The following is a short commentary on a neglected passage of NT Scripture with the emphasis on the Great Commission and miracles.
“Jesus arose early on the first day of the week” (16:9 NIV).
This indicates early Sunday morning, for Mary Magdalene would not have been able to travel to the tomb, during the Sabbath day, for “everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:29 NIV), as OT law was then understood.
“He appeared to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had driven seven demons” (16:9 NIV).
Jesus did “not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11 NIV) to Mary Magdalene since she was a woman, but He, as the Wisdom of God (1Corinthians 1:24), appeared to Mary, because He said, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me” (Proverbs 8:17 NIV).
Only tradition has it that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, since some have assumed her as identical to the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50). She is listed first by name among many other women who “were helping to support them [Jesus and the Twelve] out of their own means” (Luke 8:3 NIV).
Mary was evidently from the village of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The very fact that she could help support Jesus and the Twelve indicates her wealth. Seven demons cast out of her by Jesus testifies to her previous powerfully possessed demonic condition. And, this would account for her extreme devotion to Christ, for “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20 NIV).
“She went and told those who had been with Him and who were mourning and weeping” (16:10 NIV).
Mourning and weeping is appropriate for the dead, but Jesus is alive! He arose! Mary Magdalene hurried to tell the Good News to the disciples. Celebrate! Share the Good News! “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin” (Luke 15:9 NIV). Even better, I have found the Lord I thought I had lost!
“When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen Him, they did not believe it” (16:11 NIV).
Mary Magdalene met unbelief, when she told them the good news. Why did she persist with her story? Because it was true, and she wanted to share. She could have reasoned that it was no use to argue with their unbelief, but she knew they would tell her, if their roles were reversed. God’s Spirit is not leading you, if you’re attempting to share out of fear, dread, or compulsion. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2Timothy 1:7 NIV).
“Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country” (16:12 NIV).
Jesus appearing “afterward” is a confirmation of Mary’s testimony. When we are led by the Spirit of God to testify of the Lord Jesus, we will also have the confirmation of Jesus, perhaps “in a different form” in our testimony. “Two of them” would establish the authenticity of their conversation, because Jesus said, “If they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Matthew 18:16 NIV).
“These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either” (16:13 NIV).
Persistent unbelief is not new. Neither should it deter us from sharing the Gospel. Patience. It took time for truth to sink into our hard hearts. Let the Spirit of Truth do His work. “When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8 NIV).
“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” (16:14 NIV).
And, we wonder why the world has such a hard time believing the Gospel, if we are so slow to believe! Unbelief is willful arrogance and sin. And, God hates arrogance. “For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (1Samuel 15:23 NIV).
“He said to them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (16:15 NIV).
The Gospel is the Good News “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV). The Great Commission of preaching the Gospel “to all creation,” the every human being commission, is represented here and in Matthew 28:19-20 (“make disciples of all nations” NIV), as well as repeated in Acts 1:8 (“you will be My witnesses” NIV). These are the marching orders of the Church. Disciples, remember our orders!
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (16:16 NIV).
If we believe and are baptized, then we will be saved. The authenticity of this passage is best illustrated by Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit convicted the Jews at Jerusalem of murdering their Messiah, they exclaimed, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 NIV). Peter immediately responded, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38 NIV).
Mark, by unbroken tradition, was understood as the author of the Gospel of Mark, containing the story of Jesus as related by Peter, his father in the faith. “She who is in Babylon [Rome], chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark” (1Peter 5:13 NIV). An early church father, Papias (70-155 AD), himself a pupil of the Apostle John, said, “Mark, having become the Interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately all that he remembered — not, however, in order — of the Words and Deeds of Christ. For neither did he hear the Lord, nor was he a follower of His, but later on, as I said, he attached himself to Peter, who would adapt his instruction to the need of the occasion.” Mark, then, would be familiar with Peter’s Pentecostal Sermon to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38).
Mark joins together “believes and is baptized” (Mark 16:16 NIV), much as Peter unites “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38 NIV) with the Greek conjunction, kai, meaning and, also, even, both — the idea of equality. Both are necessary to be saved. One may insist that faith alone makes salvation too easy, while another asserts that being baptized makes salvation a work that is too hard. But, what do the Scriptures say? Godward: “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 NIV). Manward: “By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (13:35 NIV). In other words, Willingness to obey Christ is to be a Christian. “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether My teaching comes from God or whether I speak on My own” (7:17 NIV). And, just to be clear, Jesus alone saves. “Then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12 NIV). Think on these things.
“But whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:16 NIV).
Now for the remainder of the verse. “Whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16 NIV). In case it is unclear, “condemned” is expressed by the word “damned,” in older, more Shakespearean English. John illustrated this nicely. “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:18-19 NIV).
“And these signs will accompany those who believe” (16:17 NIV).
“Signs will accompany those who believe” (16:17). The miracles in NT Scripture were commonly found under three Greek words: (1) terata: wonders, which indicated the state of mind of the eyewitnesses of the miracle, (2) semeion: signs, by which God authenticated the miracle worker, and (3) dunamis: powers, which manifested the mighty power of God through Christ. “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles [dunamis], wonders [terasin] and signs [semeiois], which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know” (Acts 2:22 NIV).
What follows in verses 17 and 18 are examples of signs that God used to authenticate His message and messengers, in particular, in the Book of Acts, which is the early history of the NT Church. The important concept is the “signs [semeion] will accompany” (Mark 16:17 NIV) Christ’s disciples, since the signs will vindicate God’s message through His messengers.
“In My name they will drive out demons” (16:17 NIV).
Prophecy: “They will drive out demons” (Mark 16:17 NIV). Fulfillment: “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:11-12 NIV). Observation: Attention is gained for hearing the Gospel, when demons are cast out.
“They will speak in new tongues” (16:17 NIV).
Prophecy: “They will speak in new tongues” (Mark 16:17 NIV). Fulfillment: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?” (Acts 2:4-8 NIV). Observation: Ability for the Gospel to be heard and understood is gained, when the Gospel’s incomparable message is unexpectedly given in intelligible language.
“They will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (16:18 NIV).
Prophecy: “They will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all” (Mark 16:18 NIV). Fulfillment: Concerning snakes: “But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects” (Acts 28:5 NIV). Concerning drinking deadly poison: Nothing directly is reported in the Book of Acts, but the church historian Eusebius reports John and Barnabas as having avoided the harmful effects of drinking poison. Observation: The implication is when someone attempts to harm the bearers of the Gospel, God may prevent their deadly effects.
“They will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (16:18 NIV).
Prophecy: “They will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well” (Mark 26:18 NIV). Fulfillment: “Then Peter said, Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong” (Acts 3:6-7 NIV). Observation: The name of Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, and it is Jesus who heals.
“After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was taken up into heaven and He sat at the right hand of God” (16:19 NIV).
The Ascension of Christ into Heaven (16:19) is a demonstration of the miraculous power of God. Only a handful of disciples witnessed that sight, but this “same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 NIV). And, Jesus promised, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27 NIV). Then, no one can mistake His Return, because “He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all peoples on earth will mourn because of Him” (Revelation 1:7 NIV).
Jesus is triumphantly present “at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19 NIV). Deacon Stephen testified at the time of his death, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56 NIV). This is not only the place of honor and power, but of intercession for the Body of Christ. “Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34 NIV). Jesus is advocating for us. “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24 NIV).
“Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it” (16:20 NIV).
Miracles introduce and conclude the Scriptures. Creation and the Flood witnessed the power of God. Miracles are especially seen in times of crisis, such as the establishment of the Jewish nation with the miracles of Moses and Joshua. The struggle with idolatry was witnessed by the miracles of Elijah and Elisha. Daniel and his friends experienced miracles in the Captivity. The ministry of Jesus Christ was full of miracles, including His Birth, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. The establishment of the Church, accompanied by the writing of the inspired NT manuscripts, witnessed a multitude of miracles. “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2Peter 1:21 NIV). The end of the Church Age and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will introduce its own miracles. The question that remains in this last verse of Mark 16, “Is a crisis in the epoch history of God’s people always necessary to warrant a miracle?” No, verse 17 gives no time restriction or crisis — “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues” (Mark 16:17 NIV).
The necessity of miracles is contained in this final verse of the Gospel of Mark. “The disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20 NIV). Miracles are necessary whenever God requires them to confirm His Word. Miracles are unnecessary for God to establish the veracity of His Word to His disciples. To a disciple, if God declares it, faith receives it. Miracles may encourage anyone to seek faith; but, make no mistake, no one does truly believe, until faith comes by the Living Word of God. “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Romans 10:17 NIV). Our Sovereign and Loving God may allow His faithful ones to experience the possibility of miracles solely for their benefit and blessing; but, in Mark 16, the necessity of miracles is designed specifically to confirm the message of the Gospel to an unbelieving world. Rejoice for personal miracles; and, when God gives a miracle to gain attention for the Gospel, then use the opportunity to allow the Scriptures to produce faith through Christ. Peter used that technique to explain to the amazed crowd the healing of the lame beggar. “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through Him that has completely healed him, as you can all see. Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what He had foretold through all the prophets, saying that His Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:16-19 NIV). May God fill us with understanding concerning miracles through all wisdom the Spirit gives.