Mark 15-16

Good morning! Today with Mark 15-16, we finish this gospel by reading about Jesus’ crucifixion, death and burial. The final chapter of Mark is unique in several ways—it’s the only gospel with multiple endings, and the only one in whose (earliest) ending the risen Jesus doesn’t appear.

But first, the crucifixion. Mark lays out a careful chronology, showing what happens on “Good Friday” in approximately three-hour segments: as soon as it was morning (trial before Pilate), nine o’clock in the morning (crucifixion), noon (mid-crucifixion), three in the afternoon (death), and evening (burial). Note again the characterization of Pilate as sympathetic to Jesus, but pushed to condemn Jesus against his will by the impassioned Jewish crowds. The crown of thorns and purple garment that the soldiers place on Jesus echo the anointing yesterday, ironically signifying his (counterintuitive) kingship. The reference to bandits, “one on his right and one on his left”, brings to mind again the request of James and John to be in those places. This certainly wasn’t what they had in mind when they asked for such an honor!

At the time of Jesus’ death, Mark connects us with earlier portions of scripture through several allusions. Elijah the wild-man prophet was imagined at this time to be a supernatural helper, showing up to aid holy people in their time of need. (Bystanders stopped the provision of sour wine in 15:36 in order to see whether Elijah would show up. A crude and cruel experiment, if you ask me!) For another allusion, the temple curtain’s tearing reminds us of the tabernacle and later temple construction. Remember that a curtain sealed off the Holy of Holies against any person except the high priest once a year. Mark suggests that Jesus’ death removes the layers of insulation between “God’s home” and the people—they no longer needed barriers or mediators. Finally, notice in 15:39 that it’s a centurion (almost certainly a non-Jew) who declares Jesus to be God’s Son. The Messianic Secret which has been hinted at through this whole Gospel is now declared fully for the first time, by a Gentile soldier from the foot of the cross. The message of glorification despite suffering is both clear and dumbfounding. How could God’s Son be crucified? Why would this be the case? Surely this must not be the end of the story.

Turning to chapter 16, we discover that there are various endings to Mark’s story! The first and shortest ending is likely closest to the original, as its where the earliest reliable manuscripts of Mark’s gospel end. However, it leaves off in 16:8 at a most awkward place: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”. Perhaps that’s why the two-sentence “Shorter Ending of Mark” (an extension of verse 8) was added, but my study Bible says that doesn’t appear any time before the fourth century CE. Finally, the longer ending of Mark existed in manuscripts at the end of the second century, but it seems to have been informed by other gospels and so was probably written after the other three were finished. There’s something postmodern in the existence of multiple endings, and leaving the ragged edges of the gospel’s construction awkwardly visible. In this sense then, and given its interest in communicating about God’s Son to non-Jews especially, Mark might be the most fitting gospel for Americans in the twenty-first century. Happy reading!

Read Mark 15-16.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Luke 1. Thanks for reading!

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