The Time Is Fulfilled | Mark 1:14-20

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.

Mark 1:14-20 ESV

With these verses before us, we now put a close upon Mark’s introductory material. In just twenty short verses, the Evangelist has established for us the beginning of the earthly ministry of Jesus, from the heralding of John the Baptist to the call of His first disciples.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS AT HAND // VERSES 14-15

There is evidently something of a time jump from the end of Jesus’ temptation in verse 13 to the start of His preaching ministry here in verse 14, and many commentators place some of John’s first chapters chronologically between these two verses. Regardless of the time lapse, we are immediately told some startling news: John was arrested. Mark will save the details of John’s arrest until chapter 6, when John was also beheaded. Morgan, however, points out the significance of Jesus returning to Galilee after John’s arrest:

At that hour, Jesus moved from Judea into Galilee, into the district of Herod; not escaping from danger, but moving into the danger zone; not withdrawing Himself from peril because John was arrested, but going into the very region over which the man who had arrested John was reigning. Men may silence the voice of a prophet; but they cannot silence the Word of God.[1]

Indeed, just as Herod muffled the voice crying the wilderness, the Lord Himself emerges from the wilderness, proclaiming the good news. In fact, Mark’s summary here of Jesus’ preaching is powerfully connected to John’s message. Like John, Jesus too called upon all men to repent of their sins, and they both declared that the God’s kingdom was at hand (Matthew 3:2). And, of course, both declared good news, the gospel, yet there was a significant difference between the gospel proclamation of John and Jesus. John’s gospel was that the Christ was coming soon, which was certainly glorious news after thousands of years of promises and hope. Jesus, however, came with the message: the time is fulfilled.

It is right to view this phrase as an eschatological statement (that is, pertaining to the end times), for Jesus’ coming ushered in the last days, the closing epoch of human history. Earlier this year, we saw this very reality within the book of Daniel, which is one of the most apocalyptic books in the entire Bible. In Daniel 2, the prophet stood before Nebuchadnezzar to give and interpret the Babylonian king’s dream. It was dream of a great image comprised of parts of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay, but the image was shattered by an unearthly stone that grew into a large mountain that covered the earth. Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that image represented four successive kingdoms beginning with Babylon, while the unearthly stone was a fifth kingdom that belonged to God and that would never end.

Again, in Daniel 7, the prophet beheld a vision of four frightening beasts of mighty power that represented the kingdoms of the earth. Once again, a fifth kingdom was promised through vision of a heavenly Man receiving the everlasting kingdom from the Ancient of Days.

The fifth kingdoms in both passages clearly promised the coming of Christ and His kingdom, as Jesus is declaring here in Mark. Yet notice in Daniel 2:28 how the prophet prefaced his recounting of the Nebuchadnezzar’s vision to the king: “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.” The fifth and everlasting kingdom was to come in the latter days. A heavenly messenger also pointed out that the final vision of the book (chapters 10-12) was of the latter days (10:14) or “the time of the end” (12:4).

With this context, it is as if Jesus stepped into Galilee and declared, “The end is here. Prepare for the arrival of my kingdom.” Two thousand years after these events, we can certainly find it difficult to think of Jesus inaugurating the end times, yet this is clearly the testimony of Scripture. In Acts 2, Peter cited Joel’s prophesy of the last days as describing the outpouring of the Spirit upon Christ’s church. Likewise, the author of Hebrews began by distinguishing two eras of history with two distinct means of revelation:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

Hebrews 1:1-2

These are the last days. For the last two thousand years, humanity has been in its final act, and the end began with the coming of God’s Son into the world that He created. Of course, the end will not end until He returns again to consummate His kingdom upon the earth. This is why the first statement of Jesus is finalized: the time is fulfilled, done, complete, accomplished. The second statement, however, is continual: the kingdom of God is at hand, coming, arriving, invading. To return to Daniel 2, Christ’s arrival was like the unearthly stone that shattered the great image, but now that stone is growing into a mountain that covers the earth. By His first coming, as we will see in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus conquers the authorities of this world, both spiritual and physical, and He establishes His kingdom that will slowly expand over all the earth, which is exactly what the church and its gospel message have been doing for the past two thousand years. Both statements, therefore, are no less true today than they were during Jesus’ time. The time is fulfilled; the Christ has come. The kingdom of God is at hand, and it still is.

Since these first two statements still apply to us today, the following two commands are for us as well: repent and believe in the gospel. As we discussed with John the Baptist, repentance is reorientation of one’s life. Repentance begins with confession of sin, but it does not end with confession of sin. Instead, repentance is the movement away of sin and toward Christ. Solomon’s personification of wisdom in Proverbs 1:20-23 is a great example of the call to repent:

Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
           in the markets she raises her voice;
at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
            at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
            and fools hate knowledge?”
If you turn at my reproof,
behold, I will pour out my spirit to you;
            I will make my words known to you.  

Just as Lady Wisdom cries for the simple to turn away from foolish and toward her, Jesus calls us to turn from the foolishness of our sins and toward Him. Yet notice what action Jesus demands alongside our repentance: believe in the gospel. No other religion has this as its fundamental act. In Buddhism, nirvana is achieved through carefully following the eightfold path. In Islam, heaven is reached by living out the five pillars of Islam. Indeed, most people generally assume that following a religion means practicing good works in order to achieve some future, often spiritual, reward. Jesus, however, turns this on its head by stating the entrance to the kingdom comes through belief in its good news. Timothy Keller helpfully reminds us of what this kind of good news meant to those in Jesus’ day:

It meant history-making, life-shaping news, as opposed to just daily news. For example, there is an ancient Roman inscription from about the same time as Jesus and Mark. It starts: “the beginning of the gospel of Caesar Augustus.” It’s the story of the birth and coronation of the Roman emperor. A gospel was news of some event that changed things in a meaningful way. It could be an ascension to the throne, or it could be a victory. When Greece was invaded by Persia and the Greeks won the great battles of Marathon and Solnus, they sent heralds (or evangelists) who proclaimed the good news to the cities: “We have fought for you, we have won, and now you’re no longer slaves; you’re free.” A gospel is an announcement of something that has happened in history, something that’s been done for you that changes your status forever.[2]

Notice that in such a gospel proclamation is an announcement of what has been done rather than a summons to act. Christianity, therefore, is not fundamentally a series of steps to follow but a truth to be believed. We must simply believe in the good news that God became a man to rescue us from our sins.

By the way, it is important that Jesus calls us to believe in the gospel because this implies more than simply intellectually acknowledging the truth of something. After all, James sharply warns us that even the demons believe in God (James 2:19); therefore, belief, in and of itself, is not enough. Belief in the gospel, however, connotes immersing ourselves within this truth. Rather than simply saying, “Yes, this is true” and moving on with life, this kind of belief insinuates us saying, “Because this is true, I will now order my life around this reality.” The gospel, therefore, is not one truth among many to believed; it is the foundationally orienting truth. God, after all, became man. The Author entered His story. The Potter became clay. If that truth is not large enough to fundamentally restructure our lives, none is.

FOLLOW ME // VERSES 16-20

In verses 16-20, we find a visible response to Jesus’ good news proclamation.

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.

There are a few points to consider from these verses.

First, we should consider the occupation of Simon, Andrew, James, and John. They were fishermen, which meant that they were, by no means, the elite of the world. In fact, when John and Peter were much later called to testify before the high priest’s household, Luke tells us that “when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). This was a prime example of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Indeed, this has always been God’s mode of operations. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Moses makes clear to the Israelites before entering the Promised Land that “it was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD has set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples;” instead, God resolved to love them and to keep His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then in Deuteronomy 9, God warns them against developing a sense of spiritual pride after driving the Canaanites out of the land.

Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (v. 5)

This is continually God’s pattern. Abraham did nothing to earn God’s favor except for his willingness to follow the LORD’s leading. God still chose Moses despite his fear of speaking, which was no small concern for someone being called as a prophet. Neither Gideon nor David fit the ideal of a great warrior, yet they are two of the mightiest in the whole Bible. The list continues on with most of the prophets Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Jonah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. The same is true of the kingdom of God as a whole. As only a small stone, it shattered (and still shatters) the mighty kingdoms of this world, and then it grows into an awesome mountain. Again, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

G. K. Beale gives an example of gardener at a university where he was a student. He notes that:

In contrast to the famous theologians there, he had no education to speak of and was apparently not noticed by the well-known professors and students passing by on the way to classes. But this gardener knew his Bible and tried to apply its truths to his life. He had a vital personal relationship with Jesus Christ and was a man of prayer. Although he could not read his Bible in Greek and Hebrew like the academic theologians, he knew the heart of its message in English and lived according to it. He had written no books nor accumulated any degrees, and his speech sounded uneducated. To the world he was unknown, but to God, well-known… He was likely regarded by theological scholars as ignorant and deceived because he actually believed the Bible was God’s word and that Jesus really was God, yet it was he who possessed true belief.[3]

Let us take great comfort from this reality: we do not need to be great ourselves for God to use us greatly; we must only be ready to follow where our Lord leads. This leads us then to the next consideration.

Second, we should consider Christ’s call: follow me. Like Christ’s call to believe in the gospel, this too is a point of departure from man-made religion. As David Platt has noted, all other religious teachers aim to have their teachings followed. Jesus, however, does not merely tell the fishermen to follow His teachings (although that is implied); instead, He calls them to follow Him. The same is still true for us. We do not simply follow a list of orthodox doctrines known as Christianity (I say “not simply” because we certainly do hold to the sound doctrines of the faith); much more, we follow Christ, risen and alive forevermore.

Furthermore, Christ’s calling of the fishermen broke with the pattern of apprenticeship in their time. Rather than accomplished students selecting their rabbi to follow, Christ came to these mere fishermen and called them to follow Him. Rightly did He tell His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16). And those words are no less spoken over us today. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We walk with Christ today only because He called us to follow Him through the Spirit’s work upon our hearts. As we truthfully sing, “if you had not loved me first, I would refuse you still.”[4]

Third, we should consider the new occupation for which Christ would train them. As with almost all that Jesus said and did, there is Old Testament precedent for man-fishing. In Jeremiah 16:16-18, God spoke these words to those who were about to face the Babylonian Exile:

Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.

In other words, God was going to discipline His people for their sins through exile, yet after He had them scattered across the earth, He would then gather them together again, using His servants like fishers and hunters to collect them. Jesus was calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John to this very task. Except (as they would come to learn) Jesus was not simply restoring the Jews after the Babylonian Exile; instead, He was restoring humanity after their exile from Eden. They gladly left all that they had to answer Christ’s call, even though they clearly did not understand the full weight of their calling.

Notice also that Christ did not necessarily call them to cease their fishing occupation entirely; instead, He drastically expanded the vision of their vocation by calling them to fish for men rather than fish. The same is still true today. Christ will not call most Christians out of their vocations; instead, He imbues our vocations with cosmic significance. Our daily employment (and yes, this includes homemaking) is not a hindrance to the expansion of the kingdom but rather a channel for building the kingdom a little more. Luther once explained what this means, saying:

A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another.

By the indwelling Spirit, all Christians are now evangelists, heralding the good news that Christ has come, that His kingdom is still at hand, and meeting one another’s needs. Using whatever opportunities that our Lord gives us, we call others to repentance and belief in the gospel, just as our Lord Himself did. Let us only remember that Christ is building His church and that His kingdom will one day fully come, for all to see. Until that day, He is not searching for greatness of deeds from us; He is only expecting faithfulness. Faithfulness to believe the good news of His coming ourselves, and faithfulness to proclaiming to others.


[1] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Mark, 29.

[2] Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 15.

[3] G. K. Beale, Redemptive Reversals and the Ironic Overturning of Human Wisdom, 124-135.

[4] “All I Have Is Christ” a hymn by Jordan Kauflin

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