The Suffering Servant
Philippe R. Sterling
Mark portrays Jesus as the Suffering Servant who came to serve, to give His life as a ransom for humanity, and to prepare servants to go into all the world and proclaim this good news.
Mark writes to Gentile believers. He provides explanations of Jewish concepts.
Mark links the gospel to the prophecy of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the nation of Israel collectively as God’s servant. But the nation failed in its service. With Israel’s failure the vision of the Servant narrowed to a single figure — the Christ. This Spirit empowered Servant will be lowly, meek and kind. He will establish justice in the earth and serve as a light to the nations. He will bring about a new covenant with God. He will be despised, rejected and condemned. Through bearing iniquity He will make many righteous.
Literary Structure and Content
Mark 10:45 suggests a broad outline for the Gospel, For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus came to serve and to give His life.
1. Prologue: Jesus Christ the Son of God came (1:1-13).
2. Service: Jesus came not to be served but to serve (1:14 – 8:26).
3. Hinge: “Who do people say that I am?” “Who do you say that I am?” (8:27-30).
4. Sacrifice: Jesus came to give His life a ransom for humanity (8:31 – 16:8).
5. Appended Epilogue: The risen Christ commissions His disciples to proclaim the good news about Him to
all the world, and ascends to heaven to sit at the right hand of God whence He works with the disciples
to confirm their word (16:9-20).
I. Prologue: John the Baptist, God the Father, the Holy Spirit and ministering angels all authenticate Jesus as
God’s beloved Son and the Servant of the Lord of prophetic Scripture (1:1-13).
A. Mark introduces the book as “the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1).
B. Mark presents John the Baptist as the Messiah’s forerunner who authenticates Jesus as the Servant of
the Lord of prophetic Scripture (1:2-8; cf. Isa 40:3).
C. God the Father and the Holy Spirit authenticate Jesus as the beloved Son at His baptism by John (1:9-11).
D. The Spirit impels Jesus to go into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan and receive the ministry of
angels – this is the beginning of ongoing conflict with Satan with a foretaste of ultimate victory over him
II. Service: Jesus calls and works with His disciples while ministering to the multitudes bringing the disciples to
the realization that He is the Christ and setting for them an example of suffering servanthood (1:14–8:30).
A. Early Service in Galilee: Mark presents the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee during which He calls
and appoints twelve disciples, teaches and heals, and encounters early opposition (1:14–3:35).
1. Jesus preaches preparation for the Kingdom of God (1:14-15).
2. Jesus selects disciples and begins training them for service while teaching and healing (1:16-45).
3. Opposition to Jesus arises as He heals, forgives sin, eats with sinners, breaks with tradition, and
exercises lordship over the Sabbath (2:1–3:6).
4. Jesus withdraws to the Sea of Galilee where He continues ministry to the multitude, appoints
twelve disciples through whom He will extend His service explaining that as those who do the will of
God they are His family, and encounters continuing opposition (3:7-35).
B. Continuing Service in Galilee and Gentile Regions: Jesus continues ministry through intensifying opposition
in which He teaches in parables, gives the disciples greater responsibility and opportunity to demonstrate
faith, and brings them to a fuller realization of His identity and mission by showing His sovereignty over
forces hostile to God (4:1–8:26).
1. In a climate of unbelief Jesus teaches the multitudes in parables while explaining them to the disciples
in private — the parables contrast their contemporary situation with the ultimate coming of the
2. Jesus performs miracles which illustrate His sovereignty over powers hostile to God subduing the sea,
the demonic, and death (4:35–5:43).
3. Jesus continues His mission in spite of rejection — rejection at Nazareth, mission of the twelve in
Galilee, imprisonment and death of John the Baptist (6:1-29).
4. Jesus continues to teach His disciples in the midst of ministry and controversy and they are slow to
gain insight concerning His identity — 5000 Jews fed, walks on water, followers of tradition and heart
of man (6:29 – 7:23).
5. Jesus ministers in Gentile areas as Jewish leaders refuse to believe — Syrophoenician woman, healing
of deaf and mute, 4:000 fed, Pharisees seeking sign (7:24 – 8:13).
6. The disciples are slow to understand the significance of what Jesus is doing which is symbolized by
the 2-stage healing of a blind man (8:14-26).
III. Hinge: At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asks “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” --
Peter replies “You are the Christ” (8:27-30).
IV. Sacrifice: Jesus is the suffering servant who gives up His life and discipleship will involve paying a similar high
A. Service in Caesarea Philippi area, Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem: Jesus journeys to Jerusalem preparing
His disciples for His passion and continuing to train them for service (8:31–13:37).
1. Mark presents the prophecies Jesus makes concerning His passion and His teaching on discipleship
while on the way to Jerusalem showing what it means for Jesus to be the Christ and what it requires to
be identified with Him (8:32–10).
a. Jesus’ first prophecy of His passion and resurrection with the accompanying teaching on
discipleship show what it means to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ and the transfiguration
confirms that He is the Christ (8:31–9:13).
b. Jesus’ second prophecy of His passion and resurrection with His example of service and teaching
on true greatness show that faith in the power of God and humility is the basis for effective
c. Jesus’ third prophecy of His passion and resurrection with His example of service and teaching
on divorce and service show what discipleship entails — the one step healing of blind
Bartimaeus symbolizes the new understanding of the disciples into Jesus’ mission (10).
2. Mark tells of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem in which He is proclaimed as the Christ, cleanses the
temple, engages in conflict with the religious authorities, and privately teaches His disciples showing
the rejection of the Christ by the nation and the resulting impact on the later service of the disciples (11–13).
a. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the temple, the withered fig tree, and
the teaching on faith and prayer show Him to be the prophesied rejected Christ (11:1-26).
b. Five conflict situations in Jerusalem balance the sequence of conflict in 2:1–3:6 showing that
the leaders of the Jewish people have rejected the Christ (11:27–12:37).
c. Jesus warns the disciples about the scribes, gives an object lesson of the widow’s mite, and gives
an end-time discourse indicating the end of His present service and preparing the disciples for
service when He would no longer be with them (12:38–13).
B. Sacrifice in Jerusalem: Jesus is the Suffering Servant who provides redemption through His death
and resurrection presenting a model for sacrificial service (14–16:8).
1. The anointing of Jesus by a woman, the betrayal of Judas, the celebration of the Passover, the prayer
in Gethsemane, and the desertion of the disciples show that as the Christ Jesus was about to suffer
2. Jesus the Son of God and suffering Servant provides redemption through His trial, crucifixion and
3. The burial of Jesus finalizes the passion narrative and sets the stage for the resurrection (15:42-47).
4. On the first day of the week the women find an empty tomb and an angel tells them that Jesus has
risen and that He would appear to the disciples in Galilee (16:1-8).
V. Appended Epilogue: The risen Christ commissions His disciples to proclaim the good news about Him to all
the world, and ascends to heaven to sit at the right hand of God whence He works with the disciples to confirm
their word (16:9-20).
Theological Reflection and Application
The primary theological theme of the Gospel of Mark is the picture of Jesus as the Servant of the LORD and its implication for discipleship. We can consider the theme under the headings of the Servant and the servants of the Servant.
1. The Identity of the Servant: Mark presents Jesus as the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Christ, and the Son
2. The Service of the Servant: Jesus poured His total self in humble service — He came not to be served, but
3. The Suffering of the Servant: Jesus suffered and died for our sins — He came to give His life a ransom
4. The Exaltation of the Servant: Jesus rises from the dead and is taken up to heaven to sit at the right hand
5. The Ongoing Work of the Servant: Jesus continues to work through His followers confirming their word.
The Servants of the Servant
1. The Call to Discipleship: The call is a call to a close relationship with Jesus and service to others.
2. The Nature of Discipleship: Discipleship is a life of learning and service through faith and doubt, success
and failure, experienced in community.
L. Moody once said, “The measure of a man is not how many servants he has, but how many people he serves.” Service to others is the proper path to greatness. How can you improve your serve?