Mark 16: Choose your adventure


The horrific turn of events recorded in Mark 14-15 leaves me in shock every time. Often, after reading of how the crowd turned abruptly and Pilate assented to the crucifixion, I find myself mentally and emotionally staggered, even though I know that it’s not the end of the story. Sometimes, I even have to put down the Bible and take some time to recover from the impact. How could the human race have done such a thing to a man who so many had begun to realize must have been the Son of God?

As we pick up the story in chapter 16, though, all of that fades immediately away as the sun rises on Sunday morning, the first day of the week, and Mark reveals that, when a group of women arrived at the tomb to prepare the body for a proper burial, they found the stone rolled away and Jesus gone. To make it even better, there is “a young man dressed in a white robe” sitting to the right of where the body should have been. In his gospel, Matthew goes further to say that this robe was “white as snow.” And Luke goes so far as to say that there were actually two of these men, and their clothes “gleamed like lightning.” Considering how difficult it would have been to keep a white robe clean, plus these descriptions that these parallel passages provide, we begin to realize that this guy’s robe was far whiter than any bleach could make it.

He was an angel.

The Greek word for angel, aggelos (pronounced angelos), is probably best translated as “messenger,” and indeed, this angel carried a message for these women and their friends: Jesus was risen.

It is the single most revolutionary statement in all of history.

And then, if modern textual evidence and scholarship are to be believed, Mark just stops the story right there! Right when you start to think, “Oh wait a second! He’s raised! It’s going to be okay!” Right when you are desperate to know what happens next! Right when you can’t wait to read more, Mark’s account abruptly ends. In fact, even if you go with the longer version of the ending, which some well-meaning writer probably added after-the-fact to provide the satisfying ending that everyone who reads Mark’s gospel so wants to have, the story still essentially falls off a cliff and leaves you hanging. You know it’s not the end.

And I honestly think that’s exactly the point.

Mark wanted his readers to know that, as action-packed as the sixteen chapters of his gospel were, as insanely cliffhanging as his ending was, this was only the beginning. There was far more to come. In fact, if the other gospel writers are to be believed -and I think they should be – Jesus appeared several more times, in several more locations, over several more weeks to these disciples. And when He finally left them, His instructions were that they should go and tell the world everything they had seen and heard from Him. And they did.

The simple fact of the matter is that, even though Mark 16 marks the end of Mark’s gospel (see how many times you can use the word “mark” in one sentence!), it was only the very beginning of what that gospel was going to do. Mark was leaving the telling of that story to someone else. To people like Matthew, who would provide more details about the resurrection appearances. And Luke, who would go on to record the Acts of the Apostles and show how radically the disciples’ lives were changed. Peter, Paul, James, John, Jude, and the unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews, who would explore the practical ramifications of Jesus’ death, resurrection, teachings, and more as they traveled and impacted the world for Him.

And us.

Yes, us.

Mark left the story open so that we could add what Jesus would do through our lives. The only closing he provided was the essential message that, as people who knew that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave, we are to “go tell” others that Jesus is looking for them, too. And so the plot of the ongoing gospel of Jesus Christ is just exactly that: what will happen as you and I go and tell?

Will the world be revolutionized?

Will our friends and family see their lives changed?

Will we actually go and tell people about the empty tomb?

Or will our words fall on deaf ears because our actions don’t match up?

It’s like one of those “choose your adventure” books you read in grade school, where you get to determine the direction of the story. So what will it be? Will you let the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit fuel your pursuit of righteousness as He taught? Will you tell people that He would do the same for them? How will the rest of the gospel read?

It’s up to you. You decide. But you must decide. Because it can’t just end in Mark 16.


  • (1-2) So the women apparently purchased the spices just after sunset on Saturday, as that would have been when the Sabbath ended. My guess is that they were sitting there, just waiting for the bell to announce that they could move again. And they were up and to the tomb at sunrise on Sunday. How many Christians today lament getting up at sunrise any day for Jesus?
  • (3) It is interesting that the women didn’t think about the stone until they were on their way to the tomb. We learned at the end of ch 15 that they saw where Joseph had laid the body, and presumably how he had secured the grave. But how was of little consequence. They knew only that they had to be there.
  • (4) The fact that the stone was rolled away is made more impressive by the fact that it was “very large.” In reality, most tombs would have been designed so that, when the stone was rolled into the entrance, it settled down into a basin. The basin acted like chocks, making it even more difficult to remove the very large stone.
  • (6) Perhaps the most revolutionary statement in all of history: “He has risen! He is not here.”
  • (7) It is interesting that Mark records the angel instructed the women and disciples to go to Galilee to see Jesus, but that the other gospels record that He appeared pretty quickly to everyone, while they were still in Jerusalem. It is a minor discrepancy which is probably explained by the fact that the disciples would have certainly returned to Galilee between Passover and Pentecost, but it is also fairly significant in that Jesus told them they would see Him in Galilee but then apparently appeared to them before they ever left Jerusalem. Jesus will far exceed our expectations for Him if we will merely meet His expectations for us.
  • (9-20) Since most modern scholars agree that vss 9-20 were a later addition to Mark, I won’t focus on them too much. Suffice it to say, though, that whether or not the rest of this chapter belong in the book, there are no crucial doctrines lost by removing it. (Sorry snake-handlers.)
  • (9-11) The version of events recorded here is expected. The women returned to the disciples, scared out of their minds, and said nothing. Except for Mary Magdalene, who had lingered longer at the tomb than the others and thus had a personal encounter with the risen Lord. She told the disciples. She couldn’t NOT tell the disciples. But they were naturally skeptical.
  • (12-13) It was one thing to be skeptical of a woman who was alone in witnessing the risen Jesus. When two people, presumably men, returned from the countryside and reported a similar experience, that should have been enough to convince people. After all, two witnesses were enough to convict someone of murder. Surely, they were enough to convince the disciples of a resurrection!
  • (14) Given that the disciples had heard all the accounts that should have been necessary to convince them, Jesus was right to rebuke them for not believing.
  • (15-18) The version of the Great Commission recorded here is very familiar and, essentially, the same as elsewhere. The exception is found in the explicit list of signs which will accompany their testimony: namely, verse 18.  Even if we throw out the handling of snakes and drinking of deadly poison without ill effect, though, the rest of the list is well-substantiated by the other gospels. Simply put, the Holy Spirit will provide the ability and authority to see real miracles as evidence of the gospel message (e.g., driving out demons), as means to communicate the gospel message (e.g., speaking in new tongues), and as ways to meet people’s needs (e.g., healing of the sick). Jesus will enable us to do amazing things if we will (a) believe He is raised from the dead and (b) resolve to tell the world about it!

1 Response to “Mark 16: Choose your adventure”

  1. 1 James Snapp, Jr. July 5, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Greetings Jeremy.

    I think it is very possible that more misinformation has been spread about Mark 16:9-20 than about any other New Testament passage. The abrupt ending at 16:8 does not look like a deliberate ending. Mark has forecast, so to speak, a reunion between Jesus and the apostles in Galilee. And figuring that Mark would have known that the women actually ended up telling the disciples the angel’s message, it is inexplicable why he would give his readers the exact opposite impression (and leave them wondering how he, Mark, knew about the women’s encounter, if they had told nobody about it.)

    The “modern textual evidence and scholarship” that has led to the rejection of Mark 16:9-20 is a sad combination of one-sided evidence-presentation, an over-emphasis on the local text of Egypt, a flawed over-application of the erroneous text-critical canon “the shorter reading is to be preferred,” and a failure to recognize that a passage can simultaneously be an integral part of the text of the autograph and still be from a secondary contributor.

    For details, see my online presentation at
    I will be glad to send a 160-page research paper on the subject too, if you would like to read it.

    You wrote, “Even if you go with the longer version of the ending, which some well-meaning writer probably added after-the-fact to provide the satisfying ending that everyone who reads Mark’s gospel so wants to have, the story still essentially falls off a cliff and leaves you hanging.”

    In the sense that the scene in v. 8 is not revisited, yes. That’s one reason to think that 16:9-20 was not added later by someone attempting to create an ending; it was added when the Gospel of Mark was still in production (having previously existed as a freestanding composition).

    You wrote, “Mark wanted his readers to know that, as action-packed as the sixteen chapters of his gospel were, as insanely cliffhanging as his ending was, this was only the beginning.”

    I have heard such a claim from commentators who interpret Mark 1:1 as if the title of the book ought to be, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” But that is, imho, a dense way to interpret the opening lines; it is a simple statement that you’re at the beginning of the text, and what the text is about — a helpful feature of scrolls. Some examples of similar opening lines in secular writings of antiquity could be listed as examples of the same sort of thing.

    I don’t think there is really much of a case that Mark intentionally “left the story open so that we could add what Jesus would do through our lives.” I think it’s pretty obvious — from the forecasts of a meeting in Galilee (in 14:28 and 16:7), from the suddenness of the stoppage of 16:8, ending in Greek “GAR”, and from the multiplicity of the narrative threads left hanging (with the abrupt ending, not only do we not see the risen Jesus; we don’t see the restored disciples) – that Mark stopped at 16:8 non-intentionally, and that his colleaagues at Rome finished the account, before it began to be disseminated among the churches, by attaching what had previously been a freestanding composition about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances which was either written by Mark and Peter or was known to have their approval.

    I think it takes a whole lot of squinting to see a deliberate invitation to the reader in the abrupt ending at 16:8.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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