The Gospel of Mark begins unlike either of the other synoptic Gospels. While Matthew begins by establishing the genealogy of Christ and Luke recounts the historical birth narrative of our Lord, Mark jumps “immediately” into the earthly ministry of Jesus. In essence, Mark 1:1 is not only the introductory verse, but the thesis for the entire book.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1
The word gospel in this verse is the Greek word euangelion (euaggelion), which means good news. So here we have “the beginning of the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ”. Most of us are probably familiar with the teaching that the gospel, or good news, is defined as the death and resurrection of our Lord, and that is true, but can sometimes seem limiting in the context of a passage, particularly this one since it occurs at the beginning of Mark and coincides with the beginning of Christ’s earthly ministry, somewhat distant, though certainly anticipatory, from His looming death and resurrection. Instead, Mark’s use here seems more consistent with that of an announcement, or better a pronouncement, specifically that of 1) An ascension to power and 2) the “Good News” of a new king.
The use of “good news” in the New Testament does not occur in a vacuum, meaning this isn’t the first time the concept or phrase has been used in Scripture, indeed it has a rich Old Testament background that informs both of the points of pronouncement just mentioned.
In Isaiah 40:9 we read, “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news (euagelion); lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
In the context of this passage from Isaiah, we see euangelion as a proclamation and its content “Behold your God!” being called for by God to Zion/Jerusalem to be made to the cities of Judah. This is precisely how Mark’s use of euangelion or good news is functioning in the opening verse of his gospel. Likewise, as seen later in the chapter, this herald of good news is none other than John the Baptist, which makes the reference to Isaiah 40 all the more significant because the very next verse in Mark (2) is a citation from Isaiah 40 concerning the “voice crying out in the wilderness”, namely John. Clearly the connection is purposeful and significant. Much more could be said regarding the theme of wilderness found in Isaiah and developed in Mark 1 (used 4 times in this opening chapter).
Furthermore, in Isaiah 52:7 we read, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” In this passage, which we find quoted in Romans 10, we see that euangelion (good news) is a message of peace, happiness, and salvation wrapped up in the proclamation of “Your God reigns”.
These two OT examples (and others) serve to inform our understanding of euangelion, or good news, in the opening chapter of Mark. With this gospel pronouncement, we may conclude that it is meant to convey, “Hear ye, Hear ye, the King has arrived!” On the heavy use of the OT in this and surrounding verses, William Lane comments, “the gospel receives its proper interpretation only in the light of the coming salvation promised in the prophetic word.” Technically speaking, we may conclude that Mark’s use of the word resembles that of “Christian preaching”.
Euangelion is a fascinating word in its usage from both the Old and New Testament and can take a more complete or fuller meaning depending on the context, see for example the very next use in Mark 1:15 and how the term is used after the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. However, one thing is clear, the Old Testament anticipated this good news and provides the foundation upon which the pronouncement of the King’s arrival is made.