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Mark 16

Scripture: Mark 16:1-20

Overview:

  • Saturday night, Mary, Mary and Sally bought some spices to put on Jesus’ dead body.
  • First thing on Sunday, the three women went to the tomb and were, like, “Isn’t the entrance covered with a big rock. How are we going to move that?”
  • To their surprise, the rock had been rolled away.
  • Looking inside the tomb, the women see a young man dressed in white who says, “Don’t be afraid. That Jesus dude who was crucified is risen from the dead! He’s gone. Look for yourselves.”
  • Then he said, “Go tell the disciples, especially Peter, that Jesus is headed to Galilee, and they can see him there, just like he told you he would.”
  • The women were afraid and ran away, telling no one.
  • [The rest of the chapter is controversial. See notes below.]

Historical Context:

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene is listed first each time a group of women are mentioned in the gospels. This implies her place of importance in the early church.3

Mary is the first and primary witness to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. She is, in essence, the person whom God chose to initiate his redemptive story. Over time, Mary Magdalene has become seen as a prominent representative of the women who followed Jesus. Some consider her to be as much a leader among the female disciples as Simon Peter was among the males.7

Both the gospels of Mark and Luke mention that Mary at one point had seven demons (Mark says Jesus personally cast the demons out of her). The “seven demons” may refer to a complex illness, as opposed to any form of sinfulness.7  Staying true to the counterintuitive nature of Jesus’ ministry, that Mary Magdalene was a woman–and one with serious flaws, at that–makes her an unlikely and unexpected witness of the resurrection.2

Of note, neither Mary Magdalene, nor any of the other women, are mentioned by name in Paul’s catalog of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances in 1 Cor 15:5–8.7  Also, Mary’s name is notably absent from the Acts of the Apostles and all the letters of Paul.7

Mark 16:8 – the true end of Mark’s gospel?

Most scholars consider Mark 16:8 as the original ending of the Gospel. They believe the longer ending (16:9-20) was written later by someone else as a summary of Jesus’ resurrection appearances and catalog of “proof” miracles performed by early Christians.8

The texts with the “longer ending” of Mark first date from the late 2nd century. Thus it is contended by a majority of scholars that Mark 16:9-20 must have been written and attached no later than the early 2nd century.8

Eusebius (a.d.275-340), an early church historian of the fourth century, said “the most accurate copies” end at Mark 16:8. Jerome (a.d. 347-420), the translator of the Latin Vulgate, said that almost all Greek manuscripts lack an ending after verse 8.5

The long ending first appeared in Irenaeus’ (a.d. 120-202) Against Heresies; and Titian’s (a.d.110-172) compilation of the four Gospels called The Diatessaron.5

There are several theories regarding why/why not Mark ends his gospel at 16:8: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”

  • Mark did not intend to end at 16:8, but was somehow prevented from finishing (perhaps by his own death or sudden departure from Rome), whereupon another person finished the work.
  • Mark wrote an ending which was accidentally lost (perhaps as the last part of a scroll which was not rewound, or as the outermost page of a codex which became detached from the other pages).
  • Mark wrote an ending, but it was replaced with verses 16:9–20, which parallel passages from the other Gospels.8

Had the Gospel intentionally ended with the women fleeing in fear from the empty tomb, there are several theories explaining Mark’s potential rationale:

  1. The women’s fearful response was actually a normal and positive reaction.  Throughout Mark’s Gospel fear is a normal response to divine revelation or a miraculous event. Peter has a similar reaction when witnessing the transfiguration (9:2-8), as do the disciples at the calming of the storm (14:4), or when they see Jesus walking on the water (6:50), and the people react in fear when seeing the demoniac healed (5:15). Thus, the women’s response in 16:8 should be understood as a wholly appropriate response to the incomprehensibility of the resurrection.6
  2. The women’s response was yet another failure of Jesus’ disciples. Most scholars recognize Mark’s unusually harsh portrayal of the disciples.Mark continually shows the disciples with warts and all. But these blemishes viewed within the context of the purity and promises of Christ generate hope rather than despair for the disciple. Mark presents true followers who fail, but he also offers hope, because he shows that Jesus does not give up on them. Jesus is able to restore his disciples, or any of his own who stumble, and to make fishers of men. Mark ends his Gospel with a fitting message to the fallible followers of Jesus who read his story. There is hope for those who fail, but the path is never easy and the dangers are real.6
  3. The women’s response is intended to be ironic, thus evoking the reader to reflect on their own situation. The juxtaposition of the expectation that Jesus said he would meet the disciples (16:7) with their apparent flight in fear and silence (16:8) requires the reader to review what he has read in order to comprehend this apparent incongruity and its meaning for the narrator’s message. As one commentator said, “The text ends, but the readerly work . . . goes on.” 6
  4. The women’s failure challenges the reader to pick up where the disciples failed. This view treats Mark’s ending as open and unfulfilled. The disciples’ flight (14:50) and the women’s blunder (16:8) leave the story unresolved begging for some form of closure. Who then will proclaim the good news?  Since everyone else has abandoned Jesus, the reader is invited to become the faithful follower of Christ and witness to the world. Thus, rhetorically, Mark’s unusual ending functions as an implicit apostolic commission similar to the other Gospels.6
  5. Mark’s ending shows how God’s promises succeed despite people’s proclivity for failure. According to this view, the Gospel ends with an affirmation of both promise and failure–a promise for a future restoration of the disciples but immediate failure for the women. The consist cycle of prediction and fulfillment in Mark’s Gospel gives the reader confidence that the description of the disciples’ post resurrection activities (Mark 13) is not contingent on the women’s obedience. The very fact that Mark’s Gospel was written indicates the promise was ultimately fulfilled and word got out. This provides a paradigm for Christian existence according to Mark—the word of promise and the failure of the disciples, and yet the word of promise prevailing despite human failure.6
  6. Mark’s ending shows that the Messianic Secret can’t be kept. Throughout Mark’s Gospel Jesus consistently instructs people (and demons) to refrain from telling others about his identity as the messiah. Despite these injunctions Jesus’ words are often disobeyed (1:45; 7:36). Towards the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry he informs his disciples that this communication embargo will be lifted after the resurrection (9:9). It is precisely this expectation which casts irony over the women’s actions in 16:8. Prior to the resurrection, Jesus’ followers had been instructed to remain silent, but didn’t; after the resurrection the women were instructed to go and tell, but don’t! Even the wording of the text in 16:8 (“They said nothing to anyone”) hints at this irony by providing an echo of the first explicit secrecy command in 1:44 (“See that you don’t tell this to anyone.”). It may very well be that Mark has intertwined promise, failure, and the messianic secret into the ending.6

Mark’s narrative ends as abruptly as it began. There was no introduction or background to Jesus’ arrival, and none for his departure. No one knew where he came from; no one knows where he has gone; and not many understood him when he was here. One commentator observes that the awkward ending of Mark 16:8, coupled with the ambiguous allusion to Galilee in 16:7, signals the reader to return to the beginning of the Gospel, to begin reading all over again.8

Mark gives no description of the resurrected Jesus, perhaps because Mark did not want to try to describe the nature of the divine resurrected Jesus. Some argue this ending is consistent with Mark’s theology, where even miracles, such as the resurrection, do not produce the proper understanding or faith among Jesus’ followers.8

Resurrection

During the First Century, there were a diversity of beliefs concerning the resurrection. The concept of resurrection of the physical body is found in 2 Maccabees, according to which it will happen through recreation of the flesh. Resurrection of the dead also appears in detail in the books of Enoch, in Apocalypse of Baruch, and 2 Esdras. The Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife, but the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of some kind. According to ancient historian, Josephus, who himself was a Pharisee, the Pharisees held that only the soul was immortal and the souls of good people will be reincarnated and “pass into other bodies,” while “the souls of the wicked will suffer eternal punishment.” Paul, who also was a Pharisee, said that at the resurrection what is “sown as a natural body is raised a spiritual body.”10

In general, Jews believe that both the righteous and the wicked who are deceased of this world will be given life and judged. They believe the righteous of Israel and the righteous among the gentiles will have eternal life on earth, while the wicked will be punished and executed.10

In Platonic philosophy and other Greek philosophical thought, at death the soul was said to leave the inferior body behind.10

In the Jewish perspective, resurrection was a key indicator of the end of the world and the arrival of God’s final judgment (as described primarily in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel). Below is a list of key, expected events:10

  • End of world
  • God redeems Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) from the captivity that began during the Babylonian Exile, in a new Exodus
  • God returns the Jewish people to the Land of Israel
  • God restores the House of David and the Temple in Jerusalem
  • God creates a regent from the House of David (i.e. the Jewish Messiah) to lead the Jewish people and the world and usher in an age of justice and peace
  • All nations recognize that the God of Israel is the only true God
  • God resurrects the dead
  • God creates a new heaven and a new earth
  • All history will complete itself and all mankind will return to the Garden of Eden.10

Messianic Expectations:

Part of the reason Jesus’ resurrection was so difficult to comprehend for his disciples, was the linty prophetic of expectations the Jews had of their messiah. It would take some time before the early Christians could look back and see how Jesus had fulfilled God’s earlier promises.

Expectations of the Messiah from the Old Testament:10

  • The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26)
  • Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance (Isaiah 2:4)
  • The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17)
  • He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via King Solomon (1 Chron. 22:8–10)
  • The messiah will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)
  • Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)
  • Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)
  • He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10)
  • All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12, Zechariah 10:6)
  • Death will be swallowed up forever (Isaiah 25:8)
  • There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)
  • The dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)
  • The house of David shall be as God (Zechariah 12:8)
  • God will seek to destroy all the nations that go against Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:9, Isaiah 60:12)
  • Israel and Judah will be made into one nation again (Zechariah 11:12-14, Ezekiel 37:16-22)
  • The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)
  • He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 53:7)
  • Nations will recognize the wrongs they did Israel (Isaiah 52:13–53:5)
  • The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)
  • The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)
  • Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)
  • The Temple will be rebuilt (Ezekiel 40) resuming many of the suspended commandments
  • He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9)
  • He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13–15, Ezekiel 36:29–30, Isaiah 11:6–9)

Observations:

  • Although Jesus has said time and again that he will rise on the third day, the women have purchased spices in anticipation of anointing a dead body, not finding a resurrected man.3
  • The three day period was customary in Judaism for determining that a person was indeed dead. It was customary to visit the tomb not just for mourning but to make sure the person was definitely dead. That is why Jesus waited until Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days (John 11:17), until, that is, he was securely and definitely dead.3
  • Mark uses the Greek word “neaniskos” (young) to describe the angel in the tomb. It is the same word he used to describe the man who fled at Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14:51–52.8
  • The angel said, “Tell his disciples and Peter,” as if Peter was not still a disciple. However, the better meaning is, “Tell his disciples, and especially Peter:” sending to Peter a particular message. that no matter what he may think of himself, he was still a disciple.1
  • The angel had rolled away the stone not to let Jesus out, but to let the witnesses in.2
  • The eleven apostles were unbelievers regarding the fact of the resurrection, at first; and their reluctance to believe the two who came back from Emmaus and Mary Magdalene may have stemmed partially from human pride. After all, they had frequently engaged in discussions of who would be greatest in the kingdom of God; and, on the very first day of the resurrection, the Lord had appeared to once-notorious Mary and to two nameless disciples not even belonging to the sacred company of the apostles. No wonder they could not believe it.2
  • Mark’s presentation of the resurrection is extremely reserved. Many theological motifs that might be expected are lacking in the story: (1) the proof from prophecy, (2) the in-breaking of the new eon, (3) the ascension of Jesus’ Spirit or his descent into hell, (4) the nature of the risen body, and (5) the use of Christological titles. All these factors point to a very old and authentic tradition concerning the discovery of the empty tomb.9
  • That Mark claims the empty tomb as discovered by women makes the account very authentic. Given the low status of women in Jewish society and their lack of qualification to serve as legal witnesses, the most plausible explanation, in light of the gospels’ conviction that the disciples were in Jerusalem over the weekend, why women and not the male disciples were made discoverers of the empty tomb is that the women were in fact the ones who made this discovery.9
  • The fact that Christianity, founded on belief in Jesus’ resurrection, could come into existence and flourish in the very city where he was executed and buried seems to be compelling evidence for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.9
  • The reference to snakes and poison in 16:18 means that God will protect his disciples in dangerous situations that they cannot avoid.4

Discussion:

  • Assuming the original gospel ends at 16:8, why does Mark stop his story on such a seemingly negative note? What would that have communicated to a church undergoing intense persecution (his original audience)? What does that mean for us today?
  • How does Mark’s introductory remarks concerning the “good news of Jesus Christ” (1:1) reinforce or contradict his conclusion: “They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (16:8)?
  • Why is Jesus’ resurrection still so hard to believe in?
  • Why were women the first to discover the empty tomb? What does this say about discipleship? What does this say about who God reveals himself to?

References:

  1. Barnes’ Commentary
  2. Coffman’s Commentary
  3. Turton’s Commentary
  4. Easy English Commentary
  5. Utley’s Commentary
  6. Iverson’s Commentary
  7. Mary Magdelene
  8. Mark 16
  9. Craig’s Commentary
  10. Jewish Eschatology
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