Another account of Jesus’ final commission to his followers may be found in Mark 16:15-16. You may know that there is a question about whether Mark 16:9-20 was a part of Mark’s original Gospel (see footnotes in your Bible). I won’t go into that here, except to say that a number of biblical scholars believe the last “leaf” of Mark was lost and that an early Christian composed this ending based on the other Gospels. Regardless, with one possible exception noted below, the whole section reflects the teaching of the rest of Scripture, and the commission portion (vv. 15-16) certainly does.
The primary focus of Jesus’ words here is on preaching the gospel. The word “preach” is in the form of a command (imperative), and the word means to proclaim or announce. The content of that proclamation is the gospel—the good news about Jesus. Earlier in Mark the “gospel” was said to be about and belonging to “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1) and about the kingdom of God being at hand (1:14). So, Jesus is commanding us to announce the good news that he is the Christ and that he established the kingdom of God.
We are to announce this news to the “whole creation.” God wants the good news about Jesus and the kingdom to reach the whole world (cf. Mark 13:10). As in the case of Matthew, the word “go” is not in the form of a command but since the Lord wants the news announced to “all the world” and the “whole creation,” some of us will need to go elsewhere to do it, and so the word has the practical force of a command. One important implication of this for those of us who do not go to other parts of the world is that we must not hesitate to share the good news with people who are not like us.
In Mark’s account, Jesus says people are to respond to this good news by believing and being baptized (v. 16). We are to believe the good news about God’s kingdom and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We are also to be baptized in his name. Acts shows that Jesus’ followers did indeed state and demonstrate the necessity of both of these responses as they preached the gospel (2:38; 8:12, 36, 38; 10:43, 48; 11:21; 13:39; 16:15, 33; 22:16; 18:8). Those who respond to God’s good news in these ways will be saved. I believe that instead of arguing, dissecting, and insisting that people accept our particular formulations of how to respond to the gospel, we should just do what the Lord said.
Jesus also says bluntly that those who do not believe will be condemned. Failure to believe in Jesus and the gospel results in condemnation at the judgment, no matter what else a person may have done. The views of contemporary society are clearly at odds with this, and we recognize this, and yet we do not follow society. We follow Jesus. These words give some urgency to the commission we are discussing.
The next words are the one possible exception I mentioned above that may not reflect the teaching of the rest of the New Testament. They say that certain (miraculous) signs would accompany those who believe. These include, in his name, casting out demons, speaking in new tongues, picking up serpents with their hands, drinking any deadly poison without being hurt, and laying their hands on the sick so that they recover. There are references in the New Testament to believers casting out demons, speaking in new tongues, and laying their hands on the sick so they recover. There is no mention of any believer drinking deadly poison or picking up serpents without being harmed (but cf. Luke 10:19; Acts 28:3-6). That does not necessarily mean, however, they did not happen.
The part that gives me pause is the statement that “these signs will accompany those who believe” (v. 17). It is not entirely clear to me whether the intended meaning is that all these signs would accompany all believers, or some of the signs would accompany all believers, or some of these signs would accompany some believers. If the words mean either of the first two possibilities, I would not think they reflect the teaching of the passages that are clearly an original part of the New Testament. Instead, the New Testament elsewhere supports the third possible meaning, that some believers receive some of these gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:28-31).
Mark 16:19-20 then describe what actually happened after Jesus gave this commission. He ascended to heaven and sat down at the right hand of God (cf. Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9-11; 2:33-35). Being at the right hand of the King of the Universe is an appropriate place for the reigning Lord of the kingdom. Since that time Christ has actively led his mission, working with his followers as they preach the good news, and at times granting signs to confirm the message (cf. Acts 14:1-3).
So the great commission recorded in Mark is that we are to preach the good news about Jesus and the kingdom to the whole world. Those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but anyone who does not believe will be condemned. The Lord has clearly granted to some the ability to do signs that will confirm the truth of the kingdom message, though other Scripture indicates that not everyone has received gifts of doing such signs. In any case, as we go seek to be faithful to our commission to announce the good news about him, we can and should expect the Lord to work with us in various ways.
Which part of this account of the commission have you practiced well? Which aspect have you tended to neglect? What is one thing you could do to begin to heed the part you have neglected?