John Mark

INTRODUCTION: Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name, but there is nothing about him in any of the four gospel accounts. The book of Acts and some of the letters to the churches are the only sources of information to learn more about John who was surnamed Mark. In some of the passages only his given name John is used to identify him, so care is needed in the search for information. The name Mark (or Marcus) means "a defense." In the New Testament a surname was not commonly a family last name as for today, rather it was usually applied to describe a personal quality such as with Peter (stone) and with Barnabas (son of exhortation). I began with some information about Barnabas and Paul because of the influence they had on John Mark.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the 1901 American Standard Version.


A - BARNABAS WAS AN EARLY MEMBER OF THE JERUSALEM CHURCH

Acts 4 "32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul: and not one [of them] said that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. 33 And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. 34 For neither was there among them any that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto each, according as any one had need. 36 And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of exhortation), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, 37 having a field, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet."

COMMENTS: Because Barnabas had significant contact and relationship with John Mark, knowing more about Barnabas can suggest the influence his character could have on others. Barnabas was a Jew from Cypress, which was later the first stop for the initial evangelistic tour commissioned by the church at Antioch. The early commitment to the body of believers was demonstrated when Barnabas sold his own property and gave everything to the apostles for the needs of believers in Jerusalem.


B - BARNABAS AND SAUL BECAME PARTNERS IN TEACHING AT ANTIOCH

Acts 11 "19 They therefore that were scattered abroad upon the tribulation that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the word to none save only to Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number that believed turned unto the Lord. 22 And the report concerning them came to the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas as far as Antioch: 23 who, when he was come, and had seen the grace of God, was glad; and he exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord: 24 for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. 25 And he went forth to Tarsus to seek for Saul; 26 and when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church, and taught much people, and that the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch."

COMMENTS: Antioch was a significant church because it was started by believers from Cypress and Cyrene who were among those scattered during the persecution following the stoning of Stephen. The others who were scattered shared the gospel only with Jews. When the conversion of Gentiles at Antioch became known, the leadership in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to verify the authenticity of the faith in Christ within that assembly. Barnabas did not apparently return to Jerusalem after his positive assessment, but went to Tarsus and brought Saul back to this new local assembly of believers where the two of them taught many people for a year. Antioch became the place where believers were first called Christians, and that may have been because there beginning as an assembly was with unnamed Christians who desired to share their faith in Christ even with Gentiles, demonstrating the union of Jew and Gentile in Christ.


C - BARNABAS AND SAUL TOOK SUPPORT FROM ANTIOCH TO JUDEA

Acts 11 "27 Now in these days there came down prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. 28 And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be a great famine over all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius. 29 And the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren that dwelt in Judea: 30 which also they did, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul."

Acts 12 "1 Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the church. 2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. And [those] were the days of unleavened bread. 4 And when he had taken him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to guard him; intending after the Passover to bring him forth to the people. 5 Peter therefore was kept in the prison: but prayer was made earnestly of the church unto God for him."

COMMENTS: The disciples at Antioch wanted to give from their resources to meet the needs of Believers in Judea because of the hardships related to the widespread famine at that time. The assembly sent those donations with Barnabas and Saul to be distributed by the elders there. At about that same time Herod the king began violent persecution to the body of Christ. He had James the brother of John killed, then he had Peter placed into prison planning to kill him after the Passover. There were believers who gathered at a house specifically to pray for Peter to be spared.


D - THE GATHERING FOR PRAYER WAS AT THE HOUSE OF JOHN MARK'S MOTHER

Acts 12 "10 And when they were past the first and the second guard, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth into the city; which opened to them of its own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and straightway the angel departed from him. 11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a truth, that the Lord hath sent forth his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. 12 And when he had considered [the thing], he came to the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a maid came to answer, named Rhoda. 14 And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for joy, but ran in, and told that Peter stood before the gate. 15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she confidently affirmed that it was even so. And they said, It is his angel. 16 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened, they saw him, and were amazed. 17 But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him forth out of the prison. And he said, Tell these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went to another place."

COMMENTS: Peter was not fully aware of what was happening while an angel freed him and led him away from the guards within the prison; and those guards had no idea how or when it happened. When Peter reached the house he asked them to be calm while he explained the miracle that the Lord had done for him. He instructed them to tell James and the other brethren, while he went to some undesignated location. We know from verse 12 the gathering was in the house of Mary, the mother of John mark. It is not stated that he was in the house, but that is likely. There is no mention of Mary's husband, and Rhoda a maid is the only other name given among those at the house. We are not given the explanation of why Peter went directly to that house, but we know he did not go from there to immediately join James and the other brethren.


E - JOHN MARK WENT TO ANTIOCH WITH BARNABAS AND SAUL

Acts 12 "20 Now he was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: and they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was fed from the king's country. 21 And upon a set day Herod arrayed himself in royal apparel, and sat on the throne, and made an oration unto them. 22 And the people shouted, [saying], The voice of a god, and not of a man. 23 And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. 24 But the word of God grew and multiplied. 25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministration, taking with them John whose surname was Mark."

COMMENTS: Verses 20 through 24 above provide some context for the period of time Barnabas and Saul were in Jerusalem before they headed back to Antioch. After Peter's disappearance from the Jail and Herod had the guards put to death for losing their prisoner, he met his own death directly by an act of God. But after these events the Word of God grew and multiplied. There had been great difficulty for the church with threats of more to come, but that was followed by blessings from the Lord. There is no explanation of why John who was surnamed Mark joined with Barnabas and Paul after they had completed their ministry purpose in Judea. the three men went together from Jerusalem to Antioch.


F - JOHN MARK LEFT BARNABAS AND SAUL

Acts 13 "1 Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was [there], prophets and teachers, Barnabas, and Symeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen the foster-brother of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4 So they, being sent forth by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they were at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John as their attendant. 6 And when they had gone through the whole island unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Bar-Jesus; 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of understanding. The same called unto him Barnabas and Saul, and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn aside the proconsul from the faith. 9 But Saul, who is also [called] Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on him, 10 and said, O full of all guile and all villany, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord. 13 Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem."

COMMENTS: As the "prophets and teachers mentioned in the opening of this chapter were together praying about ministry for the Lord, in the concentrated manner of also fasting, the Holy Spirit told them to separate Barnabas and Saul to the work to which they were called. Verse 3 then states that after prayer and fasting the assembly laid hands on Barnabas and Saul and sent them out. There is no mention of John Mark being designated by the Holy Spirit or that he was with Barnabas and Saul at the laying on of hands. but in verse 5 we are told that they had john as their attendant when they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews at Salamis.

In verse 9 for the first time in scripture it is stated that Saul was also called Paul. After that point he was no longer identified as Saul, except in Acts chapter 22 and 26 when he described his own conversion. Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit when he told the interfering sorcerer that the hand of the Lord was upon him, and he would be completely blind for a time. When that immediately happened, the astonished proconsul came to faith in the Lord. In verse 13 leadership seems established as it states that "Paul and his company" set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia. Without any reason given, the text states that John departed from them and returned to Jerusalem.


G - PAUL AND BARNABAS COMPLETED THEIR EVANGELISTIC TOUR

Acts 14 "26 and thence they sailed to Antioch, from whence they had been committed to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. 27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all things that God had done with them, and that he had opened a door of faith unto the Gentiles. 28 And they tarried no little time with the disciples. 15:1 And certain men came down from Judaea and taught the brethren, [saying], Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, [the brethren] appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question."

Acts 15 "22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men out of their company, and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; [namely], Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: 23 and they wrote [thus] by them, The apostles and the elders, brethren, unto the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting: 24 Forasmuch as we have heard that certain who went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls; to whom we gave no commandment; 25 it seemed good unto us, having come to one accord, to choose out men and send them unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves also shall tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Fare ye well."

COMMENTS: When Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch from their evangelistic journey the text tells us: 1) they had been committed to the grace of God for the work, 2) they had fulfilled that work, 3) they gathered the church together and reviewed what God had done with them, and 4) they stated that God had opened a door of faith unto the Gentiles. I numbered the items to highlight that God was given the credit for everything accomplished. Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch for some time after they had return.

When certain men came down to Antioch from Judea they taught that Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved. Paul and Barnabas had a strong disagreement with that teaching and disputed with those men about their claim. The assembly sent Paul and Barnabas and certain others to Jerusalem to set the question of required Gentile circumcision before the apostles and elders.

After some time of discussion at Jerusalem, the final action was to send Barnabas and Paul back to Antioch with a letter stating there was no authority from the apostles and elders to require Gentiles to be circumcised. Barnabas and Paul were described as beloved, and Judas and Silas were named as part of the Jerusalem assembly who would further verify the answer by their personal testimony at Antioch. There is no mention of others to accompany Barnabas and Paul, but in the next section John Mark is once again at Antioch.


H - PAUL AND BARNABAS STRONGLY DISAGREED ABOUT JOHN MARK

Acts 15 "35 But Paul and Barnabas tarried in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also. 36 And after some days Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us return now and visit the brethren in every city wherein we proclaimed the word of the Lord, [and see] how they fare. 37 And Barnabas was minded to take with them John also, who was called Mark. 38 But Paul thought not good to take with them him who withdrew from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp contention, so that they parted asunder one from the other, and Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed away unto Cyprus; 40 but Paul chose Silas, and went forth, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord."

COMMENTS: Paul asked Barnabas to go with him to visit the places where they had shared the word of the Lord, to learn of the present state of affairs. Barnabas wanted to take John along, who was called Mark. Paul did not want to take him because he had left the work previously when they reached Pamphylia. The resulting disagreement was so strong that they went separate ways. Barnabas took Mark with him, and sailed to Cyprus, with no other information for what they would do in the place that had been the homeland for Barnabas. Paul chose Silas and as they went out, the text says they were commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. There is no mention of an assembly blessing for Barnabas and John Mark. Verse 39 is the last reference to both Barnabas and Mark in the book of Acts, but God had not stopped using them in his work.


I - PAUL AND PETER MENTION MARK IN SOME EPISTLES

2 Timothy 4 "9 Give diligence to come shortly unto me: 10 for Demas forsook me, having loved this present world, and went to Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is useful to me for ministering."

Colossians 4 "10 Aristarchus my fellow-prisoner saluteth you, and Mark, the cousin of Barnabas (touching whom ye received commandments; if he come unto you, receive him), 11 and Jesus that is called Justus, who are of the circumcision: these only [are my] fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God, men that have been a comfort unto me."

Philemon 1 "23 Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, saluteth thee; 24 [and so do] Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow-workers. 25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."

1 Peter 5 "13 She that is in Babylon, elect together with [you], saluteth you; and [so doth] Mark my son. 14 Salute one another with a kiss of love. Peace be unto you all that are in Christ."

Mark 16 "19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen."

COMMENTS: In Paul's second letter to Timothy he said only Luke was with him, but he wanted Timothy to bring Mark when he came, because he said Mark "is useful to me for ministering." In Colossians chapter 4 Paul says Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, sent greetings to them, and if he visited, they should receive him since he had delivered commandments. At the close of Paul's letter to Philemon he includes Mark as one of his fellow workers. As Peter closed his first letter he referred to Mark as his "son" who was sending greetings. Mark has the distinction of being only one of four men chosen by God to record a gospel account, so I have above quoted Mark's closing verses for a brief point to consider how the Holy Spirit guided his writing to be part of the continual spread of the gospel of Christ throughout the world.

--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

Lord, my study has helped me to discover passages revealing that John mark was among believers in the early church at Jerusalem and was at the church in Antioch twice. He was in Jerusalem when strong persecution brought about the death of some of the early church leaders. The prayer for Peter to be spared was held at his mother's house, and he knew of some of the miraculous events that took place during that time. He was a relative of Barnabas and they had a close relationship with each other. John Mark may not have preached or taught the word of God directly, but he was definitely committed to the teamwork involved in the spread of the gospel of Christ.

His decision to leave for Jerusalem early in his journey with Paul and Barnabas did not disqualify him for service to his Lord and Savior. Through passages in the book of Acts, and some brief references in the letters of two apostles, his connection with significant men of leadership is further indicated. The gospel that bears his name which means "a defense," was written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as with all scripture. It is certainly useful for a defense of the gospel of Christ, the Son of God. Thank you, Lord, that I am again reminded of the diversity within the body of Christ. Whether a man is small or great in the eyes of men, only those who give all glory in their lives to the true and living God are truly blessed. May I be yielded to the design you have for me for service in your kingdom. Amen, and amen.

Published 30 March 2017