The Gospel According to Mark

Chapter 8

8:1 We continue picturing Mark being assigned to interview Peter. Now he asks "You have described the feeding of 5,000 men with their families (6:35-44). Were there other occasions when Jesus fed people?" Yes, he fed another crowd, this time of about 4,000 people.

8:2-3 We could see his concern for the hungry crowd who had been with us for three days. He said he could not send them away because they might collapse on the way home. (This delay of three days should encourage us when we wonder if the Lord cares about us).

8:4-5 On the previous occasion the apostles had calculated how much it would cost to buy bread for the crowd (6:37). Forgetting what had happened before (see how easy it is to forget in 8:19-21), they pointed out the impossibility of providing bread in a deserted place. And again Jesus asked them what resources they had to work with (as in 6:38. In any situation it is good to begin by listing what assets one has at hand).

8:6 Mark may have asked "Did Jesus again order them to sit down in ordered ranks?" (as in 6:39-40)." No, this time they just sat down where they were. As on the previous occasion, he took the seven loaves, and thanked the Father for them. Then he broke them (an aorist tense) and began giving them (an imperfect continuous tense) to the disciples. On this occasion the seven baskets were spuridas (8:8, big enough for Saul to be lowered in, Acts 9:25). Jesus carefully distinguished between the two kinds of basket in 8:19-20 but this is missed by the NRSV using the same word for each kind of basket). One way of picturing what happened was that the disciples brought up one basket (hamper) at a time, Jesus broke a pita loaf into it, then another loaf into the next basket (this captures the imperfect continuous tense, "he kept giving").

8:7 "Didn't Jesus provide fish to go with the pita bread?" By the time the loaves had been given out, the disciples had gathered "a few small fish" and again he gave thanks for them. They were not broken in pieces, but distributed among the crowd. We notice that in the two cases the arrangements for distributing the bread and fish were quite different. (Which should remind us that we should not expect the Messiah to meet needs in the same way on different occasions).

8:8-9 When the whole crowd of 4,000 famished persons was now fully satisfied, the fish had all been consumed, but the disciples were left with the seven big baskets still as full of broken pita bread as when they began the distribution (compare the 12 small baskets of bread mixed with fish in 6:43). Jesus then told the crowd of 4,000 persons to disperse. We can imagine what they told people on the way home.

8:10 "What happened then?" The twelve walked down with Jesus and got into the boat which was still moored on the shore. When Mark asked "Where did you go from there?" he wrote down Dalmanutha, but nobody knows the meaning of this. From Matthew's Gospel we know it was the district around Magdala (NRSV margin, Matthew 15:39 has Magadan).

8:11-12 "You mentioned the Pharisees objecting to Jesus' teaching (2:18, 2:24, 3:6, 7:1) What did they say about this feeding of 4,000 people?" They continually (a present participle) wanted a sign (Greek symeion can be an ordinary sign or distinguishing mark, but here it is a wonder or miracle from heaven, as in Matthew 12:38; 16:1, 4; Luke 11:16; 23:8) as they kept testing (again a present participle) him. Their definition of a sign was that it must be "from heaven." They accepted the healing of the lame man in the temple as a sign from heaven (Acts 4:16), but the report of 4,000 persons being fed did not count. John picked out seven signs (beginning with John 2:11; 4:54) to help us into faith (John 20:30-31). But he refused to give the Pharisees a sign on their terms.

8:13 -14 When the disciples got into their boat to cross the lake (back to Bethsaida, 8:22), they discovered they had only one loaf (pita bread) with them (in spite of the abundance left in the seven large baskets, 8:8).

8:15 "Did Jesus teach the disciples on these boat trips?" His concern was to teach them about the dangerous yeast of Pharisaism (8:11) on the one hand and the Herodians (12:13) on the other. In our day the Christian church in each city is constantly faced with these two temptations. Legalism tries to replace the good news by making meticulous rules to obey (as in Galatians 3:2, 5:1). As opposed to the 613 rules of Pharisee legalism, all that is needed is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself" (12:29-31). The opposite temptation is for churches is to view religion as a department of the state, in this case the puppet state of Herod's kingdom with its political agenda. Later Mark will note Jesus' words "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's" (12:17).

8:16-17 "What did the apostles make of this enigmatic saying?" Instead of asking what Jesus had in mind, the apostles immediately thought his words about yeast were something to do with their failure to bring bread. (Were their hearts so quickly hardened that they failed to remember that providing bread was not their problem?)

8:18-21 They had seen how 5,000 men and their families were fed, leaving a surplus of twelve small baskets of bread and fish (6:42-43). And they had forgotten the 4000 people satisfied with bread and fish, leaving an even bigger surplus of seven large baskets (hampers) full of pieces of bread (8:8-9). "Do you not yet understand?" refers to their failure to grasp his messianic power.

8:22 "Where did the boat land?" (8:13). They did not sail or row east across the lake to Gerasene country (5:1), but north-east (10 miles, 16 km) to Bethsaida.(on the east side of the Jordan as it comes into the Lake of Galilee and so only a mile from Capernaum, see 1:21, 6:45). "And what did Jesus do there?" There the friends of a blind man brought him to Jesus for healing (as did the four friends in 2:3)

8:23-24 On a previous occasion in Capernaum hundreds of people had been healed (1:34), but now Jesus singled out this blind man, and took him right out of the fishing village of Bethsaida (komy can be a village or market town, 6:36. But at this time Bethsaida was being enlarged inland by Philip the Tetrach, who ruled 4 BC to 34 AD, to be a city as in Luke 9:10). Away from the crowd the healing was in two stages, first by saliva on his eyes, then touching his eyes. (Saliva is still a good way to clear soreness when we wake up in the morning, so it does not harm the eyes. It is the healing of blind eyes that is miraculous). This miracle encourages us, together with medication, to persevere in prayer for the sick, particularly when only partial improvement has occcured.

8:25-26 When the man could see clearly Jesus told him to go home, without going into the fishing village where he had been brought by his friends.

8:27-28 "What did Jesus do then?" Jesus did not go back into Bethsaida but walked 25 miles (40 km.) due north to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, which was another city founded by Philip the Tetrarch. "What did you talk about on the way?" Jesus asked the disciples what people were saying about him. Some thought he was John the Baptist (beheaded 6:27-28, see Herod's superstitious fear, Matthew 16:2). Others thought he was Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6), or Jeremiah or one of other prophets.

8:29-30 Then he asked Peter what he thought, and he said Jesus must be the Messiah. It is interesting that, in the interview with Mark, Peter did not mention he had said "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (as reported in Matthew 16:16). Nor did he mention he was to be the first rock (petra) of the world-wide church, and he would have the keys to let in large numbers of Jews on the day of Pentecost, Samaritans, and the first Roman converts (Matthew 16:18-19, see Acts 2:41; 8:14-17; 10:44-48). But the fact that Jesus was the Messiah was not to be announced (till after the resurrection, 9:9; Acts 2:31, 3:20; 4:10 where the Greek word christos translates the word Messiah. The term Jesus Christ would be better rendered Jesus the Messiah in all cases (as in the NRSV Matthew 1:1, 16, 18) After the Gospels and Acts the NRSV inexplicably changes back to the traditional name Jesus Christ, e.g. Romans 1:1, 1 Corinthians 1:1, etc.). For Jews the term Jesus the Messiah is more relevant than the name Christ which has a bad connotation (for hundreds of years they were called "Christ killers")

8:31 "How then did Jesus refer to himself in preaching?" The usual term he used was the Son of Man (as in 2:10, 28; 9:9, 12; 10:33, 45; 13:26; 14:21, 62. We now know he was both fully human and fully the eternal Son of God). "What did he say about his future plans?" From that time he began to warn us about his imminent death and resurrection. The prediction is given three times (8:31; 9:31; 10:31), and this is picked up both by Matthew (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19) and Luke (9:22, 44-45; 18:31-33).

8:32-33 "What did you think at the time about this ominous announcement?" I took him aside and rebuked him for entertaining such a thought. But he turned to the other disciples and rebuked me with "Get behind me, Satan" (Hebrew satan means an adversary as in Psalm 38:20; 109:4; 1 Kings 11:14. So this does not mean Peter was satanic, or possessed by Satan, only that he was opposing what Jesus knew he had to do). "What was wrong with opposing Jesus' intention to face his own death?" He said my mind was set on human reasoning instead of the mind of God. (Peter must have felt severely rebuked, but he eventually came to understand the huge implications of Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection. Compare what he preached and wrote :Acts 2:31-33; 3:18; 4:10-12; 10:39-43, 1 Peter 1:3-5; 2:23-24).

8:34 "Did Jesus explain the need for him to die to the crowd?" He explained the way of the cross (metaphorical of a costly way of life, which is an inevitable part of loving and being hurt by those we love. Perhaps being nailed to a cross is also metaphorical of a commitment from which there is no turning back).

8:35-37 Mark may have gone on to ask "Did you grasp what was involved at that time?" I realized that people lose their life by trying to coddle and protect themselves. You could become as wise and rich as Solomon and miss the whole purpose of life.

8:38 "What did Jesus say the disciples should do?" They should not be ashamed of him and what he would soon be suffering. But that would not be the end. There would be a coming for their vindication. (Later Peter described how the coming referred to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in AD 70. It would be in the generation of his hearers, 13:30, note the words come and coming in 13:26, 33, 35, 36).

Note The word "holy angels" refers to the servants of the Lord of Hosts as in "Bless the Lord , O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his biding, obedient to his spoken word. Bless the Lord, all his hosts; his ministers that do his will" (Psalm 103:21-32 ). As Sovereign King Messiah reigning among the Nations, the eternal Son of God keeps intervening as Lord of Hosts in judgment and vindication ( Psalms 24:10; 46:7,11; 59:5; Isaiah 1:9, 24; 2:12; 3:1, Jeremiah 2:19; 5:14-15, etc.). In doing that he uses ordinary means such as invading armies (like the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans), heathen kings like Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1), servants on earth who pray, and also heavenly servants (angels). In this text Jesus makes clear that he is the Lord of Hosts of the Old Testament. For a fuller discussion see Advent Coming of the Lord among the Nations).

Chapter 9