Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

244. The Message and its Reception (Mark 16:10, 11; Luke 24:9-12; John 20:18)

In various households in and around Jerusalem there were groups of disciples who had come to the holy city to celebrate Passover. They were in a high fever of expectation that "the kingdom of God would immediately appear." How their hopes had been dashed! Instead of acclaiming King Jesus, they now lamented him. For them no Passover Feast of joy or triumph, but instead misery, lamentation and danger. There was no ray of hope of any kind. Is it possible that in the midst of their gloom and apprehension the words of their Lord came to mind: "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted"? Did they but know it, that comfort was at hand. But it was news of a kind they were in no fit frame of mind to receive.

The result of the early visits to the tomb of Jesus was that one group of women, who had met and spoken with angels there, had been assured by them that the empty tomb meant a risen Jesus, and had been charged with the most pleasant of all tasks, that of imparting the good news to the sad and helpless disciples. Mary had seen Jesus, touched him, talked with him. And she too was entrusted with the same exciting errand.


Thus these women are to be imagined going here and there about the city to all the places where disciples were known to be lodged. At each encounter their message was the same. Neither did the reception of it vary. Concerning those who heard Mary's story Mark records: "And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed it not."

Luke's account goes like this: "It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James (the less), and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not."

The form of the verb used by Luke implies either that the women went from group to group telling the story over and over again, or else that to the same people they had to repeat the circumstantial details time after time.

No doubt it happened both ways. The natural reaction of everyone who heard their witness would be to ply them with questions in order to fill out the story as much as possible. Strangely enough, the very fullness of detail which they were able to add - about the disposition of the grave-clothes, about the angels and their messages, and especially about the disappearance of the body — all this, which should have carried conviction by its definiteness only served to confirm those who heard it in and intransigent disbelief (Mk. 16:11,13,14,16).

Many rationalists who would airily explain away the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus think it sufficient to sweep the fact under the carpet with the blithe assumption that it was the vivid imagination of simple-minded followers, and their intense wish that they might see their leader again, which caused the delusion of a risen Jesus to crystallize out into a conviction and a dogma.

It is the vivid imagination of the rationalists which is more clearly in evidence! From this time on, the stubborn unwillingness of the disciples to believe the evidence of dependable witnesses, and even of their own senses, is repeatedly written into the record. Not that the gospel writers have gone out of their way to underscore this feature of that Easter Day There is little sign of effort in this direction. The fact is that in pulling together a concise record of some of the resurrection appearances of the Lord, none of these four writers could eliminate, even if he had wished to do so, the dogged resolute determination of the disciples to reject the most wonderful news of all. Far from being starry-eyed visionaries willing to credit any cock-and-bull story because it accorded with their inclinations, here were people of very matter-of-fact outlook. Even though they had themselves seen Jesus raise the dead and work all kinds of marvels, the resurrection of Jesus himself was not in their thinking at all, nor were they willing to let it into their thinking. Through the four records many details combine together to consolidate this picture of disciples unwilling and well-nigh incapable of believing the facts reported to them.

Consequently (so the details of the Greek text imply) each separate thing reported to them seemed to be quite obviously the delirium of a fevered mind or the babble of old women in their dotage - "and they believed them not."

Peter at the tomb again

"Then rose Peter, and ran into the sepulchre; and stooping down, he beheld the linen clothes laid by themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at that which was come to pass."

These words are usually taken to be Luke's version of the visit made to the tomb by Peter and John when Mary first told them about finding it open. But there are several considerations which suggest that this describes another visit made by Peter alone after hearing from Mary that she had seen the Lord and talked with him:

  1. The order of the record in Luke is: first, the report of the women; next, the disbelief of the apostles; then, the visit of Peter.
  2. This order is repeated in the words of the two going to Emmaus: "certain women of our company ... came, saying, that they had seen a vision of angels, which said he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even as the women had said." The plural here seems to imply that not only Peter but others also (separately?) made the same investigation for themselves. Indeed, it would be very surprising if they didn't.
  3. 3 John's record tells how Peter entered the tomb without hesitation, but these words of Luke speak of stooping to look in. Such a change of attitude at the tomb is readily accounted for if meantime a report had been received of angels sitting there
  4. Peter's separation from John is not only hinted at in the Greek text of John 20:2, 10, but is also required by Paul's mention in 1 Corinthians 15:5 of a separate appearance of Jesus to Peter.
Very delicately, by introducing the word which the New Testament commonly uses for "resurrection, Luke hints at the re-birth of hope in Peter's mind: "Then Peter arose, and ran ..." Many years later the surge of emotion which that experience brought was still vivid in Peter's memory as he wrote in an epistle which carries many echoes of the gospel story: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).

In his latest visit to the tomb sent Peter away "marvelling in himself." The facts had begun to make their impression on his mind. Who would wish to steal the body? And in doing so, who would be at pains to divest the body of its wrappings first of all?

Very soon Peter was to know that the Lord was risen indeed.

NOTES: Mark 16:10, 11.

Told: Gk. Impf: kept on telling them.

Those that had been with him. The Gk. seems to imply that they still believed in him, but not m his resurrection.

As they mourned and wept. The third day, their lamentation had not ceased.
When they had heard. Gk. aorist suggests an immediate disbelief.

Seen. Gk. manifested. Does this imply a Jesus sometimes manifest and sometimes un-manifest? s.w. v.l 4; 1 Pet. 5:4; 1 Jn. 3:2

Believed not. Perhaps there were comments about Mary Magdalene's seven devils.

Luke 24:9-12.

Other women. This plural implies at least five women in the group.

To the apostles. The eleven have this title, but as yet no message.
Seemed. Too weak a translation. The word of the women was to them quite manifestly rubbish Now contrast the use of the same word in Mk. 16:9.

Idle tales. L & S: nonsense, humbug. For the idea, cp. Ps. 126:1 Acts 1 2:9,1 5. The Gk. implies every separate detail.

Believed them not. Another impf. they kept on disbelieving. For ideas see Acts 12:9; Ps. 126:1.
Then arose Peter- s w. 1 Pet 1:3. Christ's resurrection was Peter’s also,

and Peter ran, but not yet a prophet (on this, see "Acts", H.A W, p.214).

By themselves. This phrase seems to imply absence of the body.

Wondering in himself. Gk. pros presents a picture of a Peter arguing the possibilities with himself.

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