A Survey of Mark’s Gospel

The Last Hours, Part One

Mark is such a lopsided Gospel. He spends fully one third of his Gospel on the last week of Jesus on Earth. He spends two full chapters on just the last 24 hours of His life alone! Mark gives almost no information about the life of Jesus before His ministry began, yet gives every excruciating detail surrounding Peter’s denial of Jesus. He rushes through Jesus’ teachings at breakneck speed but then slows down to a crawl as he describes the Last Supper. If we only had Mark’s Gospel, we would no virtually nothing about Jesus’ family but everything about a woman who washed His feet. Why did Mark write such a lopsided Gospel? To him, it wasn’t lopsided at all. To Mark, the most important event in the life of Christ was His death; far more important than childhood details and incidents during His life. Mark tells us everything we need to know surround the death of Christ.

This was important in the first century, given the fact that a new religion was founded by some fanatic who appeared to be criminal. To enemies of this new faith, this kind of gossip was prefect for discouraging new believers, whether Jew or Gentile. After all, who wants their good name associated with a criminal? That’s why Mark gives so many details about the conspiracy against our Lord, about His innocence in the face of jealous and petty religious leaders.

Theologically, the Gospel of Mark is a true masterpiece. Unlike the other two Gospels and John, Mark shows the degree to which God is willing go in order to save man and establish His Kingdom. Consider the irony: Jesus had taught that in His Father’s Kingdom the least would be the greatest. Hanging on the Cross, Jesus became the very least of all men.

1. Judas, 14:10—11

The priests had already decided to destroy Jesus—

Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.” (14:1—2)

But how would they do it? Jesus was still very popular among the people. A solution would present itself in the person of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ friends, in fact, Judas was the only one of the Twelve Jesus ever referred to as His “friend.” In Matthew’s account of Judas’ meeting with the chief priests, it is Judas himself who suggests betrayal for money. But who was this man?

Judas was one of the Twelve, and he was the treasurer of group (John 12:6). He was apparently trusted by all the rest, followed Jesus during His earthly ministry, but was never fully committed to Christ—

Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (John 6:70)

Professing to be a son of God, Judas was in reality the son of perdition (John 17:12). He was destined because of his unrepentant heart to a lost eternity. Luke said this of Judas in Acts 1:25—

… Judas left to go where he belongs.

That is a very cryptic way of saying that Judas never belong in the family of God; he followed Jesus, but had never given his life to Jesus. But that still doesn’t explain why Judas did such a thing: betray an innocent man for money. Many scholars have suggested a variety of reasons: jealousy, greed, disappointment with Jesus’ mission, and although we can never know what was in his mind, we know what was in his heart. At some point, Judas yielded to the dark thoughts of his soul and opened the door for Satan to come in. Judas, whose name literally means “Judah,” which itself means, ironically, “praise,” was about set in motion events that would change the world.

2. A long dinner, 14:12—21

Time was winding down for “the Lamb of God.” Very soon, He would be slain as “our Passover.” In the interim, Jesus would have one last opportunity to fellowship with His closest friends; that opportunity would be the Passover meal. They were all visitors to Jerusalem, and it was customary for many larger households to open up guestrooms for groups, such as Jesus as the Twelve so they could observe this most solemn of Jewish rites.

Jesus foresaw all of this, and He sent two disciples into the heart of the city with very specific instructions to find a man carrying a water jug. How many men in Jerusalem that night would be carrying a pitcher of water? Probably not very many, it any at all, as that was considered part of the woman’s duties; to see a man carrying a large pitcher of water would be strange indeed.

After all the food was purchased and the preparations made, that evening, the 14th of Nisan, the same day Jesus would die, He dined with His twelve friends for the last time on earth. This meal commemorated Israel’s escape from Egypt and the birth of her nationhood. It was a sacred hour intended to strengthen the family unit and bind God’s chosen people to Himself.

The guests at the Passover meal reclined on small couches on a level with the tables, each person leaning on his left arm with his feet extending outward. As they ate and fellowshipped together, Jesus suddenly made this awful prediction—

[O]ne of you will betray me—one who is eating with me. (vs. 18b)

Of course all the disciples were shocked and saddened. It was surely unbelievable that one them could do such a heinous thing. Jesus further identified the one who would betray Him as “one who is eating with me.” As Wessel noted, to betray a friend was bad enough, but to do it after eating a meal like this was regarded as the worst kind of treachery in the Middle East. It reminds us of heartbreaking words of Psalm 41:

Even my close friend, whom I trusted,
he who shared my bread,
has lifted up his heel against me. (vs. 9)

Each of the Twelve wondered it would be them, and Matthew, in his account, records that even Judas asked the question. The disciples were a fearful bunch, prone to bouts of doubt and faithlessness and their concern was probably that in a moment of weakness they would inadvertently do Jesus harm. Judas, of course, merely went along with the others. Jesus doesn’t identify His betrayer by name, just gives a clue—

[O]ne who dips bread into the bowl with me. (vs. 20)

Then Jesus added words that would burn into even the hardest of hearts—

It would be better for him if he had not been born. (vs. 21)

We wonder what Judas felt at that very moment. A little later, Jesus would turn to Judas and say to him—

“What you are about to do, do quickly.” (John 13:27)

And we are told at that moment, Satan entered Judas and left into the night. Immediately after Judas left, Jesus instituted the Last Supper.

3. The Last Supper, 14:22—25

There are a total of four versions of the Last Supper in the New Testament: Matthew 26:26—30; Mark 14:22—26; Luke 22:19—20; 1 Corinthians 11:23—25. Both Matthew and Mark parallel each other and Luke and Paul have certain similarities. All four accounts speak of the bread, the wine and the blessing. Only Paul and Luke record Jesus’ command to observe this Supper until He returns.

The Bread

Jesus used the type of bread associated with this meal, unleavened bread. The first thing He did was “give thanks.” Mark used two different Greek verbs which are translated as “give thanks,” but both come from a single Hebrew word barak, which means to “bless” or to “praise God.” The Passover blessing went like this—

Praised be Thou, O Lord, Sovereign of the World, who causes bread to come forth from the earth.

After the blessing, Jesus divided up the unleavened bread in the customary fashion and gave a piece to each of His disciples and said, “This is my body.” What did Jesus mean by that? He did not mean to imply that the bread had literally become His body; He was, after all, standing right in front of them! Previously Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine,” and we surely know that was a symbolic statement; Jesus was not literally a piece of vegetation! The significant thing about the bread was not what He said, but rather what He did with it: He broke and He distributed it. The bread represented His body, that is, His abiding presence, promised to the disciples on the night of His crucifixion; and His words would become a pledge that whenever His followers gathered together to celebrate this meal in the future, He would be with them.

The cup

The “cup” in verses 23—24 is actually the third cup of the evening and was drunk after the meal was eaten. Jesus again gave the customary “thanksgiving,” this time using the word eucharisteo, from which we get the word Eucharist. The meaning of the cup is somewhat different than that of the bread. Jesus’ words concerning the cup—“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (vs. 24)—sound a lot like the words of Exodus 24:8—”This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words.” The word “covenant” suggests an agreement between two parties and also friendship. This is significant in light of Hebrews 9:22—

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

There could be no covenant and no friendship between God and His people without blood being shed. Reconciliation with God always requires a blood sacrifice, which is an atoning sacrifice. Since man himself cannot be that sacrifice— he cannot shed his own blood as the sacrifice — a substitutionary offering, accepted by faith, is required. The Lord established this covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:7; Psalm 105:9), and all who by faith are counted as Abraham’s descendents (Galatians 3:7; 29).

In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul records the ceremony as the Lord revealed it to Him, and he recorded Jesus’ words slightly differently than did Mark—

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” (vs. 25)

The word “new” may be small, but it is loaded with meaning. Wessel noted that the death of Jesus inaugurated a new era, and therefore a new covenant was needed. To whom was this “new covenant” made? The first covenant was made a Mt. Sinai, and it was between God and the nation of Israel. This new covenant, established by Christ, was prophesied by Jeremiah many centuries before the Last Supper was celebrated—

“The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31—33)

Obviously the fulfillment of this new covenant between God and Israel will not occur until Christ returns as Messiah to establish His Kingdom on Earth, Christ instituted it the night He was betrayed. But while this new covenant is related to the restoration of Israel in the future, note what Jesus said—

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:24)

The word Jesus used was “many,” not “all.” There are two schools of thought about why Jesus chose “many.” First, as might be expected, John Calvin believes that while Jesus may have said “many” He really meant “all;” Calvin—

By the word “many,” he means not a part of the world only, but the whole human race.

I prefer to let Jesus speak for Himself; He said “many” and He meant “many,” not all. Consider—

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:12)

But while Jesus may have said “many,” He did not say “few.” The blood of the new covenant is for all who respond in faith believing in what Jesus did for them on the Cross.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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