Mark 16:1-8

He Has Risen!

Mark records three separate occasions that Jesus announced to his disciples that he would die and on the third day rise (c.f. Mark 8:31, Mark 9:30, 10:34). It’s not clear exactly what his disciples thought of these words but by the time Jesus had died, no one seemed to remember. Perhaps they had spiritualized his teaching on the resurrection much like some do today where the resurrection is no longer about a bodily re-birth but generally about new life and spring time. Even the faithful women in our passage, who were noted earlier as having followed Jesus for some time, apparently did not give serious thought to finding Jesus. Today we consider their Sunday morning visit to the tomb of Jesus.   We will examine this passage with a few key observations about the text.


#1 It was a group of women who went to the tomb.

It is notable that women were the first witnesses to the resurrection. If the gospel accounts really are “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16) as some say, then it would have been foolish to include women as the primary witnesses in the male-dominated society of the ancient world. As a matter of fact, this is exactly what Celsus a third century opponent of Christianity, used to argue against the resurrection. He said because it was supported by the testimony of “hysterical” women like Mary Magdalene, that the resurrection should not believed. So if Mark was going to fabricate his gospel account he would not have included women as the primary witnesses.

We noted earlier that women had forgotten Jesus’ words about his resurrection but we see that at least they had the courage to go to the tomb. As the women are seeking the dead body of Jesus, the male disciples, we are told in John’s Gospel, were in hiding behind locked doors (c.f. John 20:19). Not only are these women out in the open, they are headed to the tomb where to any passersby they will clearly be associated with Jesus, the failed “King of the Jews.”


#2 There were many surprises awaiting the women.

The women visit the tomb as soon as they are able. Remember Jesus was interred before sunset on Friday and while the women could have gone Saturday night, it would have been dark. And so they wait until after sunrise on Sunday. This is an important detail as we know there would have been plenty of light for the women to see where they were going. They are greeted with a number of surprises at the tomb. First, the large stone with which they were worried about having to move, was already rolled away from the tomb. They walk into the tomb where there is another surprise – an angel! He has a message for them, “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here (v.6).This of course is the biggest surprise of all. The tomb is empty because Jesus has risen from the dead.


#3 The women are given a message to proclaim.  

The angel gives these women a special task. They are to go and tell Jesus’ disciples and particularly Peter that he is risen and will meet them in Galilee (v.7).   Had this been me, I would probably have wanted to make sure that Pilate knew that I was back from the dead. But this isn’t Jesus’ priority. He wants to make sure his disciples and particularly Peter know. Things didn’t end well with the disciples. They had all fallen away, and even Peter who assured him he would be faithful even to death, had denied him three times. These “messed up” disciples are the first ones the women are to go and tell.

Throughout his ministry Jesus was telling those he healed to be silent and not tell anyone. Now these women who are specifically told to speak and what do they do? Fear seizes them and they said nothing to anyone (v.8). Ironic isn’t?


On the Ending of Mark’s Gospel

Many modern translations of the Bible today include one final section in Mark’s Gospel (v.9-20) but with a note that many of the earliest manuscripts do not include this final section. Let me attempt a brief summary of the issues at stake here.

As with all ancient writings we have none of the original documents for any of the books that make up the Bible. What we have are manuscripts, or copies, of the originals. This is the case with every ancient writing that survives today and no ancient writing has more manuscript evidence than the New Testament. The ancient writing that comes the closest to the New Testament in terms of manuscript reliability is Homer’s Iliad which was written about 900 BC. Today we have 643 manuscripts of this book of which the oldest dates to about 400 BC or about 500 years after it was written.   The New Testament has over 5600 manuscripts with the oldest dating to about 135 AD or within 100 years of the time it was written. So we can have a high degree of certainty that the New Testament we read today was the same New Testament written 2000 years ago.

Sometimes there are small discrepancies in what these manuscripts say which is not surprising given that there are so many manuscripts. Not including Mark 16:9-20, there are five manuscript discrepancies that are significant enough to have resulted in most English versions not including them. They are Mark 7:16, 9:44 & 46, 11:26, and 15:28. If you look them up in your Bible right now, chances are they are marked with a footnote and printed on the bottom of the page. The problem with 16:9-20 is that it is too big to be included in a footnote, so it is printed but with an explanation. There are several reasons that lead us to believe these verses were not in the original.   The most important reason is that recently discovered older manuscripts omit the passage. If there is a discrepancy between two manuscripts, in general you go with what the oldest one says.  So the manuscript evidence combined with a marked change in the linguistic and literary style of this alternate ending, have led many if not most biblical scholars to conclude that it does not belong in the Gospel of Mark.

But how did it get there? Mark’s Gospel as have it now ends rather abruptly with the women leaving in fear and silence. The question is, Was this the ending Mark intended?

Some say no. They believe that there was another ending to Mark which has been lost altogether and when it was lost it led to the alternate ending which we now have.   Others, and I lean in this direction myself, believe that this is exactly where Mark intended to end. It is fitting with the abrupt style he has used throughout his gospel and leaves us with the awe and wonder that I believe lie at the heart of his gospel.


The Meaning of the Resurrection

We noted last week that those at the foot of the cross were expecting a possible 11th hour deliverance for Jesus, that perhaps Elijah would come and rescue him. When Jesus called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” it was clear no last-minute deliverance was coming. But now this week we see an even better deliverance has arrived. Hope was not lost after all! This is the meaning of the resurrection for us. We said earlier that Jesus went to the cross and suffered for us and now we need to understand that he was raised for us as well.   In other words, Jesus’ resurrection completes our story. He enters into our lives and re-writes our story. This means that our pain and suffering will not have the final word. We pray for an 11th hour deliverance to save us from our current troubles and sometimes God grants it.   But sometimes he doesn’t. It is resurrection that reminds us there is yet another deliverance coming. This deliverance is guaranteed for all who put their faith in Jesus. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” The resurrection points us to the eternal hope we have that includes this life yes, but continues for all time.


Discussion Questions

  1. Why were the women going to the tomb?
  2. On at least 3 occasions Jesus told his disciples that he would die and rise again, but after Jesus died no one seemed to be expecting the resurrection. Why do you think this was?
  3. What gospel truths are you most prone to forget? How can we help each other (and ourselves) to remember?
  4. Why are the women alarmed when they arrive at the tomb?
  5. Why is it significant that the angel directs the women to tell the disciples and specifically Peter about the resurrection?
  6. How does the resurrection of Jesus give us hope in this life and in the one to come?
  7. What is one thing you will do as a result of studying this passage?