Mark 16:1-8 – The Empty Tomb


Mark 16:1-8


Mark’s Gospel ends with the appearance of a young man to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. The young man brings them news that terrifies them.


Like many ancient narratives, the Gospel of Mark ends in the middle of things. Other examples of this include Homer’s Iliad and Herodotus’ Histories. It was the expectation of many ancient authors that they were telling only part of a story and that their audience would know the rest of the details. Thus the ending of Mark at 16:8 is not meant to be open-ended, but to signal that Mark has come to the end of what he feels the need to relate to his audience.

Mark ends therefore by doubling down on a theme that he has developed throughout the crucifixion: the unfaithfulness of Jesus’ disciples. The man at the tomb chastises Mary Magdalene and the other Mary for being amazed that Jesus is no longer in the tomb and he reminds them that Jesus told them that this would happen (10:34). The man also references Peter by name, a reminder that Peter has recently denied Jesus three times. The women flee in terror because Jesus’ resurrection convicts them of their unbelief. They came to bury him instead of believing his promise that he would die and rise again.

This terror illustrates the two-sided nature of Mark’s Gospel. For those who have faith in Jesus, his death and resurrection are good news. For those who do not believe him, he brings confusion and fear. This is the principle that Martin Luther would later elaborate as the distinction between Law and Gospel.