The Great Commission

(Mark 16:19-20)

Have you ever been in a situation maybe reading a book or watching  a film and wondering how is this story going to end? You might even ponder the question is their going to be a twist in the tale, a surprise at the end. Sometimes when reading a book some people are tempted to read the final chapter instead to find out what’s happens in the end. Maybe for us, in this day and age, when we get to the end of reading the life of Christ, we are so familiar with what happens at the end, that this effects our reading of it from the very beginning. I am sure most of us, if not all of us knew when we started on this huge series through the life of that at the end he would be crucified, and he was going to die. We maybe even already knew that he was also going to be raised again and ascend into heaven.

All those events did in deed happen and are set out for us very clearly in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, however, the end of Mark Gospel account is full of surprises. Question have even raised because of the controversial nature of the text as to whether it should even be in the Bible. It almost appears to be teaching that we should be handling snakes and drinking poisons. This is a very challenging piece of scripture but it worth getting to the bottom of it.

I would like to begin by asserting that it should be in the Bible. Let me first explain why I believe this, and I will get to the other perceived problems as we progress. Sometimes if you have a modern translation of the bible (Like the NIV) usually before the last 11 verses there is a little Asterix directing, you to a footnote that says something like this.  [Some early manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20]. However, it is interesting to note that these verses appears in their entirety in the authorised, King James versions of the bible with no such footnotes or qualifications. Let me try and throw some light on these queries by first of all stating this text appears in every manuscript of the bible that have been produced except two. In those editions where the verses are missing there is still a blank space to draw attention to the fact that this is not the end of the book rather there is actually something missing from the end of this Gospel account. The two manuscripts that these verses are not contained in are dated around 350AD. However, the missing verses are referred to in the writing of a man called Arenaus who wrote in the latter part of the 2nd century, 150 years earlier. The text also appears in the writing of Justin Martyr who wrote about 100 years before those editions. The text appears in all the main manuscripts but although it doesn’t appear in a couple of early manuscript it does appear in writings about the gospel of Mark that were written approximately 100-150 years before those two manuscripts.

That’s the technical argument why Marks account doesn’t end at verse 8, but there is also a very practical reason why it cannot end there. If it ended at verse 8 the ending would be unnaturally abrupt, and it would be a completely abnormal ending. In fact, the final sentence of verse 8 isn’t even complete. (Mark 16:8)  Not a great way to end the gospel story is it? It’s hard to pick up in the English translation but in the original Greek text it actually ends with the word for…Anybody who knows anything about New Testament Greek knows you don’t end a sentence with for, it’s a bit like ending an English sentence with the word because. It’s just not reasonable because verse 8  exists to set up a situation where the apostles are scared and afraid. Verse 8 exists to set up the coming narrative where Jesus will appear to them one more time to help them overcome their fear and embolden them to go out and preach the gospel.

The text openings by telling us that Jesus appears too is Mary Magdalene.and she goes and tells the disciples. They are mourning, grieving and weeping and she comes in and says to them he is alive.  But 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. How disappointing, they don’t believe her. Previously in Mark 9:it said A”s they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead”. A few weeks earlier he had told them this was about to happen, they did because they had even discussed it. (Mark 9: 10) Later in the chapter they were even told, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9: 31) The talk about it again later  in  (Mark 10: 32-34) That was at least three times they have been told, and by Jesus himself, and it still didn’t sink in and now Mary come to them and says I saw Him, and they still don’t believe. It would almost be amusing, if it wasn’t so important.

Jesus firmly rebukes them for this. (Mark 16:15) In spite of rebuking them for unbelief, please note he doesn’t say, “I am done with you lot”, he actually says, “I am just beginning with you”. Even though they are riddled with unbelief, they are still commanded to go into the world and tell the people of the good news of Jesus. Some of the people he is telling to go here I few minutes ago didn’t even seem to believe he has risen from the dead.  But he tells them to go anyway. He gives them a commission and then he makes a promise and then this is where the really big surprise comes (Mark 16: 17-18) He commissioned them, and make a promise, and then lists 5 miraculous signs. 1 Cast out demons. 2 Speak with tongues. 3 Handle snakes. 4 Drink deadly poisons. 5 Heal the sick.

What does that all actually say? Let me tell you what it most definitely does not say. It does not say these signs will follow all who believe, and it does not say these signs will always follow everyone who believes. What I believe is being said here is that these signs shall be seen among those who believe as a group within the family of believers worldwide these signs will be witnessed. He then tells us the purpose of these sign, “the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied It”(Mark 16: 20b) At the beginning of the preaching of the word, these believers, the Apostles, were given these signs to confirm the message. That is why throughout early church history the particular signs and wonders mentioned in these two verses are usually called “apostolic signs” or described as “confirming” signs”. In my opinion, these particular confirming signs ceased after the apostolic era. In fact, in the book of Hebrews it tells us this will be so; This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Heb 2: 3b-4) I believe there is biblical evidence to say that the signs not specifically mention later in the Pastoral letters as ongoing gifts of the spirit would in fact cease after the apostolic era and the truth of the matter is, they did. There is absolutely no question that in the history for the church “some” of these types of signs did not occur after the apostolic era ended.

However it is worth noting that the apostles where commanded  to, go “out and preach everywhere and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. And that is what they did, various church traditions report the following about what the apostles did after receiving this command. The point I wish to make is they went everywhere, just as they were told everywhere. Mark finishes his gospel by saying these believers did what the lord told them to do.

The message of this closing passage is quite straight forward really, in that after Jesus arose, and he commissioned the disciples. He arose and told them to go preach the gospel to the whole wide world. Let me tell you what does not apply to us. Firstly, you do not have to drink poison, you do not have to handle snakes. Relieved! – Good Four of these five apostolic signs were reported as having been done in the Book of Acts. Apostolic signs and wonders are recorded for us in the book called “The Acts of the Apostles” for that very reason. However, what definitely still does apply to us today? “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”.(Mark 16:15b). Mathew tells a little more in his account in that this commission is to preach the gospel to all creation, to the end of the age. Could eleven people on their own fulfil that commandment? Clearly not. That means this commission also apples to us today and it will apply to all believers always until this done.

I have suggested in this lengthy series and I shall say it again, if we think of ourselves then we will remain silent However, it if you think compassionately about others, and about the Lord then you will tell other what He means to you. If we remain silent, others will stay trapped in their broken lives. We should think of others and speak about what the Lord has done because if we remain silent, other remain trapped and if we speak, other can be set free.

Amen