The Disciples’ Witness: Mark 16:15-20

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As we begin our last regular episode in our year focusing in on Mark’s gospel, we turn our attention onto the last portion of Mark’s gospel’s longer conclusion. As I shared more fully in our last two episodes, scholars have doubts about whether Mark wrote this conclusion or whether this conclusion was added by a scribe later on because Mark’s gospel didn’t seem to have an ending or its original ending was lost.

However, even if Mark didn’t write this conclusion to his gospel, we can learn some powerful insights in how the author of this conclusion summarized the last events in Jesus’ life.

In the last half of this conclusion, we turn our attention to the last great commission Jesus gives to the disciples. While many people focus in on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ great commission, the way the author of Mark’s gospel’s longer conclusion frames Jesus’ message is powerful to focus in on.

With that said, let’s read what this author wrote. Our passage for this episode is found at the end of Mark’s gospel, in chapter 16, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 15:

15 Jesus said to his followers, “Go everywhere in the world, and tell the Good News to everyone. 16 Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved, but anyone who does not believe will be punished. 17 And those who believe will be able to do these things as proof: They will use my name to force out demons. They will speak in new languages. 18 They will pick up snakes and drink poison without being hurt. They will touch the sick, and the sick will be healed.”

19 After the Lord Jesus said these things to his followers, he was carried up into heaven, and he sat at the right side of God. 20 The followers went everywhere in the world and told the Good News to people, and the Lord helped them. The Lord proved that the Good News they told was true by giving them power to work miracles.

In this last section of Mark’s longer conclusion, we see a number of signs shared that tell us God was with the earlier disciples. This conclusion draws our attention to the miracles that those who believed would be able to do, such as forcing out demons, speaking in new languages, picking up snakes and drinking poison without being hurt, and healing the sick by simply touching them.

While some of the things in Mark’s conclusion’ list the disciples did while they were with Jesus, this seems like a strangely specific list that draws more heavily on the details we find in the book of Acts. While Jesus could have easily predicted this, it seems a little too detailed when we compare it with Jesus’ commissions to His disciples in the other gospels. This list also doesn’t leave room for other ways that God could confirm the message of the gospel.

Perhaps this is just the translation that we are using, but it seems unlike Jesus to use miracles to prove to people that the message they are receiving is from God. This runs counter to both Jesus refusing to offer people in that generation a miracle that proved He was the Messiah, and this runs counter to Jesus’ warning to not blindly believe messages from people who perform signs and wonders.

If we read the portions describing the signs in this great commission and conclusion using the New American Standard Bible, which is the translation we used in our last episode, it describes these miracles in this way: “These signs will accompany those who have believed” is how the miracles are introduced. Verse 20 concludes this message by saying “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.

While the New American Standard Bible does not use the word prove, it still frames the way these signs were given as being confirmation of the message. I don’t think I ever noticed this before, but while signs could be given to confirm a message, I don’t see this being Jesus’ model.

Instead, all the miracles Jesus did throughout His ministry were used to help people God loves and to cause people to pay attention, but Jesus intended for His ministry to stand on the words and message that He preached. When the disciples traveled around following Jesus’ return to heaven, the miracles they did helped those God loved, and caused people to take note. The disciples’ ministry and the good news they shared was intended to stand on its own.

This is significant for us to pay attention to for two reasons.

First, if God’s messages will always be validated by miracles, then we have centuries and millennia of messages that can easily be doubted. This includes many of the messages God gave through the prophets in the Old Testament. The Old Testament prophets’ messages were rarely if ever confirmed through miracles. If we set miracles up as a test for whether to confirm whether a message is from God or not, then we will have a good percentage of God’s messages throughout history that could then be claimed to not be inspired. God wouldn’t want this.

Secondly, using miracles as a test sets us up to be deceived if a message is false but a miracle confirms it. If Satan wanted to come to deceive, he would have no difficulty doing things that would appear miraculous. Satan could come helping people, teaching positive, humanitarian messages, and perform miracles and millions would be set up to be deceived simply because they used the miracles as their guide and not the previously revealed truth of scripture. Miracles are capable of being done by both good and evil angels, and because of this, they are a poor test for whether we should trust a messenger.

I wonder if this is why my New American Standard Bible footnotes hinted at theological challenges included in this longer ending of Mark’s gospel. Jesus’ teaching doesn’t suggest we should put much spiritual weight on a miracle worker. Instead, when we see miracles, we should take note, but then judge the value of the message this miracle worker is sharing based on the truth that is included in the Bible.

While Mark’s ending is questionable, and while I can understand why some scholars are concerned with what it suggests, the big truth we should hold on to in this conclusion is that God is with His people.

Jesus’ followers spread the great news of the gospel message, and God went with them as they shared Jesus with everyone they met. Jesus’ early followers dedicated their lives to sharing Jesus with people – even going so far as dying for their faith! I wholeheartedly believe that we are called to share Jesus like these first followers of Jesus shared Him, and that when we step out in faith, we will discover God is with us, helping us every step of the way!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, continue to seek God first in your life and let Him lead and guide you as you move through life. Choose to place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus and in His sacrifice to cover your sins.

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to discover firsthand what the Bible teaches. Knowing the Bible is our best defense when discerning truth from error, and when we prayerfully study the Bible, we open our hearts and minds to what God wants to teach us from His Word!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 50: In the last part of the extended conclusion to Mark’s gospel, discover what happened when the disciples let the Holy Spirit enter and transform their lives, and why it might not be a good idea to let miracles be a test for determining spiritual truth.

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