As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” (Mark 16:5-6)
Mark’s Gospel teaches clearly of the resurrection. Three times it records that Christ told the disciples that he would rise from the dead (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34). The way that he taught them, he made the resurrection an indispensable part of his work, connected inseparably to his crucifixion. If Jesus as the Christ died then he also rose again, as foretold in the Old Testament prophecies.
But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. (Isaiah 53:10, NASB)
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… (1 Cor. 15:2-4, NASB)
So when we come to chapter 16 in Mark and read the story of the women coming to the tomb, expecting to improve on the quick embalming job they did on Jesus’ body in the haste of his burial on Friday afternoon before the Sabbath began at sunset, we are not surprised to read that he is no longer there. An angel greets them and tell them, “He is risen!” Mark’s gospel proclaims the resurrection of Christ.
The Christian faith is not about merely the sacrifice of the Savior, but also of his eternal and overpowering life. We do not follow his teachings merely – we follow Him! He is a living Savior, a constant presence within us who believe and among us as we meet together. There is no question that the proclamation, “He is risen!” was central to the church’s message and her success. The resurrection of Christ was the single historic event that took the life of the Carpenter-Rabbi and made him the Savior of the world. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, we would have never heard of him or of his teachings, his miracles, and the significance of his death.
Christ was “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The idea in Romans 4:25 is that Christ died in payment for our sins, but his resurrection completed the transaction on our behalf.
The word justification here seems to be used in a large sense, to denote acceptance with God; including not merely the formal act by which God pardons sins, and by which we become reconciled to him, but but also the completion of the work—the treatment of us as righteous, and raising us up to a state of glory. By the death of Christ an atonement is made for sin… [His resurrection] rendered his work complete. His death would have been unavailing, his work would have been imperfect, if he had not been raised up from the dead. He submitted to death as a sacrifice, and it was needful that he should rise, and thus conquer death and subdue our enemies, that the work which he had undertaken might be complete. (Albert Barnes)
The brevity of Mark’s final section. Mark’s gospel, however, ends abruptly – not with an account of the resurrected Christ interacting with others, but just with the angel’s pronouncement. The best and most reliable ancient manuscripts of Mark end at verse 8, with the women leaving the tomb trembling and amazed, yet too afraid to speak.
Yet Mark’s gospel ends without bringing into the picture the resurrection accounts or the commissioning of his followers. Why?
The answer is left in the heart and mind of God. There have been numerous theories – that the original ending was simply lost, as the last page of a papyrus that was passed around and read and reread until it was tattered and torn. Another theory is that Mark ended it there for dramatic effect. And another that he was interrupted by something and never got back to finish it – mainly to verify the eyewitness accounts. Still another theory says that Mark was the first of the four gospels written, and the other gospel writers learned of the benefit to the reader to include the resurrection accounts – as they were guided by the Holy Spirit, of course. But, ultimately, we will have to leave this matter in the hands of God.*
Mark 16:9-20: Yet what is in these final verses is still helpful. The historic church has still found benefit from reading these words, and many have simply believed that the Spirit inspired them no less than the rest of the gospel of Mark. We can find post-humorous writings in the word of God, most notably Deuteronomy 34 recording the death of Moses, and perhaps Proverbs 30-31. These do not argue against inspiration, merely that God used another person to complete that section. The acceptance of the inspiration of the books in the Bible was established among the believers themselves, who through the guidance of the Spirit identified what God had inspired and what he had not.
If we take the final section of Mark as still edifying to the church, then we will note the following:
Christ calls us to faith: With his ascension there began a new stage of the church’s life, one where faith would be increasingly important. Jesus of Nazareth is no longer walking about this earth, and now we, his followers, have become his feet, his hands, his voice, and his physical presence. We now need the faith that he had, and we need now to believe and trust and obey.
The centrality of proclaiming the “gospel,” the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection: Proclamation and witness comes to the forefront of the church’s mission. “To every creature” emphasizes the Creator’s right to his creation, and that he is claiming every soul through the gospel itself. “Preach the gospel” emphasizes the action we are to undertake – “preach” does not indicate only formal and ordained sermons, rather the act of proclamation, whether informal settings or informal ones.
The necessity of faith and in the importance of baptism: Here is a section where people have complained against the inspiration of this section, but there is not any need to in my opinion. It does not insist that we are saved through baptism, only that baptism accompanies salvation, as it should. It says, “He who believes and is baptized is saved,” emphasizing that these two acts of saving faith and testifying to one’s faith through baptism go hand in hand. It does not insist that baptism is essential for salvation for the next phrase, “He who does not believe will be condemned,” shows that only unbelief condemns someone, not the lack of baptism.
The reality of divine power for the church’s task: It says, “These signs will follow those who believe” (16:17). It does not insist that these signs will accompany every case or every church or every Christian – nor every preacher. Only that divine power will be evidenced in the Church Age through such things as these: power to cast out demons, speaking in new tongues, handling poisonous snakes, drinking poisons without dying, and the healing of the sick. Most of these matters were revealed in the age of the apostles in the New Testament, except for the drinking of poisons (See Acts 28:3-6). Speaking in “new tongues” means in languages other than their mother tongue, and it was miraculously fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:11).
The exalted position of Christ in heaven: Sitting “at the right hand of God” is likely to be misunderstood today. It means to be the acting power, the executor of the will of God. A king’s “right hand man” would do the will of the king, and Christ sitting at the right hand of God emphasizes his power of leadership, the exercise of God’s authority, and the security of his position, he is siting after all. That Christ exercises his Lordship over the church through his Spirit is taught elsewhere in the New Testament, but the idea is certainly included here.
The compassion of the church: We must understand also that the very nature of Christ’s followers will be exactly what he spoke of during his earthly ministry – one of servanthood, of bringing salvation to people, of exercising authority over evil spirits, of taking the gospel to new nations and in new languages, and of healing the brokenhearted and the diseased of the world.
We must ask ourselves how faithful we are to these tasks. Do we believe as we should? Do we proclaim what we should – the gospel – and to whom we should – all creation? Do we call people to faith and to baptism? As a convinced Baptist I must say that we seem to stand alone emphasizing the importance of believer’s baptism by immersion, and even then we often lag behind in our own emphasis.
Do we expect Christ to lead us? Do we depend upon his leadership? Do we expect divine power and presence in and through our ministry and fellowship? Do we care for the hurting and troubled of the world? Do we love as we should, preach as we should, follow as we should, trust as we should?
If we feel our own inadequacy in any area – and I believe we will all feel inadequate in some area, no matter how faithful we have been in other ways – the remedy is to simply confess this to Christ and ask for his cleansing, for his redirection in our lives, and for his empowering in our lives for holy and obedient living.
And upon this stands the teaching of the benefit to our lives of God’s word in the first place:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)
* There are thousands of ancient Greek manuscripts upon which the New Testament of today is based, and not only copies of the Bible but also thousands of quotations from ancient Christian writings of the Church Fathers. The amount of research that goes into this matter is extremely exhausting, chiefly because Christians always want to get back to the purest, truest, and most reliable copy of the Bible. A.T. Robertson (1863-1934) was one of the greatest Greek scholars America ever produced, and in his Word Pictures of the New Testament made the following comments. He used the technical name of the various manuscripts, “Aleph,” “B,” etc., and the abbreviation “MSS” that means “manuscripts”:
At this point Aleph and B, the two oldest and best Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, stop with this verse. Three Armenian MSS. also end here. Some documents (cursive 274 and Old Latin k) have a shorter ending than the usual long one. The great mass of the documents have the long ending seen in the English versions. Some have both the long and the short endings, like L, Psi, 0112, 099, 579, two Bohairic MSS; the Harklean Syriac (long one in the text, short one in the Greek margin). One Armenian MS. (at Edschmiadzin) gives the long ending and attributes it to Ariston (possibly the Aristion of Papias). W (the Washington Codex) has an additional verse in the long ending. So the facts are very complicated, but argue strongly against the genuineness of Mark 16:9-20… There is little in these verses not in Matthew 28. It is difficult to believe that Mark ended his Gospel with Mark 16:8 unless he was interrupted. A leaf or column may have been torn off at the end of the papyrus roll. The loss of the ending was treated in various ways. Some documents left it alone. Some added one ending, some another, some added both.