By Peter Amsterdam
August 16, 2022
In the last chapter of the book of Mark (Mark 16), we read that Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices to Jesus’ tomb in order to anoint Him.1 When entering the tomb, they saw a young man (an angel) sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed.2 The angel instructed the women to “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.3
It is at this point (Mark 16:8) that some translations of the Bible bring the Gospel of Mark to its end. However, other Bible versions include twelve more verses (Mark 16:9–20). These verses are referred to as The Long Ending. When they are included in Bibles today, they are usually printed in italics, and often have brackets at the beginning and end in order to set them off from the first eight verses of this chapter. Some early Christians, such as Justin Martyr (ca. 100–165), quoted Mark 16:20 in his writings, as did other first- and second-century Christian writers, so there is some basis for accepting them as original. However, these last twelve verses are absent from some of the oldest Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian manuscripts, so it is also possible that they were a later addition.
Since some Bible commentators include these verses in their commentaries on the Gospel of Mark, and since The Long Ending is included in most Bibles, comments on these verses will be included here.
Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.4
We’re told that on Sunday, the first day of the week, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene. The Gospels of Luke and John also tell of Mary Magdalene’s involvement in discovering that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, and her going to the disciples to tell them that Jesus’ body was missing. In the Gospel of Mark the disciples, who were mourning and weeping over Jesus’ death, refused to believe that Mary Magdalene had seen Him and that He was still alive. Their response echoes what is told us in the Gospel of Luke: these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.5
After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.6
This echoes what the Gospel of Luke tells of two disciples who were walking to Emmaus when they met Jesus on the road but didn’t recognize Him.7 We’re not told what His other form was when He appeared to them, nor whether they immediately recognized Him. Like the disciples who were walking to Emmaus, these disciples returned to where the rest of the disciples were in order to tell them they had seen Jesus, but the disciples didn’t believe them.
Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.8
When Jesus later appeared to the eleven as they were eating together, He reproached them for their doubts and their hard hearts. It’s hard to imagine that the eleven didn’t believe that their fellow disciples were telling them the truth, but considering all that had preceded—Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection—it was probably a difficult and confusing time for the disciples.
He said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”9
Jesus expressed the commission to His followers as taking His message, the gospel, and sharing it with everyone, including Gentiles. The last words in the Gospel of Matthew express these instructions in a more detailed fashion. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.10 Preaching the message to the whole creation meant that Jesus’ message was to be taken beyond Israel, beyond Judaism, and shared with “all people.” The disciples were to share the gospel with everyone, everywhere.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.11
Faith and belief in Jesus are key to salvation. This point is made throughout the Gospels. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.12 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.13
These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.14
The promise of the signs which would accompany believers echoes what is stated in the book of John: Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.15
The book of Acts also speaks about the fulfillment of the signs that Jesus said would accompany believers. Many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.16 It also describes instances when the disciples would cast out demons and speak in tongues. One example is when the apostle Paul cast out a spirit from a woman.
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.17
As for speaking in tongues, in the book of Acts we read that when the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.18
The last two verses of The Long Ending of the Gospel of Mark say:
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.19
This Gospel ends with Jesus’ ascension into heaven.
The last five verses of the Gospel of Matthew tell of Jesus’ commission to His disciples.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.20
While the other Gospels tell of Jesus’ appearances in the area of Judea, the Gospel of Matthew only mentions the appearance of Jesus to the two Marys in Judea, and then focuses on Jesus’ presence in the area of Galilee.
A few verses earlier, Jesus had instructed the women to “go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”21 Here we are told that Jesus had instructed the disciples to go to a specific mountain in Galilee. There is no way for us to identify this mountain, but the disciples were familiar with Galilee and knew the location Jesus was referring to. Once they were on the mountain, the risen Jesus appeared to them.
Their response to seeing Jesus was to worship Him. This was a natural response on the disciples’ part, as He who had been crucified and was buried was now standing before them alive. He was stronger than death, so worshipping Him as their risen Lord was the expected response. However, we’re also told that some doubted, though we’re not told why they doubted or were hesitant. One author wrote:
Perhaps they were not sure that the person they were seeing was the one who was crucified. Perhaps they were not sure that Jesus really was risen; they may have wondered whether they were seeing a vision, not a real person. Perhaps they were not sure that it really was Jesus who was before them.22
In the Gospel of Luke the two disciples who walked with Jesus to Emmaus didn’t know who He was.
Some authors state that it wasn’t any of the eleven who had doubts, but rather that some other believers were present, perhaps some of the 500 brothers whom the apostle Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.23 In any case, we’re told that even though the disciples worshipped Him when they saw Him, some of them had some doubts.
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”24
Jesus was likely a little distance from the disciples, but then came closer as He began to speak to them. He stated that things had substantially changed. In His resurrected state He was no longer a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief … stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.25 Now He had been given full authority in both heaven and earth.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.26
Because all authority had been given to Jesus, He had the authority to commission the disciples to “go” and to “make disciples” everywhere. This direction differs from earlier in this Gospel, when Jesus instructed His disciples to Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans.27 Now they were to go and reach all nations.
Jesus’ disciples were instructed to baptize believers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the triune God, the Trinity. Throughout the New Testament, references are made to the Trinity.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.28
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.29
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.30
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.31
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.32
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”33
Besides going out and making disciples, Jesus’ followers were to teach them to observe all that I have commanded you. Some Bible translations say teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.34 Believers are called to both teach and personally obey Jesus’ teachings, to apply them to their daily lives. Living and sharing the message of God’s love, of Jesus’ sacrificial death, and of His gift of eternal life is a commission for each of us.
As we live our lives in love and service to God, as we do our best to share His message of love and salvation with others, we can rejoice and be at peace as we hear Jesus’ promise:
Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.35
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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2 Mark 16:5.
3 Mark 16:7–8.
4 Mark 16:9–11.
5 Luke 24:11.
6 Mark 16:12–13.
8 Mark 16:14.
9 Mark 16:15.
10 Matthew 28:19–20.
11 Mark 16:16.
12 John 3:36.
13 John 3:18.
14 Mark 16:17–18.
15 John 14:12.
16 Acts 5:12.
17 Acts 16:16–18.
18 Acts 2:1–4.
19 Mark 16:19–20.
20 Matthew 28:16–17.
21 Matthew 28:10.
22 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 745.
23 1 Corinthians 15:6.
24 Matthew 28:18.
25 Isaiah 53:3–4.
26 Matthew 28:19–20.
27 Matthew 10:5.
28 2 Corinthians 13:14.
29 Matthew 28:19 NIV.
30 2 Corinthians 1:21–22 NIV.
31 Ephesians 4:4–6.
32 2 Thessalonians 2:13.
33 Luke 1:35 NIV.
34 Matthew 28:20 NIV.
35 Matthew 28:20.