Though Mark 16:9–20 is not the original ending to Mark’s Gospel (the majority position of evangelical scholars), its makeup is evidence that the early church used the other Gospels and Acts to form an ending that would be more in literary keeping with the other Gospels. A comparison of biblical manuscripts suggests that the formulation of Mark 16:9–20 came to be in the early second century. As one can see by looking up the biblical references below, what follows is a comparison of the contents of Mark 16:9–20 to the other Gospels and Acts in order to show what the church borrowed from the Gospels and Acts to provide an alternate ending to Mark.
Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:14–17) and cast out seven demons from her (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2). She told the disciples about seeing Jesus (Mark 16:10; Luke 24:10; John 20:18), but they did not believe her (Mark 16:11; Luke 24:11). Jesus then appeared to two disciples walking on the road (16:12; Luke 24:13–32), and they told the disciples about seeing Jesus (Mark 16:13; Luke 24:33–35). Jesus then appeared to the eleven (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36; John 20:19) and commissioned them (Mark 16:15; Matt 28:18–20; Luke 24:47). He clarified the results of belief and disbelief (Mark 16:16; John 3:18, 36; 20:23) and promised the disciples would cast out demons (Mark 16:17; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 16:18) and speak in new tongues (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6; 1 Cor 12:10, 28, 31; 14:26). He later ascended into heaven (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:2, 9, 11) and sat down at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19; Ps 110:1; Mark 14:62; et al). The disciples preached everywhere (Mark 16:20; Matt 28:19; Acts 1:8) while the Lord confirmed their message with signs (Mark 16:20; Acts 14:3; Heb 2:3–4).
Items not supported by others texts (but may still be historically true for all we know) include the following: the disciples’ weeping and mourning (Mark 16:10); their disbelief in the testimony of the two (Mark 16:13); Jesus’ rebuke of the disciples (Mark 16:14; but maybe Luke 24:38; John 20:20, 27–29?); and Jesus’ promises that the disciples would pick up snakes (Mark 16:18; but maybe Acts 28:1–6?) and be unaffected by drinking poison (Mark 16:18; but maybe a comparison to Luke 10:19 could suggest that handling serpents and drinking poison are metaphors for overcoming evil?).
Apart from the questionable mention of handling snakes and drinking poison, though Mark 16:9–20 is not part of the Bible, much of it is biblical. Perhaps Mark 16:9–20 is an expression of just what Mark intended, that many would believe in Christ and His resurrection and tell others the story of Christ (cf. Mark 16:6–8).
Each Gospel mentions a handful of people at the cross. Luke is the most general in mentioning “all His [i.e., Jesus’] acquaintances and the women who had followed Him from Galilee” (Luke 23:49). Matthew and Mark mention many women as well (Matt 27:55; Mark 15:40).
As for Luke’s acquaintances, the individuals who were present and are easy to identify were Mary Magdalene (Matt 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25), Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Matt 27:56; Mark 15:40), Mary the mother of Jesus (John 19:25), and John (John 19:26; “the disciple whom He loved”).
Other individuals that are not so easy to identify are those who may be mentioned by different names in different Gospels. These names or designations are the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matt 27:56), Salome (Mark 15:40), Jesus’ mother’s sister (John 19:25), and Mary the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). The identity of all the above may hinge somewhat on whether the grammar of John 19:25 identifies one or two women in the phrase “his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas.”
From that phrase, if there are two women (Jesus’ mother’s sister and Mary the wife of Clopas), then it is possible that Jesus’ mother’s sister is Salome and the mother of the sons of Zebedee, which would mean that James and John were Jesus’ cousins.
If there is one woman (Jesus’ mother’s sister who is Mary the wife of Clopas), then it is possible that Salome is still the mother of the sons of Zebedee but not the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus, which would mean that James and John were not Jesus’ cousins.
The grammar of John 19:25 seems to indicate that Jesus’ mother’s sister is the same as Mary the wife of Clopas in that the word “and” precedes and follows “his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas” but does not lie between “sister” and “Mary,” which would indicate two different women. This conclusion would mean that James and John were not Jesus’ cousins.
To be precise, one man and six to eight women at the cross are identified as witnesses to the crucifixion of Christ. Many other women were mentioned as well. May we follow their example and stay close to Christ even when we share in the worst of His sufferings.
Each gospel records one instance in which Jesus was beaten just before His crucifixion, but it seems that a comparison of these accounts indicates that Jesus was beaten more than once. In trying to sort out the details, it is helpful to remember that a beating by the Romans could vary in intensity, and three Latin terms for their beatings show that one beating could be worse than the other.
First, a fustigatio was the least intense of these beatings for criminal but lesser offenses. Pilate’s suggestion to “punish” (paideuō) Jesus (Luke 23:16, 22) and his having Jesus “flogged” (mastigoō) in John 19:1 both refer to this type of punishment. Second, a flagellatio was “a brutal flogging administered to criminals whose offenses were more serious.”1 Third, a verberatio was the worst of the beatings, a punishment given to those who had been sentenced to death. It was sometimes so severe that this beating itself could bring about death.
Along with noting the differences in these beatings, it is helpful to point out the timing of Jesus’ beatings. John 19:1 records a beating of Jesus before His being sent for crucifixion in John 19:16. Matthew 27:26 and Mark 15:15 record a beating that took at the time when He was sentenced in those same, parallel verses.
Putting the above data together in chronological order, we see that Pilate first said he would “punish” (paideuō) Jesus (Luke 23:16, 22). Pilate then made good on this promise and “flogged” (mastigoō) Jesus in John 19:1. Finally, when this fustigatio did not bring about the pity and release for which Pilate hoped, Jesus was sentenced to death and suffered the dreaded verberatio when “scourged” (phragelloō) in Matthew 27:26 and Mark 15:15. Then He went to the cross.
Having been tried by the Jewish leadership throughout the night before and then having experienced afustigatio and then verberatio, it is no surprise that Jesus was unable to carry the crossbeam for His own cross (Matt 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26) and that He died within six hours on the cross (Mark 15:25, 34, 37). The average time suffering on a cross was 36 hours.2
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4–5).
“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51–52).
Who is the naked man in Mark 14:51–52, and why did Mark include this interesting episode in his Gospel?
Similar to how the apostle John identified himself in an unnamed manner in his own gospel (cf. John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20), some suggest that Mark subtly identifies himself in Mark 15:51–52 as the young man who fled naked from the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus was arrested. Though this conclusion is possible, it is speculative at best. There is simply not enough evidence to conclude the young man was Mark.
A better understanding of this episode is to conclude that we do not know who this man is because Mark did not identify who he was. Neither do the other Gospels record this story, leaving our information about him to be meager at best.
As to why Mark included this story, the context makes it clear. Just as Jesus prophesied (Mark 14:27), the disciples fled at His arrest (14:50). In fact, Mark 14:50 literally ends with the word “all” to emphasize how all had left Jesus behind. Mark 14:51–52 then records a young man being seized, leaving his linen cloth in the hands of his captors, and fleeing in desperation. Mark 14:51–52 demonstrates how chaotic the scene became and that, indeed, all fell away from Jesus at this time.
Along with the context in Mark, there may be an allusion to Amos 2:16 that helps us to better understand Mark 14:50–52 as well. Amos prophesied that God’s judgment on northern Israel would be so severe that “he who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day” (Amos 2:16). Similarly, Peter and the other disciples claimed to be stout of heart in that they emphatically denied they would deny Jesus (Mark 14:29, 31). However, when God’s judgment against sin on Christ at the cross was precipitated by Christ’s betrayal and arrest, the disciples cowered and fled, and a young man was so desperate in flight that he left his clothes in the hands of his captors in Mark 14:51–52. If Mark intended this allusion, perhaps he subtly pointed to God’s judgment against sin that would be met in Christ’s death on the cross.
John 12:1 indicates that this episode is “six days before the Passover,” which is four days prior to Mark 14:1, which takes place two days before the Passover. Mark 14:1–2 takes place on Wednesday of the Passion Week, and the next chronological event in Scripture is Judas’ conspiracy in Mark 14:10–11.
Mark gives no indication that his Gospel is always intended to be chronologically accurate from one story to the next. His purposes are sometimes theological in how He presents the life of Christ. In this instance, Mark intends to give a building sense of the certainty that Jesus will die at the hands of the Jews. The Jewish leaders conspire to kill Jesus (Mark 14:1–2), and the anticipation of Jesus’ death builds by recounting an earlier event, the woman’s anointing of Jesus with perfume (Mark 14:3–9). She prepares Him, as He says, for His burial (Mark 14:8).
Jumping back to the next event that chronologically follows Mark 14:1–2, the anticipation of Jesus’ death builds further in the record of Judas’s conspiracy to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10–11).
Also, Mark gives another one of his “sandwiches,” to make a subtle, unspoken point.
The subtle, unspoken point is that a woman without a name was willing to do more for Christ than those who should have recognized Him best (the leaders) and one who knew Him more than others at this time (Judas Iscariot). Conversely, the treachery of the Jewish leaders and the betrayal of Judas are all highlighted all the more for the horrific sins that they are.
When Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31), was He somehow saying that the Bible would be preserved?
In context, Jesus’ words in Mark 13:31 were verifying that all that would happen in Mark 13:3–30 would actually come to pass. Even if the universe were to pass away, the content of His words on the matter would not. The end-times events that He prophesied would actually come to pass.
Since Jesus was referring to His oral words in Mark 13:31, His statement does not directly teach anything about the preservation of God’s written words in Scripture. The Bible elsewhere, however, indeed teaches that God’s written words in Scripture will endure forever (Ps 119:152, 160), that is, that they will be preserved.
An indirect way to support the preservation of Scripture comes from Matthew 5:17–18. In that passage, Jesus spoke of the Mosaic Law with the same imagery seen in Mark 13:31. Not one jot or tittle (the smallest of Hebrew letters and markings) of the Law would pass away or be altered in some way unless existence itself ceased to be (cf. also Luke 16:17). Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:17–18 is that the Law could not be changed, implying its continued presence and authority. If the Law were to have a continued presence and authority, it can safely be assumed that it would be preserved in some way.
Having considered Matthew 5:17–18, we see that Jesus’ statement on the endurance of His words in Mark 13:31 effectively placed His words on the same level of Scripture itself and thus God Himself, which is obviously fitting because Jesus is God. What Jesus said would happen would happen, and nothing could change what He had promised. Likewise, what Scripture (and God) says is so, it is so, and nothing can change what Scripture says.
In short, Mark 13:31 does not speak about the written Word of God but the oral words of Jesus recorded earlier in Mark 13. But the written Word of God and the oral words of Jesus (some of which are recorded in Scripture) are indeed the same in that they are authoritative and cannot be changed or made void in any way.
The application of Mark 13:31 to Mark 13:3–30 is that we can fully expect that the events that Jesus prophesied will surely come to pass.
Matt 24:15 and Mark 13:14 refer to something called “the abomination of desolation.” Matthew records Jesus’ words further, that the abomination of desolation was “spoken of by the prophet Daniel” and that it would be “standing in the holy place” (Matt 24:15).
Translated from the Hebrew, Dan 9:27 tells of how “on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate.” The word wing (Hebrew, kanaph) could be translated as “edge” or “extremity” and likely refers to a physical location. Supplying the verb “shall be” and translated from the Greek, Dan 9:27 literally states, “on the temple shall be the abomination of desolation.” Apparently the Greek translators of Dan 9:27 somehow associated the “wing” with the temple of Israel. Associating the “wing” with the temple makes even more sense when one considers from Dan 11:31 that “the abomination that makes desolate” is something that was set up in the temple to replace Israel’s regular sacrifices. Along with this, Dan 12:11 speaks of “the abomination that makes desolate” as something “set up,” that is, physically placed somewhere, and being in its place for “1,290 days.”
From the Daniel, Matthew, and Mark, then, “the abomination of desolation” seems to be something that is stands in the holy place, somewhere on the edge of the temple. In the context of the Olivet Discourse, it is not set up until just before the end of this age and Jesus’ return. In other words, we have not yet seen “the abomination of desolation.” It is something future. We can conclude, then, that before Jesus’ return, Israel will have constructed a temple, it will be destroyed (cf. Mark 13:1–2), and prior to its destruction will be the placement of “the abomination of desolation” somewhere on the edge of its structure.
 In the NT, the Greek word bdelugma is regularly translated as abomination. God views it as an abomination to offer false righteousness to Him (Luke 16:15). Abominations fill the cup of the sinful harlot seen in one of John’s visions (Rev 17:4), and written in a phrase on her forehead is the title “mother . . . of earth’s abominations” (Rev 17:5).
Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple (13:1–2), provoking two questions by four of the disciples about the timing of the final judgment: “when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” (13:4). In 13:5–37, Jesus explained when the judgment would be and what sign would precede this end.
In 13:5–8, Jesus stated that “the beginning of the birth pains” would include many saying, “I am he!” (i.e., the Christ). There would be wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, and famines. Concerning the false christs, Jesus admonished, “See that no one leads you astray” (13:5). Of the catastrophes, “Do not be alarmed” (13:7).
In 13:9–13, Jesus prophesied that the world would hate His followers, arrest them, beat them, and that the Spirit would give them the words to say at this time. The gospel would thus be proclaimed to the nations. In light of such danger, Jesus admonished, “Be on your guard” (13:9). Concerning the Spirit’s help, He commanded, “Do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour” (13:11).
In 13:14–23, the sight of “the abomination of desolation” would indicate increased danger at this time. Jesus described this time as “in those days” (13:17, 19) and “the days” (13:20, 2x) marked by “such tribulation” (13:19), that is, “that tribulation” after which other events occur (13:24; cf. 13:24–31). The commands given here tell of a time of great urgency: “let those . . . flee” (13:14); “Let the one . . . not go down, nor enter” (13:15); “let the one . . . not turn back” (13:16); “Pray that it may not happen in winter” (13:18); “do not believe it” (when someone claims to be Christ; 13:21); and “be on guard” (13:23).
In 13:24–31, after “that tribulation,” judgment “in those days” continues (13:24). The sun, moon, and stars are affected, and the Son of Man comes in the clouds and sends His angels to gather the elect. Just as the fig tree’s tender, leafy branch indicates summer is near, so also do these specific events indicate that Jesus “is near, at the very gates” (13:29) and will come once and for all (cf. 13:26, 35, 36). The generation of unbelieving Jews in Jesus day continues on today until His final coming takes place (13:30). No commands are given here. Jesus simply notes that “when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near” (13:29).
Finally, after detailing the many signs that would precede “when all these things are about to be accomplished” (13:4), Jesus specifically describes the timing of “these things” in 13:32–37. They take place in “that day,” “that hour,” which “no one knows” and “you do not know” (13:32, 33, 35). Because we do not know, we are commanded to “Be on guard” (13:33), “keep awake” (13:33), and “stay awake” (13:35, 37).
A parable keeps truths about the kingdom from being understood by those who have already rejected them (cf. Mark 4:10–11, 33–34). Parables can be difficult to understand, especially when the parable quotes or alludes to OT texts, leaving one to figure out if the context of the OT passage underlies the parable at hand. A parable’s parallel passages can also add information to help interpret details that seem unclear from one Gospel to the next. Below is a smattering of notes and conclusions from my own study of Mark 12:1–12.
In the parable of the rogue tenants in Mark 12:1–12, the owner of the vineyard is God the Father (Mark 12:6; cf. 1:11; 9:7). The vineyard is the kingdom of God (cf. Matt 21:43). The tenants are the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Mark 12:12; cf. 11:27). The servants are the prophets who have been beaten and killed by Israel’s leaders throughout her history (cf. Jer 7:21–26; 25:4; Matt 23:34–35). The son and heir is Jesus who is also the cornerstone (Mark 12:6–7, 10). The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day rejected the cornerstone and owner’s son (Jesus) and thereby disqualified themselves for watching over the vineyard (Mark 12:9).
The others to whom the vineyard is given are the apostles (a debatable conclusion). The parable was aimed at the rejecting leaders (Mark 12:12), so to give the vineyard to others is to give it to other leaders. The apostles would lead the early the church and Israel in time to come (cf. Matt 19:28). The apostles were those who were following and not rejecting Jesus (cf. Mark 12:10). The apostles would tend the kingdom of God by rightly preaching the truth about the Cornerstone, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will establish His kingdom in full in the future. The foundational truths they gave are tended by the church and its teachers today (cf. 1 Tim 3:15).
Jesus alludes to Isaiah 5:1–7 in which a vineyard that yielded wild grapes pictures Israel whose lack of righteousness led to bloodshed and a lack of justice. Matthew 21:43, however, shows that Jesus’ parable makes the vineyard out to be the kingdom of God. Perhaps the link between Isaiah 5 and Mark 12 is that Israel in its present state was unacceptable to God (i.e., by its leaders’ rejection of Christ).
Jesus also quotes Psalm 118:22–23 to picture Israel’s leaders who rejected Him as builders that rejected the stone that the Lord would make marvelous. The original context of Psalm 118 involves Israel’s king who is rejected by surrounding nations. Jesus thus paints Israel’s leaders with the hue of those who attacked the Lord’s anointed king.
Noteworthy within the parable is the compassion of God who repeatedly seeks out those who reject Him, even sending His Son. Also, Jesus’ parable implies that He knows full well that He was sent by His Father to offer Himself as King to those who would reject Him.
Paul met some disciples in Ephesus and learned that they had not heard of the Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost and that they were baptized into the baptism of John, i.e., John the Baptist (Acts 19:1–3). Paul consequently baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus, and similar to what took place in Acts 2, the Spirit came on these men who then prophesied and spoke in tongues to indicate that these Gentiles, too, even as far as Ephesus, had been included into the church that began with the Spirit’s outpouring in Jerusalem (Acts 19:5–6). Paul explained to them that John baptized with a baptism of repentance, which was joined to the belief in Jesus who was to come after him (Acts 19:4; cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). Perhaps Paul added that John’s baptism was a symbol of what Jesus would eventually do―baptize those who believed in Him with the Spirit (Matt 3:11–12; Mark 1:7–8; Luke 3:15–17; John 1:26–27, 33–34).
From the above, we see that John’s baptism symbolized something past and something future. As to the past, just as water washes away filth, so also the repentant sinner had been forgiven and washed of the guilt from his sins. As to the future, just as the individual was baptized in water, so also Jesus would come and baptize the repentant with the Spirit.
In Acts 19:1–7, now that Jesus had come, died, risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Spirit, John’s baptism was no longer valid. It anticipated something that was now past, the coming of Jesus and the initial baptism with the Spirit. What Paul administered to these Ephesians was Christian baptism. This baptism involves an individual’s immersion into and being brought up from water (as did John’s), primarily symbolizing his union with Christ in His death and resurrection in that he has died to sin and has been made alive unto righteousness (Rom 6:3–4; Col 2:11–12; 1 Pet 3:21). Implied in this symbolism is that the individual will be one day resurrected as Jesus was long ago (Rom 6:5).
Similar to the baptism of John, Christian baptism looks to the past and future. As to the past, it looks back to the death and resurrection of Christ and symbolizes the believer’s death to sin and new life unto righteousness. Perhaps also, just as one’s baptism by water brings one into the local church administrating as much (one would hope), so also water baptism may look back and symbolize one’s Spirit baptism and its function of having brought one into the church universal, all of which normally takes place at one’s regeneration (1 Cor 12:12–13). The abnormal situations in which Spirit baptism takes place after conversion are found in the church’s transitional period recorded in the book of Acts, such as we see with the Ephesians described above (Acts 8:14–17; 10:44–48; 19:1–7).
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.