Mark 1:14-39- Snapshots of Jesus.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him. And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are-the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee. And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. 

Jesus calls the first disciples: 

1) How is Jesus’ teaching, summarised in v15, different from the teaching of John and the prophets? How is it the same?

Is Jesus’ teaching at all surprising?

2) What ideas would Jesus’ fishing metaphor call up in the mind steeped in the Old Testament?

3) What implications does this have for evangelism today?

Discussion:

1) Jesus’ teaching, at this stage in the Gospel, is one of simple proclamation that the kingdom of God has finally come. In this, his teaching is very different from the teaching of any of God’s messengers before him. The time is fulfilled, he says. The prophets had always had a “one day” aspect to their teaching. They recognised that the way things were was not right, that the people were disobedient, that the world was full of suffering and pain, that God’s people were defeated and humiliated, and that things wouldn’t change yet. But they also knew that God had promised greater things. They looked to the promised seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, the promised golden age of peace and prosperity, the age when God would sweep aside the false shepherds who did not care for the flock, and would shepherd his people himself. Their call was to obedience now, and to hope for the future.

Jesus comes and says, “The future is here”. He preaches that the promised age has at last come, that things are about to change. Even John the Baptist looked forward saying, “After me comes one who is mightier than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit” “Don’t look at me, look for his coming”. Jesus does not look forward. He says the kingdom of God is at hand now. The time is now fulfilled. John was the last and the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, but Jesus said of him “There has been no-one born of woman greater than John, yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he…(Matt 11:11). But now that Jesus has come, things are different. In Jesus, the promised reign of God has finally come to Israel. Jesus is the king. Wherever he is, there the kingdom of God is.

Yet there is also continuity with the teaching of the prophets. Jesus is building on their teaching. Had they not promised things to be fulfilled one day, Jesus could not say “and now is the time of fulfilment”.

And the response Jesus demands from Israel is also similar. He says two things “Repent” and “Believe the gospel”.

Are these calls to repent and to believe surprising? Probably surprising to some. Perhaps not all that surprising in itself to others, but an Israelite would expect the Messiah to say more than this.

There would be those who would think it strange in itself. Those who had not liked the message of John the Baptist would not like this either. Jesus is saying the same thing as John- repent. It implies that the people are disobedient, and not pleasing to God, that they need to turn around and to change their ways. There would be those who would take offence at this. Some (not all, but some) of the Pharisees had very different ideas about how God viewed their generation. They saw themselves as being the faithful ones, the ones who were careful to obey God. They hoped for Messiah to come, and expected that when he came, he would say to them “Well done, good and faithful servants. You have been zealous for my law, you have fasted and prayed and observed all the sacrifices and feast days. You are not like the generations that forsook me” (in fact, there was a strand of Pharisaic thought that expected Messiah to come when the bulk of Israel was obedient, and those Pharisees pursued their Pharisaism partly as a means to speed the arrival of the Messianic kingdom). Such people hated John’s preaching. When he told them that they were far from being righteous in God’s eyes, that they were in reality a wicked and adulterous generation, and that they needed to flee the wrath to come, for the axe was even now at the root of the tree (Matt 3)- Messiah was coming soon, and he wouldn’t be happy with them when he arrived, they would have been outraged or contemptuous. And they’d have hated Jesus’ call to repent also- insofar as he expected repentance from them, the holy people who thought they didn’t need to repent.

Others would find surprising not what Jesus did say, but what he didn’t say. They could see the need for repentance. They agreed with John. They knew that they were sinners, and they needed a saviour- but they had no idea how Jesus would save them. They still expected the Messiah to come and to be a king like David. If Jesus was the Messiah, and the time was fulfilled, they expected a call to arms. But Jesus doesn’t give it. He simply says to repent, and to believe the good news. He wants people to turn from their way of life, to follow him, and to believe that the Messiah has come. Though it might seem doubtful to many that Jesus is Messiah- because he doesn’t fit their pre-conceived notions of what Messiah will do- Jesus tells them that they must believe that Messiah has come.

Mark has shown Jesus setting out his stall. He has come to be a suffering servant, to bear in his own body the curse on behalf of his people. And the people he wants are those who trust him, who believe that he is the Messiah, and who turn to follow him.

These first four disciples are therefore prototypical (as is much of this first chapter). They do just drop everything to follow Jesus. Their response is one of total immediate obedience. They put Jesus as the highest possible priority, abandoning family and work at his command. Jesus has already met some of these men, and spoken to them. Andrew had been a disciple of John (John 1:35f), and had begun to follow Jesus already- but Mark does not mention that. He wants the immediacy of their obedience to be plain.

2) The way Jesus calls them is interesting. They are fishermen by trade, and Jesus tells them to leave off fishing, and follow him, and he will make them fishers of men. We’ve all heard sermons on the text- good sermons- which apply Jesus’ words like this: Jesus calls his disciples to be fishers of men, and if you are his disciple today, then so should you be a fisher of men. And what being a fisher of men means is evangelism. Just like the fisherman goes onto the sea, casts out his net and brings in many many fish, of all shapes and sizes- so should you go out into the world, cast out the net of the gospel, and gather in many converts.

And there is nothing wrong with that. The disciples are prototypical of all disciples. We are called to do as they did. Now we need discernment in this- obviously we are not called to do everything they did. Jesus would call to him twelve of them, and designate them apostles- personal representatives, vested with his authority. We are not apostles, and we cannot act as though we were, so we won’t be mimicking the 12 in everything they did. But the call to take the gospel into the world is given to the whole church. We are all to be fishers of men.

The problem with such sermons is that they don’t properly unpack what it actually is to be a fisher of men. Being a fisher of men is presented as something purely positive; you preach the gospel, and men and women repent and believe, and enter the kingdom of God rejoicing, and that is what being a fisher of men is all about- catching men. Fishing for men is about that, but there is also another element undeniably present. Fishing was seen by the Old Testament writers as unpleasant for the fish (Eccl 9:12). If you get your concordance out, and look through it for references to fishing applied as a metaphor to men, then you will find that all the references are in fact not to salvation, but rather to wrath. And to a people soaked in OT imagery as these four men would have been- growing up learning to read from the scriptures- this would have been un-missable.

  • Jeremiah 16:14-18- Just before the exile to Babylon, God promises future blessing, but promises that first Israel’s idolatry will be punished.
  • Ezekiel 29:1-5- Pharaoh is a giant creature, hiding in the Nile. God will pull him out with a hook and he will perish.
  • Amos 4:1-3- Amos speaks to Israel, who are disobedient, and again uses the idea of fishing to picture visitation of God’s wrath upon the people.

All of these prophets spoke of fishing as a metaphor for God’s judgement on iniquity. The idea is that God will finally catch the evildoer. Though the wicked men hide in rivers, or at the bottom of the ocean, God sees them, and God will certainly catch them.

3) The The proclamation of the gospel has a dual purpose in God’s purposes. It is preached as life and salvation- which it is- but as Paul says, to some it is the savour of life unto life, and to others, of death unto death. As the disciples were sent out to preach, there would be some who would hear them gladly, and would find life and joy in their message, and there would be others whose hearts would be hardened, who would meet the message with hatred and opposition. We will see the hostility of some groups intensify throughout the gospel, as they become harder and harder. We can expect to see the same reactions in our day as we preach faithfully.

Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue, in Capernaum, and throughout Galilee: 

1) Miracles in the New Testament are often called “signs” (semeia/semeia, like semaphore). What does the casting out of the unclean spirit signify?

2) What does the healing of many sick people signify?

3) When we think of heaven, what are our ideas about it? Do passages like this have anything to say to us here?

4) What is the overall impression of v14-39?

 Discussion:

1) When Jesus enters the synagogue and begins to teach the crowd, he is confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. The unclean spirit shouts to him, calling him “Holy one of God” (note, by the way, the difference between the titles given to Jesus by unclean spirits, and by men. The demons call him “Holy one of God”, “Son of the most high God”; men address him as “teacher”, “Son of David”), and Jesus casts out the spirit. He then goes to Simon Peter’s mother’s house, and heals her of her fever- and news spreads, and many who are sick, and who are oppressed by demons gather around the house, and Jesus deals with all of them, healing them. Miracles in the Gospels are often called “signs” (e.g. John 2:11, 2:18, 2:23, 3:2, 4:48, 4:54, 6:2, 6:14, 6:26, 6:30, 7:31, 9:16, 10:41, 11:47, 12:18, 12:37, 20:30). Paul will later call them “signs of an apostle” (2 Cor 2:12), and the Pharisees will come to Jesus saying “show us a sign from heaven”(Mk 8:11). A sign points to something. If you see a sign to Tatton Park, it is there to tell you where Tatton Park is. You are not meant to sit around admiring the sign- you are supposed to take notice of what the sign tells you. So to what do the miracles point? How are these specific miracles signs, and what do they signify?

Obviously, the miracles show Jesus’ power and authority. The crowd recognise that here- this man commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him. They are amazed. But that is not the only thing the miracles signify. Jesus could command a tree to uproot itself and fly around above their heads- that would demonstrate power and authority. He could have commanded the demon to make the man dance a jig- that would have demonstrated authority over even the unclean spirits. But he didn’t. And it is hard to imagine him ever having done so. The signs that Jesus did were signs of the kingdom indeed- signs that the kingdom was now here. And as such, they were appropriate to the kingdom. They were mini-invasions of the eternal kingdom into a fallen world. When the king returns, in his Fathers glory and with the holy angels, the heavens and the earth will be remade. In the new heavens and the new earth, there will be no sorrow, no illness, no death, and no demonic powers. So when the king comes in the Gospels, there are signs given to show that he is the king, and that this is what his kingdom is like.

The best analogy I’ve heard of the kingdom of God, has been that of the Allied victory in Europe in WWII. Europe was overrun by the Germans, the Allied forces had been beaten, and kicked out at Dunkirk. There were still resistance fighters in occupied France, and they could tune in to radio signals from England, and listen to Churchill. The best Churchill could do at that point was to say “There will be a victory one day. Keep fighting. In the end, we shall overcome”. He was like an OT prophet, looking forward to the kingdom of God. The resistance fighters in occupied Europe could see little evidence of any victory in the here and now- all they could see were German tanks and planes and columns of infantry marching down their streets. But they had to hope, and had to work towards a re-invasion. Churchill told them to keep fighting in the present, and hope for the future. Then on D-Day, the invasion finally came. The Allied troops landed on the Normandy beaches, and began to push back the Germans. Churchill could then broadcast and say, “The kingdom is here now. The victory is ours” And that was true. Perhaps the decisive victory had been won. But it was also true that the war was not over- not by a long way. There would be many years of bitter fighting, there would be grim bloody violent battles, and it would be a hard and horrible struggle. And only at VE day, when the Allies occupied Berlin, would Churchill be able to say finally “Victory is totally fulfilled”. The people living in occupied Europe were first looking for a kingdom to come, then seeing it come, and then fighting for it to be made complete. So with God’s kingdom. Jesus coming was like D-Day. We wait until his second coming for VE day. We live in the overlap age- where the kingdom of God has entered the fallen world, and the final victory is assured, the decisive battle has been won already at the cross, but the final and total subjugation of God’s enemies has not yet happened. The kingdom is already and not yet. We can take the prophecies, and say, “they are fulfilled- but we look for a more complete fulfilment.”

2) These miracles demonstrate the character of God’s kingdom. They are points where the kingdom breaks in to the cursed world and so they are signs to show us what the kingdom will be like. In the new heavens and the new earth, there will be no more sickness, no more pain. The curse will be reversed. Demons will have no place in that world. Fever will not exist. These miracles are foretastes of what is to come. The king has arrived, he is establishing his kingdom, and so there are these signs that come with its foundation.

These miracles would perhaps surprise some Jews. It would confuse those who expected a general, a man of war. If they expected miracles, perhaps the miracles they thought of were more along the lines of the Red Sea held back, and then brought crashing down on the heads of the floundering Egyptian army (Exodus 14). Or miraculous hailstorms to crush the heads of Israel’s enemies. Or the sun held in its place for a day, to allow Israel more time to slaughter the Canaanites (both Joshua 10). But Jesus had not come as that sort of Messiah. He came as we have said, a suffering servant, to bind up the broken hearted. He sets himself in opposition not to Rome, but to Satan. He is a bigger Messiah than most of Israel expected, come to reverse the curse, and set up a permanent global kingdom, far surpassing David’s empire.

3) Perhaps these signs should make our view of heaven more concrete. If there are “breakings-in” of the kingdom of God, into a fallen world, then we can look at them to give us an idea of what the kingdom will be like when the king returns. Many Christians have a fairly vague view of heaven. It is not something heard often from the pulpit, and so it is easy to have an idea of heaven informed more by popular culture (or by pre-20th century paintings) than by scripture. Heaven is seen as a place up in the clouds, where you sit around in a white toga, with a golden harp, while little angels flutter about. In a sense, this popular view is itself informed by Bible imagery, but the Bible speaks more plainly than this. We can look forward to life in a new heavens and a new earth, when the barriers between them are finally removed, and heaven has come down to earth, as it were. It will be like life on this earth, only a million times better. There will still be trees, rivers, animals, and people. But there will be no sin. No discord, no death.

 4) The overall impression of the verses here is one of authority on Jesus’ part. He is the king, and all must obey him. Disciples, demons, and illness are all at his command. Nobody may flout his rule.

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2 Comments on “Mark 1:14-39- Snapshots of Jesus.”


  1. Thanks – another useful survey.


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