Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

We’ve recently been working our way through the book of Genesis. In doing so, I’ve mentioned that most all of the miracles we read there have a naturalistic cause. We can explain the destruction of Sodom and the cities of the Dead Sea Plane as being caused by God using the natural geography of a fault line and mineral deposits, for instance. We can theorize about winds and tides to explain the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus. But one thing early Bronze Age man knew just as well as 1st-century Greco-Roman man, and modern Western scientifically-oriented man, is that DEAD PEOPLE STAY DEAD.

Mark concludes his gospel with this scene of women visiting Jesus’ tomb where they receive the unexpected news of his resurrection. He emphasizes two things. First, there is no difference between the crucifixion and the resurrection. They are both factual and historical. “The resurrection of Jesus is an historical event. On a given date, in a defined place, the man Jesus, having been crucified and buried two days earlier, came forth from the tomb. Mark stresses the identity of the risen one with the crucified one (verse 6).”[1]

Second, as an historical event, the resurrection of Jesus cannot be explained by categories of human understanding. The reality doesn’t conform to our normal experiences. Dead people stay dead. Apart from revelation, it is simply a mysterious event, unable to impart understanding. “History can declare only that Jesus’ body disappeared, but this baffling fact fails to communicate the gospel. The event of Jesus’ resurrection is open to understanding only through a word of revelation received in faith.”[2]

This final passage of Mark’s account of the gospel shows us four unexpected things to help us see the truthfulness, meaning and challenge of the resurrection: (1) unexpected witnesses; (2) unexpected absence; (3) an unexpected mercy and, (4) an unexpected reaction.[3]


Women (16:1)

Mark writes in verse 1: When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.

Mark has taken great care in his account of the gospel to point out Jesus’ care for the unattractive, the unloved, and the undervalued of society. The gospel is for the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead. In 15:40 he pointed out that it was the women (and the young boy, John) who stayed with Jesus to the bitter end when all the men had scattered.

He tells us in 15:47 that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. They followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as they brought the body to the tomb. Those two women would have helped to clean, perfume, and wrap the body.

So, on this very first Resurrection Sunday, the very first witnesses to the empty tomb are women, one of whom (Mary Magdalene) was there when Jesus’ dead body was placed in the tomb. Women were second-class citizens in 1st century Palestine. They were not allowed to be witnesses in courts of law. They had no legal standing. [4]

Luke 24:11 tells us that even the disciples did not believe the women’s testimony: “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” But women were THE witnesses of the events surrounding the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. If the disciples wanted to invent a story that had the most chance of being believed by people of that era, they would NOT have made women the first witnesses to the resurrection.

A made-up story would have significant, important men as the first witnesses. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would have been two likely candidates. These women were unexpected witnesses. No man would believe them. No inventor of a story would have expected to use them as witnesses. No woman in that era would have thought to conceive such a tale since they would never have expected anyone to believe them.


Unplanned Obstacle (2-3)

These 4 women (Joanna, Lk. 24:10) had no expectation of finding an empty tomb. They went to the tomb following their hearts, not their heads. Jesus had been dead for about 40 hours in a climate where bodies were subject to rapid decay. Entering that tomb would have been a nauseating experience had Jesus’ body been present. It must only have been on their walk to the tomb that they began to wonder how they would roll the stone away to enter. They never even considered that Pilate had set a guard of Roman soldiers there and put an imperial seal on the chain binding the stone. Really, this was mission impossible, doomed to failure. But loving loyalty compelled them to go on. [5]

They had no idea how to enter the tomb. They were going only with the intent of perfuming a dead body – something they were prevented from doing on the Sabbath day before. Look at vv. 2-3 again: And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?”

Unimpeded Entrance (4-5)

They had no expectation that Jesus had risen from the grave, in spite of the fact that he had preached that he would do just that. Notice vv. 4-5: And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed [“struck with amazement by the sight”].

There was no hope in these women that they would see an empty tomb. They were not longing for such a sight. They had NO EXPECTATION of finding anything other than a closed tomb filled with a rotting, stinking corpse. They had seen Jesus crucified. They had watched as he died. Mary Magdalen had helped to plant the body in the garden tomb. They had seen the stone rolled in place.

We know from Mark 8:31 that Jesus had told his disciples that he would “be killed and after three days rise again.” We know from Mark 9:31 that he had told them that “after three days he will rise.” We know from Mark 10:34 that he said, “Three days later he will rise.” There were probably other occasions on which he explained to them his trial, death and resurrection, but they found it incredible to accept, just as the people today refuse to believe in resurrection from the dead. “People do not rise from the dead; you stay dead,” they say.

These women loved Jesus and worshipped him, but what he said seemed utterly impossible to them. Maybe they interpreted it as merely symbolic language. It made no impact on them at all. Certainly, they were not going to the tomb on the first day of the week to have a grandstand view of his resurrection. They were going there to make his dead body smell a little less foul for a day or two longer.

When they get to the tomb their problem with the stone has been solved. The gigantic stone was no longer covering the entry, and Mary Magdalene (according to John) seems to have dashed off straight away to tell Peter and John that the tomb was empty. The other Mary, Joanna and Salome stand still, not knowing what to do (Luke tells us). The women finally crawled into the sepulcher itself, through the short entrance tunnel into its inner chamber where the body had been placed on a shelf on the right side. There, to their amazement, they were met by “a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side” (v.5).

Another young man was also with him, Luke tells us, but this one Mark mentions is the spokesman. These men were very much alive. They obviously weren’t passers-by out for a morning walk who had noticed this stone pushed aside and had popped in to explore. They were special, dressed in white, a mark of festivity – of a wedding not a funeral, of celebration not mourning, of heavenly glory not earthly fallenness.

Luke tells us that their clothes gleamed like lightning. They were waiting for these women to appear because they knew why they had come, and they were sitting down in the posture of a teacher. It was not a threatening posture. They weren’t standing up as if to strike. This was an unexpected encounter of unexpected mercy.


Announcement (6)

Notice v. 6: And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

This announcement, made by this angel, is BY FAR the most important announcement that has ever been given in the history of the world! It is unexpectedly merciful for these grieving, discouraged women and for all humanity.

This Jesus of Nazareth is the one so named because “he will save the people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). “This is the Jesus you women know”, the angel is telling them, “the Jesus who healed the sick and the blind and the lame, who touched the untouchables, grieved with his friends, raised the dead to life, whom you saw crucified, dead, and buried.” This is the very same Jesus who now lives. “He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” Notice that God gives the job of announcing the resurrection to two angels who pass that message on to the least important members of society.

Presence of Angels[6]

Angels are heavenly creatures; they are part of the universe that God made. He created the heavens as well as the earth. Sometimes they are referred to as the host of heaven or the armies of heaven. Ezra says, “You are the LORD, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens with all their host . . . and the host of heaven worships you” (Neh. 9:6).

Angels travel from one place to another as God directs them. “The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth” (Lk. 1:26). At the resurrection of Jesus an angel was delegated to deal with the stone and speak to the women. We are told in Matthew 28:2, “an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.”

His appearance terrified the soldiers guarding the tomb (Matt. 28:4). Then he and his fellow angel went inside and waited to greet the four women. Angels have very great power. They are called, “mighty ones who do his word,” (Ps. 103:20). They are referred to as powers and authorities and dominions. One angel could strike the whole Assyrian army, another struck King Herod dead. Little wonder the three women were trembling, bewildered and afraid, crouching six feet away from an angel.

The presence of angels places the resurrection amongst the very important events in redemptive history, like Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and the giving of the law on Sinai, or the protection of God’s people in Babylon. It sets the resurrection of Christ alongside the incarnation of Christ, and the temptations in the wilderness, and the intercession in Gethsemane as occasions when God sent angels to serve his Son and to highlight the importance of Jesus’ ministry. They will also be there in all their splendor when Jesus returns to earth one day leading the host of heaven.

The angels’ appearance reminded the women of the reality of the heavenly world. The world of angels is the real world. Fallen men live in the shadowlands of life without God, and there they cling to weird superstitions. In the shadow world, people read horoscopes, and carry good luck charms, and refuse to walk under a ladder, and think the number 13 is a bad omen. They believe in astrological birth-charts, and have their fortunes read, and go to séances, and believe in fairies and wizards, or that Extra Terrestrials built the pyramids.

Angels are not in that category. They are real. They serve God and his people, and it would be incredible if they were NOT there at the resurrection of God the Son from the dead. Angels were there as examples to the women of the response of humble obedience which even mighty angels give to their Lord. This angel delighted to do what God had told him to do, without questions. That was his highest joy to do the will of God and to announce the resurrection.

This angel shattered the unbelief of these four women who never expected to see the tomb empty and Jesus risen, even though God the Son had told them on a number of occasions that this would happen. The reality of angels from beyond the shadowlands was an unexpected mercy to these unexpected witnesses.

Unexpected Good News

These women received the unexpected good news that Jesus is alive just as he had promised he would be. “Gospel” means “good news.”  This is the gospel: that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, lived an absolutely perfect life, died a death of infinite suffering for the sins of his people, and was raised again by the power of God as proof that there is no other name given under heaven by which men may be saved.

Those who trust in Jesus alone have HIS perfect life imputed (reckoned) to them and his sacrificial death imputed to them to pay for the wages of sin.

You do not have to try harder. You do not have to do better. All you have to do is REST in his perfect life and sacrificial death in order to be declared a child of God! Jesus kept God’s Law perfectly. You are free from the burden of having to impress God or others because Jesus has made you free indeed. You do not need to work to pay God back for Jesus’ death because there is NO WORK you could EVER do that possibly pay back the Father for giving over his only, unique Son to death on a cross in your place!

Jesus’ resurrection, announced by this angel, declares Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death the be the acceptable substitute for my punishment. Paul writes in Rom. 4:24-25 that our faith in the work of Christ, “will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” This good news is absolutely undeserved and totally unexpected.

Unexpected Recipient (7)

There is an unexpected recipient of this good news in verse 7. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. Remember it was Peter who had shouted out, “I’ll be damned if I know that man, Jesus!” as his last of three denials. Young John was there and heard him.

Perhaps word had gotten around to others that Peter lied to save his own skin. Whether other disciples besides John found out or not, Peter knew what he had done, and he was broken and heartsick that all of his bravado had come to nothing but bitterness and tears of despair. Jesus told Peter he would become a betrayer. When Peter heard the rooster crow, all of Peter’s crowing came to nothing. And as the rooster crowed, Jesus turned and caught Peter’s eyes. Can you imagine how that tender look of Jesus, the guiltless prisoner, must have haunted Peter who freed himself by lying?

Tell Peter in particular,” the angel says. Peter is the first and the last disciple to be mentioned in this gospel. Can there be any future for such a sinner as Peter? “Make sure you tell Peter,” says the angel. Jesus was going ahead of Peter to Galilee. His life had not been written off by God. There were special reasons why Peter must be told; Peter bore a special guilt and shame. Peter must face up to his failure and know the kiss of the divine forgiveness and be restored to a life of serving Jesus Christ.

Do you think Peter was expecting this kindness? Do you think he DESERVED this special message? Did the disciples who scattered deserve this kind of message? That is the good news: grace for liars, grace for deniers, grace for unexpecting testifiers, and grace for those who flee and hide. Do you believe that good news this morning? There is amazing grace and forgiveness and love and mercy and pardon for you if you will but take hold of it by faith this morning!



From our perspective, we might expect that these women would have gone running from that tomb skipping and laughing or crying tears of joy at the news that Jesus is alive.

But they don’t do any such thing. Look at v. 8: And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

These women don’t immediately run to tell the disciples as they are instructed to do. They just run away! They fled from the tomb. They put as much distance between them and that garden as they could, as fast as they could. This was no silent, somber procession! This was an all-out sprint.


Mark’s account ends with the women running off, trembling, bewildered, mute and afraid. Why? Because they had had an awesome encounter with God and such a response of terror is entirely appropriate, and typical of every occasion in the Bible in which sinful humans have a close encounter with divine glory and holiness reflected by the angels.

These encounters with divine glory in the Bible are never excited and giddy. The men and women involved want to get away; they long for the experience to be over. “Depart from me; I am a sinful man O Lord,” they cry. They ask, “Is it right for us to be here?” They see their weakness and sin as never before. They have seen the divine glory and they are afraid. They are silenced because of the impact that God’s word has made on them. They don’t find it easy to pray. Their mouths are too dry to sing. Who can speak when God has spoken? Luke reports the same kind of fear among the disciples when Jesus appears to them after his resurrection. In Luke 24:36-39 we read, “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’[7]

Unexpected Ending[8]

Finally, Mark’s account has this unexpected ending. The resurrection of Christ does not mean that from now on everybody is going to live happily ever after. We may want this gospel of Mark to end positively with happy people. We want to walk out of church every Sunday as a happy congregation.

Instead, Mark ends with a group of Jesus-following women who have a divine encounter and are running away. This ending was so unsatisfactory to some ancient scribe that he included his own summary from other gospel accounts. But the earliest manuscripts of Mark end right here. The Son of God arose, but God is still a consuming fire. Jesus lives, but men must still fear God. That is the beginning of wisdom.

Have you seen it? Have you heard it? Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day. Jesus Christ is more powerful than death. The grave failed to keep its grip on our Lord. He arose from the grave; he returned from the realm of death; he came back across the river. He has risen! There is a man in heaven.

And the implications for you and for your lives are immense. Such as this: this earthly life is not the most important thing. The life that begins at earthly death if FAR more important. How I relate to the Son of God in this life will determine my relationship to him for all of eternity. You WILL meet him in the midst of millions of angels dressed in white like lightning. Jesus has arisen and you too will meet him. Will you meet him as an eternal enemy or as your eternal friend. Will he be the Lamb of God who takes away your sin and guilt, or will he be your eternal judge?

Will you not flee to him today? Will you not repent of trying to impress God and others and rest in the finished work of Christ alone? Come and say, “Thank you, Lord Jesus, for living and dying for me.”


The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

[1] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 583–584.

[2] Id.

[3] Campbell, M. The Resurrected and Living Jesus.

[4] Ferguson, S. Let’s Study Mark. p. 270.

[5] Thomas, G. He is Risen.

[6] Id.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Lk 24:36–39.

[8] Id.