COMMENTARY ON MARK
LESSON NUMBER 171
Mark 16:1 “And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him. 2And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. 3And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher? 4And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.”
(Mark 16:1-4; Matt 27:62-66; Luke 23:56-24:2; John 20:1-2)
THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK
So far as the disciples were concerned, the life of Jesus had come to an end, and they would no longer enjoy His presence. Their hopes had been dashed to the ground, and sorrow had filled their hearts, just as Jesus had said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy” (John 16:20). At this point, there is no recollection of Jesus’ words concerning their sorrow being turned into joy. How will these people be sustained under such grief? Solomon wrote, “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” (Prov 18:14). When there is hope, infirmity can be borne, even though it is grievous. However, when there is no hope, despair can rule ruthlessly over both heart and mind. Yet, in the record before us, this does not appear to be the case. Even the lifeless body of Jesus seemed to offer some consolation to these poor souls – so much so that they could go about living in an orderly and purposeful manner. While the other disciples met together, lamenting their loss of Jesus (Lk 24:9,17,33), a cluster of holy women continue their lives, focusing upon the body of their departed Lord. Having witnessed the dying of Jesus, the women have returned to their homes. Yet they are not in utter despair, for they had procured some spices, and now take the time to prepare them so they can anoint the body of Jesus after the Sabbath is passed. Behind the scenes, the prayer of Jesus is being answered: “Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, as We are,” and “keep them from the evil one” NKJV (John 17:11,15). Now, we will be exposed to a manner in which God keeps the saints during times when it appears as though all hope is gone.
A GUARD IS SET AT THE TOMB
“ Matt 27:62 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, 63Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while He was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first. 65Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. 66So they went, and made the sepulcher sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.”
MATTHEW provides some additional information concerning the burial of Jesus. These men – the chief priests and Pharisees – were very particular about what took place on the Sabbath day. Once they condemned Jesus’ disciples for picking some heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath day (Matt 12:1-2). Another time, they watched Jesus with a scrutinizing eye to see “whether He would heal on the Sabbath day” (Mk 3:2). Still another time, they “sought to slay” Jesus because He healed an impotent man on the Sabbath day (John 5:16). However, on the day of our text – the day “that followed the preparation,” which was the Sabbath day – this entourage of Christ’s enemies take time to come together to Pilate. Not content to have pressed Pilate to have Jesus crucified, they now seek yet another favor. What is more, they have this ungodly communication on the Sabbath day.
WE REMEMBER WHAT HE SAID. This text will confirm that a person can be exposed to the very words of Jesus, know precisely what He said, together with its implications, and yet utterly fail to believe them. Among other things, this confirms that the things of God cannot be apprehended by academic means. Whatever value may be found in various forms of human knowledge and logic, they cannot convince, or persuade, the heart of the truth of God. That is something that comes through faith.
HE SAID, “I WILL RISE AGAIN.” Driven by unbelief, they refer to Jesus, who was Truth incarnate, as “that deceiver.” What blasphemy! John referred to the person who does not confess “that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” as “a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 1:7). Revelation 12:9 refers to Satan as the one “which deceiveth the whole world.” Yet these men, deprived of all spiritual wisdom, ascribe this Satanic trait to the One who Himself is “the Truth” (John 14:6). The One who alone is “the Faithful Witness” (Rev 1:5), is thus declared by them to be “that deceiver.”
And what is it that they cite as proof that Jesus was a deceiver? They provide a direct quote: “that deceiver said . . . After three days I will rise again.” Mark makes a point of referring to this saying, declaring that Jesus not only said it to His disciples, but also affirmed it openly. “And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He spake that saying openly” (Mark 8:31-32). On another occasion, when “certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees” requested a special sign from Jesus, He replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mat 12:39-40). Jesus said the same thing in a veiled saying that had been distorted and used against Him during His trial before Caiaphas: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
Jesus’ disciples did not remember these words, but His enemies did! That circumstance reveals both the weakness of the memory, as well as show how precise, yet impotent, it can be. I have often observed that the ungodly can remember certain aspects of the truth during the very times professed believers seem to have forgotten such things.
MAKE THE SEPULCHER SURE UNTIL THE THIRD DAY. Note the preciseness of their request. They care nothing about after the third day. They only request that the tomb be kept against potential intruders until the third day. If the enemies of Jesus can structure their requests around His words, what ought to be said of those professing identity with Him? The contention of these men is that the disciples might come, take away the body, and report that Christ had risen from the dead. This, they reasoned, would be a more complicating circumstance that His earthly ministry, which, they imagined, they had brought to an end. Even they knew that the report of a resurrected Christ would have great power, causing people to believe even more upon Him! One wonders why the modern church has not reasoned in this manner, and maintains relative silence on that subject.
PILATE GIVES THEM LEAVE. Pilate tells them to take a guard-group with them, no doubt one of his own, and perhaps one already assigned to that area. He told them to “make it as sure as you can,” giving them permission to take whatever measures they deemed necessary. An official seal was placed upon the stone, apparently designating it as being under the authority or Rome, and a group of soldiers set as a guard before it – until the third day.
THE WOMEN AND THE SPICES
“ 16:1 And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2 And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulcher at the rising of the sun.”
THEY HAD BOUGHT SPICES. Mark tells us they “had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint Him.” We are not told when the purchase was made. Luke provides some additional information concerning the activities following Christ’s death, saying they“returned, and prepared spices and ointments” (Luke 23:56). Although it was probably late when they arrived at their homes, they took time to prepare “spices and ointments” before the Sabbath day actually commenced. However, their diligence in preparing the spices after a long and sorrowful day ought to be noted – especially in a time when convenience is a dominating consideration among professing Christians.
THEY RESTED ON THE SABBATH DAY. In stark contrast with the malicious activities of the scribes and Pharisees on the Sabbath day, the women who beheld where the body of Jesus had been buried, “rested on the Sabbath day according to the commandment” NKJV (Luke 23:56). Even when the Man whom they loved and followed was apparently taken from them, they held no animosity toward God Almighty. They “rested on the Sabbath day,” according to His “commandment.” These women had expended their time and energies for Jesus, following after Him and ministering to Him (Mk 15:40-41). Yet, even though circumstance might well have suggested they had wasted their time, that is not at all the way they thought. They did not reason that God had acted unjustly. They did not question the love or control of God. Further, their exemplary conduct was not driven by the understanding of the Gospel: the putting away of sin, the destruction of the devil, the reconciliation of the world, the making of peace, or the opening up of a new and living way to God. When the Sabbath day arrived, even though they had prepared spices, and fully intended to anoint the body of Jesus, they “rested on the Sabbath day,” holding their plans in abeyance until they had obeyed the commandment of God.
In this respect, the righteousness of these women exceed that of multitudes in our time. There are all manner of people who forsake the commandment of God in order to do their own pleasure on a day God has sanctified for Himself. The Lord once counseled Israel, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken” NKJV (Isa 58:14). The memory of these women has been sanctified by the Holy Spirit because they honored that word. I do not know how a person could justify activities on the Lord’s day that have honored God less than those God associated with the Sabbath day. Understanding that this is not a matter in which legislation is in order, it seems to me that believers should be encouraged to think in such a manner. Perhaps one reason why many remain in a kind of static spiritual state is because they have not lived with these things in mind.
THE WOMEN COME TO THE TOMB. Having duly honored the Sabbath day, the woman start out for the tomb while it is still dark, or “when the Sabbath was past.” Mark adds they arrived “very early in the morning . . . at the rising of the sun.” Matthew says they came “in the end of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week” (Matt 28:1). Luke says they came “upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning” (Lk 24:1). John says it was “early, when it was yet dark” (John 20:1). Mark also tells us that Jesus rose “early the first day of the week” (Mk 16:9).
It appears to me that there is more in this account than meets the casual eye. The words “when the Sabbath was past,” and “in the end of the Sabbath” suggest the passing of the old order, while “the rising of the sun” and “dawn toward the first day of the week” suggest a new era that would be noted for light and illumination.
All four Gospels report this differently – yet they are not contradictory, but only accent different people. Matthew says the two named “Mary” came (Matt 28:1). Mark adds that Salome, Zebedee’s wife, also came with both of these women: “and Salome” (Mk 16:1). Luke infers that a number of other women came also: “and certain others with them”(Lk 24:1). John mentions only Mary Magdalene: “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early” (John 20:1). There is nothing unusual about reporting things in this manner. Once, when Martha made a special supper for Jesus, among the guests only Lazarus was mentioned by name as being at the table with Him (John 12:2). Jesus also referred to hell, pointing out only one person who as there (Lk 16:23-26). There is no need to stumble over these texts.
THE STONE WAS ROLLED AWAY
“ 3 And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulcher? 4And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.”
WHO SHALL ROLL AWAY THE STONE? We do not know how long it took the women to get to the tomb, or the distance they had to traverse. The number and weight of spices that they had purchased and prepared are also unknown. We do know that is was very early in the morning, “when it was yet dark.” Neither, indeed, do we know the full number of women who are making the trip. However, as they make their way to the tomb, they are talking among themselves, even as Cleopas and his partner spoke as they walked (Lk 24:14). Their talk did not gravitate to the things of the earth – like the earliness of the hour, or the darkness of the fading night. They were not discussing the possibility of encountering robbers, or other potential dangers. Rather, these women were consumed with the purpose for which they were coming to the tomb – to anoint the body of Jesus with “sweet spices.”
They had lingered to see where Jesus was buried, and beheld Joseph and Nicodemus inter the body of Jesus. They then saw Joseph as “he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed” (Matt 27:60). At this point, they do not know the tomb had been sealed, and a guard placed before it early on the Sabbath day, while they “rested . . . according to the commandment.” They are not disheartened, nor do they conclude that they should return home. Instead, they ask among themselves, “Who will roll away the stone from the door of the tomb for us?” NKJV What an utterance of faith! They are walking in the dark, headed for a tomb that is in a garden on Golgotha. Flesh would reason that it would not be likely that anyone one would even be present to roll the stone away for them. But that is not how these women reasoned. Instead, they ponder WHO the person might be, and they asked, not even knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead.
I cannot help but compare the manner of the reasoning with many of our day. The thinking of professing Christians often gravitates to earth, when it ought to rise into the heavenlies. Instead of reasoning IF deliverance or Divine assistance will come, is it not far better to ponder the possible means through which it will come.
THE STONE WAS ROLLED AWAY. Matthew provides the details of how the stone was rolled away – an action that took place some time before the women arrived at the tomb.
The Angel of the Lord Descended. “And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it,” confirming his superiority over the circumstance (Matt 28:2). Jesus had already risen from the dead, so the stone was not rolled away to allow Him to come out of the tomb. Once again, as an angel from heaven enters the sinful domain of this world, the earth convulses. A “great earthquake” took place. Other versions read, “severe,” NASB and “violent.” NIV This is when only an angel descended from heaven. Ponder what will occur when the Lord Jesus Himself descends in all of His glory, and the glory of the Father, and the glory of all the holy angels (Lk 9:26).
The Appearance of the Angel. “His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (Matt 28:3). The stark contrast between heaven and earth is seen in the appearance of this angel. In the presence of angels, who are servants, earth never appears dominate or significant! However, that is not the case when men are unaware of heavenly things.
The Impact on the Keepers. “And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men” (Matt. 28:4). Those who were guarding the tomb, were military men – “soldiers” (Matt 28:11-12). Yet, they did not attempt to attack or restrain this angel. They rather shook with fear, and became like dead men, falling motionless to the ground. In other words, they looked dead. Mark it well, no person from earth has ever been reported to have knowingly attacked someone who came from heaven. Any soul who has even been aware of a heavenly confrontation has been prone to fear, and has never shown antagonism.
THEY FOUND THE STONE ROLLED AWAY. Expecting to see a large stone, the women fastened their eyes upon the tomb, “And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.” Luke says they saw “the stone rolled away from the sepulcher” (Luke 24:2). John says the women saw “the stone taken away from the sepulcher” (John 20:1). When John reports that Mary Magdalene ran to Peter saying that someone had stolen Jesus’ body, she made clear that she was one of several women who had come to the tomb: “WE know not where they have laid Him” (John 20:2).
The text does not say that the women saw the soldiers “as dead men” on the ground, but I assume that is the case – a sort of testimony to he women. I base this on Matthew’s statement that later, while the women were on their to the disciples to report what the angels told them, that “when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and showed unto the chief priests all the things that were done” (Matt 28:11).