Mark, Marcus [Märk,Mär'cus]—a large hammer or polite. John Mark was a Jew and a son of Mary, who was a leading Christian at Jerusalem.
Mark was the Roman surname of this young associate of the apostle, while his first name, John, was his Hebrew name. Mark was an apostle but held no official position among the original Twelve. The first time we come across “John, whose surname was Mark,” it is in connection with one of the most remarkable prayer meetings ever held. Herod, who had just beheaded James, had Peter under arrest. But the many friends of “The Big Fisherman” gathered in the home of “Mary the mother of John Mark” for prayer, which the Lord wonderfully answered (Acts 12:12).
Mark’s mother was a godly, well-to-do widow in Jerusalem and her house was a favorite meeting place for the saints (Acts 12:12; Col. 4:10). Her brother, Barnabas, Mark’s uncle, was a wealthy Levite from the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:1-5). In Barnabas, Mark had a staunch and gifted friend and counselor (Acts 11:24). While we are not told how or when Mark became a disciple of Christ, it is evident that he owed his conversion to Peter, since the apostle speaks of him as “Marcus, my son” (1 Pet. 5:13). Thereafter he became a close companion of Peter for about twelve years. Doubtless Mark had heard and seen Christ. Tradition identifies Mark as “the certain young man,” who followed Christ when all His disciples forsook Him and fled (Mark 14:51).
Mark became an attendant of Paul and Barnabas when they set out on their great mission tour (Acts 13:5), and these two godly men must have had a formative influence upon the character of young Mark. However, our next glimpse of him is disappointing. In the early years of his service, Mark was guilty of vacillating (Acts 13:13; 15:38). The ploughman looked back. So full of promise, Mark failed Paul and Barnabas at a crisis and brought about a severance of friends. The fear of what lay ahead in arduous missionary enterprise moved Mark to retrace his steps (Acts 13:13; 15:38).
But Mark won his spurs again and recovered his place in apostolic esteem. The years the locusts had eaten were restored and he became a valued colleague of Paul (Col. 4:10, 11; Philem. 24). A further impressive testimony to Mark’s reinstatement is found in Paul’s tribute to Mark’s usefulness (2 Tim. 4:11). The wound was thoroughly healed. In the eventide of his life, Peter could write affectionately of Mark (1 Pet. 5:13). Tradition says that Mark became a bishop and a martyr and that his body was removed to Venice and buried there. St. Mark’s of Venice is dedicated to his fragrant memory. The Lion, the emblem of Mark’s Roman Gospel, is emblazoned on the standard of the Venetian Republic.
As the ministry of Mark was peculiarly a Gentile one, he is recognized by his Gentile name. Writing specifically for Romans, who stood for power, Mark manifests Christ’s power in service. Accustomed as Mark was to the might of Rome’s legions, he exhibits the soldier’s rapidity of movement and readiness to repel attack, and gives us in his shortest and simplest gospel, a progressive series of victorious conflicts. Vividness, compactness, direction, circumstantial evidence characterize his gospel.
The main lessons to be learned from the life of Mark are apparent:
I. The blessings of a godly home. The Christian Church owes much to “Mary, the mother of John Mark.”
II. Much depends upon the choice of friends. Mark’s life was lived in the company of godly men such as Peter, Paul and Barnabas.
III. The possibilities of life. A widow’s son became an apostle and a great historian, and his name is upon the lips of men the world over.
IV. The reward for faithful service. We do not read of Mark preaching a single sermon or performing even one miracle. All that is said about him is that he was a helper of others. Such service never fails to receive its reward.