In Mark 11–16 we read about the events of the last week of the Savior’s mortal ministry. Though these chapters cover the span of only a few days, they constitute over a third of Mark’s Gospel, signaling the importance of the events they relate. These chapters record the fulfillment of prophecies Jesus Christ made, recorded in Mark 8–10, concerning His suffering, death, and Resurrection. Mark 14–15 contains Mark’s account of the events of the Atonement—from the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane through His death on the cross and His burial. This account would have been incomplete, however, without Mark’s concluding testimony, recorded in Mark 16, that Jesus had risen from the dead. The Resurrection completed the Savior’s Atonement. It is the climactic event that truly makes Mark’s work a “Gospel”—a proclamation of “good news.” With this conclusion, the Gospel of Mark testifies that Jesus truly was the Son of God and that He fulfilled His mission to pay the price of our redemption (see Mark 10:45).
This chapter focuses on details of the Savior’s last week that are distinctive to Mark’s Gospel. For further information on these important events, see the commentaries for Matthew 21–28, for Luke 19–24, and for John 12–21.
The Savior’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem publicly declared that He was the Messiah. This event had ties to Old Testament traditions (see 1 Kings 1:38–40; 2 Kings 9:1–13) and fulfilled Old Testament prophecies (see Psalm 118:25–26; Zechariah 9:9–10). To read more about the triumphal entry, see the commentary for Matthew 21:1–11.
Mark 12:28–34 records the answer Jesus gave to a scribe who asked Him which is the first or greatest commandment. In His response, the Savior quoted two Old Testament passages. He first cited Deuteronomy 6:4–5. The opening phrase from a prayer called the “Shema,” which is recited twice each day by observant Jews, begins with words from verse 4—“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord”—affirming that God is the only One worthy of worship and devotion (see Deuteronomy 6:5, 14; 7:9; 10:17). The Savior then cited Leviticus 19:18—“Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”—making clear that this is the second great commandment. To read more about the two greatest commandments, see the commentary for Matthew 22:35–40.
The “mites” the widow donated to the temple treasury were small Jewish coins called lepta (Greek for small). They weighed about 1/2 gram (less than 1/50 of an ounce) and were worth less than a “farthing” or quadran, which was the Roman coin of lowest value at the time (see Mark 12:42).
The fact that the widow gave “all that she had” exemplified her sincere devotion to God, in contrast to the pretense of the scribes (see Mark 12:38–40). Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained why the Lord commended the widow even though her offering was a relatively small donation: “The rich gave much yet kept back more; the widow’s gift was her all. It was not the smallness of her offering that made it especially acceptable, but the spirit of sacrifice and devout intent with which she gave” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. , 561–62). Elder Talmage also stated: “Whether it be the gift of a man or a nation, the best, if offered willingly and with pure intent, is always excellent in the sight of God, however poor by other comparison that best may be” (The House of the Lord, rev. ed. , 3).
From the beginning of the Savior‘s ministry, politicians in positions of power felt that their power was being threatened by Him, and they tried to have Him destroyed (see Mark 3:6). Herod ordered the slaughter of infants in Bethlehem to try to destroy Christ (see Matthew 2:16). When Jesus cleansed the temple in Jerusalem, the chief priests plotted to put him to death (see Mark 11:18). These secret combinations even involved the high priest’s office (see Matthew 26:3–4). When the Savior openly entered Jerusalem, He quickly became the object of conspiracies to destroy Him, including the agreement Judas Iscariot made with the chief priests to betray the Savior into the hands of those who wanted to destroy Him (see Mark 14:1–2, 10–11).
In John’s record of the event recorded in Mark 14:3–9, John identified the woman who anointed Jesus as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (see John 12:1–3). The “alabaster box” was a jar containing “ointment of spikenard,” an aromatic ointment used as perfume and to anoint the dead (Mark 14:3). By anointing Jesus while He was still alive, the woman acknowledged His impending death and burial. “She is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying,” the Savior said (Mark 14:8). The ointment was very expensive, worth more than 300 denarii (see Mark 14:5), or about a year’s wages for a common laborer.
Elder James E. Talmage stated: “To anoint the head of a guest with ordinary oil was to do him honor; to anoint his feet also was to show unusual and signal regard; but the anointing of head and feet with spikenard, and in such abundance, was an act of reverential homage rarely rendered even to kings. Mary’s act was an expression of adoration; it was the fragrant outwelling of a heart overflowing with worship and affection” (Jesus the Christ, 512).
The Savior stated that the woman’s actions would be “spoken of for a memorial of her” throughout the world (Mark 14:9). What was it about this incident that made it worthy of such lasting remembrance? In addition to her overflowing gratitude, the woman of Bethany stands out as the first disciple in the Gospel of Mark to understand and openly accept the Savior’s teaching that He must suffer and die. Elder Talmage suggested that Mary “may have gathered from the remarks of Christ to the apostles that the sacrifice of His life was impending,” noting that the accounts in both Mark and John are “suggestive of definite and solemn purpose on Mary’s part” (Jesus the Christ, 513). For additional information on the account of Mary anointing the Lord, see the commentary for John 12:1–8.
Mark noted that the Last Supper was held in “a large upper room” in Jerusalem (Mark 14:15). In cities of ancient Israel, upper rooms of houses were the choicest rooms because they were above the crowds of the city streets and provided privacy—an appropriate setting for the sacred events of the Last Supper.
Mark’s language bears witness of the reality and severity of the Savior’s suffering (see Mark 14:23–36). The Greek word translated “sore amazed” in the text can refer to a range of emotions, including amazement, awe, astonishment following great shock, and overwhelming distress. The Greek verb translated “very heavy” can mean depressed, dejected, and full of anguish or sorrow. Together, these words depict a deep and extreme agony. The Savior said that His soul was “exceedingly sorrowful unto death” (Mark 14:34)—that is, His anguish was so intense that He felt He was at the point of death.
Elder James E. Talmage stated: “Christ’s agony in the garden is unfathomable by the finite mind, both as to intensity and cause. The thought that He suffered through fear of death is untenable. Death to Him was preliminary to resurrection and triumphal return to the Father. … He struggled and groaned under a burden such as no other being who has lived on earth might even conceive as possible. It was not physical pain, nor mental anguish alone, that caused Him to suffer such torture as to produce an extrusion of blood from every pore; but a spiritual agony of soul such as only God was capable of experiencing” (Jesus the Christ, 613).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles quoted from these verses of Mark as he spoke of the suffering of the Atonement:
“In Gethsemane, the suffering Jesus began to be ‘sore amazed’ (Mark 14:33), or, in the Greek, ‘awestruck’ and ‘astonished.’
“Imagine, Jehovah, the Creator of this and other worlds, ‘astonished’! Jesus knew cognitively what He must do, but not experientially. He had never personally known the exquisite and exacting process of an atonement before. Thus, when the agony came in its fulness, it was so much, much worse than even He with his unique intellect had ever imagined! …
“The cumulative weight of all mortal sins—past, present, and future—pressed upon that perfect, sinless, and sensitive Soul! All our infirmities and sicknesses were somehow, too, a part of the awful arithmetic of the Atonement. (See Alma 7:11–12; Isa. 53:3–5; Matt. 8:17.) The anguished Jesus not only pled with the Father that the hour and cup might pass from Him, but with this relevant citation. ‘And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me.’ (Mark 14:35–36.) …
“In this extremity, did He, perchance, hope for a rescuing ram in the thicket? I do not know. His suffering—as it were, enormity multiplied by infinity—evoked His later soul-cry on the cross, and it was a cry of forsakenness. (See Matt. 27:46.)
Mark is the only Gospel writer who recorded that Jesus Christ addressed His Father in prayer using the Aramaic term Abba, meaning “Father” or “my Father.” There is no scriptural record of anyone before Jesus Christ addressing God in this manner. Typical Old Testament ways of addressing God in prayer included “O Lord God,” “O Lord God of hosts,” “O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel,” and “O God of our salvation.” In later years, some people developed a tendency to address God with a litany of titles that paid homage to His sovereignty, glory, graciousness, and other divine attributes. The Savior’s use of “Abba, Father” was a striking contrast to this practice. It was both simple and profound; it indicated a close, personal relationship with a personal Being. The Savior taught His followers to address God in prayer as their Father: “Our Father which art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the significance of the Savior’s plea to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane: “In that most burdensome moment of all human history, with blood appearing at every pore and an anguished cry upon His lips, Christ sought Him whom He had always sought—His Father … [Mark 14:36]. This is such a personal moment it almost seems a sacrilege to cite it. A Son in unrelieved pain, a Father His only true source of strength, both of them staying the course, making it through the night—together” (“The Hands of the Fathers,” Ensign, May 1999, 16). On another occasion Elder Holland commented further:
“Mark says [Jesus] fell and cried, ‘Abba, Father.’ This is not abstract theology now. This is a Son pleading with His Father, ‘All things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me’ (Mark 14:36).
“Who could resist that from any child, especially the perfect Child? ‘You can do anything. I know You can do anything. Please take this cup from me.’
“That whole prayer, Mark noted, was asking that if it were possible, this hour would be stricken from the plan. The Lord said, in effect, ‘If there is another path, I would rather walk it. If there is any other way—any other way—I will gladly embrace it.’ … But in the end, the cup did not pass.
The Savior sometimes spoke of His atoning suffering and death as a “cup” (Mark 14:36; see also Mark 10:38; John 18:11). This term drew upon a long history of scriptural symbolism. The “cup” sometimes symbolized God’s wrath; it could also represent judgment and punishment of the wicked (see Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Mosiah 3:24–26). Isaiah prophesied that the day would come when the Lord would plead the cause of His people and remove out of their hand “the cup of trembling, even the dregs of the cup of my fury,” so that His people would “no more drink it again” (Isaiah 51:22).
After His Resurrection, the Savior taught the Nephites: “I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning” (3 Nephi 11:11). In addition to the “cup of wrath,” the Old Testament contains references to a cup of blessing and salvation (see Psalms 16:5; 23:5; 116:13). In the great exchange of the Atonement, the Savior drank out of the “bitter cup” (3 Nephi 11:11; D&C 19:18) for us so that He could offer us “the cup of blessing” (1 Corinthians 10:16). For more information about “the cup,” see the commentary for Mark 10:38–39.
Though Jesus Christ was powerful enough to defend Himself against the armed multitude (see Matthew 26:51–54; Jacob 2:15), the disciples saw that He did not intend to do so, and they fled in fear (see Mark 14:50). Mark included the detail about the young man who, wrapped in a linen cloth, followed the Savior until several members of the multitude “laid hold on him,” causing him to leave the linen cloth in their hands and flee (see Mark 14:51–52). The Joseph Smith Translation says that the young man was a disciple of Jesus Christ (see Joseph Smith Translation, Mark 14:57 [in Mark 14:51, footnote a]). Among other things, this account shows that Jesus was forsaken by His disciples and left alone to face the cruelties that lay ahead.
Mark’s account of Jesus’s hearing before the Jewish council is the longest found in the four Gospels. One important detail that Mark alone preserved is that the witnesses who testified against the Savior bore conflicting testimonies (see Mark 14:56–59). Since the law of Moses required at least two corroborating witnesses to convict anyone of a capital offense, the charges against Jesus were invalid (see Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). The Savior remained silent, refusing to dignify the falsehoods with any response.
Finally Caiaphas, the high priest, asked Jesus outright, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61). The Savior’s affirmation in Mark is the most forthright preserved in the four Gospels: “I am.” To this powerful statement, Jesus added: “And ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). In making this statement, the Savior drew upon scriptural prophecy, including Daniel 7:13–14, which declares that “the Son of man” will come in the “clouds of heaven,” and Psalm 110:1, which declares that the Messiah will sit at the right hand of God (see also Mark 12:36; 13:26; 16:19). This testimony that Jesus gave about Himself clarified His mission as the Messiah—as “the Son of man.”
The Savior’s testimony also warned the council, even as they were judging Him, that the time would come when He would be enthroned and sit in judgment on them. The Savior’s answer shows that He looked beyond the immediate suffering to the future victory, particularly His Ascension to His Father and His future coming in glory. “Jesus … for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). For more information about the charge of blasphemy, see the commentary for Matthew 26:61–66.
As recorded in Mark 15:1–2, the Jewish council decided to take Jesus to Pilate, who represented the Roman authorities. The council wanted to charge Jesus not with blasphemy—a Jewish matter that would not have concerned the Romans—but with treason, which was a serious concern to the Roman leaders. If the Jewish council were to punish Jesus for blasphemy by stoning Him—as prescribed in the law of Moses (see Leviticus 24:14)—it could create a riot among the many people who believed in Jesus (see Mark 12:37). Such civil unrest would bring harsh retribution from the Roman authorities. But if the Jewish leaders could persuade the Romans that Jesus was trying to set Himself up as a king, the Romans themselves would put Him to death as a traitor to Caesar (see Luke 23:2).
The Old Testament alludes to a Jewish custom of using wine as an anesthetic to ease the suffering of a person who was dying (see Proverbs 31:6–7). Mark recorded that just before the Savior was nailed to the cross, He was offered “wine mingled with myrrh” (Mark 15:23). Jesus refused it, deliberately choosing not to dull His senses or decrease the pain of the Crucifixion; He was determined to remain conscious and experience all that would be involved in the remainder of His atoning sufferings (see Mark 14:25; Alma 7:11–13).
In recording the Savior’s words just before His death, Mark recorded both the original Aramaic words and their translation: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). He had done this several times earlier in his Gospel (see Mark 5:41; 7:34; 14:36), probably for the benefit of his Roman audience, who did not understand Aramaic. The Savior’s cry of forsakenness echoed David’s words of anguish because of his sins, recorded in Psalm 22:1. Though Jesus Christ had never sinned and therefore had never been separated spiritually from the Father, He did experience that awful separation when His suffering for our sins continued on the cross (see Isaiah 53:5–6; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus Christ had been blessed with a full measure of His Father‘s Spirit throughout His life (see Joseph Smith Translation, John 3:34 [in John 3:34, footnote b]), and when this Spirit was withdrawn, the Savior felt the greatest pain, sorrow, and suffering. Yet this withdrawal of the sustaining influence of the Father was necessary so that Christ‘s victory would be complete.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland discussed why the Father withdrew His Spirit from His Son:
“With all the conviction of my soul I testify that He did please His Father perfectly and that a perfect Father did not forsake His Son in that hour. Indeed, it is my personal belief that in all of Christ’s mortal ministry the Father may never have been closer to His Son than in these agonizing final moments of suffering. Nevertheless, that the supreme sacrifice of His Son might be as complete as it was voluntary and solitary, the Father briefly withdrew from Jesus the comfort of His Spirit, the support of His personal presence. It was required, indeed it was central to the significance of the Atonement, that this perfect Son who had never spoken ill nor done wrong nor touched an unclean thing had to know how the rest of humankind—us, all of us—would feel when we did commit such sins. For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, He had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.
“But Jesus held on. He pressed on. The goodness in Him allowed faith to triumph even in a state of complete anguish. … Because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so” (“None Were with Him,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 87–88).
In Mark’s account, the first person to speak after the Savior died was the Roman centurion who said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). This statement echoes the one made by Mark at the outset of his Gospel: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Together, these statements frame Mark’s account of the Savior’s mortal ministry and accentuate Mark’s testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland expressed his gratitude for the love of the Father in allowing the Atonement of Jesus Christ to be accomplished for all mankind:
“I wish to thank not only the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ but also His true Father, our spiritual Father and God, who, by accepting the sacrifice of His firstborn, perfect Son, blessed all of His children in those hours of atonement and redemption. … ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ [John 3:16].
“I am a father, inadequate to be sure, but I cannot comprehend the burden it must have been for God in His heaven to witness the deep suffering and Crucifixion of His Beloved Son in such a manner. His every impulse and instinct must have been to stop it, to send angels to intervene—but He did not intervene. He endured what He saw because it was the only way that a saving, vicarious payment could be made for the sins of all His other children from Adam and Eve to the end of the world. I am eternally grateful for a perfect Father and His perfect Son, neither of whom shrank from the bitter cup nor forsook the rest of us who are imperfect, who fall short and stumble, who too often miss the mark” (“The Hands of the Fathers,” Ensign, May 1999, 14).
Mark began his Gospel by calling it “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ”—in other words, the good news about Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1). Ultimately, it is Mark’s testimony of Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice and Resurrection that makes his account “good news.” President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) explained why the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is so important:
“Without the Resurrection, the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a litany of wise sayings and seemingly unexplainable miracles—but sayings and miracles with no ultimate triumph. No, the ultimate triumph is in the ultimate miracle: for the first time in the history of mankind, one who was dead raised himself into living immortality. He was the Son of God, the Son of our immortal Father in Heaven, and his triumph over physical and spiritual death is the good news every Christian tongue should speak. …
“‘He is risen; he is not here.’ (Mark 16:6.) These words, eloquent in their simplicity, announced the most significant event of recorded history, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. … On the third day, he did arise to live again—the Savior of all mankind and the firstfruits of the Resurrection. Through this atoning sacrifice, all men shall be saved from the grave and shall live again” (“An Apostle’s Witness of the Resurrection,” Ensign, May 1986, 16–17). See the commentaries for Matthew 28:6 and for John 20:11–18.
The most reliable early manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark do not contain Mark 16:9–20, and the style of the Greek language used in these verses differs from the rest of Mark. This suggests that these concluding verses might not have been written by Mark, but rather by scribes who added accounts of the Savior’s appearances after His Resurrection to bring the ending of Mark’s Gospel more in harmony with the writings of Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts. Whatever the reasons for the manuscript variations, the Church accepts all of Mark 16 as inspired scripture. Its value is based not on which human being wrote it, but on its inspired testimony of truth (see 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:21; D&C 68:4).
President James E. Faust (1920–2007) of the First Presidency explained why it may have been so difficult initially for the disciples to believe that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead:
“Perhaps the Apostles should not be unduly criticized for not believing that Jesus, having been crucified and buried in a tomb, had come back to earth as a glorified being. In all human experience, this had never happened before. It was completely unprecedented. This was a different experience than the raising of Jairus’ daughter (see Mark 5:22, 24, 35–43), the young man of Nain (see Luke 7:11–15), or Lazarus (see John 11:1–44). They all died again. Jesus, however, became a resurrected being. He would never die again. …
“Said President David O. McKay of this experience: ‘The world would never have been stirred by men with such wavering, doubting, despairing minds as the apostles possessed on the day of the crucifixion.
“‘What was it that suddenly changed these disciples to confident, fearless, heroic preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ? It was the revelation that Christ had risen from the grave. His promises had been kept, his Messianic mission fulfilled. … On the evidence of these unprejudiced, unexpectant, incredulous witnesses, faith in the resurrection has its impregnable foundation.’ (Treasures of Life, comp. Clare Middlemiss, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1962, pp. 15–16.)
“Like the Apostles of old, this knowledge and belief should transform all of us to be confident, settled, unafraid, and at peace in our lives as followers of the divine Christ. It should help us carry all burdens, bear any sorrows, and also fully savor all joys and happiness that can be found in this life” (“The Supernal Gift of the Atonement,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 13–14).
For explanation about the necessity of baptism, see the commentary for John 3:5.
As recorded in Mark 16:17–18, the Savior promised His disciples that as they went forward with faith to preach the gospel, miracles would follow their efforts, for miracles will always follow those who believe. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that signs continue to follow those who believe:
“Many miracles happen every day in the work of our Church and in the lives of our members. Many of you have witnessed miracles, perhaps more than you realize. … Miracles worked by the power of the priesthood are always present in the true Church of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles’ (Mosiah 8:18). The ‘means’ provided is priesthood power (see James 5:14–15; D&C 42:43–48), and that power works miracles through faith (see Ether 12:12; Moro. 7:37). The scriptures contain many accounts of such miracles. Elijah’s raising the widow’s son and Peter’s healing of the lame man are two familiar examples from the Bible (see 1 Kgs. 17:8–24; Acts 3), and there are many others. …
“… Elder Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said: ‘We do have miracles today—beyond imagination! …
“‘What kinds of miracles do we have? All kinds—revelations, visions, tongues, healings, special guidance and direction, evil spirits cast out. Where are they recorded? In the records of the Church, in journals, in news and magazine articles and in the minds and memories of many people’ [‘The Significance of Miracles in the Church Today,’ Instructor, Dec. 1959, 396].
“Most of us are acquainted with miracles that have occurred in our personal lives and the lives of those we love, such as miracles involving births and deaths and miraculous healings. All of these are fulfillments of the Lord’s modern promise to ‘show miracles, signs, and wonders, unto all those who believe on my name’ (D&C 35:8)” (“Miracles,” Ensign, Jun. 2001, 6, 8–9).
Mark 16:19 is the first account in the New Testament of the Savior’s Ascension into heaven. It records the fulfillment of the Savior’s earlier declarations that He would sit at the right hand of God in heaven (see Mark 12:35–36; 14:62; Psalm 110:1). President Hugh B. Brown (1883–1975) of the First Presidency wrote of the importance of the Ascension as the culmination of the Atonement of Jesus Christ: “We believe that the greatest story ever told in all the annals of history, is the story of the atonement of Christ. The record of his resurrection and ascension, without which the atonement would not have been complete, is the climax to that story, and now, two thousand years after the event, it is still central and pivotal in all true Christian thought” (Continuing the Quest , 74).