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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Mark 16

 

 

Verses 1-8

XVI.

(1-8) And when the sabbath was past.—See Notes on Matthew 28:1-8. “Mary the mother of James” (not, as in Mark 15:40, of “James and Joses”) answers, as before, to the “other Mary” of Matthew 28:1. “Salome” appears, as before, in St. Mark only.


Verse 2

(2)At the rising of the sun.—Literally, when the sun had risen. There seems at first a slight discrepancy between this and St. Matthew’s “while it was yet dark.” A morning haze, however, or the partial continuance of the gloom which had shrouded the city on the previous day, may well be thought of as harmonizing the two accounts.


Verse 3

(3) And they said among themselves . . .—Literally, and they were saying to themselves. The words were on the point of rising to their lips as they looked up and saw the stone rolled away.


Verse 4

(4) For it was very great.—The words have been explained as giving the reason for their previous question, but it seems more natural to see in them St. Mark’s explanation of his having used the word “rolled away” instead of saying, simply, “taken away” or “removed.”


Verse 5

(5) A young man sitting on the right side.—So St. Mark describes the form which St. Matthew (Matthew 28:1) simply calls an “angel of the Lord.”


Verse 6

(6) Be not affrighted.—The words agree substantially with those in Matthew 28:5-8, but omit the fuller appeal to the women to remember the words which their Lord had spoken while He was yet with them in Galilee.


Verse 8

(8) They trembled and were amazed.—Literally, trembling and amazement seized them.


Verses 9-11

(9-11) First to Mary Magdalene.—See Notes on John 20:11-18, but note that St. Mark’s account of her as one from whom Jesus “had cast out seven devils” is not from St. John, but from Luke 8:2.


Verses 9-20

(9-20) Now when Jesus was risen early.—See Notes on Matthew 28:16-20. The history of the verses that follow is in every way remarkable. They are not found in two of the oldest MSS.—the Sinaitic and the Vatican—are marked as doubtful in many others, and are wanting in some versions. In some of these (e.g., in the Vatican MS.) there is a blank space left between Mark 16:8 and the beginning of St. Luke, as though the writer had suspended his work and waited for materials. The absence was noticed by Jerome, who says that “nearly all the Greek texts omit them.” Eusebius states the same fact as true of “the correct MSS.;” and no reference is made to them in the tables of parallel passages which were constructed for reference by Eusebius and Ammonius. On the other hand, they are referred to by Irenæus (about A.D. 170), and are found in the Alexandrian and Cambridge MSS., and in twelve other uncials which are nearly (some say, quite) as old as the two which omit them. When we turn to the internal evidence we find that the narrative, which up to this point had followed closely in the footsteps of St. Matthew, now becomes a very condensed epitome of St. John’s record of our Lord’s appearance to Mary Magdalene (Matthew 20:11-18), of St. Luke’s account of the journey to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), of the appearance to the ten disciples in John 20:19-25 and Luke 24:36-43, of the mission of the eleven reported in Matthew 28:16-20, of the Ascension as given by Luke 24:50-53. Two explanations of these facts are possible. (1) We may suppose that the writer of the Gospel wrote two copies of it, leaving one unfinished, ending at Mark 16:8; that this passed into the hands of persons by whom it was copied as complete, and so became the archetype of the MSS. in which the verses are wanting; while those that contain the subsequent verses were made from a more perfect text, written by St. Mark himself. (2) That the Gospel, having been originally completed by the writer, was in some way, by accident or design, mutilated; that as such it was reproduced faithfully by some transcribers, while others thought it better to give it a completion of some kind, by condensing what they found in the other Gospels. Of the two hypotheses the latter seems the more probable. It seems better, looking to these facts, to reserve notes, for the most part, for the Gospels in which the narratives appear in what was probably their original and certainly their fuller form.


Verse 12-13

(12-13) After that he appeared in another form.—See Notes on Luke 24:13-35.


Verse 14

(14) Afterward he appeared unto the eleven.—See Notes on Luke 24:36-43.


Verse 15

(15) And he said unto them.—See Notes on Matthew 28:16-20. There is much, however, that is so distinct in St. Mark’s report as to suggest the thought that it may have referred to a different occasion.

Preach the gospel to every creature.—Better, to the whole creation. The universality of the word is, of course, limited by the nature of the case.


Verse 16

(16) He that believeth not shall be damned.—Better, shall be condemned. The Greek word does not necessarily imply the idea of irreversible endless condemnation which has come to be attached to the English one.


Verse 17

(17) They shall speak with new tongues.—This is noticeable as being the only distinct reference in the Gospels to the form of the Pentecostal gift. The promise of the Spirit itself had been prominent, however, throughout our Lord’s teaching (Luke 11:13; John 14:17; John 14:26), and appears from Acts 1:8 to have been specially renewed between the Resurrection and Ascension. On the nature of the gift itself, see Notes on Acts 2:4; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:4-26.


Verse 18

(18) They shall take up serpents.—The instance of St. Paul at Melita is the only recorded example of the kind (Acts 28:1-6). Power over “serpents and scorpions” had, it will be remembered, been given before (Luke 10:19).

If they drink any deadly thing . . .—Of this there is no recorded instance in the New Testament, but it finds an illustration in the tradition of the poisoned cup which was offered to St. John.


Verse 19

The Crowned Saviour

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken unto them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.—Mark 16:19.

How strangely calm and brief is this record of so stupendous an event! Do these sparing and reverent words sound like the product of devout imagination, embellishing with legend the facts of history? Their very restrainedness, calmness, matter-of-factness, if we may so call it, is a strong guarantee that they are the utterance of an eye-witness, who verily saw what he tells so simply. There is something sublime in the contrast between the magnificence and almost inconceivable grandeur of the thing communicated, and the quiet words, so few, so sober, so wanting in all detail, in which it is told. That stupendous fact of Christ sitting at the right hand of God is the one which should fill the present for us all. Even as the Cross should fill the past, and the coming for Judgment should fill the future, so for us the one central thought about the present, in its loftiest relations, should be the throned Christ at God’s right hand. It is that thought of the session of Jesus by the side of the Majesty of the Heavens that brings out the profound teaching of the Ascension, and the practical lessons which it suggests.

The story of the Ascension of Jesus is given three times in the New Testament. It is given in the verse of the text (if the last eleven verses formed no part of the original Gospel by St. Mark, they still contain a very early testimony to the current belief of the primitive Church); it is given very briefly in the concluding verses of St. Luke’s Gospel; and it is given once again by St. Luke with more circumstantiality and detail in the opening chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. All three accounts are marked by a certain reticence and reverent brevity. The sacred writer is content to mention the event in the simplest language and with a complete absence of detail.

It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that our belief in the Ascension rests upon such a slender foundation as a twofold mention by St. Luke (who was probably not a personal disciple of Christ, and therefore not an eye-witness) and an anonymous paragraph appended to the Gospel of St. Mark. The Ascension of Christ occupies an important place in the apostolic testimony. It is quite true it is not emphasised as is the fact of the Resurrection. But it is presupposed and taken for granted. The Resurrection, as the Apostles thought of it, involved the Ascension. The one, so to speak, was necessitated by the other. Christ to them was not risen simply, but also exalted and glorified.

The Ascension of Jesus occupies much the same place in the apostolic testimony as does the doctrine of the Incarnation. It cannot be said that the doctrine of the Incarnation is anywhere formally stated and logically proved. It is taken for granted. It is the background of all the apostolic thinking. The story of our Lord’s sinless life, His death and resurrection, seemed to the Apostles to involve the doctrine of the Incarnation, and so it is presupposed, it is treated as an axiom, and the references to it are incidental merely. And it is much the same with the Ascension. It is never formally stated and proved. It is taken for granted. It is regarded as axiomatic. It is a corollary of the Resurrection. Hence the references to it in the Epistles are casual and incidental only.

And yet no one can read the Epistles without seeing that the Ascension coloured all the Apostles’ thought of Jesus. When they speak of Him, they speak of Him as One who has passed out of the region of the seen and natural into the region of the unseen and the supernatural. They think of Him not as risen simply, but as ascended also. It was from heaven Christ appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus. Paul speaks of Christ as seated on the right hand of God. It is from heaven, according to Paul, that Christ will come to judge the quick and the dead. Peter speaks of Christ as having gone into heaven and being on the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers being made subject to Him. John, when unveiling the splendours of the new Jerusalem, says that in the city, in the midst of it, he saw one like unto the Son of Man whose eyes were as a flame of fire and His voice as the voice of many waters, and His countenance as the sun shining in his strength, and He said, “I am the First and the Last and the Living One, and I was dead, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.” The picture of Jesus which the Apostles give us is that of One who lived a sinless life, died an atoning death, rose on the third day, and who then ascended far above all the heavens that He might fill all things.

The text falls into three natural divisions:—

The Parting Words of Jesus—“After he had spoken unto them”

His Ascension—“He was received up into heaven”

His Session in Heaven—“He sat down at the right hand of God”

I

The Parting Words of Jesus

1. As the fact of Christ’s resurrection is so important we may expect to find it well established. It is so. He made many appearances. There are at least ten or eleven. There is one noteworthy fact about these manifestations. He appeared only to His friends.

To see Jesus you must be in sympathy with Jesus. The stained-glass window gives no sign of its beauty as you look at it from without. It is from within the building that you are able to enjoy the fulness and richness of the colour. It is not until you enter into the Christian temper that you can receive the Christian revelations. To the unspiritual, manifestations of the Spirit are but foolishness.

2. Now in the appearances of Jesus He spoke to His disciples. “After he had spoken unto them” He ascended. He might have appeared without speaking. He might have shown them His hands, His feet, His side, and so proved His identity; and He might have done this without uttering a syllable. He spoke to them. What did He say? He knew He was soon to depart unto the Father. If the “tongues of dying men enforce attention,” we may conclude that the words of the risen Christ must be of paramount importance. Let us listen to the great resurrection words.

(1) Mary!—“Now when he was risen he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils” (Mark 16:9). She had been to the sepulchre and found it empty. She was sorrowfully departing when she met her Lord. “Supposing him to be the gardener, she saith unto him, Tell me where thou hast laid him and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary! She saith unto him, Rabboni.” The first resurrection word was a personal word; it was a woman’s name addressed to the woman herself.

What power Christ put into one word! The human voice is wonderfully musical. God has filled creation with music. The birds carol, the brooks murmur, the trees sing in the breeze. The ocean is always in tune. When the storm whips the billow into foam, or when the waves ripple idly on the sand, the voice of the ocean is always full of music. But nothing in creation can really rival the human voice. There are instruments of music which are pleasant to the ear; but for pathos, for power, for compass, for sweetness, the organ of human speech is above all.

(2) All hail!—This was the second word of the risen Lord. It was spoken to a company of sorrowing women. They had been to the sepulchre, carrying spices to embalm His body. There they had seen a vision of angels, and had been instructed by one of them to bear the intelligence of Christ’s resurrection to the disciples. While they were hastening to fulfil this commission, Jesus Himself met them, saying, “All hail!” Jesus always meets His people in the path of obedience. Now the Greek word for “All hail” means simply “Rejoice.” The second great resurrection word is a word of joy.

Rejoice because I live.—They thought Him dead. They had no expectation of His resurrection. They came to anoint a dead body and met a living Saviour. The cross had been the grave of their expectations. He whom they expected to reign had died a felon’s death. But now Jesus meets them. A living Lord bids them rejoice—rejoice that He is alive.

He lives, the friend of sinners lives,

What joy this blest assurance gives.

Rejoice because I show you what death is.—He was “first-born from the dead.” He was the “first-fruits” of the resurrection. His was the first real resurrection. We do not forget those raised by Elijah and Elisha, and the three whom Jesus Himself raised from the dead. But they were not instances of resurrection but of resuscitation. Each of them had to die again. Christ, raised from the dead, “dieth no more.” “He is alive for evermore.” By His resurrection “he brought life and immortality to light.”

Rejoice because I have triumphed.—“He was manifested to destroy the works of the devil.” One work of the devil was death. St. Paul tells us “Christ hath abolished death.” How did He accomplish this, but by His resurrection from the dead? He was not imprisoned for long. Like a mighty Samson He bore the gates away, and now the gates of death shall not prevail against us.

(3) Peace!—This is one of the most prominent of the resurrection words. It was spoken to the disciples in the upper room at Jerusalem. It was the very word they needed, for they were full of distress and fear. The peace He gave was a peace well based. He was Himself not only their source of peace, He was their peace.

Peace is always based on a feeling of safety. The boy who feels safe because he trusts the wisdom of his father, does not grow uneasy though the way be unknown and the night dark. He feels safe with his father and has peace. The old man who rides in his carriage has peace, because he trusts his coachman who has driven him for years. His sense of security gives him peace. The captain has no fear for his vessel though the fog is dense. The pilot who stands on the bridge has brought his boat to port so often that he can trust him and so has peace. It was so with the disciples. The knowledge that they were not alone, that He upon whose guidance they had depended was still with them, and was to be ever with them, this was the ground of their peace.

(4) Go!—“Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.” The meeting in Galilee was always thrown into prominence. Galilee is the appointed meeting-place for the great revelation Jesus gave of Himself. What shall the great word be for this occasion? He has spoken a personal word, a word of joy, a word of peace; now He gives the word of command. “Go!” “Then they went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.… And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations.”

A living Christ means a going Church. And so we leave these four great resurrection words. Christ is risen! The risen Christ speaks! He speaks to call us, to cheer us, to comfort us, to command us. “After he had spoken to them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” And now from the throne He speaks similar words to us. Let us listen to the living Christ.1 [Note: W. L. Mackenzie.]

3. These treasured words, which may be called the “resurrection words,” remind us of the great truth which we are taught in this verse,—which means so much to us, that Jesus spoke to His disciples, before He left them. And on the day of His Ascension they would remember above all the promise which He gave them before His death: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am ye may be also” (John 14:3).

The world has not seen the last of Jesus Christ. Such an Ascension, after such a life, cannot be the end of Him. “As it is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment, so Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many, shall appear the second time, without sin unto salvation.” As inevitably as for sinful human nature follows death, so inevitably for the sinless Man, who is the sacrifice for the world’s sins, will His judicial return follow His atoning work; He will come again, having received the Kingdom, to take account of His servants, and to perfect their possession of the salvation which by His Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, He wrought for the world. Therefore, one sweet face, and one great fact—the face of the Christ, the fact of the Cross—should fill the past. One sweet face, one great fact—the face of the Christ, the fact of His presence with us all the days—should fill the present. One regal face, one great hope, should fill the future; the face of the King that sitteth upon the throne, the hope that He will come again, and “so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

The Apostles were bidden by angels to turn their gaze from heaven to earth,—and wait. “And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Yes, Jesus will come again, there is joy in that thought. He hath passed from us into that invisible world, and left an ever-widening circle on the surface of the deep, which extends ever more and more around where He has passed, till it hath filled all time and space, and hath come even to us, and taken us into its hallowed circumference.1 [Note: Isaac Williams.]

But, Lord, to-morrow,

What of to-morrow, Lord?

Shall there be rest from toil, be truce from sorrow,

Be living green upon the sward,

Now but a barren grave to me,

Be joy for sorrow?—

“Did I not die for thee?

Do I not live for thee?—leave Me to-morrow.”2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

II

His Ascension

1. The Ascension was a natural sequence of the Incarnation and Resurrection.

The Ascension of Jesus of Nazareth was the final crisis in His great work. To omit it would be to omit that which is a necessary link between His resurrection from among the dead and reappearance amid His disciples, and the coming of God, the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost. It is not easy to follow Him as He passes out of human sight. This difficulty is recognised inferentially in the very brevity of the Gospel narrative. Very little is said, because little can be said which could be understood by those dwelling still within the limitations of the material, and having consciousness of the spiritual world only by faith. Still the positive fact is definitely stated; and, following closely the lines laid down, we may reverently attempt their projection beyond the veil of time and sense. It is almost pathetic that it is necessary to pause one moment to insist upon the actual historic fact of the ascension into the heavenly places of the Man of Nazareth. If the resurrection be denied, then of course there is no room for the ascension. If on the other hand it be established that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead, then it is equally certain that He ascended into heaven. No time need be taken in argument with such as believe in the authenticity of the New Testament story, and with those who question this, argument is useless. That there is an unconscious questioning of the fact of the ascension is evident from the way in which reference is sometimes made to the Lord Jesus. It is by no means uncommon to hear persons speak of what He did or said “in the days of His Incarnation.” Such a phrase, even when not used with such intention, does infer that the days of His Incarnation are over. This, however, is not so. Jesus, through whom, and through whom alone eventually, men as such will be found in the heavens, ascended in bodily form to those heavens, being Himself as to actual victory First-born from the dead. The stoop of God to human form was not for a period merely. That humiliation was a process in the pathway by which God would lift into eternal union with Himself all such as should be redeemed by the victory won through suffering. For evermore in the Person of the Man of Nazareth God is one with men. At this moment the Man of Nazareth, the Son of God, is at the right hand of the Father. Difficulties arising concerning these clear declarations as to the ascension of the Man of Nazareth must not be allowed to create disbelief in them. Any such process of discrediting what is hard to understand issues finally in the abandonment of the whole Christian position and history.

The Ascension of Christ ensues just as necessarily and naturally as the development of the flower when plant, stalk, leaf, and bud are already in existence. Look at the connection of His whole career, how He was sent down from His Father, in order, as God-man, to fulfil His work of mediation and redemption; how He, obeying, suffering, and dying, really did fulfil it, thus perfectly discharging the commission intrusted to Him; and then judge whether it may not be confidently expected that the holy, righteous Father in heaven would set His seal to the finished work of His only-begotten Son, not only by raising Him again from the dead, but by causing Him also to return in visible triumph to heaven, whence He had descended to us. One step in the life of Jesus demanded and required the next. Without the Ascension His life were a torso, a fragment, an inexplicable enigma. For where could the risen Saviour have remained if He had not returned to His Father? He must necessarily have tarried somewhere on earth in His glorified body; or, what is still more inconceivable and contradictory, have died a second time under circumstances that precluded any eye from witnessing it. But, finally, fix your attention upon that which, as being of paramount importance, imperatively challenges it, the authoritative seal of historical truth which He affixed Himself, in the presence of the whole world, upon the fact of His Ascension, by the outpouring, on the tenth day after His return to heaven, of the promised Holy Ghost. If anything be fitted to remove our last doubt, it is the day of Pentecost.1 [Note: F. W. Krummacher.]

2. The Ascension was expedient for us.

When Christ left the earth He was not bereaving His people. He was depriving them of a lesser good in order to bestow upon them a richer and a nobler. We have that on His own plain and unequivocal assurance. On the night in which He was betrayed, when He was gathered with His disciples in the upper room, and when the shadow of the coming parting lay dark and heavy across His soul and theirs, He sought to cheer His fainting and broken-hearted followers by assuring them that it was for their good that He should leave them. “Nevertheless,” He said, “I tell you the truth, it is expedient for you that I go away.” Now our Lord spoke many a hard saying during the years of His earthly sojourn, but He spoke none harder to believe than that. Those disciples of His that night absolutely and utterly refused to believe it. Yes, Christ spoke that night to deaf ears and incredulous hearts. If He had said, “It is expedient for the angelic host,” who had missed the face of their blessed Lord for three and thirty years, they could have understood that. If he had said, “It is expedient for the saved and redeemed,” whose joy would be increased by their Redeemer’s presence, they could have understood that. If He had said, “It is expedient for Me to go away,” to leave the trials and tears and difficulties and struggles and poverty and pain of earth for the blessedness and glory of heaven, they could have understood that. But that it should be expedient for them to be deprived of their Lord, who had been their joy, their strength, their inspiration, their hope; expedient for them to be deprived of His presence, and to be left friendless and alone in the midst of foes, like sheep in the midst of wolves—no, they could not understand that. Their Lord’s words sounded to them like bitter irony. It was a hard saying, and they could not bear it. And yet we can see to-day, and these very disciples came themselves to see, that when Christ said, “It is expedient for you that I go away,” He spoke the literal truth. For wherein does that expediency consist? It consists in the universal presence of Christ. Christ went away from His disciples in order that—paradoxical as it may sound—He might come nearer to them. He left them in bodily presence, that spiritually He might be present with them everywhere and at all times.

There are times when we wish we had shared in the experience of the first disciples, and had been privileged to hear our Lord’s voice and see His face and feel His touch. The sentiment expressed in our children’s hymn is at one time and another the sentiment of all of us—

I think, when I read that sweet story of old,

When Jesus was here among men,

How He called little children as lambs to His fold,

I should like to have been with them then.

I wish that His hands had been placed on my head,

That His arms had been thrown around me,

And that I might have seen His kind look when He said,

“Let the little ones come unto Me.”

And yet, natural though the sentiment of that hymn is, it is false. Why this pensive longing, this wistful regret for the days of Christ’s earthly sojourn? Is it that Christ is beyond our reach and call and touch to-day? As a matter of fact He has come nearer to us by going away.1 [Note: J. D. Jones.]

Lo, as some bard on isles of the Ægean,

Lovely and eager when the earth was young,

Burning to hurl his heart into a pæan,

Praise of the hero from whose loins he sprung;—


He, I suppose, with such a care to carry,

Wandered disconsolate and waited long,

Smiting his breast, wherein the notes would tarry,

Chiding the slumber of the seed of song:


Then in the sudden glory of a minute

Airy and excellent the proem came,

Rending his bosom, for a god was in it,

Waking the seed, for it had burst in flame.


So even I athirst for his inspiring,

I who have talked with him forget again;

Yes, many days with sobs and with desiring

Offer to God a patience and a pain;


Then thro’ the mid complaint of my confession,

Then thro’ the pang and passion of my prayer,

Leaps with a start the shock of His possession,

Thrills me and touches, and the Lord is there.1 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]

3. What is the practical bearing of the Ascension on our lives?

Our Lord’s Ascension leads us to think of Him and to follow Him in mind and heart. By His rising from the dead and ascending into heaven He gave us a model to follow no less than by His suffering and death. By His ascension our Lord would show us that although we are in the world we should not be of the world, that our minds and thoughts should be directed heavenward. There lie the vast possibilities, the unthinkable future, for human nature. “To him that over cometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” Union and communion with God. This is the beginning, the middle, the end of our religion. For this is the purpose of God for each soul in the day when He creates it.

Let us meditate how Christ has gone before us into the glory of His heavenly Father. Therefore, if we desire to follow Him, we must mark the way which He has shown us, and trodden for three and thirty years, in misery, in poverty, in shame, and in bitterness, even unto death. So likewise, to this day, must we follow in the same path, if we would fain enter with Him into the Kingdom of Heaven. For though all our masters were dead, and all our books burned, yet we should ever find instruction enough in His holy life. For He Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and by no other way can we truly and undeviatingly advance towards the same consummation, than in that which He hath walked while He was yet upon earth. Now, as the loadstone draws the iron after itself, so doth Christ draw all hearts after Himself which have once been touched by Him; and as when the iron is impregnated with the energy of the loadstone that has touched it, it follows the stone uphill although that is contrary to its nature, and cannot rest in its own proper place, but strives to rise above itself on high; so all the souls which have been touched by this loadstone, Christ, can be chained down neither by joy nor by grief, but are ever rising up to God out of themselves. They forget their own nature, and follow after the touch of God, and follow it the more easily and directly, the more noble is their nature than that of other men, and the more they are touched by God’s image.1 [Note: Tauler’s Life and Sermons, 335.]

Since Eden, it keeps the secret!

Not a flower beside it knows

To distil from the day the fragrance

And beauty that flood the Rose.


Silently speeds the secret

From the loving eye of the sun

To the willing heart of the flower:

The life of the twain is one.


Folded within my being,

A wonder to me is taught,

Too deep for curious seeing

Or fathom of sounding thought,


Of all sweet mysteries holiest!

Faded are rose and sun!

The Highest hides in the lowliest;

My Father and I are one.2 [Note: Charles Gordon Ames.]

III

His Session at God’s Right Hand

1. In that solemn and wondrous fact of Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God we see the exalted Man. We are taught to believe, according to His own words, that in His ascension Christ was but returning whence He came, and entering into the “glory which he had with the Father before the world was.” And that impression of a return to His native and proper abode is strongly conveyed to us by the narrative of His ascension. Contrast it, for instance, with the narrative of Elijah’s rapture, or with the brief reference to Enoch’s translation. The one was taken by God up into a region and a state which he had not formerly traversed; the other was borne by a fiery chariot to the heavens; but Christ slowly sailed upwards, as it were, by His own inherent power, returning to His abode, and ascending up where He was before.

But whilst this is one side of the profound fact, there is another side. What was new in Christ’s return to His Father’s bosom? This, that he took His manhood with Him. It was “the Everlasting Son of the Father,” the Eternal Word, which from the beginning “was with God and was God,” that came down from heaven to earth, to declare the Father; but it was the Incarnate Word, the Man Christ Jesus, that went back again. This most blessed and wonderful truth is taught with emphasis in His own words before the Council, “Ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power.” Christ, then, to-day, bears a human body, not indeed the “body of his humiliation,” but the body of His glory, which is none the less a true corporeal frame, and necessarily requires a locality. His ascension, whithersoever He may have gone, was the true carrying of a real humanity, complete in all its parts, Body, Soul, and Spirit, up to the very throne of God. Where that locality is it is useless to speculate. St. Paul says that He ascended up “far above all heavens”; or, as the Epistle to the Hebrews has it, in the proper translation, the High Priest “is passed through the heavens,” as if all this visible material creation was rent asunder in order that He might soar yet higher beyond its limits wherein reign mutation and decay. But wheresoever that place may be, there is a place in which now, with a human body as well as a human spirit, Jesus is sitting “at the right hand of God.” In the profound language of Scripture, “The Forerunner is for us entered.” In some mysterious manner, of which we can but dimly conceive, that entrance of Jesus in His complete humanity into the highest heavens is the preparation of a place for us. It seems as if, without His presence there, there were no entrance for human nature within that state, and no power in a human foot to tread upon the crystal pavements of the Celestial City. But where He is, there the path is permeable, and the place native, to all who love and trust Him.

The exalted Man, sitting at the right hand of God, is the Pattern of what is possible for humanity, and the prophecy and pledge of what will be actual for all that love Him and bear the image of Him upon earth, that they may be conformed to the image of His glory, and be with Him where He is. What firmness, what reality, what solidity this thought of the exalted bodily Christ gives to the else dim and vague conceptions of a Heaven beyond the stars and beyond our present experience! I believe that no doctrine of a future life has strength and substance enough to survive the agonies of our hearts when we part from our dear ones—the fears of our spirits when we look into the unknown inane future for ourselves—except only this which says Heaven is Christ and Christ is Heaven, and points to Him and says, “Where he is, there also shall his servants be.”1 [Note: 1 A. Maclaren.]

We know not when, we know not where,

We know not what that world will be;

But this we know—it will be fair

To see.


With hearts athirst and thirsty face,

We know and know not what shall be:

Christ Jesus bring us of His grace

To see.

Christ Jesus bring us of His grace,

Beyond all prayers our hope can pray,

One day to see Him face to Face,

One day.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

2. The Ascension of our blessed Lord involves the glorification of the whole human race. In His Incarnation Christ identified Himself once for all with human-kind. He bound us in a close and vital relationship to Himself. He became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. He shared our lot and made us partakers of His destiny. The highest interests of humanity became embodied in Him. If the powers of evil could prevail over Him, then they might soon enslave the whole human race. If He should overcome death, and pass through the grave and the gate of death to a joyful resurrection, He would thus open to all mankind the gate of everlasting life. If God should exalt Him with great triumph unto His Kingdom in heaven, He would by that same act exalt all His faithful followers to the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before.

Thou hast raised our human nature

On the clouds to God’s right hand;

There we sit in heavenly places,

There with Thee in glory stand.


Jesus reigns, adored by angels;

Man with God is on the throne;

Mighty Lord, in Thine Ascension

We by faith behold our own.1 [Note: Chr. Wordsworth.]

3. Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God presents to our view a Saviour at Rest. That session expresses the idea of absolute repose after sore conflict. It is the same thought that is expressed in those solemn Egyptian colossal statues of deified conquerors, elevated to mysterious union with their gods, and yet men still. Sitting before their temples in perfect stillness, with their mighty hands lying quiet on their restful limbs; with calm faces out of which toil and passion and change seem to have melted, they gaze out with open eyes as over a silent, prostrate world. So, with the Cross behind, with all the agony and weariness of the arena, the dust and the blood of the struggle left beneath, Christ “sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” He rests after His Cross, not because He needed repose even after that terrible effort, but in token that His work was finished and perfected, that all which He had come to do was done; and in token that the Father, too, beheld and accepted His finished work. Therefore, the session of Christ at the right hand of God is the proclamation from Heaven of what He cried with His last dying breath upon the Cross: “It is finished!” It is the declaration that the world has had all done for it that Heaven can do for it. It is the declaration that all which is needed for the regeneration of humanity has been lodged in the very heart of the race, and that henceforward all that is required is the evolving and the development of the consequences of that perfect work which Christ offered upon the Cross. So the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews contrasts the priests who stood “daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices” which “can never take away sin,” with “this Man who, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down at the right hand of God”; testifying thereby that His Cross is the complete, sufficient, perpetual atonement and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

It would seem as though one could hear the antiphonal singing of the heavenly choirs, as this perfect One passes into heaven.

Lift up your heads, O ye gates;

And be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors:

And the King of glory shall come in,

is the exulting challenge of the angels escorting Him. To this comes back the question, inspired by the passion to hear again the story of the victory,

Who is the King of glory?

And yet gathering new music and new meaning the surging anthem rolls,

Jehovah strong and mighty,

Jehovah mighty in battle …

He is the King of glory.

Thus the song is also of One who was mighty in battle. Looking upon Him, the glorified One, and listening to His words, the wonder grows. For in that Form, all filled with exquisite beauty, are yet the signs of suffering and of pain. The marks of wounding are in hands, and feet, and side, and His presence declares in His own words, “I am … the Living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore.”1 [Note: G. Campbell Morgan.]

Chains of my heart, avaunt I say—

I will arise, and in the strength of love

Pursue the bright track ere it fade away,

My Saviour’s pathway to His home above.


Sure, when I reach the point where earth

Melts into nothing from th’ uncumbered sight,

Heaven will o’ercome th’ attraction of my birth,

And I will sink in yonder sea of light:


Till resting by th’ incarnate Lord,

Once bleeding, now triumphant for my sake,

I mark Him, how by Seraph hosts adored

He to earth’s lowest cares is still awake.


The sun and every vassal star,

All space, beyond the soar of Angel wings,

Wait on His word; and yet He stays His car

For every sigh a contrite suppliant brings.


He listens to the silent tear

’Mid all the anthems of the boundless sky—

And shall our dreams of music bar our ear

To His soul-piercing voice for ever nigh?


Nay, gracious Saviour,—but as now

Our thoughts have traced Thee to Thy glory-throne,

So help us evermore with Thee to bow

Where human sorrow breathes her lowly moan.1 [Note: J. Keble, The Christian Year, Ascension Day.]

4. The Session involves Intercession.—In the Epistle to the Hebrews is constantly reiterated the thought that we have a Priest who has “passed into the heavens,” there to “appear in the presence of God for us.” And St. Paul says, “It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Romans 8:34). There are deep mysteries connected with the thought of the intercession of Christ. It does not mean that the Divine Heart needs to be won to love and pity. It does not mean that in any mere outward and formal fashion Christ pleads with God, and softens and placates the Infinite and Eternal love of the Father in the heavens. It, at least, plainly means this, that He, our Saviour and Sacrifice, is for ever in the presence of God, presenting His own blood as an element in the Divine dealing with us, modifying the incidence of the Divine law, and securing through His own merits and intercession the outflow of blessings upon our heads and hearts. It is not a complete statement of Christ’s work for us that He died for us; He died that He might have somewhat to offer. He lives that He may be our Advocate as well as our propitiation with the Father. The High Priest once a year passed within the curtain, and there in the solemn silence and solitude of the Holy Place, not without trembling, sprinkled the blood that he bore thither; and but for a moment was he permitted to stay in the awful Presence. So, but in reality and for ever, with the joyful gladness of a Son in His “own calm home, His habitation from eternity,” Christ abides in the Holy Place; and, at the right hand of the Majesty of the Heavens, lifts up that prayer, so strangely compact of authority and submission: “Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am.” The Son of Man at the right hand of God is our Intercessor with the Father. “Seeing, then, that we have a great High Priest that is passed through the heavens, let us come boldly to the Throne of Grace.”

Not as one blind and deaf to our beseeching,

Neither forgetful that we are but dust,

Not as from heavens too high for our upreaching,

Coldly sublime, intolerably just:—


Nay but Thou knewest us, Lord Christ Thou knowest,

Well Thou rememberest our feeble frame,

Thou canst conceive our highest and our lowest

Pulses of nobleness and aches of shame.


Therefore have pity!—not that we accuse Thee,

Curse Thee and die and charge Thee with our woe:

Not thro’ Thy fault, O Holy One, we lose Thee,

Nay, but our own,—yet hast Thou made us so!


Then tho’ our foul and limitless transgression

Grows with our growing, with our breath began,

Raise Thou the arms of endless intercession,

Jesus, divinest when Thou most art man!1 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]

5. Lastly, the Ascension sets before us the ever-active Helper. The “right hand of God” is the Omnipotent energy of God; and however certainly the language of Scripture requires for its full interpretation that we should firmly hold that Christ’s glorified body dwells in a place, we are not to omit the other thought that to sit at the right hand also means to wield the immortal energy of that Divine nature over all the field of the Creation, and in every province of His dominion. So that the ascended Christ is the ubiquitous Christ; and He who is “at the right hand of God” is wherever the power of God reaches-throughout His whole Universe.

We remember that it was once given to a man to look through the opened heavens (through which Christ had “passed”) and to “see the Son of Man standing”—not sitting—“at the right hand of God.” Why to the dying protomartyr was there granted that vision thus varied? Wherefore was the attitude changed but to express the swiftness, the certainty of His help, and the eager readiness of the Lord, who starts to His feet, as it were, to succour and to sustain His dying servant? And so we may take that great joyful truth that, both as receiving “gifts for men” and bestowing gifts upon them, and as working by His providence in the world, and on the wider scale for the well-being of His children and of the Church, the Christ who sits at the right hand of God wields, ever with eager cheerfulness, all the powers of omnipotence for our well-being, if we love and trust Him.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

And didst Thou love the race that loved not Thee,

And didst Thou take to Heaven a human brow?

Dost plead with man’s voice by the marvellous sea?

Art Thou his kinsman now?


O God, O Kinsman, loved, but not enough!

O man, with eyes majestic after death,

Whose feet have toiled along our pathways rough,

Whose lips drawn human breath!


By that one likeness which is ours and Thine,

By that one nature which doth hold us kin,

By that high heaven where sinless Thou dost shine,

To draw us sinners in,


By Thy last silence in the judgment-hall,

By long foreknowledge of the deadly tree,

By darkness, by the wormwood and the gall,

I pray Thee visit me.


Come, lest this heart should, cold and cast away,

Die ere the guest adored she entertain—

Lest eyes which never saw Thine earthly day

Should miss Thy heavenly reign.2 [Note: Jean Ingelow.]

The Crowned Saviour

Literature

Aitchison (J.), The Children’s Own, 157.

Arnold (T.), Sermons: Christian Life and Doctrine, 54.

Benson (R. M.), The Final Passover, 616.

Chadwick (G. A.), The Gospel of St. Mark, 442.

Gregory (J. Robinson), Scripture Truths made Simple, 113.

Jones (J. D.), The Gospel of Grace, 134.

Krummacher (F. W.), The Risen Redeemer, 212.

Mackenzie (W. Lomax), Pure Religion, 28.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Mark, ix.–xvi., 312.

Morgan (G. Campbell), The Crises of the Christ, 347.

Winkworth (S.), Tauler’s Life and Sermons, 334.

The Churchman’s Pulpit, pt. 17, Ascension Day.

The Church Pulpit Year-Book, 1908, 111.

Five Minute Sermons. Paulist, New Series, i. 264.

Sermons on the Gospels, Advent to Trinity, 259.


Verse 19-20

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Mark 16:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/mark-16.html. 1905.

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