RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION
161. Morning of the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-15; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18)
It is not surprising that there are differences in the accounts of what people saw on the Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead. The sight of the empty tomb and the heavenly messengers produced a mixture of reactions - excitement, joy, anxiety, fear, wonder. There was confusion as people rushed here and there to tell others. One writer records what he heard from some, another what he heard from others. But there is no variation in the basic facts: the tomb was empty and Jesus had risen. The following summary suggests the possible order of events.
1. At the first sign of dawn two groups of women set out from separate places to take spices to anoint the body of Jesus. One group consisted of three women (Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome the mother of the apostles James and John). The other group consisted of Joanna and some friends (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1; Luke 24:10).
2. The group of three women arrived at the tomb first and found the stone rolled away. Mary Magdalene panicked and, without seeing the angel or hearing the voice, ran to tell Peter and John that the body had been stolen (John 20:1-2). But the other Mary and Salome remained. They met one angel sitting on the stone outside the tomb, and another sitting inside the tomb. Upon hearing that Jesus had risen and desired to be reunited with his disciples in Galilee, they rushed off to the place where the apostles were gathered, eager to pass on the exciting news (Matthew 28:2-7; Mark 16:4-8).
3. Meanwhile the Roman guards fled the tomb and hurried across the city to tell the chief priests what had happened. These priests were the ones who had set the guard in the first place, and their purpose was to prevent Jesus' followers from stealing the body. Now the same priests bribed the guards to spread the story that Jesus' followers stole the body while the guards slept. The priests had earlier been worried that Jesus' disciples might deceive people, but now they themselves were the deceivers (Matthew 28:11-13; Matthew 27:62-66). If Pilate heard the story of the guards sleeping on duty, the Jewish leaders promised to protect them by bribing Pilate (Matthew 28:14-15).
4. Back at the tomb, a few minutes after the first group of women had departed, Joanna and her friends arrived. They went inside, met two angels, heard the news of Jesus' resurrection, and hurried off to tell the apostles (Luke 24:2-8).
5. Soon after the women left the tomb, Peter and John arrived, went inside and saw the linen cloth lying neatly folded. They believed the evidence they saw that Jesus must have risen from the dead, but they left the tomb confused, not understanding the significance of the event (John 20:3-10; Luke 24:12).
6. Mary Magdalene, who followed Peter and John back to the tomb, arrived after they had left. She remained there alone, weeping. Then she saw the two angels inside the tomb and, on turning round, saw a man whom she did not immediately recognize (Mark 16:9; John 20:11-15). When she discovered that the man was Jesus, she took hold of him as if not wanting to let him go. Jesus told her she had no need to cling to him in this way, as he was not ascending to heaven immediately (though he would within a few weeks). She should not become dependent on his physical presence, otherwise she would be disappointed again. She was to go and tell the apostles what he had told her (John 20:16-17).
7. Shortly after appearing to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appeared to the other women of her group (the other Mary and Salome) as they were on their way to tell the apostles of their discovery (Matthew 28:8-10).
8. The two groups of women reached the house of the apostles about the same time, followed soon after by Mary Magdalene. They told the apostles of what they had seen at the tomb and of their separate meetings with the risen Jesus, but the apostles believed neither Mary nor the other women (Mark 16:10-11; Luke 24:9-11; John 20:18). (All the events summarized in sections 1 to 8 above probably happened within the space of an hour or so.)
162. On the road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35)
That afternoon Jesus joined two sorrowful disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, but they did not recognize him (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-16). When they started to explain their sadness, they expressed surprise that their unknown companion had not heard about the crucifixion of Jesus. Their understanding of Jesus' mission was not very clear, for they had hoped he would bring national liberation to Israel; but they believed in him nevertheless, and they condemned the leaders of the Jews for crucifying him (Luke 24:17-21). Furthermore, they had heard first-hand reports from those who saw the empty tomb and heard the angels' announcements of his resurrection (Luke 24:22-24).
Jesus then gave the two disciples a proper understanding of the Messiah and his mission, by referring them to the Scriptures. He showed that the Old Testament consistently pointed to a Saviour-Messiah who had to suffer before he could enter his glory. The death and resurrection of Jesus brought to completion the pattern that God had been working through the history of his people (Luke 24:25-27).
When almost at Emmaus, Jesus and the two disciples stopped for their evening meal. As Jesus gave thanks and broke the bread to begin the meal, the disciples suddenly recognized who he was. He immediately disappeared from their sight, such was the mysterious nature of his resurrection body (Luke 24:28-31). The two disciples were deeply stirred by his teaching and, without waiting to rest their weary bodies, hurried back the twelve kilometres to Jerusalem to tell the apostles and other disciples of their discovery. In the meantime Peter also had met the risen Jesus (Mark 16:13; Luke 24:32-35; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5).
163. Sunday night in Jerusalem (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-23)
While the disciples were together discussing these miraculous appearances, Jesus suddenly appeared among them in the room, even though the doors were locked. This made them think they were seeing a ghost who could pass through walls, but Jesus calmed their fears by showing them his body of flesh and bones, complete with the scars of crucifixion. He also ate some fish, showing that his body had normal physical functions (Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-20).
Jesus gave the group of disciples the teaching he had given the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:44-46). They were witnesses of his ministry, death and resurrection, and he entrusted to them the task of taking his message to all nations. Equipped by his Spirit, they would be his representatives in the world. This was a great responsibility, because as they preached the gospel, people would either believe it and be forgiven, or reject it and suffer judgment (Luke 24:47-49; John 20:21-23).
166. On a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-18)
The apostles had an indication why Jesus had told them to go to Galilee when he took them up one of the mountains. From there they could look out to the next stage of the kingdom's mission, the Gentile nations beyond. The three and a half years public ministry of Jesus had been limited to Israel (cf. Matthew 10:5-6; Matthew 15:24; Romans 15:8), but the ministry that the risen Jesus now passed on to his disciples extended to all nations without distinction. His power would be in his disciples, preserving them through dangers and enabling them to perform remarkable works (Matthew 28:16-17; Mark 16:15-18).
Jesus' purpose in this activity was to establish his church (cf. Matthew 16:18), as his followers preached the gospel, baptized those who believed, and taught the converts to understand and follow his teachings. As the converts, in turn, passed the message on to others, the church would continue its worldwide expansion, assured always that the victorious Jesus was working with his people (Matthew 28:18-20).
167. The ascension (Mark 16:19-20; Luke 24:50-53)
From Jesus' resurrection to his ascension was about six weeks, and during that time he gave his disciples further teaching on the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). The overall content of that teaching is probably represented by the summary attached to the story of his first Sunday night appearance to the disciples. He showed them how his ministry on earth was the climax of God's Old Testament purposes and the starting point for worldwide expansion through his followers. A clear understanding of God's purposes, together with their own eye witness accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection, would give them confidence in taking the gospel to others (see Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:8).
When the time arrived for Jesus to leave his disciples and return to his Father, the disciples were no longer confused but confident. Again Jesus was to be taken from them, but this time instead of fleeing in fear and distress, they accompanied him to the place chosen for his departure. From near Bethany, the village on the slopes of Mount Olivet just outside Jerusalem, Jesus left his disciples, with the promise that one day he would return (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50-51; cf. Acts 1:9-12).
The disciples returned to Jerusalem praising God, and a few days later received the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised. They began their task of preaching the good news about Jesus and multitudes believed. Their risen Lord was working with them (Mark 16:20; Luke 24:52-53; cf. Acts 2:1-4; Acts 2:41-47; Acts 4:10-12).
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Mark 16". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany