The Whole Gospel of Mark in a Single Verse

by Daniel Brueske, John Lee May 30, 2023

Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from A Ransom for Many by John J.R. Lee and Daniel Brueske (Lexham Press, 2023). This book is now available for purchase.

On the evening of Thursday, February 28, 1889, Charles Haddon Spurgeon ascended the steps of the Metropolitan Tabernacle pulpit in London, England, to preach a sermon that would come to be titled, “The Whole Gospel in a Single Verse.” Spurgeon’s text was 1 Timothy 1:15. In this verse, Spurgeon sees “the great truths of the gospel … pressed together by a hydraulic ram,” and he goes so far as to claim, “[T]his text contains the gospel in brief, and yet I may say that it contains the gospel in full.”1 We believe something similar could be said about the place of Mark 10:45 within the narrative of the Second Gospel. Mark 10:45 is not just one verse among many; it is a key verse for understanding Mark. It summarizes Mark’s thematic emphases in brief, and yet we may say that it contains the core of Mark’s message in full. As a result, Mark 10:45 carries implications for how we read and interpret Mark’s Gospel as a whole.

But there is a problem. Even though many scholars recognize the importance of Mark 10:45, not much discussion exists as to why or in what sense this verse is so crucial. There are brief remarks here and there, but most offer no more than a few lines, mentioning the matter almost in passing and then quickly moving on to other issues. The significance of Mark 10:45 is, thus, usually assumed rather than explained. In this study, we aim to move from simply presuming and asserting the significance of Mark 10:45 to demonstrating it and, ultimately, to considering how proper attention to this verse should guide our reading and interpretation of the rest of Mark’s narrative. Such a task must include a careful examination of the verse and its context. Moreover, a careful reading of Mark 10:45, integrated as it is within the Second Gospel, requires some understanding of the setting and intention behind the book’s composition. No writing exists in a vacuum, and Mark’s Gospel is no exception.

Therefore, in what follows, we will explore both the occasion (chapter 2) and the purpose (chapter 3) that gave rise to the Second Gospel. There is little consensus regarding the specific occasion for Mark’s Gospel, but we believe some details about the audience are more plausible than others. Given the uncertainty of Mark’s occasion, our argument for his purpose will be built primarily on the narrative itself. Nevertheless, reading Mark’s Gospel with some regard for its historical setting helps us imagine how Mark’s message would likely have been received by his earliest audience. We will argue that a composition in the middle to late 60s CE, though not certain, is more plausible than alternative suggestions. We will also contend that Mark’s earliest audience was likely facing either the prospect or the reality of suffering for their faith in Jesus of Nazareth.

In exploring the author’s purpose for writing (chapter 3), we will survey the entire narrative of the Second Gospel for indications of the author’s concerns and goals. Unlike Luke (1:4) and John (20:30–31), Mark contains no explicit statement regarding his compositional intention. Therefore, careful consideration of the total narrative is prudent, especially given the strategic placement of Mark 10:45 within the structure of Mark’s Gospel (a point we will advance in chapter 5). We will give particular attention to the Evangelist’s competence as an author, which is implied by various details found throughout the narrative at both the macro and micro levels. If Mark were rather careless in his composition, then determining his purpose would be a presumptuous goal. However, Mark’s thoughtful and deliberate handling of his material justifies our pursuit of his purpose and, ultimately, the pursuit of our target verse’s meaning and significance based upon both its content and its location within the narrative. Readers will not be surprised to find that Mark’s narrative focuses on the person and work of Jesus from its opening to its close. Who Jesus is (his identity) and what he has done (his mission) comprise the content of this gospel. However, Mark’s narration of this Jesus story is not meant simply to offer historical data or theological beliefs about Jesus. Mark is persuading his audience to remain faithful to Jesus even in the face of suffering and trials.

Following the discussion of Mark’s purpose, we will proceed to the interpretation of Mark 10:45 itself (chapter 4). We will offer observations about the narrative context of Mark 10:45 and then move on to a phrase-by-phrase analysis of the verse. Through our investigation, we will note that Jesus directs the attention of his disciples toward the supreme model of honor and splendor, that of the “one like a son of man” from Daniel 7:13–14. And we will see that even this glorious Son of Man is not too exalted to serve others and to suffer shame and abuse in order to “give his life as a ransom for many.”

Chapter 5 will then highlight this verse’s critical function within Mark’s narrative and its contribution to our interpretation and appreciation of the Second Gospel. We will explore the strategic placement of Mark 10:45 at the conclusion of the carefully crafted threefold cycle of passion and resurrection predictions (8:27–10:45). This arrangement situates our verse at the climax within the Journey section (8:22–10:52) and also enables it to set the tone for the subsequent Jerusalem section (Mark 11:1–16:8), especially the narration of the Messiah’s passion (Mark 14–15). In addition to the strategic location of 10:45 within Mark’s narrative sequence, we will also discuss the value of this verse as it relates to the purpose of Jesus’s mission and the meaning of his death. We will then consider several implications of this verse’s crucial role within Mark’s narrative, giving particular attention to the prominence of Jesus’s atoning death and the inseparable link between his passion and the necessity of servanthood among those who follow him. We will also consider other ramifications, such as the significance of Mark’s literary characteristics for its proper interpretation. Finally, we will close with a reflection on how today’s readers can and should apply the message of Mark 10:45 here and now.

1 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 39 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1893), 134.