal all of His people and would defeat all the powers of darkness. The individual miracles point us to the ultimate fulfillment of these things. This is part of the reason that Jesus is willing to leave those seeking Him to preach (vv. 37-39). But there’s more. He had to preach the Gospel and fulfill all prophecy, and too many miracles would bring too much attention to Him too soon (vv. 44-45).
The healing of the paralytic (2:1-12) is essentially the same as Matthew’s record. We will not consider many of the duplicate accounts. It is likely that Matthew relied on Mark’s account to help him write his account. In the calling of Matthew, however, we see an important difference between the accounts. Matthew says he was called by Christ (see Matt 9:9). Mark here says it was someone named Levi (v. 14 – see Luke 5:27). Matthew and Levi are the same person.
A few things to note here: first, while Mark and Luke use his given Hebrew name Levi, Matthew uses the name he was more well known as, showing his humility in admitting to his sinful past. Second, it leads us to wonder where the name “Matthew” came from. In the Greek, the name is actually Matthias – yes, like the man from Acts 1:26. In Hebrew, it is Mattath which means “gift”. “Matthew” is a Latinized version of the name. This is where our English Bibles get the name.
But how did Levi become Matthew? There were no middle names in first century Israel. There weren’t even last names. You were known either by where you were from (like Jesus of Nazareth or Judas Iscariot, which means from Kerioth) or by your father’s (or more famous ancestor’s) name (like Simon Bar-Jonah, which is Aramaic for “son of John” or here, Matthew son of Alphaeus). While I won’t die on this hill, I believe this is the name Jesus gave him, like He renamed Simon “Peter”. I think think points us to the promise of salvation where Jesus gives those He saves a “new name” (see Isa 62:2, Rev 2:17, 3:12).
In addition, Levi (Matthew) is here said to be the son of Alphaeus. Among the Twelve there was another son of Alphaeus. James (not the son of Zebedee, the other James – “James the Less” or “Little James”) is also called the son of Alphaeus (Matt 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13). It is likely that Matthew and Little James were brothers (like Simon and Andrew, or John and the other James).
In the two challenges by the people (v. 18) and the Pharisees (v. 24) and Jesus’s answers (vv. 19-22 and 25-28), along with Jesus’s question and actions in 3:1-6, we see Jesus correcting incorrect understandings of the Law. You will note that the chronology of these events is different in Matthew and Mark. Remember, the Gospel writers didn’t all organize their material chronologically. Matthew and Mark both jump around chronologically for theological reasons. Mark does not record the Sermon on the Mount, so he offers these “quick hits” together to show Jesus’s teaching about the Law.
In 3:11-12, we again see the authority over the demons and their recognition of Who Jesus is. In Mark’s record of the calling of the Twelve (vv. 13-19) we see the motif of the “new name” once again. We should look at Mark’s account of the “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” confrontation against the backdrop of his reliance on Isaiah and his “New Exodus” theme. Here, Jesus pronounces against the Jewish leaders what Isaiah said of Israel in Isaiah 63:10-14, which speaks of God’s salvation in Exodus language, but Israel’s rebellion as being against the Holy Spirit. We should also see an allusion to Isaiah 49:24 in the plundering of Satan’s goods.
In chapter 4, Mark groups together some parables of Jesus. The Parable of the Sower (4:1-20) is essentially the same as in Matthew 13. Mark may have taken the Parable of the Lamp (vv. 21-24) from the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt 5:14-16). These parables combine with the two seed parables (vv. 26-29 and 30-32) as a teaching about who we are (the lamp) and what we do (yield fruit) which grows the kingdom until His return (the harvest).