Although the Bible does not report much about John Mark’s person, the Holy Spirit used him as an instrument to write one of the four Gospels, which takes his second name, Mark. As well as Luke, he was not among the twelve apostles directly chosen and sent by the Lord to preach the Gospel, unlike Matthew and John who were with Him during all His ministry, being thus qualified to be eyewitnesses of almost everything that they wrote.
His name was John, translation of the Greek Io¯a´nne¯s, and his last name was Mark, translation of the Greek Ma´rkos. The name John is used in Acts13:5 and 13, and Mark in Acts 15:39, 2 Timothy 4:11, etc. The two names are given in Acts 12:12, 25 and 15:37, where it is explained that Mark was his last name (Saul and Paul, Simon and Peter, are other examples of two names used by the same person in the Bible). It is supposed that the last name Mark, used among the Romans, would be indication of Roman citizenship, as in the case of Paul.
His mother was called Mary, a resident in Jerusalem, where probably he was born (Acts 12:12). He was a cousin of Barnabbas (Colossians 4:10), but nothing is known about his father. The fact that Mary owned a house with a large room where a lot of people from the church in Jerusalem could meet and pray, and also had a Greek maid, suggests that she would be a wealthy person. Barnabbas also had resources, having sold a field he owned to donate the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 4:36).
Mark and Mary were already believers when presented in Acts 12:12. As Peter later calls him “my son Mark” (1 Peter 5:13), it is probable that he was converted and learned the Gospel through Peter, with whom he seems to have lived for some time.
In his Gospel, Mark speaks about a youth that continued to follow Jesus after He had been arrested in Gethsemane, even after the disciples left Him and fled. The soldiers caught him also, but he escaped leaving with them the sheet that covered him (Mark 14:51, 52). Only Mark mentions this, and although he didn´t identify himself, it is almost certain that the youth was he himself, so being able to testify to this fact.
Mark appears later as the companion of Paul and Barnabbas on their return trip to Antioch. One day, there, the Holy Spirit told the church to separate Barnabbas and Saul for the work to which they had been called. God needed the two for missionary work in other places. They went first to Cyprus, where Barnabbas had come from.
In Salamina Paul and Barnabbas soon went to preach the Gospel, going first to the synagogues of the Jews, following the plan of God, because “the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16). John Mark, cousin of Barnabbas, was also there and assisted them.
They crossed the entire island as far as Paphos, where the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus was saved, after he saw that the hand of the Lord was with Paul in his altercation with the influential magician Elimas. Soon afterwards Paul, Barnabbas and John Mark embarked in Paphos and sailed north, disembarking at the port of Perga, capital of the province of Pamphylia (in the south of today´s Turkey).
Paul and Barnabbas continued to travel North by land, travelled on towards the north to Antioch of Pisidia which is south of Galatia, but John Mark left them in Perga and sailed back on the way to Jerusalem: the Bible doesn´t disclose the reason why he left them.
Sometime later, in Antioch, Paul proposed to Barnabbas to go by land to visit the brethren in every city where they had preached the word of the Lord, and see how were doing. Barnabbas was willing to go, but was determined to take John Mark with them.
Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work, but Barnabbas was adamant and there was a serious contention between. It was so sharp that Barnabbas parted from Paul, took Mark and sailed to Cyprus.
It doesn't befit us to judge between Paul and Barnabbas as to which was right. Something is wrong when two servants of the Lord, of such high standing, don't come to an agreement in what concerns their service to the Lord. Would one of them have disobeyed the Holy Spirit that guided them in those early days of the church in a special way?
Mark continued serving the Lord, and was very useful later collaborating with Paul when the latter was in the prison in Rome for the first time (Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:24). So much so that, having Mark returned to Ephesus, Paul asked Timothy to bring him back with him to Rome because he was very useful to Paul for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
Mark was also with Peter in Babylon, which was a great centre of studies of the Jews at that time (1 Peter 5:13). Peter called him “my son”, indicating that Mark was his disciple, and it is possible that it was from Peter that he obtained the testimony of many of the facts contained in his Gospel, especially the ones that were witnessed personally and privately by Peter, James and John. Nothing else is informed in the Bible about Mark or even about his cousin Barnabbas.
In view of what the Bible informs us, we judge that it is safe to infer that Mark was of a good Jewish family, well educated, and he had probably seen the Lord Jesus on more than one occasion. Having been converted with his mother, he was disposed to help in the propagation of the Gospel.
His cousin Barnabbas was a great servant of the Lord, generous in contributing towards the work of God, so much so that initially he sought for Paul in Tarsus to help in the teaching of the church in Antioch. When he saw Mark' disposition, he wanted to give him opportunity for service by taking him later on his missionary trip with Paul. We notice that there is no mention that the Holy Spirit had chosen and sent Mark to that work, as He did with Paul and Barnabbas, or that he was sent by the church in Antioch, or even of Jerusalem. Maybe this was the main mistake that they committed.
Mark had financial resources to travel, and the will to help, but he didn't yet have the necessary spiritual maturity to face the challenges that would face him and to persevere on that mission. Lamentably this still happens: stimulated by a convincing appeal, and attracted by a missionary vision in exotic places or countries, a believer keen to participate in the Lord’s work is led sometimes to think he is destined to that, without carefully evaluating his suitability, and consulting God in prayer both in private and together with the leadership of the church to which he belongs, and only making his decision when everything indicates that that is in fact the work that the Lord of the Harvest has for him.
Later, Mark discovered the work that the Lord really had for him: to give his support to the apostle Paul, winning his esteem for this, and to learn patiently from the apostle Peter, becoming qualified to write one of the four Gospels under Holy Spirit’s direct inspiration, for the benefit of the countless generations of new converts up to our days.
In an army, the soldiers that are at the front of the battle may win battles, but the war is only won with the concrete and very organized support of those who are behind them, providing them with information and supplies. Also in the work of God, some of His servants are put at the front by the Lord, but many are placed in strategic places to supply those at the front, their work being as vital to win the war as theirs. May we always know the right place the Lord has chosen for us, so that we may use our talents in the way that He wants and so contribute in the best way to the spiritual war in which we are engaged.