Posted in Bible

A Commentary on Mark 1:14-20

General Overview

The purpose of Mark’s Gospel is to proclaim Jesus the Son of God, who calls disciples to repent, to believe the Gospel, and to bear the cross. This will become evident in this section of the text.

The Gospel According to Mark is a Gospel of action. As compared with Matthew, Mark emphasizes the deeds of Jesus. The deeds of Jesus are by no means isolated from His words (the word is Jesus’ instrument in His deeds too). And Mark, repeatedly emphasizes the centrality of the word in the ministry of Jesus and the effect of its authority on men (1:14).

As you read Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry and Passion, take special note of the emphasis on discipleship and faith, especially in Mark 1:14-20.

Jesus begins His ministry in Galilee with authority (1:14-3:12) and proclaims the rule of God and calls disciples (1:14-20).

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Commentary

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

This is a great verse to memorize because it emphasizes the primary focus of Jesus’ ministry.

It is after Jesus has been baptized (1:9-11) and after He has returned from His wilderness experience (1:12-13) that John is arrested (6:14–29 gives the full account of the prophet’s imprisonment and execution). John’s arrest creates a transition into Jesus ministry and appears to push Jesus into the spotlight to become the new herald of the Gospel.

The fact that Jesus positions His ministry in Galilee is rather interesting in that John’s captor is Herod Antipas and Galilee is his territory. Is Jesus challenging him by starting here so soon after John’s condemnation of Herod or is Jesus merely politically naïve?

The focus of Jesus’ ministry is the proclamation of the gospel of God. The fact that His focus is not on miracles or other forms of ministry or even displays of power, reveals His own identity as the Word. The central importance of the Word for Jesus is not only seen here at the beginning of His ministry, but is also found at the very end of Mark’s Gospel where we read (Mark 16:7): But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

The gospel of God is summarized as:

  • The time is fulfilled
  • the kingdom of God is at hand…In Jesus, the kingdom of God or God’s reign and salvation, has come into the world and not only “is” present, but is fulfilled in Him. Martin Luther noted that to have His Word, true doctrine, and true worship, we also pray that His kingdom may be in us and remain in us; that is, that He may govern us in this doctrine and life, that He may protect and preserve us against all the power of the devil and his kingdom, and that He may shatter all the kingdoms that rage against His kingdom, so that it alone may remain” (AE 21:146). The kingdom of God is not to be understood here as a geographical expression alone but is present wherever and whenever people are ruled by God through faith in Christ. Even with the breaking in of the reign of God in Christ, we come to discover that not all problems are resolved. How shall we understand this fact? First, the reign of God can be understood to be here in principle, but coming to completion in the future. As a result, sin remains and the best we can have right now is but a foretaste of the feast to come. Second, the reign of God can be viewed as fulfilled but only within Christ who is the first fruits of the kingdom. We will fully join in His redemption and His kingdom in the resurrection.
  • repent and…This is a call to both contrition and a change of life and echoes John the Baptist’s message. This is the most basic statement concerning the Christian faith, that we are called to turn from sin and trust in the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
  • believe in the gospel. Technically, the Gospel does not include repentance but follows repentance (FC SD V:6)

Jesus’ gospel message sounds very much like John the Baptist’s and that of the the Old Testament prophets and yet the difference is that in Christ, the message of the Gospel is fulfilled.

16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.

After announcing Jesus’ mission and message, Mark then describes how Jesus begins to call disciples around Him, starting with Simon (whom Jesus would later name him Peter – 3:16) and his brother Andrew whose work was that of fishing.

The kind of fishing being done here involved casting a round net in contrast to what many of us are familiar with (rod and hook). Was this “casting” the kind of fishing for men that Jesus would teach them: to cast the Word.

 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Jesus’ call is phrased as a command: Follow me?

The promise Jesus offers them is described in terms they can relate to. If they follow Jesus, He will make them into fishers of men.

This phrase fishers of men originates in Jeremiah 16:10-21 (16) where God sends out both fishers and hunters to bring His people back, but not before judging them. Christ too has come to save, but also to reveal sin which is a necessary precursor to salvation. Jesus will not ignore sin and its implicit rejection of Him and the judgement that is its consequence.

Jesus’ calling of disciples stood in contrast to the rabbis of His day who would choose from among those who wanted to follow their teaching. Instead, Jesus chose those whom he wanted to follow Him. It was His invitation that drew people in.

18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

There is no hesitancy or questions on the part of Peter and Andrew as they respond immediately and leave behind their jobs to follow Jesus. One would expect all people to respond this way to Christ’s invitation, given the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s promise and the Son of God, but such would not be the case.

That they would leave their nets behind fits with one of the characteristics of following Jesus (John 1:35-37): To follow Jesus is to leave something or someone behind.

Even so, what becomes the basis upon which these disciples follow Jesus? How can a simple command evoke such a response?

19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets.

Jesus continues His recruitment further down the seashore where two other fisherman, James and John (Sons of Thunder – 3:17), are also identified.

James, John, Peter and Andrew would become the inner circle.

 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

As earlier mentioned, Jesus’ call stands in sharp contrast to both the rabbis whom pupils sought and rabbis chose, but also to the Greeks, who enticed followers through “call” stories. Jesus calls and there’s no time to “think about it.” Their response is immediate for it is like a time-limited offer.

In this second call, Mark also describes Jesus as acting without hesitation, calling James and John. In this case, they not only leave their jobs but also their family to follow Jesus. Although Jesus’ life and many of His followers were relatively poor, Jesus also had some like James and John who came from wealthier backgrounds.

The same invitation to discipleship confronts people today: either drop everything and, in faith, follow Jesus and make sacrifices, or run the risk of missing out on the Kingdom. Thankfully, we are not left to our own devices in this regard. God’s Holy Spirit, working through the Word and Sacraments, moves us to faithful discipleship and so also to eternal life.

Resources

  • The Lutheran Study Bible, pp.1652-53, 1656
  • Concordia Bible Commentary: Mark