womenatjesustomb02Mark 16

1.  Now when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, that they might come and anoint Him.

We know that these women, being good Israelites, would not have bought spices on the Sabbath day.  Thus, they waited until the Sabbath was past.  Yet, the Sabbath according to the Jewish calendar ended at 6:00 in the evening.  When then would these women have had time to buy spices before going to the tomb “very early in the morning” the next day?  They surely could not have bought spices in the middle of the night!

The answer to this becomes clear once we realize that the Lord was crucified on Passover day, and the day after Passover started the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  We can see this truth in Leviticus 23:5-6.  “On the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight is the LORD’s Passover.  And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the Feast of Unleavened Bread to the LORD; seven days you must eat unleavened bread.”  Now also according to Leviticus 23, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was a Sabbath day or holiday in our terminology.  “7.  On the first day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no customary work on it.”  Thus, the day after the Lord was crucified was a Sabbath day.  It was not the weekly Sabbath day, but rather this first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This day fell on a Thursday that year.  Then the next day, the women bought spices that they might come and anoint the body of the Lord, as this verse says.  The day of the week was Friday, and was the second day of the Lord’s three days and three nights in the tomb.

2.  Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen.

After buying the spices on Friday, they had rested on the normal weekly Saturday Sabbath, as any good Israelite would.  Now it was the fourth day after our Lord had been put to death, Sunday, and they came to the tomb after sunrise.  As I pointed out in my studies on Matthew, there were several visits to the tomb, due to the fact that the women convinced themselves they were seeing things the first time and went back to find out whether what they thought had happened was true or not.

The phrase here for “on the first day of the week,” is actually in Greek, “on the first of the Sabbaths.”  This has led some to believe that this event took place on Saturday, and not Sunday, as is commonly believed.  Yet Luke 23:56 clearly tells us that they “returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.”  Of course they didn’t come to the tomb on Saturday.  That would have been breaking the Sabbath, for anointing a body was certainly work!  These women obeyed God, and would never have done something like this on Saturday.

Why, then, does the Greek say “on the first of the Sabbaths”?  What is the meaning of this phrase?  The answer, again, comes from an understanding of the Biblical feasts.  In Leviticus 23:10 we learn of the Feast of the Firstfruits.

10.  “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.
11.  “’He shall wave the sheaf before the LORD, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it.’”

So, the firstfruits of the harvest was to be waved before the Lord on the day after the Sabbath.  Then, in Leviticus 23:15-17, we learn of a second feast that is based on the timing of the Feast of the Firstfruits.

15.  “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed.
16.  “Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD.
17.  “You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD.”

So there is a feast, called the “Feast of Weeks” or “Pentecost” (which means “Fifty,”) which was to come fifty days after the Feast of the Firstfruits.  At the Feast of Weeks, a second firstfruits offering was to be made.  Notice, then that Christ was raised on the day after the Sabbath.  The Bible calls this the “first of the Sabbaths.”  “First” is feminine here, and “Sabbaths” is neuter, so this indicates that “Sabbaths” is not the noun that the adjective “first” modifies.  Since there is no feminine noun present, this indicates an ellipses, or a word left out that is to be supplied from the context.  In this case, our translators have correctly supplied the word “day.”  What is this “first day of the Sabbaths”?  I believe that it was the first day to be counted towards the fifty days before the Feast of Weeks.  In other words, the day Christ was raised was also the day the Feast of the Firstfruits was carried out, and the firstfruits were waved before the Lord.  Thus, the Lord was not only crucified on Passover, fulfilling that feast, but He was also raised on Firstfruits, fulfilling that feast by becoming the firstfruits of those who are raised from the dead!

It is a side note here, but notice that there was a second firstfruits offering made at the Feast of Weeks.  This is reflected in the resurrections as well.  In I Corinthians 15:20, we read that Christ “has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  Then, in verses 22-23, we read that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order.”  Then, the first “order” listed is “Christ the firstfruits.”  Some have thought that this was just a repetition of verse 20, but how could Christ be an “order” of people made alive “in Christ?”  This all becomes clear when we realize that, as there was the original Feast of Firstfruits and then a second firstfruits offering made at the Feast of Weeks, so Christ was the original firstfruits of resurrection, but there will be a second firstfruits resurrection of men who are made alive “in Christ.”  This is the wonderful resurrection that we look forward to.  These things all make sense if we take the time to work them out!

They came to the tomb “when the sun had risen.”  This was later than Mary’s first visit to the tomb in John, which took place before the rising of the sun, but not as late as the visit in Luke, which took place at “deep dawn.”  The visit in Matthew, I believe, was later still.  Mary’s return to the tomb and seeing the Lord probably took place after this, however, so this event is between John 20:10 and 11.

3.  And they said among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?”

What we know of traditions at the time tells us that this stone was a typical safeguard to keep grave robbers out of the tombs of the wealthy.  The stone would have actually been carved out of the side of a hill above the tomb, leaving only a small bit of rock holding it in place.  Then, when the embalmers were finished in the tomb, the last bit of rock would have been cut out from under the stone, allowing it to roll down a pre-smoothed track to cover the entrance of the tomb.  The stone would have been too enormous for anything but a large and well-equipped group of people to move by hand.  About ten men would have been necessary to move it, so any group of grave robbers would have had to be large and well-organized indeed to get into a tomb.  This was not a total safeguard, but it could certainly discourage the casual grave robber.  The bottom line is that these few women did not have a chance of moving this stone.  The fact that they did not think of this before they planned to anoint His body only shows what a state of mental disarray they were in due to their Lord’s death.

4.  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away–for it was very large.

When they get to the tomb, they find the job of rolling away the stone has already been done for them.  The Greek indicates that they were pleased when the saw this, for they figured it removed their difficulty.  They as yet had no idea what they would find inside!

It is unlikely that Mary Magdalene was in this group, for she had already seen the stone rolled away before the rising of the sun (John 20:1.)  Although it said she had bought the spices in verse 1, it does not specifically say she was in this group of women.

5.  And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

On this visit they see only one angel, described as a “young man clothed in a long white robe” sitting on the right side of the tomb.  This robe, according to the Greek, was a distinctive one, indicating the importance of this “young man.”  Contrast what they saw here with Luke 24:4, where the women saw two angels standing by them in shining garments.  The visit in Luke took place at “deep dawn,” or probably late in the sunrising, whereas this visit was earlier in the dawn.  In Luke the group of women was bigger.  Probably, this visit was a few “early bird” women who came to the tomb before the others.  Since they were afraid to tell anyone what they had seen (verse 8,) they probably kept a pre-arranged meeting with the larger group of women that went to the tomb in Luke, but didn’t tell them anything about what they had seen.  As I said above, these things all fit together if we take the time to work them out!

6.  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.

The angel tells them to not be alarmed.  His admonition goes unheeded this time, for these few women are afraid.  In the Luke visit, the group of women was larger, and they overcame their fear.

The angel states as fact that they seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  Then he informs them of the glorious truth: He is risen, and is no longer in the tomb!  Then He encourages them to see the empty place where He had been laid as proof of his claim.

7.  “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.”

This angel now gives them instructions.  They are to tell the disciples (and he names Peter especially) that He has risen and is going before them into Galilee.  These women did not carry these instructions to the disciples, as we learn in the next verse, so of course the disciples did not follow them.  Therefore, the Lord Jesus had to appear to them there in Jerusalem before they would leave for Galilee as He had instructed.

8.  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.

They respond only in fear, fleeing from the tomb.  This time they said nothing to anyone about what they had seen, since their response was one of fear.  This marks this as a different visit than in Luke and Matthew, since they did go and tell the disciples in those instances.  As I said above, Mary apparently did not enter the tomb on this visit, as we read in John, but rather remained outside weeping.  From this we learn why she did not know of what happened in the tomb, as the women who went into the tomb did not tell anyone what they had seen, including, apparently, her.  Therefore, after she saw the Lord in the garden, she went back to the tomb to see the place where He had lain, as recorded in Matthew, where it says that she and the other Mary “came to see the tomb,” but no mention of spices is made there.

Some scholars prefer to end the book of Mark here with verse 8, claiming that the book ends with the rejection of the women just as it had recorded the misunderstandings and rejections that the Lord Jesus had faced during His ministry.  These modern scholars may prefer to believe this, but the fact is that the overwhelming majority of the evidence is in favor of the following verses, so much so that it is almost foolish to suggest that they do not belong in the text.  I will elaborate on this evidence after we finish examining this chapter in a “Conclusion to Mark.”  For now, though, we will assume the legitimacy of the remaining verses and go on to discuss them.

9.  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.

Again, it is said that He was raised “on the first of the Sabbaths,” which we learned in Leviticus means that He was raised on the Feast of the Firstfruits.  “Early” could mean any time after sunset, which is when their new day started.  Thus, the Lord could have risen any time from Saturday at 6:00 PM until around 3:00 AM Sunday morning when Mary went to visit the tomb in John 20:1.

Now, Mark mentions the Lord’s rescuing of Mary Magdalene from seven demons that were possessing her.  We have no record of the Lord Jesus actually doing this miracle, and know about it only from references such as this.  This should not surprise us, however, as Christ no doubt performed many, many miracles that the Holy Spirit has not seen fit to record for us in detail.

This first appearance of the Lord Jesus to Mary Magdalene is recorded for us in John 20:11-18.  This clearly shows that the visit of the women to the tomb as recorded in Matthew 28:1 and 5-10 took place after the events in John 20, since the Lord appeared there to the two Marys at once.

10.  She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept.

This corresponds with John 20:18, which tells us the same thing.  That they were mourning and weeping is supplemental material that we have recorded only here.

11.  And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

Imagine receiving news like this in the middle of mourning and weeping!  No wonder they did not believe her.  They no doubt expected to find everything as it had been at the tomb, and Mary to have been hallucinating from grief.  Therefore, Mary apparently returned to the tomb with the other Mary to see for herself, as we read of in Matthew.

12.  After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country.

It is interesting to see that He appeared “in another form.”  We wonder what that form might have been, and what was the significance of it?  There is no way of telling from the passage.

13.  And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

At first glance, this appears to be the same event as the appearing of the Lord to the two men on the road to Emmaus recorded in Luke 24:13-35.  Yet those men, when they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples, found them rejoicing and saying, “The Lord is risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!”  Yet here we read that these two men “told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.”  Since these two met only with unbelief, they might not be the same two disciples as the ones on the road to Emmaus, and this event then would have occurred before Christ had appeared to Simon.  This appearing to Peter then would have taken place between verses 13 and 14.  The other possibility is that “the rest” is not the same group as the eleven disciples that they ran and told in Luke 24:33-34, but rather some other group that they told, but that did not believe them.  Either explanation is possible, and maintains the perfection of the Word of God.  Only someone whose mind is already poisoned against the infallibility of the Word would insist that these accounts are not reconcilable, and then would use these accounts to prove that the Bible contradicts itself.  Those of us, however, who respond to all God’s words with faith can easily see how these things might be all worked out.

14.  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.

This would be the same visit as recorded in John 20:19-23, when the Lord first appeared to the eleven (minus Thomas) as they were gathered together.  Apparently, the Lord appeared to Simon Peter alone first, and they did believe him, as we read in Luke 24:33-34.  Still, Christ had not yet appeared to all of them at that time or they would have mentioned that to the disciples from the road to Emmaus rather than His appearance to Peter as the reason they believed.  Therefore, the Lord Jesus was here admonishing them for their earlier unbelief, not because they were still in unbelief when He appeared to them.  Overall, the doubt and unbelief is emphasized in Mark.  That is because Mark is presenting the Lord as God’s perfect Servant, and it is almost unbelievable that the Servant would thus be raised from the dead and be proven to be the Master.

15.  And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

Notice that this is not the same commission as the one given in Matthew.  Many call both of these “the Great Commission,” but they are different in form, different in instructions, and occurred at different times: this one as He talked with them “at the table,” and the one in Matthew as they stood with Him on the mountain.  Therefore we should not assume that they are the same, or that they have the same fulfillment.  They are very different.  As we will see, this commission was carried out by the disciples in the past, whereas the commission in Matthew can only be carried out by them in the future when they are raised from the dead and walk the earth once again.

Here in verse 15, we have the instructions as to what they are to do under this commission.  They are to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.  “World” here is the Greek word kosmos, and means in this case the system or order of men in which they lived.  The use of “creature” here is far different than the “nations” of Matthew.  Discipling nations consists of teaching their leaders how to govern in the way Jesus Christ desires them to, and has nothing to do with the salvation of individuals.  Nations that agree to govern by God’s principles will then be “baptized” as nations belonging to God by the disciples, who will be God’s representatives in that day.  Here, however, the preaching of the gospel to individuals is in view, and was what the disciples were to do immediately at that time.

Much confusion has been introduced because of the phrase “to every creature.”  Of course the gospel cannot be preached to birds and squirrels, so most have assumed this means every human being.  Some have taken this to mean that this commission cannot be fulfilled and Christ cannot return until everyone in the whole world has heard the gospel.  However, the disciples who went out under this commission did not take this view of it, as they went out and preached “to no one but the Jews only,” Acts 11:19b.  Why would God’s representatives have preached only to Jews if their commission was to preach to every creature?

The difficulty here is in the translation “every creature.”  This has been translated by some as “in every creation,” and that is probably the more correct rendering.  Since those who heard Christ speak these words understood them to mean that they were to go everywhere and preach, but “to no one but the Jews only,” then we must assume that they knew what He was talking about better than we do and that this is indeed what He intended.  These were “apostles” remember, sent by God Himself with His authority, and it is not wise for us to accuse them of shirking their responsibility when we have no proof of it.  No, these men did what they were supposed to do, which was to preach in every creation, but to Jews only.

16.  “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

This verse gives the expected result of what they were going to do under this commission.  Some will believe and be baptized, and these will be saved.  Some will not believe, and will be condemned.  Of course, those who do not believe will not be baptized, so this is not stated, but it is implied.

Some have interpreted this as meaning that water baptism is necessary for salvation.  Yet being baptized here had nothing to do with water.  “Baptized” is a transliteration of the Greek word baptidzo, not a translation.  If we were to translate this word, it means “to be identified.”  So the ones who believed were identified with Jesus Christ by the apostles who preached to them.  He who believed was baptized BY BELIEVING and by the disciples identifying them as believers, and not by some physical act involving water done afterwards.  That is why only those who do not believe, not those who do not believe and are not baptized, are the ones who are condemned.  No one could believe and yet not be baptized since the baptism would follow immediately on the belief, and the two were considered parts of the same event.  There is no one today who can positively identify who has truly believed and who has not.  This was something only the apostles could do.  To claim to have the power to baptize in this way today is to claim power we simply do not have.

17.  “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues;

This verse and the next give the part God will play in the carrying out of this commission.  He will provide these miraculous signs to identify all those who truly believe.  When these are in evidence, no one could doubt who truly believed and who did not, as it would be as clear as the miracles performed.  Again, this is not something that has any relevance to today, when many believe but no such signs follow them.  Some follow the signs and say that this is the same thing, but this is no different than putting the cart before the horse.  Believers following signs is something entirely different from signs following believers.  There is nothing similar to this going on today!

In My name they will cast out demons;”  Notice that this was to be done in Christ’s name, or in other words, with His authority.  As I pointed out earlier in Mark, there could only be faith to cast out demons when Christ had issued His authority to do so to those who attempted it.  Only those under this commission were given this authority, and if this commission indeed has been fulfilled then this authority is retracted, and it would actually be an act of unbelief to attempt to cast out demons based upon it.

they will speak with new tongues;”  The word for new is not neos, which would be new as in never before spoken, but rather kainos, which is new in character to the person speaking it but not new in fact.  Thus, these “new” tongues were merely languages that the speaker himself had never known or spoken before, and were not new languages entirely that had never existed before.  To say that these tongues were a “personal love language” given only to the one who speaks it is to ignore the real truth being said here.

18.  “They will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

they will take up serpents;”  Paul did this in Acts 28:3-6, but that was by accident.  There is nothing to indicate that this was a ritual that they were to perform.  The country that they would have to travel through to spread the gospel “to every creation” would be fraught with peril, and danger from poisonous snakes was not the least of those perils.  Thus, this power was given to them as an aid to help protect them as they spread the gospel.  Most likely, there was also protection from other wild beasts that they might meet along the way, but serpents are only mentioned as one of the most prevalent and dangerous that they would face.

and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them;”  Again this was not something they were supposed to do ritualistically, or on purpose.  Poison, being generally undetectable, was a favorite assassination weapon of the day, and many of these men would be severely hated.  To have this protection would be a great blessing to them to protect them from anyone who wished to silence them permanently.  This is the only one of these four miracles that we do not have a record of ever having occurred in the Acts period.  Since this poison would be fed secretly, however, it is likely that this power would work without it ever being known by anyone but God and the would-be poisoner that it had ever happened.  According to The Companion Bible, however, the “church historian” Eusebius claims that this happened to both John and Barsabas, surnamed Justus (Eusebius iii.39).

they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  “They will recover,” not “they might possibly recover.”  This power was immediate and total.  This power worked on “all the sick, all the time.”  I can only feel pity for those who claim to be able to do this, yet are unable to even calm an upset tummy.

19.  So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.

After giving them these instructions, the Lord is received up into heaven, and sits down at the right hand of God.  This did not take place at the same time the Lord gave this commission, but later, as we read about in Luke 24:50-51.

This is the first time Jesus Christ is called “Lord” by the narrator in the book of Mark (the word is also repeated in verse 20,) though he has been called “Lord” in some quotations given throughout the book. Some have made a big deal about this. We will discuss why this is so in the “Conclusion to Mark.”

His sitting down on the right hand of God was not a literal event, for God has no hands but those of Christ.  This figuratively indicates that He was given the place of highest governmental authority that could possibly be given by God.

20.  And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Amen.

Thus, the book of Mark draws to a close, with the disciples and the Lord completing together the commission He gave them.  Many, in trying to fulfill the commission given in Mark 16:15-18 have been puzzled by the lack of the signs following their ministries.  They are trying to fulfill this commission, yet they cannot understand why God does not do His part.  Others try to force God to do His part by faking the miracles, but these are found to be only empty counterfeits when examined closely.  What such people fail to comprehend is that God is not fulfilling His part of the commission because the commission has already been fulfilled.

Those who claim to be fulfilling this commission have not been careful, and have not even read to the end of the book.  For if they had, they would have read this verse, and found that the commission Mark records had already been fulfilled before Mark had even finished writing his book!  Here in the last verse we read most positively that “they went out and preached everywhere,” which is what “preach in every creation” meant.  They DID preach everywhere, past tense!  (This is confirmed in Colossians 1:23, which was written at about the same time as Mark.)  And all one has to do is read the book of Acts to see that God did His part as well by working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs.  Thus, this commission has now been fulfilled, and God no longer provides His side of the bargain, a sure sign to us that we are not to try to carry out the other side of it.  I’m not saying we are not to preach the gospel, for that is indeed what we are to do.  But we cannot do it under this commission, for it has been and stands completed, as Mark himself here testifies.  Let us then discover what our commission is, and not try to fulfill one that has already been carried out and stands completed as a testament to the power and work of God.