The Resurrection (Mark 16:1-8)
The last sabbath of the law that God ever recognized had drawn to a close. During that old covenant rest day no one on earth knew whether redemption had been accomplished or not. The Jews observed the rest although their hands were red with the blood of the servant of Jehovah. They had insisted on His death, and in so doing had fulfilled their own Scriptures without realizing it. Now the first day of a new week and of a new dispensation had dawned.
Several godly women who were last at the cross were first at the tomb on that wondrous Easter morn. As the first streaks of light shone across the sky three women with broken hearts—Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the less, and Salome—left their homes and wended their way toward the garden tomb in which the body of Jesus had been placed. They intended to anoint and embalm that precious body in the Jewish manner.
As the sun rose higher they came in sight of the tomb. Coming closer, the women wondered who would move the great stone blocking the entrance. This stone was probably like a large millstone fitted into a slot cut in the limestone on an incline so that it could be readily rolled down the groove to cover the door. But it would take considerable strength to roll it back and up again. None of the disciples were on hand to do this service. They mourned the death of Jesus and evidently thought there was nothing now that they could do to change things for the better.
But as the women came closer they were astonished to see that the stone was rolled back already and the entrance plainly revealed. Their first thought, we know from other accounts, was that the tomb had been rifled by the enemies of Jesus and the body stolen and carried elsewhere.
On entering the sepulcher they beheld “a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment.” His presence filled the women with a strange alarm. Little did they understand at the moment that this young man had been present at the creation of the universe “when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7). The man possessed eternal youth, for he belonged not to earth but to Heaven. At once he reassured them and told them not to be afraid. He added, “Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.”
The dark night of death was not the end of the service of our blessed Lord. For Him the “path of life” led out of the tomb up to the glory where, at the Father’s right hand, there are pleasures forevermore. His soul was not left in Hades—the unseen world—nor did His precious body see corruption in the sepulcher (Psalm 16). Isaiah had declared by the Spirit of prophecy, “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10). So He “who was delivered for our of fences… was raised again for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Because His death had met every claim of the justice of God against us, His resurrection was the divine declaration of our justification from all things.
With wondering eyes the women gazed on the empty crypt where only the graveclothes remained. The angel (for such he was) commanded them to go their way and tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus was going before them into Galilee to that meeting place of which He had told them before He was crucified. There He would manifest Himself to them. So the women hastened toward the city, but they were afraid to tell anyone what they had seen and heard.
There is something peculiarly touching about the two words “and Peter” (Mark 16:7). Peter must have spent the time of his Lord’s entombment in grief and agony of soul as he pondered his denial. He would not feel worthy any longer to be called one of His disciples. But the special message, “and Peter,” would be the assurance that Jesus loved him still and counted him as one of His own.
Jesus Appears to Many (Mark 16:9-14)
“He appeared first to Mary Magdalene.” One of the women evidently lingered in the garden and Jesus Himself appeared to her. There seems to be no Scriptural evidence that this Mary was ever a dissolute immoral woman, as so many have supposed. Down through the centuries magdalene has been synonymous with harlot because many have sought to identify Mary of Magdala with the “woman in the city” who came into the Pharisee’s house and washed the feet of Jesus with her tears of repentance (Luke 7:37-39). But there seems to be no proof that the two are identical. What we are told in Mark 16 is that Jesus had cast seven demons out of Mary. Her love was great because her deliverance had been so great. Many an otherwise respectable woman has been demon-controlled at times. It is not necessary to suppose that demon possession implies unchastity.
Jesus revealed Himself to Mary in the garden in such a way that all her doubts were gone (John 20:11-18). She hastened to tell His disciples, who were mourning and weeping over the death of their Lord, that He was indeed risen from the dead. Though she confidently affirmed that she had seen and talked with Him, they did not believe that He who had died was alive again. Mark did not mention the visit of John and Peter to the tomb, and their corroboration of the story of Mary.
Mark told us in few words that which Luke described so fully— the meeting of Jesus with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35). From the words “He appeared in another form” (Mark 16:12) some have drawn the erroneous conclusion that after resurrection Jesus no longer possessed the identical body in which He was crucified. Other Scriptures forbid such a thought. The Gospel of Luke tells us that the eyes of the two disciples were blinded to Jesus’ true identity. He had not assumed a different body. As the two sat with Him at supper He revealed Himself to them. They returned to Jerusalem and told the eleven that they had seen Him; but again we read, “Neither believed they them.” It was difficult to convince the apostles that Jesus had overcome death.
Jesus had foretold again and again His rising from the dead after three days; but His disciples were dull of hearing and failed to comprehend the meaning of His words. Therefore the resurrection was unexpected, and it took them some time to accept so marvelous a fact. Only the cleare st demonstration of His resurrection convinced them of the truth.
The last appearance that Mark mentioned took place as the disciples were partaking of their evening meal. Whether Mark was referring to the same occasion as that mentioned in Luke 24:36-43 and John 20:19 we may not be able to decide. In all probability the appearance recorded in Mark 16:14 was either on the first evening following Jesus’ resurrection when Thomas was absent, or another time when he was there. As some were still unbelieving, the Lord “upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart.” They had not accepted the testimony of the women and of Cleopas and his companion, who only confirmed what Jesus Himself had told them would take place. This rebuke seems to fit in with the occasion when Thomas was absent, for all doubt seems to have gone from the others when Thomas first saw the risen Lord. But it is important to keep their original unbelief in mind as we go on to consider what He told them afterward.
Christ’s Final Command (Mark 16:15-20)
The great commission was not given at one time only, but on several occasions, and in each instance there are differences that are of deep interest. In Mark 16:15-18 Jesus set forth His program of world evangelization in no uncertain terms. “Preach the gospel to every creature.” The disciples were to carry the good news of an accomplished redemption not only to Israel, to whom the message of the kingdom had been largely confined during the Lord’s earthly ministry (Matthew 10:6), but “into all the world.” Every barrier was to be thrown down so that the river of grace might flow out to all.
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Those who received the message in faith were to witness to it by being baptized, thus declaring themselves openly as His disciples. There was no saving virtue in the ordinance itself, but it was the expression of subjection to Christ. Those who refused to believe would be condemned. Note that He did not say, “He that is not baptized shall be condemned.”
“These signs shall follow them that believe.” These signs were what Paul calls “the signs of an apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12). These miraculous powers were given to the authoritative messengers to accredit them as Christ’s representatives (Acts 4:30-33; 5:12). But the signs were not displayed by any who did not believe, and even among the twelve “some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). It is a mistake to suppose that these powers were automatically passed on to those who believed the messengers. That is not the thought. Such gifts were granted to some who became witnesses publicly (1 Corinthians 12:7-11), but the bestowal of gifts was according to the sovereign will of God.
The Gospel of Mark does not tell us how much time elapsed between the giving of this commission and the ascension of Christ. Other records indicate that nearly forty days transpired. At the appointed time the man Christ Jesus was received up into glory (1 Timothy 3:16), where He now shares the Father’s throne (Hebrews 1:3).
“They went forth…the Lord working with them.” All that His servants accomplish for Him is actually done by Him as He works in and through them in the energy of His Holy Spirit. We are told that the disciples “preached every where.” We know from the book of Acts that they were slow in doing this. It was some time before they could divest themselves of their Jewish prejudices in order to be free to go into all the world and make known the good news to the Gentiles. But as time went on they understood more fully the mind of the Lord and so went everywhere as He had commanded them.
The book of Acts and the history of missions attest to the authenticity of the post-resurrection appearances of Christ and the giving of the great commission. The work of world evangelization is in progress still, and will not be completed until all men everywhere have heard the message of the grace of God. Interest in missions is not an elective in God’s university of grace. It is something in which every disciple is expected to major. We who are saved have been entrusted by our risen Lord with the glorious privilege of carrying the gospel to the whole world. It is for this very purpose we have been left in this world. As far as our own salvation is concerned, we were as secure as God could make us the first moment we trusted in Christ. We could have been taken home to Heaven immediately. But in the infinite wisdom of God we have been kept down here that we might be witnesses to His saving grace and that through us many more might be brought to share the blessings that are ours in Christ. Had the church been faithful to its commission, the body of Christ might long since have been completed and the Lord’s return hastened, for it is due to His concern for the salvation of men that He seems to delay (2 Peter 3:9).
After Mark recorded the great commission, he did not go on to describe the ascension, but he closed his account with the risen Lord as the servant still working with His followers as they go forth in obedience to His Word.