The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 16
The exact length of the sixteenth chapter of Mark's gospel is a matter of debate. The oldest manuscripts end awkwardly after just eight verses. Most Bibles today present us with a Mark that is twenty verses long. Which is the 'correct' version and why?
Jesus Predicts his Second Coming, Tribulation (Mark 13:24-29)
The one section of Jesus' predictions in chapter 13 which definitely doesn't reflect recent events for Mark's community is the description of his "Second Coming," where he takes part in the apocalypse. The signs of his arrival are unlike anything that has come before, ensuring that his followers won't mistake what is going on.
Jesus' Further Healings (Mark 6:53-56)
Eventually Jesus and his disciples make it across the Sea of Galilee and arrive at Gennesaret, a town believed to have been located on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Once there, however, they don't escape being recognized. Although we have seen before that Jesus isn't very well known among those in power, he is very popular among the poor and sick. Everyone sees in him a miraculous healer, and everyone who is sick is brought to him so that they can be healed.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand: Loaves and Fishes (Mark 6:30-44)
The story of how Jesus fed five thousand men (were there no women or children there, or did they just not get anything to eat?) with just five loaves of bread and two fishes has always been one of the most popular gospel tales. It is certainly an engaging and visual tale - and the traditional interpretation of people seeking "spiritual" food also receiving sufficient material food is naturally appealing to ministers and preachers.
The Fate of John the Baptist & Salome's Dance (Mark 6:14-29)
When we last saw John the Baptist back in chapter 1, he was on a religious mission similar to that of Jesus: baptizing people, forgiving their sins, and exhorting them to have faith in God. In Mark 1:14 we learned that John was put in prison, but not informed by whom or for what reason. Now, we learn the rest of the story (though not one that is consistent with the account in Josephus).
Jesus Gives the Apostles Their Assignments (Mark 6:7-13)
Thus far, Jesus' twelve apostles have been following him from place to place, witnessing the miracles he performed and learning about his teachings. This included not only the teachings he has made openly to the crowds, but also secret teachings delivered only to them as we saw in chapter 4 of Mark. Now, however, Jesus is telling them that they will have to go out to teach on their own and work their own miracles.
Jesus is Without Honor Among Kin: Was Jesus a Bastard? (Mark 6:1-6)
Here Jesus returns to his home - perhaps his home village, or perhaps it merely signals a return to Galilee from more Gentile areas, but it isn't clear. It also isn't clear whether he went home very often, but the welcome he receives this time suggests he didn't. He preaches once again in the synagogue, and just as when he preached in Capernaum in chapter 1, people are astonished.
Jesus' Resurrection and the Empty Tomb (Mark 16:1-8)
After the Jewish sabbath, which occurs on Saturdays, women who were present at Jesus' crucifixion come to his tomb to anoint his corpse with spices. These are things his close disciples should have done, but Mark portrays Jesus' female followers as consistently showing more faith and courage than the men.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene and the Two Disciples (Mark 16:9-13)
The oldest manuscripts of Mark end with verse 8 while the rest of the chapter contains language and symbolism which strongly suggest that they were taken from other, later sources. There appear to have been several efforts to end Mark differently because the verse 8 is not only abrupt, but ends the gospel on a note of fear and silence - hardly an appropriate message for the early Christian community.
Jesus Curses the Fig Tree (Mark 11:12-14)
One of the more infamous passages in the gospels involves Jesus cursing of a fig tree for not having any fruit for him despite the fact that it wasnt even the season for fruit. What sort of petulant individual would deliver a gratuitous, arbitrary curse? Why would this be Jesus only miracle in the environs of Jerusalem? In reality the incident is meant as a metaphor for something larger and worse.
Jesus on the Great Commandment (Mark 12:28-34)
Throughout Jesus' time in Jerusalem thus far, his experiences have been characterized by conflict: he is challenged or questioned in a hostile manner by Temple authorities and he responds harshly. Now, however, we have a situation where Jesus is questioned in a far more neutral manner. The contrast between the earlier incidents and this one makes the relatively neutral question appear almost sympathetic.
Jesus or Barabbas? Jesus is Sentenced to Die (Mark 15:6-15)
The historically inaccurate image of an indecisive Pilate is continued when he offers to release either Jesus or Barabbas to the crowds of Jews. Pilate is depicted as almost desperate to find an excuse to let Jesus go, but the blood lust of the Jews forces him to execute an innocent man.
Jesus Appears Before Pilate (Mark 15:1-5)
Jesus' appearance before Pontius Pilate presents the reader with at least as many historical problems as did Jesus' appearance before the Sanhedrin. Almost nothing here is historically plausible, but historical accuracy was probably not Mark's goal: there were larger theological and political objectives to pursue.
The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 15
In the penultimate chapter of Mark, Jesus is brought before the Roman authorities, sentenced to die, and crucified. The narrative of Jesus final day is carefully structured according to Roman customs of keeping time in three-hour intervals.
Mockery, Scourging of Jesus (Mark 15:16-20)
It's true that beating prisoners was a Roman practice, but the scourging and mocking of Jesus is likely presented by Mark because it fulfills certain Jewish prophecies. Micah 5:1, in particular, declares that 'with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel on the cheek.'
Death of Jesus (Mark 15:33-41)
Jesus' death was not only foretold, but depicted as a necessary step in God's plan for humanity. There was never any choice in the matter - Jesus didn't choose to take on this task and didn't choose to die. It was God's will, not his own, that all of this happen. This is the essence of the 'good news' of Christianity: if God wants you to suffer horribly and die for the sake of some greater cause that you'll never be able to understand, then that's exactly what you are going to do.
Burial of Jesus (Mark 15:42-47)
Jesus' burial is important because without it, there can be no tomb from which Jesus can arise in three days. It's also historically implausible: crucifixion was intended as a shameful, horrible execution which included allowing the bodies to remain nailed up until they rotted off. It's inconceivable that Pilate would have agreed to turn the body over to anyone for any reason.
Crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 15:21-32)
Crucifixion may be one of the most horrible methods of execution ever invented. A person is nailed to a cross or stake and hangs there until their own weight suffocates them. The horrors of crucifixion are, however, glossed over by Mark in favor of the deeper theological meanings behind these events.
Jesus Commissions the Eleven & Ascends (Mark 16:14-20)
Jesus' commissioning of his remaining eleven disciples describes the post-resurrection ministry in a manner completely unlikely anything found elsewhere in the gospels. It draws upon a number of other gospel passages, but the information conveyed is closer to what we find in Acts, which also probably served as a source.
The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 14
In the fourteenth chapter of Marks gospel, Jesus passion is set up by having people plot against and betray him, then having him arrested and brought before a council where he is to be judged. All of this is in preparation for the final events that are to occur in the next chapter.
Jewish Authorities Plot Against Jesus (Mark 14:1-2)
These opening verses of chapter 14 describe the plot brewing against Jesus, but more important for Christian theology is their description of the timing of events. When, exactly, did Jesus' crucifixion occur relative to Passover?
Jesus Anointed at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9)
Jesus being anointed with oil by an unnamed woman is one of the more interesting passages during Mark's passion narrative. Why does she choose to do it? What do Jesus' comments say about his ultimate feelings about the poor and destitute?
Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus (Mark 14:10-11)
In contrast with the great faith of the woman in the previous verses who wasted expensive oil in anointing Jesus, Mark presents us with Judas Iscariot, the villain of Jesus' passion narrative. Every story needs a villain and Judas fills this role well, although it's unclear whether he should be condemned for this because he was, after all, simply carrying out the tasks God needed.
Jesus' Preparations for Passover with his Disciples (Mark 14:12-16)
Was Jesus' final meal with his disciples also a Passover meal? That's been the general assumption by Christian theologians and there are some signs that this is the case. There are, however, also signs that it's not the case - the text is unclear on this point.
Jesus Predicts His Betrayal (Mark 14:17-21)
As was noted earlier, Judas' betrayal of Jesus was a necessary feature in the passion narrative - there was simply no way for him to act in any other manner. It is no surprise, then, that Jesus would be fully aware of it and not the least bit upset.