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Jesus Commissions the Eleven & Ascends (Mark 16:14-20)

Analysis and Commentary


Jesus Ascends to Heaven

Jesus Ascends to Heaven

    14 Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. 15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
    16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
    19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. 20 And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
    Compare: Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-53; John 20:19-23

Jesus Ascends to Heaven

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.

It is interesting that Jesus commands them to do things which he had already instructed them on (preaching, casting out devils), but also things contrary to Mark’s theology: the use of signs like taking up serpents, drinking deadly fluids, and healing the sick. Mark consistently attacks the need of the faithless to experience signs as proof of Jesus’ power or authority, so why would he here include as passage where Jesus authorizes his disciples to work such signs?

Of course, the fact that this passage is completely at odds with the rest of Mark hasn’t stopped Christians from accepting it as authentic. Were they to admit that someone added it, whatever the original reasons, they would have to admit that there might be other passages that were at least edited in order to server someone else’s theological agenda. That, however, would be unacceptable to most and so they simply don’t think about it — and their ministers never bring it up.

Some manuscripts contain an addition passage inserted between verses 14 and 15:

    “And they excused themselves, saying “This age of lawlessness and unbelief is under Satan, who does not allow the truth and power of God to prevail over the unclean things of the spirits. Therefore reveal thy righteousness now” — thus they spoke to Christ. And Christ replied to them, “The term of years of Satan’s power has been fulfilled, but other terrible things draw near. And for those who have sinned I was delivered over to death, that they may return to the truth and sin no more, in order that they may inherit the spiritual and incorruptible glory of righteousness which is in heaven.”

This is much more obviously a later addition to Mark. It does partake of the apocalyptic attitudes earlier attributed to Jesus, but here they are inexplicably put in the mouths of his disciples. The language and theology are very much at odds with the rest of Mark. Some argue that it was added at some point during the second or third century, possibly to mitigate against the harsh denunciation of the disciples we see in verse 14.

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