Mark 1:1 — The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God

The seemingly innocuous opening line of the Gospel of Mark is actually a broadside against the Roman Empire, or any empire. It is a loaded sentence.

Many think that Mark’s Gospel was written in the context of the city of Rome, perhaps to Roman Christians. Whatever the case, it was certainly written within the context of the Roman Empire. This context highlights the opening sentence of the Gospel.

To what “beginning” does Mark refer? Literarily, it is the beginning of the document and the sentence may function as a title; if not to the whole document, at least to the opening fifteen verses. But does it only have a literary function? I think it is theologically pregnant.

“Beginning” may call us to the beginning of the new creation as the first Greek word in the sentence reminds us of Genesis 1:1. The good news is that new creation has begun.  “Beginning” may point us to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus which inaugurates the new creation; it is the beginning of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. The good news (gospel) both belongs to Jesus and is about Jesus.

More than this, Mark’s language makes a claim that contrasts with the claims of the Empire.We know that the birthday of Augustus Caesar (under whom Jesus was born) was proclaimed as “good news”  (gospel, euangelion) in the Empire. For example, a calendar inscription reads: “The birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of the joyful messages (gospel, JMH) which have gone forth because of him” (TDNT 2:724).

Further, just as Jesus is called “son of God” in Mark’s opening line, coins in the Roman world were sometimes inscribed with the Emperor’s name followed by the designation “son of God” (theou huios). The coins of Tiberius Caesar are a good example of this.

Mark begins his Gospel with an astounding claim. Jesus is the good news, not the Emperor. Jesus is the Son of God, not the Emperor. In effect, Jesus is Lord, not the Emperor.

The new era of peace, good news and justice did not begin with Augustus. Rather, it begins with Jesus. He is the servant of Isaiah who brings good news to Jerusalem and ultimately to the whole world. Mark tells the story of the Lord who rules through self-sacrificial service–the suffering servant of Isaiah–in contrast to the ruling coercive power of the Roman Caesar.

Mark calls us to believe this “gospel” (Mark 1:15)–the good news of the kingdom of God–rather than the proclamations of the empire….whether Roman or otherwise. The story of Jesus is the story of a different kind of kingdom.

Americana might hear this opening title as well as a judgment on the “good news” of the American dream and the American experiment. When Christians buy into a kind of civil religion where American values compete with the good news of Jesus we need to read the Gospel of Mark again.

My Sunday morning Bible class at Woodmont Hills (Nashville, TN) began a study of Mark this past Sunday. Hopefully, I will have some time to occasionally blog my thoughts on our reading of the text.

6 Responses to “Mark 1:1 — The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”

  1.   Steven Tramel Gaines Says:

    Thanks for the meaningful insights from an overlooked verse! I look forward to more on Mark.

  2.   Betty Says:

    I am glad you have come home safe. Your posts are eagerly awaited as they stretch my thinking. Looking forward to being blessed by your teaching on, “the story of Jesus is the story of a different kind of kingdom.”

  3.   Jerry Starling Says:

    Excellent and powerful!

    The gospel (good news of Jesus as God’s Son) is always contrary to the ways of the world, even in a “Christian” nation such as ours!

    I also look forward to hearing more of your take on your namesake.

  4.   Charles Stelding Says:

    I find it interesting that the “beginning” of the gospel in Mark begins with John the Baptist. In Acts the one who replaced Judas was required to witness the activity of Jesus “beginning from the baptism of John” (Acts 1:22). Also, it appears that some thought since John the baptist preceded Jesus at the beginning of the gospel, that somehow John was superior to Jesus. I’m wondering if that is why John’s gospel starts with “In the beginning was the word” (referring to Jesus), thus making him superior to John the baptist, as the context of John 1 implies.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      The beginning of the gospel about Jesus starts with John because, I presume, John prepares the way for Jesus. Mark is focused on Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel of John accentuates the distance between John and Jesus (prophet vs. Logos enfleshed) probably because in his community were people who still followed John (e.g., Acts 19 in Ephesus; especially if the Gospel was written in the Ephesian setting). What lies behind the history is difficult to discern.

  5.   Christian Jew Says:

    I believe The Lord Jesus Christ is God, The Son of God, and The Messiah; as clearly taught in The Bible. The stakes are too high to be wrong about this.


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