Note: This is the last bible study letter on the Gospel of Mark. Tomorrow will start a new series of letters.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
After the sadness of the crucifixion, we can to the glory of Easter. Jesus was dead and no one acts as if they expected him to come back to life.
The story of the Easter is very brief in the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel was written in the early days of the church and stories of the resurrection were general knowledge with many eyewitnesses still alive. So, the Gospel ends abruptly, but it brought Mark and his first readers to the world they knew: In that sense, the entire Gospel of Mark is a sort of “how we got here” book.
For the sake of clarity, I will also include a few verses that were tagged on much later by someone after Mark wrote the Gospel. It includes some material drawn from the other three Gospels so it will feel like a more appropriate conclusion for later generations. We don’t have any original manuscripts of the Gospel, but many of the early copies we have conclude with verse 8. Some copies have the tagged on ending of verse 9 to 20, and some have a shorter tagged on ending that’s a bit different. Our main concern ends at verse 8, because that’s all that Mark wrote.
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Early on Sunday morning, after the end of the Jewish Sabbath, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the tomb with Salome. This Salome may be the daughter of the second Mary and it is therefore possible that she is the sister of Jesus, but no one is sure.
When they get to the tomb, they see that they the stone that blocked the entrance has been rolled away. When they enter the tomb, they do not find Jesus, but they meet a young man (whom most readers assume to be an angel). We haven’t had much talk of angels in the Mark, but biblical angels are primarily messengers of God who are not (and never were) human. Since angels were often described as rather frightening, they usually greeted people with the words “do not fear” (as this young man greets the three women).
This messenger tells the women to go to tell Peter and the other disciples that Jesus is alive and will meet them back at the Galilee. Mary Magdalene and the other women are frightened, confused, and trembling as they run away from the tomb. Since we have their story it is clear that they ran to the disciples to share this news, but they spoke to no one on the way. And that is the end of the Good News according to Mark.
This and the other three Gospels say that Mary Magdalene and other women were first to receive the news of the resurrection. The other disciples are not disowned for abandoning Jesus, but it seems implied that the women being first to know of the resurrection was their reward for staying near Jesus during his crucifixion.
“Resurrection” is an old word that means “to rise again.” The distinction that Mark makes is that Jesus not only continues as a spirit, but as a person who still has some kind of physical body. Instead of becoming less real after death, Jesus has not only remained alive in a way that we can understand, he has become more alive than we have experienced. The point is that salvation doesn’t take us to a shadow land where nothing is solid, but salvation takes us to a life that is more lasting and profound than the life that came before.
The conclusion of the Gospel suggests that Jesus goes ahead of all of us to prepare the way.[As I said before, verses 9 to 20 seem to be an addition to Mark that was written much later and loosely based on parts of the other three Gospels.
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.
Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either.
Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.
Since these verses are not as reliable as the rest Bible studies of Mark often omit them. For better accounts of Jesus after the resurrection, I would suggest reading the ends of Matthew, Luke, and John as well as the first chapter of the book of Acts.
As in other places, Mary Magdalene is described as a woman whom Jesus healed from a demonic possession. In later Church writings (as a slur against her), she was said to be the prostitute that Jesus saved from stoning, but there is no biblical evidence that she was ever a prostitute.]
We have a different outlook than the people of the first century. Instead of doubting that Jesus was the Son of God, many people doubted that Jesus was ever human. Instead of doubting that Jesus rose on Easter morning, many people doubted that God’s son could die. So, a big emphasis with Mark is that Jesus, the Son of God, was really human and that he really died. Today, people are more apt to doubt that Jesus was really the incarnation of God. Instead of doubting that God could die, we are more likely to face doubt that Jesus is a true experience of God.
The Gospel of Mark is a wonderful introduction to the story of Jesus Christ, but we read the other Gospels because they include so many things that are central to our understanding of Jesus.
The Gospel of Mark is a short book that leaves out many things that we hold dear, but it helps us to get at the basic events of the life of Jesus and his basic teachings.
To be clear, here are a few things that we find only by looking in the other Gospels:
-The Lord’s Prayer.
-The name of his “earthly father” (Joseph) and any mention of Bethlehem.
-The Beatitudes and most of the content of the Sermon on the Mount.
-The stories of Jesus birth and his family’s escape to Egypt.
-The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
-The stories of “doubting Thomas” and the wedding at Cana.
-The raising of Lazarus.
-The story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.
One of the peculiar things about the Gospel of Mark is the role of women. The effect of Greek and Roman culture on first century Palestine was to reduce the status of women in many ways, but we see this play out very strangely in the Gospel of Mark. On the one hand, Mark avoids talking about female disciples for most of the book. He also avoids talking about women like the Mother of Jesus, Simon Peter’s mother, the mother of James and John, and Mary Magdalene. On the other hand, the woman healed of the flow of blood and the widow who offers her last coins are set forward as being very admirable. Also, the only person to “win” a debate with Jesus in all of Mark is the woman in verses 24 to 29 of chapter seven. It is as if Mark (and Peter) have a high opinion of women, but don’t expect that to go over well with many of their readers.
The Gospel of Mark is a great help to us to understand the humanity and the divinity of Jesus. We can return to Mark again and again to get at the basic Gospel message stated in Mark 1:15:
“The time has come,” [Jesus] said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
A Question to Ponder: Do you think of the kingdom of God (heaven) as being less real or more real than this life?