“Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him” (Mark 16:1).
Following Jesus’ death, Mark 15:42-47 tells us that Joseph of Arimathea received permission from Pontius Pilate to remove His body from the cross. Joseph (along with another man named Nicodemus) then wrapped Jesus’ body in one hundred pounds (about 45 kg) of aromatic spices and laid it to rest within a new tomb (John 19:38-42). While Joseph and Nicodemus were surely motivated by their respect for Jesus and their mutual desire to honor Him in death, there were some cultural considerations that may have factored into these decisions as well.
You see, a corpse was considered to be unclean according to the Old Testament law found in Numbers 19:11. Because of this, it was necessary to transport the body of a recently deceased person to his or her final resting place as quickly as possible to avoid polluting the land and minimize the undesirable effects that were naturally associated with the death process.
Depending on the wealth or social status of the deceased person, he or she would be laid to rest in a grave with a stone marker or within a cave-like tomb that was cut from a hillside. Working-class members of the general population were generally buried within graves while the wealthy, famous, or materially affluent were usually laid to rest within a tomb. Since Joseph (a prominent and wealthy member of the Sanhedrin according to Matthew 27:57 and Mark 15:43) had a burial tomb that was located nearby (John 19:42), it made good sense to utilize it in order to provide Jesus with honorable burial.
However, the haste in which Joseph and Nicodemus had to work may have prevented them from providing Jesus with a traditional or “proper” burial in accordance with the customs of that time. This may explain why Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (at least one of whom was present when Jesus was laid to rest) later returned to the tomb for an additional funeral observance.
In addition to the three women listed here, Luke 24:1-10 indicates that a fourth woman named Joanna and others accompanied the two Marys and Salome during this time. This means that there were a number of eyewitnesses on hand to observe what took place following their arrival at the tomb, but we’ll talk more about that shortly. Unfortunately, it appears that these women overlooked an important detail in their haste to demonstrate their respect for Jesus- and we’ll consider that detail next.
“Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they said among themselves, ‘Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?'” (Mark 16:2-3).
Most societies have developed a traditional set of observances that are designed to honor the memory of a deceased loved one. For example, we might visit the burial site of a departed friend or family member in recognition of a birthday, anniversary, or other day of special remembrance. We may place flowers or other mementos at a gravesite to honor someone’s contribution to our lives. In Jesus’ day, it seems that the first century equivalent to these modern-day practices consisted of anointing the deceased with fragrant oils and/or spices prior to his or her final burial.
Unfortunately, the act of anointing Jesus’ body in this manner required far more effort than it might take to place flowers at a graveside: “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance for us?” (CEV). This was an excellent question, for Matthew 27:60 tells us that Joseph sealed Jesus’ burial chamber by rolling a large stone against the tomb entrance.
In those days, many tombs had large stones positioned outside their entrance areas to secure them against entry by others. Some tombs had archways cut into the rock in front of the entrance with a stone positioned in a groove between the arch and passageway. This groove was cut on a slight angle with the stone held in place by a wedge. When it came time to secure the tomb, the wedge was removed thus allowing the stone to roll across the entrance to form an effective seal.
Well-known author Josh McDowell relates the account of two engineering professors who once decided to calculate the weight requirement for a stone large enough to effectively secure an average-sized tomb of Jesus day. Their estimate determined that such a stone would require a minimum weight of 1½-2 tons (1524-2032 kg). (1) To illustrate how much weight this represents, keep in mind that two tons is the approximate weight of a large sport utility vehicle (SUV) or luxury automobile.
While we might be tempted to criticize these women for failing to plan to address such a large obstacle in advance, it might be preferable to say that they were more preoccupied with their desire to honor Jesus then they were with any barrier that might prevent them from doing so. In any event, they were about to find that this obstacle was really no obstacle at all.
(1) Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense pg. 226
“But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away—for it was very large” (Mark 16:4).
In the twilight just prior to dawn, a small group of women made their way to Jesus’ place of burial. Downcast at the reality of Jesus’ death and taking care to watch their steps carefully in the pre-dawn darkness, it was not until they actually reached Jesus’ burial chamber that they looked up to find that the massive stone that had previously sealed the tomb entrance had been rolled away. But how could such a thing have occurred?
Well, a look at Matthew’s Gospel helps answer this question for Matthew 28:2 tells us exactly how this seemingly immovable stone was removed: “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.” This angelic being was also apparently responsible for dealing with the military unit that had earlier been sent to guard the tomb but we’ll discuss that portion of this account in greater detail a bit later.
However, these things were apparently unknown to Mary Magdalene and the group that had come to pay their final respects by anointing Jesus’ body with aromatic spices- and that led them to initiate an investigation of what they had found…
“And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:5).
Various translations of Mark 16:5 tell us that these women were “panic-stricken” (GW), “astonished” (ISV), or “frightened” (MKJV) by what they had found. But the “young man” they encountered (who was clearly an angelic being in the appearance of a human male) moved quickly to reassure them…
“But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you'” (Mark 16:6-7).
While we might assume that the angel of Matthew 28:2 removed the stone covering the tomb entrance in order to permit Jesus to exit His burial chamber, we’ll later find that Jesus’ post-resurrection body had the ability to move through material objects at will (see John 20:19). Because of this, we can say that this stone was not removed to let Jesus out but to let others in to confirm the reality of His resurrection.
“And he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here…'” (Mark 16:6 ESV).
Over the years, many have rejected the idea that Jesus actually died on a cross and later rose from the dead. For instance, some believe that Jesus simply lost consciousness and later awoke after being placed within His burial tomb. Others believe that the disciples had experienced a hallucination that led them to claim that Jesus appeared to them following His crucifixion. Then there are those who believe that Jesus actually died on the cross but that His disciples later removed His body from the tomb in order to claim that Jesus had somehow “risen from the dead.”
Are any of these theories likely to be true? Well, let’s start with the idea that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross but somehow lost consciousness and later awoke within His burial tomb. To see if this theory corresponds with the evidence, lets consider the physical trauma that Jesus experienced prior to His crucifixion. The Scriptures tell us that before and during His crucifixion, Jesus was…
- Blindfolded and beaten (Mark 14:65)
- Flogged with a whip that was designed to rip out portions of His skin (Matthew 27:26)
- Made to wear a crown of thorns (John 19:2)
- Forced to carry a 100 lb (45 kg) for a period of time (John 19:17)
- Nailed to a cross (Acts 2:23)
- Impaled with a spear thrown into His side (John 19:34)
Its difficult to imagine how anyone could actually live through such an ordeal. Even so, there is additional evidence to establish the fact that Jesus actually died on the cross…
“Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs” (John 19:31-33).
Roman soldiers generally broke the legs of a crucified prisoner as he hung on a cross in order to hasten the death process. Regarding this practice, one commentator says, “…be clear on this: they broke everyone’s legs. Yet the professional Roman executioners declared Christ dead without breaking His legs. There was no doubt in their minds.” (1) We’ll consider the significance of this “non-action” next.
(1) Dr. Norman Geisler, When Skeptics Ask pg. 122
“…’Do not be troubled: you are looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, who has been put to death on the cross; he has come back from the dead; he is not here…'” (Mark 16:6 BBE).
In John 19:32-33 we read, “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man on the cross beside Jesus. Then they broke the legs of the man on the other cross beside Jesus. But when the soldiers came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs” (NCV). This becomes important when we stop to remember that the soldiers overseeing Jesus’ crucifixion were responsible for ensuring His death. If there was a question as to whether Jesus was alive as He hung on His cross, it could have been answered simply by breaking His legs. The fact that these men didn’t see the need to break Jesus’ legs tells us that these Roman executioners believed that Jesus actually died on His cross.
But if that wasn’t enough, let’s take a moment to look once again at the following verses from the Gospel of Mark:
“…as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead.
Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph” (Mark 15:42-45 NIV).
These verses tell us that Pontius Pilate (the official representative of the Roman government in that area) asked for personal assurance that Jesus had actually died on the cross before turning His body over to Joseph of Arimathea- and he received that assurance from the military official who was assigned to oversee Jesus’ crucifixion.
So is it possible that Jesus simply lost consciousness and later awoke after being placed within His burial tomb? Well, the Journal of the American Medical Society issued a report entitled On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ in March, 1986. One excerpt from that report says this…
“Clearly the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted, and supports the traditional view that the spear thrust between His right ribs probably perforated not only the right lung, but also the pericardium and heart, and thereby ensured His death… Accordingly, assumptions that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.” (1)
(1) Dr. William D. Edwards, On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ Journal of the American Medical Society, March 1986, quoted in The Case for Christ: A Journalists Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, Lee Strobel pg 302
“‘…Don’t be afraid. You are looking for Jesus from Nazareth, the one who was killed on a cross. He has risen from death! He is not here…'” (Mark 16:6 ERV).
Another objection to the historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection states that His disciples were simply hallucinating when they thought they saw Jesus alive following His death on the cross. Some related objections include the possibility that these men saw someone who resembled Jesus following His crucifixion, or that Jesus’ followers went to the wrong tomb, found that it was empty, and assumed that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Are any of these theories really plausible? Well, let’s start by considering the last theory first- the possibility that Jesus’ disciples went to the wrong tomb following His death and burial.
John 20:1-11 reports that Mary Magdalene and two of Jesus’ disciples went to the tomb on the first day of the week following Jesus’ crucifixion and found it empty. A skeptic might raise the possibility that these individuals made an honest mistake and accidentally went to a tomb other than the one that actually held Jesus’ body. Perhaps they didn’t intentionally intend to deceive anyone but they went to the wrong tomb by mistake, saw that it was empty, and reported that Jesus had “risen from the dead.” Perhaps they were sincere in their belief that Jesus had risen from the dead but they were sincerely mistaken.
The problem is that this theory doesn’t make sense for a number of reasons. First, we should remember that Jesus was buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s own tomb according to Matthew 27:57-60. This means that Joseph certainly knew which tomb was the correct one. When others began to claim that Jesus had “risen from the dead,” Joseph would have known if Jesus’ followers had actually gone to the wrong tomb.
In addition, Luke 23:55 tells us that “The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.” These women saw the tomb and actually saw Jesus’ body go into it- it seems highly unlikely that they could have gone to the wrong tomb just a short time later.
But lets assume that Jesus’ followers mistakenly went to the wrong tomb and later claimed that Jesus had risen from the dead. If this was the case, then why didn’t the Roman and religious authorities go the right tomb to produce the body and demonstrate the truth? The explanation that best fits the facts is that there was no body to produce- Jesus actually rose from the dead.
“‘Do not be amazed. You seek Jesus the Nazarene who has been crucified. He was raised. He is not here….'” (Mark 16:6 CEV).
Another objection to the Biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection involves the possibility that His disciples were hallucinating and simply thought they saw Jesus alive following His death on the cross. This theory puts forth the premise that Jesus’ disciples were so emotionally distraught over His execution that they were somehow deluded into a sort of mass hallucination to enable them to psychologically deal with the reality of His death.
Is it possible that the disciples simply imagined that they saw Jesus alive following His crucifixion when He wasn’t really there? While this might sound like a plausible theory, it develops a number of difficulties when we stop to consider the number of people who interacted with Jesus following His death.
For example, here is a Biblical record of those who encountered Jesus after His death on the cross…
- Mary Magdelene (John 20:11-16)
- Mary Magdelene and another woman named Mary (Matthew 28:1, 9)
- Simon Peter (Luke 24:34)
- Two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-22)
- The disciples together as a group (Luke 24:33-43)
- The disciples together with Thomas (John 20:26-29)
- Seven disciples together (John 21:1-14)
- The disciples together as a group (Matthew 28:16-20)
- The disciples together as a group (Acts 1:4-9)
- 500 people (1Corinthians 15:6)
- James (1 Corinthians 15:7)
- Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8)
Is it reasonable to believe that all these people were suffering from the same hallucination?
Well, what about the possibility that these people saw someone who simply looked like Jesus following His death? Well, this idea might be more persuasive if everyone who encountered Jesus following His resurrection had only seen Him from a distance. But the reality is that Jesus actually encouraged others to verify the validity of His post-resurrection identity. Here’s an example:
“(Jesus) said to them, ‘Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.
But while they still did not believe for joy, and marveled, He said to them, ‘Have you any food here?’ So they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish and some honeycomb. And He took it and ate in their presence” (Luke 24:38-43).
Remember that the disciples interacted closely with Jesus for years- they certainly would have known if it wasn’t really Him.
“…’Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘I know you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here—he has been raised!…'” (Mark 16:6 GNB).
One objection to the historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection is actually found within the Bible itself- the allegation that the disciples stole Jesus’ body in order to claim that He had risen from the dead. We can set the stage for this objection by examining the chain of events that began immediately following Jesus’ death.
As mentioned earlier, Joseph of Arimathea approached Pontius Pilate with a request to take custody of Jesus’ body following His death on the cross. After Pilate verified the fact that Jesus was actually dead, He granted Joseph permission to take Jesus’ body. Joseph then proceeded to transport Jesus’ body to his own burial tomb and wrapped it in linen according to Mark 15:46.
Burial tombs of that day generally featured one room that served as a kind of entrance area and a second room that held a location where the deceased would be prepared for final burial. Upon arrival, the body of the deceased would be washed and then wrapped with a combination of cloth strips along with spices and finely ground scented wood, a mixture that acted as a kind of “glue” for the material that surrounded the body. We’re told that about 100 lbs (about 45 kg) of these spices were used in preparing Jesus’ burial encasement according to John 19:39.
While its easy to associate these measures with the mummification process practiced by other ancient cultures, these preparations were not designed to preserve the body of the deceased in the same manner. And unlike the typical horror-show mummy who escapes from a sarcophagus to terrorize unsuspecting archaeologists, a person whose body had been prepared in this manner would not have had independent use of his or her limbs.
Following these preparations, Joseph proceeded to secure the tomb by rolling a large stone across the entrance according to Matthew 27:60. So with these things in mind, lets stop to consider the facts as we know them…
- There is a dead man encased in something that we might associate with a kind of plaster-like material.
- He is entombed within a cave with a stone covering its entrance. This stone likely weighed between 1500-2000 lbs and was designed to prevent access to the tomb’s interior.
Despite these preventative measures, there were some among the religious leadership who were dissatisfied with this level of security- and we’ll examine their objections next.
“…’Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here…'” (Mark 16:6 NIV).
Despite the steps taken to secure Jesus’ body within Joseph’s burial tomb, there were some who felt the need to add an additional level of security…
“On the next day, which followed the Day of Preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate, saying, ‘Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and steal Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.’ So the last deception will be worse than the first.”
Pilate said to them, ‘You have a guard; go your way, make it as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure, sealing the stone and setting the guard” (Matthew 27:62-66).
The phrase, “You have a guard ” as used by Pilate in this passage can be understood to mean that these religious leaders were given the services of a Roman sentry. In other words, a Roman guard unit was assigned to protect the tomb and prevent unauthorized access.
Now the term “guard” shouldn’t be associated with a modern-day security guard who might be found patrolling the shopping mall in a golf cart or the uniformed retiree whose primary responsibility involves helping someone get to his or her destination within an office building. A Roman guard unit was comprised of a group of soldiers who formed an actual military detachment.
Matthew 27:66 tells us that these guards “sealed” the stone in front of the tomb entrance, a task that was completed in a simple yet effective manner. First, a cord was stretched across the stone covering the tomb entrance. Each end of the cord was secured across the stone with a piece of clay. These pieces of clay were then stamped with the identifying mark of the Roman government.
This seal represented the means by which the Roman government certified the fact that Jesus’ body was actually held within that particular tomb. Those convicted of tampering with such a seal were subject to severe discipline and a number of sources report that the penalty for breaking a Roman seal was upside down crucifixion.
So this brings us back to our original question- did the disciples steal Jesus’ body in order to claim that Jesus had risen from the dead? We’ll consider the likelihood of that possibility next.
“…’Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here…'” (Mark 16:6 ASV).
After an angelic being arrived to roll back the stone covering the entrance to Jesus’ burial tomb, Matthew 28:11-15 reports that a meeting took place between some members of the military unit that had been assigned to guard the tomb and the religious leadership…
“…some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all the things that had happened. When they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, saying, ‘Tell them, ‘His disciples came at night and stole Him away while we slept.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will appease him and make you secure.’
So they took the money and did as they were instructed; and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.”
So were the disciples actually responsible for stealing Jesus’ body and later claiming that He had risen from the dead? Well, let’s consider the steps that would have been necessary to successfully complete such a mission.
To begin, these men would first have to elude a Roman security force whose presence was designed to prevent them from accomplishing that very thing. Next, these men would have to knowingly break the official seal of the Roman government at the risk of their lives. Following this, they would have to dislodge a 1500-2000 lb stone to gain access to the tomb area.
After that, these men would have to move the body (which probably weighed about 250-300 lbs [113 – 136 kg] including the burial encasement) and then evade the Roman guard unit for a second time without anyone seeing or hearing them do any of those things.
Of course, if the disciples were known as a group of bold, fearless, risk-taking individuals, it might be reasonable to accept the possibility that they successfully recovered Jesus’ body from its tomb. But let’s take a moment to consider the men who were said to have perpetrated this daring theft. For instance, among the disciples we have…
- Four fishermen (James, John, Peter, and Andrew)
- A tax collector (Matthew, also known as Levi)
- A skeptic (Thomas)
- A political extremist (Simon)
- And four nobodies (everyone else)
Would these men really be the kind of people that you might choose if you were preparing to successfully execute a break-in like this?
“…’Stop being astonished! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here….'” (Mark 16:6 ISV).
There are a few things to keep in mind when considering the possibility that Jesus’ disciples stole His body from Joseph’s burial tomb in order to claim that He had risen from the dead.
First, Matthew 26:56 reports that all Jesus’ disciples deserted Him during the time of His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. If all of Jesus’ disciples abandoned Him while He was still alive, then it is certainly reasonable to question why would they return for Him following His death.
After all, Peter claimed that he didn’t even know Jesus following Jesus’ arrest (see Matthew 26:69-75). We also have the example of Thomas in this regard- he was so adamant in his denial of Jesus’ resurrection that he said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25 NIV).
So in addition to the military and physical barriers that were designed to prevent access to Jesus’ burial tomb, it seems clear that the disciples also lacked the desire, fortitude, and determination necessary to steal Jesus’ body. Because of this, there seems to be little evidence to support the theory that the disciples removed Jesus’ body from the tomb.
However there is one last thing to consider. Remember that Matthew 28:11-15 tells us that the soldiers guarding Jesus’ tomb were instructed to claim that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body while they were asleep. If this was actually the case, then we might ask how soldiers knew that Jesus’ disciples had been responsible for removing his body from the tomb if they were sleeping when the alleged theft occurred? Even the most inexperienced defense attorney would be capable of obliterating such testimony if it was offered in a court of law.
While it may seem unnecessary to devote so much time to addressing these various objections to Jesus’ resurrection, it helps to remember that a belief in the historical reality of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is essential to our salvation. As Romans 4:25 tells us, Jesus was “…delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification…”
Because of this, we should consider that an acceptance of the historical reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection is at least as important as a proper understanding of His life and teachings.
“But go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:7).
Although the angel who appeared at Jesus’ burial tomb simply repeated Jesus’ message to His disciples prior to His departure for Gethsemane (Mark 14:28), we should note that he also made special mention of Peter: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter…” (NIV, emphasis added). This seemingly insignificant aside becomes important when we consider what Peter’s mindset might have been during this time.
For instance, Peter’s previous denials of Jesus might have led him to say, “I saw Jesus perform many miraculous works. I witnessed His transfiguration. I walked on water with Him and then I denied I ever knew Him. I abandoned Him when He needed me most.” But while Peter had rejected Jesus, its clear that Jesus had not rejected Peter.
You see, this angelic invitation tells us that Jesus still desired to continue His relationship with Peter despite his earlier denials. In fact, 1 Corinthians 15:5 tells us that Jesus appeared first to Peter and then to the remaining disciples following His resurrection. So Jesus still sought to welcome Peter despite his rejection, an act that serves to illustrate Jesus’ unsurpassed patience, kindness, forgiveness, and grace.
This response should also serve to reassure anyone who believes that he or she may have caused irreversible damage to their relationship with Jesus. Remember that Jesus still reached out to Peter despite what Peter had done- and its unlikely that any of us have failed worse than Peter. Its also unlikely that any of us have failed worse than the Apostle Paul, a man who once hunted Christians from town to town and made it his business to imprison men and women for their commitment to Christ. At one time, Paul (then known as Saul of Tarsus) was someone who “…began to destroy the church” (NIV) according to Acts 8:3 and 9:1-2.
In fact, Paul even admitted in 1 Corinthians 15:9, “…I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” But Paul also went on to say in the following verse, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…” Through Jesus’ grace, both these men found fellowship with God despite their previous failings.
Remember God’s promise to us in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (NIV).
“So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).
It may seem unusual to find that those who departed from Jesus’ burial tomb “…said nothing to anyone” -especially considering the fact that Luke’s Gospel tells us, “Then they returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest” (Luke 24:9).
These responses are probably best understood to mean that Mary Magdalene (and those who accompanied her) left immediately to report these events to the disciples without stopping to speak with anyone on the way.
And with that, we now come to a portion of Mark’s Gospel that is subject to much debate. You see, many Biblical translations insert a disclaimer much like this marginal note that appears following Mark 16:8…
“The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20” (NIV).
The controversy regarding Mark 16:9-20 is generally related to two issues:
- Two of the most credible early manuscripts (the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus) do not include these verses, although the majority of others do.
- Scholars question these the legitimacy of these verses in light of their dissimilarity to the rest of Mark’s Gospel in both style and vocabulary usage,
In considering these objections, we can begin by saying that it seems highly unlikely (although not impossible) that Mark would end his Gospel at verse eight by simply stating that these women were afraid and then report nothing further. But if these verses are not original to Mark then we are left with a few possibilities.
For instance, its possible that Mark’s original ending may have been lost before it had a chance to be transcribed by others. This theory gains credibility when we stop to remember that Mark’s Gospel was originally written on a scroll rather than an individually paged form of book. When using a scroll to produce a written work, the final portion of that work usually comprised the outermost section of the scroll once it was rolled up.
This meant that the ending of a written work was always the portion that was most vulnerable to being torn, burnt, or otherwise made illegible in some other manner. However, there is another possibility to consider regarding this passage. We’ll look at that possibility (and consider its implications) next.
The marginal notes contained within the English Standard Version of the Bible offer some helpful observations when considering questions related to the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20…
“Some manuscripts end the book with 16:8; others include verses 9–20 immediately after verse 8. At least one manuscript inserts additional material after verse 14; some manuscripts include after verse 8 the following: ‘But they reported briefly to Peter and those with him all that they had been told. And after this, Jesus himself sent out by means of them, from east to west, the sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” These manuscripts then continue with verses 9–20.” (1)
So if these verses are not original to Mark’s Gospel, then we might consider the possibility that Mark was prevented from completing his work as a result of some unfortunate circumstance. If this was the case, then a later author (or authors) may have added these verses to help complete the account of Jesus’ life and ministry and provide an appropriate ending for those who were unfamiliar with His teachings. This explanation would help account for the fact that there are both “short” and “long” versions of this passage.
On the other hand, we find that a number of early Christian authors (dating from the late first and early to mid second centuries) quote from Mark 16:9-20 within their written works. This indicates that these verses were known and accepted as Scripture at least from a very early date. We should also keep in mind that a significant majority of ancient Biblical manuscripts also contain these verses as well.
Regardless of the position someone may hold regarding this passage, we should remember that God is responsible for the inspiration and preservation of His written Word. He is the One who ultimately ensures that it is passed down to us in the manner in which He intended. This is an idea that Jesus reinforced with His disciples…
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26 NIV).
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27 NIV).
In light of Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would guide His disciples in accurately reporting His teachings, we can be confident in reading the entirety of the New Testament despite those controversies that may be associated with the nature of their origin.
(1) English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.
“Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe” (Mark 16:9-11).
It seems that things began to happen very quickly following the arrival of Mary Magdalene (and the group of women who accompanied her) at Jesus burial tomb- and much like the witness statements that help comprise a police report, each Gospel writer provides us with a unique perspective on the events that transpired during that time.
We might harmonize that sequence of events in the following manner…
Some time after the Roman sentry unit had been dispatched to guard Jesus’ burial tomb (Matthew 27:62-66), an earthquake occurred and an angelic being removed the stone that Joseph of Arimathea had placed there to secure the tomb’s entrance (Matthew 28:2-4). Overcome with fear in the presence of this angel, these soldiers quickly abandoned their posts. Following their departure, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome arrived at the now-unguarded tomb to find that the stone had been rolled away.
Entering the tomb, they encountered an angel in the appearance of a young human male who told them, “Do not be frightened. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen, He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him” (Mark 16:6). (1)
It was around this time that Mary Magdalene must have returned to the other disciples to report, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him!” (John 20:2). In response, Peter and John left to go and see the tomb for themselves according to John 20:3-4.
In the meantime, the angelic messenger at the tomb followed up his briefing with some further instruction: “…go tell His disciples and Peter that He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him, as He said to you” (Mark 16:7). With that, “…they went out quickly and fled from the tomb” according to Mark 16:8.
Shortly after these women left the tomb area, Peter and John arrived to find Jesus’ grave clothes but nothing else. This evidence convinced John that Jesus had actually risen from the dead (see John 20:4-8). Following their departure (John 20:10), Mary Magdalene (having returned to the tomb at some point [John 20:11-13]) encountered two angelic beings within the tomb as well as a third Person she clearly didn’t expect to see.
(1) Luke 24:1-7 reports that a second angel was also present at this time and provides us with some additional dialog: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again'”
“[After Jesus rose from death early on Sunday, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had driven out seven demons. She went and told his companions. They were mourning and crying; and when they heard her say that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe her” (Mark 16:9-11 GNB).
A look at John’s Gospel provides us with some additional detail regarding this meeting between Jesus and Mary Magdalene…
“But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’
Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, ‘Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her” (John 20:11-18).
In her highly emotional state, Mary saw the individual who questioned her but did not immediately recognize that person to be Jesus. She, much like the other disciples, clearly did not expect to encounter the living Christ following His death- if she had, then perhaps she might have examined this “landscaper” more closely. However there must have been something in the way that Jesus spoke her name that alerted her to the fact that she speaking with the very same Teacher she knew prior to His crucifixion.
But Mary was not the only person to encounter Jesus following His resurrection, for we are about to find that Jesus also met with two other individuals who clearly did not expect to see Him again as well.
“After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either” (Mark 16:12-13).
While many were likely to conclude that the memory of Jesus of Nazareth would quickly fade following His crucifixion, two travelers were about to discover that the reports concerning His demise were somewhat premature.
You see, Luke’s Gospel tells us more about the encounter that we read of here in Mark 16:12-13…
“Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him” (Luke 24:13-16).
While it might seem unusual for a stranger to attempt to join two people on a journey today, such a thing was not uncommon in the days of the first century. You see, road conditions were frequently poor during that time and travelers were often faced with the dangers posed by thieves and predatory animals. Because of this, travelers generally recognized the value of “strength in numbers” during a journey.
So while these men passed the time in conversation along the way, Jesus (as yet unknown to them) joined their discussion with a question…
“And He said to them, ‘What kind of conversation is this that you have with one another as you walk and are sad?’ Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days?’ (Luke 24:17-18).
When Jesus asked about the subject of their conversation, Cleopas responded with an expression of incredulity as if to say, “Man, where have you been?” or, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has just happened there” (ERV). The public execution of the man who claimed to be the Messiah was certainly big news within the Jewish community and Cleopas found it difficult to believe that anyone within that area might actually be unaware of Jesus’ death.
That response provided Jesus with an opportunity to ask Cleopas to open up about the things that had taken place. We’ll take a look at his answer (and what we might learn from it) next.
“(Jesus) asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’ They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ And He said to them, ‘What things?’…” (Luke 24:17-19).
So Jesus (as yet unknown to His fellow travelers) encouraged His new-found companions to open up about the things that were weighing upon their minds- and as it turned out, their concerns involved His own crucifixion. While this brief exchange may seem to involve little more than a simple question, it actually serves to communicate something important regarding our relationship to Jesus.
For example, we might ask, “Why should I pray if God knows everything? or, “Why should I talk to God about something He already knows?” These are good questions and we can address them by considering Jesus’ interaction with these travelers on the road to Emmaus.
Remember that Jesus initiated a dialog with these men and invited them to share their concerns. Their experience tells us that Jesus desires to hear about the issues that affect us despite the knowledge He already possesses regarding those things.
While its true that God knows what we need before we even ask (see Matthew 6:8) we should remember that good communication within an interpersonal relationship involves more than just a discussion of the facts. While many types of communication are often focused on the simple act of transmitting and receiving information, our interaction with God also involves those elements of friendship, intimacy, camaraderie, trust, and fellowship in Christ.
When viewed in this regard, the act of prayer becomes more than simply just a matter of telling God something He already knows; it becomes an opportunity to interact with our Creator in a meaningful, personal way and deepen our relationship with Him. (1)
So Cleopas and his unnamed associate took the opportunity to communicate their feelings about Jesus’ crucifixion…
“So they said to Him, ‘The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened” (Luke 24:19-21).
Although these men clearly had some difficulty with the seeming finality of Jesus’ death, their new traveling companion was about to provide them with some much-needed help.
“‘Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see’
Then He said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself'” (Luke 24:22-27).
In looking at this interaction between Jesus and His fellow travelers, note that Jesus didn’t say these men were foolish for rejecting the initial reports concerning the empty tomb and His resurrection; they were foolish for not believing what “the prophets” had spoken. Today, we would associate this reference to “the prophets” with those individuals who were authorized to speak for God as found within the Old Testament Scriptures.
So what had these prophets spoken regarding the Christ? Well, here’s a sample of what some of these Biblical authors said regarding the Messiah…
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
“I gave My back to those who struck Me, And My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).
“Then I said to them, ‘If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.’ So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, ‘Throw it to the potter’—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter” (Zechariah 11:12-13). (1)
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10).
In effect, Jesus said these men were foolish for not believing the Scriptures and refusing to accept what already been revealed to them within the Bible- and the same holds true for those who follow their example today.
“Then they drew near to the village where they were going, and He indicated that He would have gone farther. But they constrained Him, saying, ‘Abide with us, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.’ And He went in to stay with them” (Luke 24:28-29).
Its usually considered impolite to invite yourself to another person’s home and it appears that Jesus did not wish to impose His company upon His traveling companions. Instead, it seems that He waited for an invitation, an invitation that these men were clearly eager to extend.
“Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
And they said to one another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:30-32).
It may not seem obvious but Jesus did something unusual in this passage. You see, a host generally took responsibility for blessing a meal but in this instance, the guest (Jesus) assumed the role of the host. Then as He began to offer the food that He had blessed, we’re told, “…their eyes were opened and they recognized him…” (NIV).
So what was it that identified Jesus to these men? Well, it might have been the familiar way that He thanked God for His provision or perhaps they noticed Jesus’ nail-scarred wrists for the first time as He distributed their meal. Whatever the reason, their eyes were no longer restrained from seeing Jesus for who He really was.
Following Jesus’ departure, they asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (NIV). This serves to indicate the effect that the Word of God had upon these men, an effect that continues to be seen wherever people are exposed to the message of the Scriptures.
As the New Testament book of Hebrews tells us, “…the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
So in response, “…they rose up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together” according to Luke 24:33. Even though these men had just completed their long journey, they quickly turned around to return for this news was too good to keep quiet.
“Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen” (Mark 16:14).
A look at John’s Gospel provides us with some additional detail regarding Jesus’ appearance to His disciples in this passage…
“Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20).
In Jesus’ day, homes were usually equipped with bolted doors for security purposes. A door frame typically held a set of interior rings that enabled a homeowner to insert a heavy bolt for use in securing his or her place of residence. This arrangement was useful keeping people out- unless of course, you were Someone who didn’t need to use a door to get inside.
So how did Jesus enter the place where the disciples were assembled? Well, the Scriptures don’t provide us with that information so we can only speculate. However, it certainly appears that Jesus’ resurrected body possesses the ability to appear and disappear at will (Luke 24:31) and is not limited by solid objects (such as a locked door).
We should also consider Jesus’ sudden appearance from His disciple’s perspective. Remember that the civil and religious authorities had recently executed Jesus and His disciples were living in fear. Now after deserting Jesus just a few days earlier, He suddenly reappeared among them in a locked room. While Jesus might chosen any number of responses in this situation, the very first words He chose to share with His followers was this: “Peace be with you.”
Jesus’ response to these men (a group that had previously deserted Him) should bring comfort to anyone who may feel as if God is too displeased with his or her past to offer His acceptance in Christ. While the disciples might have expected to Jesus reject them for what they had done, Jesus instead offered them a message of peace.
As Jesus Himself was quoted as saying in John 14:27,“…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (NIV).
“Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14 NIV).
While John’s Gospel informs us about the message of peace that Jesus brought to His disciples (John 20:19), Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had another message for His disciples as well: “…he reprimanded their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him after he had been raised” (LEB). So while Jesus offered His disciples peace, there were still a few aspects of their relationship with Him that were not OK.
The word translated “rebuked” or “reprimanded” here in Mark 16:14 is a particularly strong word that means to reproach, upbraid, or revile. (1) We’re told that Jesus admonished His disciples in this manner in response to their faithlessness and stubborn reluctance to believe the eyewitness reports of those who had encountered Him -alive- following His crucifixion.
But how can we explain their unwillingness to accept such testimony? Well, perhaps the question may not be related to the evidence itself but to those who brought it.
For instance, lets consider the pattern of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in Mark’s Gospel. Mark 16:9 tells us that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene following His resurrection, a woman (as Mark reminds us) who had been formerly possessed by seven demonic beings. He next appeared to two other disciples (one obscure, the other unidentified) on the road to Emmaus in Mark 16:12.
For the eleven remaining disciples (a group of men who had been personally selected by Jesus to serve as His core group of representatives), the fact that He had chosen to appear to these other individuals first may have been difficult to accept.
Remember that the disciples were comprised of a group of men who were apparently preoccupied with the question of who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:34, Luke 22:24) and/or obtaining the places of highest honor alongside Jesus (Mark 10:25-37, 41). Because of this, it may have been difficult for these men to believe that Jesus might actually choose to appear to anyone other than themselves, at least at first.
This potential element of pride may account for Jesus’ forceful response to His disciples in rebuking them for their refusal to believe the initial reports of His resurrection. The lesson for us is that God’s calling does not necessarily entitle us to disregard the testimony of His work in the lives of others, no matter how insignificant or obscure those others may seem to be.
(1) NT:3679 oneidizoo Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
“After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20 NIV).
In 1969, the New York Mets baseball team was one win away from capturing Major League Baseball’s World Series title, an unlikely feat for a team that had never enjoyed a winning season during the course of its entire existence up to that point.
In the bottom of the sixth inning of World Series game five, Mets outfielder Cleon Jones was at bat when pitcher Dave McNally threw a pitch that appeared to hit Jones on the foot. Since the rules of the game awarded first base to a batter that had been hit by a pitch, Jones immediately began to leave the batter’s box on the way to take his base. However, home plate umpire Lou DiMuro called Jones back and informed him that he never actually saw the ball hit him.
While the batter and umpire discussed the question of whether he had actually been hit by the pitch, the ball in question trickled into the Mets dugout where it was retrieved and examined by Mets manager Gil Hodges. Hodges then walked out of the dugout with the ball and brought it to DiMuro. He proceeded to direct the umpire’s attention to a small smudge of shoe polish that was clearly evident on the ball, a tell-tale mark indicating that Jones had indeed been hit by the pitch.
The umpire subsequently reversed his decision and awarded Jones first base. The next batter followed with a home run and the Mets were on their way to an improbable win and a World Series victory.
In a similar manner, Jesus also provided His disciples with some hard evidence to substantiate the reality of His resurrection. In Luke’s account of this passage we told, “He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have'” (Luke 24:38-39 NIV).
Unfortunately, cultic organizations sometimes claim that Jesus did not posses a physical, material body following His resurrection or that there was no direct correlation between Jesus’ pre and post-resurrection body. But Jesus offered the reality of His crucifixion wounds as evidence to verify that He really was who He said He was.
If there is not a one-to-one correlation between the lifeless body that entered the tomb and Jesus’ now-resurrected body, it means that Jesus was not being truthful when He said, “Look at my hands and feet, and see that it’s really me” (GNB).
“Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14 NIV).
While John’s Gospel informs us about the message of peace that Jesus brought to His disciples (John 20:19), Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had another message for His disciples as well: “…he reprimanded their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen him after he had been raised” (LEB). So while Jesus offered His disciples peace, there were still a few aspects of their relationship with Him that were not OK.
The word translated “rebuked” or “reprimanded” here in Mark 16:14 is a particularly strong word that means to reproach, upbraid, or revile. (1) We’re told that Jesus admonished His disciples in this manner in response to their faithlessness and stubborn reluctance to believe the eyewitness reports of those who had encountered Him -alive- following His crucifixion. But how can we explain their unwillingness to accept such testimony? Well, perhaps the question may not be related to the evidence itself but to those who brought it.
For instance, lets consider the pattern of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in Mark’s Gospel. Mark 16:9 tells us that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene following His resurrection, a woman (as Mark reminds us) who had been formerly possessed by seven demonic beings.
He next appeared to two other disciples (one obscure, the other unidentified) on the road to Emmaus in Mark 16:12. For the eleven remaining disciples (a group of men who had been personally selected by Jesus to serve as His core group of representatives), the fact that He had chosen to appear to these other individuals first may have been difficult to accept.
Remember that the disciples were comprised of a group of men who were apparently preoccupied with the question of who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:34, Luke 22:24) and/or obtaining the places of highest honor alongside Jesus (Mark 10:25-37, 41). Because of this, it may have been difficult for these men to believe that Jesus might actually choose to appear to anyone other than themselves, at least at first. This potential element of pride may account for Jesus’ forceful response to His disciples in rebuking them for their refusal to believe the initial reports of His resurrection.
The lesson for us is that God’s calling does not necessarily entitle us to disregard the testimony of His work in the lives of others, no matter how insignificant or obscure those others may seem to be.
(1) NT:3679 oneidizoo Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘So wherever you go in the world, tell everyone the Good News'” (Mark 16:15 GNB).
Two practical communication methods that can help us effectively fulfill the Great Commission involve evidential communication (the “who,” “what,” and “why” of Christianity) and experiential communication (or the tangible work that Jesus has accomplished in our lives and the lives of others). Acts chapter four provides us with an example of both these communication methods in action.
Following their involvement in the miraculous healing of a disabled man in Acts chapter three, the Apostles Peter and John were provided with an opportunity to deliver the following message in Acts chapter four…
“‘…Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.
This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:8-12).
These verses help exemplify the evidential communication process for they tell us that the Apostles focused on the “who,” “what,” and “why” of Christianity in speaking with these others. In other words, these men appealed to the historical reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as the evidence associated with the miraculous healing that had taken place.
Later on when Peter and John were challenged on this message, the Apostles turned to their own personal experience in responding to those who opposed them…
“So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard'” (Acts 4:18-20).
So Peter and John essentially responded by saying, “We’re going to keep speaking about what we’ve seen, heard, and experienced.” This response informed their opponents that they were speaking from a personal acquaintance with Jesus’ work in their lives and the lives of others.
These examples remind us that evidence backed by experience can help provide an effective means to communicate Jesus’ teachings and thus fulfill the Great Commission.
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
As with the subject of Communion, a number of views have emerged to describe the meaning and significance associated with the act of baptism. In its broadest terms, baptism involves the application of water as a rite of spiritual purification, initiation, or commitment. (1) One source provides a helpful summary of the major views regarding the nature of baptism…
The sacramental view – According to this belief, baptism is a means by which God conveys grace. By undergoing this rite, the person baptized receives remission of sins, and is regenerated or given a new nature and an awakened or strengthened faith… One Scripture especially important to the advocates of the sacramental view of baptism is John 3:5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” They also believe that the act of baptism itself produces a change in the life of the believer.
The covenantal view – Other Christian groups think of baptism not as a means by which salvation is brought about, but as a sign and seal of the covenant. The covenant is God’s pledge to save man. Because of what He has done and what He has promised, God forgives and regenerates. On the one hand, baptism is a sign of the covenant. On the other, it is the means by which people enter into that covenant… In the covenantal view, baptism serves the same purpose for New Testament believers that circumcision did for Old Testament believers… Circumcision refers to a cutting away of sin and a change of heart (Deut 10:16; Ezek 44:7,9). Similarly, baptism also depicts a washing away of sin (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:5) and a spiritual renewal (Rom 6:4; Col 2:11-12). In fact, these two procedures are clearly linked in Col 2:11-12: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
The symbolical view – This view stresses the symbolic nature of baptism by emphasizing that baptism does not cause an inward change or alter a person’s relationship to God in any way. Baptism is a token, or an outward indication, of the inner change which has already occurred in the believer’s life. It serves as a public identification of the person with Jesus Christ, and thus also as a public testimony of the change that has occurred… Thus, baptism is an act of obedience, commitment, and proclamation. According to this understanding of baptism, no spiritual benefit occurs because of baptism. Rather than producing regeneration of faith, baptism always comes after faith and the salvation that faith produces. (2)
(1) See also Baptism; The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988.
(2) Baptism; Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“Anyone who believes me and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe me will be condemned” (Mark 16:16 CEV).
Its possible to read Mark 16:16 and conclude that water baptism is a necessary requirement for salvation. But let’s consider this verse in context with the rest of Scriptures and see what it can tell us about baptism and its relationship to salvation.
For example, if we were to say that baptism is a requirement for salvation, then it means that Jesus’ substitutionary work on the cross was left unfinished. It means that Jesus’ death on the cross was not sufficient to provide for our salvation and that something else needs to be done (namely baptism). If this is true, then Jesus was incorrect when He said from the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
So what does Mark 16:16 really mean? Well, let’s look closely at the first portion of this verse: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved…” (MKJV). There should be no objection to that statement as far as it goes- those who believe in Jesus and are baptized will certainly be saved.
Now lets consider the remaining portion: “…he who does not believe will be condemned.” Notice that “…those who do not believe will be judged guilty” (ERV) and not, “those who have not believed and haven’t been baptized” who are subject to condemnation.
This difference was illustrated in very real terms in the life of a man who was crucified alongside Jesus…
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise'” (Luke 23:39-43 NIV).
On Jesus’ authority, this man went to heaven without the benefit of baptism- but that should not have occurred if baptism was a prerequisite for salvation. The same is true of everyone who accepts Christ (like this thief) but passes into eternity without the opportunity to be baptized.
In light of this, Jesus’ message from Mark 16:16 may best be understood to mean that faith and belief in Him is an absolute requirement for salvation. Baptism should then follow as an act that publicly symbolizes our commitment to Christ and our association with His death, burial, resurrection.
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:17-18).
Its not unusual to encounter a church or religious organization that promotes “signs” as a feature of its ministry. But what does it mean to talk about “signs” in a Scriptural sense? Well in general usage, a “sign” represents something that points to or designates something else. Here in Mark 16:17, this word carries a similar meaning in referring to “an indication, especially ceremonially or supernaturally.” (1)
In a general sense, a Biblical sign often serves to designate (or perhaps validate) a person as an authentic representative of God. Much like the signpost that points the way to a particular destination, a spiritual sign should serve to direct others to the Christ found within the pages of the Scriptures. Mark 16:17 provides us with a short list of such signs, a list that includes exorcisms, new tongues, divine protection from snakebite or poison, and healings.
When looking at the signs listed in these verses, it is important to keep two critical things in mind:
- A sign does not (or should not) exist for any purpose other than to direct others to something or someone other than itself. A sign that points to itself or something other than what its supposed to designate is worse than useless.
- Our involvement with such things should always find their origin in the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit; the third Person of the triune God.
Its also important to remember that these signs accompany (or follow along with) Jesus’ representatives. They are not intended for use as promotional tools nor are they designed to provide a spectacle for the entertainment of an audience. In the meaning of the original language, the idea is that such signs “follow close up, or side by side” (2) with Jesus’ ambassadors as they seek to fulfill the Great Commission mentioned earlier.
Remember that Jesus expressed His displeasure with those who refused to accept Him without the benefit of these things when He said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe” (John 4:48). Signs do not serve as a foundation for ministry but as an accompaniment to ministry -and a spiritual sign that points to something or someone other than Jesus is likely to be invalid. (3)
(1) NT:4592 semeion Biblesoft’s New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.
(2) NT:3877 parakoloutheo Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
(3) See also Mark 16:20 where we’re specifically told, “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs…” (emphasis added).
“Believers will be given the power to perform miracles: they will drive out demons in my name; they will speak in strange tongues; if they pick up snakes or drink any poison, they will not be harmed; they will place their hands on sick people, and these will get well” (Mark 16:17-18 GNB)
As mentioned earlier in looking at the experience of the Gadarene demoniac in Mark chapter five, the term “demonic possession” is a phrase that often summons up a variety of late night horror show images. However, this idea simply refers to one or more demonic beings that reside within a person and cause that person to do things that he or she ordinarily would not (or could not) do.
While there are many who believe that such things don’t occur in our world today, this does not account for the modern-day examples of such activity in those who claim to “channel” the spirits of the dead or in those religions that encourage communication with the spirit world. We should also consider the fact that Mark 1:34 tells us that Jesus Himself “cast out many demons” from various people before we discount the possibility of such activity today.
Jesus promised that the ability to remove such malevolent spiritual entities would follow as a sign of those who represent Him. However, its important to recognize that signs come in many different styles and designs- and the way a representative of Christ deploys this particular sign is reflective upon Jesus for better or worse.
For instance, one might attempt to “send out evil spirits” (BBE) in a way that draws more attention to the person engaged in such activity than the One who provides the power and ability to do so. But instead of engaging in such theatrical displays, the New Testament book of Jude provides us with some insight into the manner in which such a sign should be employed…
“But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!'” (Jude 1:9).
While some may choose to address Satan and his demonic associates in a highly sensationalistic and derogatory manner, the powerful archangel Michael chose not to engage in such things. Instead, this angelic being simply appealed to God in a quiet, dignified manner in dealing with our spiritual enemy.
This is reminiscent of the manner in which Jesus dealt with such demonic entities (1) and helps provide us with a pattern for dealing with such spiritual opposition in the event that we encounter it.
(1) See Mark 1:24-26 for an example
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 16:17-18 NIV).
While we might legitimately associate “new tongues” with the ability to communicate in languages not native to our own, this phrase also has a somewhat more controversial interpretation: glossolalia, or “speaking in tongues,” an ability that is identified as a “gift” in other portions of Scripture.
Speaking in tongues generally refers to the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak in a language not known to the speaker. The language involved may be a language that is native to another culture or one that is unknown to others. (1) Although 1 Corinthians 12:10 identifies this ability as a valid spiritual gift, we might question the benefit of the ability to speak in a language that is unknown to the speaker.
The New Testament book of 1 Corinthians helps address this question when it tells us, “…anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit” (1 Corinthians 14:2 NIV). When a Christian speaks in tongues, he or she communicates in a manner that goes beyond the limitations of human intellect and understanding.
Of course, this often leads to a second question: why would anyone want to communicate in a way that he or she cannot understand? Well, there are a few good reasons.
First, the person who possesses this kind of God-given language ability can be assured that his or her prayers are entirely within the will of God. This may be what the New Testament book of Romans refers to when it tells us, “…the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
This ability may also help overcome the limitations inherent within various languages. For instance, have you ever found yourself grasping for an appropriate word to communicate something you wanted to say? If so, then imagine if you had the ability to select the right word from any language and thereby have the perfect means necessary to completely express what you wanted to say. We might consider the ability to speak in tongues in a similar manner- if the Holy Spirit directs our prayers in this fashion, we always say the right thing.
(1) See 1 Corinthians 13:1 where the Apostle Paul makes a differentiation between “…the tongues of men and of angels“
“These are the miraculous signs that will accompany believers: They will use the power and authority of my name to force demons out of people. They will speak new languages. They will pick up snakes, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them. They will place their hands on the sick and cure them” (Mark 16:17-18 GW).
In addition to assuring that our prayers are within the will of God and the ability to overcome the limitations of human language, the act of praying in tongues (the God-given ability to speak in a language not known to the speaker), also serves to edify (or build up) the person who is praying. 1 Corinthians 14:4 expresses this idea when it tells us that “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself…”
This ability may also serve to validate a legitimate work of God. Perhaps the best illustration of this idea can be found within the New Testament book of Acts…
“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, ‘Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? …we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God'” (Acts 2:5-11).
In this instance, the act of speaking in tongues served to authenticate a genuine movement of God to those who did not know Him. As the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:21-22, “In the law it is written: ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people…’ Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers.”
As for the validity of this gift today, we should keep in mind that Paul also asked this rhetorical question in 1 Corinthians 12:30: “Do all speak with tongues?” The assumed answer of course, is “no.” Nevertheless, Paul also cautioned, “…do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:39). As one commentator observes…
“I cannot deny the validity of the Spirit-filled lives of many of those dynamic leaders and laymen in the church today who have never enjoyed the experience of speaking in tongues, and I prefer their fellowship over many who promote the speaking in tongues as the only true evidence of the Spirit-filled life, but whose personal lives are marred by strife or pride and often even heresy” (1)
(1) Chuck Smith, Charisma vs. Charismania
“Everyone who believes me will be able to do wonderful things. By using my name they will force out demons, and they will speak new languages. They will handle snakes and will drink poison and not be hurt. They will also heal sick people by placing their hands on them” (Mark 16:17-18 CEV).
The references to snake handling and drinking poison found here within Mark 16:18 are things that require careful thought if we are to apply them in a manner that honors God and truly reflects what the Scriptures actually teach.
To do so, its important to consider the context in which Jesus makes this statement. Remember that the word “context” is defined as “the part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning.” (1)
In other words, the surrounding chapters and verses of the Scriptures help determine what each individual Bible verse really means- and without a good contextual basis for interpreting the Scriptures, it’s possible to make the Bible say some very unbiblical things.
The immediate context for this passage can be found in Jesus’ message from Mark 16:15: “…’Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation'” (ESV). Jesus then followed these instructions with a list of signs that would accompany His representatives as they sought to fulfill this calling- the very same list that we find here in Mark 16:17-18. As mentioned earlier, these signs were not designed to serve as a focal point for ministry but would simply follow along with Jesus’ ambassadors in their fulfillment of this work.
In a larger context, we might consider the examples of God’s people who were protected from such significant dangers as they sought to pursue God’s calling on their lives. This list would include (but is certainly not limited to)…
In the New Testament, we also have the example of the Apostle Paul who once said, “You know how many troubles I have had as a result of my preaching the Good News. You know about all that was done to me while I was visiting in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, but the Lord delivered me” (2 Timothy 3:11 TLB).
These examples help provide us with the general context for considering the proper application of this passage- and we’ll look at a more specific example next.
(1) American Heritage Dictionary Of The English Language 3rd Edition
“And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18 ESV).
In considering Jesus’ message from Mark 16:17-18, we might point out that what this passage doesn’t say is almost as important as what it does say. While these verses tell us, “…they will take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them” (MKJV), this doesn’t necessarily mean that we must do such things. Instead, we might better understand this passage as an illustration of God’s commitment to protect us from unintentional harm as we go about His work.
We can build on this idea by examining an incident in the life of the Apostle Paul. After Paul was shipwrecked off the island of Malta, he eventually made his way to land. Acts 28:3-6 then goes on to tell us this:
“…when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. So when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he has escaped the sea, yet justice does not allow to live.’
But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. However, they were expecting that he would swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had looked for a long time and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.”
So Paul simply disengaged the snake that had bitten him without any ill effects. Later, Paul had the opportunity to heal many inhabitants of that area, an experience that certainly provided him with an occasion to communicate the truth about Christ and the God of the Scriptures to the people of Malta (see Acts 28:7-10). However, Paul would not have received that opportunity if he had not been protected from the effects of this poisonous snakebite.
In Matthew 4:7 Jesus said, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” This precautionary warning would seem to include the intentional handling of venomous serpents or the purposeful ingestion of poisonous substances.
In light of these things, we can say that the best way to accurately interpret this passage is to understand it to mean that we can generally expect to enjoy Gods divine protection while we are engaged in the course of doing His work.
“So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
As mentioned earlier in Mark chapter ten, the significance of the “right hand” in Biblical imagery finds it’s origin in an ancient, cross-cultural symbol of authority and power. Since most people tend to be right-handed, the right hand (or right arm) eventually came to be associated with the greatest level of skill and strength.
This idea eventually led to a further identification with the concepts of favor, importance, righteousness and blessing. In fact, we continue to acknowledge this ancient imagery today whenever we speak of an assistant who serves as the “the right hand man” of someone in authority. The idea is that such a person is as important and indispensable as a leader’s own right hand.
So a person who was seated at a sovereign’s right hand was someone who was seated in a position of highest honor and prominence. Therefore, it is highly significant that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God as mentioned here in Mark 16:19.
You see, the New Testament book of Romans goes on to say that, “…Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 NIV). The fact that Jesus is currently interceding for His people from this position of power and authority is something that should bring comfort and encouragement to everyone who follows Him.
In speaking of Jesus, Hebrews 7:25 tells us, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” As one commentator observes, “The verb ‘to save’ is used absolutely, which means that Christ will save in the most comprehensive sense; he saves from all that humanity needs saving from.” (1) The New Testament book of 1 John also reminds us, “…if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
To paraphrase a verse from the book of Hebrews, these passages offer encouragement for anyone who struggles with the various sins that so easily ensnare us (see Hebrews 12:1). Remember that Jesus is our advocate before God, someone who will protect, defend, and intercede for us if we do something wrong. This is the ministry that Jesus offers on our behalf from His position of power and authority today.
(1) Henry Morris, quoted in David Guzik, Hebrews 7 – A Better Priesthood, a Better High Priest http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/5807.htm
“And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen” (Mark 16:20).
As we’ve seen throughout the Gospel Of Mark, our gospel author has presented Jesus as a Man of action throughout the time of His earthly ministry. Yet, here following Jesus’ ascension, very little seems to have changed in that respect. The final verse of Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus continued to be actively involved in the lives and ministries of His disciples in “…working with them and confirming the Word by miraculous signs following” (MKJV).
In this sense, the Gospel Of Mark continues to reach across the centuries, through the societal and cultural changes of the last two millennia right into the lives of our 21st century world. Jesus continues to work through the lives of His disciples today, reaching out to those who are willing to hear the Word of God and act upon the message of salvation found within the Scriptures. In the words of Mark 1:14-15, “…Jesus came… preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'”
As mentioned in the introductory portion of these studies, Mark 8:27 stands at the center of this Gospel: “Jesus and his disciples left Galilee and went up to the villages near Caesarea Philippi. As they were walking along, he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?'” (NLT). Now that we have come face to face with Jesus, the Man of action in the Gospel of Mark, every reader now has the full opportunity address that question for him or herself.
May we respond to Jesus’ question in the words of the Mark 8:29: “…Peter answered and said to Him, ‘You are the Christ.'”