Study Guide

Gospel of Mark Summary

Gospel of Mark Summary

The Pre-Game Show

The Gospel of Mark begins like an NBA game. Upbeat music blares from the speakers, the lights are dimmed, spotlights circle the arena, and an announcer introduces the starting line-up, saving for the finale the team's MVP, who in Mark is not LeBron James, but Jesus the Messiah and Son of God. Pretty big deal—especially since the prophet Isaiah totally called it.

Fans are super pumped when John the Baptist comes on the scene in the Judean wilderness donning an outfit of camel's hair, reminding everyone of the prophet Elijah. And we thought black socks with black shoes was pushing the envelope. Anyway, John baptizes people who are turning their lives around, but explicitly tells everyone that he's the warm-up act for someone much, much more important and stronger than he is.

He's talking about Jesus of Nazareth, of course, who arrives at the Jordan River, where John baptizes him. As Jesus comes up out of the water, some pretty amazing stuff happens. The heavens split open, a dove-looking Spirit descends upon Jesus, and a voice echoes through the heavenly loud speakers calling Jesus "my beloved son" (1:11). Yowza.

The Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness, where—no big deal—he beats a formidable demonic opponent named Satan. The end. Oh wait…not even close.

The Big Game

Jesus pursues his career at first mostly in Galilee, though he also takes a few business trips to non-Jewish territories like Sidon, Tyre, and Caesarea-Philippi. He's a busy guy as he teaches, performs miracles and exorcisms, trains his wayward disciples, and argues with religious leaders. He can barely even find time for a lunch break. Seriously (6:31).

His supernatural abilities are astounding, and the crowds love him. He's a serious celebrity. But no one's quite sure what to make of him. He's not a singer-songwriter, that's for sure. That means he must be some prophet of old like Elijah who has returned to the earth. Natch.

For those of us with back-stage passes, though, the narrator makes it clear that Jesus is a veritable God-man of supernatural parentage (see 1:1, 11 and 9:2-8). This means that even the demons are right about Jesus's identity (1:24; 3:11; 5:7). He's a walking epiphany.

But being a Son of God isn't all it's cracked up to be. Even while detailing Jesus's outstanding resume, the narrator introduces some pretty disheartening complications. It turns out that Herod, who ruled Galilee, arrested and beheaded Jesus's precursor, John the Baptist (6:21-29). Yikes. Also, the religious leaders together with Herod's cronies begin a plot to crush Jesus as early as 3:6. So yeah, things aren't looking great.

What's more, Jesus's disciples are slow learners, if not downright dumb. They're supposed to be privileged recipients of God's secret messages (4:11-12), but one of them is a real back-stabber (3:19) and all of them understand very little of what Jesus actually teaches and does (4:13; 7:17; 6:52; 8:15-18). A lot of the time they're scared silly (4:41; 6:49-51)—although who wouldn't be, walking around with the Son of God and all?

Things just get worse for the disciples as they take a long road trip with Jesus to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52). While they're "on the road" (8:27; 9:33; 10:17, 32, 46), Jesus warns his disciples three times that he will suffer, die, and be resurrected in Jerusalem (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). Mark interprets Jesus's suffering as the model for how to be a disciple, and Jesus himself repeatedly underlines the point during their road trip (8:34-38; 9:33-37; 10:41-45). Disciples are supposed to risk their lives, choose last place, and compete over who can best serve the other.

The disciples don't get this counterintuitive stuff at all. Peter, James, and John are expecting Jesus to become king like the Messiah is supposed to. Just check out their reel of bloopers.

The Fourth Quarter

In Jerusalem, things turn out exactly as Jesus expects. Initially, crowds welcome him with a big party, but Jerusalem's top brass snub him and don't attend. Jesus doesn't really like them all too much anyway. He ticks them off big time when he closes the stores in the Temple's precinct, which is not a place for bling. Then he systematically proves himself a whole lot smarter than each of the religious leaders, who are unable to go toe-to-toe with Jesus while debating some weighty religious questions.

When Passover rolls around, Jesus and his disciples share a somber meal, where the table-talk is of betrayal, abandonment, body, and blood. Ah, dinner parties.

Meanwhile, Judas has already turned Jesus over to the authorities who want to arrest him on the sly. While he's praying in Gethsemane, an armed gang grabs him and his disciples abandon him. It is not long before the Jewish leaders declare him guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be the Son of God. They lead him to a Roman administrator named Pontius Pilate, who sentences him to crucifixion, giving in to the pressure of the crowd. The claim to be king is, after all, tantamount to treason against Rome.

Overtime

Jesus dies, and Joseph of Arimathea places his body in a tomb. Done and done.

Or not.

The body turns up missing when a few of his female followers arrive to prepare it for burial. But a youth dressed in white informs them that Jesus is no longer there because he was raised. He instructs the women to brief the disciples, but they say nothing, "for they were afraid" (16:8). These are likely the last words of Mark's gospel. Go figure.

Questions? Make your way to "What's up with the ending?" to see what we have to say.

  • Chapter 1:1-13

    Great Expectations

    • Good news, everyone. That's right: the narrator promises us "good news" (1:1) right from the beginning. The news is about Jesus, in case you've been under a rock for the past two millennia.
    • By the way, the NRSV's "good news" is the literal meaning of the Greek, which in the KJV is translated as "gospel." Yep, that gospel.
    • Don't forget that Jesus is also "Christ" (1:1). In Jewish literature this is the title reserved for kings or a would-be king who would fix everything that's screwed up in the world—big job. You can substitute "Messiah" for "Christ" and catch more of the narrator's drift. "Anointed" also works, as long as it doesn't conjure up images of Jesus lathered in suntan lotion.
    • If the first few words didn't pique your interest, the narrator now describes Jesus as the "Son of God" (1:1). That's kind of important, right? So it's strange that one big-league manuscript along with some others don't record these words. Did Mark write them or not?
    • An ancient non-Jewish reader might raise her hand at this point and ask, "What's so special about this 'son of a god'? I mean, how is he different from Heracles or Achilles, who are also sons of gods?" Many ancient people, living under Roman imperial rule, might recall that emperors carried this title, and Jews would hear connotations of royalty, too.
    • Bottom line: Jesus is competing with some big-time MVPs.
    • Surprise! The story of Jesus begins not with his birth, but with a prophet named Isaiah, who wrote about 600 years before Jesus was around.
    • Take one second to check out the quote from 1:2-3, a quote from the Hebrew Bible. Well, hmmm…wait a second. The second part of this is from Isaiah 40:3, yes, but the rest is from Malachi 3:1. Huh? Teachers will have to dock Mark some points for this slight inaccuracy.
    • John the baptizer appears in the "wilderness" just as the prophet wrote long ago (1:4).
    • Mobs of people from Judea and Jerusalem come to the river Jordan, where he tells them to turn their lives around and dunks them in the water. The whole procedure causes a symbolic release from their "sins." Which are…?
    • John dresses in camel's hair and wears a leather belt. This is not stylish now, and it was not stylish then. What's important for Mark is that this outfit makes John look like the prophet Elijah (check out 2 Kings 1:8).
    • John eats locusts  and wild honey. That's gross. Still, you have to admire his pluck and devoted asceticism.
    • Like a good team player, John wants everyone to know that he's just the warm-up act for someone who is "more powerful" and will baptize "with the holy Spirit" (1:7-8). For generations raised in and after the 80s, the KJV's translation, "holy Ghost," may be far too evocative of Scooby-Doo.
    • John baptizes Jesus, who is "from Nazareth of Galilee" (1:9).
    • This is no ordinary baptism, though. Jesus sees the heavens torn open, and the Spirit in the form of a dove comes down. Fancy.
    • In case that wasn't enough, the voice of God then echoes down from heaven announcing that Jesus is his son in language that alludes to Hebrew Bible scripture (check out Psalms and Isaiah 4:1).
    • Sure, Jesus is God's son, but it's not all peaches 'n' cream. Now the Spirit that just came to him in the form of a pretty little dove leads him into the not so pretty little wilderness.
    • Here Jesus goes toe-to-toe with the supernatural adversary Satan for forty days and hangs with wild animals. 
    • Being God's son sort of stinks. Seriously, you really have to deal with some formidable higher-ups in the cosmic brass. But at least he gets some otherworldly assistance from "the angels."
  • Chapter 1:14-20

    Enter Jesus and His Disciples

    • John is arrested, but the narrator is mum on the details, at least for now.
    • With John out of the picture, Jesus returns to Galilee, the region of his hometown, and proclaims the good news about God. Yep, more good news.
    • Jesus picks up where John left off. Like John, he urges people to turn their lives around and believe in the good news. The headline is that "the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near" (1:15).
    • A friendly ancient reader in our class might raise her hand here and ask, "Do you mean that a kingdom is coming that will rival the Roman empire?" Actually, everyone in our class is probably wondering to themselves, "When is this supposed to happen? How near is near?" Our answer: read on. Maybe Mark will tell us.
    • Jesus walks along the Sea of Galilee. Mark calls it a "sea," but it's really a lake.
    • Anyway, this is where Jesus sees Simon and his brother Andrew doing their job as fisherman, invites them to follow him, and promises them that they will fish for humans. We're hoping that's a metaphor.
    • Simon and Andrew drop everything and accept. This is irresponsible, without a doubt. After all, what would your elders say if you up and left school to follow some guy around? The event is probably there to provide a lesson about the nature of discipleship.
    • The same thing happens again, but this time it's James and his brother John who are mending their nets. They abandon their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired hands and follow Jesus instead.
  • Chapter 1:21-45

    A Day in the Life of Jesus

    • Jesus and his new disciples go to a town in Galilee called Capernaum.
    • Jesus begins to teach in a synagogue on the Sabbath, which was (and is) a sacred day for Jews lasting from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. One of the Ten Commandments stipulates that no labor is to be performed on this day (take a look at Exodus 20:9-12 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15), although there were (and are) plenty of disagreements about what kind of "labor" isn't allowed. How far can you walk? Can you light a lamp? Can you prepare food? Can you fight if an enemy attacks?
    • In any case, the people are shocked by Jesus's actions—they all contrast his "authority" (1:22) with the scribes.
    • While Jesus teaches in the synagogue, a man with "an unclean spirit" cries out and identifies Jesus as the "Holy One of God" (1:24). The demon agrees with God and the omniscient narrator about one thing at least (1:1, 11).
    • Jesus orders the demon to shut up and get out. This is the "authority" that Jesus wields and the scribes lack (look back at 1:22).
    • The demon obeys, and his less-than-elegant exit confirms it. He causes the poor guy to convulse and cries out with a loud voice.
    • This creates quite a stir in the synagogue, where people are amazed. Here is this Jesus guy with the "authority" to boss around a powerful otherworldly being. What's more, his teaching is "new" (1:27). But how so?
    • News of Jesus spreads all over Galilee. For obvious reasons.
    • For a Sabbath, Jesus sure is busy teaching people and defeating a supernatural opponent. Still, immediately after the incident in the synagogue, he arrives at the house of Simon and Andrew only to learn that Simon's mother-in-law is sick with a fever (1:30).
    • Jesus goes over, takes her hand, and raises her up.
    • The fever is gone, and, in case you had any doubts, she is healthy enough to serve them. That's very kind of her—and in keeping with ancient conceptions of the role of the female in the household, natch. They need some refreshments. After all, they've had quite a tiring day.
    • The sun sets, which signals that Sabbath is over. People are now ready for labor, and at the first opportunity, a bunch of people in Capernaum bring their ill and demon-possessed to Jesus for help. Word spreads fast, apparently.
    • Jesus heals the sick and exorcizes demons, whom he does not allow to speak, because these otherworldly beings know his supernatural pedigree (note the consistency with 1:24-26).
    • In the early hours of the morning Jesus rises, goes to a deserted place, and prays. This guy's got a lot of energy.
    • Simon and friends search for him. Upon finding him, they report that everyone else is looking for him too.
    • Jesus informs Simon and his companions of his plans to go to other local villages, where he'll continue to proclaim his message (likely the same one as in 1:15).
    • The narrator summarizes: Jesus proclaims in the synagogues and casts out demons throughout Galilee.
    • A man with leprosy kneels before Jesus and begs Jesus to cleanse him of this disease, which causes the skin to become scaly. Leviticus requires that the infected person, who is "unclean," be quarantined. Interested in the details? Take a look at Leviticus 13-14.
    • Out of compassion, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the leper. These details are uncool for those Jews whose principles forewarn of contact with "unclean" people. Peruse 1 Kings 5:1-14 and Numbers 12:9-15 and compare the responses of other Biblical figures to leprosy. We'll wait.
    • Voilà! The leprosy is gone, and Jesus orders him to present himself to the priest and do exactly what Moses commanded regarding his reinstatement into the community. Jesus is referencing the elaborate instructions of Leviticus 14. We double dog dare the stout of heart to read this detailed chapter from Leviticus. But grab a bottle of blue Mountain Dew first for a pick-me-up.
    • In spite of Jesus's stern warning to the one-time leper that he is not to tell anyone what has happened (why exactly?), the guy goes out and spreads the report widely anyway. 
    • Thanks a lot, buddy. Now Jesus is so famous that he is unable to enter into cities and hangs around less populated places.
  • Chapter 2:1-3:12

    I Wanna Start a Fight: Jesus Debates the Religious Leaders

    • Jesus returns to Capernaum, and everyone learns that he is "at home" (2:1). The KJV's translation, "in the house," might even be better because the NRSV's "at home" suggests that Jesus owns a home in Capernaum. Nopers. It's probably the house of Peter and Andrew, where Jesus stayed earlier (remember 1:29, 33).
    • While Jesus teaches inside, the house becomes very crowded, and a big mob gathers outside of the door. It's like the paparazzi of yore.
    • Four people have carried a paralyzed man to Jesus, but they can't reach him because of the crowd.
    • Solution? They climb on the roof, dig a hole above Jesus, and lower the paralyzed person down to Jesus. Okay, this party is getting out of control.
    • Jesus interprets this action as "faith," not vandalism, and tells the paralyzed man that his washouts are forgiven.
    • Let's take a thirty-second time-out to dwell on a startling historical fact. Many circles in antiquity understood illness and disability to be the result of a person's bad behaviors. Maybe pinpointing causes for hapless suffering consoles frightened people, and so the blame-game is pretty old. 
    • Back to the story. Scribes, who are higher-ups in the religious leadership, are upset that Jesus is presumptuous enough to usurp the authority to forgive sins, which they assume belongs to God alone.
    • They're fuming, but privately—they don't actually say anything.
    • Jesus has the uncanny power to read minds, sort of like Edward in Twilight, just to make an absurd comparison. But unlike that sulking vampire, Jesus's superpower arises from the "spirit" (2:8), which descended to him in 1:10 (also, remember 1:8). Maybe it's better to capitalize this, "Spirit," in order to make these connections explicit. You careful readers should feel free to decide what you like better. The Greek can be translated either way.
    • Jesus picks a fight with the scribes. He's not scared to go toe-to-toe in an argument about principles.
    • Jesus poses a rhetorical question: "Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Stand up and take your mat and walk?'" (2:9). Both are as relatively easy to say in Greek as they are in English.
    • Jesus tells the paralyzed person to get up and go home. And guess what? He does it. He gets up and walks. This clinches Jesus's argument, for it proves that he has the "authority" (2:10; remember 1:22, 27) to forgive sins, like God. Score: Jesus 1; Brass 0.
    • Everyone (scribes, too?) is dumbfounded and praises God. Jesus is just flat-out incomparable.
    • The whole crowd follows Jesus from the house to the sea, and he continues to teach them.
    • Jesus tells Levi, a tax collector, to follow him. And he does…duh.
    • They end up dining together at Levi's house with many other "tax collectors and sinners" who were following Jesus (2:15). By the way, as is customary for Greeks and Roman, they ate while reclining on couches. "Sat" and "sitting" (2:15) in the NRSV and KJV translate the custom into modern idiom. For some ancient flavor, read it as "reclined" and "reclining" instead.
    • Many people today scorn the IRS, which would provoke even more ire if they were collecting taxes for a foreign occupying government, like the Romans. That's why the scribes lump tax collectors together with other "sinners" (2:16) and ask Jesus's disciples why he eats with such people. They must be afraid to ask Jesus himself, since he just finished schooling them.
    • Jesus overhears their question and rescues his disciples with his pithy wit: "'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners'" (2:17).
    • The scribes do not respond. Score: Jesus 2; Brass, 0.
    • Now the disciples of John and the Pharisees, who both teach their own particular brand of Judaism, ask Jesus why they themselves fast, but Jesus and his followers don't. After all, they're lying around feasting with tax collectors and sinners.
    • Jesus responds with three tricky metaphors. Eat a donut while you try to unpack them.
    • First, fasting while Jesus is alive is like fasting at a wedding. It's a big downer for the bridegroom. It's better to fast when the bridegroom is "taken away" (2:20). When? Inquiring readers want to know.
    • Second, it's dumb to sew a new piece of cloth on an old article of clothing because it will tear. By the way, it's also dumb to sew worn-out elastic on a new pair of underwear because they will get all wadded and ride up. Just FYI.
    • Third, new wine will cause old wine skins to burst. So the old and the new don't mix, right? Good. Now explain how that answers the question posed in 2:18.
    • No one takes issue. Score: Jesus 3; Brass 0.
    • Pharisees catch the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath as they make their way through a field.
    • This smacks far too much of the type of labor prohibited on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees demand that Jesus explain their behavior.
    • In their defense, Jesus offers an argument that is challenging even for us smarty-pants to unpack. He cites a story in scripture, where David himself, the second king of Israel, ate bread reserved for priests alone when he had need for food (1 Samuel 21:1-7).
    • Jesus draws a potentially outrageous implication from this: human needs may arise that do not jive with sacred rules and regulations, particularly those governing the Sabbath (2:27). The "Son of Man" is apparently allowed some finesse for determining what is or is not permitted on the Sabbath (2:28).
    • Score: Jesus 4; Brass 0.
    • Jesus goes into another synagogue, where there's a disabled person who has a withered hand.
    • The pesky Sabbath is at issue again, and the Pharisees are watching to see if Jesus will heal him and further challenge their conceptions of what it means to have a sacred day with no labor.
    • Jesus doesn't disappoint and calls the disabled man forward.
    • Jesus asks, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or kill?" The answer is sort of, shall we say, obvious.
    • Again, silence. Score: Jesus 5; Brass 0.
    • This really ticks Jesus off, and he answers his own question by healing the man. Game, set, and match. Jesus wins in a shutout.
    • The Pharisees partner with the Herodians and together they plan how they might destroy Jesus. They are very poor sports.
    • The narrator summarizes. Lots of people from lots of cities and regions follow Jesus, who is healing the sick and exorcising demons.
    • All the demons know that Jesus is the "Son of God" (3:11). Boy, these demons sure are smart, being from another world and all. But Jesus tells them to pipe down. 
    • Why?
  • Chapter 3:13-35

    Jesus Finds New Friends and Family

    • Jesus ascends a mountain and summons twelve special disciples. He gives them all the authority to preach and exorcize demons. Sweet.
    • The narrator lists the names of the twelve elite disciples.
    • Some of the more noteworthy are the nicknames Jesus gives to Simon, who will be called Peter (which in Greek means "Rock"), and to James and John, who will be called "Sons of Thunder." No, Jesus is not starting a band. We don't think.
    • Also a part of this group is Judas, who will later rat him out. Ooh, that's juicy. When? How?
    • Jesus enters a house, and a huge crowd gathers. They can't even find time for a lunch-break.
    • His "family" (1:21) arrives on the scene to get him under control. The KJV translates this word as "friends." Either translation is possible, but don't decide for yourself until you check out 3:31-32.
    • Basically, they're saying Jesus is nuts.
    • That means Jesus's own family agrees with scribes from Jerusalem that something just isn't right about Jesus. But the scribes are saying Jesus is possessed by one of the most powerful of the otherworldly demons named Beelzebub. How else are you going to explain his ability to order the other demons around?
    • Jesus defends himself against the scribes. By the scribes' logic, the demons are having a civil war or something. If they are, then their kingdom will collapse, which is a good thing for everyone.
    • Also, if you want to steal someone's stuff, then you have to tie up the strong man who will otherwise stop you. True enough, but the point is…?
    • Jesus concludes with some very threatening trash talk. God is more or less forgiving of people, but never ever (ever) will God forgive disrespect toward the Holy Spirit. The scribes who say Jesus is possessed by an "unclean spirit" rather than the Holy Spirit are in some real big trouble.
    • The narrator resumes the story he started in 3:20-21. Jesus's mother and siblings, who are outside, are trying to talk to him.
    • The crowd reports this to Jesus, who asks, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" (NRSV). Maybe his family's right. Jesus does sounds a little nuts here (remember 3:21).
    • Wait, though, Jesus has a point. He looks at the people sitting around him and calls them his mother and brothers. 
    • Huh? How could Peter be his mother? Well, Jesus explains that whoever does God's will is his mother and sibling. There he goes, re-defining family in a way that has nothing to do with ties of blood.
  • Chapter 4:1-41

    The Sermon on the Boat

    • Jesus is back by the Sea of Galilee, this time teaching in parables.
    • It's so crowded that Jesus sits in a boat while the audience listens from the shore. For some historical flavor, check out the so-called "Jesus Boat."
    • Jesus opens with a story about someone who is sowing seeds. Some seeds land on the road, and the birds gobble them up. Other seeds fall on rocky ground, but the plants die after springing up for lack of soil. And others die because they landed in weeds. Just when you start to wonder whether this guy knows anything about farming, Jesus tells of seeds in good soil that become exceedingly productive.
    • Huh?
    • Then Jesus adds something even more opaque. Scholars call this Mark's "parable theory." With such a fancy name you better pay attention.
    • While the disciples are (supposedly) insiders who have direct access to the "secret of the kingdom of God," outsiders only hear parables, so that they won't see, understand, or be forgiven. A good question to ask is…why?
    • Jesus hints that the disciples' inability to comprehend the parable about the sower is probably a sad indication that they're not going to comprehend any of his parables. So, are the disciples insiders or outsiders in terms of the "parable theory"?
    • Jesus explains the parable. Each type of ground represents a different response to "the word" (what word?). Satan plucks the word away.
    • Persecution checks devotion to the word. Wealth, ambition, and anxiety stunt growth and maturity in the word. Yet some people's response is incredibly productive.
    • Without missing a beat, Jesus really starts to jam. He's a veritable Jimi Hendrix, but with parables. Can you unpack them?
    • Lamps placed under buckets or beds are somewhat useless. Okay…but the drift is?
    • Everything hidden will be revealed. Uh oh. When?
    • Care is required as you listen, for you will get in return what you give. Turn the volume up, please.
    • You either got it or you don't. If you got it, then you get more. If not, then sorry. What is he talking about?
    • Jesus launches another story about a farmer. This time, he throws out the hint that he's illustrating the nature of the "kingdom of God" (4:26; remember this concept from 1:15). The farmer plants a seed, which produces fruit of its own accord, even though the farmer doesn't know how. Then it's time for the harvest.
    • Another good illustration is the mustard seed, which is the smallest of seeds, but grows into a huge bush, whose shady branches provide refuge for birds.
    • The narrator concludes that all of this is indicative of the way Jesus taught in general—i.e., in parables. People generally understand according to their ability, while the disciples have the privilege of hearing Jesus's special explanations of these complex illustrations in private.
    • Teaching from a boat has its perks. After class, Jesus and his disciples can sail across the Sea of Galilee to the opposite side.
    • But this serene little cruise turns ugly when the boat fills with water during a dangerous storm.
    • Jesus is sleeping like a baby.
    • Afraid they are going to die, the disciples urgently wake Jesus up.
    • Jesus orders the storm to shut up and be quiet. After all, he's trying to sleep. The storm stops, and everything is calm again. That's just cool.
    • Jesus asks his disciples why they were afraid—they must not trust him yet.
    • His disciples are now even more afraid. They want to know who this guy is who can boss around storms like this.
  • Chapter 5:1-20

    Jesus Meets One Really Freaky Dude

    • After the storm, they all come safe and sound to the other side of the lake. Their destination is either "Gerasa" (NRSV) or "Gadara" (KJV). The different translations are the result of conflicting readings in the manuscripts. One problem with these locations is that both cities are not on the Sea of Galilee. Does Mark need a lesson in the geography of Palestine?
    • They come upon an ancient-day Michael Myers living in a cemetery. This guy's possessed by a demonic heavyweight, who breaks bonds, cries out night and day, and maltreats his own flesh with stones.
    • He bows down before Jesus, since he knows that Jesus is "Son of the Most High God" (NRSV), and begs Jesus not to go too hard on him. Like all demons, this one's pretty smart (remember 1:24; 3:11).
    • Jesus tells the demon to get out and demands to see his license and registration.
    • It turns out that a whole army of demons inhabits this poor guy. "Legion" is a Roman military term usually designating around 6,000 troops. Is Mark somewhat subversive here? It takes guts to suggest that the demonic world is organized like the Roman military.
    • Granting Legion's request, Jesus expels the demons into a herd of two-thousand pigs, which rush off a cliff into the sea and drown. That's visible proof of Jesus's mastery over the demonic world.
    • By the way, Jews don't herd pigs because pork isn't kosher. This means that for the first time in Mark, we are in predominantly non-Jewish territory (or the pigs could have been herded by non-practicing Jews).
    • Those tending the pigs report these events in the city and surrounding countryside.
    • Everyone comes and sees that Michael Myers has become a well-dressed model citizen.
    • When they hear of the exorcism and the pigs, they ask Jesus to get out of Dodge.
    • Jesus and his disciples get back on their boat, and the guy who was possessed asks to join them.
    • Jesus tells him to stay and tell his own people about the Lord's great mercy and miraculous deeds. He does, and many non-Jews are struck with the same awe for Jesus as the Jews on the other side of the lake (recall 1:27; 2:12).
  • Chapter 5:21-6:6

    The Dying Daughter and the Bleeding Woman—Two Stories in One

    • Jesus returns to the other side of the lake, where a great crowd awaits him on the shore.
    • The leader of a synagogue named Jairus falls at Jesus's feet, while he requests Jesus to revive his daughter who is dying.
    • Jesus goes with him, and the crowd follows, giving Jesus very little personal space.
    • Meanwhile, in the crowd there's a woman who's been suffering from worsening hemorrhages for twelve years.
    • After spending all her money on doctors, who have utterly failed to treat her, she touches Jesus's clothing with the expectation that doing this will provide a cure.
    • Simply touching Jesus's clothes does what money and doctors couldn't do. The woman is healed.
    • Jesus inwardly recognizes that his power has been exerted, stops dead in his tracks, and asks, "Who touched my clothes?"
    • The disciples suggest that his question is kind of dumb. After all, a huge crowd has been pressing in on him.
    • The woman is afraid because she knows she's been healed. Now's she going to get in trouble for accosting Jesus.
    • She falls before Jesus and confesses the whole truth.
    • But Jesus doesn't mind. She didn't accost him—she had faith, and that's what saved her. Good job. She should enjoy her health.
    • The narrator now resumes the frame-story that started in 5:21-24, as people inform Jairus that his daughter has died and shouldn't waste Jesus's time.
    • Death's not going to stop Jesus, who tells Jairus not to fear and to have faith.
    • Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, and they all enter the house of Jairus, where people are mourning.
    • Jesus tells them not to mourn because the child is not dead, but only sleeping.
    • They all scoff at this ridiculous suggestion, but Jesus sends the mourners out. They go to the child with her mother and father.
    • Jesus takes her hand and says, "Talitha cum" (5:41).
    • Here's your lesson in ancient languages for the day. This is an Aramaic phrase, which Mark subsequently translates into Greek for at least some members of the ancient audience who must not have known Aramaic.
    • Back to the story: the little girl gets up and walks.
    • The narrator adds the detail that she was twelve years old. That's interesting, but why is it important?
    • Jesus orders them not to tell anyone about this. Oh yeah, and he tells them to get this girl some food. She was just dead for crying out loud.
    • Jesus and his disciples go to Jesus's hometown, which we all know to be Nazareth (call to mind 1:9).
    • As he usually does, Jesus teaches in a synagogue on the Sabbath.
    • Everyone's truly astounded, but come on, he grew up with these people, who remember changing his diapers. So they're offended.
    • Jesus informs them that it's actually normal that prophets are without honor in their hometowns.
    • As a result, almost everyone misses out on getting healed. Jesus finds their lack of faith remarkable. The contrast with Jairus and the bleeding woman, who have faith, should be obvious.
    • The narrator summarizes: Jesus continues to teach in Galilean villages other than Nazareth.
  • Chapter 6:7-30

    The Death of John and the Mission of the Twelve—Two More Stories in One

    • Jesus sends the twelve disciples out in pairs on a kind of business trip and grants them an authority most businessmen and women today probably wish they had on the road—control over demons.
    • They have some fairly strict codes to follow while they travel. They are permitted a staff, but can carry no bread, purse, or money. They can wear sandals, but cannot take a second shirt.
    • They're also supposed to stay in only one person's house for each city. If people do not receive them or listen to their pitch, they are to shake the dust off of their feet as they exit the city. Hey, a rule's a rule.
    • With these instructions, the disciples go forth and proclaim repentance, just as their own teacher Jesus and John the Baptist before him did (check out 1:4, 14). Looks like they stand in good company and carry on the work of some top dogs.
    • They also exorcize demons and heal the ill just like their teacher, Jesus.
    • The ever-increasing fame of Jesus draws the attention of Herod, who ruled over Galilee, but disagreements prevail over Jesus's identity.
    • Some think Jesus works miracles because he's John the Baptist, who's returned from the dead, while others think he's the ancient prophet Elijah or another of the prophets of old, who've returned from the dead.
    • Things get a little spooky for Herod, who is certain that Jesus is John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded. Herod is plagued by guilt and is confident that John is haunting him. Sounds like Shakespeare has been reading the Bible.
    • The narrator takes this occasion to update the story of John the Baptist. Last we heard, John was arrested (1:14).
    • It turns out things didn't go well for John in prison because Herod's wife Herodias had a vendetta against John.
    • John criticized Herod for marrying Herodias, who was previously married to his brother Philip. This action is contrary to the Torah (take a look at Leviticus 18:16), so it wasn't cool.
    • FYI, Mark is kind of removed from a few historical facts. Herodias was first married to another brother of Herod also named Herod, and Herod was not "king" of Galilee, but tetrarch, which was a title that lacked the preeminence of "king," even if the actual post guaranteed similar powers. 
    • Anyway, Herod protects John, whom he respects as a religious leader. He actually enjoys listening to John speak, even though he doesn't really get what he's saying.
    • An impasse arises between Herodias, who wants John dead, and Herod, who likes the guy. This is starting to get juicy.
    • Herodias finally makes her move during one of Herod's birthday parties, when all of the crème de la crème of the political elite were present. We're talking the State of the Union here.
    • Herod's daughter Herodias danced before all of the guests, who enjoyed some pleasurable dinner theater.
    • Interested in the dirty details? No, we're not about to describe the dance, which you can imagine for yourself (yeah, erotic overtones are certainly possible, if not probable).
    • We're asking about the dirty details of the translation. The NRSV calls the girl "his [Herod's] daughter [named] Herodias," while the KJV simply refers to her as "the daughter of the said Herodias" and doesn't provide the girl's actual name (6:22). These translations reflect different readings in the manuscripts. In fact, Herodias did have a daughter with her previous husband, and her name was Salome.
    • Everyone is so pleased that Herod repeatedly offers her on oath whatever she wants in payment, even up to half of his kingdom.
    • The girl exits to confer with her mother Herodias, who requests the head of John the Baptist.
    • The girl returns to the banquet, where she requests the head as her mother directed, but with her own gruesome twist. She wants not only the head, but the head on a platter.
    • Upon hearing her request Herod grieves—after all, he liked John. Nonetheless, denying her would embarrass him in front of his guests.
    • Herod orders the executioner to behead John.
    • The executioner brings the head on a platter and gives it to the girl, who then gives it to her mother.
    • John's disciples entomb his headless corpse.
    • After this lengthy flashback, the narrator reports that the twelve's trip was a big success.
  • Chapter 6:31-56

    Satisfied Crowds and Failing Disciples

    • Jesus suggests that he and the twelve disciples take a little R&R. They've been busy and haven't had time to eat.
    • They boat to a deserted place for a private vacation, but many people know exactly where they're headed and beat them there by foot. How about some privacy, please?
    • When he sees the crowd, Jesus has compassion, for they are "like sheep without a shepherd" (6:34), a phrase that alludes to Numbers 27:17 and is often read as indicating the need for a Messiah.
    • After Jesus instructs them for a long time, his disciples suggest that he dismiss them. It's late in the day, and they'll need to purchase food in the surrounding areas.
    • Jesus instructs his disciples to feed the crowd.
    • The disciples object that they'd have to spend more than half a year's wages to buy enough food for all these people. Some vacation.
    • Jesus asks how much food they have.
    • They have five measly loaves of bread and two fish, and that's it. This is ancient Galilee—there's no McDonald's nearby.
    • Following Jesus's directions, the disciples arrange the crowd into several groups, who recline on the grass.
    • Jesus takes the five loaves and two fishes, looks heavenwards, blesses the food, breaks the bread, and divides the fish.
    • He distributes the food to the disciples, who in turn distribute it to the crowd.
    • Everyone eats to their satisfaction…yum. They even collect twelve baskets full of leftovers.
    • In case you hadn't grasped the magnitude of this miracle, the narrator underlines that 5,000 men enjoyed this abundant picnic (add the women and children for an even greater number).
    • Jesus orders the disciples to get on their way to Bethsaida ahead of him.
    • After saying goodbye to the crowd, Jesus goes up a mountain to pray.
    • From his perch, Jesus sees his disciples in the middle of the lake struggling to row the boat against adverse winds.
    • In the wee hours of the mourning, Jesus comes to them—wait for it—walking on water.
    • The disciples are like, "Ahh! A ghost!"
    • Jesus informs them who it is, gets into the boat, and the winds die down.
    • The disciples still think this is really weird. We wonder why.
    • They also didn't understand anything about the feeding of the 5,000. The narrator informs us that in general they're getting F's on their report cards.
    • They arrive at Gennesaret on the other side of the lake. Whatever happened to Bethsaida (recall 6:45)?
    • The narrator summarizes: Jesus was a big success there.
  • Chapter 7:1-23

    The Question of Purity

    • Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem notice that the disciples are eating without washing their hands first.
    • The issue is not germs, as it is for our moms, but religious purity. In an aside, the narrator explains various concerns and rituals regarding food and other culinary items.
    • An alarm is going off here. While the text ascribes these practices to "the Pharisees, and all the Jews" (7:3), historians start debating whether this generalization is in fact accurate in light of what we know about Jewish practices at the time. Also at stake here is how we're supposed to understand Mark's position vis-à-vis Judaism.
    • The Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples fail to adhere to the "tradition of the elders" (7:5) by eating with defiled hands.
    • In response, Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah as an apt description of the Pharisees (check out Isaiah 29:13). Basically, they're "hypocrites" or big fakes, who honor God in word and not in substance. They also make up unnecessary commands for people to follow.
    • Jesus proceeds to work with the distinction between the "tradition" that people pass on and the actual command of God. Jesus claims that Pharisees only care about the former at the expense of the latter, which is stupid.
    • Try to follow the argument. Moses recorded the command of God to honor father and mother and added that anyone who curses them should be put to death (you can check Jesus's accuracy by looking up Exodus 20:12 and 21:17, Deuteronomy 5:16, and Leviticus 20:9).
    • But Jesus argues that the Pharisees neglect this command when they deem any service they might offer their parents as a gift to God. In modern parlance: sorry mom, the money for the nursing home is going to God.
    • Conclusion? The Pharisees transgress one of the Ten Commandments and make themselves feel good about it because they purportedly do so in the name of their own tradition. And that's just one example of many.
    • Now, give your smart brains some exercise and try to articulate how this answers the Pharisees' question about hand washing (7:5). Here's a big clue: both the narrator and the Pharisees themselves deem these purity concerns a "tradition of the elders" (7:3, 5) rather than a command of God.
    • Jesus tells the crowd to pay attention to another parable. Nothing external can enter a person and make him or her impure, but it's what comes out of a person that makes him or her impure.
    • In private the disciples are like, huh? They're still slow to understand parables (remember 4:13).
    • Next up, Jesus explains the wonders of human digestion. When something like food enters a person it goes into the stomach, then into the toilet. How can the fact that you have to eat and then poop make you impure? Even Jesus can't resist a good potty joke.
    • The narrator gets excited and interrupts Jesus to point out the significance of what he's saying: "He's declaring all foods clean!" (7:19). This may not seem like a big deal to most of us, but in the earliest days of Christianity the question of whether non-Jewish converts to Christianity had to follow Jewish food laws was a hotly debated question (for proof, take a look at Acts 15:28-29, Romans 14:13-23, and 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1). 
    • It's what comes out of your heart—not your rear-end—that makes you impure. You know, stuff like evil thoughts, sex crimes, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, the lustful eye, blasphemy, arrogance, and stupidity.
  • Chapter 7:24-31

    Adventures In Non-Jewish Territory

    • Jesus travels to the neighborhood of Tyre, a predominantly non-Jewish town.
    • He tries to stay at a house without anyone knowing, but a non-Jewish woman finds him.
    • She respectfully falls before Jesus and requests that he perform an exorcism for her possessed daughter.
    • Jesus denies her request, arguing that the children (presumably Jews) have first dibs to table-food long before the dogs (presumably non-Jews).
    • Ouch.
    • The woman won't take no for an answer and wittily replies that even dogs lap up the crumbs that fall from the children's table.
    • Jesus applauds her nicely argued comeback, which results in the demon's exit from her daughter. Proof? Upon returning home, the woman finds her daughter calmly in bed by herself with no demon.
    • Jesus heads farther north to the coastal city of Sidon before circling through the Decapolis back to the Sea of Galilee. These are all predominantly non-Jewish towns like Tyre.
  • Chapter 7:31-8:26

    Satisfied Crowds and Failing Disciples…Again

    • People bring a man who is deaf and mute to Jesus for his healing touch.
    • Jesus leads the guy away from the crowd, where he puts his fingers in his ears, spits, then touches his tongue. Interesting.
    • Jesus looks skyward, groans, and says, "Ephphatha," which is an Aramaic word that Mark translates for Greek readers: "Be opened" (7:34).
    • Right away, the guy hears and speaks. Ta-da!
    • Jesus orders that this be kept silent, but to no avail. Everyone proclaims what happened anyway.
    • A large crowd is gathered, and the narrator emphasizes that we've seen this before (namely, 6:34).
    • Jesus informs his disciples of his concern that the crowd has not eaten for three days. They've got to be starving and will faint if they try to walk home. What should we do? Big hint: 6:35-44.
    • The disciples are clueless. Duh…where are we going to get enough bread to feed all these people in the wilderness?
    • Jesus asks them how much bread they have, and they inform him that they have merely seven loaves.
    • Jesus directs the crowd to recline on the ground, takes the bread, gives thanks, breaks it, and distributes it to everyone via his disciples.
    • By the way, they also had a few fish, and Jesus did the same for them. Yummy.
    • About 4,000 eat their fill, and they still collect seven baskets full of scraps.
    • After dismissing the crowd, Jesus and his disciples boat to the neighborhood of Dalmanutha.
    • The Pharisees are there, and they ask Jesus for a sign from heaven. Hello…he just fed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread, ya dimwits.
    • Jesus groans. Ugh…y'all are not getting a sign, so there. Perhaps Jesus is being ironic considering the preceding story.
    • Back on the boat, Jesus tells his disciples, who forgot to pack some bread, to beware of the "yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod" (8:15).
    • The reference to "yeast" provokes an argument about who forgot the bread. The disciples really need to get this parable thing and stop taking Jesus so literally.
    • Jesus more or less tells them they're dumb. They don't get it—at all. Sure, they have eyes and ears, but they don't see or hear.
    • Put on your thinking caps for a second. Jesus uses this very language in the "parable theory" of 4:12 to describe those who lack access to the mystery of the kingdom of God. What does that imply about the status of the disciples?
    • Jesus really chews them out now. Sure, the disciples remember concrete facts, such as how many baskets full of scraps they collected after the feeding miracles, but they miss the larger significance (which is…?). These pupils of his are still getting F's.
    • They arrive at Bethsaida, where people lead a blind man to Jesus and request his healing touch.
    • Jesus guides him out of the village, where he spits into his eyes, lays his hands upon him, and asks him if he sees. What's with all the spitting?
    • The man replies that he sort of sees, but people look like trees.
    • Jesus places his hands upon the guy's eyes, and this time he sees everything with 20/20 vision.
    • Jesus orders him to go home and not to enter the village
  • Chapter 8:27-10:52

    The Sermon on the Road 

    • Get ready. Jesus and his disciples are "on the road" (8:27) now until they near Jerusalem in 11:1. For the narrator's emphasis on the "road" or "way" glance quickly at 9:33-34; and 10:17, 32, 46, and 52. On the way, his disciples will learn a whole bunch of harsh lessons about the rigors of following Jesus. They sure are in for it.
    • On the way to Caesarea Philippi, Jesus gives his disciples a pop quiz: "Who do people say that I am?" (8:27).
    • The disciples list the competing answers. Everyone agrees that Jesus is someone who's returned from the past, maybe John the Baptist, Elijah, or another of the prophets (recall similar options in 6:15).
    • Jesus asks them what they think.
    • Peter answers that Jesus is the Messiah (literally, "Christ"). We all know that Peter has passed the quiz, because the narrator has given us privileged access to the teacher's guide (remember 1:1).
    • Jesus sternly insists that they shouldn't tell anyone.
    • Next up, Jesus issues the first of three predictions of his suffering, death, and resurrection. These are the so-called "passion predictions."
    • Peter rebukes his own teacher. The Messiah is supposed to be a mighty person, after all, who restores a kingdom to Israel and corrects everything that's gone awry. What's all this talk of suffering and death? Peter has a point.
    • Jesus shuts him up, calls him Satan, and tells him to get out of his way. He makes sure the other disciples witness this. Don't get too cocky, Peter.
    • Jesus tells everyone that following him requires bearing the cross, which pretty much amounts to telling them that true discipleship entails execution. That's definitely a lot to ask. Does Jesus speak literally or figuratively? You better decide.
    • Also, Jesus warns that selling out will mean losing your life and (worse) the Son of Man's disapproval upon his return with angels. (When's that?)
    • Impress your friends by explaining how in 8:35-37 Mark cleverly plays upon the words "life" (NRSV) and/or "soul" (KJV), which translate the same word in Greek.
    • Jesus adds that some of his followers will see the kingdom of God actually come (9:1). Whoa. This might refer to the very event he mentioned in 8:38, the Son of Man's return with the angels. Is Jesus saying that he will return within the lifetime of his first followers? Was he, dare we ask, wrong?
    • By noting that the next event, which is known as the Transfiguration, occurred "six days later" (9:2), the narrator ties this closely to the saying in 9:1, perhaps suggesting that in this story, select disciples enjoy at least a foretaste of God's coming kingdom.
    • Jesus leads Peter, James, and John up a mountain, where he is transformed and sports a slick outfit that is unusually white.
    • Moses and Elijah join him, and they talk.
    • Peter suggests that they build three "dwellings" (9:5), one for each of them, but, as we have come to expect, Peter has no clue what he's saying, and they're all wetting their pants from fright.
    • A cloud overshadows them, and a voice from heaven declares Jesus "my son" (9:7). Wait, we've heard this voice before (flip a few pages back to 1:11).
    • All at once, everything vanishes except Jesus.
    • On their descent, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone until after the Son of Man is resurrected. What happened on the mountain stays on the mountain.
    • But the disciples don't know what this business about resurrection is. They must have been daydreaming when Jesus mentioned this in 8:34. They get another F.
    • Then they ask Jesus about another topic provoked by Elijah's appearance during the Transfiguration. What's this scribal business about Elijah having to come first (check out Malachi 4:5)?
    • The scribes are right, Jesus tells them, but then he complicates this with the idea that the Son of Man will suffer. He adds that Elijah did come and was also treated badly. He's very likely talking about John the Baptist here.
    • Now it's back to reality at the bottom of the mountain, where a large crowd, scribes, and his other nine disciples sure are glad to see Jesus.
    • A father reports that his disciples are unable to exorcize a demon from his son, who suffers very severe seizures.
    • Need to take a break? Take a look at "The Transfiguration" by Raphael, who contrasts the events at the top of the mountain with those at the bottom—celestial highs, with all too human and demonic lows.
    • Jesus is ticked at this all-around faithless generation.
    • Upon seeing Jesus, the demon responds by throwing the poor boy into convulsions.
    • The father provides Jesus with more details. This has happened to the boy for seven years, and the demon even burns and drowns the boy. The father solicits Jesus's help again, "if you are able" (9:22).
    • Jesus responds that the question is not whether Jesus is able, but whether the father is able—to believe, that is.
    • The father responds, "I believe; help my unbelief" (9:24). The guy's a little ambivalent. He's also a part of this "faithless generation" (9:19).
    • Nonetheless, Jesus exorcizes the demon, who exits with a loud scream only after several more convulsions that lead people to believe that the boy is dead.
    • But Jesus takes him by the hand and raises him up.
    • In private, his disciples ask why they failed to exorcize this demon, and Jesus responds that prayer is required to combat the most powerful spirits.
    • From Caesarea Philippi, Jesus travels south through Galilee, and keeps his presence there hidden.
    • Jesus divulges to his disciples that he will suffer, die, and be raised. For those of you who are keeping track—this is the second of three times he'll mention this.
    • The disciples really don't get this at all, and they lack the courage to ask him. Look what happened to Peter in 8:32-33.
    • After arriving in Capernaum, Jesus asks his disciples what they were arguing about on the road.
    • Sheepishly, they confess that they were debating which of them should be MVP. Didn't Jesus just finish warning them of his own passion and death? Besides, what does greatness have to do with the life of the disciple as Jesus explains it in 8:34-38? They get another big fat F in discipleship.
    • Jesus tells them not to set their sights on greatness, but servanthood. This discipleship gig isn't going to make anyone rich and famous.
    • Jesus embraces a child, who lacks any status whatsoever. Since this is the kind of person who represents Jesus, the disciples really better stop trying to be Time's Person of the Year.
    • The disciple John reports to Jesus that they prohibited someone from casting out demons in the name of Jesus, for this person was not part of the disciples' cool group.
    • Jesus tells John that this was a bad idea. Somebody doesn't have to be part of the cool group to be on Jesus's side. Poor John gets yet another F. These guys can't do anything right.
    • Further developing this principle of inclusion, Jesus adds that anyone who simply gives a disciple of Christ a cup of water will be rewarded.
    • Jesus launches several other sayings, which are rife with violence and threats. You better not offend a child or else you'll be tied to a huge millstone and thrown into the sea. Sexual offenders, beware.
    • It's better for you to chop off your "hand" than to screw up. Jesus might be talking about masturbation, as many people think. "Hand" is also a euphemism in biblical and early Jewish literature for "penis." In this case, Jesus speaks not of masturbation so much as castration, which is preferable to committing the kind of crimes he's talking about.
    • Likewise, it's better "to enter life" (9:45) with one foot than hell with two. So chop it off if it leads you to sin. Like "hand," "foot" can also be a codeword for "penis." Oh, Bible.
    • Jesus adds the eye to the list, too. Enter God's kingdom with one eye rather than hell with two. This is also about sex, since the eye was notorious as the symbol for possessive and sex-crazed lust.
    • Want to spice up your life? Jesus suggests that you be willing to walk through fire.
    • Jesus continues his journey south toward Jerusalem through Judea and the region that is east of the Jordan River.
    • While instructing crowds there, Pharisees ask him to explain his position on divorce. This is a litmus test.
    • Jesus argues that the stipulation in the Torah allowing for divorce was Moses's concession to human weakness (read it for yourself in Deuteronomy 24:1-4).
    • Jesus cites Genesis 2:24, which in his view trumps this concession, and concludes, "what God has joined together, let no one separate" (10:9).
    • In private, the disciples want to hear more on this topic, and Jesus adds that remarrying after divorce is tantamount to adultery. The reason is that according to 10:9, divorce doesn't mean the dissolution of marriage, which is permanent. But Jesus at least seems to leave the door open for separation from one's spouse.
    • Of note for you history buffs out there is that in 10:12, Jesus assumes that women will sometimes initiate divorce of their husbands. In the first-century CE this is in keeping with Roman and perhaps some, but not all Jewish practices.
    • Some people bring their children to Jesus, but his disciples prohibit them access. Evidently, the disciples were not paying attention in 9:36-37. 
    • Jesus is upset and orders that they allow them to come. The kingdom of heaven belongs to these kids and everyone who receives them.
    • Jesus embraces and blesses them.
    • While traveling on the road, a guy runs to Jesus, kneels before him, addresses him as "Good Teacher" (10:18 NRSV), and asks what he has to do to live forever.
    • Jesus corrects him. Only God is good.
    • Then he answers the question. This is a world without vampires (imagine that!). The only way to live forever is to be a good person and keep the commandments. Don't murder, commit adultery, steal, lie in a court of law, or commit fraud. Be responsible, respectful, and fun to be with for your mom and dad (a.k.a. some of the Ten Commandments; check out Exodus 20:12-16 and Deuteronomy 5:16-20).
    • The guy claims to have done all this his whole life.
    • Jesus adds one more thing. If he wants to live forever he has to sell his possessions and give them to the poor, then follow Jesus. By doing so, he'll build up his heavenly 401k.
    • That's not very easy considering he's a pretty wealthy guy. Ugh.
    • Jesus has another thing to tell his disciples: it's as difficult for the wealthy to enter God's kingdom as it is for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle.
    • That's obviously impossible, as the disciples point out.
    • It's not impossible for God, replies Jesus. Aha.
    • Peter's pretty confident he's going to live forever, and he highlights the fact that he and his fellow disciples have left everything to follow Jesus. He's right—for once (remember 1:16-20).
    • Jesus reiterates the principle that those who leave their families and homes for his sake will receive all of these things abundantly now, albeit with seriously painful persecutions, but in the future age eternal life.
    • On the way to Jerusalem, everyone starts to get emotional. They're surprised and scared.
    • Jesus reminds his disciples in private—for the third time—that he will suffer, die, and be raised when they get there.
    • Evidently, James and John don't hear a word of it because they immediately ask Jesus if they can sit next to him in glory.
    • Jesus responds that this depends on whether they can walk his walk and talk his talk. He's pretty much asking in a veiled way whether they're prepared to suffer like he will.
    • They don't get it, and respond, "We are able" (10:39).
    • Jesus assures them that they are indeed able, but it's not his prerogative to divvy out the seats of honor.
    • The other ten are perturbed that James and John are jockeying for power in this way.
    • Jesus sets them all straight. They're all behaving like mudslinging politicians, who desire power and want to boss everybody around.
    • Disciples are supposed to march to the tune of a different drummer. Their greatness lies in servitude.
    • Jesus cites himself as an example to imitate. He came to serve and die in order to buy many people out of slavery.
    • Continuing on their way, they enter Jericho and depart. What on earth did they do there?
    • On the road, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, addresses him as "Son of David," and begs for mercy.
    • Several people tell him to pipe down. Defiantly, Bartimaeus shouts still louder.
    • Jesus summons him, and Bartimaeus leaps up and goes.
    • Jesus asks him what he wants, restores his sight, and commends his faith, then Bartimaeus follows him.
    • Remember that Jesus healed a blind man once before (in 8:22-26). Structurally, these two restorations of sight frame Jesus's sermon on the road in which his disciples eyes are supposed to be opened as well. Too bad the twelve got all F's.
  • Chapter 11:1-11

    Jerusalem's Celebratory Welcome

    • After a tough journey, the gang finally arrives in the suburbs of Jerusalem.
    • Jesus instructs his disciples to enter the village, locate a colt, untie it, and tell anyone who asks what they're doing that "The Lord needs it" (11:2). These tasks are just getting weirder and weirder.
    • Everything unfolds pretty much as Jesus said it would.
    • Jesus sits upon the colt as he enters Jerusalem. This is an allusion to Zechariah 9:9.
    • Many people throw their cloaks on the road before him, while others cut down branches from trees.
    • People precede and follow him, acclaiming Jesus as "the one who comes in the name of Lord" (11:9), blessing the coming kingdom, and in general shouting language from the Psalms.
    • Take a moment to enjoy a nice cool drink of irony. All this celebration clashes with Jesus's passion predictions and teachings about servitude while on the road.
    • Jesus enters Jerusalem's temple, which is the holiest site in the world for Jews of this time. He anticlimactically looks around and returns to the suburbs.
    • Here are a few historical tidbits for you to snack on. Normally, a dignitary arrives in a city, goes to the temple, and offers sacrifices, while the city's highest officials welcome and accompany him. Jesus just looks around, and the city's higher-ups are noticeably absent. This is a serious snub and surely indicative of what's about to go down in Jerusalem.
  • Chapter 11:12-26

    Day One in the Big City

    • The next day, Jesus is hungry as they commute from the suburbs back to Jerusalem.
    • In the distance he sees a fig tree all in bloom, and his tummy growls. Yummy.
    • Coming closer, Jesus realizes the tree has leaves, but no figs. Sorry, Jesus, this restaurant is closed.
    • Jesus curses the tree, whose fruit no one will eat ever again. Harsh.
    • In Jerusalem, they enter the temple, where Jesus drives out the merchants and their customers, overturns the tables of those exchanging money and the seats of those selling doves.
    • Jesus teaches everyone that in scripture, the temple is supposed to be a place for both Jews and non-Jews to pray (quoting Isaiah 56:7), not a place to steal everyone's money. They've turned the temple into a racket (quoting Jeremiah 7:11).
    • The chief priests and the scribes overhear and begin to devise a plan to wipe this pesky Jesus out once and for all.
    • In the evening, Jesus returns to Jerusalem's suburbs with his disciples, who notice that the fig tree Jesus cursed earlier that morning has withered. 
    • Jesus takes the opportunity to instruct the disciples how to pray.
    • Faith is the key ingredient. With it, your prayers can move mountains, and what you ask for you will receive.
    • While you pray, you should forgive people's offenses against you, and then God will forgive your own mistakes.
    • The KJV reads 11:26 with the inverse: if you don't forgive others, God will not forgive you. But the NRSV omits this verse. Why? The translators are following different manuscripts of Mark, some of the very earliest of which do not include these words.
  • Chapter 11:27-12:44

    Jesus Schools Jerusalem's Elites

    • They all return to Jerusalem, where some of Jerusalem's top dogs confront Jesus while he is walking within the precinct of the temple.
    • They want to know by what authority he does what he does.
    • Jesus promises to tell them as long as they answer a question for him. Was John's work of baptizing inspired by heaven or was it a purely human project?
    • The top dogs take some time to talk this over. It's kind of tricky because either way they answer they're in trouble with the crowd. So they play dumb, "We dunno."
    • That answer's not part of the deal, which means that Jesus doesn't have to answer their question either. But maybe he sort of has answered in an understated way.
    • Jesus goes on the offensive with another parable.
    • A guy plants a vineyard with a nice fence, press, and tower, leases it to farmers, and departs.
    • After harvest, the owner sends his servant to collect what they owe him. But the farmers beat him up and send him away empty-handed.
    • The owner sends another, whom they likewise maltreat, and then another, whom they kill. This happens to many servants.
    • Finally, the owner sends his son, expecting that they will respect his own flesh and blood.
    • Instead, the farmers reason that by killing him, they can take his inheritance for themselves.
    • Jesus concludes that the owner will take justice into his own hands, destroy the farmers, and lease the vineyard to others.
    • Jesus quotes Psalms 118:22-23, which states that the rejected stone is the corner stone. Translation: the elite's rejection of Jesus proves his importance, as scripture foresaw.
    • Jerusalem's top dogs want to arrest Jesus, but his popularity with the crowd means a major obstacle. They aren't stupid. They know that Jesus directed the parable against them.
    • They send some other elites to do their dirty work. This time, Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus into saying something that will get him in trouble with the Roman brass.
    • They start by buttering Jesus up. He teaches truth and shows no favoritism.
    • Then they pop a big one. Does paying the Roman government tribute jive with the Torah?
    • Seeing through their flattery and recognizing their trap, Jesus asks for a denarius (moolah). They give him one, and Jesus asks whose picture and name are on it.
    • It's the Roman emperor's picture and name. The emperor at the time when the story takes places was Tiberius.
    • Jesus tells them to pay Caesar what's his and God what's God's.
    • The only comeback anyone has is awe at his quick wit.
    • Next at bat are the Sadducees, who reject the concept that at some point in history there will occur a general resurrection of the dead. They proceed to present Jesus with an argument that shows this idea as inconsistent with scripture.
    • They cite the legal stipulation that a brother take his deceased brother's wife and raise for him an heir in the event that he died childless (this is straight out of Deuteronomy 25:5-6).
    • Next, they elaborate a hypothetical case. Say seven brothers receive one wife, but all die childless. Whose wife will she be when the resurrection occurs? And we thought the ACT was hard.
    • Jesus replies that these guys are sadly misguided.
    • First, they don't understand the power of God, who will transform everyone into angels at the resurrection. No one's going to care about marriage anymore.
    • Second, they don't really get scripture. Moses writes that God declared at the burning bush that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (check out Exodus 3:6).
    • God rules the living, not a bunch of dead patriarchs. What conclusion should we draw? Moses himself implies that the resurrection will happen.
    • A scribe really enjoys watching Jesus slam dunk the Sadducees and asks Jesus the first earnest question he's gotten all day. "Which commandment is the first of all?" (12:29).
    • This is easy. It's in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, which commands that you love the only God with all you've got—your heart, life, mind, and the fiercest might you can muster.
    • For good measure, Jesus adds the second-most important command. It's in Leviticus 19:18, which commands that you love your neighbor as yourself.
    • The scribe totally agrees. That's refreshing.
    • The scribe deduces that loving God and neighbor is more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
    • Jesus is impressed. The scribe gets an A+ and is near God's kingdom.
    • After Jesus dispenses with all of Jerusalem's top dogs—chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees, Herodians, and Sadducees—no one has any more pluck to confront Jesus with any more religious questions.
    • So Jesus poses a question himself: "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David?" (12:35).
    • Jesus argues that this really doesn't make sense because David calls him Lord in Psalms 110:1. What's up with that?
    • The large crowd sure was enjoying all of this.
    • Jesus warns the crowd about the scribes, whose values are all wrong. They love fancy robes and distinctions, like their reserved seats in synagogues and their places of honor during dinner parties.
    • The jerks take advantage of widows, who are among the most disenfranchised of their people, and all the while pray pretentious prayers.
    • Jesus sits before the treasury, which is located within the precinct of the temple.
    • Many wealthy people offer their costly contributions, but Jesus notices an impoverished widow, who offers two coins of the lowest currency. 
    • He tells his disciples that the widow's contribution is proportionately greater than that of the wealthy, for she offered everything she had, while the others kept a whole bunch for themselves.
  • Chapter 13

    Apocalypse Now 

    • Jesus departs from the temple, and one of his disciples admires this incredible structure. We're talking Manhattan here for guys who grew up in West Virginia.
    • For all of you history buffs out there you'll be excited to know that when this story takes place, the temple precinct was undergoing major renovations, which Herod the Great had started several years earlier. The famous Wailing Wall is part of the remains of this Herodian reconstruction and provides a definite idea of the "large stones" (13:1) this disciple mentions.
    • Jesus is not impressed, and he foretells the temple's imminent destruction. Many ancient readers, and likely Mark himself, knew full well that the Romans did indeed set fire to the temple in 70 CE, an event that marked their victory in the Jewish War, which began in 66.
    • While Jesus sits on the Mount of Olives, which gives him a stunning view of the temple precinct, select disciples want more deets about the precise timing of the temple's destruction, which Jesus had mentioned in 13:2.
    • In response, Jesus jumps into the so-called "Synoptic" or "Mini" Apocalypse (13:5-37).
    • Jesus warns of imposters, who will claim the Messianic title, as several Jewish leaders had in fact done prior to the Jewish War.
    • Likewise, the disciples should not be too disturbed when they hear reports of wars, which must happen, but do not yet signal the end.
    • This period, which Jesus describes as only the start of "birth pangs" (13:8), will witness other fairly standard apocalyptic fare: wars, earthquakes, and famines.
    • The disciples really should brace themselves, because this will be a time of severe persecution. They will stand trial in courts of law, will be beaten in synagogues, and governors and kings (some of weightiest brass in the empire) will demand that they give account.
    • Such trials, however, will in reality serve as a means of spreading the good news, to which all non-Jewish nations must have access.
    • Do you think the disciples are scared yet? Probably. But Jesus instructs them not to worry about what they will say as they stand before their accusers. The Holy Spirit will do the work for them. Phew.
    • Still, the disciples will be facing conditions reminiscent for us of the Gestapo-era, including inter-familial informants.
    • General hatred will prevail against them, but whoever has the wherewithal will reach the promised end.
    • Jesus underlines that a very important signpost during this time is "the desolating sacrilege" standing where it shouldn't. This veiled phrase is an allusion to the book of Daniel (11:31, 12:11), where it refers to the pollution of the temple by the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BCE, who erected a statue of Zeus there. That's a very big no-no and extremely offensive to Jews, for whom there is one God and icons are off-limits.
    • In a rare aside, the author interrupts the narrative and instructs "the reader" to decipher this phrase.
    • Want a million bucks? Discover a theory that explains this reference to the majority's satisfaction. Here are a few of many options that circulate among historians: the desolation refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans or to the erection of a Roman standard or a statue of some kind within the temple precinct.
    • Want a million more? Solve the related problem of whether Mark assumes that this event occurred in his past or is still yet to come. Good luck!
    • Whatever the desolation may be, Jesus advises that they get out of Dodge when they see it and avoid doing anything that will slow their exit.
    • These are far from ideal conditions for pregnant women and new mothers nursing their children, who will have a particularly hard time.
    • Winter will also make this experience more harrowing, and that's yet another reason to pray for summer.
    • The afflictions in these days will be the most severe the world's ever seen.
    • If not for the Lord's intervention on behalf of the "elect" (13:20), not a single person would survive.
    • Imposter Messiahs will appear and will even do miracles, but the "elect" really should not fall for them, because Jesus has already warned them.
    • The return of the Son of Man in the clouds (taking up the promise of Daniel 7:13) will be obvious. This is certainly nothing an imposter can conjure up: the sun and moon will darken, stars will fall from heaven, and other celestial shake-ups will occur. Really, you cannot miss it.
    • Then the Son of Man will send forth his angels who will gather the "elect" throughout all earth and heaven. Is "heaven" intended to include deceased members of the elect?
    • It's easy to recognize the approach of summer because leaves grow on fig trees. Apply the same principle here.
    • Jesus emphatically states that this generation will not pass away until all these events occur.
    • Got guts? Here's a big problem. Obviously, Jesus and the disciples' generation is long gone, but the events of 13:24-27 have not yet occurred. What's up with that?
    • The words of Jesus will outlive even heaven and earth.
    • Only God knows the day and hour—not even Jesus knows. So don't even try to calculate it.
    • Jesus urges the disciples to stay vigilant, because they can't know the exact timing of the Son of Man's return.
    • It's like when your boss leaves. You still have to do your job even if you feel like taking a snooze. Employees don't want their boss to find them sleeping.
    • Jesus clarifies that the things he's telling them are not only for Peter, James, John, and Andrew (remember 13:3), but are valid beyond the storytime listeners for everyone.
  • Chapter 14

    Betrayal, Agony, and Abandonment

    • It's two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and scribes are making plans to trap Jesus by deceit and kill him. But they'll do it before the festivities, because they don't want to provoke the large crowd.
    • During dinner in the suburbs, a woman anoints Jesus's head with very expensive ointment.
    • What a waste. Several people are upset because this is the good stuff, not your everyday Axe. Besides, impoverished people could use this money.
    • Jesus defends the woman, who did something nice for him. Their time with Jesus is limited, but they'll always have poor people to care for.
    • Jesus then puts an interesting (prophetic) spin on her action. She's anointed his body for burial. People are going to remember this for a long time.
    • And guess what? We're still reading about her.
    • Meanwhile, Judas sneaks off and agrees to betray Jesus to the chief priests, who promise him money. Judas awaits an opportunity, and we readers are left in suspense.
    • The first day of the holiday arrives, and the disciples ask Jesus where he prefers to celebrate.
    • Jesus gives two disciples very specific instructions to enter Jerusalem and follow a man carrying water. Wherever he stops, they are supposed to ask the householder if they can eat the Passover meal there. He will show them the right room.
    • Voilà! It happens just as Jesus said. We've seen something like this before (recall 11:1-6).
    • During the meal, Jesus foretells that one of the twelve who are eating with him will rat him out. Hmmm.
    • This upsets his disciples, each of whom swears they would never do that.
    • Jesus insists, reiterating that his prophecy matches up with scripture.
    • Even so, his betrayer will be badly punished, and the turncoat will wish he were never born.
    • Then Jesus takes some bread, gives thanks, distributes it, and informs them that they're eating his body. Huh?
    • He does something similar with the wine, but tells them they're drinking his blood, which he will spill for many so as to cut a new deal.
    • This is the last wine Jesus will drink until he drinks again in God's kingdom. Yikes.
    • They sing some songs together and proceed to the Mount of Olives, where Jesus delivers more bad news to the disciples: they will all scatter like sheep whose shepherd is killed (he's quoting Zechariah 13:7).
    • The good news is that Jesus will arrive in Galilee before them. This all hints of the resurrection and the disciples' eventual restoration.
    • Peter insists that he sure isn't going to do that.
    • Actually, Jesus informs Peter, he'll do something worse, when he denies Jesus three times before the cock crows twice. Translation: Peter is going to deny Jesus.
    • More adamantly, Peter pledges to die with Jesus, and the other disciples follow his lead. Too bad we all know Jesus is pretty darn accurate as far as the future is concerned (remember 11:1-6 and 14:13-16).
    • They all come to Gethsemane, where Jesus instructs his disciples to pray.
    • Jesus goes off with Peter, James, and John. He's upset and tells them that his grief is deadly (alluding to the language of Psalms 42 and 43, which are powerful prayers of lamentation).
    • Removing himself for some solitude, Jesus prays that the hour pass from him if at all possible. But ultimately Jesus wants what God wants.
    • Jesus returns to the three disciples, who are sleeping, and rebukes Peter for not even staying awake one hour. They may be eager beavers, but they're going to need a lot more follow-through than that (remember 13:33-37).
    • Jesus prays and returns to find them asleep, two more times.
    • Time's up.
    • Judas arrives on the scene with an armed group sent by the chief priests, scribes, and elders.
    • Judas had told them to arrest the guy he kisses.
    • Pretending all's normal, Judas addresses Jesus as "Rabbi" (14:45) and greets him with a kiss.
    • The armed guard arrests Jesus, and a bystander strikes the high priest's servant with his sword, lopping off his ear.
    • Jesus puts this event in perspective. The sole reason why they arrested him on the sly and armed to their teeth with swords and clubs rather than while he was teaching in the temple is that scripture foretold that it would happen this way.
    • Everyone abandons Jesus, as he had predicted (recall 14:27).
    • When the guards seize one young follower, he strips off his clothes and escapes in the nude. (That seems random….)
    • They take Jesus to the chief priest, and all of Jerusalem's top dogs gather for his trial.
    • Peter does follow, but from a distance, and warms himself by a fire in the chief priest's courtyard. So much for dying with Jesus (glance back at 14:31).
    • The chief priests want to execute Jesus, but their only witnesses offer contradictory stories and downright lies.
    • They report to have heard Jesus saying he will destroy the temple and build another one. Nowhere in Mark does Jesus say this. But will it be true in a way the accusers don't intend?
    • The chief priest questions Jesus himself. Doesn't he have anything to say in his defense against these accusations?
    • Jesus is silent, and the chief priest asks point blank, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" (14:61).
    • Jesus responds in the affirmative and then adds that he will return in the clouds (similarly, 13:26). They better watch out.
    • The chief priest tears his clothes, declares no need for witnesses, and accuses him of blasphemy.
    • They condemn Jesus to death.
    • Some start to hock loogies at him, strike him while he is blindfolded, and challenge him to prophecy who did it.
    • Do you smell the sweet aroma of irony? All this fulfills Jesus's prophecy in 10:34, so the joke's on those mocking his prophetic abilities.
    • Meanwhile, a servant of the chief priest recognizes that Peter, who is still warming himself by the fire, is a companion of Jesus.
    • Peter denies it, ducks out of the courtyard, and a cock crows.
    • The servant continues to hound him, this time with bystanders overhearing, and Peter denies it again. (That's two, for anyone who's counting.)
    • A short time passes, and other bystanders start to pipe in. Peter is Galilean, after all. This time Peter swears by oath that he absolutely does not know this Jesus guy they keep mentioning. (And that's three.)
    • The cock crows a second time.
    • Peter realizes Jesus's prophecy in 14:30 has come true.
    • Peter weeps violently. 
    • If we assume that the Gospel of Mark originally ended at 16:8, then this is the last image the narrator leaves us of the twelve disciples, who are utterly defeated. Want to know more about the ending? Check out "What's up with the ending?"
  • Chapter 15

    A Contradiction in Terms: The Crucified King

    • Having rendered their verdict, Jerusalem's big wigs lead Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who actually possesses the legal authority to condemn someone to execution.
    • Pilate poses the question that really matters from his perspective: "Are you the King of the Jews?" (15:2).
    • Jesus responds, "You said it, buddy!" Or something like that.
    • The chief priests tell Pilate all their accusations against Jesus.
    • Pilate offers Jesus an opportunity to pose a defense, but Jesus refrains, which strikes Pilate as remarkable.
    • The narrator informs us that it was Pilate's custom during the festival of Unleavened Bread to release one prisoner at the people's request.
    • One prisoner's name was Barabbas, who had taken part in a violent revolt.
    • The crowd requests that Pilate now initiate the customary prisoner-release.
    • Pilate suggests that they accept the release of the "King of the Jews" (15:9), a.k.a. Jesus. After all, he was well-aware that the religious leaders had accused him purely out of rivalry.
    • Incited by the chief priests, the crowd requests the release of Barabbas instead.
    • Pilate asks them what he should do with Jesus, and they demand that Jesus be crucified.
    • Pilate wants to know what he did that was so wrong, but the crowd just insists on his crucifixion.
    • Because he's a crowd-pleaser, Pilate releases Barabbas and condemns Jesus to crucifixion, which is preceded by severe whipping.
    • The soldiers drive Jesus into the courtyard and summon the whole cohort. FYI, a Roman cohort is pretty big, usually around 600 soldiers, though the precise number varies in ancient sources.
    • They dress Jesus up like a king, with a purple robe and a crown made of thorns, and greet him mockingly: "Hail, O King of the Jews" (15:18).
    • They strike his head, spit nasty loogies at him, and bow down before him.
    • Afterward, they strip him of the purple mantle and dress him again in his own clothes. For your own mental image, this opens the possibility that Jesus continues to don the makeshift crown throughout the crucifixion.
    • Then the procession to Golgotha, the location of his crucifixion, begins. On the way, they get a certain Simon from Cyrene in North Africa to carry Jesus's crossbeam.
    • The narrator adds that Simon is the father of Alexander and Rufus, whom Mark's first recipients (or at least some of them) apparently knew.
    • When they get there, they offer Jesus wine mixed with myrrh, which is likely an act of mercy—its effect would probably alleviate in some measure the torments of crucifixion.
    • But Jesus refuses it. He's one tough dude (besides, remember 14:25).
    • The soldiers divide up his clothes and cast lots for them, a detail from Psalms 22:18 and one of several evocations of this song of lament throughout the account of the crucifixion.
    • The narrator cites the time as the "third hour" (15:25), which the NRSV accurately transcribes into modern lingo as 9:00AM.
    • Now it's time for some more irony. An inscription stating the charge for which he was condemned is from the narrator's perspective a true title for Jesus: "The King of the Jews" (15:26). You'll see that on a lot of paintings.
    • Two bandits are also crucified on the left and right of Jesus.
    • Passersby shake their heads at him (in the age of the internet Mark would have linked this detail to Psalm 22:7) and repeat the accusation of 14:58. Shame on Jesus. He can't even save himself.
    • The chief priests and scribes are in a pretty good mood and highlight the irony that Jesus saved others, but can't save himself.
    • But the irony is on them when they mockingly call him, "The Messiah, the King of Israel" (15:32), which for the narrator are accurate titles.
    • Even those who are co-crucified with Jesus ridicule him. Ouch.
    • During the "sixth hour" (KJV) or around 12:00PM (NRSV) darkness consumes the whole earth for three straight hours.
    • Then in the "ninth hour" (KJV) or around 3:00PM (NRSV), Jesus shouts forth a quote from Psalm 22:1 in Aramaic, which the narrator translates into Greek, which the translators of the NRSV deliver to us in English: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (15:34).
    • Some of the bystanders think he's summoning Elijah, whose name sounds an awful lot like the Aramaic word for "my God" (elōi), which Jesus has just uttered twice (15:34).
    • Someone gives him a sponge soaked with sour wine to drink, which is a possible allusion to Psalm 69:21.
    • This act may be another gesture of mockery or an act of mercy, if the wine is intended to revive Jesus long enough to see if Elijah will really come.
    • Jesus dies.
    • The temple's curtain, which likely refers to the thing that separated the holy of holies from the temple proper, is torn.
    • A centurion witnesses the manner of Jesus's death and says, "Truly this man was God's son" (15:39). For a bit of ancient flavor, you may translate, "Truly this man was a son of a god," which may be more in keeping with the fact that the centurion is not Jewish.
    • For those of you who like to argue rowdily with your friends or relatives, you might like to raise the question of whether the centurion's statement is mocking in tone and therefore ironic, like those in 15:29-30, 32; or genuine and thus he is the only bystander who affirms the truth of Jesus's identity. 
    • A group of women, who followed Jesus in Galilee and accompanied him to Jerusalem, are watching from a distance. The narrator divulges three of their names, Mary Magdalene, another Mary (who? Compare 6:3, 15:47, 16:1), and Salome.
    • In the evening, Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished councilman, gathers up his courage to request that Pilate grant him possession of Jesus's dead body.
    • Pilate is surprised that Jesus has died so quickly, for crucifixion usually entailed a very slow death by asphyxiation, but the centurion confirms that Jesus really is dead.
    • Pilate grants the body of Jesus to Joseph, who wraps him in a burial shroud and places him in a tomb hewn from rock, with a huge stone rolled before the door.
    • For you archeology buffs, tombs like the one described here have been found. Give your historical imagination something to chew on.
    • Two Marys see where Joseph put Jesus's body.
  • Chapter 16:1-8

    The Empty Tomb

    • After the Sabbath, the two Marys and Salome arrive at the tomb in order to anoint Jesus for burial.
    • As they proceed to the tomb during the wee hours of the morning, they are all wondering who will help them roll the stone away from the tomb's door.
    • When they get there, they realize that the stone has already been removed.
    • Entering the tomb, they're surprised when they meet a youth donning white, which seems to be in style among the supernatural elite (also, in 9:3). 
    • The youth tries to subdue their alarm.
    • He informs them that Jesus of Nazareth, who had just been crucified, has gotten up and is no longer here.
    • For proof, he points to the very place Joseph had placed him.
    • Then he instructs the women to tell the disciples that Jesus is going on before them to Galilee, and they will see him there (remember the prophecy of 14:28).
    • The women run from the tomb, trembling out of their minds. They're so scared that they don't tell anyone anything at all.
    • In several important manuscripts, including one known as Sinaiticus, the Gospel of Mark ends here. Several (but not all) pretty smart people who've spent years studying this will argue until they're blue in the face that Mark really did end the gospel here. For more about this, click your way to "What's up with the ending?"
  • Chapter 16:8-9

    An Additional "Short Ending" In-between

    • A few manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark insert two sentences in-between 16:8 and 16:9. They are known as the so-called "Short Ending" of Mark. Check them out. Some of your translations might make note.
    • Here the narrator basically reverses 16:8, reporting that the women eventually come around and do inform Peter and his companions of everything that the youth had commanded.
    • Then Jesus himself comes on the scene and commissions them to spread "the holy and incorruptible proclamation of eternal salvation" throughout the whole world. 
    • By the way, all the manuscripts that record these two sentences go on to record 16:9-20 as well, except for one, which ends the gospel here, with the "Short Ending."
  • Chapter 16:9-20

    You Forgot A Few Things, Dummy: The So-Called "Long Ending"

    • Get ready for some more fun with manuscripts. Another group of manuscripts include the so-called "Long Ending" of Mark (16:9-20). In most of them it follows directly after 16:8, while in a few it follows the "Short Ending."
    • The odds are that someone was not satisfied with the empty tomb or the failure of the scared women in 16:8 and took the initiative to round Mark out by adding stories of Jesus's appearance. This is more in keeping with the endings of the other three New Testament gospels, too.
    • Rising early on the first day of the week, Jesus appears first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast seven demonic spirits.
    • Mary informs Jesus's disciples who were mourning his death, but they don't believe that she saw him alive.
    • Then Jesus appears to two people walking in the country, but in another form.
    • These two also report their sighting to the disciples, who don't believe them either. Does this remind anyone else of Elvis?
    • Finally, Jesus appears to the eleven disciples (remember, Judas isn't around) while they're eating.
    • He rebukes their lack of faith. Not much has changed, eh? These disciples still get F's.
    • Jesus orders them to proclaim the good news to all of creation in the whole world—a very tall order.
    • Jesus adds that salvation belongs to baptized believers, and condemnation to non-believers. Okay, this is getting serious.
    • He promises that believers will perform miracles in his name, such as exorcizing demons, speaking in new languages, or picking up snakes with their bare hands.
    • These people will also be unharmed if they drink poison. Whoa.
    • They will even cure the sick by laying their hands upon them.
    • After saying these things to the disciples, Jesus ascends to heaven, where he takes a pretty powerful seat right next to none other than God.
    • The disciples go forth as they are ordered and finally start to raise their grades to A's. After all, the Lord has given them a little help and proves that what they say is right by the miracles that they perform.