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Compassion for the People
It is not the disciples who come to the Lord to express their concern for the multitude, but the Lord takes the initiative here (cf. Mk 6:35). He acts here on the basis of His own loving thoughts. It is an additional proof after the previous amendment that He is in grace of being the Messiah who saturates His people with bread (Psa 132:15).
The first feeding (Mk 6:34-44) is about the service of the disciples. There are five thousand men, five loaves of bread and twelve small baskets, numbers of which the first two point to responsibility. Here it is about God’s sovereign power. We see this in the numbers “seven” (Mk 8:8) and “four thousand” (Mk 8:9). In the first case it is mainly about Israel, which we see in the number twelve. Here it is about the earth, about all men, what we see in the number four. After the bread for Israel (Mk 6:41-44) and the bread for the dogs, the unclean Gentiles (Mk 7:28) we see in this story that there is bread for the world (cf. Jn 6:33).
We also have here a testimony of the perfect grace of God, indicated in the number seven, which symbolizes perfection. We also see in this second feeding that those who follow Him will have no lack.
In spite of His rejection, the Lord continues to show grace, for His mercy is Godly. He knows exactly how long the crowd has been with Him and that they have nothing to eat. He counts the days. What He says of the crowd also applies to Him. He’s also been without food all this time, but He thinks about the crowd.
It seems a strange thing that we can be with the Lord for so long and still have nothing to eat. He creates such opportunities in order to show His compassion in this, which we would otherwise not be able to see. The three days also speak of His resurrection. God can only act in grace with the world on the basis of the death and resurrection of His Son.
The Lord knows even more about them. He knows their limited powers and also knows where they come from and where they have to go. That is why He wants to take care of them.
Feeding of the Four Thousand
The disciples seem to have forgotten the previous experience. This is how it often happens to us. We know how many times the Lord has saved us from difficult situations, and yet we fear we will perish in the next. The disciples have not yet learned to measure the situation according to His power rather than according to their own power. They speak to Him about the situation in a way that presupposes that He would not know that there are no sources in a desolate place. They will experience that He makes a handful of corn an abundant harvest (Psa 72:16).
The Lord asks them about their supply of loaves. They know how much they have with them. He also asks us how much we have. We can answer that we know something about Him as the bread of life, but we cannot use it to meet the needs of others. For Him, however, it is always enough if we give it to Him. We can also apply this to our money and our abilities. If we give it to Him, He can turn it into something we can serve others with.
Before He gives food, He commands the crowd to sit on the ground. Food He gives must be eaten at rest. Sitting like this, the eyes of all will also have been upon Him (Psa 145:13-16). Often He has been a guest of others, sometimes welcome, sometimes unwelcome, but here He is the Host. So He takes the seven loaves and gives thanks for them. He brings them into connection with the fullness of heaven. He then breaks the loaves, multiplying them, and giving them to His disciples.
The disciples may present them to the crowd as a richly filled table. There is no lack. There is not only bread, there is also fish. After the Lord has spoken the blessing, the disciples may also serve them to the crowd. The result is that all are fed. They can eat until they are satiated. In fact, there is so much that seven large baskets full of pieces remain.
The main purpose of repeating this miracle is to represent the tireless intervention of God’s perfect power in love. We see that in using the number seven twice. Normally a ruler allows himself to be served by his subjects, who provide him with what he needs. Here is a Ruler who gives food to his subjects. The number four thousand indicates the universality of this miracle. Four is the number of the earth (four winds, four seasons). God’s grace is there for everyone.
After the Lord has provided the multitude with sufficient food by this miracle, He sends them away. They will not have succumbed along the way. They will also have had enough food for talking about and thinking about Who is this wonderful Person Who has given them so much teaching and food.
The Request for a Sign
Immediately after the feeding, the Lord enters the boat. His disciples are with Him. So they come into the next area of His service. There, however, is no crowd in need waiting for Him, but declared opponents are ready to argue with Him and test Him.
His opponents are the company of the Pharisees. They come to Him and dispute His authority because they see in Him a threat to their own authority. That is why they are blind to the miracles He has performed. The fact that they ask Him for a sign shows that they have not seriously thought about the remarkable miracles He has already done. Nor do they have a heart for them. After all, His whole service and Person are a sign from heaven!
The Lord has sighed before because of a bodily need (Mk 7:34). Here He sighs deeply because of even greater spiritual distress and blindness. These spiritual distress and blindness are a much greater defect than a physical defect. He sighs deeply because He knows the disastrous outcome of their disbelief (cf. Eze 9:4). In His spirit He feels the consequences of sin (Jn 11:33; Jn 13:21).
The Lord does not enter into discussion either. You cannot make anything clear to a blind person who has already seen so much and has not noticed anything. He asks them why “this generation”, i.e. people like this, wants a sign. What use is a sign to the blind who cannot see it? That’s why they don’t get what they ask for. Giving them a sign would be like throwing pearls before swine (Mt 7:6).
The crowd wanted to stay with Him, but the Lord sent them away (Mk 8:9). He does not send His opponents away, but turns His back on them. They do not have to count on Him to grant their wish. He will enter the boat again and leave, away from these Pharisees with their hardened and blind hearts. On the other side awaits a new work: the healing of a blind person (Mk 8:22-26). At the same time His service continues on board, teaching His disciples about leaven (Mk 8:14-21).
The Leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod
The crowd of more than four thousand had no bread, and Christ saturated them by using the seven loaves of the disciples. Now the disciples appear to have nothing with them except one loaf of bread. That is not much for thirteen people. The question is, have they learned what He can do with it? After all, they have Him with them?
The Lord knows they’re worried about that. They’re hungry, but they won’t be saturated by that one loaf. In the spiritual application we can say that distributing spiritual food does not always mean that one’s own spiritual hunger is also satisfied. Then it is necessary to take your own food as well. But sometimes there is so little time to ‘eat’ yourself, that spiritual life becomes weaker. The Lord knows this.
The lack of bread and their concern for it gives Him the opportunity to teach them a lesson other than that which He can provide for all needs. This lesson is also related to bread, for it is about leaven. The Lord speaks about “the leaven of the Pharisees”. By this He means adhering to outer religious forms, of whatever kind, by which God and His Christ are set aside. The leaven of the Pharisees is hypocrisy (Lk 12:1); it is the pious appearance to the outside world, while the heart is cold and empty.
There is also “the leaven of Herod”. By this is meant the worldliness, the covetousness of things that give a good name in this time, or maintain the conformity to the world.
So it’s all about legalism and world conformity. They are two extremes that are very similar at the same time. They are both evil. Legalism is a form of world conformity. It is important to learn the lesson of the spiritual dangers that threaten a servant’s life and make his service useless and even harmful to others.
That the disciples need this lesson is evidenced by their reaction. They have forgotten that they have the one bread plus the Lord with them. That is why they seek the solution among themselves and not with Him. They connect His teaching with their own needs and do not understand the warnings. They see these people as respectable and therefore are not prepared to the radical condemnation that He is pronouncing.
Only in Christ can we be freed from these stumbling blocks and tricks. Do we have enough in one loaf, or do we think we should add some of the leaven of the Pharisees or of Herod? We can apply this to the life of the church. There is a danger that we do not have enough in the one bread, that is Christ. Then we believe that by legalism or forms of the world we can protect or enrich our faith in Him. If that happens, we have not paid attention and have not watched out for the leaven of the Pharisees and that of Herod.
Teaching About the Leaven
The Lord observes how they discuss His warning. He asks them three questions. The first question makes it clear that He does not mean by His warning, the lack of loaves, but exposes their lack of trust in Him. In the second question, He reproaches them for their lack of understanding and awareness of the spiritual dangers that threaten them and for which He has warned them. They did not consider things in the light of Who He is and therefore came to the wrong conclusion. In the third question He points out the cause of their lack of understanding. That cause is their hardened heart. They haven’t yet learned to trust Him completely because they still have a high regard for religious and worldly status.
They do have eyes, but they don’t look well because they don’t look the way He does. They are not completely blind, but they cannot see clearly either. The Pharisees and Herod are completely blind, but the disciples cannot see well either because they also have something of the Pharisees’ and Herod’s leaven. They do not use their spiritual ability to judge the deeds of the Lord they have seen. In the same way they misjudge His words. They do have ears, but still listen too much to people who are religiously esteemed.
To awaken them and reach their hearts, the Lord reminds them of the first miraculous feeding. He asks what was left. They remember. A vivid and accurate reminder of what the Lord has done or said is an important factor in spiritual life. This “reminding” is used by Peter in his second letter (2Pet 1:12-13; 15; 2Pet 3:1). Therefore, the Supper is a meal of remembrance (1Cor 11:24-25). See also Psalms 38 and 70, which are ‘remembrance psalms (Psa 38:1; Psa 70:1).
To teach them the lesson well, He also reminds them of the second miraculous feeding. Here, too, He asks the question of what was left. They also remember that. Then He asks the question if they don’t understand it yet. There is no answer to this last question. They have understood. The Lord does not give answers, He only asks questions.
A Blind Man Healed
The Lord comes to Bethsaida with His disciples. There are people there again who care for others and bring someone to Him (cf. Mk 7:32). They implore Him to touch the blind man because they know that His touch means healing. There is faith in the goodness and power of the Savior. In the way He heals the blind man, there is teaching for the disciples who also had a problem with their eyes (Mk 8:18).
As He has previously done with the deaf man (Mk 7:33), He also takes the blind man out of the crowd. He does not seek the admiration of people. He wants to do His service in silence, without drawing attention to Himself. That is real service. One word would have been enough, but He, the Son of God, is a Servant and is fully committed to the cause as Someone Who is closely involved in it.
His inner strength, which we see in the symbol of saliva, comes on the eyes of the blind man. Then He lays His hands on him. Then, perfectly knowing the condition of the blind person, He informs him if he sees anything. The man’s answer seems to indicate that the healing has only partially succeeded. But there is no question here of a half succeeded and half failed miracle of the Lord. Here it is a miracle that He performs in phases. In John 9 the healing takes place without phases (Jn 9:7). He works according to His plan, to teach us something too.
Here we learn that in the spiritual development of someone who comes to faith, people can initially occupy a large place. This is also the case with the disciples: man, especially the Pharisee and his pious appearance, still occupies too great a place. Legalistic people make a big impression on some people. If we do not have a clear sight of the Lord, legalistic people impress us greatly. We bow down to their authority. We can also be impressed by the prestige and tribute of the world. In all such cases a second touch is necessary before we see all things clearly.
Here too the love of the Lord does not get tired of their unbelieving slowness of understanding. He acts according to the power of His own intention and makes it clear to us. Everything that impresses us makes it impossible for us to see clearly. That is because He, the one loaf, is not enough for us. For someone who has never been able to see, two things are needed. One is the ability to see and the other is the ability to use the acquired eyesight.
In this blind man we see the condition of the disciples. Before the Lord, so to speak, lays His hands on them for the second time they don’t see everything sharp because of Jewish customs. They are limited in seeing His glory. The laying on of His hands for the second time we see in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit has come, the disciples see everything sharply. The Lord’s hands always complete the work He has begun (Phil 1:6).
He sends the healed blind away with a command. He must go to his home, but not to the village. His family may know what He has done to him, but no spectacle should be made of it for the spacious surroundings. Thus He has a command for everyone who has been freed by Him from his sins.
The Confession of Peter
The Lord, as always, takes the initiative to go elsewhere, and His disciples follow Him. It has been calculated that in the years of His walk He traveled about four thousand kilometers. The disciples were allowed to walk with Him all that way. Along the way they have received much teaching from Him. Likewise when they are on their way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way He has a question for them. He wants to know what they have heard people saying about Him.
The disciples are aware of the prevailing opinions. They only mention the flattering opinions. They also know the statements of the Pharisees who call Him a Samaritan and a slanderer or also a glutton and wine drinker and that He has a demon. But they don’t mention those things. They love the Lord too much for that. What we do see, however, is that whatever opinions one has about Him, they show the lack of understanding for Who He really is. It is not just seeing people as trees, but utter blindness.
We may know what others think about Christ, but above all it is important who He is for us personally (cf. Song 5:9). Can we see, or are we also (partially) blind? That is why the question comes to all disciples. The Lord addresses the question to them in a way that rules out any misunderstanding. The answer comes through Peter. His confession is that of faith in Him as the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah.
For Peter He is the Anointed for Israel, but God understands ‘Anointed’ more than just the Messiah for Israel. For God, He is the Chosen One to whom He has connected eternal counsels.
The time is past to convince Israel of the rights of the Lord Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore, He warns His disciples not to present Him as the Messiah to the people anymore. He announces what will happen for the fulfillment of the intentions of God in grace with Him as the Son of man after Israel has rejected Him.
First Announcement of Suffering
Instead of joining the confession of Peter, the Lord is going to teach them something completely different. Peter means by his confession that he sees in Him the Messiah of Israel, the people who will be made head of the nations, and that He will reign. That will certainly be so, but Peter is forgetting something. That is why the Lord tells plainly what will happen to Him. He speaks about His death for the first time. His rejection will be complete. But He also speaks of His rising again.
In this context, He calls Himself “the Son of Man”. This means that He is truly Man, Someone of the human race. He Who is the eternal God has become Man. By this He connects Himself with all mankind and not only with Israel. He also became the Son of man so that He could die and then bring in a great harvest in the resurrection (Jn 12:24).
The Interests of Men
The Lord has, without using veiled terms, shared from His heart with His friends what will happen to Him. Peter disagrees with this and begins to rebuke Him. How can He think and say such things? Aren’t they here to prevent it? Peter reacts this way because a rejected Messiah doesn’t fit into his thinking. He has just given a wonderful testimony of Him. Yet he did not understand its true meaning, and so we see in him that the most beautiful testimony does not guard against such a slip-up. Peter sees himself as a great tree that he can put himself so above the Lord to rebuke Him.
The Lord turns His back on Peter. He recognizes this utterance as an utterance of satan and rebukes Peter who has allowed himself to be used as a mouthpiece of satan. As He rebukes Peter, He looks at the disciples, for they must all understand that without the cross there can be no blessing.
Satan will always try to keep the Lord from the way of obedience, which is the way of the cross. He wants to offer Him glory without suffering for it. But God’s way is through suffering to glory. First the suffering must come from the side of men and for the sake of sin from the side of God, then glory can come. First everything that has dishonored God must be removed, then there can be reigning according to God’s thoughts. This is an important practical truth.
Peter acknowledges through the teaching of God that the Lord Jesus is the Christ, but he cannot bear the thought of rejection, humiliation, and death. He even dares to rebuke the Lord. To this comes the believer who does not realize that God’s glory is precisely enclosed in the cross. The worst and most dangerous instruments of satan are often believers who fear the defamation and enmity of the world.
Satan has already presented to Christ the glory without the cross. Christ then scornfully rejected that proposal (Mt 4:8-10). Here lies the trap we all so easily fall into, namely the desire to spare one’s own self and prefer an easy path rather than the way of the cross. By nature, we prefer to escape shame, rejection, and trial. We prefer a quiet path, respected by people.
Peter does not understand that there is no other way to redeem people. He lacks insight for this. Our way of life and our reactions to suffering show that we too often do not understand that God’s way to glory is only through the cross.
Conditions to Follow the Lord
The path to glory for the disciple is no different than that of his Master: by way of the cross. This word the Lord speaks not only to His disciples, but also to the crowd. It applies not only to those who already follow Him, but also to everyone who wants to follow Him. He tells the crowd what the consequences are of following Him.
It begins with the denial of oneself, of the pursuit of one’s own interests, the establishment of one’s own kingdom, an area where life meets one’s own goals. It is the renunciation of one’s own importance. Then the cross must also be taken up. The cross means submission to defamation and rejection by the world. This implies following the rejected Jesus. The cross, for example, is not a disease from which we can suffer. We do not take up a disease, but it happens to us. Taking up the cross is a voluntary thing. We can do it, or we can leave it.
To follow Christ we have to do two things. One is to deny ourselves. In the judgment of the world, this is negative, because the world is out to uphold itself and to prove itself. The other is to take up the cross. This is also negative according to the judgment of the world because the world only wants to enjoy beautiful things. Suffering has no place in it. If we want to remain with the Lord forever, we must follow Him. And if we want to follow Him, we must experience what He experienced on our way after Him.
In following Christ, things are quite different from what they are in the world. There is nothing more important to a human being than his life. Whoever does everything in his power to preserve it and therefore dedicates himself to a long stay on earth, will lose his life. Such a person has not thought about God and the right He has to the life of every creature. He who looks at his life in connection with Christ and the proclamation of the gospel, has understood what is at stake. Such a person does not arrange His life to be long and pleasant on earth, but follows a Savior rejected by the world because He preached the gospel. He who lives that life fulfills God’s purpose in life. The reward is sharing in the glory into which Christ has already entered.
The question “for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” is important to all who wish to enjoy the worldly things as much as possible. Even if one were to win the whole world, what would it profit him for eternity if he had to spend it in loneliness, pain, and darkness? Pharisees and Herodians have won the world, but they lose their souls.
The soul of a human being can’t be compared to anything. Yet countless people exchange their souls for a little earthly or worldly pleasure. They sell their souls to the devil for a little tinsel. The world is the system that feeds self-love and the flesh, in which all kinds of pleasure are used to have fun without God.
Everything is determined by our attitude towards the Son of Man. It is the Name of His rejection, but also of His future glory. He who, through a feeling of fear or shame, does not come to accept the Lord Jesus and His words and testify of Him in an adulterous and sinful generation, will not share in His glory. Such a person does not want to take upon himself the displeasure of his adulterous and sinful surroundings. That gives him a temporary recognition of his surroundings, but an eternal rejection by Christ.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Mark 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27