The Gospel of Mark describes a curious incident that look place on the night of Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. As the mob of Jewish religious leaders and Roman soldiers started to drag Jesus away, they noticed a young man sneaking around in a linen garment. “They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth behind and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52).
The fact that the encounter is mentioned nowhere else in Scriptures suggests that the young man who fled gethsemane in shame (and very little else) may well have been the writer of the Gospel himself: John Mark.
As humiliating as that experience may have been, John Mark’s story actually goes downhill from there. His family was well known in first-century Christian circles. When the apostle Peter was released from prison, he went to the house of John Mark’s mother, Mary, because he knew he would find fellow believers there. John Mark (better known as Mark) likely rubbed shoulders with a number of Jesus’ disciples and close friends.
He was also the younger cousin of Barnabas, a traveling companion of the apostle Paul and one of the leading evangelists of the day. As for Mark himself, little is known about his ministry experiences. It’s difficult to say, then, whether it was nepotism or a legitimate reputation that got him invited to accompany Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey.
Acts 13:5 describes Mark as an “assistant.” He may have served as a business manager or a scribe who recorded the words and deeds of Paul and Barnabas. Whatever he did, though, he didn’t do it for long. When the team reached the city of Perga, Mark had a change of heart and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13).
Details about the split are scarce. The only clues the Bible offers are found in Acts 15:37-39. As Paul and Barnabas prepared for their second missionary journey together, Barnabas wanted to invite Mark to accompany them again; Paul vehemently opposed the idea. As far as he was concerned, Mark had deserted them on their previous journey and Paul didn’t want it to happen again.
Neither Paul nor Barnabas would budge, and their disagreement turned sharp-so sharp, in fact, that the two decided to part ways. Paul learned with Silas for his next journey, and Barnabas traveled to Cyprus with Mark.
And that’s where Mark fades from the Bible’s story line. The second half of the book of Acts follows Paul and his exploits. Mark isn’t mentioned again. As his ship set sail for Cyprus (Acts 15:39), it seemed Mark’s story was written. His legacy was sealed.
Except it wasn’t.
Again, details are scarce. But what we do know is that at the end of his life, the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome. In his final letter to his dear friend Timothy, he poured out his feelings of loneliness and abandonment: “Mark every effort to come to me soon, for Demas has deserted me, because he loved this present world, and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry” (2 Tim 4:9-11).
Mark is useful to me.
In the years since their falling out, Mark had become a valuable ally to Paul. He had become someone who brought Paul joy and comfort. He had become a confidante, a friend, a peer.
That’s the final verdict on Mark in Scripture.
After an unbelievably rough start, Mark orchestrated a comeback for the ages. Imagine how hard he worked to regain Paul’s trust, to prove himself faithful, to change people’s minds, and to forge a new legacy for himself.
God rewarded his diligence by giving him a key role in the burgeoning Christian movement. He tapped Mark to write one of the four official biographical accounts of Jesus. Drawing on the experiences of his old friend Peter, Mark crafted a Gospel that has introduced billions of people to God’s Son. Mark’s impact on Christianity is still being felt two thousand years later.