Jesus And The Curious Ending
When you arrive at the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel, you may wonder what exactly is happening. And you certainly, I think, are meant to ask the question, “What’s next?”
Before we can dive into the curiosities of a few items in the closing chapters of Mark, we must deal with the ending of Mark. Because the ending has a lot to say about what comes before. Mark’s Gospel seems to have two or even three endings. Some modern translations will try to inform the reader of this by creating a new section at the end of chapter 16. For example, a translation may have the first ending come at the end of chapter 16, verse 8. A new section will be marked off and another section of text will follow. In some translations, they will even have two separate verse 9’s–indicating a third option for ending. Take a look at this example below:
In this translation, there are three endings! So, what are we to make of this? Well, the simplest answer is to simply say that the manuscripts from which the Gospel is translated do not all have the same ending. Some conclude at verse 8, others at verse 9 and others after verse 20. The amazing thing about the manuscripts of the Bible is that there are more manuscripts available to us than any other ancient document by a long shot. And 99% of them match up across the board!
It is a phenomenal example of God’s faithfulness that throughout the centuries and generations, we have such a reliable account of these inspired words. Ancient people did not have the printing press. They faithfully made copies by hand, in different parts of the world, with different religious backgrounds, with different languages of origin, and over and over again, we see that the biblical manuscripts are remarkably similar. Praise God!
So, for the sake of our time today, I will assume that the original ending to the Gospel of Mark comes at verse 8, and the other endings were added later by faithful people who were trying to make sense of the story.
If that is the case, then Jesus is unusually quiet in the last two or two and a half chapters. In chapters 15 and 16, Jesus only says two things:
- When asked if he is the king of the Jews by Pilate, Jesus says, “That’s what you say” (15:2).
- When Jesus is ready to die on the cross, he shouts in Aramaic, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:34).
And that’s it. That’s all Jesus says in the last 2 chapters. Even in the last half of chapter 14, he only says two things (14:48-49 and 14:62). And as the Gospel comes to a close, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices only to find that he is not there anymore and a “young man in a white robe” tells them to go tell the rest of the disciples that Jesus is risen. But, the women are so afraid, they flee in terror and don’t say anything!
I think we can all agree, this is a curious ending.
So, what is Mark trying to do? What are we to learn from Jesus in these closing chapters? What’s next?
Mark, known for his economy of words, I believe, is making his final point here. Among the very final things that Jesus will say, he repeatedly draws attention to Jesus’ role, his position compared to God the Father. In 14:62, Jesus confirms that he is the Son of Man or the Human One (a figure spoken about by the Jewish prophets). In 15:2, attention is drawn to this again. And finally in 15:34, Jesus draws on his relationship with God to highlight what is taking place. on the cross. God and Jesus’ special relationship has been changed because Jesus is taking on the sin of the world, and Jesus cries out in lament, quoting Psalm 22 anticipating that God will hear his cry as he does for the psalmist.
So, the question that comes next for us is this:
If Jesus is who he says he is, what will you do?
Will you respond in fear? Or in faith?
And so, the curious ending is incredibly curious after all. It is curious because Mark wants to know what you will do. Mark wants to find out how you will respond to this story.
May we respond today and everyday in faith.