The Book of Mark was written shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The Jewish people were at war with Rome, and things were not hopeful. It had been less than 50 years since the empty tomb, and the war that plagued the area was not exactly conducive to the mission of spreading the news of Jesus. Uncertainty began to take hold, and heresies began forming and gaining traction. People were scared, confused, and could not understand why their nation was being brought to its knees less than a half-century after Jesus promised a kingdom that was assured and eternal.
Enter our author, Mark, who knew that what people needed was a concrete reason to maintain hope and remain faithful to the mission that Jesus began. He began searching for accounts of Jesus' life and ministry. Through a long process of writing and compiling, he completed his work, which he appropriately called, "The Beginning of the Gospel Concerning Jesus Messiah, Son of God." We know it today as simply "The Gospel of Mark."
The word used for "gospel," euanggelion, commonly meant "good news" but can more technically be translated as "news of victory." That was Mark's agenda: to share the news of victory in the midst of immanent turmoil and probable defeat. How? By sharing the story of the greatest victory ever achieved—the story of someone that beat death itself. Mark wanted to show that the fear of armies, wars, and yes, even death fades away in the confidence that Jesus provides—a confidence so unshakeable, it allowed an innocent man to subject Himself to torture and execution without once opening His mouth in self-defense.
But he doesn't tell the full story. He only tells the beginning. That is, for Mark, the story didn't end with the empty tomb. Jesus' defeat of death didn't end the story; it began the next chapter.
Recall that Mark titled his narrative "The Beginning of the Gospel Concerning Jesus Messiah, Son of God." From verse one of chapter one, to the last verse of the last chapter, we have the beginning of the good news.
What is the rest of the story, then? This is where the ending of Mark's narrative comes in—
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (2) And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. (3) And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” (4) And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. (5) And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. (6) And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, 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 that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (8) And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
That's it. That's the end of Mark's whole story. What a tragedy.
Imagine reading an amazing story about a man who did nothing but good with his life, then was wrongly accused and killed as a criminal, but faced his fate willingly and gladly for the good of everyone on Earth. Then, when it seems it couldn't get any more wonderful, he beats death and leaves his grave! Then you read of people who find out that great news that he is no longer dead, but instead of telling everyone they possibly can, they keep it to themselves out of fear.
Mark ends his story abruptly with this unfortunate turn of events to incite passion, even displeasure, in the heart of the reader. "See how ridiculous it is to keep this to yourself!?" he suggests. It's like watching a horror movie and seeing one of the dumb-dumb characters wander off by himself. We know that wandering off is going to end badly. When we watch him wander off, we're annoyed, frustrated, and know that he shouldn't have done it. Mark's narrative beckons the same sentiments when we encounter the women's fear-driven silence.
He knew that, for his audience, there was much to fear. He's writing to a people who are on the losing end of a bloody war against the most powerful empire in the world. But the one thing that could bring confidence, not fear, was the fact that their Savior escaped the grip of death and promised that same escape for everyone who wanted it. News that good, Mark hoped, is sure to bring joyful declaration, not fearful silence.
Where's the rest of the story, then? It's in the hands of everyone committed to the mission that Jesus started. The empty tomb began the story, and the mission of telling others about it continues it.
We may not face an invading army, but we face other fears that can keep us silent about the victory of Jesus. Fear of alienation, fear of rejection, fear of social stigma, fear of offending someone—these are all fears that seal our lips about the news of victory we know to be true. But an empty tomb deserves a voice.
What Mark is essentially saying is, "Here's the beginning of the greatest story in history, now you go finish it."
We cannot keep silent. When the man we're backing came back from the dead, we can be confident in whatever he says. Mark wrote his book so that people who were caught up in the trials and distractions of the world around them could have something to fortify their mission—the mission that Jesus left them with.
And the mission is simple: tell people about the empty tomb.
Mark's hope is that the story of Jesus, when heard, is just simply too good to keep to ourselves. We have to share it. Think of all the stories that we can't wait to tell people—a game winning goal, getting a new puppy, an amazing vacation. None of them, though, hold a candle to a guy dying in our place then coming back to life. It seems silly to keep silent about a story like that.
Mark thought so, too.