Love and faith were clearly there, but as yet their faith was dull
and unintelligent as to His resurrection. Even the devoted women were
full of thoughts as to the embalming of His body, as the opening verses
of this chapter show. But this dullness of theirs only enhances the
clearness of the proofs that ultimately overwhelmed them with the
conviction of His resurrection. At the rising of the sun on the first
day of the week they were at the sepulchre only to find that the great
stone blocking its entrance had been rolled away. They entered to find
no sacred body, but an angel, in appearance like unto a young man.
Matthew and Mark speak of an angel: Luke and John speak of two. This
presents no difficulty of course, since angels appear and disappear at
will. The angel who appeared as "a young man . . . clothed in a long
white garment" to the affrighted women had appeared a little before to
the keepers as one with a countenance "like lightning, and his raiment
white as snow," so that a kind of paralysis fell upon them. He was one
thing to the world and quite another to disciples. He knew how to
discriminate, and that these women were seeking Jesus, though they
thought Him to be still in death. Ignorant they were, yet they loved
Him; and that made all the difference.
The angelic testimony however did not accomplish much for the
moment. It impressed the women right enough, but mainly in the way of
fear and trembling and amazement. It did not produce that calm
assurance of faith which opens the mouth in testimony to others. They
could not yet take up the words, "I believed, therefore have I spoken"
(Psalm 116: 10; 2 Corinthians 4: 13). Presently they would share in
this "spirit of faith," which was possessed by both Paul and the
Psalmist, but that would be when they came into touch with the risen
Christ for themselves.
Scripture clearly indicates that angels have a ministry to perform on behalf of saints-as
witness, Hebrews 1: 14. Their ministry to saints is infrequent, and
usually alarming to those who receive it, as was the case here. However
their message was very definite. "He is not here," was the negative
part of it, and that the women could verify for themselves. The
positive word was, "He is risen." That they could not verify, for the
moment, and hence it does not seem to have very deeply impressed them.
There follows, in verses 9-14, a brief summary of the three striking
appearances of the risen Lord, accounts of which in more detail are
given to us in the other Gospels.
First comes that to Mary Magdalene, which is given us so fully in
John's Gospel. She was the first to actually see the Lord in
resurrection: Mark puts this fact beyond doubt. This is significant as
showing that the Lord thought in the first place of the one whose heart
was perhaps more devastated by the loss of Him than any other. In other
words, love had the first claim on His attention. In result, she did
indeed believe, and therefore she was able to speak in the way of
testimony to others. But, even so, her words had no appreciable effect.
The others did indeed love the Lord, for they mourned and wept, and the
very depth of their grief rendered them proof against any testimony
which fell short of an actual sight of Himself.
Second, comes His appearance to the two going into the country,
which is given to us in Luke with such detail. These had not denied Him
like Peter, but they had so lost heart that they were drifting
aimlessly away from Jerusalem, as if wishful now to turn their backs on
a place filled for them with broken hopes and a most tragic loss and
disappointment. Their sight of the risen Christ reversed their
footsteps and brought them back to their brethren with the glad
tidings. Even that however did not overcome their unbelieving
dejection. It is just as well for us that it was so. Resurrection
carries us outside the present order of things, and His resurrection is
a fact of such immense import, that it must indeed be established by
multiplied evidence of an unimpeachable sort.
Third, His appearance to the eleven. This may possibly not be
one of the occasions that are given us in more detail in Luke and John,
for it says, "as they sat at meat," or, more literally, "lay at table."
Take the account in Luke for instance-He would hardly have asked, "Have
ye here any meat?" if they had been reclining at a meal. The presence
of food would have been too obvious. It may therefore have been an
occasion not noticed in the other Gospels. On this occasion He brought
home to them their unbelief as a matter of reproach, and yet
notwithstanding He gave them a commission.
It is remarkable how the commissions, that are recorded in the four
Gospels, differ the one from the other. That which is stated in Acts 1:
3, would prepare us for this. Many times during the forty days He
appeared to them, speaking of things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
During this time He evidently presented to them their commission from
different points of view, and Mark gives us one of them. We may well
wonder that, having had to upbraid them for their unbelief, He should
send them forth to preach the Gospel so that others should believe.
Yet, after all, the one who through hardness of heart has been stubborn
in unbelief is, when thoroughly won himself, a valuable witness to
The scope of this Gospel commission is the largest possible. It is
"all the world," and not merely the little land of Israel. Moreover it
is to be preached to "every creature," and not to the Jew only. It is,
in other words, for everybody everywhere. The blessing that
the Gospel conveys is spiritual in nature, for it brings salvation,
when faith is present and baptism is submitted to. We must not
transpose the words, baptized and saved, and make it, "He that believeth and is saved shall be baptized."
In no scripture is baptism connected with justification or
reconciliation, but there are other scriptures which connect baptism
with salvation. This is because salvation is a word of large content,
and includes within its scope the practical deliverance of the believer
from the whole world system, whether Jewish or Gentile in character,
wherein once he was embedded. His links with that world system are to
be cut, and baptism sets forth the cutting of those links-in one word, dissociation. He
who believes the Gospel, and accepts the cutting of his links with the
world that held him, is a saved man. A man may say he believes, and
even do so in reality, yet if he will not submit to the cutting of the
old links, he cannot be spoken of as saved. The Lord knows them that
are His of course, but that is another matter.
When it is a question of "damnation," (or "condemnation"), baptism
is not mentioned. This is very significant. It shows the ground on
which condemnation rests. Even if a man is baptized, if he does not believe,
he will be condemned. The outward ordinance is plainly prescribed by
the Lord, but it can only be administered as faith is professed; and
profession, as we know only too well, is not synonymous with
possession. Salvation is not effective apart from faith. Peter may tell
us that, "Baptism doth also now save us" (1 Peter 3: 21), but note that
it is "us," and the "us" are believers.
A good deal of controversy has raged around verses 17 and 18. The
miraculous things mentioned are connected by some with the preachers of
the Gospel, and it is asserted that they ought to be in full
manifestation today. Two or three things may be helpfully noted.
In the first place, the things are to follow not them that preach, but them that believe.
In the second place, the Lord asserts that these signs will follow, apart
from any previous conditions on the part of the preacher. There is no
stipulation that he must experience a special "baptism of the Spirit,"
such as is often urged. If men believe, these signs shall follow; so
says the Lord. All that could be deduced from their absence would be
that no one has really believed.
In the third place, certain words do not appear in the statement, which some seem mentally to read into it. It does not say, that these signs will follow all that believe, in all places,
and for ad time. If it did we should be shut up to the conclusion that
hardly anybody today has believed the Gospel: we have not even believed
These words of our Lord have of course been fulfilled. We can point
to four things out of the five occurring, as recorded in the Book of
Acts. The fifth thing, the drinking without harm of some deadly thing,
we have no record of, yet we have not a shadow of doubt that it
happened. He said it would, and we believe Him. His word is enough for
us. He gives the signs according to His own pleasure, and as He sees
they are needed.
The two verses that close our Gospel are exceedingly beautiful. We
remember that it has set before us our Lord as the great Prophet, who
has brought us the full Word of God, the perfect Servant, who has fully
accomplished His will. All has been related with striking brevity, as
becomes such a presentation of Himself. And now at the close, with the
same brevity, the end of the wonderful story is set before us. The Lord
having communicated to His disciples all that He desired, "He was
received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God."
On earth He had been cast out, but He is received up into heaven. His works on earth had been refused, but now He takes His seat in a place which indicates administration and power of an irresistible sort. But it is put that He was "received up," and thus what is emphasized is, that both His reception and His session are due to an act of God. The
perfect Servant may have been refused here, but by the act of God He
takes the place of power, where nothing shall stay His hand carrying
out the pleasure of the Lord.
The last verse indicates the direction in which His hand is moving
during the present time. He is not as yet dealing with the rebel earth
in righteous government: that He will do when the hour strikes for it,
according to the purpose of God. Today His interests are centred in the
going forth of the Gospel, as He had just indicated. His disciples did
go forth, preaching without boundaries or limitations, but the power
that gave efficacy to their words and labours was His, and
not theirs. From His lofty seat on high He wrought with them, and gave
the signs which He promised, as recorded in verses 17 and 18. He gave
these signs to confirm the word, and that confirmation was specially
needed at the outset of its proclamation.
Though the signs of verses 17 and 18 are but rarely seen today,
signs do still follow the preaching, signs in the moral and spiritual
realm-characters and lives that are wholly transformed. The perfect
Servant at the right hand of God, is working still.