Mark 16:1-8 The Fact and the Challenge of Jesus’ Resurrection1

1 Now when the Sabbath had passed Maria Magdalene and Mary the wife of James and Salome bought spices in order to go and anoint him.2 And very early on the first day of the week they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. Then they asked one another, “Who will roll the stone away for us from the entry to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up they saw that the stone had been rolled away (it was a very large one!). 5Upon going inside the tomb they saw a young man seated on the right dressed in a white robe,and they were bewildered. 6 But the young man said to them, “Don’t be bewildered: Jesus of Nazareth is the one you’re looking for, the one who was crucified: he has risen; he’s not here! Look where they laid him! 7 But go on, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you into Galilee; there you’ll see him, exactly as he told you.8. When they came outside they fled from the tomb-they were quivering and in shock, and they didn’t tell anyone anything: they were afraid.7

Mark 16 Notes

1 There are more questions raised by the eight verses of chapter 16 than can possibly answered to anyone’s satisfaction, but some aspects of this story demand close attention. Mark’s account of the resurrection of Jesus–and Mark’s gospel as well– is generally agreed to conclude with verse 8. Unlike the other and presumably later accounts of the resurrection, Mark’s presents no epiphany of the risen Christ; instead, it states that Jesus has risen, that he was not found in the tomb where he had been laid after the crucifixion when sought out by the women who first came to the tomb after his burial, and that he has a message for Peter and the other disciples. The message is reported by a strange young man seated in the tomb; he is dressed in white without any other identifying features. He seeks to allay the anxiety and fear of the women as he conveys the message to them, but evidently without any success: they flee in terror and the narrative ends by telling us that they reported their experience to nobody at all. The story seems intended to be enigmatic in that it has no warrant at all if it is not rooted in what the women experienced, yet it asserts their silence about it. We may say that the story proclaims the resurrection of Jesus to believers who must accept or reject that proclamation without any assurance whatsoever: it is an appeal to faith and a challenge to those who respond in faith to meet Jesus in Galilee.

2 It has sometimes been suggested that one of these women might be identical with the unnamed woman of 14:3-9 who poured costly oil upon Jesus, who interpreted her act as an advance anointment of his body for burial. There is certainly no evidence that the evangelist intended the reader to understand any such thing. In fact, the mission of the three women seems to be based on an understanding that the burial of Jesus took place at a late hour as the Passover festival was beginning and that there had been no opportunity to embalm the body with oil and spices in the normal fashion, wherefore they intended to do it after rather than before the burial.

3According to 15:46 the burial was in a cave hewn from rock and closed off with a huge stone. Clearly the stone represents an impediment to the entrance of the women into the tomb; why had they not thought of it before going there? On the other hand, the absence of the great stone is one indicator that the women should be prepared for something strange; it is curious to the reader that the women, although clearly devoted to their deceased master, are neither provident (beyond purchasing the necessary ointments) nor forewarned by the removal of the stone from the entrance.

4 Mark’s account gives no indication that this young man (νεάνισκος) is other than a human being, a fact which needs to be underscored as strikingly different from Matthew (28:3) who explicitly describes an angel of dazzling appearance who has descended from heaven and different also from Luke (24:4) who tells rather of the sudden epiphany to the women who had already entered the tomb of two men in dazzling clothing. The identity of the young man is unclear and open to conjecture. One intriguing suggestion is that this may be identical with the enigmatic young man (νεάνισκος) of Mk 14:51-2 who was a follower of Jesus wearing only a linen cloth (σίνδονα) of a sort elsewhere (including in the other gospels but not in Mark) used as a burial shroud on his bare body; the soldiers attempted to seize him, but he escaped naked and left behind him the linen cloth. Is this an otherwise unnamed follower of Jesus who was present with the other disciples at Gethsemane and fled there only to be present somehow at the tomb to bear witness to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and to proclaim the exhortation to the disciples? Is there a significance to the white in which the young man is dressed, if it is not an indication of angelic status? Is it a baptismal dress? Like much else in these enigmatic verses, this is a mystery that challenges reflection rather than suggests clear answers.

5 In this proclamation rests the center of gravity of this account: the reader/listener is challenged to believe this proclamation without being given any direct evidence beyond the emptiness of the tomb and the say-so of the young man: one is challenged to believe that Jesus was crucified and has risen, and to act on one’s belief.

6 This message that the women are bidden to carry back to his disciples restates what was already told the disciples by Jesus in 14:28: that upon his resurrection he would go on to Galilee ahead of them; the message is a validation of what Jesus himself had stated, just as the young man clearly indicates.

7 It has been argued that this cannot be the end of Mark’s gospel. In fact there are two additional segments appended to these eight verses in most of the early manuscripts, but very few believe that they are authentic; more likely they have been added because the ending of Mark at 16:8 seems so unsatisfactory to many today and must have seemed so even in antiquity. It has even been claimed that the final clause in verse 8 (ἐφοβοῦντο γάρ) is syntactically incomplete, but that is false inasmuch as the verb ἐφοβοῦντο conveys both subject and predicate and the explanatory particle γάρ can never be first in its clause. There have been several conjectures regarding the intention of this final narrative in Mark’s gospel; on the basis of Matthew’s gospel (Mt 28:16-20) it has been supposed that an actual meeting of the risen Jesus with his disciples is heralded in Mark’s account as well, but Mark’s silence about such an actual meeting raises the unanswerable question whether Matthew’s account itself is secondary and dependent upon Mk 8:7 (Luke 24 offers no hint of such a meeting in Galilee). Another hypothesis is that Galilee in Mark’s gospel is not simply the area of northern Palestine neighboring the Sea of Galilee but a symbolic representation of the world–the οἰκουμένη–and that it is the return of Jesus not as the re-embodied crucified one but as Son of Man coming on the clouds that is heralded in verse 7. To these conjectures I will only add one more: whenever I read once again these final verses of Mark’s gospel, I have the sense that the reader/listener is invited or even urged to go back to the beginning of the gospel–it really does start in Galilee–and read or listen to the story anew with a fresh and more open mind to an account not simply of what Jesus said and did in his days in the flesh but rather of what Jesus is doing now as the Son of Man empowered with authority to teach and to make humanity whole.