400 Years of Silence

Whilst the identity of Malachi is subject to some debate, it is accepted in the Christian, and more importantly the Jewish tradition, that his prophecies were the last recorded in the Hebrew Bible.

‘The Talmud teaches, “After the last prophets Chaggai, Zechariah, and Malachi died, the Divine Spirit of prophetic revelation departed from the Jewish people.” ‘(Who Was the Prophet Malachi? – Chabad.org)

Of course, the story of Israel continues. It is a story of invasion and suppression. The invading army of Alexander the Great. The Seleucid empire. The Ptolemies.  These regimes brought not only waves of terror and suppression to the Jewish people, but also exposed them to Greek influences which filtered over time throughout the Jewish culture.  Whilst again and again throughout this period the hand of God is evident in the preservation of His people, it is beyond doubt that when the voice of Malachi fell silent, so also the voice of prophecy.

400 years of incredible violence and turbulence. 400 years of the most profound and protracted silence.

At the time of John, these invaders had been superceded by a new occupying force – the Romans.

And then, in the wilderness, ‘John appeared.’

The story begins: Mark 1:1-3

‘This is the beginning of the story of how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, brought the good news to men.’

So begins Mark’s gospel. The focus of the Gospel, from the first sentence, is Jesus. Yet the action begins with someone else.  The second sentence, as written in translation by William Barclay, starts ‘There is a passage in Isaiah the prophet which says ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.’ The Book of Isaiah was written about 7 centuries before the birth of Jesus.

Before moving forwards, Mark looks back. He quotes from the Prophet Micah ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘prepare the Way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.’ In its original context, this is a warning to a nation who had lost their way. A warning to their priests and leaders that they should change their ways. Micah was written around 400 years before the birth of Jesus.

These are the words which Mark uses to introduce John the Baptist, cousin of this Jesus. The words of Malachi had been delivered to a nation which had lost its way. These same words introduce the one who will direct them back to the right path.

‘Mark starts the story of Jesus a long way back. It did not begin with Jesus birth. It did not even begin with John the Baptist in the wilderness. It began with the dreams of the prophets long ago; that is to say, it began long, long ago in the mind of God.’ (Wm Barclay, Commentary on Mark)

John the Apostle, writing of the purpose of the Gospels, says “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name..” (John 20:31) This reflects the purpose of the Gospel of Mark. Mark wants you to see Jesus, and to believe in Him.

This is the start of the greatest story ever told. The story not of a man, but of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark: The authentic voice

This is the first in our series of posts on the Gospel of Mark, first published in August 2023

In Acts 12, we read that James, the brother of John, had been martyred by King Herod in order to satisfy the Jewish leaders. This was quickly followed by the arrest of the Apostle Peter, with the expectation that he would also be put to the sword. Herod is determined that Peter will not escape his fate, appointing four squads of guards to watch over him. He is forced to sleep between two guards, whilst further soldiers guard the door. Meanwhile, the Church is praying for Peter’s release.

This is the start of one of my favourite stories.  In the middle of the night, Peter is awoken by an angel, who tells him to get dressed and follow him. Peter’s shackles fall away, and he is led out of the prison. Finding himself alone in the street, Peter makes his way to the house of a friend called Mary, where people are praying for his release.  This Mary is identified as the mother of a man called Mark, sometimes called John Mark (Acts 12:12). At this point, Mark was probably a young man. This is the first that we read about this man who is the author of the Gospel which bears his name.

As with most biblical characters, we know little of his life, apart from one or two ‘cameo’ moments. If Mark met Christ, he would almost certainly have been a small child at the time. However we know that he travelled with Barnabas and Paul (Acts 12:25), becoming the cause of a disagreement between them because of his behaviour (Acts 15:38). Yet he was later reconciled as an important support to Paul’s ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).

Not only was he close to Paul, but this Mark also became a friend, colleague and companion of the Apostle Peter, closest companion of Jesus. Peter even referred to as ‘my son Mark’ in 1 Peter 5:13. We know that Mark was with Peter towards the end of his life in Rome, and there is every reason to believe that Peter was the direct source of this Gospel. When we read , we hear the voice of Peter.

To read this Gospel is to listen to the voice not of Mark, but of Peter. To read this Gospel is to hear the voice of the one who walked with Christ, talked with Christ, ate with Christ, and witnessed the miracles of Christ. To read this Gospel is to listen to the voice of the one who walked on the water, who recognised Christ as Messiah, and knew the pain of hearing the cock crow three times. To read this Gospel is to hear the voice of one who witnessed the death and resurrection of Christ, one who experienced Pentecost, one who witnessed at first hand the exponential growth of the early Church. To read this Gospel is to listen to the voice of the one upon whose shoulders the Church was built.

Read this Gospel with expectation.  Read it in the hope of being encouraged and inspired. Read it to listen to the voice of the Apostle and to engage with the story of how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, brought the good news to men, as written by Mark, but as described by one who was actually there.

Next Post in this series