Forthright Magazine

The women left in fear. What?

Whether or not Mark’s Gospel ended with Mark 16:8 exceeds this article’s scope. My inquiry here is different.

If this Gospel did end with the women running from the tomb bewildered because terror had seized them, could this support Mark’s message? And if yes, how? To consider these questions, we will need to return to its early chapters.

Early in Jesus’ ministry, the disciples found themselves caught in a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee. The waves were even breaking into the boat. Upon awaking Jesus, he stood up and rebuked the wind and commanded the sea to be quiet. A dead calm ensued. Seeing this the disciples “were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!’” (Mark 4:41).

When the disciples witnessed Jesus’ authority, it exceeded their comprehension. The reality of his power overwhelmed them. Such powerful unknowns evoke fear, awe, respect.

The local people knew about the man with an evil spirit. Every effort to control him and contain him had failed. He had even torn through chains and shackles.

Then one day they heard that Jesus had arrived and had cast out the evil spirit. Curious, they wanted to see for themselves. When they arrived, they saw the man sitting, wearing clothes and in his right mind. Realizing the magnitude of the power required to overcome him and that the one who had done this was standing near them, they were terrified  (Mark 5:15).

Once again the disciples were in a boat. This time night had fallen and morning was approaching as they strained to row into the wind. Suddenly under the remnant of darkness they perceived someone or something approaching their boat upon the water. The power of this unknown terrified them. Jesus, however, tried to calm them by saying, “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50). Upon entering the boat, the opposing wind ceased!

This encounter with Jesus’ power was not an intellectual exercise. They experienced it. And they were ill equipped for it. Had they truly perceived Jesus’ authority in multiplying the loaves, they would have better understood Jesus’ command of the natural world. However, lacking this preparation and experiencing such power, they found themselves in a state of fear, awe and confusion (Mark 6:50-51).

Peter, James and John walked with Jesus up a high mountain. High on the mountain Jesus began to change as though something glorious and powerful was breaking out for them to see. Jesus’ clothing became exceedingly white. Then Moses and Elijah appeared talking with Jesus! Glimpsing such glory evoked fear.

In the Gospel of Mark fear is the normal reaction when Jesus’ power and authority confronts people. This should not surprise us because the common reaction to perceiving something of heavenly glory involves trembling and even falling down (Revelation 1:17; Ezekiel 1:28).

And so, early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb. They knew a huge obstacle prevented their mission of care. The tomb had been sealed with a large stone. However, upon arriving at the tomb some greater strength had rolled the stone to the side!

Entering the tomb they encountered a young man dressed in white who tried to settle them. “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you. ” (Marks 16:6-7).

The reality that Jesus is the Authoritative Son of God confronted the women in a deeper way than they had ever experienced.  Experiencing this truth exceeded their expectations. It pushed them into a state of grappling with its implications. And like others who experienced Christ’s power and glory, terror and bewilderment overtook them.

If Mark did indeed end his Gospel with the women running from the tomb in fear, perhaps he intended the resurrection and the natural reaction to such glory to hang in the air and in our minds. Perhaps this is an invitation for us to likewise be in awe, fear and to respect the risen Christ’s glory, power and authority.


Barry Newton
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