The World View of the Gospel of Mark
In this segment, we’re going to look at a passage of scripture. Studying scripture is not just reading it; it is analyzing it and looking behind it to see if we find something interesting. I’d like to look at the first 34 verses of the Gospel of Mark.
The word Gospel means “good news.” In the New Testament, there are four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They recount events in the life of Jesus. No Gospel tells everything about the life of Jesus—everything Jesus did, said, and what happened to Him. They only tell some things, but they are what we have that has survived that tell us about Jesus, what He did, and what happened to Him.
Mark is the shortest Gospel. It is the most compact version, and when you produce a compact version of anything, you try to pack as much as you can in a small space. That’s the way Mark is. It’s short and to the point. And, although no one knows for certain when the different Gospels were written, the majority of biblical scholars believe Mark was the earliest Gospel, which means it may be the closest to the actual time of Jesus.
If you are at a place where you can stop and read the first 34 verses, I’d encourage you to do so now. If you do, get something to write on and make a list of all the characters that appear in the first 34 verses—not just the people, but all characters, human, divine, and animal. If you’re not where you can do this, that’s OK.
I’ll list them, in the order in which they appear—Jesus, God, prophets, John, people from Jerusalem, Holy Spirit, Satan, wild beasts, angels, Simon, Andrew, James, John the brother of James, Zebedee, hired servants, scribes, man in the synagogue, unclean spirit, “they” (unnamed, but apparently people in the synagogue), Simon’s mother-in-law, the sick, the demon-possessed, the whole city (people), demons.
Three Realms: Divine, Earthly, and Demonic
Those are the characters that appear in these 34 verses. If you look at that list, you’ll notice that you can separate the characters into three categories: earthly beings, divine beings, and evil beings.
The earthly beings include prophets, John, people from Jerusalem, Simon, Andrew, James, John the brother of James, Zebedee, hired servants, scribes, amn in the synagogue, people in the synagogue, Simon’s mother-in-law, the sick the demon-possessed, and the whole city.
The divine beings include God and Holy Spirit.
The evil beings include unclean spirit, Satan, and demons.
And then there’s Jesus. Jesus is described in two ways. First, He’s described as the Son of God, which would place Him in the category of divine beings. But he’s also described as a person, which would place Him in the category of earthly beings.
From analyzing this list of characters, we find the worldview of Mark. There are three realms—the divine realm, the earthly realm, and the evil realm.
What Jesus Does
It’s interesting to notice what happens. Jesus, who initially is described as being from the divine realm, comes to the earthly realm, where He engages in conflict with characters from the evil realm. The characters from the evil realm are pictured as doing things that are detrimental to the characters in the earthly realm, and Jesus opposes them. Jesus, the power from the divine realm, uses His power to oppose the characters from the evil realm because they are doing things detrimental to the characters in the earthly realm. In a sense, Jesus is trying to protect the characters in the earthly realm from the characters of the evil realm.
We get all this from just the first 34 verses of the Gospel of Mark. Right there when it starts—right at the beginning—it sets the stage for what is going to play out as the Gospel progresses.
It’s like a movie. When you see a movie, the beginning of the movie sets the stage—sets up the characters and the situations—that will play out as the movie progresses. That’s what we see in the first verses of the Gospel of Mark. It’s setting the stage, introducing the characters and situations that will play out as the Gospel progresses.
Right here in the first 34 verses, we get introduced to this character of Jesus, and we get an idea of what He’s going to do—oppose the forces of evil as they try to harm those in the earthly realm.
We find this same theme in the other Gospels. Satan, unclean spirits, and demons are present in the other Gospels, and Jesus is in conflict with them. Jesus casts out unclean spirits and demons. Jesus resists the temptations of Satan.
The Jewish Leaders as Instruments of the Power of Evil on Earth
But these characters in the evil realm are not the only characters Jesus is in opposition to. There are some earthly characters with whom Jesus is in conflict, specifically, the Jewish leaders. We find Jesus and the Jewish leaders in conflict early, almost from the very beginning. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, we see this conflict near the beginning of chapter 2. There Jesus is in conflict with the scribes. Shortly after that, He is in conflict with the disciples of John the Baptist, and then He is in conflict with the Pharisees. All that is in chapter 2. At the beginning of chapter 3, Jesus is in conflict with the Pharisees again, and after that it says that the Pharisees and the Herodians—another group of Jews—plot to destroy Jesus.
From there on, the rest of the time, Jesus is in escalating conflict with the Jewish leaders. But these Jewish leaders are not just characterized as Jewish leaders. Jesus Himself associates them with the evil realm. He tells them the devil—Satan—is their father. He calls them serpents and a generation of vipers. He calls them children of hell.
This frames the conflict with the Jewish leaders. They are representatives of evil, of Satan. As time goes on, they get more and more desperate to get Jesus. They convince one of Jesus’ disciples, Judas, to betray Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, it says that Satan entered into Judas right before Judas betrayed Jesus. The conclusion is inescapable that the ones who killed Jesus were doing the work of Satan.
This is the same theme we saw in the first verses of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is in conflict with the powers of evil. He is opposing them. They are opposing Him. And so they decide to get rid of Him. That’s what leads to His death. All four Gospels have that same theme.
What did Jesus do? He opposed the forces of evil, both the spiritual forces of evil and their human representatives. What was the result of that? The forces of evil wanted to get rid of Him. Why did Jesus die on the cross? Because the forces of evil were trying to get rid Him. All four Gospels are clear about that.
There’s something else that is important to realize. These Jewish leaders are the only people Jesus is portrayed as being against. Jesus was not against the general public. Jesus was not against the publicans. He was not against the woman caught in adultery. He was not against the “sinners” the Jewish leaders criticized Him for eating with. Jesus was not against people in general; in fact, from all indications, according to the Gospels, Jesus loved the people. He was against only one group of people—the Jewish leaders—whom He characterized as being representatives of evil. Jesus was against only one thing—the power of evil. And the Gospels tell us that’s why He was killed—because the power of evil wanted to get rid of Him.
How Western Christianity Views the Death of Jesus
But yet, Western Christianity looks at the death of Jesus in an entirely different way. Western Christianity sees the death of Jesus as having to do with providing a way for us to get our sins forgiven. According to Western Christianity, why did Jesus die on the cross? To offer a blood sacrifice to God, to satisfy God’s demand for a blood sacrifice for sin so that we could get our sins forgiven and not have to spend eternity in the torments of hell.
What do we do then with this theme that runs through all four Gospels about Jesus fighting against the forces of evil? Well, Western Christianity basically attaches no importance to it. Western Christianity sees it only as a way to get Jesus on the cross. And so basically, Western Christianity has reduced what could be argued as being the major theme in all four Gospels to being merely an insignificant mechanism for getting Jesus on the cross. Western Christianity, in its belief system, basically ignores this conflict with the forces of evil and dismisses it as merely as a way to get Jesus nailed up on the cross.
Read the four Gospels and see if you can find a place where Jesus says He has come to earth to be killed as a blood sacrifice to God so that people can have their sins forgiven. I’m not talking about a passage that someone tells you that’s what’s meant. I’m talking about a passage where Jesus Himself states that clearly.
You won’t find it.
The places where Jesus talks about His death in ways that some people interpret as being a blood sacrifice to God for sin could just as well be interpreted to mean that the blood is shed in the fight against evil.
And so the big thing that Western Christianity tells us about Jesus’ death—that it was a blood sacrifice to God to make forgiveness of sins possible—is in fact an interpretation, and it is only one possible interpretation that can be put on Jesus’ death. From what the Gospels say, you can just as easily support the interpretation that Jesus’ death was a result of His fight against the powers of evil. In fact, that is the primary meaning the Gospels give for why Jesus was killed.
How Western Christianity Views God
So, let’s back up and see what we’ve seen so far in this series. We’re talking about Western Christianity, which is Christianity that stems from Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We’ve seen that Western Christianity sees the primary fact about our relation to God and God’s relation to us as being that we do not live as God wants—we’re sinners. The reason we’re sinners is that the first two human beings—Adam and Eve—ate a piece of fruit that God told them not to eat, so God changed human nature to make everyone incapable of anything but sin. But even though we sin because God made us incapable of anything but sin, because we sin, God sentences us to hell, where we will be horribly tormented for eternity. Western Christianity sees Jesus’ death as placating God’s anger over our sins and offering the blood sacrifice God requires for sin, which opens up the possibility that we might have our sins forgiven and escape hell. That’s Western Christianity in a nutshell, and that, we are told, is The Meaning behind Jesus—what He did and what happened to Him.
But stop and think for a minute. What kind of picture of God does that paint? Think about that. God creates the world, and it’s a paradise. God puts human beings in the world to live forever in that paradise. But they do one thing God tells them not to do, and God flies off the handle and completely ruins the whole creation. He introduces sickness, disease, natural disasters, all kinds of sorrow and heartbreak. He introduces conditions where animals viciously rip each other apart. He introduces death. But that’s not all. He makes it so that from now on, people can do nothing but sin. They can’t even think of doing good. And then even though He makes them sin, He hold them responsible for sinning. The way He holds them responsible for sinning is vicious—He sentences them to unspeakable, horrible torments in hell for all eternity.
Think for a minute about what eternity means. You’re a human being, you die, and you find yourself in hell enduring all kinds of torments, especially burning in flames. It’s horrible, beyond anything you could ever have imagined, and there will be no end to it, none at all. Ten trillion years from now, you’ll still be there, and ten trillion years later, you’ll still be there. There will be no end. You will be horribly tormented forever, with no end at all.
Why? Because God got mad at the first two people He made for eating a piece of fruit He told them not to eat.
That’s the picture of God this idea paints. Do you think people really believe God is like that?
Conscious and Subconscious Beliefs
Psychologists tell us there are at least two aspects to belief. First, there are our conscious beliefs—the things we think we believe. Then there are our subconscious beliefs—the things we really believe. These are the beliefs of the heart, the beliefs deep down inside us. Studies have been done that measure the difference between our conscious beliefs and our subconscious beliefs. They reveal that what people really believe deep in their hearts is very different from what they profess to believe.
Conscious beliefs tend to be things we think we’re supposed to believe, the stock beliefs we think are “proper.” They are the beliefs we express when we have time to think about what we think we’re supposed to say. On the conscious level, many people claim to agree with the beliefs about God they hear from Western Christianity.
But on the subconscious level, I think it’s very different. On the subconscious level, where our true, deep down beliefs reside, we realize what a horrible picture of God the beliefs of Western Christianity paint. On the conscious level, we tend to repeat what we think we’re supposed say, and so we say we agree with them. But on the subconscious level, we process the beliefs, follow them to their logical conclusion, and realize the conclusion they lead to is something we really don’t believe about God. Our conscious beliefs are the beliefs we give lip service to, but our unconscious beliefs are what we truly, deep in our hearts, believe. And deep down in our hearts, we know God is not like Western Christianity says He is.
One of the best examples of that is found at funerals. I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my life, and many of these funerals were for people who by the standards of Western Christianity would be in hell. But yet I’ve never been to a funeral where it was said of the decedent that they were in hell. In every case it was stated, or at least implied, that they were in heaven. Why? Because deep down, people don’t really believe the picture Western Christianity paints of God. On the conscious level, they don’t really think about it, and they never realize what a horrible picture it paints of God. But on the subconscious level, they do. On the subconscious level, they realize how monstrous it is to imagine God ruining His entire creation and condemning every human being who would ever live to spend eternity in the torments of hell just because the first two people He made ate a piece of fruit He told them not to eat.
I think that’s one reason why today, more and more people are rejecting Western Christianity’s ideas about God. But just because we reject Western Christianity’s ideas about God doesn’t mean we have to reject Christianity. There are other ways of interpreting things in the Bible to get very different ideas about God.
In the next segment, we’ll look at one of those.