Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Mark 16

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

‘And when the Sabbath day was past Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices that they might come and anoint him.’

Mark telescopes the account. He is not concerned about the detail but the basic facts. He tells us first that these three had to buy more spices once the Sabbath was over. They had discovered that they did not have sufficient, but the arrival of the Sabbath had cut short their plans and nothing could be done on the Sabbath. The purchase of spices and their application to the body were forbidden on the Sabbath. So they waited until after sunset on that day and then went out and purchased what they needed.

We should perhaps note the love revealed by their actions. The body had now been dead for over a day, and by the time they reached it a day and a half, yet they were determined that He should be anointed, come what may.

He says nothing about Mary Magdalene, the youngest and most agile, leaving the others in their preparation, going on ahead to discover what was happening at the tomb, and her subsequent experiences and her meeting up with Jesus Himself (John 20:1-18). For what he was concerned about was the experience of the whole band of women who had shared the vigil at the cross. (Whether Mary rejoined them again at any stage we do not know).

Verses 1-8

Jesus Is Risen (16:1-8).

The Sabbath went slowly by, and then the grieving women went to buy spices in order to anoint Jesus’ body. Approaching the tomb with heavy hearts, they wondered how they would be able to move the stone that barred the entrance. But they never dreamed of what they were going to find. For when they arrived at the tomb they discovered that the stone had been rolled aside, and on entering the tomb found there a young man dressed in pure white who informed them that Jesus was no longer there. ‘He is not here,’ he declared, ‘He is risen’.


· And when the Sabbath day was past Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices that they might come and anoint him, and very early on the first day of the week they come to the tomb when the sun was risen. And they were saying among themselves, “who will roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?” (Mark 16:1-3).

· And looking up they see that the stone is rolled back, for it was very large. And entering into the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were amazed (Mark 16:4-5).

· And he says to them, “Do not be amazed. You seek Jesus the Nazarene who has been crucified. He is risen. He is not here” (Mark 16:6 a).

· “See the place where they laid Him. But go and tell His disciples, and Peter, ‘He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:6-7).

· And they went out and fled from the tomb. For trembling and astonishment had come on them. And they said nothing to anyone for they were awestruck (Mark 16:8).

Note that in ‘a’ they come to the tomb, chatting away about their problem, and in the parallel they flee from the tomb and say nothing to anyone because they are filled with awe. Their whole lives have been turned upside down. In ‘b they see a young man in white sitting on the right side, (who is there as His representative), and in the parallel he says, ‘see the place where they laid Him’ and tells them to go to Galilee where they will see Jesus Himself. He is no longer in the tomb. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the announcement that ‘He is not here, He is risen’.

Verses 2-3

‘And very early on the first day of the week they come to the tomb when the sun was risen. And they were saying among themselves, “who will roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?”’

We can not tell it from the narrative but the ‘they’ now excludes Mary Magdalene, and includes other women who have joined in the venture (Luke 24:10). Mark is not interested in the detail. They waited for the rising of the sun. They could do nothing in darkness and they were women. But then they set off for the tomb determined to pay their last respects to the Master. Yet they had one concern. How were they going to remove the large stone blocking the entrance to the tomb? Their fear was not for themselves, but how they could succeed in their task. That was why they had sent Mary Magdalene ahead with the other Mary (Matthew 28:1).

Verse 4

‘And looking up they see that the stone is rolled back, for it was very large.’

On reaching the tomb what a surprise they received. The stone had been rolled back. Possibly their first thought was that Mary had found help and had arranged for it to be moved.

Verse 5

‘And entering into the tomb they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were amazed.’

The entrance to the tomb would probably be low so that they had to stoop to enter, and the interior in semi-darkness, while the tomb itself would probably be just over two metres square and the same in height with a bench, or inset into the wall, to receive the body.

They entered expecting to find a body, and possibly Mary, and instead they found a young man dressed in white, probably sitting on the bench where the body should be, and no sign of a body. No wonder they were surprised. Instead of a dead body there was a living person. But it was not Jesus.

This was the memory and description of the one who told it to Mark as she remembered it. Others would describe two angels who at some stage ‘stood by them’ with an unearthly glow on them (Luke 24:4).

‘Sitting on the right side.’ There is no reason for this except reminiscence. The sobriety of the account and the incidental detail demonstrates its authenticity. And no one would have invented the idea that women should be first to the tomb. They were not regarded as reliable (Paul did not mention them in 1 Corinthians 15:0).

We note here the regular feature that when an angel comes as a messenger he gives the appearance of being an ordinary human being.

Verse 6

‘And he says to them, “Do not be amazed. You seek Jesus the Nazarene who has been crucified. He is risen. He is not here. See the place where they laid him.” ’

The angel’s message is simple. Jesus the Nazarene is no longer there for He is no longer dead. He is risen. The place where His body had been laid was empty, for He was gone. He was indeed risen, bodily. The simplicity of the message, and its significance takes the breath away. Death had been conquered. He who had been crucified has triumphed. Everything must now be rethought. Everything must begin anew.

Verse 7

“But go and tell his disciples, and Peter, ‘He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see him, as he said to you.’ ”

These words reflect Mark 14:28 where Jesus, to encourage them, had said, “After I am risen I will go before you into Galilee.” The words would act as an assurance that the one who had spoken of them knew words of Jesus that could only have been known by an angel or a disciple. When first spoken they were an assurance that they would soon return home where He would meet with them. Now they would know He was fulfilling His promise. We must remember that they still needed encouragement.

‘And Peter.’ Here was confirmation that Peter was to be restored and take a full part in the future. (Had it been meant to indicate his superiority he would have been mentioned first). He too was to go to Galilee and be sure of Jesus’ welcome.

The emphasis on Jesus’ appearing in Galilee stresses the importance of Galilee in Jesus’ plans. It was there that He had carried out His main ministry and there where the largest number of disciples could be found. It was natural for Jews to think in terms of Jerusalem as the centre of God’s purposes, and to think of men flowing to Jerusalem in order to receive the truth, but the new way was to be totally unlike that. Jerusalem was no longer to be the centre of God’s purposes. God’s purpose here was to woo their minds away from Jerusalem as the centre of things.

That He did appear to His inner group of disciples in Jerusalem we know, probably because in their unbelief they would have been immovable (Mark 16:14). Promises were not enough. Once again their faith failed. But that His appearance to the wider circle (the five hundred at one time - 1 Corinthians 15:6) took place in Galilee as He had promised we must accept on the basis of these words, even though we would not appreciate from Luke’s Gospel that there were any such appearances. Both Matthew 28:0 and John 21:0 testify of appearances in Galilee, and Matthew gives the impression of a specific place previously appointed where His great appearance would take place. The ‘they’ of Matthew 28:17 clearly indicates more than the eleven of Mark 16:16 as, after the earlier appearances, it is doubtful if any of the eleven would have ‘doubted’.

It is not a simple matter to reconcile the differences between accounts of the Resurrection and the resurrection appearances. And that is what we would expect of honest accounts. They were written by different people using information provided by many who would remember what had struck them, and the events had been quite complicated with a lot of toing and froing. Each only had a part, a relatively small part, of what was a very complicated and intricate time and situation. They did not try to piece it all together. They presented the facts simply in order to concentrate on the main events and on what was confirmed to them by a number of witnesses. But facts are usually more complicated than they at first appear, for we are dealing with human beings and they do not just wander around thoughtlessly in groups like sheep. In such circumstances they make arrangements, they send one here and another there, they act individually as well as in groups, they make the facts very complicated. It would have been impossible, and unnecessary, to catalogue their every movement. What mattered was the basic happenings. And that is what Mark has given us here. (To do otherwise would have been to lose the main impact of the story).

Verse 8

‘And they went out and fled from the tomb. For trembling and astonishment had come on them. And they said nothing to anyone for they were awestruck.’

The effect on the women was predictable. They had been living with nerves stretched for some time. They were in a state of fear and uncertainty. And now this remarkable news from a stranger whom they did not know had taken them totally aback. It would only be afterwards that they would realise who and what he was.

So they panicked and fled, overwhelmed by what they had witnessed. And they were so awestruck that they did not even talk to each other, or anyone they met, as they hurried on their way. And as they hurried on, their minds would be in a whirl. He was not there. He was risen. Whatever could it mean? They must reach the disciples and tell them.

This idea of ‘fear’ or ‘awe’ at seeing what has happened has been a feature of the Gospel. See Mark 4:40-41 with regard to the stilling of the storm; Mark 6:50 with regard to His walking on the water; Mark 10:32 with regard to His determination to get to Jerusalem; and compare Mark 5:15; Mark 5:33; where others were afraid at what they saw. It is a sign of the unexpected, and of the truly awesome which they cannot understand.

It is Matthew who tells us the sequel, (his account follows a similar pattern to that of Mark), that as they hurried to tell the disciples Jesus Himself met with them, and as they worshipped Him, He told them to do what the angel had said and inform His disciples that they were to go to Galilee where they would see Him (Matthew 28:8-10).

And it is Luke 24:11 which tells us that their words were to the disciples as idle tales so that they would not move from Jerusalem, with the result that the resurrection appearances had to begin in Jerusalem. This was Jesus’ gracious response to His disciples who did not believe right to the end until they were left with no choice. A gap between Luke 24:25-26 may be the period when they went to Galilee (Matthew 28:16-20; John 21:0).

And with Mark 16:8 the Gospel suddenly ends. Perhaps Mark ended here and intended a sequel similar in intent to Acts but never had time to present it. Perhaps he was suddenly arrested and taken away to prison and to death. Perhaps he was struck down with illness and was never able to write another word. Perhaps he simply had a fatal accident. No one knows. But most accept that he did not intend it finally to end here without even one resurrection appearance, and this is confirmed by a comparison with Matthew’s Gospel where the similar account continues.

Whatever happened must have been outside his control. For the words ‘they said nothing to anyone’ could be true in the short term, but where else did the information about what had happened to them come from? And even speaking naturally no one can believe that a group of women would keep such a secret to themselves all their lives, even if we did not have the other Gospels to tell us otherwise. It would be against nature. And Mark knew from the traditions preserved in the churches that it was not so. Thus those words required a follow up. And this Mark did not give us. It was left to another to pen the final summary.

The Final Summary (Mark 16:9-20).

This final summary was not included at all in the important ancient manuscripts Aleph and B, and in various widespread versions. It was not accepted by either Eusebius or Jerome because it was not in the ancient Greek manuscripts they had available. But Irenaeus (late second century AD) quotes it as by Mark, and it was known to Tatian and probably to Justin Martyr (both mid second century AD). It was included in A, D, W, Theta, (also f1 and f13), as an attachment so that it is supported by strong and varied manuscript evidence. Another shorter ending was attached to some manuscripts together with the longer ending, and stood by itself in a few lesser manuscripts and in some versions. It probably once circulated widely.

No attempt was made to ensure continuity of the longer ending with Mark 16:8 although the shorter ending was clearly written for that purpose. The longer ending no doubt once stood by itself. It would seem mainly to be based on the tradition behind the other Gospels and Acts but with a further ancient piece of tradition also included. It presented what Mark lacked, descriptions of resurrection appearances. However the emphasis on the unbelief of the disciples suggests that it was based on very early tradition. And this is backed up by the fact that it is so like the Gospel material in contrast to later writings. It bears the mark of being primitive.

Verses 9-11

‘Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene from whom he had cast out seven devils. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that he was alive and had been seen of her disbelieved.’

Note the abrupt connection and the introduction of Mary Magdalene as though she had not been mentioned earlier.

The appearance first to Mary Magdalene agrees with John 20:11-18. Jesus seems deliberately to have appeared to the women first in order to test the faith of His disciples in view of what He had previously told them. But they refused to believe them. It was the reception of the Holy Spirit that would change their whole understanding and perspective (John 20:22; Luke 24:45). They needed such humiliation so that later they would not become over-exalted.

‘They mourned and wept.’ There was no expectancy in their hearts. They were just broken men.

For this appearance compare John 20:11-18. For ‘cast out seven devils’ see Luke 8:2.

Verses 12-13

‘And after these things he was revealed in another form to two of them as they walked in the country, and they went away and told it to the rest. Nor did they believe them.’

Having appeared to one, Jesus now appeared to two. This confirms His desire to test His disciples. They now receive testimony at the mouth of two further witnesses that Jesus was indeed risen.

This incident is described in full in Luke 24:13-35, but here alone the continued attitude of unbelief is stressed. It is merely assumed in Luke. This continued stress on the unbelief of the disciples points to a very early date for the narrative.

‘In another form.’ To Mary He had appeared like a gardener, to the two He appeared as a traveller. There was a deliberate attempt at slow recognition. There was to be no danger of it being seen as an hallucination. Whether He deliberately altered His appearance, or whether His resurrection body presented Him in a way that was different from His earthly appearance so that recognition was not immediate, cannot be established. We know only that Mary first recognised Him by His voice, and that the two recognised Him when He engaged in a familiar action. They may well have thought He reminded them of Jesus but were quite well aware that He could not be. And He had shown no sin of recognition. They only appreciated the truth when He broke bread in the familiar way.

Verse 14

‘And afterwards he was revealed to the eleven themselves as they sat at their meal, and he upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who had seen him after he was risen.’

The constant stress on their unbelief, even heightened here, suggests an Apostolic hand behind the basic tradition. No other would have been quite so blatant. It stresses that the Jerusalem appearance to them as described here was not what He had intended and agrees with the testimony that He had expected them to respond by going to Galilee to the place which He had previously told them about (Matthew 28:16). Galilee, not Jerusalem, had been intended as the springboard for the furtherance of the Gospel. Had He been obeyed it might well have prevented many of the problems that arose in the future. But as through history God was willing to fit in with the weakness of those whom He called.

For this incident compare Luke 24:36-43. The immediacy in Luke 24:36 reflects the speed of God’s change of purpose. We can compare the incident where Moses required a spokesman when God had intended him to be the spokesman (Exodus 4:0) and Aaron was immediately appointed. God’s messengers are never fully satisfactory, nor do they always respond rightly, for they are but men.

‘Upbraided -- unbelief -- hardness of heart.’ The language is strong. It is stressed that they were blameworthy. Had their hearts not been hard they would have believed. ‘Hardness of heart’. The word is rare but appears elsewhere in Mark (Mark 10:5 compare Mark 3:5). It results in a situation which is second best.

Verses 15-16

‘And he said to them, “You go into all the world and preach the Good News to every creature (or ‘the whole creation’). He who believes and is baptised will be saved, But he who disbelieves will be condemned.” ’

The risen Jesus repeatedly told the disciples that they had a ‘worldwide’ mission (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47). They would think mainly in terms of the Roman world. This was confirmation of His words in Mark 13:10. At this stage they would still be thinking in terms of winning Jews worldwide and making proselytes to Christian Judaism, and of baptism as it had been practised by John and themselves. It was only as things unfolded that their direct message to the Gentiles would be appreciated.

‘Preach the Good News to every creature.’ This was the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God established through their risen Messiah (Mark 1:1; Mark 1:15). It was to be proclaimed to everyone and included repentance and remission of sins in His name (Mark 1:4; Luke 24:47). Note the continuity with the message of John the Baptiser in Luke 24:47 but given greater significance by connection with Jesus’ name. Again the idea would be expanded as the Holy Spirit made clear the truth of the Gospel in fuller measure.

‘Every creature.’ This means either ‘every person’ or ‘the whole world’. Compare Colossians 1:23. They were to become new creatures as part of a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Romans 6:4).

‘He who believes and is baptised will be saved.’ As men believe unto salvation they are to be baptised as a sign that they are partaking in the blessings of the Holy Spirit’s outpouring, the fulfilment of the prophetic promises in the Old Testament (Isaiah 32:15-17; Isaiah 44:3-5; Joel 2:28-29). Baptism is assumed for every believer. But it is not the lack of baptism that condemns but the lack of belief. This baptism is to be ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19). The result of belief and baptism is to be discipleship and obedience (Matthew 28:19-20).

The command to baptise, following belief, would remind the Apostles of how they had baptised in their early days with Jesus. It was the promise that the blessings promised by John the Baptiser would now become apparent on those who believed. The Holy Spirit would be poured out, the wheat would be gathered into the barn, fruitfulness would abound. But note that the belief comes first. Paul would stress that his concern was to proclaim the cross which was the power of God unto salvation to all who, believed, and was content to leave the baptising to others (1 Corinthian Mark 1:14-18). To him baptism was secondary to the saving experience. It was the preaching of the word of power that saved.

As the word spread among the Gentiles baptism would become even more significant for it would be seen by outsiders, and by the man himself, as cutting a man off from his old life and environment and religion and proclaiming to all that he was now Jesus’ disciple, serving the living God, dead to his old life and living in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

The mention of baptism in this way may suggest that the baptising ministry had been continued by the disciples throughout the ministry of Jesus (John 3:22; John 4:1-2) although there is no hint of it in any of the Gospels. In support of this possibility is the fact that there is never a suggestion that pre-resurrection disciples be baptised.

‘He who believes not will be condemned.’ There is an echo here of the ideas in John 3:18. They will be condemned because they refuse to come to the light. The assumption is that the true light has shone on them but they have rejected it.

Verses 17-18

‘And these signs will follow those who believe. In my name they will cast out devils, they will speak with new tongues, they will take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them in any way. They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.’

‘Signs.’ That is signs that the Kingly Rule of God has now come and that Jesus has taken His place of authority at the right hand of God. Note that the casting out of devils come first. It is always in Mark a sign of the Kingly Rule of God and demonstrates Jesus’ power over Satan (Mark 3:23-27; Mark 1:27; Mark 3:14-15; Mark 6:7).

‘Those who believe.’ Believers are seen here as one whole. These are special gifts given to some, but because of the unity of all believers, and the ministry of these specially gifted ones to believers and in their name, they are seen as gifts to the whole church.

‘Speak with new tongues.’ The other examples are miraculous and not everyday problems. Thus we must see this as the same. There may be here the idea of special help at crucial times in their ministry when faced with a crisis with people whose language they did not know and who did not speak Greek. Compare Acts 2:4; Acts 2:6; Acts 2:8; Acts 2:11. But there they are ‘other tongues’ with a special, unique purpose, and intended to be recognised by hearers who spoke those languages as a symbol of the universality of the message. It does however demonstrate the possibility. Tongues are not elsewhere called ‘new’. The glossolalia of 1 Corinthians 12-14 may be in mind but they were a supernatural phenomenon not intended to be understood, only interpreted, and were more for personal use. And if such tongues were mentioned we would also expect mention of prophecy, the greater gift. Thus they do not fit the pattern here.

‘They will take up serpents.’ Jesus had already promised this special protection for His disciples (Luke 10:19). Paul experienced it in Melita (Acts 28:3)

‘If they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them in any way.’ This was protection against poisoners. Eusebius cites an example from Papias of how this happened to Justus surnamed Barsabbas. It has been experienced by missionaries of my acquaintance in the present day resulting in the conversion of the poisoner who confessed to his attempt, and to his astonishment that they had survived.

‘They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.’ The disciples had already experienced healing in their ministry through anointing with oil (Mark 6:13), and would now also through raising them up (Acts 3:7) and laying on of hands (Acts 9:17-18; Acts 28:8). See also Acts 5:16; Acts 7:8; Acts 8:7. Others too would experience this power. Notice the certainty. We do not read of those who had this gift failing to heal, unlike modern day ‘faith healers’.

Verse 19

‘So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.’

‘The Lord Jesus.’ A fitting final declaration that Jesus was now ‘the Lord’. He was made both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36), given the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). It is a fitting end to the Gospel. It was what Mark has been pointing to all the way through. Jesus is now ‘the Lord’.

‘Received up into heaven.’ This would seem to be an indication that Jesus’ final appearance to His disciples had taken place (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9). He Whom earth has rejected and would not receive is welcomed in heaven and given His rightful place.

‘Sat down at the right hand of God.’ Just as He had declared would be the case at His trial (Mark 14:62; Psalms 110:1). He receives the Kingship as the Son of Man, and is declared both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). All authority had been given to Him in heave and on earth (Matthew 28:19).

Verse 20

‘And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that followed. Amen.’

This final summary indicates the obedience of the Apostles to the Lord’s command, and the fulfilment of His promise about the signs that would follow. They preached ‘everywhere’ and ‘the Lord’ worked with them, confirming the word by signs. He is no longer Jesus but ‘the Lord’. These signs may have included the evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the conversion of men and women to Christ, but also included the signs that would ‘follow’ as stated in Mark 16:17-18. Both Jerusalem and the world were made to witness His Kingly Power at work visibly on earth (Mark 9:1; Mark 14:62).

‘Amen.’ So be it.


The shorter ending reads, ‘and all that had been commanded them they briefly reported to Peter and those who were with him. And after this Jesus himself appeared to them, and from the East as far as the West sent forth through them the sacred and incorruptible proclamation of eternal salvation.’ It may have been known in the late first century AD to Clement of Rome, for when he spoke of Paul he said, ‘After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west’ (Letter To The Corinthians Mark 5:6). But the last phrase in the shorter ending does not have the simplicity of the Gospels. It sounds like second generation Christianity (in contrast with the longer ending).

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 16". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/mark-16.html. 2013.
Ads FreeProfile