The end of Mark’s Gospel is famous for the second half of chapter 16 being—as the modern translations put it—“Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.” We will focus on the first half of the chapter, therefore, show why it holds its own integrity on its own merits, before making some comments on the second half of the chapter.
Remember that these women (16:1) had noticed where Jesus was buried (15:47). They go there very early on the first day of week to honor the body, “anoint him.” But on arriving they discover that the stone had been rolled away (16:4). This alone is extraordinary for these large stones would have taken several grown men to move at all. More extraordinary still, when they enter the tomb, they see a young man dressed in a white robe—presumably an angel—sitting on the right side (16:5). It is odd enough to find a man sitting in a tomb, a man dressed in white. His posture suggests calm, victorious, glory; not sad death as would be more expected in a tomb. Stranger still are his words:
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you” (16:6-7).
First, they are not to be afraid. Good news—but why? Because Jesus is risen! And instead of hanging around gawking, now with all the energy of this divine resurrection, they are to “go” tell his disciples to do as Jesus told them to do, and there they will see Jesus as well.
It is amazing that the first witnesses of the resurrection were women. Legally at the time, the witness of a woman was not credited. It is a statement of the great honor that women in Christ are to be accorded.
But it is noticeable how this Gospel, in all likelihood, ends: “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (16:8). It is possible that the end of the Gospel is at it appears from verse 9 and onwards. It is possible that the original end of the Gospel was lost. Most likely the Gospel ends exactly as it appears to do—with this shocking cliffhanger. It thereby, as it were, turns to us and asks us whether we are going to tell others about the good news of the resurrection.
The second half of this chapter, from verse 9 onwards, has been the sole basis of no responsible doctrine in the history of the church, for where it teaches truths elsewhere found, they are found elsewhere just as easily, and where it seems to teach matters that may or may not be symbolic (“pick up serpents”), they are to be ignored as not, at least literalistically, intended by the original author. No one should base a doctrine only on this passage that can be justified also from elsewhere in the Bible.
Mark, at any rate, turns to us and tells us of how the women (at first, for they afterwards spread the word) fled and did not speak of Jesus—so that we might do the very reverse. In the power of the Spirit of Christ, tell people about Christ’s resurrection and the good news of the gospel of forgiveness of sins and newness of life.
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