Commentary: Mark 1:14-20
What did Jesus preach? How effective was his message? These two questions are addressed from the very beginning of his ministry. After already revealing to the reader that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, who was strengthened by God's Spirit to reject Satan's testing, Mark opens his account of Jesus' initial ministry.
We are informed of the time of Jesus' ministry: "after John had been handed over." Here we have foreshadowed the eventual fate of Jesus (8:31; 9:31; 10:33; 14:21), and also of the disciples (13:9-13). Mark states the location of Jesus' ministry: "in Galilee." Here is another connection with the future because, not only does Jesus' ministry begin in Galilee, it returns there as the place of encounter with the resurrected Jesus (16:7). Mark summarizes Jesus' message: "preaching the gospel of God." Mark succinctly states Jesus' original message which was the bedrock upon which he grounded his ministry.
First, Jesus mentions the fulfillment of the "time" (kairos). Viewing history as arranged into chronological sequential epochs, Jesus announces the arrival of the final stage of history. He characterizes the final epoch by saying, "the kingdom of God is at hand." In Jesus' very person and in his work, and wherever the rule of God is accepted and permitted entry and dominion in human hearts, there is where God reigns.
In the Old Testament, the end-time association of the kingdom of God is seen in Isaiah, and Jesus appears to have applied this concept to his ministry. Mark emphasizes the appearance of Jesus, and its connection with the arrival of the eschatological age, when God would establish his rule over all the earth. There is a sense, of course, in which the kingdom is not only present but still to come in the future. The disciples were to pray for its consummation. Until the time when God's reign was absolute, Jesus' message announced that the kingdom was present in him and wherever people live as God's faithful children.
If such is the case, there are but two things to do, and they are related to each other "to repent" and "to believe in the gospel." To enter the kingdom, Jesus first called the people to repentance. Repentance is more than simply feeling sorrow for sin. Certainly there is no repentance without sorrow for sins of either omission or commission, toward both
God and neighbor. But "metanoia" means more than that. It means to change one's mind, one's attitude toward life, one's way of living, one's purpose for living. It describes not just a change of heart, but a transformed and new heart, evidenced by a changed manner of life. To repent means to turn away from the world and to turn toward God (already an Old Testament notion, e.g., Hosea 6:1). Schweizer reminds us "that `repentance' is nothing less than a wholehearted commitment to the `Good News.' This is like the conduct of Jesus himself, who, with astonishing patience, left everything to God."1
"Belief" or "faith" is the evidence of repentance. It simply cannot be otherwise, as will be illustrated in Jesus' calling of his disciples. To "believe the good news," means to be obedient to the Word of God and to orient one's life toward discipleship, because one seeks God's kingdom.
The preaching of Jesus yielded results (1:16-20). In an abrupt and nearly inexplicable manner, the proclamation of Jesus resulted in the calling of his first four disciples. The first two brothers, Simon and Andrew, were casting their net into the sea. Jesus' imperative has an immediate effect on the men. Observe how frequently "immediately" occurs in Mark 1. By my count, it occurs eight times in the first chapter and forty-one times in Mark. They immediately drop their nets and follow Jesus.
The speed of their response is striking. First, these men did not seek out Jesus in order to be his disciples, they received a call from outside themselves. Second, having heard the call, they set their lives in an entirely new direction. No longer catching fish, they are to fish for "men." The aorist participle, "left," in conjunction with the verb suggests the decisiveness and completeness of their response. The brothers give evidence to the "faith" about which Jesus spoke—obedient to the word of God, it is almost as though they have no alternative except to follow.
Occurring as these calls do, at the outset of Jesus' ministry, we should be struck by the awesome power of Jesus' call to create new lives and start them off in new directions. Where else do we encounter something entirely new coming from the spoken word? We are being hearkened back to God's first creation, where God gave the command and "immediately" what he spoke came to pass. For instance, when God said, "Let there be light!"—there was light! When Jesus called, they followed!
So, too, with the sons of Zebedee. In the boat with their father, James and John heard Jesus' call, and they left everything behind and followed him. We cannot avoid Mark's suggestion that Jesus (Son of God) is in the creation business as was his Father.2 The creative power of Jesus' word finds further emphasis in the fact that the disciples follow him even before he performs any deeds, which would have given them more incentive to follow.3 This reemphasizes that the call comes from outside of themselves.
The effectiveness of Jesus' ministry can be seen already in our pericope by the alacrity with which the four got in step with Jesus. It appears that Mark intended to use this story to remind his readers just what following Jesus involved. To follow Jesus was to deny oneself, to participate in activities and ministry like Jesus did—healing and teaching, forsaking family and possessions. Mark wanted to ensure that any prospective followers knew what being a disciple of Jesus entailed. For those who believe, God is doing something entirely new. They are followers, certainly, but they are also new creations.
John M. Scholer
1. Schweizer, Mark, p. 47 2. Schweizer, Mark, p. 48. Schweizer seems to hint at this idea, at least. 3. Paul J. Achtemeier, Mark (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1986), p. 107.