To find out why the Bible gives us four gospel accounts of the resurrection this series moves on to Mark, the most dynamic gospel, and one which poses a serious textual problem.
Chapter divisions in modern Bibles neatly demarcate Mark's account of the resurrection to chapter 16. At this point in the narrative the disciples believe that Jesus is dead, and having been forced to wait for the end of passover lest they become ritually unclean, several of their company make their way to the burial place to perform traditional last rites by anointing his body.
Here then begins a sequence of problems that illustrate, in somewhat comedic fashion, how incapable man is without God:
PROBLEM: There's a stone blocking the tomb entrance!
SOLUTION: It has been rolled away!
PROBLEM: They're frightened by a person in the tomb!
SOLUTION: Young man tells them not to be frightened.
PROBLEM: They seek Jesus but he is not there!
SOLUTION: They will see Jesus in Galilee!
The tale oscillates between the extremes of seemingly insurmountable problems and simple (though unexpected) solutions. Every time an issue presents itself, God has already provided an answer (tomb opened, messenger sent, Jesus located).
The theme continues as the story unfolds. Three times a message is sent to the disciples, and three times it fails to get through!
- v9-11 - Mary tells the disciples that Jesus is alive, but they don't believe her.
- v12-13 - The travellers on the road to Emmaus tell the disciples that Jesus is alive; they don't believe them.
- v8 - It's pretty clear from v14 that the disciples hadn't believed the women's report from the tomb either.
Finally, it takes Jesus himself to appear and convince them that he is, in face, alive.
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. - Mark 16v14
Following the account of the women at the tomb these verses again describe a problem, repeated three times for emphasis, and which is only solved by divine intervention. The point is powerfully made: man depends on God for all things.
Given that three sets of people had failed to deliver a fairly straightforward message when asked to do so, it is surprising to find that Christ's next act is to commission his disciples to send a message.
"Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." - Mark 16v15
Why would Jesus expect this message to be any more successful than the last one? The answer can be found in the subsequent verses: Christ would support them! All sorts of obstacles would be overcome by the pouring out of the holy spirit:
- Lack of authority - able to cast out devils.
- Communication - able to speak in other languages.
- Danger from natural world - serpent bites ineffective.
- Poison - such a malicious act would be ineffective.
And though Christ was no longer physically with them, the gospel message would yet prosper through the divine power that now worked through them:
...they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. - Mark 16v20
It would be remiss of me not to point out a serious anomaly in the assessment of the chapter at this point: we aren't sure where the book ends.
There are a variety of endings from Mark 16v8 (widely considered to be the last verse of the chapter) onwards. Early manuscripts lack v9-20 entirely; there's a pretty concise discussion of this in the NET Bible note on verse 9.
What are we to make of this?
From a consistency perspective I was expecting to find Mark's theme break down after verse 8, and was quite surprised to see ideas of man's reliance on divine provision were upheld. This theme also extended into the final commission of the disciples.
Other than the observation that the text seems internally consistent I reach no conclusions on the matter. It would seem plausible that a (very) early manuscript became corrupted -- perhaps the end of a scroll or codex was ruined -- leading to a proliferation of copies with an abrupt ending. How and when the current ending was added remains unknown.