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Bible Commentaries
Mark 16

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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The resurrection of Jesus is the climax of Mark’s Gospel as it is the high point of all the other Gospel accounts. Jesus vindicated His claims to being the divine Son of God, not simply a human messiah, by His resurrection from the dead.

Verse 1

The Sabbath ended with sundown Saturday evening. The women did not come to the tomb until Sunday morning (Mark 16:2, cf. Matthew 28:1). Why did Mark refer to the Sabbath at all? Probably he did so to clarify that Jesus had been in the tomb for some time.

The women Mark mentioned coming to the tomb were the same ones he said observed Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:40-41). Two of them had already visited Jesus’ tomb late Friday afternoon (Mark 15:47). However there were several other women who accompanied them now (cf. Luke 24:10).

Women Who Visited the Tomb Easter Morning
Matthew 28:1Mark 16:1Luke 24:10John 20:1
Mary MagdaleneMary MagdaleneMary MagdaleneMary Magdalene
The other Mary =Mary the mother of JamesMary the mother of James

They went to anoint Jesus’ corpse with spices. The Jews did not practice embalming. [Note: Hiebert, p. 408.] These women simply wanted to honor Jesus by making His corpse as pleasant smelling as possible. Perhaps Mary of Bethany’s example had encouraged them to make this sacrifice for Him (cf. Mark 14:3-9). Obviously they did not understand that Jesus would rise from the dead.

"In the final scenes, in Jerusalem, the little people [i.e., the minor characters in Mark’s story] exemplify especially the teaching about being ’servant of all.’ Earlier, Jesus served others. Now in his time of need others serve him: Simon the leper receives him in his house; a woman anoints him with ointment worth a worker’s annual salary; Simon Cyrenean takes up his cross; Joseph takes his body from the cross and buries him; and a group of women go to the tomb to anoint him after his death. These actions are acts of service done for Jesus by people who courageously sacrifice or risk something-money or arrest or reputation-to carry them out. . . .

"Thus, the little ones serve throughout as ’foils’ for the disciples. . . .

". . . the little people actually fulfill the functions expected of disciples. Because the disciples of John had buried John’s corpse, the reader expects the same of Jesus’ disciples. Instead, the little people do what might have been expected of the disciples . . ." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, pp. 132-33.]

Verses 1-8

A. The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection 16:1-8 (cf. Matthew 28:1-8; Luke 24:1-8; John 20:1)

Verses 2-3

Mark dated their visit even more precisely. [Note: See Zane C. Hodges, "The Women and the Empty Tomb," Bibliotheca Sacra 123:492 (October-December 1966):301-9.] Apparently the women left their homes before dawn and arrived at the tomb just after sunrise (Matthew 28:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Their concern was the removal of the heavy stone that blocked their entrance into the tomb. They evidently knew nothing about the sealing of the tomb and the posting of the guard there (Matthew 27:62-66).

Verses 4-5

Mark apparently included this story to impress the reader with the supernatural element represented by the angel. The women would have said to one another, "Who rolled the stone away? It must have been someone very strong." When they entered the antechamber of the tomb, they would have thought, "Who is this young man (Gr. neaniskos)? He must be very unusual." He appeared as a youth, but his strength and his unusual dress indicated that he was an angel (cf. Mark 9:3). He terrified the women.

"It may be suggested that the purpose of the angel’s presence at the tomb was to be the link between the actual event of the Resurrection and the women. Human eyes were not permitted to see the event of the Resurrection itself. But the angels as the constant witnesses of God’s action saw it. So the angel’s word to the women, ’He is risen’, is, as it were, the mirror in which men were allowed to see the reflection of this eschatological event." [Note: Cranfield, The Gospel . . ., pp. 465-66.]

Verse 6

The angel first calmed the women’s fears. They needed to stop being amazed since Jesus had predicted His resurrection and now it had happened. Then the angel explained where Jesus was. He was raised (Gr. passive tense, implying that God had raised Him)! The empty tomb testified to His resurrection. The same person who was crucified was now alive.

"It is significant that early Jewish polemicists never sought to dispute this fact." [Note: Lane, p. 588.]

Verse 7

Peter especially needed this good news in view of his triple denial of Jesus and his consequent despair. Mark only recorded this special reference to Peter probably because it meant so much to Peter. Jesus still regarded Peter as one of His disciples in spite of his failure.

Jesus had predicted the scattering of His sheep and their regathering in Galilee (Mark 14:27-28). Galilee was the appropriate place to launch a worldwide mission to Gentiles as well as Jews. As He had called His disciples to be fishers of men in Galilee (Mark 1:17), now He would commission them to be shepherds of sheep there (John 21:15-19).

"The final scene points back to Galilee, back to the beginning of the story. The young man’s message at the tomb with instructions for the disciples to go to Galilee suggests perhaps a fresh start for the disciples or for anyone in the future of the story world who chooses to follow Jesus. By implication, this fresh journey will result in the same complications and the same hostility met in Galilee by John and then by Jesus. Furthermore, Galilee points away from Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, toward gentile nations, where Jesus had said the good news was to be proclaimed before the end came." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 71.]

However the disciples did not go immediately to Galilee. They needed further proof of Jesus’ resurrection, which Jesus provided, before they went.

Verse 8

The women were so upset by what had happened that when they left the tomb they told no one what they had seen-at first. However, it was not long before they were spreading the news that Jesus was alive again (Matthew 28:8; Luke 24:9).

"The ending of Mark . . . punctures any self-confident superiority the reader might feel, for the ending turns irony back upon the reader. Throughout the story when Jesus commanded people to be quiet they talked anyway. But at the end when the young man commands the women to go tell the message-the crucial message-in an ironic reversal they are silent. The fear of the women dominates the ending of the story. At this point fear forces the reader to face once again the fear in his or her own situation. No matter how much the reader ’knows’ or ’sees,’ he or she still must make the hard choice in the end-whether to be silent like the women or to proclaim the good news in the face of persecution and possible death." [Note: Ibid., pp. 61-62.]

"With his closing comment he [Mark] wished to say that ’the gospel of Jesus the Messiah’ (ch. Mark 1:1) is an event beyond human comprehension and therefore awesome and frightening. In this case, contrary to general opinion, ’for they were afraid’ is the phrase most appropriate to the conclusion of the Gospel. The abruptness with which Mark concluded his account corresponds to the preface of the Gospel where the evangelist begins by confronting the reader with the fact of revelation in the person of John and Jesus (Ch. Mark 1:1-13)." [Note: Lane, p. 592.]

Verse 9

The NIV has supplied "Jesus." The Greek text says, "Now after He had risen." The antecedent of "He" is obviously Jesus, but the lack of this antecedent in the immediately preceding context seems to some interpreters to indicate a major break between Mark 16:8-9. Perhaps the writer did not feel he needed to name Jesus since He is the obvious antecedent. [Note: Morison, p. 450.]

The writer may have described Mary Magdalene as he did here to explain why she was at the tomb. Jesus’ had done a great thing for her, and her love for Him was consequently very great. Perhaps the writer described her as he did to identify her more precisely since she becomes an important figure here for the first time in Mark’s Gospel. Mary had returned to the tomb after she had left it (Mark 16:1-8). Evidently people could not naturally perceive Jesus for who He was unless Jesus revealed Himself to them (cf. Luke 24:16; Luke 24:31). [Note: S. J. Andrews, The Life of Our Lord Upon the Earth, p. 590.]

Verses 9-11

Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene 16:9-11 (cf. John 20:11-18)

Verses 9-18

1. Three post-resurrection appearances 16:9-18

These three accounts stress the importance of disciples believing what Jesus had taught, specifically that He would rise from the dead, with increasing urgency.

Verses 9-20

B. the appearances and ascension of Jesus 16:9-20

Many modern interpreters believe Mark ended his Gospel with Mark 16:8. [Note: E.g., Carson and Moo, pp. 187-90.] This seems unlikely to some others since if he did he ended it with an example of disciples too fearful and amazed to bear witness to the resurrected Jesus. Throughout this Gospel we have noted many unique features that appeal to disciples to serve God by bearing bold witness to Jesus, even in spite of persecution and suffering. They believe the women’s example would hardly be a good example for Mark to close his Gospel with.

The ending of Mark’s Gospel is one of the major textual problems in the New Testament. The main reason some interpreters regard Mark 16:9-20 as spurious is this. The two oldest Greek uncial manuscripts of the New Testament (fourth century), Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph) and Codex Vaticanus (B), plus many other old manuscripts, do not contain them. Moreover the writings of some church fathers reflect no knowledge of these verses. On the other hand, Mark 16:9-20 do appear in the majority of the old manuscripts, and other church fathers do refer to them. [Note: For more details, see Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, pp. 122-26.] Some interpreters believe the vocabulary, style, and content of these verses argue against Mark’s authorship of them. [Note: E.g., Wessel, p. 792; Bratcher and Nida, pp. 517-22; et al.] This has led many modern scholars to conclude that Mark 16:9-20 were not part of Mark’s original Gospel. [Note: E.g., Swete, p. cxiii; A. F. Hort, The Gospel According to St. Mark, p. 199; B. B. Warfield, An Introduction to the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, p. 203; Joel F. Williams, "Literary Approaches to the End of Mark’s Gospel," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42:1 (March 1999):21-35; The NET Bible note on 16:9; Lane, pp. 591, 601-5; et al.]

If they were not part of Mark’s original Gospel, where did they come from, and are they part of the inspired Word of God or not inspired?

It may be that Mark 16:9-20 were part of Mark’s original Gospel and, for reasons unknown to us today, they were not included in some ancient copies of it. Thus these verses are as fully authoritative as the rest of the Gospel. [Note: John W. Burgon, The Last Twelve Verses of the Gospel According to S. Mark; Morison, pp. 446-49, 463-70; Lenski, pp. 750-55; et al.]

Another view is that someone added Mark 16:9-20 to give this Gospel a more positive ending. He could have done so without divine inspiration, in which case these verses lack the divine authority that marks the rest of Scripture.

Alternatively someone could have added Mark 16:9-20 under the superintending influence of the Holy Spirit, in which case these verses have equal authority with the rest of the Gospel. [Note: Grassmick, p. 194.] There are other passages of Scripture that seem to have been written somewhat later than the body of the book in which they appear but which the Jews and later the Christians regarded as inspired. For example, the record of Moses’ death appears at the end of Deuteronomy, which most conservatives believe Moses wrote (cf. Deuteronomy 34:5-12). Another example is the references to the town of Dan in the Book of Genesis, which town did not go by that name until after Moses’ time. Evidently someone after Moses’ day updated the name of that town. Several other examples of this nature could be cited.

The view of many evangelicals, including myself, is that even though we may not be able to prove that Mark 16:9-20 were originally part of Mark’s Gospel, though they could have been, they appear to have been regarded as inspired and therefore authoritative early in the history of the church.

There are two other short endings to Mark’s Gospel that follow Mark 16:8 in some ancient copies, but almost all textual scholars reject these as being spurious.

Verses 10-11

Mary reported to the disciples that she had seen the risen Christ (cf. Mark 16:7). While the rest of the Jews rejoiced, celebrating the Passover season, Jesus’ disciples mourned His death. They would not believe Mary’s eyewitness testimony. This should encourage other disciples who find that unbelievers will not believe their witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

Verses 12-13

Jesus’ appearance to two men 16:12-13 (cf. Luke 24:13-32)

This is a condensed version of Jesus’ appearance on the Emmaus road. The different (immortal) form in which Jesus appeared accounted in part for the failure of these men to recognize Him. The writer’s point seems to be the unbelief of the disciples again. Neither the report of an eyewitness nor a personal appearance opened these men’s eyes. God had to do that supernaturally, and He still does.

Verse 14

This event evidently happened on Easter Sunday evening. This is the most severe rebuke that Jesus ever gave His disciples that the Gospels record. They had not only disbelieved the reports of His resurrection, but they had also hardened their hearts against the possibility of His resurrection. The disciples’ own unbelief would help them understand and appreciate the unbelief of many with whom they would share the gospel as eyewitnesses.

"The Apostles may have been allowed to hear of the Resurrection before seeing the risen Christ in order that they might know from personal experience what it was to have to depend upon the testimony of others, as would be the case with their converts." [Note: Plummer, p. 372.]

Verses 14-18

Jesus’ appearance to the Eleven 16:14-18 (cf. Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-23)

The writer said that Jesus appeared to the Eleven on this occasion. However, John qualified that statement by explaining that Thomas was absent (John 20:24). The writer was speaking of the Eleven as a group.

Verse 15

The giving of the Great Commission on this occasion seems to have preceded the giving of it that Matthew recorded (Matthew 28:19-20). The account in the second Gospel stresses the universal scope of the disciples’ responsibility (cf. Mark 14:9). "All" in "all the world" is an especially strong form of the Greek word for "all," namely, hapanta. Every part of the world needs the gospel.

Verse 16

This is a verse that some people believe teaches the necessity of water baptism for salvation. However Christian baptism elsewhere in the New Testament is always an outward confession of belief in Jesus Christ. This verse also regards baptism as such. The second part of the verse clearly teaches that unbelief results in condemnation (cf. Mark 9:43-48), not unbelief and failure to undergo baptism. In the first part of the verse, one article governs both participles: has believed and has been baptized (NASB) or believes and is baptized (NIV). This indicates the close relationship between believing and being baptized. However they are not inseparable (cf. Romans 3:21-28; 1 Corinthians 1:17; Ephesians 2:8-9). Baptism is not a condition for salvation, but it is an important step of obedience for a believing disciple.

Verses 17-18

These verses also support the primary importance of believing. Those who believe, not just the Eleven, would continue to perform supernatural acts. Throughout Scripture such "signs" always signified that something of supernatural origin was happening, and they authenticated the message that the witness bore (cf. Mark 16:20).

"The signs authenticated the faith the early believers proclaimed, not the personal faith that any one of them exercised." [Note: Grassmick, p. 196.]

The Twelve had already cast out demons and healed people in Jesus’ name (Mark 6:7; Mark 6:12-13). They would continue to have these abilities (cf. Acts 5:16; Acts 8:7; Acts 16:18; Acts 19:12; Acts 28:8). This is the only reference to the disciples speaking in tongues (i.e., languages) in the Gospels (cf. Acts 2:4; Acts 10:46; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 12:30; 1 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Corinthians 14:2; 1 Corinthians 14:18-19). There is no textual basis for distinguishing the unlearned languages spoken in Acts from the gibberish that some claim the epistles refer to. Tongues in the New Testament were evidently always languages. [Note: See S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "The Gift of Tongues and the Book of Acts," Bibliotheca Sacra 120:480 (October-December 1963):309-11.] Immunity from the bite of poisonous snakes was another privilege the disciples would enjoy (cf. Acts 28:3-6). There are no examples of disciples drinking something deadly and surviving in the Book of Acts.

Jesus did not say how long the disciples would be able to do these things. Previous periods of miracle-working had all been fairly short (cf. Exodus 7-14; 1 Kings 17 -2 Kings 10). Therefore that is what the disciples could expect (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8). Church history has confirmed that the period of miracle-working that existed in the first century passed away about the same time as the completion of the New Testament canon (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4). Some Christians claim these promises are valid today, for example the snake-handling and poison-drinking sects of Appalachia. However these were mainly promises of divine protection when the disciples’ persecutors would compel them to do these things.

God still sometimes convinces people of the truth of the gospel or confirms the truth of His Word to people with supernatural experiences. Nevertheless these are not the same experiences as what Jesus promised here. Some of the early Christians could perform miracles whenever they wanted to do so in God’s will (e.g., Acts 3:6; Acts 16:18). That is not the case today, though God still performs miracles today.

Verse 19

This event happened 40 days after the appearances that the writer just recorded (cf. Acts 1:3). He narrated the ascension and session of Jesus simply. The title "Lord Jesus" occurs only here and in Luke 24:3 in the Gospels. Jesus of Nazareth became Lord to His disciples, in the sense of sovereign master, following His resurrection. He was that always, but the Resurrection taught the disciples that that is what He was.

Jesus had predicted His ascension in veiled terms (Mark 14:7). The disciples witnessed this. They did not witness His seating in heaven. The Old Testament anticipated Messiah’s seating in heaven before His return to reign (Psalms 110:1). The disciples learned that that session would occur between Jesus’ two advents, not before His first advent (cf. Acts 2:33-35; Acts 7:56). Jesus’ present seated position at the Father’s right hand pictures His finished work on earth for the time being and His authority as the executor of God’s will now. Jesus’ present rule over the church from His Father’s right hand in heaven is not the same as His future rule over the Davidic kingdom from David’s throne on earth. [Note: See Cleon L. Rogers Jr., "The Davidic Covenant in Acts-Revelation," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:601 (January-March 1994):81-82.]

Verses 19-20

2. Jesus’ ascension 16:19-20 (cf. Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9-12)

Verse 20

However, Jesus’ work on earth also continued through His disciples. It was a continuation of Jesus’ work on earth in a real sense because He continued to work with them and confirmed their preaching with signs (cf. Acts 1:1-2). These first disciples provided a positive example for all succeeding generations of disciples to follow. Thus the Gospel ends on a positive note.

This task of evangelizing continued in Rome among the disciples who first received this Gospel. This account of the good news about Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1) would have been a particular encouragement to those disciples. They faced the choice of whether to take a public stand as Christians and suffer the loss of real estate, personal property, employment, and even their lives, or to lay low. They had to offer a pinch of incense in worship of "divine" Caesar as Roman citizens. Doing so compromised their exclusive commitment to Jesus as Lord. To fail to worship Caesar cost them dearly. This Gospel is particularly helpful for disciples who face similar challenges in their own time and place in history.

Wiersbe pointed out that the Gospel of Mark parallels Paul’s great servant passage in Philippians 2. Jesus came as a servant (Mark 1-13; Philippians 2:1-7), He died on a cross (Mark 14-15; Philippians 2:8), and God exalted Him to glory (Mark 16; Philippians 2:9). Both Mark and Paul stressed the need for Jesus’ disciples to carry the gospel to all nations (Mark 16:15-16; Philippians 2:10-11). And both of them gave assurance that God is at work in and through us (Mark 16:19-20; Philippians 2:12-13). [Note: Wiersbe, 1:168.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/mark-16.html. 2012.
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