The labors of Paul and Barnabas in Cyprus seem to have terminated at Paphos. From that place they embarked for the near coast of Pamphylia, the province lying west of Paul’s native Cilicia. On reaching the coast the vessel probably sailed up the river Cestius, and landed its passengers at the city of Perga, seven miles from the coast, to which the river was then navigable. Of Perga little is known, but there is a noted temple to Diana upon an eminence, and the city celebrated a great annual festival in honor of the goddess. The site, which is very beautiful, is now marked only by some Grecian ruins of walls and towers, columns and cornices, a fine theater and a stadium, a broken aqueduct, and sundry scattered tombs. The sole inhabitants are the shepherds who encamp with their flocks among the ruins.
The apostolic party made, however, no stay in this place—perhaps merely just long enough to settle their route, unless this had been previously divinely indicated. Paul had already preached the Gospel in Cilicia, and in the districts east thereof. It seems to have been now his desire to make the glad tidings known in the districts west and north-west of Cilicia, as he knew there were in those parts many settlements of Jews in important Gentile cities. It was probably in consideration of this matter that John Mark declined to go any farther; at all events, it was at Perga that he parted company from his uncle Barnabas and from Paul, and hastened back to Jerusalem. Whether he did this with the consent or approbation of Barnabas is not clear; but it is certain that Paul highly disapproved of the step, and regarded it with considerable displeasure. We may therefore conclude that Mark was in the wrong, or at least that he had no motive for the separation, which Paul considered adequate. It is quite possible that he entertained some scruple at receiving idolatrous Gentiles into the Christian Church, or was dismayed by the dangers and difficulties of the attempt. Perhaps the dangers of the way, in the proposed inland journey, disheartened a young man who had not before been from home. The lawless and predatory character of the tribes inhabiting the highlands separating the plains of this coast from the interior table land, was notorious in ancient times; and there was no route Paul ever followed which more than this abounded in those “perils of robbers,” of whom he speaks in one of his epistles (2Co_11:26). It may be, however, that this step of Mark was taken from a desire to rejoin Peter, whose convert he probably was, and in whose company he appears to have taken great delight; for he may have heard or supposed that Peter had by this time returned to Jerusalem, it being known that Herod Agrippa was now dead. As good as any of these suppositions is this—that the young man was home-sick, and longed sore after his mother’s house. It would seem that his mother Mary was a widow, and probably had early become such, so that Mark had been reared up in his own nest, under his mother’s wing. Probably he was an only son, even her only child. Now, we all know what kind of character is usually formed under such bringing-up. A mother-bred youth, especially if the only child of that mother, and she a widow, usually receives such a hot-house culture, as badly fits him to endure the sharp air and gusty winds of practical life. The hardening of such a character is the most distressing moral process to which life is subject. Tender to touch as the mimosa; morbidly sensitive to every influence from without; even the kindness of men seems rough, while neglected wounds and unkindness kills. Apt to see offence where love is meant; mortified to be no longer the first object of thought and solicitude to all around; such a young man cannot possibly find any society in his first adventure from home, in which his self-esteem will not be deeply wounded. An earnest craving for home arises, and that absence from it which a hardier character sustains with comparative ease, soon becomes intolerable.
We take this to have been very nearly the case of Mark; and while in this frame of mind, we can conceive that the society of his earnest seniors, even though one of them was his uncle, became distasteful to him. We cannot well answer respecting Barnabas, but of Paul we know that in the midst of his generous tenderness of heart, he felt it his duty to enforce upon those who were or were to be ministers of the Gospel, the necessity to “endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ Jesus,” a doctrine which, as practically enforced in daily life upon a young man in this position, was likely to be at first exceedingly unpalatable.
Notwithstanding this weakness, Mark remained sound at the core; and when Paul and Barnabas were about to set out upon their second missionary journey from Antioch, Mark was willing to accompany them. His uncle was quite ready to take him; but Paul had not the same confidence in his steadiness, and mindful of the probably serious inconvenience which his previous desertion had occasioned, refused his company. The result was a very painful misunderstanding between him and Barnabas, and the rupture of their plan of co-operative labor. Barnabas chose to part with Paul rather than with his nephew, and took him with himself, leaving Paul to pursue his own course with Silas.
It was probably from his steady and faithful conduct during this journey with his uncle, that Paul, who must have heard of it, restored him to his good opinion, and admitted him to his friendship. It appears that he was with Paul during his first imprisonment at Rome, Note: Col_4:10; Phm_1:24. and when the Epistle to the Colossians was written, was about to undertake a journey to Colosse for him. He there speaks of Mark as “a fellow-worker unto the kingdom of God,” and “a comfort” to himself; and in his latest letter, written not long before his death, he asks Timothy to bring Mark to Rome with him, being, as he says, “profitable to me for the ministry.” Note: 2Ti_4:11.
Mark seems, however, to have more generally labored in the society of Peter, who calls him his son. Note: 1Pe_5:13. It is clear that he was with Peter when this was written; and the general ecclesiastical tradition is, that he was the companion of his travels and acted as his amanuensis. Indeed, it is generally understood that the Gospel which bears Mark’s name was written under Peter’s superintendence, and may be essentially regarded as Peter’s Gospel.
It is said that Mark was sent by Peter into Egypt, to plant Christianity in those parts. Here, having his main residence at Alexandria, he labored with such diligence and success that a flourishing Christian church was ere long established; and the evangelist then extended his labors into Libya, and still further west, returning always to Alexandria. Certain it is that the Christian church in Egypt has always regarded St. Mark as its founder.
It is stated by the ecclesiastical historians, that Mark survived both Peter and Paul until the eighth year of Nero’s reign, when the populace, during the excitement of the feast of Serapis, broke into the church during divine worship, and binding Mark’s feet with cords, dragged him through the streets, and at night-fall thrust him, still alive, into prison. During the night he was comforted and sustained by a divine vision. But next morning the mob drew him forth, and dragged him about again, till the flesh being torn off his bones, and all the blood in his body spent, he rendered up his soul to God. His remains were then burnt; but the Christians gathered up the ashes and the charred bones, and decently deposited them at the spot where he used to preach.
Mark is, as to his person, described as of a strong and healthful frame, in a body of middle size and stature. His head was bald, but his grey beard ample. His eyes were noted for their gentle and amiable expression, while his reverted eyebrows and lengthened nose give him a somewhat peculiar aspect. The further intimation that his gait was quick and his movements sudden and rapid, agrees well enough with the kind of temperament which the description of his person indicates.