John Mark grew up in an active Christian family that was involved in Christianity from the beginning. There is speculation that John Mark was present when Jesus was betrayed; some suggest he was the young man who fled naked (Mark 14:51-52). As the gospel's author, he would have known that detail but doesn't refer to himself by name, similar to John's habit. Even without that supposition, John Mark's family followed Christ from the early years of the church. His cousin was the well-known and influential leader Barnabas. It also seems that a body of believers met in John Mark's home. That is where the prayer meeting was held when Peter was in prison with his life threatened. "And when [Peter] realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying" (Acts 12:12). It is interesting that John Mark's name is included in the identification, as if his name held some significance in regards to that church. This prayer meeting took place around A.D.44.
John Mark was noticed early on by Barnabas and Saul; even before they were sent as missionaries, they apparently saw his potential. "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark" (Acts 12:25). They then chose him to accompany them on their first missionary journey. John Mark helped them in their ground-breaking ministry, going with them to Salamis and Paphos. "When they reached Salamis, they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews; and they also had John as their helper" (Acts 13:5). For whatever reason, John Mark did not continue on the rest of the missionary journey. "Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem" (Acts 13:13). This abandonment was very disappointing to Paul but certainly not the end of John Mark's service. This missionary adventure was probably between A.D. 46 and 48.
John Mark then received a second chance. Paul was so disturbed by John Mark's previous departure that he wouldn't consider taking him on the second missionary journey. Barnabas, however, gave him another chance and continued this man's training. "Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus" (Acts 15:37-39). The Bible does not record the details of the missionary trip of Barnabas and John Mark, but it was a time of more training and fuller partnership. This trip was likely between A.D.49 and 51.
After his missionary journeys with Paul and Barnabas, John Mark's next astounding service took place alongside the apostle Peter. While theories vary widely, it seems probable that John Mark authored the gospel of Mark in the mid-50s. His relationship with Peter existed even at the time of the prayer meeting and probably continued and grew through the rest of Peter's life. Perhaps with some of his own knowledge, though primarily relying on the perspective of Peter, John Mark was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the gospel of Mark.
Over the years, it seems that Paul had continued contact with John Mark and probably some ministry together with him. Paul came to esteem John Mark as a valuable fellow worker. Both Colossians and Philemon were written around A.D. 60. "Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas's cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him)" (Colossians 4:10). "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers" (Philemon 23-24). Paul speaks of John Mark with regard, listing him alongside many other men that he worked with and helped to train.
Peter's on-going influence of John Mark was significant. As Peter closed his first epistle, written around A.D. 64, he shares, "She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark" (I Peter 5:13). The terminology indicates that John Mark was likely a pupil of Peter. Even after the previous years of ministry and training, Peter continued the process with John Mark, mentoring and guiding him. Nearing the end of his life, Peter labored to leave reliable leaders behind him.
The latest reference to John Mark comes again from the apostle Paul. Around A.D. 66, he wrote, "Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service" (II Timothy 4:11). Not only did Paul recognize John Mark's usefulness, but he valued and desired it. At a time when he was nearly alone and needed help, John Mark is the man he asked for.
John Mark's accomplishments are note-worthy; they represent the grace of God channeled through several factors. His story starts with potential and a great heritage. He was given outstanding opportunities for service and was trained and mentored by some of the most prominent leaders of the church. He was given second chances and was invested in by multiple leaders.
John Mark's role, maturity, ability, service, and reputation grew over the years. His story reveals several important components of training leaders: encouraging parents, service opportunities, second chances, increasing responsibility, multiplicity of mentors, and progressive training. When various people are willing to get involved in complementary roles, God can tremendously use people who might otherwise stay on the fringes.