When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him. Very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb when the sun had risen. They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” Looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, although it was extremely large. Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.’” They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (NASB)
Much has been speculated about the “ending” of Mark. If you look at the footnotes to various Bibles, there are various explanation about vv. 9-20 such as in the NASB: “Later mss add vv 9-20”; in NRSV: “Some of the most ancient authorities bring the book to a close at the end of verse 8. One authority concludes the book with the shorter ending; others include the shorter ending and then continue with verses 9–20. In most authorities verses 9–20 follow immediately after verse 8, though in some of these authorities the passage is marked as being doubtful.”; in NIV: “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20.”
Whether v. 8 was the original ending of Mark, there is no way for us to know. What we do know is that vv. 9-20 is probably not the ending.
Thus, we are left with vv. 1-8 as the ending… “They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Are we feeling unsatisfied with this ending?
Yet, it is somewhat consistent with what has gone on in the other chapters in the Gospel according to Mark where we read that Jesus’ followers were consistently unable to grasp what Jesus was teaching and not able to process the idea that he would suffer, die, and rise again. The response of v. 8 is quite in character.
The end of Mark is sort of an echo of the ending of Jonah 4:10-11, Then the Lord said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
In Jonah, we have a very reluctant prophet. He eventually delivered the message to Nineveh but didn’t have the same heart for the people that God had. In the ending of Jonah, we are left “hanging” as to whether Jonah’s heart ultimately was softened and thus conformed to God’s heart.
With Mark 16:8, we are left “hanging.” Trembling and astonishment are pretty reasonable reactions to seeing the empty tomb and hearing the message from the angel. Being afraid and silent in response to a shock to the system – Jesus. Dead. Jesus. Not. Dead?!! – is probably pretty normal. But do the women stay in that place? Do we remain in that space?
The readers of Mark in its time, and of course for us today in the 21st century, know from the other Gospel accounts and from the existence and persistence of the church to this day that the women ultimately did leave the feelings and thoughts of v. 8 behind, and they told the disciples, and all of them together proclaimed the risen Jesus in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!
NT Wright thinks the ending has been lost and gives various reasons why but he also offers some thoughts on what could be significant if v. 8 was indeed the ending:
It might just be possible to think that Mark did stop there – but that he intended anyone reading the book out loud, as they would, to call on one of the eye-witnesses present to tell the story of what they had seen, either that first Easter day or shortly afterward. […] the way Mark’s book now finishes encourages us all the more to explore not only the faith of the early church, that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, but our own faith. There is a blank at the end of the story, and we are invited to fill it ourselves. Do we take Easter for granted, or have we found ourselves awestruck at the strange new work of God? What do we know of the risen Lord? Where is he now going ahead of us? What tasks has he for us to undertake today, to take the gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth?