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Study 25 - The New Beginning
M ARK CHAPTERS 15:40-16:8
1. What was the most surprising and unexpected news you have heard in your life?
READ Mark 15:40-6:8
2. Why do you suppose Mark tells us about the women who were present at the crucifixion and why does he mention that these same women saw the tomb where Jesus was laid? 3. What is being communicated to us by the account of Jesus' burial by Joseph of Arimathea? 4. What do you think was the attitude of the women as they approached the tomb on the first day of the week? What were they expecting to find? 5. What is "the young man dressed in a white robe" seeking to communicate to the women? 6. What do you make of the women's reaction to the angel's message? Why silence and fear? 7. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark's gospel end with 16:8. Why do you think Mark ended his gospel in this way? 8. Looking back over the whole of Mark's gospel what are one or two insights or truths you received that were most helpful? What difference, if any, has studying this book in its entirety made in your life?
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LEADER'S NOTES M ARK 15:40-6:8
The initial point of this passage is to convince us that Jesus was really dead and that there were reliable eyewitnesses to his death and place of burial. The women, Joseph of Arimathea, the centurion, and Pilate are all witnesses of the reality of Christ's death. The second point is to convince us that Jesus really rose from the dead. Though he died a criminal's death, he was not a criminal at all. The resurrection vindicates Jesus. He is the prince and pioneer of salvation for anyone who believes in him. Mark's unusual ending (9-20 are not considered part of the original manuscript by most scholars) is perhaps a device which challenges the reader to personally respond to the gospel. It creates a deliberate tension which can only be resolved by our personal response.
Commentary on the Passage and Notes on the Questions
1. What was the most surprising and unexpected news you have heard in your life? Approach question. 2. Why do you suppose Mark tells us about the women who were present at the crucifixion and why does he mention that these same women saw the tomb where Jesus was laid? Mark mentions three women by name who were witnesses to Jesus' crucifixion. They saw Jesus die and were able to testify that he was indeed dead. In verse 17, Mark tells us that these women saw where Jesus was laid. The word for "watched/saw" implies careful scrutiny. By giving us this information, Mark prohibits us from drawing the conclusion that people thought Jesus had risen from the dead because they went to the wrong tomb. The women knew exactly where he had been buried. They did not go to the wrong tomb and mistakenly report that he had been raised from the dead. The reality of these events are thus emphasized. Jesus really died. He was really buried. And the tomb was really empty. Therefore, he truly rose. These women served as the guarantors of the events. The fact Mark records that woman were the witnesses points to the authenticity of the account for during this period in history the testimony of a woman was not accepted as evidence in a court. If Mark was trying to make the account more believable to skeptics he would have had men serve as witnesses. He would not have invented women witnesses. By stating that woman were the witnesses the historicity and reliability of the account is confirmed. In a period in which women were not held in high esteem, these women are held out as being far more courageous than the disciples. As witnesses of the death of Jesus and the first witnesses of the resurrection they have been held up as having an important and significant role in the Christian tradition. 3. What is being communicated to us by the account of Jesus' burial by Joseph of Arimathea? The account of Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus also serves to confirm that Jesus had actually died and was buried. No theories which purported that he had
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merely swooned and had not really died could be seriously entertained in light of the evidence. Again, Mark gives us the specific name of the man involved in the event. He could be investigated as a witness. It was highly unusual that Jesus was buried at all. Normally the bodies of crucified criminals were left on the cross to be consumed by scavengers. According to Roman law, only if special permission was granted, could a crucified individual be buried. However, Jewish custom required that even criminals be given burials. To fail to observe this custom was to defile the land. Pious Jews felt obligated even to bury an enemy. For one reason or another, Pilate granted Joseph of Arimathea permission to bury Jesus' body. The fact that Joseph carries out this task and not Jesus' disciples points again to the disciples faithlessness and Jesus' utter abandonment. Joseph had Jesus' body sealed in a rock tomb, from which there could be no human escape. Foreboding gloom hangs over the scene as this chapter comes to an end. By drawing our attention to actual events for which there were witnesses Mark is highlighting the historical nature of the Christian faith. Among the religions of the world, Christianity is unique in that it stands or falls depending on whether certain historical events took place or not - especially the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ. Take away any of those events and you no longer have Christianity. Prove that they did not take place and you have successfully destroyed the Christian faith. This can be said for no other belief system. If you proved that Confucius, the Buddha or even Mohammed did not exist, the religions that are based on their teachings would not change. Their existence is not fundamental to the belief systems. That is because they are primarily ethical and philosophical systems. The same cannot be said for Christianity. If Jesus did not exist, die and rise from the dead, there is no Christianity. "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1 Cor. 15:17,18). 4. What do you think was the attitude of the women as they approached the tomb on the first day of the week? What were they expecting to find? The women had admitted defeat. They fully expected to find Jesus dead, the wonder of life in his presence was over, now their master was dead, and they appear to be reconciled to that fact. They had come to the tomb, in which they had seen him placed a few days earlier, with spices to anoint the body. The spices were not for embalming but for perfuming the corpse, a gesture of love and respect. Their desire to anoint the body means that they would be pouring perfumed oils over him. These perfumes were probably quite expensive and the fact that they had purchased them for the purpose of anointing him means that they did not expect him to rise from the dead. On the way, they ponder how the stone in front of the tomb would be moved so that they could go about their task. The stones that were placed in front of tombs were intended to keep out wild animals and intruders. Evidently, these stones were placed in a channel which was cut on slope at the base of the entrance to the tomb. It enabled a stone to be rolled into place with some ease but required a team effort to remove it. Uncertain of how they would gain access to the body, their devotion compels them to go anyway. They come to pay their last respects.
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5. What is "the young man dressed in a white robe" seeking to communicate to the women? Essentially, the "young man dressed in a white robe" (whom Mark intends for us to understand to be an angel) proclaims the truth that Jesus has risen from the dead. He specifically asks them to look at the place where they had laid him. He wants them to be convinced that the tomb is empty. He wants no doubt to be left in their minds with regards to what has happened. The resurrection was a fact to which they could attest. Their master was not dead after all. He was alive. Death could not hold him. He is vindicated by God against all the slander and charges that were leveled against him. But this is not all the angel communicates. He instructs the women to share the news with the disciples and Peter and then recalls Jesus' earlier promise that after he had risen he would go ahead of them into Galilee (14:28). By recalling these words there is an implicit call to return to discipleship and also a proclamation of forgiveness for the cowardice and faithlessness which they had displayed. That this is part of the intended message becomes clear through the specific mention of Peter, who was the chief offender. The disciples are forgiven and reinstated. The cross and resurrection are the basis for forgiveness. Satan has been soundly defeated and none is beyond the sovereign grace of the cross. Finally, in these words there is a germinal form of the mandate given to all Christians to "Go and tell". The women were to be the first to proclaim the gospel. Jesus' other disciples (ourselves included) were to follow suite. 6. What do you make of the women's reaction to the angel's message? Why silence and fear? The women are shocked, the new is unexpected. It was truly "awesome" news provoking in them a deep trembling fear. This is not the reaction of people who viewed resurrections as common place or saw the miraculous as normal. The news was just as surprising and out of the ordinary to those who lived in the first century as it is to those of us who live in the 21st century. They were no more prone to believe it than we ourselves are. There is little room for the reaction, "Well, people back then believed in resurrections, but we modern people can not be expected to do so. We know such things cannot happen." They were confronted by the angel, saw the indisputable evidence and were awed. It was too much for them. And so would it be for us if we had the same experience. They are amazed, shocked, and full of fear. At least initially, they don't say a word to anyone. We must assume that they eventually overcame their fear and heeded the angel's command. But their initial reaction is exactly what we would expect and thus adds a note of authenticity and credibility to the account. 7. The earliest and most reliable manuscripts of Mark's gospel end with 16:8. Why do you think Mark ended his gospel in this way? There is quite a bit of debate surrounding the ending of Mark's gospel. Almost all scholars agree that the two alternate endings we sometimes find in manuscripts are additions added later in history. They were not part of the
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original text. They were most likely added because people found verse 8 to be an unsatisfying ending (See “Problems with the Ending of Mark’s Gospel”). Some scholars wonder if there was yet another authentic ending which has been lost. At present we know of no such ending and we must be satisfied with the ending we have. Apparently this is the ending which God has left us with. How are we to understand it? The first thing we must say is that the gospel ends with the confidence that the resurrection has taken place and that Christ is triumphant. Though the gospel ends on a final note of fear and silence, this in no way undermines Jesus' victory and vindication. Christ's resurrection is not viewed as an epilogue on Mark's gospel, but as the climactic event. If it had not happened then everything that came before it is rendered meaningless. A dead Messiah is of no use to anyone. Jesus has been raised and Mark means for us to believe. So why does Mark end the gospel in this manner? Perhaps the best explanation is that he intends for his readers to be personally engaged by the story. The story can't be left the way it is. Something must be done with it. It demands response. We are left with a command to follow. Will we do so and become part of the story or will we, determined to create our own stories, reject it? Will we live by narratives other than the gospel which shape our lives in false in distorting ways? Or will the gospel become the defining story of our life. If we follow the latter course then we end up doing what the well intentioned, but misguided second century preachers did - we add to the story. But we do so legitimately -not finishing the story for others, but only for ourselves, and thus becoming part of the story that God himself is writing. 8. Looking back over the whole of Mark's gospel what are one or two insights or truths you received that were most helpful? What difference, if any, has studying this book in its entirety made in your life? You may want to take a whole small group session to go over this question, asking people to read back over the entire gospel and come prepared to share their reflections. It is a question for sharing and celebration of what has been learned and how it has changed one another's lives. Individuals may share things as broad as "It gave me a renewed certainty that Jesus is God and is to be obeyed as such" to specific things such as, "I became less selfish in my relationship with my roommate as a result of reflecting on Jesus' call to servanthood". Take time to specifically thank God for the Scriptures, what has been learned, and how the lives of those who have attended the study have been effected and changed.
Some Problems with the Ending of Mark’s Gospel
PROBLEMS WITH THE TEXT There are two textual problems associated with the end of Mark's Gospel: • Some manuscripts go on beyond v8, with variations on two main alternatives: A a shorter ending of one verse as in RSV footnotes
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B a longer ending of twelve verses as printed after the line in the NIV and after a space in most RSVs • If the book ends at v8, it is a very abrupt ending. THE SHORTER AND LONGER “ENDINGS” A The shorter ending Neither the most reliable nor the majority of manuscripts have this verse. It seems to have been added in the 2nd century in an attempt to round off the Gospel. B The longer ending Although it is more common than the shorter ending, the earliest and most reliable of manuscripts do not have this ending. Consequently, the leaders and theologians of the early church did not accept it: - many 2nd century commentators do not mention it - in the 4th century, Eusebius said he thought the Gospel ended at 16:8. Internal evidence also suggests it is inauthentic: - its style and vocabulary are different to the rest of Mark (e.g. calls Jesus 'the Lord'. - uses a word for 'go' which Mark never uses elsewhere - it doesn't follow naturally from v8. Why wasn't the description of Mary Magdalene in 16:9b included in 15:40 when she was introduced? Why no mention of Galilee? Again it seems to be a 2nd century attempt to round off the Gospel and so is best excluded from a reading of Mark's Gospel. There is a danger that we may seem to exclude the longer ending on theological rather than on purely textual grounds, mainly because of its emphasis on 'signs and wonders'. The important thing to stress here is that almost all of what it teaches is also found in other universally accepted parts of Scripture (e.g. Matt 28; Lk. 8:2; 24:9-53; Jn 20-21; Acts 1:1-9; 2:4; 5:12-16: 14:3; 16:18; 20:10; 28:5). The only detail which is unique, the promise of protection from the effects of drinking poison (v18), is in principle no different from the promise of protection from the effects of poisonous snakes in the same verse. So we are not denying that Scripture says these things, only that it says them in this context and in this particular way. THE ABRUPT ENDING If neither the shorter nor the longer ending is authentic, we are left with two possibilities: a) The Gospel was meant to end at 16:8. b) The Gospel was not meant to end at 16:8, but either it was never finished or it was finished and the ending has been lost.
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Arguments in favor of b) include: - to end with fear is unlikely - to end with the word 'for' is unlikely - the lack of a resurrection appearance is unlikely - the lack of an explicit 'great commission' is unlikely Cranfield argues that if an original ending has been lost, it most have happened after Mark's death (or he would have rewritten it) but while there were still very few copies around (or the copy which first lost its ending would have been completed from those which had not). This seems an unlikely circumstance. He therefore thinks the book was never finished. Arguments in favor of a) (the solution assumed in the study notes) include: - scholars say that to end a sentence, or even a book, with 'for' is not impossible - Mark's argument is complete without any further addition. It is quite clear that Jesus has risen and that the Eleven will be recommissioned. The emphasis remains firmly on the cross and we are left waiting for the prophecies of the return of the Son of Man to be fulfilled. If we assume that Mark intended to end at 16:8, the facts that he ends with fear and doesn’t describe a resurrection appearance, just like the abruptness of his opening verses (l:lff cf. Mal 3:1 'suddenly'), actually contribute to his meaning.
MARK 15:40-16:8 (9-20) Jesus' purpose is accomplished in his dying, the words of the centurion being the first recognition of this uniquely powerful event. This however is far from the end of the story. "in accordance with the scriptures", there is still much to be fulfilled. v40-41. Mark records some of the witnesses to Jesus' death who will also testify to his resurrection. As at the tomb later, it is the women who predominate, despite their unacceptability as legal testimony in Jewish law. Mark again mentions the theme of service, here the inconspicuous ministry of all the women who had followed Jesus (acknowledged only here and Mk 1:31.) v42-47. Mark’s usual explanation of Jewish custom places Jesus' death on a Friday afternoon. According to Deut 21:22f a criminal's body should be buried before sunset but as a Roman execution, the disposal of the corpse is in the hands of Pilate. The story of Joseph is another example of costly and apparently useless service (14:3-5). His not so secret support for Jesus, although coming so late, is courageous in risking the wrath of both Pilate and the Sanhedrin. He also "did what he could", as a council member, obtaining access to Pilate to request and receive the body.
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Note that Jesus was certainly dead. Pilate requires confirmation and is given it, the centurion's life depending on not making a mistake. Joseph and the women obviously found no trace of life, or they would not have entombed Jesus. Joseph provides a rich, almost royal, burial for Jesus (2 Ki 21:26) in fulfillment of Isa 53:9. That his body was not just thrown into a common pit as was more usual for criminals is vital for the assertion that Jesus' body was raised. The location of the corpse was known to all. The women's participation in the burial undermines “wrong tomb” theories and the tomb is made secure by Jesus' friends as well as his enemies (Matt 27:62-66). Ch16:1-8. As soon as possible the women come to the tomb. Their aim is to serve a dead Jesus by anointing his body. Their expectation is to find the tomb sealed. They have no anticipation of the resurrection. However, Jesus is no longer there: the stone is rolled away to prove this (to provide evidence, not to let Jesus out! (Jn 20:19)), and they are able to enter the tomb to see for themselves. They see and are also told, the testimony of the young man (clearly an angel, not the gardener!) confirming that Jesus is risen, not merely gone. The second part of his message is a mild rebuke as well as a great statement of promise. The disciples and especially Peter had often failed to accept or understand Jesus' words, particularly with respect to the resurrection and they certainly have forgotten his promise of a reunion in Galilee (14:28). Peter is mentioned specifically: after all he has done and failed to do, Jesus still wants him. Even now the women do not really understand. They are amazed and afraid because something incredible has happened. They finally understand when they meet Jesus and later the Holy Spirit. If finishing here, Mark's gospel ends suddenly on the announcement that Jesus is risen. If the climax to Mark is found in the centurion and Jesus' death, this is reasonable. In many ways, including the resurrection, Jesus' death is marked as unique. "Jesus died for us": that he died is clear, we know he died "for us" because we are told. This vindication of Jesus (men condemned him to die, God reversed the verdict) authenticates Jesus' words as true, confirms Jesus as divine, shows the power of God is greater than death, provides a first sign of our own resurrection (1 Cor 15:20) and establishes Jesus as alive, so that we can know him today. No wonder we celebrate the first day of the week as the Lord’s day!
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