NT, Part 5. The issue of John Mark.

After laboring together in Antioch for about a year, in A.D. 46, Paul and Barnabas sailed northwest from Barnabas’ home island of Cypress. They took with them the young man known as John Mark. They landed in Perga of Pamphylia. There they experienced an immediate setback. The team lost one of its members.

John Mark abandoned them and returned to Jerusalem.

The two men continued their successful mission without him. Little is said here about “the John Mark issue,” but more information leaks out later in The Acts of the Apostles. This issue impacted Paul and Barnabas’ relationship, causing a sharp disagreement two years later (Acts 15:36-40).

Paul refused to take John Mark on their second trip, though Barnabas wanted him to accompany them. They parted ways as a result.

Their “sharp disagreement,” in the original language paroxusmos, means “in a bad sense, a paroxysm, the stirring up of anger, sharp contention, angry dispute.”

Two leaders in an angry dispute / sharp disagreement about a personal matter involving one young man had the potential to split the early church.

So, what is John Mark’s story?

Two leaders in an angry dispute about a personal matter involving one young man had the potential to split the early church. What is John Mark's story? How might it impact the way we support young leaders? #Grace Click To Tweet

It is believed that John Mark was present when Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives. In his Gospel, Mark wrote: “And they [Jesus’ disciples] all left him [Jesus] and fled. And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:50-52 ESV).

Who else but the one who was out there wrapped in a piece of linen cloth, who was then seized, but who struggled free, and who then ran away naked, would know these bits of information included in Mark’s Gospel?

This account is only mentioned in The Gospel According to Mark, therefore scholars believe Mark was referring to himself. He didn’t run until the soldiers grabbed him. He ran and the linen fell away, leaving him naked.

Mark wasn’t one of the twelve apostles, but his mother hosted an important group — the fledgling church in Jerusalem. Attempting to eradicate the church, Antipas persecuted them. Peter had been thrown into prison by Herod Antipas.

In answer to the church’s prayers, however, an angel of the Lord stood next to Peter, “and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly.’ And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, ‘Dress yourself and put on your sandals.’ And he did so. And he said to him, ‘Wrap your cloak around you and follow me'” (Acts 12:7b-8 ESV).

Peter dressed and then followed the angel, thinking that he was seeing a vision. The angel and Peter passed both the first and the second guard. They then approached the iron gate leading out of the city. Of its own accord, the gate opened. The angel and Peter went through and walked along one street. Immediately, the angel left him.

When Peter realized that all of this had actually occurred and that it wasn’t a vision, that he truly stood outside on a Jerusalem street, “he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate” (Acts 12:12b-14 ESV).

Imagine Peter standing outside in the darkness, waiting to be admitted. No one inside believed Rhoda, however, though she kept insisting.

“They kept saying, ‘It is his angel!’ But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed” (Acts 12:15b-16 ESV).

Both the home and the household of John Mark’s mother Mary were important in the early Christian community of Jerusalem. Peter knew that his fellow believers would be gathered there, so that is where he headed after he was freed.

The family was wealthy enough to have a maidservant like Rhoda, and their home was also large enough for the entire church to gather there.

At some time after he was freed, the Apostle Peter took John Mark under his tutelage. In A.D. 55, John Mark authored the first Gospel ever written — The Gospel According to Mark, recounting Peter’s testimony.

The Apostle Peter took John Mark under his tutelage. In A.D. 55, John Mark authored the first Gospel ever written — The Gospel According to Mark, recounting Peter's testimony. Click To Tweet

With this history, Peter could encourage John Mark effectively after he let Paul and Barnabas down, for Peter had likewise committed tragic mistakes — his denial of Christ and his fearfulness later displayed in Galatia. These could have derailed his faith, but Peter grew, and so did young John Mark.

Years down the road, in Peter’s first letter, most likely written in A.D. 62-63, Peter sent greetings from “Mark, my son,” (1 Peter 5:13) who was with him. Their friendship was obviously warm and spanned decades.

From prison, also in approximately A.D. 62, Paul himself wrote: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)” (Colossians 4:10 ESV).

Relationship mended. In A.D. 62, Paul wrote: "Aristarchus greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instruction–if he comes to you, welcome him)" (Col.4:10) #Grace Click To Tweet

Of this mention of John Mark by Paul in Colossians some sixteen years after John Mark left them in Perga, the ESV Study Bible notes: “This is the same person as ‘John Mark,’ who accompanied Paul on his first missionary journey and suddenly departed (Acts 13:13) and over whom Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement (Acts 15:39). Paul’s perspective on John Mark has decidedly changed. . . Now Mark has been reconciled to Paul and is ministering to him and on his behalf.” 1

Nave’s Topical Index records this translation of Colossians 4:10: “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner salutes you, and Marcus, sister’s son to Barnabas, touching whom you received commandments: if he come to you, receive him.”

Mark was, therefore, either cousin or nephew (sister’s son) of Barnabas.

At the end of Paul’s life, probably A.D. 64-65, he requested of Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11 ESV).

Relationship mended. At the end of Paul's life, probably A.D. 64-65, he requested of Timothy, "Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11 ESV). #Grace Click To Tweet

We aren’t privy to how their reconciliation occurred, but we know from this evidence that it did occur, and that Mark effectively advanced the Gospel, beginning even before Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary trip.

Clearly, John Mark assisted Paul, Barnabas, and Peter to build and to strengthen the church. According to Coptic tradition, John Mark founded the Coptic Church in Egypt. He was martyred there. Copts believe Mark was tied to a horse and dragged to his death by a mob of pagans on Easter, 68 A.D., in Alexandria, Egypt.

Mark’s early error did not sideline his life nor undo his previous work for Jesus in recording Peter’s account in Mark’s Gospel, the first one written.

Remember this when encouraging young leaders who may have stumbled and blundered. They can still grow in maturity and go on to accomplish great things for Jesus, perhaps surpassing all others.

Clearly, Paul forgave John Mark, and John Mark reconciled with Paul.

However, at this point of our examination of their ministry, poised to enter Anatolia with the Gospel, neither man knew any of this would occur, only that John Mark had let them down. We can imagine their varied reactions to Mark’s startling action. However, they pressed onward. Next week we’ll examine their first missionary trip together after John Mark’s departure.

Did you ever make a tragic mistake as a young believer that led you to believe that you could never serve the Lord? What happened?

As a young Christian were you ever ignored or looked down upon by leaders who knew of a mistake you had made and who then sidelined you from service? If so, how did this impact your life?

Did anyone ever drop you from discipleship because of a mistake you made? If so, how did that impact your life?

Have you ever make the mistake of thinking that a young Christian who didn’t rise to the occasion could never amount to much? What happened?

  1. Note on Colossians 4:10, ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, Illinois, 2008.