Mark Study #35
Mark 15:42-16:8* is the final episode of Mark. Precise time stamps mark the two scenes that compose this final episode. Mark 15:42 notes the start of the Sabbath while Mark 16:1 notes the Sabbath’s conclusion. The first scene (15:42-47) reports Jesus’ burial and the second scene (16:1-8) records the discovery of a messenger in the empty tomb.
The first scene opens on Friday with Joseph of Arimathea seeking to bury Jesus. Joseph—previously unknown in Mark—is identified as a respected member of the council. Thus, Joseph was a part of the same Jewish council that had condemned Jesus. But Joseph was “looking for the kingdom of God,” which is to say he was a righteous man anxious for the fulfillment of the messianic hope (Luke 2:38). As it turns out, Joseph was something of a covert follower of Jesus (Matthew 27:57; John 19:38).
The timing of Jesus’ death required a quick burial if He was to be buried before the start of the Sabbath. The Romans left those crucified to hang on their cross for an extended period of time. The decaying body, subject to predatory birds and animals, only extended crucifixion’s humiliation. However, the Jews considered burial of the dead—even their enemies—a proper thing to do (Deuteronomy 21:23). While the disciples of John the Baptist had assumed the responsibility for John’s burial (6:29), the eleven closest followers of Jesus had fled and were unavailable to prepare Jesus for burial.
But with boldness, Joseph sought permission from Pilate to bury Jesus. Pilate was surprised to learn that Jesus had already died. In fact, Pilate sought confirmation of Jesus’ death from the centurion who had overseen the crucifixion. Carefully detailing Joseph’s actions, also confirmed Jesus’s death. Taking Jesus down from the cross, Joseph clothed Him in a linen cloth that he purchased and, “and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock.” As Joseph had the stone rolled over to enclose the tomb, the female disciples of Jesus were there to observe the place of burial.
The second scene opens at sunrise on Sunday with Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome on their way to Jesus’ tomb. These three women were present at the main historical events that comprise the Gospel’s message: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This fact is important to the historicity of the Gospel accounts. The early church would not have likely fabricated a narrative that so heavily rested on the testimony of women. In that day, women were not received as legitimate eyewitnesses. However, these dear female disciples, proving their devotion for Jesus, were chosen to be the key human eyewitness. It is just like God to highly value the testimony of those who society discounts (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).
These women wanted to prepare Jesus’ body with spices. Such an act was not to preserve Jesus’ body, but to perfume His decaying corpse. While a women had prematurely anointed Jesus’ body for burial prior to the crucifixion (14:3-9), these women were belatedly wanting to do what the lateness of the hour on Friday must have prevented them from doing. Their actions suggest that even if they understood Jesus’ promise that He would be raised from the dead, they did not grasp its immediate timing.
On the way to the tomb, the women worried about how the large stone over the tomb would be rolled away. Their conversation was another reminder, albeit subtle, that the male disciples were nowhere to be found. Where would some men be found to roll away the stone? But when the women arrived at the tomb, the stone had already been rolled away. Dressed in a white robe, a young man in the tomb—probably an angel and yet said to be a man—said to the women, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”
The women’s response to the messenger was ironic. While the women would eventually report all that they had experienced, with great joy (Matthew 28:8), their initial response was silence. All throughout Mark, Jesus had told people not to tell anyone about what He had done. But the people would disobey and quickly tell others. Now that the full revelation of Jesus was complete, the messenger’s instructions to tell were now disobeyed. The women fled, just as the eleven disciples had fled from Jesus earlier. Trembling with fear, they initially say nothing. Even these faithful women who had followed Jesus faltered, for the fear that had characterized the eleven now seized them.
But reality of fear-filled disciples who falter is not the only concluding point in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus had predicted that the disciples, and Peter in particular would abandon Him. Nevertheless, at that same time, Jesus promised restoration of Peter and the other disciples after His resurrection. As per Jesus’ promise (14:28), the man directed the women: “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” Galilee, the place where the disciples started their journey of following Jesus, would be the place of restoration. Second chances and beyond are extended to disciples who fail to deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Jesus. Back in Galilee, the disciples would start their journey over again.
Such a restoration is possible because of the finished work of Christ who exchanges the shame of His disciples with His own glory. Two situations in this last episode symbolize the Gospel’s work of exchange. First, a linen cloth like the one in which Jesus was buried (15:46) was just previously mentioned. As the disciples were fleeing from Jesus at His arrest, an unnamed young man, who when seized, abandoned his linen cloth and shamefully fled (14:51-52). Jesus was clothed; sort of speak, in that young man’s garment of shame. Second, the young man in the tomb is also paralleled with the unnamed young man who fled. The issue of a clothing exchange is also the matter at hand. The young man in the tomb is clothed, in fact, dressed in white. The only other time in Mark that there is a reference to a white garment is when there is a preview of Jesus’ glory at His transfiguration (9:2-3). The young man, sort of speak, was wearing Jesus’ white garment. In short, the runaway’s garment of shame became what Jesus wore and Jesus’ garment of glory became what the man in the tomb wore. The Gospel exchanges garments and that exchange is what brings failed disciples to restoration.
*An important matter to explore is the ending of Mark. Mark 16:9-20, which is labeled the “longer ending of Mark,” is one of the major textual challenges in the New Testament. The most probable answer to how a longer ending of Mark occurred is that a manuscript copyist wanted to provide what he felt would be a more suitable ending to Mark. There are several reasons why the longer ending is not likely how Mark ended his account. First, the longer ending is not found in either the earliest Greek copies of Mark, or in the earliest translated Latin, Coptic, or Syrian copies. Second, the longer ending utilizes words as well as a style of writing that is inconsistent with the rest of Mark. Third, the transition between verse 8 and 9 is awkward. Fourth, while verse 8 seems, at first glance, to end in an odd or incomplete fashion, ending in the note of fear is not only consistent with Mark’s presentation of the disciples throughout his account, it is also a powerful way to pull the readers into how they would respond to following Jesus.
This matter is not about the inspiration of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are God-breathed; the Holy Spirit moved men to write the very words that they wrote. Thus, the original texts that the inspired writers penned are without error. This matter is about the transmission and subsequent copies of the original texts. While faithful students of the Bible affirm the inerrancy of the original texts of the Scripture, they do not equally affirm the inerrancy of the transmission process concerning the copies of the Scripture.
So why is the longer ending of Mark in translations? English Bible translation teams respect the tradition of the English Bible, even when the authenticity of a section is in dispute. When the first English translations of the Bible were created, much later Greek and Hebrew manuscripts were utilized: it was all they had available to them. But since that time, researchers and archaeologists have found much earlier manuscripts. Because these earliest copies stop with the shorter ending of Mark, newer English translations call attention to the matter in some way such as adding an explanatory note or footnote at verse 9 and then bracketing or placing in parentheses the longer ending.
Insuring that English translations are faithful to the original manuscripts is a somber stewardship. While there are not many passages of the Bible that have significant variations or discrepancies between manuscript copies, there are a few passages that present challenges. Taking away from as well as adding to the original inspired manuscripts is a serious charge with dire consequences (Deuteronomy 4:2, Revelation 22:18-19). If Mark ended at verse 8, then no man should add verses for the sake of clarity. If Mark extends beyond verse 8 then no man should omit what follows. But not having the original manuscripts for the books of the Bible, even though there are thousands of copies, makes deciphering the original manuscript, in at least a few instances, a very humbling experience. This fact should neither waver a confidence in the Scripture nor create a refusal to wrestle with the matter. The enemies of the Gospel know this fact, so lovers of the Gospel should have an able defense. Great confidence coupled with an informed humility should guide our affirmation of the stellar reliability of the Scriptures. The sheer volume of manuscript copies of the New Testament books means that the work of discerning the original manuscripts of the Bible far surpasses the work of discerning the original forms of all other ancient books.