As we come to the final twelve verses of Mark’s gospel, we are given a great ending. Jesus has not only risen, he appears to his disciples and commissions them to take his message to all the world. Signs and wonders similar to the ones he performed will accompany their message.
The problem is nearly all scholars believe that these verses are a later addition rather than the original ending of Mark’s gospel. The oldest and most reliable manuscripts stop at verse 8. Just to be clear, what’s in doubt isn’t the integrity of the content because they appear in the other three gospels. For example, Matthew, Luke and John have Jesus sending his disciples out into the world to continue the work he did.
Who wrote them? Scholars believe these verses were added by scribes sometime in the second century or later to give Mark’s gospel a happier ending similar to the other gospels because the original ending from verses 6 to 8 made for a dissatisfying conclusion: 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, 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, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Many recent interpreters of Mark hold the view that Mark did intentionally leave the conclusion ‘open-ended’. If so, what was the point Mark was making? I like to suggest it is this that our faith must remain firmly in God, not in our ourselves. Our boast must be always in Christ alone, and never in ourselves. Remember, Mark’s audience is most likely Christians being persecuted in the Bible. I would argue hearing about the Jesus’ ‘original’ disciples in fear for their lives, disobeying a direct command from the angel, would’ve reassured and comforted them rather than discouraged them. Think of a time when you discovered that you were not alone in your struggles, that they were others like you but with love and support, they have come out the other side, stronger.
Jesus’ ‘original’ disciples did struggle but Jesus did not abandon them. Through the power and faithful presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, they did eventually spread the good news of their Lord and Saviour; they did overcome their confusion, doubts and fears. Imagine what this would’ve done for the faith of the Christians in Rome.
I think Mark is saying to us it is ok to have doubts and struggles. Biblical faith is not the absence of them but a choice to put your trust in Jesus despite them. C.S. Lewis says something similar in Mere Christianity, “Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods”.