Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 231-240.
Matt. 28:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-10.
The resurrection not only witnesses the power of death overcome and the perfect condition of man before God, suitable to heaven, but, as regards things here below, it is for him that believes the true solvent of all difficulties. Jesus never was vindicated thoroughly till the resurrection. There was, of course, a rich and mighty testimony before; but it was one which might be gainsaid even by those who saw the miracles — not rightly, but through the power of Satan. Even the practical infidel, the sensual man, could say that his brethren would believe if one came to them from the dead. But we shall find that the unbelief of men is beyond even resurrection, unless there be the grace of God giving it effect.167
In this chapter we have the women coming to the grave of Jesus with love, but no intelligence of resurrection, and, consequently, in grievous perplexity. They had “bought aromatic spices “167a that they might come and anoint Him. The Lord had told the disciples distinctly that He was about to rise from the dead. So small was the faith even of these saints of God that, on the very day He had prepared them to expect His rising, they were occupied with that which was only suitable to a dead Christ, not the risen and living One. “Very early, on the first [day] of the week, they came to the sepulchre when the sun had risen. And they said to one another, Who shall roll us away the stone out of the door of the sepulchre?” But it was done already. “When they looked, they see that the stone has been rolled [away],158 for it was very great.” Such is the virtue of resurrection, such the power which accompanies it. The hindrance was beyond their capacity to remove; the stone that blocked up the grave was very great. But this made no difference to God; and it was now rolled away. “And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right, clothed in a white robe; and they were amazed. But he says to them, Be not amazed. Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified One; He is risen; He is not here; behold the place where they had put Him.” Thus their terror vanishes: such is the use the angels make of the resurrection of Christ. Fear is natural to man in a ruined world where sin reigns. Adam had no reason for fear till the fall; what just ground has a believer now for fear, since Christ, who died for him, is risen? He has ample grounds to judge self and its ways, but none to doubt the triumphant results of Christ’s work. The whole substance of a believer’s blessing consists of and depends on Christ, and in proportion as you mix up self in any way with Him, it is unbelief. If I allow the sense God gives me of my own badness to hinder my peace in Him, it is almost as wrong as the vain dream of my own goodness. It is all a mistake to think Christ can ever mix with the first Adam. It must be either Christ or self, both can never bean object of trust. When we have found Christ, there are certain effects produced by Him through the Holy Ghost; but they are effects, not a cause. Unbelief makes things done by us a cause, but this is invariably false.
Now the resurrection proclaims the victory. Although these women were there in presence of angels, they were really in presence of a greater than angels, whom they saw not — of Jesus risen from the dead. Even the saints are called to blessing greater than angels. Why should they be affrighted? The saints are brought into nearness to God that angels never did or can possess. The saints will reign with Christ — angels never do. Thus Satan has been totally defeated in all his thoughts and plans. If his pride was wounded at the Divine purpose of raising man above the angels, God, nevertheless, has raised man (already in Christ, soon in His body the Church), not only above angels, but so high as to unite him who believes now with Christ, the Head of all principalities and powers. Even the world will shortly see the saints glorified with Christ and sharing the same glory with Him. “The glory which Thou gavest Me, I have given them” (John 17:22). The millennium will be the display of all this, which makes the idea of such an era brought in by the Gospel so monstrously false as well as defective. It makes the glory of the bride to consist in what she is and does in the absence of the Bridegroom, instead of holding out God’s glory displayed in Christ, and the Church glorified and reigning with Him. If it was, therefore, a sight painful and unsuitable that these women, heirs of such glory, should be affrighted in presence of an angel, let us bear in mind that, though converted then, they had not yet received the spirit of adoption; and what power can there be without that? There may be the instincts of a new life but no peace nor spiritual energy. “Ye seek Jesus the Nazarene.” He knew that their heart was right.
It is beautiful to see that, as in Mark where we have the fall of Peter more fully than elsewhere, so we have the Lord’s special consideration of Peter. “Go, tell His disciples and Peter He goes before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him, as He said to you. And they went out,159 and fled from the sepulchre; and they trembled and were amazed; and they said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid.” They little knew the power of resurrection yet: they knew the fact, but not the power.
Luke 8:2; John 20:11-18.
But now we have the scene looked at from another point of view — that is, of service: all is ruled by this great truth.160 “Now when He had risen early on the first [day] of the week, He appeared first to Mary of Magdala, out of whom He had cast seven demons.” It is not only the angelic message and the proofs of His being risen; but now it is Himself seen as risen first by Mary Magdalene. There is a remarkable putting of circumstances together here. Mary Magdalene had been mentioned before; but here only it is added to her name, “Out of whom he had cast seven demons.” These two things are mentioned together. The Son of God comes, as we know, to destroy the works of the devil: He was manifested for that purpose. The defeat of Satan’s power, even before this, in the case of Mary Magdalene, was yet more confirmed by this, that the risen conqueror of Satan appeared first to her. The great fact is all that is given us here. In John’s Gospel there is the beautiful unfolding of the way in which He takes her out of Judaism. “Touch Me not,” Me says to her,” for I have not yet ascended to My Father.” Thus, henceforth the disciples were going to know Him — no more after the flesh. “But go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” Do not be looking at Me now as a visible Messiah, destined King over all the earth. I am going to take another place in heaven, and to put you in My relationship on earth, as sons of My Father and your Father, as redeemed to My God and your God. He declares His name unto His brethren; and on that, as the basis and form of relationship, He next gathers them together and praises in the midst of His brethren. He comes there and fills them with joy. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.” For Christ is not only the Object, but the Leader of praise. He communicates both the material and the strain of praise to the disciples. Christian worship is in truth His worship transferred to us, and so carried on as we worship His and our Father and God in spirit and in truth. But this theme belongs rather to John.161
Here it is simply said, “She went and brought word to those that had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they heard that He was alive, and had been seen of her, did not believe.” It is very remarkable the simplicity with which the Evangelists relate the proofs of the incredulity of the disciples: there is no attempt to gloss it over. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, all tell it out plainly. They knew not the Scriptures, says John, that He must rise from the dead. They saw the fact, but did not take in its connection with the repealed counsels of God. It was believed on in the intelligence of evidence before their eyes, not yet entered into in faith, as it was soon about to be.
“After these things He was manifested in another form to two of them, as they walked, going into the country. And they went and brought word to the rest; neither did they believe them.” This is the journey to Emmaus, which is given fully and characteristically in Luke.
Luke 24:36-49; John 20:19-29.
“Afterwards He was manifested to the eleven as they lay at table, and reproached them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who had seen Him risen.” In their case it is evident that hardness of heart is laid to their door, as the root of their rejecting the testimony concerning Jesus. Yet it is to them that the Lord shortly after (the Evangelist omitting other matters which might distract) says, “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to all the creation.” What a wonderful process for fitting those men to preach to others! It must be by being made nothing of in their own eyes. Repentance always goes with faith and humiliation; the finding out what we are, specially towards God and His word, is God’s way of making us useful to others. The sense of our own past unbelief is used of God when He sends us out to call others to believe; we can understand their unbelief and feel for them in it, having been so unbelieving ourselves. This is not man’s way in what he calls ministry, but it is God’s. “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to all the creation.” After what you have proved of yourselves, be confident in God — not in man, but in the God who was so patient with you, and sent you testimony after testimony, till you were compelled to come in. That same God deigns to use you in His work on behalf of others, and as you have proved how persistent God has been in His goodness to you in your unbelief, so do you go on patiently in His service. “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to all the creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be condemned.” It is not enough for you and for Christ’s glory that you believe: “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Baptism has this importance — not, of course, saving the man before God, for the essential point as to this is believing that which is unseen of men, but baptism is an open sign and witness of this before men. Thus a man stands to what he believes, and confesses it publicly. He does not say, My heart believes in Christ, but there is no need that I should say anything about it. Baptism is the initiatory testimony that one believes in Christ. It is founded upon His death and resurrection. “So many of us as were baptized unto Jesus Christ, were baptized unto His death. Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism unto death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3 f.). Not according to the first Adam, who mistrusted God and sinned, and became a dead man; but as Christ was obedient unto death, and has brought us life everlasting righteously through His own death. Baptism acknowledges this, and is as good as saying, I renounce all I am, and every hope from man; I know the first Adam, and myself as a child of his, to be dead: all my hope is in the last Adam. When a man is really brought to this, he is a true believer, and baptism outwardly sets forth the truth of Christ. Thus baptism has a decided value as a testimony before God and men. No wonder, therefore, it is said by Peter that “Baptism [while he carefully eschews any ex opere operato efficacy in the same sentence] also doth now save us” 1 Peter 3:21). If a man refused to be baptized through shrinking from the shame of it, he could not be owned as a Christian at all. Paul, in writing to the Gentiles, shows that the great thing is what has taken place in Christ. Peter insists upon baptism, though he expressly guards them from thinking too much about the outward act; but the grand point is the demand of a good conscience towards God by Christ’s resurrection.
Hence it is said here, “He that believeth not shall be condemned.” Unbelief was the fatal evil above all to be dreaded. Whether a man was baptized or not, if he did not believe, he must be condemned. There could be no promise of salvation, spite of baptism, if he did not believe. This makes baptism simply consequent on believing; but when we hear of condemnation, it is on the ground of not believing. Alas! millions will be condemned who have been baptized, yet so much the worse because they do not believe.
“And these signs shall follow those that have believed,. in My name they shall cast out demons; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they should drink any deadly thing it shall not injure them; they shall lay hands on the infirm, and they shall be well.” There is not a word here as to time. It is not all who believe, but “those that have believed”; and, further, it is not said of those that believe even to the end of the age. Nothing of the kind is intimated. When, on the contrary, the Lord in Matthew commands them to disciple all nations, baptizing and teaching them, He vouchsafes the assurance of His presence with them to the end of the age. The Lord abides with the disciples till the age is completed — all implied in “Lo, I am with you all the days.” But it is not so with these signs of Mark. Our Lord’s word was fully accomplished to the letter in the particular epoch when these signs were given; but there was no bond of perpetuity. In this way the contrast with Matthew is striking, and the mouth of the objector or deceiver is stopped.
“In My name they shall cast out demons.” He begins with power over Satan. They were to go forth in the power of His resurrection. Although He was going away, so far from thereby losing power, they would rather gain in this respect. “Greater works than these shall he do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12).The notion of the Jews was that all the great works were to be done when Messiah was on the earth. Not so. In His name, during His absence, His servants should cast out demons, etc. “They shall speak with new162 tongues.” What a wonderful testimony of God’s grace towards all men! They were to speak now of His wonderful works (Acts 2) in the tongues wherewith God had confounded men at the tower of Babel. This was fulfilled, first on the day of Pentecost to the Jews, then to the Gentiles in due time. “They shall take up serpents” — the outward symbol of the power of Satan in this world — that which man instinctively hates since the fall, unless he be so besotted as to worship it. “And if they should drink any deadly thing, it shall not injure them.” The power of nature, of things inanimate as well as animate, could not avail against them; but, contrariwise, “they shall lay hands on the infirm, and they shall be well.” The beneficial power of good in His name overcomes evil and banishes it.
“The Lord, therefore, after He had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat at the right hand of God.” The work was done: He sat down. With His great earthly work over, He was the great Servant who could say, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” So He sat down at the right hand of God, the place of power. “And they went forth and preached everywhere.” Is the Lord, then, inactive? Nay, “the Lord working with [them].” So true is it from the first verse of Mark to the last, Jesus is the One that doeth all things well, working for men in His life, or, rather, working for sinners; suffering for sins in death; even now working with His servants when He is gone up to heaven. He is the servant of God throughout our Gospel. Even seated at God’s right hand, He is the Servant, but “the Lord, working with them and confirming the word by the signs following. [Amen.”]163
Mark 16:9-20. — Lachmann, usually presumptuous, did not dare even to bracket a concluding scene worthy of, and inseparable from, the Gospel to which it belongs. . . . Is the omission of B [as to see below] and some copies of the Armenian and Arabic vv., with a single Latin manuscript, is the silence of the Eusebian and Ammonian sections, with the marks in L, etc., to overthrow the vast mass of positive testimony? It seems probable that much of this, if not all, may be accounted for by the difficulty found in harmonizing the passage with others (B.T., vol. i., December, 1857). Possibly it may have been added later by the same hand; for certainly the last verse indicates a date considerably later than that which is usually assigned to the publication of this Gospel. Language can be easily imitated in so short a fragment, whereas writers would freely describe new facts with new expressions, while underneath the surface lie, in my opinion, the most indelible traces of connection with the character and aim stamped on this Evangelist by the Holy Spirit. Would this organic link have been kept up had Apostolic men, during Apostolic times, added the general compendium of the events of the resurrection with which the present Gospel concludes? (B.T., vol. vii., p. 256, April, 1869). I admit that there are certain differences between this portion and the previous part of chapter 16. But, in my judgment, the Spirit purposely put them in a different light. Here it is a question of forming the servants according to that rising from the dead for which He had prepared them. Had the Gospel terminated without. this, we must have had a real gap. . . . This wonderful Gospel of His ministry would have left off with as impotent a conclusion as we could possibly imagine . . . . . . For they were afraid: what conclusion less worthy of the servant Son of God? What must have been the impression left if the doubts of some learned men [see note 168] had the slightest substance in them? Can anyone who knows the character of the Lord and of His ministry conceive for an instant that we should be left with nothing but a message baulked through the alarm of women? [cited in Scrivener, “Plain Introduction,” vol. ii., p. 343]. The very freedom of the style, the use of words not elsewhere used, or so used by Mark, and the difficulties of some of the circumstances narrated, tell, to my mind, in favour of its genuineness; for a forger would have adhered to the letter, if he could not so easily catch the spirit of Mark. . . . I am not aware that in all the second Gospel there is a section more characteristic of this Evangelist that the very one that man’s temerity has not feared to seize upon, endeavouring to root it from the soil where God planted it. These words are not of man. Every plant that the heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up. This shall never be rooted up, but abides for ever, let human learning, great or small, say what it will (“Introductory Lectures on the Gospels,” p. 233 ff.). The Revisers put, most undeservedly, a certain stigma on chapter 16:9-20, because B omit these verses, L, with a break, adding a miserable compendium (see Nestle’s Greek Text “[British and Foreign Bible Society], and Bagster’s Workers’ New Testament,” p. 108), and many cursives giving them with more or less doubt. No good version of antiquity omits. But a few Fathers, on harmonistic grounds, talk of the accurate copies ending with ejfobou’nto gavr. The positive external proofs and the internal prove not only that it is inspired Scripture, but from none other than Mark himself (B.T., vol. xiii., p. 302).
158 “Rolled away”: so AC, with later uncials, all cursives, Syr(sin), hcl, but Edd. “rolled back,” after BL.
159 “Quickly” (T.R.) after “went out” is feebly supported, and is rejected by Edd., after ABCD and most of the later uncials and the cursives, Old Latin, etc.
160 As to verses 9-20 see special note at end of chapter.
161 John 20:17. See “Exposition” of that Gospel, p. 418 ff.
162 “New”: so Edd., after ACcorrD, etc., Syrpesch. it is omitted in CpmL
163 “Amen” has the support of Cpm, etc., and some vv., but is rejected by Edd., following ACcorr, 1, 33, Syrr. Arm.