Good news! There’s a new commentary on the Gospel of Mark, from an author I’ve been reading. Here’s a quick introduction.
First, why read commentaries on Scripture rather than reading Scripture?
If you consider it an either/or choice, then of course you want to read the Bible. But those who wrote the Bible didn’t envisage you reading in isolation. They wrote for a community. What emerges from the pages of the Bible is not saved individuals but a community whose life is in Christ. That’s what the kingdom of God is: the community alive in his Anointed leader.
Commentaries share insights that help us live in God’s story.
The most basic would be a paperback that gives a quick overview of each book of the Bible:
- Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible Book by Book (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).
But say you want to gain insight into the story of Jesus. You’re not doing formal research, so you want something that helps you see the Gospel as the foundation for the Messiah’s community. This gem has just been released:
- Timothy Gombis, Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2021).
The Story of God Bible Commentary series situates individual Bible books within the overarching story of God, within God’s mission to bring the earth back under his care. The editors are Scot McKnight (NT scholar) and Tremper Longman III (OT scholar). The series is neither technical nor lightweight — just right for pastors preparing sermons, group leaders preparing Bible studies, and undergraduate students. The new release on Mark’s Gospel is by Timothy Gombis whom I’ve been reading for several years now.
Before Tim Gombis makes his way through the Gospel of Mark verse-by-verse, he overviews the book as a whole, introducing the author, audience, and the crucial themes.
Who needs to hear this Gospel, and what response is Mark expecting? The gospel is not a message to give outsiders to get them across the line. The gospel is the message that shapes us. From pages 12–13:
Mark’s purpose is not so much to proclaim the gospel as to remind Christians of the true character of the gospel, calling readers and audiences back to the reality of the gospel they had received. Mark’s intended audiences, therefore, are churches that have received the gospel and envision themselves as participants in the kingdom of God. …
Mark tells the story in a certain way in order to shape the imaginations of his audiences and readers and to effect transformation among them. …
My study of this Gospel has unsettled me in countless ways and reconfigured how I envision being Christian, how I view God, and how I see the mission of the church.
Love it! The gospel forms us — reshapes us as the community embodying the king.
And the kingdom?
Most NT scholars recognize the kingdom of God as the heart of Jesus’ message. Here’s what Tim says under the heading Jesus and the Kingdom of God (pages 6–7):
Jesus is the focus of Mark’s Gospel. But if we isolate Jesus from his mission, we will tragically misunderstand him. Jesus is God’s appointed agent of kingdom rule, the one through whom God’s kingdom comes into being. He is the king who rules on God’s behalf, and the events that lead up to Jesus’s crucifixion constitute his procession to coronation—his death on the cross. And the kingdom of God is a socio-political and economic reality that is a total way of life. The gospel Jesus proclaims is the announcement that God’s reign has arrived, and he calls everyone to enter it through concrete social practices of service to the needy and hospitality to the marginalized. These two activities in Mark’s Gospel are what it means to “follow” Jesus as communities that embody and enact his reign (9:37; 10:43–44).
It is important to stress the intimate relation and unbreakable bond between Jesus and his kingdom because many contemporary Christians assume that the gospel is about Jesus and his willingness to inhabit human hearts. This popular gospel is about changing someone on the inside, giving them a new perspective on life. It offers a sense of purpose, inner peace, and fulfillment in the present and an eternal destiny in the future. It portrays Christian discipleship in terms of reordering one’s internal world of affections and emotions. For such audiences, Mark’s Gospel will land like a thud. There just isn’t any of that here. Jesus calls for complete lives, not just hearts. And he is forming communities of people that will receive the kingdom by undergoing a thorough transformation of community practices, habits, prejudices, ideological commitments, and social dynamics. Social rankings will be turned on their heads, and conceptions of leadership will be totally overthrown.
In Mark’s Gospel, the status quo and life as we know it has resulted in Judea becoming the “strong man’s house”—satanically enslaved space. The preaching of the gospel as a call to enter a radically alternative socio-political and economic reality is not a challenge for people to try harder or embrace the call to “a higher personal standard.” It is an offer of relief to the oppressed, rest for the weary, hope for the beaten-down, and warm embrace for the rejected and outcast. It presents a sharp challenge to those benefiting from the status quo (Mark 10:17–23). Yet for anyone with eyes to see, the kingdom of God is the dynamic, life-giving reality of healing and restoration.
Jesus is central to the Gospel of Mark—of course he is! But he is central in that he is God’s authorized agent of kingdom rule and the one through whom God initiates his kingdom. And “the gospel” in the Gospel of Mark is the proclamation of the arrival of God’s kingdom and the call to enter it through the transformation of every aspect of life.
If you’re looking for a commentary that is neither technical nor lightweight, this looks good.
The Gospels are my favourite part of Scripture because they are the revelation of the Christ, the good-news call to participate in our heaven-anointed ruler, to be the community where his servant leadership is already functioning in his world, the embodied expression of his reign in the present, the living hope of the world coming under his governance. That’s where the story of God is headed.