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‘In those days, when there was a great crowd and there was nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and says to them.’
The gathering of the great crowd is explicable in terms of the spreading of the news of the healing of the deaf and dumb man (Mark 7:36), and probable subsequent healings which would inevitably follow His growing reputation, possibly enhanced by the witness and remarkable change in the ex-demoniac described in Mark 5:20. However the connection is loose and we need not think that the one incident immediately followed the other, although the one is certainly the final consequence of the other, and what followed from it. Mark clearly intends us to see that this was also was in Decapolis. (Furthermore this is supported by the fact that in Mark 8:10 they cross to Dalmanutha and in Mark 8:22 return to Decapolis).
‘There was nothing to eat.’ The crowd had been with Him for three days and had run out of food. So Jesus turned to His disciples. He saw it as their responsibility to meet the needs of the people as He had done previously (Mark 6:37).
The Feeding of Four Thousand Men (8:1-10).
In the light of Jesus’ experience with the Syro-Phoenician woman this feeding is of huge significance and tremendous importance. It was not just a repetition of the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44) but an important indication that Jesus was now aware that the bread of life should even now be made available to Gentiles. He felt it necessary to extend His blessing, offered previously only to Israel, to the Gentiles before His ministry was complete. The woman had received His crumbs, now these people in Gentile territory were to receive bread in abundance.
Apart from superficial similarities that arise simply from the fact of feeding a crowd - the crowd gathered, the sitting down, bread and fish (staple diets), the blessing, the distribution of the food and the gathering of the fragments, all of which would necessarily be repeated in any such incident, the details are in fact very different.
Here Jesus initiated the feeding, in chapter 6 it was at His disciples’ suggestion. Here they had been there three days and had run out of food, in chapter 6 it was the same day and they had assembled hurriedly and had no food. Here He has compassion on them because they have no food (symbolically the Gentiles did not have ‘the word’), there He was concerned because they were as sheep without a shepherd, (a typical Old Testament picture of Israel). Here the question was, ‘From where can food be obtained?’ There the suggestion was that the crowd be sent away. Here there were seven loaves, there there were five. Here there were a few small fish, there there were two. Here there are seven baskets gathered up, there there were twelve, and the baskets are of a different type. In the detail the account is different in almost every way.
As mentioned previously the numbers themselves are significant. Whereas five, the covenant number, and twelve, the number of the twelve tribes, had pointed to Israel, here four, the world number, and seven the universal number of divine completeness and perfection, point to the whole world. Furthermore in chapter 6 the bread was gathered up in identifiable Jewish baskets, here in ‘universal’ baskets.
a In those days, when there was a great crowd and there was nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and says to them (Mark 8:1).
b “I have compassion on the crowd because they continue with me now three days and have nothing to eat, and if I send them away fasting to their home they will faint in the way, and some of them are come from far” (Mark 8:2-3).
c And His disciples answered Him, “From where will one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place?” (Mark 8:4).
d And He asked, “How many loaves have you?” And they said, “Seven” (Mark 8:5).
e And He commanded the crowd to sit down on the ground (Mark 8:6 a).
d And He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks He broke and gave to His disciples to set before them (Mark 8:6 b).
c And they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish, and having blessed them He commanded to set these also before them” (Mark 8:6-7).
b And they ate and were filled, and they took up of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets (Mark 8:8).
a And they were about four thousand, and He sent them away (Mark 8:9).
Note that in ‘a’ there was a great crowd, and in the parallel they were about four thousand. In ‘b’ He has compassion on them because they have no food, and in the parallel they all ate and were filled. In ‘c’ the disciples ask how they can fill the men with bread, and in the parallel they do so. In ‘d’ there are seven loaves, and in the parallel Jesus offers the seven loaves to the crowd. Centrally in ‘e’ Jesus was in control.
Jesus begins To Reach Out To Gentiles (7:1-8:21).
At this stage in His ministry Jesus begins to reach out further afield, for from this point on He spends much time preaching in territory which is mainly Gentile, although still containing many Jews. He prepares His disciples for it by His words to the Scribes and Pharisees, and then to the people, on what is truly essential, and then moves on to Tyre and Sidon where a Syro-phoenician woman’s simple faith brings home the right of Gentiles to partake of God’s table. The result is that He begins a campaign in Gentile territory. While this may partly have been due to pressures in Galilee, it is a clear expansion of His ministry.
Analysis of 7:1-8:21.
a Jesus challenges the Pharisees and Scribes with the fact that they pay more heed to tradition than to the word of God (Mark 7:1-13).
b He points out to the crowds that it is what is within the inner man that defiles a man (Mark 7:14-22).
c Jesus gives the Syro-phoenician woman bread from God’s table and heals her stricken son (Mark 7:24-30).
d He heals the deaf and speech impaired man, a picture of the need of Israel (Mark 7:31-37).
c He feeds the four thousand in Gentile territory and gives them bread from God’s table (Mark 8:1-10).
b The Pharisees reveal what is within them by seeking a sign, upsetting Jesus deeply (Mark 8:11-13).
a Jesus tells His disciples to beware of the leavened bread (the teaching) of the Pharisees and of Herod (or of the Herodians), and to hear and understand (Mark 8:14-21).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus exposes the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, while in the parallel He warns His disciples to beware of it. In ‘b’ He points out that it is what comes from within that defiles a man, and in the parallel we have an example of this in the sign-seeking Pharisees. In ‘c’ Jesus gives the Syro-phoenician woman ‘bread from God’s table’, and in the parallel He gives bread from God’s table to four thousand who gather in Gentile territory. Centrally in ‘d’ He heals a man who is deaf and speech impaired, a picture of the failure of Israel, and of the world, which He is now here to remedy.
Jesus Ministers in Gentile Territory - the Syro-phoenician Woman - the Feeding of Four Thousand Men (7:23-8:26).
Having made His point strongly Jesus now moved to Gentile territory and seemingly remained there until Mark 8:10, where after a brief visit to Galilee He again returned to Decapolis. But first he moved to the borders of Tyre and Sidon. Then from the borders of Tyre He travelled through Sidon down to the Sea of Galilee ‘through the midst of the borders of Decapolis’. All this was Gentile territory. There would seem to have been a specific intention of avoiding Galilee.
Various reasons have been suggested for this. Firstly that He was avoiding Herod’s threatening, secondly that He was removing Himself from the attacks of the Rabbis, thirdly that He was seeking privacy, possibly so that He could concentrate on teaching His disciples, and fourthly that He wanted to move on into other regions with His message. The first is never even hinted at and is unlikely as a main reason because Jesus’ only reference to Herod’s later intentions against Him were answered with quiet defiance (Luke 13:32). At this stage Herod still thought of Him as John the Baptiser returned from the dead and probably wanted to keep well clear of Him. The second is also unlikely as a main reason as nothing is suggested of further intentions to kill Him and He was not afraid of their criticisms. The third, seeking privacy, is one stated reason (Mark 7:24), although there is no specific indication that at that point He was concentrating on teaching His disciples. The fourth is very possible, although interestingly His preaching there is not mentioned but assumed (Mark 8:1). All four factors may have contributed to His decision with the last probably being finally the main factor, especially after the incident with the Syro-phoenician woman.
But we must also bear in mind that it may be Mark himself who is intending to bring this out. That what we have here was rather an impression that Mark was seeking to convey as he illustrates the expansion of Jesus’ ministry, that Jesus’ words and logic had now opened the way to His ministry in Gentile territory, rather than that He was avoiding Galilee.
SECTION 3. Jesus’ Ministry Throughout Galilee and In The Surrounding Regions (4:35-9:32).
After the initial opening up of the story of Jesus with its continual emphasis on His unique authority, Who He was and what He had come to do (Mark 4:1-3), and the series of parables which have indicated how the Kingly Rule of God was to expand (Mark 4:1-34), Mark now indicates how this expansion continued to occur through the ministry of Jesus in Galilee and the surrounding regions. At the same time he continues to expand on the glory and authority of Jesus Christ Himself as revealed in His activities. This last which lead up to the disciples’ recognition that He is the Messiah (Mark 8:29-30), in His subsequently being revealed in glory on a mountain in the presence of Peter, James and John (Mark 9:2-8), and in Jesus reinterpretation of His Messiahship in terms of the suffering Son of Man (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:9; Mark 9:12; Mark 9:30-32).
The emphasis on the suffering Son of Man will be the final emphasis of this section (Mark 9:30-32), and must therefore be seen as one of its primary aims. In view of the power and authority that He constantly revealed, it must have seemed totally contradictory. But Mark makes quite clear that it was so. In the midst of His powerful activity Jesus constantly made clear that He had come to die.
Meanwhile Mark totally ignores any ministry of Jesus in Judaea, together with His regular visits to Jerusalem for the feasts (as described by John). These would undoubtedly have taken place. No pious Galilean Jew would have failed over a period of time to make regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the different feasts. But Mark rather wants the concentration on His ministry to be seen as taking place in Galilee, with Jerusalem seen as the place which will reject and crucify Him. He is thus concerned to present a full picture of the glory of Christ, while facing his readers and hearers up to the fact that it will finally result in suffering and death, although always as leading on to His resurrection.
Analysis of 4:35-9:32.
Jesus leaves the regions around Capernaum (Mark 4:35).
a Sailing across the sea of Galilee alone with His disciples Jesus stills a mighty storm with His powerful word, while His disciples reveal their unbelief and ask, ‘Who is this?’ (Mark 4:35-41).
b He reveals His power over unclean spirits by healing a demoniac and commands the healed man to ‘go and tell’ (Mark 5:1-20).
c He reveals His power over uncleanness by healing a woman who is constantly losing life sustaining blood, thus making her ritually ‘unclean’, but above all over death by raising Jairus’ daughter. It is a manifestation of His glory to the three who have come apart with him to witness His glory and there are also two other witnesses to His glory (the child’s father and mother) (Mark 5:21-43).
d His own townsfolk do not know Who He is. He reveals His powerful words and mighty works so that His own townsfolk reveal their unbelief and ask ‘Where did this man get all this?’ (Mark 6:1-6 a).
e He sends out His disciples to teach and with authority over unclean spirits, and they reveal their faith and are successful (Mark 6:6-13).
f Herod executes John the Baptist, and offers his head on a dish, revealing the ways and the type of ‘food’ of the kingly rule of man on earth, while fearing his resurrection (Mark 6:14-29).
g The disciples return from their mission telling Him of the signs that they have accomplished and are called aside to be alone with Jesus. They are fulfilling the ministry that should have been the Pharisees had they but believed (Mark 6:30-32).
h Jesus feeds five thousand with five loaves and two fish, revealing the provision of heavenly food in the Kingly Rule of God on earth (Mark 6:33-44).
i Jesus walks to His disciples on the water, and they cry out in their unbelief and reveal their failure to hear and speak clearly because their hearts are hardened and they do not understand. They are spiritually deaf (Mark 6:45-52).
j The people gather to Him and He heals all who come to Him (Mark 6:53-56).
k Jesus challenges the Pharisees and Scribes with the fact that they pay more heed to tradition than to the word of God, and points out to the crowds that it is not outward things that defile a man but what is within the inner man (Mark 7:1-22).
j The Syro-phoenician woman comes to Him and He heals her stricken son (Mark 7:24-30).
i He heals the deaf and speech impaired man, a picture of the need of the disciples, and of Israel (Mark 7:31-37).
h He feeds the four thousand in Gentile territory and gives them bread from God’s table (Mark 8:1-10).
g The Pharisees reveal what is within them by seeking a sign, upsetting Jesus deeply and He declares that no sign will be given, which reveals why their ministry is barren so that they can have no part in His work (Mark 8:11-13).
f Jesus tells His disciples to beware of the leavened bread (the teaching) of the Pharisees and of Herod (or of the Herodians), and to hear and understand (Mark 8:14-21).
e The blind man’s eyes are gradually opened (Mark 8:22-26).
d The disciples do recognise Who Jesus is and learn that He must suffer. (They have learned from where He had ‘got all this’) (Mark 8:27 to Mark 9:1).
c Jesus is transfigured in such a way that His glory is revealed before the chosen three. The three come apart with Jesus and two other witnesses (Moses and Elijah) bear witness to His glory (Mark 9:2-13).
b The demon possessed boy is remarkably healed (Mark 9:14-29).
a The disciples are alone with Jesus and learn that spiritual storms lay ahead for Him and for themselves, receiving the fuller revelation of Who He is (Mark 9:30-32).
Jesus returns to Capernaum (Mark 9:33 a).
Note firstly how this whole section is sandwiched within visits to Capernaum, which had become a kind of headquarters for Jesus and His disciples. All therefore that takes place in this section radiates out from Capernaum. The section begins in ‘a’ with Jesus’ power revealed over nature in the stilling of the storm, while in the parallel Jesus tells His disciples of the ‘storm’ that yet awaits Him in the future to which He must submit. Nature He can control, but man must be allowed to perform his evil will to the utmost if mankind are to be saved. In ‘b’ He heals the demoniac, and in the parallel He heals the demon possessed boy. Both are extreme cases of possession. In ‘c’ He takes Peter, James and John apart and, in the presence of two witnesses (the girl’s father and mother), raises a young girl from the dead, revealing that He is the Lord of life, and in the parallel He takes Peter, James and John apart and is transfigured before them in the presence of two witnesses, Moses and Elijah, revealing that He is the Lord of glory. In both cases what has been seen is not to be spread abroad. In ‘d’ Jesus’ own townsfolk fail to recognise Him and ask ‘Where did this man get all this?’. while in the parallel His disciples do recognise Him and recognise where His power does come from, it is of God. In ‘e’ He sends out His disciples to teach and to have authority over unclean spirits, and they reveal their faith and their growing awareness, and are successful, and in the parallel we have the picture of the blind man whose eyes are gradually opened, a picture of what is happening to the disciples (it comes before the incident where the eyes of the disciples are known to have been opened when they confess His Messiahship). In ‘f’ Herod executes John the Baptist, and offers his head on a dish, revealing the ways and the type of ‘food’ offered under the kingly rule of man on earth, while in the parallel Jesus warns His disciples to beware of the leaven of Herod. In ‘g’ the disciples return from their mission telling Jesus of the signs that they have accomplished and are called aside to be alone with Jesus, while in the parallel the Pharisees are vainly looking for signs and He leaves them. In ‘h’ Jesus feeds five thousand Jewish believers with five loaves and two fish, revealing the provision of heavenly food in the Kingly Rule of God on earth, and in the parallel He feeds four thousand Jewish and Gentile believers with seven loaves and some fish, revealing the same. In ‘i’ Jesus walks to His disciples on the water, and in their unbelief they cry out and reveal their failure to hear and speak clearly, a result of the fact that their hearts are hardened so that they do not understand. They are spiritually deaf. And in the parallel a man who is deaf and stammering in his speech is healed. In ‘j’ the people gather to Him and He heals all who come to Him, and in the parallel the Syro-phoenician, typical of the Gentiles, comes to Him and He heals her daughter. Centrally in ‘k’ Jesus challenges the Pharisees and Scribes with the fact that they pay more heed to tradition than to the word of God, and points out to the crowds that it is not outward things that defile a man. It is what is within the inner man.
This larger section is divided up into smaller subsections of which the first is Mark 4:35 to Mark 6:6 a.
“I have compassion on the crowd because they continue with me now three days and have nothing to eat, and if I send them away fasting to their home they will faint in the way, and some of them are come from far.”
Here it is Jesus Who expressed concern for the lack of food, while in chapter 6 it was the disciples. He had preached to them and had no doubt done many healings over the three days and He knew that now their food supplies were gone. And He knew that many had come long distances and in His compassion was afraid that if they returned home without food they would not be able to make the journey.
We note that here His compassion is expressed for their lack of food. In chapter 6 they had only had one day without sufficient food and His concern was more for their spiritual need, but here their physical need was greater and thus He had concern for that. Jesus was concerned for the whole man and his needs.
The crowd was presumably a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. When such a wonder worker was at work it was unlikely that Gentiles would keep away, and Mark (and undoubtedly Jesus) has this very much in mind.
‘And his disciples answered him, “From where will one be able to fill these men with bread here in a desert place?”
Some have argued that the disciples would not have asked this question if they had already been at the feeding of the five thousand. But that is not necessarily so. They had no doubt seen that as a unique event and may well have recognised its significance, with its particular pointers, as applying specifically to Israel. Even if they had been that discerning, however, they would not expect the same for Gentiles. Gentiles had not been fed by God through Moses. (They had in fact, for the ‘people of Israel’ were actually a mixed multitude, but they were not seen in that way in Jewish eyes). And they may have remembered how Jesus had been apprehensive of the crowd and had hurried them off afterwards, almost as though He had regretted what He had done.
Other factors to take into account are:
1). They would surely have seen it as presumptious (as it would have been) to suggest to Jesus that He ought to perform a miracle. Indeed it may well be that, while they recognised that, their question was a hint along those lines, an expectant question, without putting too much pressure on. They did not want to tell Him what He should do, but they may have had it in their hearts that He could do it if He wanted to.
2). We must not necessarily assume that they would expect Jesus constantly to perform such miracles. They tended to underestimate what Jesus could and would do, and as we know, they were very slow to learn (as Jesus will soon have to point out (Mark 8:14-21)). Christians today and through the ages have been similar. A signal display of the power of God does not always result in a lasting strong faith and expectancy, even among mature Christians. They soon tend to degenerate back into lack of faith and lack of expectancy.
3). There may have been a considerable period of time between the one incident and the other, time enough for any expectancy to have died down. The accounts tend to foreshorten the length of Jesus’ ministry because they only select the high points.
Thus overall their attitude would not really be surprising even if they had been present some time previously at an earlier miracle of such magnitude, especially as this time Gentiles were involved. They were not constantly expecting the ‘greater’ miracles.
‘And he asked, “How many loaves have you?” And they said, “Seven”.’
Jesus knew His disciples had some food and asked what loaves they had. The reply was ‘seven’. At this the ears of everyone who was listening to the Gospel being read, and believed in Jesus, would prick up. Every listener would recognise the divinely perfect number, conveying the idea that there was sufficient there for God to do what He would if only the disciples realised it. This was why Mark added the mention of fish only as a secondary item. He did not want to take away from the impact of ‘seven loaves’.
‘And he commanded the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks he broke and gave to his disciples to set before them. And they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish, and having blessed them he commanded to set these also before them.”
Some have likened this to the giving of bread at the Lord’s Supper, but while in some way it prepared for the latter it is interesting that here He gave thanks for the bread while in Mark 6:41 and Mark 14:22 He blessed it. Here it is the fish that He blessed. Had Mark intended to bring out the parallel this is not what we would have expected. (Interestingly in Mark 14:23 he gave thanks for the wine). Thus there is no slavish following of a recognised liturgy and we should recognise that what was done here simply followed the normal pattern of a Jewish meal. But certainly the significance is similar. He was offering Himself to them as the Bread of life (John 6:35).
‘Having given thanks He broke and gave to His disciples.’ As a Jewish father would give thanks and break and hand on pieces of bread, so did Jesus in His Father’s name. But there is symbolism here for it portrayed how once He was broken His disciples would minister Him as the Bread of life to the world.
The fish also were ‘blessed’, (that is God was blessed for their provision), and passed on, mentioned only because they were part of what happened, but stated separately and unnumbered lest they blur the significance of the seven loaves. In this account the stress is on the sevenfold, divinely perfect bread.
‘And they ate and were filled, and they took up of broken pieces that remained over, seven baskets. And they were about four thousand, and he sent them away.’
How remarkable an event is summed up in such few words. Firstly they ate and were filled. What Jesus was offering of Himself as symbolised in the bread was fully satisfying. Then having partaken of the sevenfold loaves, symbolising the perfect and sufficient provision of God, there is perfection and sufficiency remaining, seven baskets. Both accounts stress the broken pieces. It was only as Jesus was broken for His own that future provision was made for them.
‘Seven baskets.’ These were large mat baskets as used universally.
‘And they were about four thousand.’ Four times a thousand, representative of the whole world.
‘And He sent them away.’ No fear of an uprising here. No one wanted to make Him a king. They were satisfied with what they had received.
We should, however, recognise the significance of what He had done. He had revealed that as the Messiah He had come to meet the needs of the whole world, and to invite them to His Father’s Table. All could now partake in His deliverance.
‘And immediately he entered into the boat with his disciples and came to the parts of Dalmanutha.’
Jesus took boat and returned to Galilee. Dalmanutha is at present unknown to us. Matthew has that they ‘came into the borders of Magadan’ (Mark 15:39) which papyrus 45 also reads in Mark. Magadan is also unknown. One family of texts (the so-called Caesarean) has Magdala in both Matthew and Mark, clearly a secondary reading but it may be that Magdala was in Magadan making it South of Capernaum. Otherwise we must simply accept that we do not know where it was except that it was in Galilee.
‘And the Pharisees came forth and began to question with him, seeking of him a sign from heaven, tempting him.’
On His arrival the Pharisees came and began to dispute with Him. How genuine they were we do not know. Probably their aim was simply to discredit Him. But it brings out how, in spite of all that He has done and achieved they are still as blind as ever. So they point out that if He really is the Coming One they must have some spectacular sign from Him, something which will be blindingly convincing, and be an outward and compelling proof of divine authority in accordance with their own thinking.
Perhaps they sought the ‘bath kol’, that distant voice from heaven, speaking so that they could hear, or fire coming down on the enemies of Israel as it had for Elijah and Elisha. But in fact no sign would have convinced them of the truth, for they did not want someone like Jesus. They wanted something that would confirm them in their own position. And even then they would have interpreted it in their own fashion.
There is a deliberate contrast here. Mark, as he will emphasise shortly (Mark 8:18-21), wants us to realise that such a sign had been given, to those who had eyes to see and ears to hear, in the feeding of the seeking crowd but that it was not available to the doubting Pharisees who only had their own leaven (corrupted bread) to make do with. For God does not win people by signs. That is not their purpose (and indeed if it were they would fail). They are rather given in order to boost those who are already genuinely seeking and to those who believe (as with John the Baptiser in prison - Matthew 11:2-6).
‘Tempting Him.’ They were putting Him to the test, but it was a repeat of the old temptations at the beginning, the temptation to take the easy and spectacular way out.
The Pharisees Come Seeking A Sign (8:11-13).
The stubbornness of the Pharisees is now contrasted with the willingness of the people in Decapolis to receive Him, and to recognise the sign that He gave them. But by all current thought the situation should have been the opposite. It should have been the common people who sought a sign while the Pharisees demonstrated their superior understanding by believing. However, it was not so. It reminds us that once we begin to think that we can judge how God will work we very often end up totally mistaken.
How poignant it is that the Pharisees who criticised some of Jesus’ disciples for receiving bread with unwashed hands now find themselves with no spiritual bread because their hearts are defiled. All that they have is ‘the leaven (corrupted bread) of the Pharisees’ (Mark 8:15). Thus they come seeking a sign. Meanwhile the people in Decapolis, whom certainly they would have seen as defiled, had received a sign and had also enjoyed abundance of such bread.
But we are not to see the Pharisees as ‘seekers’. Their purpose in asking for a sign is not in order that they might be convinced, it is in order to demonstrate to the people that He cannot give one. They are ‘testing’ Him and hoping to expose Him, for their opposition is increasing. And Jesus’ forthcoming warning to His disciples to beware of their leaven may well be an indication that they had been trying to get at the disciples.
It is in fact difficult to see what kind of a sign Jesus could have given which would have satisfied them. They knew of His healings and had witnessed them, and as a result had accused Him of being a blasphemer. They knew that He had cast out evil spirits, but had interpreted that as meaning that He was in league with the Devil. What other sign then could He have given them which would not have been interpreted in the same way? Any sign that He gave could therefore be twisted in order to confirm His association with the Great Deceiver. They were not speaking from a level playing field.
a And immediately He entered into the boat with His disciples and came to the parts of Dalmanutha (Mark 8:10).
b And the Pharisees came forth and began to question with Him, seeking of Him a sign from heaven, testing Him (Mark 8:11).
c And He sighed deeply in His spirit and says, “Why does this generation seek a sign?” (Mark 8:12 a).
b “Truly I say to you, there shall be no sign given to this generation” (Mark 8:12 b)
a And he left them and again entering into the boat departed to the other side (Mark 8:13).
Note that in ‘a’ He enters the boat and comes to Dalmanutha, and in the parallel He leaves it again and enters a boat and departs to the other side. In ‘b’ the Pharisees test Him, asking Him for a sign of Who He is, and in the parallel He says that no sign will be given to them. Centrally in ‘c’ His sigh reveals how disappointed He is with that generation.
‘And he sighed deeply in his spirit and says, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly I say to you, there shall be no sign given to this generation.”
Their unbelief moved Him deeply, and He recognised that that unbelief was not only in them but in many of the people who had crowded around to see miracles. They were all looking for the wrong thing. And He was greatly distressed by it. After all that He had done and taught, all that they could think of was spectacular signs.
‘This generation.’ That is, the majority who failed to truly respond to His words. It included the Pharisees, the Scribes, the people of His own home region (Mark 6:1-6) and and all who rejected the message of His disciples (Mark 6:11). But no sign would be given them for any such sign would have produced the wrong result. If they had had eyes to see they had in fact seen much that demonstrated that the Kingly Rule of God had drawn near, but it had not convinced them, because it was not what they wanted. They did not want a call to obedience and moral rectitude. They wanted to be lifted along on a wave of divine power and to be given freedom to live as they wanted to live, freedom from the Romans and all their adversaries, so that they could follow their own ways. They wanted a heavenly visitant, revealing what they thought of as heavenly powers, who would do it all for them. They wanted to be miraculously fed by the Messiah, (which interestingly the people of Decapolis had been). These were the signs that their literature had promised them. For the truth was that these great ‘seekers after righteousness’ had lost the moral dimension.
‘And he left them and again entering into the boat departed to the other side.’
The silence concerning what He did in Galilee speaks volumes. As far as Mark was concerned His activity there was in the past. They had had their opportunity and had failed to seize it. And now their opportunity was gone. They had proved themselves to be ‘standing outside’ (Mark 3:31). Now instead would begin the opening of the eyes of the disciples, those who were on the inside, which would put Him on the path to the cross.
‘And they forgot to take bread. And they had no more than one loaf in the boat with them.’
In spite of our natural curiosity we are not told who had forgotten to take the bread. Someone was responsible and had failed in their responsibility. Perhaps it was all of them, each leaving it to the other. But however that may be they had realised to their dismay that they were now entering Gentile territory with only one loaf between them.
So Jesus will now take the opportunity to draw their attention to the fact that they were not only short of bread, but also of the bread of truth. (This in preparation for the awakening soon to come at Caesarea Philippi and its high mountain (Mark 8:27 to Mark 9:8)).
In the context which has preceded this episode the disciples have been thwarted by only having five loaves and then seven loaves. Thus this description of their being down to ‘one loaf’ might be intended to indicate that they have now reached the end of their resources. What they should of course have remembered was that the Syro-phoenician woman had only needed crumbs.
The Conversation in the Boat (8:14-21).
But the Pharisees and Herodians are not the only blind ones. As attention now turns to the Apostles they too are seen to be lacking in understanding. They are seen as being disturbed about having little ‘bread’ when what they should have been concerned about was false ideas. They are told by Jesus to beware of being satisfied with ‘the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod’, a leaven or teaching whose futility is evidenced by their seeking of a sign. There may be in this an awareness on the part of Jesus that the Pharisees and Herodians had been putting out feelers towards some of the disciples. But however that may be they are perplexed at what He means, thinking only in terms of physical bread, revealing that they too are still spiritually unaware, both deaf and blind. They have still not learned the lesson of the loaves, that He is the Messiah and the One Who has brought a truth which is contrary to, and superior to, the teaching of the Pharisees and Herodians. Jesus has yet much to do in order to prepare them for the future.
a And they forgot to take bread. And they had no more than one loaf in the boat with them. And He charged them saying, “Take notice. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:14-15).
b And they reasoned one with another, saying, “It is because we have no bread” (Mark 8:16).
c And Jesus perceiving it says to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not perceive, nor understand?
d “Have you your heart hardened?”
c “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?
b When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They say to Him, “Twelve”. “And when the seven among the four thousand , how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you take up?” And they say to Him, “Seven”.
a And He said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
Note that in ‘a’ He warns them of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, and in the parallel is concerned because they do not understand. In ‘b’ they reason that this must be because they have no bread, and in the parallel He asks them whether they have forgotten how He had produced bread at will. In ‘c’ He is concerned at their lack of understanding and perception, and in the parallel because they neither see nor hear. In ‘d’ He is concerned at the hardness of their hearts.
‘And he charged them saying, “Take notice. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod ”.’
The situation drew from Jesus one of His enigmatic sayings. As He saw them worrying about shortage of bread He still remembered the Pharisees’ demand for a sign, which had demonstrated their spiritual bankruptcy. He did not want His disciples to be in the same position. Rather than worrying about bread they should be concerned about the false teaching that might deceive them and lead them astray. So their concern should not be about lack of bread but about ensuring that they had the true bread, the genuine sign of which they had been privileged to witness. They had to ensure that they avoided the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. In other words they were to avoid being led astray by religious ritual and pious pronouncements or by worldly advancement, seeking rather to enjoy the bread of life. He may also have had in mind their need to avoid the desire of the Pharisees for spectacular ‘signs’.
The feeding of the crowd should have demonstrated to them that He was here, not in order to raise an insurrection, or to be a sign-giver, but so as to be a Messiah Who would feed men’s hearts with Himself as the Bread of life, and that that was therefore what should now be their main concern. The Pharisees offered the way of ritual and religiosity, and even of passive resistance against Rome, Herod offered the way of compromise, and of cooperation with Rome. But what they should be concerned about was that they received His teaching truly unaffected by any such false ideas. He wanted them to be free from political ideas so that they could concentrate on what was important, the feeding of the souls of men.
‘Leaven.’ Dough that had been left and had fermented. It was thus permeated with corruption.
Matthew interprets ‘leaven’ as ‘the teaching of --’ (Mark 16:12). Luke interprets it as ‘hypocrisy’ (Luke 12:1). Either way it was corrupted bread. It refers to the inner thinking of the Pharisees and Herod, truth twisted into their own kind of falsehood by the Pharisees, and putting earthly pleasure, power, gain and prestige before godliness by Herod. They had to beware of both ritualism and worldliness.
This is confirmed by the use of the idea of leaven in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 and Galatians 5:9, and in Rabbinic Judaism where leaven was a common metaphor for the evil tendency in man. Thus Jesus was warning them against allowing their thoughts to be turned aside from concentration on Him as the source of life towards either legalistic practises and the traditions of men, which twisted the truth and resulted in hypocrisy, or towards grasping, worldly, ungodly behaviour which resulted in the same. Had Judas heeded this he would not have betrayed Jesus. Perhaps Jesus was in fact already aware that some of His disciples were being approached privately by representatives of both the Pharisees and Herod, and were even possibly a little shaken by it. For they had grown up respecting the Pharisees and fearing Herod.
‘And they reasoned one with another, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” ’
But once again the obtuseness of the disciples comes out. Their thinking is still on the physical plain so that they miss the point of what He is saying. They are still deaf and blind. They think that all that Jesus is talking about is physical bread.
‘And Jesus perceiving it says to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not perceive, nor understand? Have you your heart hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They say to him, “Twelve”. “And when the seven among the four thousand , how many basketfuls of broken pieces did you take up?” And they say to him, “Seven”. And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” ’
Jesus was clearly a little exasperated at their failure to think along spiritual lines. He could not think why they were so taken up with a shortage of physical bread when He had proved Himself able to be the provider of more than sufficient. Were they blind and deaf? Let them consider the twelve and seven baskets that were left over (He made them say the numbers) which had indicated sufficiency of spiritual provision for Israel and for the world. Did they really think then that He was concerned about their receiving physical bread (that is provision for their needs) from the Pharisees and Herod?
No, what He had done with the loaves had symbolised spiritual provision as well as physical provision, provision for the hearts of men. Had they not realised then Who and What this showed Him to be, and what it demonstrated that He had come to do? Had they not recognised that His main aim had been to offer men spiritual food, and that that was what He was talking about, the need to avoid the wrong ‘spiritual food’? Did they not realise that he was referring to the danger of being misled by Pharisaic teaching with its resulting hypocrisy and Herodian teaching with its resulting worldliness. The problem was that their thoughts and their hearts were in the wrong place, and their minds taken up with the wrong things. He longed that they would recognise in Him the One Who was spiritually all-sufficient, and that they would think along spiritual lines, recognising in Him the Bread of life and the true Coming One, the Great Physician Who had come to make men whole.
So here we are emphatically reminded that in spite of all that they have seen they are still lacking in understanding. They are blind and deaf and even ‘hardened’. The word is strong. Their problem is not only one of obtuseness but one of an unwillingness to face the truth of what kind of Messiah He had come to be. It is no accident that this comes after the healing of the deaf and dumb man by uniquely special means, which had been intended to indicate men’s deafness, and comes before the healing of the blind man, also by special means, which will indicate men’s blindness. They too would need to be ‘healed’ before they could ‘hear’ and ‘see’.
Note that in these words the two feedings are referred to clearly as separate events, and the numbers and types of baskets are both distinguished.
A Pause For Thought.
If we were to take what Mark has written literally, and assume it was chronological, it would suggest that having covered a fairly short period of ministry up to this point, first in Galilee and then in Gentile territory, Jesus will, within a short period, having prepared His disciples and preached a little in Judaea, arrive in Jerusalem to die. But we know from John’s Gospel that that was not so.
For we know from John that His ministry covered a minimum of two years, and probably more, for three Passovers are mentioned by him (John 2:13; John 6:4; John 11:55) and there are good grounds for thinking that there was at least one more. Mark to some extent actually supports this for Mark 2:23 (plucking of grain) compared with Mark 6:9 (green grass) suggest at least a year has passed, and Mark 14:1 (the Passover - at the same time of the year) requires another year.
But the fact is that Mark, as we have noted previously, selects his subjects with a view to presenting Who Jesus is rather than in order to give an indication of exact chronology. He is to some extent, but not completely, like a writer who builds up a life story by having chapters on different themes, building up to the final chapter that way rather than chronologically, although having said that there is unquestionably a certain chronological framework. It would probably also be a mistake to assume that apart from a brief ministry in Judea (Mark 10:1), all Jesus’ ministry has ceased at this point. Indeed we must remember that between the incident at Caesarea Philippi (Luke 9:18-27) and the preparation for the final Passover (Luke 22:7) Luke contains an abundance of teaching and indications of visits to Jerusalem and its environs (Luke 10:38-42; Luke 13:34 with Matthew 23:37-39).
Thus we must accept the message that Mark conveys but not get caught up in the chronology. His themes of the beginning of the proclamation of the drawing near of the Kingly Rule of God (chapter 1), His presentation of the king (Mark 2:1 to Mark 3:6), His appointment of Apostles and successful ministry throughout Galilee (Mark 3:7 to Mark 7:23), His continued ministry in mixed Jewish-Gentile territory (Mark 7:24 to Mark 8:26), together with the growth of opposition revealed throughout, which have led up to this point, are to be seen as a thematic historical survey rather than as a strictly chronological life story. And his narrative will continue to be such, as we come across a review of His teaching to His disciples (Mark 8:27 to Mark 10:45), which is interspersed with and followed by the journey to Jerusalem (Mark 10:32 to Mark 11:11). So the aim is to convey the story of His life thematically, with only a general idea of chronology as He moves towards the cross. As Luke puts it, his face was now set towards Jerusalem.
A further interesting point may also be considered here before we move on. As has often been pointed out, from Mark 6:30 - Mark 8:26 we have partly parallel themes. In Mark 6:30 to Mark 7:31 we have the miraculous feeding of a crowd (Mark 6:35-44), the crossing of the sea (Mark 6:45-56), dispute with the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-23), incident about bread (Mark 7:24-30), and an unusual healing (Mark 7:31-37). Interestingly this is then followed by a miraculous feeding of a crowd (Mark 8:1-9), a crossing of the sea (Mark 8:10), a dispute with the Pharisees (Mark 8:11-13), an incident about bread (leaven) (Mark 8:14-21), and an unusual healing (Mark 8:22-26). This is clearly not accidental and is an example of Mark’s thematic approach (compare the introduction on Mark 3:13-19 a).
We must not, however, exaggerate the similarity. The two feedings are different in many ways. The climactic crossings of the sea (and Jesus regularly crossed the sea) are also very different, with one depicting a major and life threatening incident, while the other depicts just a simple if laborious crossing The disputes with the Pharisees are of a totally different nature, and one is long while the other is brief. The incidents about bread are totally different in both significance and content, while the two miracles, although portrayed similarly in outline, are also very different. In other words the similarities are the deliberate work of Mark, while the differences demonstrate that they are not just repetitions of the same incidents.
‘And they come to Bethsaida, And they bring to him a blind man and plead with him to touch him.’
They have returned to Bethsaida, outside Galilee and north of the sea of Galilee, and a blind man is brought to Him. Notice that as with the deaf and dumb man, (‘to lay His hand on him’ - Mark 7:32) Mark draws attention to the expected method of healing, ‘that He may touch him’. In other words he draws attention to the unusualness of the cure. He is concerned that the special significance of the healing is appreciated.
A Blind Man Is Healed in Two Stages (8:22-26).
This account comes after the blindness of the disciples has been stressed (Mark 7:18) and before the scales are revealed to have been at least partially dropped from their eyes (Mark 8:29). It is clear that it is heavy in symbolism as with the healing of the deaf and dumb man. It is no accident that the two unusual stories of healing are placed at each side of the emphasis on spiritual significance as opposed to literal (Mark 8:14-21), along with the feeding with bread which was also literal with a spiritual meaning, and follow the spiritual use of the idea of bread with the Syro-Phoenician woman (who was the only one who understood the meaning of the bread straight away).
Thus the pattern is - the spiritual use of bread (Mark 7:27-28), the unusual nature of the healing of the deaf and dumb man where there is a pointer to its spiritual meaning in the connection with Isaiah 35:5-6 (Mark 7:31-37), the giving of the bread to the crowd which has spiritual significance (Mark 8:1-10), the emphasis of Jesus that His disciples must think not of literal bread but of spiritual, and referring to deafness and blindness which are also spiritual (Mark 8:14-21), all leading up to this unusual healing of the blind man (Mark 8:22-26) which must also be seen as having spiritual significance, as is demonstrated by the fact that it is followed by the eyes of the disciples being partially opened (Mark 8:27-30) and then fully opened (Mark 9:1-8). And it all follows the lesson that it is not what goes into a man that defiles him (what is physical) but what comes out of his heart (what is spiritual) (Mark 7:14-23).
The two accounts of healing, that of the deaf and dumb man, and of the blind man, are parallel in a number of ways. Both take place outside Galilee, both involve the use of saliva, both mention Jesus touching the affected part, both are connected with Messianic expectation (Isaiah 35:5-6; compare Matthew 11:5), both illustrate the spiritual state of men in the context (compare Mark 8:18; and see also Mark 4:12), and both result in a request for secrecy (which was Jesus’ policy when He performed an outstanding miracle and would be staying around).
· And they come to Bethsaida, And they bring to Him a blind man and plead with Him to touch him, and He took hold of the blind man by the hand and brought him out of the village (Mark 8:22-23 a).
· And when He had spat on his eyes and laid His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” (Mark 8:23 b).
· And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I behold them as trees, walking” (Mark 8:24).
· Then again He laid his hands on his eyes, and he looked steadfastly and was restored and saw all things clearly (Mark 8:25).
· And He sent him away to his home saying, “Do not even enter into the village” (Mark 8:26).
Note that in ‘a’ the blind man is brought to Jesus and He takes him out of the village, and in the parallel He sends him away and tells him not to enter the village. In ‘b’ He lays His hands on him, and asks if he sees anything, and in the parallel He lays His hands on him and he sees clearly. Centrally in ‘c’ the man sees men as trees walking, a picture of the half-sightedness of the disciples.
The Eyes of The Disciples Are Opened (8:22-9:33a).
Following on Jesus’ concern at the lack of understanding of the disciples we now learn how their eyes are gradually opened to see at least something of the truth. The subsection commences with the healing of a blind man in two stages, a picture of what is happening to the disciples, and moves on to the disciples’ recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. The consequence of this is that Jesus then begins to emphasise that His way is to be a way of suffering as the Son of Man, followed by His revelation in glory. And at the same time He gives to Peter, James and John a vision of that glory. It is necessary for them to know both sides of Who He is. From Mark’s viewpoint Jesus at last lays aside the veil that has covered His teaching, and reveals openly what lies ahead. It is a way of suffering and glory, resulting in final triumph. And it has been made possible by their recognition of Him as the Messiah.
Analysis of 8:22-9:33a.
He comes to Bethsaida (Mark 8:22)
a The blind man’s eyes are gradually opened (Mark 8:22-26)
b The disciples recognise Who Jesus is (Mark 8:27-30).
c They learn that He must suffer before His glory is revealed (Mark 8:31 to Mark 9:1).
d In the transfiguration His glory is revealed before the chosen three in the presence of Moses and Elijah (Mark 9:2-8).
c They learn that they must not tell others of what they have seen until after the resurrection and learn that Elijah has already come to restore all things, leading up to the suffering of the Son of Man and of Elijah himself (Mark 9:9-13).
b The demon possessed boy is remarkably healed revealing the uniqueness of Jesus. No other could do what He did (Mark 9:14-29).
a The disciples are alone with Jesus and learn that spiritual storms lay ahead for Him and for themselves. Their eyes are being gradually opened (Mark 9:30-32).
He returns to Capernaum (Mark 9:33 a).
Note that in ‘a’ the eyes of the blind man are gradually opened, and in the parallel Jesus opens the eyes of the disciples to what lies ahead. In ‘b’ the disciples, through Peter their spokesman, recognise that Jesus is the Messiah, and in the parallel they are made aware of His total uniqueness and authority. In ‘c’ they learn that He must suffer before His glory is revealed, and in the parallel they learn the same. Centrally in ‘d’ Jesus is transfigured and His glory is revealed.
‘And when he had spat on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?”
Again we have similar treatment, the use of saliva, although applied differently to the different parts (compare Mark 7:33). The idea is that the words of Jesus will open the eyes of the spiritually blind as they will open the mouth of the spiritually dumb.
‘And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I behold them as trees, walking”.’
The healing was only partial. The eyes that had been opened were still dim, just as with the disciples spiritually. The Greek brings out the excited state of the man. The picture is vivid ‘men as trees, walking’, his sight was still dim and distorted.
‘Then again he laid his hands on his eyes, and he looked steadfastly (aorist - indicating the moment of truth) and was restored and saw all things clearly (imperfect - indicating the continuing result).’
After further action (a unique occurrence for Jesus’ healings in the Gospels) full sight is restored, the half blindness slips away and he can see fully. In the light of the whole context as described above we may see this, not only as an actual miracle, but also as an acted out parable (like the cursing of the fig tree). It was Jesus’ expectation that it would be thus with the disciples spiritually, first partly seeing and then receiving whole vision. And also with others who would follow them. Perhaps the partial healing reflects their somewhat defective recognition of Him as the Messiah, while the whole healing pictures what happens at the Transfiguration, or at His resurrection. But the idea is probably more in order to press home the fact that spiritual illumination comes slowly in stages. We should note here that in Scripture the healing of the blind is regularly seen to be God’s prerogative (Psalms 146:8; Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5).
‘And he sent him away to his home saying, “Do not even enter into the village.’
As with the deaf and dumb man we may see this as silence enjoined - compare Mark 7:36 (‘tell no one in the village’ is in fact a variant reading). The man was to go home without contacting anyone, the matter was not to be publicised. Compare how with the disciples they are not to publicise their new recognition of Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) (Mark 8:30). But such a demand for silence was Jesus’ regular policy when He performed outstanding miracles and was expectant of remaining in the area.
Jesus had taken the man out of ‘the village’ (Mark 8:23), and now tells him not to return there, but to go straight home. This was, of course, partly to prevent the publicity that might then result in sensation seeking crowds, but it is also clearly a spiritual picture of what the disciples must do once their eyes were opened. They must not proclaim Him as Messiah until after His death and resurrection, for men were mistaken in their conceptions of the Messiah (Mark 8:30).
The Disciples’ View of Jesus Is Revealed - Jesus Teaches His Disciples and Corrects Their Wrong Impressions - Three of Them Behold His Glory - And He Heals a Man Whom His Disciples Cannot Heal. The Disciples Are Receiving Gradual Illumination (8:27-9:32).
We have already seen how Mark has built up to this incident from chapter 7 onwards when the Pharisees had criticised Him, and especially that the disciples have been portrayed as deaf and blind, with the assurance that He will make them hear and will open their eyes so that at first they will see dimly, and then clearly. Now that will come to fulfilment, firstly in Peter’s confession, and then gradually in what follows.
In this passage Peter reveals that the disciples were still confident that Jesus was ‘the Messiah’, the unique Deliverer promised by God, although puzzled about what His intentions were, for the majority view in Galilee and Judaea was that when the Messiah came he would raise an army and drive out the Romans, after which he would establish the Jews in peace and plenty, and all by the power of God, which did not seem to be Jesus’ intention at all. But the variations in the expectations were in fact legion.
For the disciples’ view of Jesus’ Messiahship we can compare John 1:41; John 1:49 - but that was in initial enthusiasm. This was a more thought out position, even in the light of their inability to understand exactly what His intentions were. They had no doubt gone through periods of great mind searching and discussion, for He just did not seem to be behaving as men in general had expected the Messiah to behave. Peter is now probably expressing the view of all of them as discussed among themselves.
Then Jesus will begin to teach them what this signifies and how it affects them. They must learn what kind of Messiah He has come to be. So He begins to show them that He must die and rise again, and that, in the light of the resurrection, they too must be ready to suffer and die. After that He is transfigured before Peter, James and John, and His authority is revealed in the healing of a sad case which even His disciples could not deal with. This is meanwhile accompanied by teaching which lays stress on His coming suffering, followed by His resurrection. He is seeking to prepare them for what is coming in the light of their limitations.
The authenticity of this passage is brought out by a number of factors. Firstly by its identification with a specific and unusual and unexpected place (Caesarea Philippi), secondly by the fact that Jesus is not seen as actually confirming Peter’s confession (except by implication), thirdly by the stern and unprecedented forceful rebuke to Peter, and especially his being called Satan, almost aligning him with Judas, fourthly by the vivid and lifelike picture drawn of Peter’s error, and fifthly by its specific connection ‘after six days’ (Mark 9:2) with the incident that followed, when the dim sight revealed here becomes for at least three of them the bright light of certainty of men who see clearly. Such a time based connection is unusual for Mark and was clearly part of the tradition from the beginning. Had the event been an invention these factors would not have arisen.
This visit to Caesarea Philippi is often depicted as though it was a time when Jesus was alone with His disciples, but a careful reading of the narrative is against that idea, for it will be noted that the private conversations take place while they are ‘in the way’ between villages (Mark 8:27). But meanwhile ministry is taking place in the villages around Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27) and we learn of a large crowd whom He can call on to hear His words (Mark 8:34). They are very much rarely alone.
Peter’s Confession of Jesus as Messiah and His Subsequent Failure (Mark 8:27-33 ).
While on the way between villages Jesus now challenges the disciples as to their present view of Him and Peter declares that they see Him as the coming Messiah. Jesus does not deny the title but immediately goes on to firmly reinterpret it in terms of the suffering Son of Man (Mark 8:31), Who will rise again and will one day come in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38) having received Kingly Rule (Mark 9:1), a teaching backed up by the displaying of His glory on a high mountain (Mark 9:2-8). It is a startling revelation to which all that has gone before has been leading up. From now on there will be a new urgency to His teaching.
Analysis of 8:27-33.
a And Jesus went forth, and His disciples, into the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?”. And they told Him, saying, “John the Baptist, and others, Elijah, but others, One of the prophets” (Mark 8:27-28).
b And He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29 a).
c Peter answers and says to Him, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29 b).
d And He charged them that they should tell no man of Him (Mark 8:30).
e And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8:31).
d And He spoke the saying openly (Mark 8:32 a).
c And Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him (Mark 8:32 b).
b But He turning about, and seeing His disciples, rebuked Peter (Mark 8:33 a).
a And He says, “Get you behind me, Satan, for you do not mind the things of God, but the things of men”(Mark 8:33 b).
Note that in ‘a’ the reply to Jesus question is of what men say, and in the parallel Peter is back on the same level with them and also regards only the things of men. In ‘b’ Jesus asks His disciples what they think of Him, and in the parallel notices that they have listened to Peter’s false ideas and therefore rebukes him publicly. In ‘c’ Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah (what he says is of God), and in the parallel Peter wrongly thinks that he can rebuke Him (what he says is of men). In ‘d’ Jesus charges His disciples to tell no one that He is the Messiah, and in the parallel He speaks openly about the Son of Man. Centrally in ‘e’ He teaches what must happen to Him as the Son of Man.
‘And Jesus went out, and his disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and in the way he asked his disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” And they told him saying, “John the Baptiser, and others Elijah. But others, one of the prophets.”
The group travelled northwards towards Caesarea Philippi, visiting the villages around. The proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God went on apace. Meanwhile Jesus took advantage of the time spent on the road to challenge His disciples, and to examine and clarify their thinking. He did this by means of a question concerning what men were saying about Him, always a good teaching approach. In view of what was soon coming it was important that they had some basic understanding of Who He was imprinted in their minds, and it had to be rightly interpreted. For similar questioning see Mark 4:13; Mark 4:40; Mark 7:18; Mark 8:17-18.
Their reply indicated that some saw Him as John the Baptiser risen from the dead (as Herod had previously), others saw Him as the coming Elijah (Malachi 4:5), while still others saw Him as ‘one of the prophets’. Compare on this reply Mark 6:14-15. See also Matthew 16:14. Matthew adds ‘Jeremiah’ to the list. Thus Jesus, presumably because of His miracles, was seen as a great ‘returning’ figure by many, and a prophet similar to the great prophets by others. The likeness to Elijah and Jeremiah may simply mean someone with the same qualities, although many certainly expected Elijah in person and the return of Jeremiah (and of Isaiah) is anticipated in extra-Biblical literature, in Esther 2:18; Esther 2:18. It is significant that none saw Him as the Messiah or as the ‘prophet like Moses’ (Deuteronomy 18:15). For, although at times the question must have crossed their minds, He did not behave like they expected the Messiah to behave, .
‘The villages of Caesarea Philippi.’ Not the town itself but the villages in the surrounding area. This was in Herod Philip’s territory. It was Herod Philip who rebuilt Caesarea Philippi and dedicated it to the emperor, calling it Caesarea. The name Philippi was added to distinguish it from the main Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast from where Pilate governed Judaea. It was built at what was said to be the main source of the Jordan on the slopes of Mount Hermon. Nearby was a Temple of Augustus, built by Herod the Great, and an ancient shrine dedicated earlier to Baal and then to Pan, the god of nature, whom many claimed was born in a cavern there. Thus it was a centre of Emperor and Roma worship and of primitive nature religion. In a sense by coming to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God in their villages Jesus had come to challenge the dominion of these pagan gods, and it was highly appropriate that it was in this vicinity that Jesus should test what the disciples thought about Him.
‘In the way.’ A favourite expression of Mark denoting the period of travel between two places, periods which Jesus made full use of. Compare Mark 8:3; Mark 9:33-34; Mark 10:17; Mark 10:32.
‘And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answers and said to him, “You are the Messiah.” And he charged them that they should tell no man of him.’
Jesus then became more direct and challenged them as to how they saw Him. At the challenge of Jesus (the ‘you’ is emphatic) Peter made clear that, in spite of all their bafflement, they did recognise that He was the Messiah, God’s unique, long promised Deliverer. And it was a title which He accepted as is shown by the fact that He charged them not to let anyone else know. But the title was dangerous for the wrong reasons. It gave the wrong impression of why He had come and would have made Him appear to the Romans and to Herod as bent on violent political success. So while pleased at His disciples’ recognition (Matthew 16:17) He wanted the title left well alone. And in Mark Jesus immediately goes on to reinterpret the Messianic idea in terms of the suffering Son of Man. This is the emphasis that Mark is getting over. Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 1:1), but His Messiahship expresses itself through suffering first, and then through final triumph in resurrection and glory. Jesus thus did not want His Messiahship made known at this stage because it would turn men’s minds in the wrong direction. For that was not how men saw the Messiah.
In Matthew the confession is described more emphatically, and there it is clearly a turning point in Jesus’ ministry as is witnessed by ‘from that time ---’, but in Mark the main turning point lies in the changing direction of His teaching about Himself, not in the actual confession itself. This is especially significant as Mark has previously tended to stress appellations given to Jesus. Had we not had Matthew we would not have laid such an emphasis on this confession. One reason for extracting it from the disciples as far as Mark was concerned, was precisely so that He could correct the wrong impression it gave. For at this stage the disciples only saw dimly, like the partly healed blind man in Mark 8:22-26.
One prominent ancient manuscript (aleph) adds here ‘the Son of God’. A few add ‘the Son of the living God.’ But the majority of the most ancient manuscripts add nothing. The latter phrase would seem to have been introduced from Matthew 16:16, to make the confession here more prominent. But that is not Mark’s intention. He passes quickly on to Jesus reinterpretation. He is not concerned with the title but what it signifies in the purpose and plan of God.
‘The Christ’ (Messiah - anointed One). In the Old Testament those who were set apart for God as either king, priest or prophet were anointed with oil as an indication of their setting apart (Exodus 29:7; Exodus 29:21; 1Sa 10:1 ; 1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Kings 19:16). They were looked on as ‘the anointed of God’ and therefore not to be harmed (1 Samuel 24:6; 1Sa 24:10 ; 2 Samuel 23:1; Psalms 105:15 compare Acts 23:5). Thus the coming great prophet would be anointed by God (Isaiah 61:1). It was a term applied in Daniel to a coming ‘prince’ (nagid) who would be cut off and have nothing (Daniel 9:25-26). The term came to be applied par excellence to the Coming One who was expected to deliver Israel, as king or ruling priest, or both, who would thus be ‘the Anointed One’, the Messiah. In popular thought he would come and rouse the people by force of arms to bring political freedom to Israel, and the term was probably applied by them to a number of political troublemakers who in the end failed their expectations. Thus the Roman authorities were wary of ‘Messiahs’. But the essence of the idea was that he would come as the Deliverer and Restorer (John 4:25-26).
‘He charged them.’ The Greek word is that same as that translated ‘rebuke’ in Mark 8:32-33. It was a stern charge which contained an implied equally stern rebuke on any who disobeyed. Jesus did not want to be linked with Messianic speculations (once He was dead, of course, the situation changed. There was no danger then of misinterpretation, which was why He was then spoken of as the Christ).
‘And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days rise again. And he spoke the saying openly. ’
We should note here that Jesus not only refers to His coming death, but actually embraces it as a part of the divine purpose. From now on it is no longer seen as something that might arise because of opposition against Him, but as something which has been in the mind of God from the beginning. For He immediately turns their attention to Himself as ‘the Son of Man’ (compare Mark 2:10; Mark 2:28) Who ‘must suffer’ (‘it is necessary for Him to suffer’). Here, in contrast with His desire for secrecy in respect of His Messiahship, Jesus speaks openly about His rejection and coming death as the Son of Man, to be followed by resurrection. The significance of His death will come out later (Mark 10:45; Mark 14:24).
‘The Son of Man must suffer.’ Notice the ‘must’. It is seen to be a divine necessity (compare Mark 9:11; Mark 13:7; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:7; Luke 24:26; John 3:14; John 9:4; John 10:16; John 20:9; Act 3:21 ; 1 Corinthians 15:25; 1 Corinthians 15:53; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 1:1). It is not surprising that Jesus saw His future in terms of suffering. He had witnessed what had happened to John the Baptiser, He knew of the growing antagonism against Him that had probably caused Him to leave Galilee, He knew of the career of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 50:4-11; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, and of the Smitten Shepherd in Zechariah 13:7 (consider John 10:11). He knew of the references to the suffering of the godly, and especially of the son of David, in the Psalms (e.g. Psalms 22:0; Psalms 118:10 on) and He knew that the Son of Man in Daniel, as the representative of God’s people, was to come out of suffering into the presence of God, as the beasts attacked the people of God (Daniel 7:13-14 with Mark 8:22 and Mark 8:25-27). So He had no Messianic delusions. Unlike the disciples He knew what was in store. And He knew that that suffering was necessary so that He could be a ‘ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45; compare Isaiah 53:4-6; Isaiah 53:10-11). For ‘the Son of Man’ see note on Mark 2:10.
‘And be rejected by the elders, and the chief priests and the scribes.’ This description encompassed the whole Sanhedrin (the Jewish governing body). The elders were the prominent lay people on the Council (Mark 11:27; Mark 14:43; Mark 14:53; Mark 15:1), the chief priests were the hierarchy and ran the Temple and its ritual, and the scribes were the Doctors of the Law. He was already rejected by many of them and He recognised that almost all of them would turn against Him (Psalms 118:0 (LXX 117).22 - same Greek verb in LXX), for He knew what was in man (John 2:25). Indeed if He was to die as a ransom (Mark 10:45) it could only be through rejection at their hands. This idea would particularly have appalled the disciples. But it was firmly based on Old Testament precedent, as witness the experiences of Jeremiah and Zechariah.
‘And be killed.’ Reference must mainly be to the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:8-10, as later expressed in Mark 10:45. We have here an evidence of how carefully the actual words of Jesus were preserved. It would have been so easy to alter it to ‘crucified’, especially in the light of Mark 8:34 and the fact that crucifixion was the normal death under the Romans for high treason, but they did not.
‘And after three days He will rise again.’ This promise is repeated in Mark 9:31; Mark 10:34. He may not have intended ‘three days’ literally. ‘Three days’ indicated a relatively short period of time and could mean ‘within days’ (compare the ‘three days journey’, a standard phrase in the Pentateuch indicating a shortish journey compared with the longer ‘seven days journey’ - Genesis 30:36; Exodus 3:18; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 8:27; Numbers 10:33; Numbers 33:8; Jonah 3:3). The idea of a third day resurrection is possibly taken from Hosea 6:1-2 (both Matthew and Luke interpret the ‘three days’ of Mark as ‘the third day’. To Jews both phrases meant the same thing) interpreted in the light of Jesus identification of Himself with Israel in terms of the suffering Servant of Isaiah. Indeed the Servant’s task could only be fulfilled by resurrection. How else could He receive the spoils of victory (Isaiah 53:12)? (Compare also Isaiah 52:13-15). And how else could the Son of Man come triumphantly out of suffering into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14)? Resurrection is also constantly implied by such statements as Mark 8:34-37.
It should be noted that in Mark Jesus is always depicted as actively rising again, using the active verb anistemi. The thought would seem to be that after being subjected to humiliation He will Himself take control of events and bring about His own resurrection. In the words of John 10:18, ‘no man takes it (my life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father’. Matthew on the other hand translates using the passive of egeiro where the emphasis is on God raising Him. But the difference is simply one of viewpoint. Father and Son will act together in His resurrection.
It may be asked why, if Jesus made this prophecy so regularly, the disciples were not expectant of His resurrection. But we have only to consider man’s propensity for accepting what he understands to explain this. It was difficult enough for them suddenly to be faced in this way with the possibility that He would die tragically, without their taking in what His enigmatic words about His resurrection indicated. If they thought about it at all it would be in terms of some miracle of a resurrected Messiah after being put to death by his enemies. But it is more likely that they saw it in terms of Hosea 6:1-2 as a kind of national resurrection, possibly with His death being seen metaphorically as well, especially when they considered His own words about all who followed Him having to ‘die’ (Mark 8:34-36).
This prophecy concerning His coming suffering and death will be repeated three times in this subsection, here, and in Mark 9:12 and Mark 9:31. Its full significance will then be brought out in Mark 10:33-34 with 45.
Note on Daniel 7:13-14 .
In the Book of Daniel the empires (e.g. Mark 7:23) of the Mediterranean world were likened to rapacious beasts because their behaviour was seen as like that of beasts who range around and conquer and destroy (Daniel 7:1-8; Daniel 8:1-14). These beasts also represent their kings (Mark 7:17), and their horns represent later kings and kingdoms (e.g. Mark 8:20-23). In contrast the people of God are seen as a ‘son of man’ (Mark 7:13-14 with Mark 8:18; Mark 8:25-27). As represented by their obedience to the Law of God they are human in contrast with the bestial empires. But because they are God’s people they will be subject to suffering and tribulation (Mark 7:25). Finally, however, they will triumph when ‘the thrones are placed’ (Mark 7:9) and their representative (Mark 7:13) will come into the presence of God, ‘the Ancient of Days’, to receive the everlasting dominion and glory and kingdom (Mark 7:13-14 compare Mark 7:27).
As Himself the representative of the people of God Jesus takes to Himself the designation ‘the Son of Man’ and so aligns Himself with their future suffering prior to everlasting glory. The Son of Man is thus seen as One Who comes out of earthly suffering and will enter in triumph into the presence of God to be crowned and glorified.
(End of note).
‘And He spoke the saying openly.’ This is in direct contrast with Mark 8:30. There was no secrecy hinted at here. While He did not want them to spread about the fact that He was the Messiah, He had no such reservations about the fact that He was the Son of Man Who was to suffer, die and rise again. This was something that He wanted known, especially to all the disciples. Thus it was not whispered to a few. It was boldly declared before all.
Strictly speaking the disciples should have been prepared for this, but like us they had the ability to make words mean what they wanted them to mean. They had been told that the Bridegroom was to be ‘snatched away’ from them (Mark 2:20), and that then they would fast. It had been inferred that the temple of His body would be destroyed, and in three days raised again (John 2:19). And Jesus had clearly stated that He was giving His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51) and that men would ‘eat and drink’ of Him (John 6:56), a clear reference to His being put to death according to Old Testament passages such as Psalms 14:4; Psalms 53:4; Micah 3:3; Isaiah 49:26; Zechariah 9:15 LXX; compare Matthew 23:30. But in the way men have they had refused to accept the unpalatable truth and had ignored it. Now they were being faced up with it in a way that they could not ignore.
‘And Peter drew him aside and began to rebuke him.’
For the use of the verb proslambano as ‘drew aside’ compare Acts 18:26. Peter did not want to make an open issue of the matter, and did not want to embarrass Jesus or himself. But the word ‘rebuke’ is fairly strong. Peter clearly felt quite strongly about it.
Possibly he took Jesus aside to warn Him that He was in danger of putting people his disciples off (compare John 6:60), or it may have been that he may even have thought that He was being too pessimistic and was mistaken. Either way he felt that things needed putting right, and he was the man to do it. The rebuke takes us quite by surprise. No friend of Jesus had ever rebuked Him in this way over His teaching, or, as far as we know, would again. Indeed it was so presumptious that without the additional information provided by Matthew 16:17-19 we would be at a loss to understand it. The words and commendation of Jesus had gone to his head and made him think very foolishly. (It has made many think very foolishly ever since. We need to especially to watch ourselves when we are being commended).
Peter’s problem may have been mainly with the idea of Jesus needing to suffer. Alternately it may have been with the idea that such suffering would be at the hands of the religious leadership of Israel, for current teaching about the Messiah did not exclude the possibility of a glorious martyrdom at the hands of Israel’s enemies, but it would never have thought of it as being at the hands of his own people. In view of what follows (the fact of Jesus’ strong rebuke and His teaching that those who followed Him must also suffer) the former seems more likely, although it may have included both.
The whole affair suggests that Peter now thought that he was at last beginning to understand things better and was becoming something of an authority. Why, had not Jesus Himself said that the Father was revealing things to him (Matthew 16:17)? And that gave him false courage and a false sense of his own importance and understanding. (Let him who thinks that he stands beware lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12)). Along with his natural impetuosity, which comes out again and again in the Gospels and Acts, and the position of respect he held, this was in danger of becoming a problem. It was therefore necessary that he recognise immediately that he had still much to learn.
There is no doubt that Peter’s rebuke was presumptious from a disciple to his teacher, especially such a teacher as Jesus had revealed Himself to be, and when heard for the first time it comes as a distinct shock. It certainly revealed that Peter had the wrong idea of what the Messiahship he had mentioned involved for Jesus, and it equally certainly showed that he had wrong ideas of his own importance and understanding. He had overstepped the line between disciple and compatriot. He had thus to be shown that while he was beginning to have a glimmer of understanding (‘you are the Messiah’) it was not much more than that. He still ‘saw men as trees walking’ (Mark 8:24). For parallel examples of rebukes that had to be shown to be wrong compare Mark 10:13; Mark 10:48. But this is the only example we have of a disciple rebuking Jesus.
‘But he, turning about and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter, and says, “You get behind me, Satan, for you are not minding the things of God but the things of men.” ’
Peter’s words would immediately remind Jesus of another who had sought to turn Him aside from the way of suffering when He was tempted in the wilderness (Mark 1:13). And at them Jesus turned round to check on the other disciples, probably to see if they had heard. And on seeing that they were aware of what Peter was doing He clearly felt that He had to put things right very firmly. They all looked up to Peter and it had to be made clear to them all that his present ideas were not only not reliable but in fact came from a very dangerous source. We should always consider people’s feelings, but there are times when a person’s feelings have to come second to the truth, especially when open error is involved. He had just commended Peter for spiritual insight, now He must make clear the dimness of his spiritual eyes.
‘You get behind me, Satan.’ This answer should come to us, as it came to them, as a distinct shock. Its impact must have been huge. Peter must have been shaken to the core, and the other disciples almost as much. To be openly called ‘Satan’ by the Master in front of all. And it was intended by Jesus to have this effect. Furthermore Mark intended it to stand there with all its impact, with no softening (as was attempted later in some authorities). Peter’s words were dangerous in the extreme. They went against the whole purposes of God, and had to be shown for what they were. As Jesus had to sternly tell him, God’s ways are not man’s ways and he must not presume to know the mind of God until He had fully absorbed the words of Jesus. His words were the truth and Peter (and the other disciples) must never forget it.
This brought out even more emphatically Jesus’ own consciousness, which we so easily assume, of the fact that He had come with a unique message as a unique person for a unique purpose. To go against His words was to behave as Satan. It was direct rebellion against God.
What Jesus was saying in a most uncompromising fashion was that Peter had become Satan’s instrument through a combination of self-conceit and worldly wisdom, and that as such he could have no part in Jesus. He must ‘get behind Him’. Only once he had come to his senses could he once more be accepted face to face.
The words carry an important lesson. How easily can the one who has things revealed to him by God become a dupe of Satan. Great privilege is dangerous when given to mortal men. Nothing is more important for men who seek to know God and as a result receive some illumination than to refuse to allow themselves to be influenced by their own extravagant ideas lest they expand on what God has shown them. They must beware lest after they have preached to others they themselves become disapproved, ‘rejected after testing’ (1 Corinthians 9:27). There is only one safeguard against this. And that is to subject themselves thoroughly to God’s revelation through His word and to allow other godly men to judge them (1 Corinthians 14:29). Those who are sure that they are always right are always wrong.
And that is what had happened to Peter. He had become a dupe of Satan. But how fortunate for him that he had there the One Who could immediately put him right. Jesus had already faced up to and conquered the temptation to take the easy way, to avoid suffering, and He had no hesitation as to what should be done with such suggestions as Peter’s. They had to be put behind Him, out of sight and out of mind. And their source had to be made clear. His words here to Peter are similar to His words to Satan in Matthew 4:10, ‘hupage -- Satana’.
We must not soften the situation by suggesting that Jesus was actually addressing Satan. He was addressing one who had allowed himself through folly, and pride, and carelessness, to become Satan’s messenger. The words that follow are not directed at Satan but at Peter.
‘You are not minding the things of God but the things of men.’ The word translated ‘mind’ means ‘to think’, ‘to form or hold an opinion’, ‘to make a judgment’, and can mean ‘to have the same thoughts as’ (Philippians 2:5). It could involve taking someone’s side, espousing someone’s cause. And that seems to be what is in mind here. Peter is unconsciously siding with men confused by Satan, and not with God. One moment he had almost seemed to know the truth, and the next He was blind to the truth. His spiritual sight was seen to be both limited and partial. But the final point behind this is that men think differently from God, because they see everything from a different perspective. That is why man never really understands the ways of God, and must take them on trust. It is only God Who really understands why the way of salvation that He chose was so necessary. ‘How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out’ (Romans 11:33).
But we miss the point of the whole episode if we stop there. This incident was so startling that it must have burned itself into the minds of His disciples, and that was Jesus’ intention. It should have made them recognise that they were totally wrong about their expectations (although not completely succeeding - Mark 10:35-40), and that they should always be wary in future about what they said to Jesus, and also about what they said about Him. His hope was that they would never be too loose in their thinking again (although of course still baffled and misled by their own thoughts).
‘And he called to him the large crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever will save his life shall lose it, and whoever shall lose his life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News shall find it.” ’
This sudden reference to ‘a crowd’ reminds us that large crowds and Jesus were never far apart. The tendency of many has been to think of this time in Caesarea Philippi as a private period alone with the disciples, but this verse indicates that it was in fact quite otherwise. Here also He was accompanied by large crowds. For wherever He went He could not be hidden. It is true that large crowds have appeared to be largely absent in this part of Mark, and yet their spasmodic appearance is constantly referred to, and the likelihood of their presence at various times must be assumed (Mark 8:1; Mark 8:34; Mark 9:14). They do not, in fact, just appear from nowhere, and His visits to the villages (Mark 8:27) in fact suggest a preaching ministry. So we must clearly see the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God, and the miracles, as going on apace, alongside the private teaching of His disciples. But we are now to learn that from now on it will carry a new emphasis on the way of self-denial and suffering for all who follow Him.
‘And He called to Him the great crowd with His disciples.’ The crowd had possibly been following, but they would not have been party to what had been going on between Him and His disciples. Now, however, He felt the urge to confront them also with the new emphasis, and indicating that He intended to preach, He called them to gather round. If they were to follow Him they needed to recognise that danger lurked in the background, and it was right that they be warned.
His message was clear. He quite possibly began by proclaiming things concerning the Kingly Rule of God but then He began to warn them of what might be the consequences of coming under God’s Rule. For it would involve self-denial. It would involve being willing to put themselves in danger and at odds with men as they followed Him. On the other hand it would also result in finding life, a new, supernatural life under the Kingly Rule of God, the ‘eternal life’ stressed in John’s Gospel but here having the eternal future very much in mind (see Mark 10:17; Mark 10:30 for the concept in Mark).
‘Let him deny himself.’ Any follower of Him will be expected to keep God’s commandments (Mark 10:19). He must no longer live for himself. He must be willing to leave aside all earthly goods (Mark 10:21; Mark 10:29). He must totally commit himself and all he has to the control and service of God (Matthew 6:33). And he must learn to say no. No to the natural desire for ease and comfort. No to the longing for fleshly satisfaction. No to every self-seeking action. No to self-will. And yes to obedience to Christ. Yes to self-giving. Yes to a needy world, to the hungry, the lonely, the distressed and the friendless. He must put off the old man and put on the new, ‘created in righteousness and true holiness’ (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:8-10). This is initially what is involved in becoming a Christian.
‘And take up his cross.’ But that is not all. He must also be willing to take up his cross. All present knew about the cross, that savage instrument of Roman execution (although not limited to Rome), where a man, a lonely figure, bloodied by scourging, was forced to take up and carry the means of his own execution, turning his back on his life, leaving all else behind, and being hung up to die a slow and painful death. They had witnessed it in daily lives. (Some present would have witnessed such executions following the uprisings of men like Judas the Galilean (6 AD), and it was not an unusual occurrence). Now they were to recognise that to follow Him would be like that, a crucifixion of self, a turning of one’s back on the world, a taking of a way that was outwardly uncomfortable, costly, demanding, often a terribly lonely path, requiring them to leave all else aside, and might even lead to the same end as it would involve for Him, to martyrdom. And in their case they could choose whether they took it up. The picture carried the ring of total self-sacrifice and a stern warning note. It demanded sacrifice. It demanded all. If men were willing to do it for Judas the Galilean, should they not be willing to do it for Him?
The mention of the cross at this stage, to people not inured to it by being aware of the crucifixion of Jesus, must have come as something of a jolt. It was not a pleasant picture. And it demonstrated a sense of finality about becoming a disciple, and the dangers of being involved with what Jesus was teaching. He offered no easy road. Certainly it included the idea of possible martyrdom, but as spoken to the crowd and accompanied by the call to follow Him it was probably seen by most as a vivid way of expressing the need for the disciple of Christ to leave all behind and be ready for anything.
‘And follow me.’ They were to follow Him and walk as He walked. He was the One Who had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58). He was the One Who loved God with heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and His neighbour as Himself (Mark 12:31). He was the One Who gave Himself utterly for others and lived simply to please the Father. And they were to walk as He walked. ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20). And once of course that He had literally gone to the cross that would also be in mind. But it is not in mind here. Jesus’ death has not been connected with the cross.
‘Whoever would save his life shall lose it. And whoever will lose his life for my sake and the sake of the Good News, will find it.’ Jesus then pointed out that every man is faced with a stark choice. There is no midway house. He may choose to cling on to his own life, treating lightly, indeed basically ignoring, the Kingly Rule of God, and thus lose eternal life. Or he can cast off his old life for Jesus’ sake (that is, because of their faith in Him and the Good News He has brought). He can begin a new life under the Rule of God in total commitment to Him. And then he will find life that is life indeed. The stark choice is between the way of the world or the way of Jesus, and every man must choose which way he will take. He can choose the broad way or he can choose the afflicted way (Matthew 7:13-14), but he cannot have both, and the one leads to destruction and the other leads to life. There is no middle path. The losing of the life was essentially metaphorical, but might for some, as indeed it would later, become a reality.
‘For my sake and the sake of the Good News.’ The call is not just to an ‘imitation of Christ’. It is to playing a positive part in disseminating the Good News. This is discipleship to the full. It involves being actively engaged in bringing men under the Kingly Rule of God.
There are those who would relate all this to the willingness to die for Christ, and that is in the end included. But while Jesus was well aware of what fate might befall those who followed Him fully it is doubtful whether such a message would have had meaning to a great crowd, or even at this stage to the disciples (and see on Mark 8:38). Those who had discernment would see that what He was calling for was rather what the rich young ruler would not give, everything a man had and was (Mark 10:21 with 23), full surrender and total obedience, although including if necessary the willingness to die for Jesus.
It is an attractive thought that Jewish men who in those days joined a religious cause in order to oppose the Romans jestingly spoke of their enrolment as ‘taking up the cross’, knowing that that would be their end if they were caught. It may or may not have been so, but the idea adequately encapsulates what Jesus is meaning here. Such men did not necessarily expect to die, but their cause had become their life, and they were ready to sacrifice everything for it, and yes, if necessary, were ready to die for it.
Jesus Addresses The Disciples Along With A Gathered Crowd (8:34-38).
Analysis of 8:34-38
a And He called to Him the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
b For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35).
c For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:36).
b For what should a man give in exchange for his life? (Mark 8:37).
a For whoever will be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of man will also be ashamed of him, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38).
Note that in ‘a’ Jesus calls all to follow Him fully whatever the cost, and in the parallel he declares what the consequences will be for those who do and those who do not. In ‘b’ He declares what someone must do to save their life, and in the parallel asks what a man will give in exchange for his life. Centrally in ‘c’ He declares the folly of gaining the whole world but losing eternal life.
‘For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?’
His question was this, is anything worth having or clinging on to if it means losing eternal life? If we gain the whole world, what is it worth if it means that we lose our hope of eternal life? There is life on offer to man, but it is like the pearl of great price. In order to obtain it, it is necessary to sacrifice everything else (Matthew 13:45). At the last, then, who will have made the best bargain? The man who gains the whole world, or the man who sacrifices all that he has and obtains the pearl of great price, his place under the Kingly Rule of God for himself? Herod had gained much of this world, and John the Baptiser only a dark and dreary dungeon, but who would exchange the reward of John the Baptiser for his?
We have here translated psuche as ‘life’. It is an illusive word. It can refer to the inner life, or to the self, or to what we often call ‘the soul’, as long as by that we do not refer to a separate entity within a man. For in the end ‘body, soul and spirit’ are all aspects of the self. Thus to lose our soul is to lose our essential selves.
‘Or what should a man give in exchange for his life?’
At what price, asks Jesus, will you value a man’s eternal future? If a man gains the whole world and loses true life he has made a bad bargain. So having the chance of life, how great is the price he should be willing to pay to obtain it? The Psalmist says, ‘the redemption of their soul is costly’ (Psalms 49:8). What sacrifice then would be sufficient? The answer is that it is beyond price and therefore worth any sacrifice. And hearing Him they must determine whether they will pay that price by responding to the Kingly Rule of God.
‘For whoever will be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
Then Jesus puts it all in the light of the great Day that is coming when He ‘comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’, and He closes by stressing that everything with regard to that would depend on their response to Him, and on their willingness to follow Him. Those who turn away from Him and who are ashamed to respond to Him and to His message, will find that when the Son of Man ‘comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ He will be ashamed of them. For it will reveal them as a part of this ‘adulterous and sinful generation’. They will thus have no part in Him and will join the unbelievers in the awfulness of their judgment. But the corollary is that those who do respond will be received and welcomed. He will not be ashamed of them but will acknowledge them before all. They will hear Him say, ‘Well done My good and faithful servant!’ The whole statement may have seemed to His listeners as assuming that many of them would still be alive at His coming. That is the purpose in portraying something as ‘imminent’. But it does not say that. It is more general. It is saying that He will be ashamed of them in that Day whether they are still alive or whether they have been raised for judgment. Compare Matthew 8:10-12; Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8.
What Does Jesus Mean When He Speaks Of ‘Coming In The Glory Of His Father With The Holy Angels’?
This passage raises the question as to what ‘when He (the Son of Man) comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ refers to, a question which has been variously answered. There are two possible main interpretations. The first, which is the majority one, is that it refers to the second coming of Christ. Certainly the closest parallels would initially appear to support this interpretation, for in Zechariah 14:5 we read, ‘Then the Lord your God will come, and all the holy ones with Him’, where most would feel that Zechariah clearly has in mind the final time of perfection, for it is speaking of the Day when the Lord will be king over all the earth, night will cease, and everlasting worship will have been established, all pictures of the eternal kingdom. That would then be an indication that here Jesus was paralleling Himself with ‘YHWH your God’, and was to be seen as coming in His Name with the holy angels (compare Matthew 28:18-20 where ‘the Son’ shares ‘the Name’). This might be seen as supported by Matthew 25:21 where we read, ‘when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him’, which is admittedly very similar to ‘when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ and that too is certainly referring to a time when the final judgment is in mind.
A reference may also be made to Jude’s quotation from apocalyptic literature which was clearly prevalent at this time, which runs as follow: “Behold the Lord came with ten thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him” (Jude 1:14-15). Jude almost certainly has the second coming in mind, and thus sees His coming as being ‘with the holy ones’ (the holy angels).
However one or two caveats must be entered here. The first is that none of these references actually refer to ‘the holy angels’, even though Zechariah 14:5 and Jude 1:14 might be seen as implying it. (However, the failure to refer to ‘the holy angels’ is even more true in Daniel 7:0, for there the ‘holy ones’ are the people of God). The second is that the reference to the Son of Man coming in His own glory is not necessarily the same thing as the Son of Man coming in His Father’s glory. Indeed it must be seen as quite possible that the former refers to His own glorious appearing at the Parousia, as in Matthew 25:31 and that the latter should be seen as referring to the revelation of the Father’s glory in Jesus when He comes to His disciples at, for example, Pentecost in the holy breath and fire, (‘lo I am with you always’ - Matthew 28:20) and to Stephen in Acts 7:56 where the Son of Man is seen to be at the right hand of God, and therefore as partaking in His glory. It could indeed be argued that the differentiation between the two phrases is as deliberate as the similar differentiation which is made in Revelation 3:21, where the Son of Man says, ‘He who overcomes I will grant him to sit on my throne, even as I overcame and sat with my Father on His throne’. There Scripture is clearly indicating that sitting on His Father’s throne refers to His enthronement in the past after He had ‘overcome’, while the idea of the overcomers sitting on His throne still has the future in mind, when the King has taken His throne (Revelation 19:11-16; Revelation 20:11). This would fit well with the former referring to His enthronement as mentioned in Matthew 28:18; Acts 2:36, and the latter referring to His own throne of glory as revealed at His second coming once the general resurrection of the dead has taken place (Matthew 25:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). However this argument is double edged, for we can then equally argue that Mark is deliberately following the pattern, referring in Mark 8:31 to the Parousia and in Mark 9:1 to Jesus enthronement after the resurrection.
The second possible interpretation is that this refers to the ‘coming’ of the Son of Man to the Ancient of Days, Who in Heaven is surrounded by the innumerable company who minister to Him, in order that He, the Son of Man, might receive Kingly Rule, glory and dominion (Daniel 7:14). It could be argued that those in the crowd who knew their Scriptures would, if Jesus had said nothing further about it, probably have seen in Jesus’ words ‘when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels’ a reference to that Scripture. For there the Son of Man (Mark 7:13) would come into the presence of the innumerable company who minister to the Ancient of Days (Mark 7:10), and would be brought by them into the Presence of the Ancient of Days (Mark 7:13), and would be given all glory, dominion and power (Mark 7:14), this taking place once the records had been opened and judgment pronounced on the opposing ‘wild beast’ (Mark 7:10).
It might thus be claimed that to those in the crowd who knew the Scriptures these words would not therefore have been seen as speaking of ‘the second coming’ (of which they perhaps knew nothing), but of the coming of the Son of Man to be crowned in Heaven in the presence of the heavenly court, because judgment had been pronounced on those who opposed Him. The weakness in this argument, however, is that the only verse in the Old Testament Scriptures which actually refers to ‘coming with holy ones’ is that in Zechariah 14:5, which would therefore be the one more likely to come to the minds of the crowd (especially as in Daniel 7:0 the ‘holy ones’ are ‘the holy ones of the Most High’ who possess the kingdom, that is, the people of God). Thus we could argue that it is that Scripture in Zechariah that they would most likely have in mind, especially as boosted by apocalyptic ideas.
The case for looking to Daniel 7:0 could be seen as further supported by the fact that it is ‘this adulterous and sinful generation’ of which Jesus is speaking which must face being shamed by Him, something which would aptly fit in with a reference being then made to His being crowned after His resurrection and calling them to account, followed by His judgment on them in the destruction of Jerusalem and its environs. In the same way ‘seeing the Kingly Rule of God coming in power’ (Mark 9:1) could then also be seen as referring to the same enthronement, being there connected with His sending of the Holy Spirit and the rapid spread of the new community under God’s Kingly Rule, which would then take place within the lifetime of many standing there. The idea has its attractions.
What conclusion then can we come to? The arguments in the latter case are undoubtedly attractive, and as we shall subsequently see have some truth in them. They almost certainly do apply, for example, to Mark 9:1 where the coming is not with the holy angels but with power, and in Mark 14:62 where again the angels are not mentioned. But in our view they fail in Mark 8:38 because of the mention of the angels (and in Mark 13:26-27, partly for the same reason, and partly for other reasons. See on those verses). For it cannot be doubted that the prominent verse in the Old Testament Scriptures which speaks of ‘coming with the holy ones (as the angels)’ looks forward to the consummation (Zechariah 14:5), something confirmed by Matthew 25:31.
End of Excursus.
‘Whoever will be ashamed of me.’ The point here is that men will be judged by their previous attitude towards Him (compare also Matthew 7:23). What greater claim to divinity could He make? He is here stressing that those present had to take up an attitude towards Him. They could believe in Him, and submit to the Kingly Rule of God. Or they could turn away from Him and His words, being ‘ashamed’ of Him and His message (compare 2 Timothy 1:8). But let them consider this, that their eternal future would depend on it when He finally came to call them to account.
‘In this adulterous and sinful generation.’ This was His definition of the world in which they lived, adulterous and sinful, and it was this that He was calling them to turn their back on. It is a description that aptly applies today.
‘Adulterous.’ In the Old Testament the unbelief and disobedience of Israel was often described in terms of adultery. God was seen as their ‘husband’ and they as unfaithful to Him. They had forsaken God and indulged in their own pleasures, including those of sexual misbehaviour and perversion, and idolatry. See Hosea 2:2; Hosea 4:12; Ezekiel 16:25-26; Jeremiah 3:8-9; Jeremiah 9:2. And they were thus unacceptable. The thought covered a whole host of behaviour (some of which involved idolatry) in their rebellion against God and His ways. Thus the very fact of their being ashamed of Him would demonstrate that they were adulterous at heart.
‘Sinful’. This covered all that was left out in the description adulterous. It covered all the sins of the Pharisees who themselves were only too willing to call others ‘sinners’. For they too were ‘ashamed’ of Him. Josephus would make clear the depths to which the Jewish people had sunk at this time, and his thoughts were echoed by pagan writers concerning the people of the time everywhere. Thus Jesus’ words aptly covered both Jews and Gentiles.
‘The Son of Man will also be ashamed of him.’ Those who have refused to acknowledge Him and have cringed in shame from doing so will find that He too will refuse to acknowledge them. He will be ashamed of them. While not stated here it is clear that He is being seen as co-Judge or Prosecutor. The same principle is found in Jesus’ words in Luke 12:8-9; Matthew 10:32-33; John 5:22; John 5:27. None would be more fitted for the position of Prosecutor than the Son of Man, for He would also Himself have gone through His own suffering (Mark 8:31). In the light of the general resurrection in which most Jews believed there is nothing in this that requires any limitation in time as to when this would happen.
Some have tried to differentiate Jesus from the Son of Man here as though Jesus and Mark were saying that there was another yet to come, but this does not bear examination. To the disciples the term Son of Man tied in too closely with Jesus, for it was His favourite title for Himself. They knew Who the Son of Man was. The use here simply differentiated the present earthly Jesus, from His ‘coming’ as the glorious Son of Man. But to the crowds there was a certain veiledness, for they were not familiar with Jesus’ teaching. They may well have thought in terms of two figures and were inevitably being required to think it through. To them He was teaching parabolically. But they could always, of course, ask, and no doubt some did.
‘When he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’ This was assurance that although the Son of Man must suffer and die as He has warned (Mark 8:31), yet He would rise again and would come to the throne of God in order to receive His eternal kingship (Daniel 7:13-14), a kingship which would then be revealed in His coming in His Father’s glory with the holy angels.
‘With the holy angels.’ If this refers to the coming of the Son of Man to the throne of God then the idea here is of the ministering heavenly beings who surround the throne (Daniel 7:10). If it refers to His coming to earth it stresses that His coming is with heavenly intentions and with kingly glory, for the angels would not come to rule on earth, but would come as His escorts and attendants. (Compare Mark 13:27; Matthew 13:39; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31; 2 Thessalonians 1:7). This description of His coming with the angels is not as common as we might at first think, for it should be noted that elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus never speaks of Himself as coming to earth in glory ‘with His angels’ apart from in Matthew 25:21, where we read, ‘when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him’. He is always otherwise spoken of in the Gospels as coming and ‘sending the angels forth’. On the other hand in Zechariah 14:5 we do read in an eschatological context, ‘Then the Lord your God will come, and all the holy ones with Him’, which is backed up by such apocalyptic ideas as we find evidence of in Jude, and by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9. And we can see why Jesus should add ‘angels’ to ‘holy ones’ so as to prevent any confusion with the people of God who are also often called ‘holy ones’ (saints) in the Old Testament. In the light of this the natural interpretation of Mark 8:38 therefore is that it refers to the second coming.
So this passage, which began with a statement of His Messiahship, has progressed through the idea of suffering and ends with a depiction of His triumphant glorious appearing as One Who is the Son of the Father, Who will ‘come in glory’, first to the throne of God in the presence of the holy angels, and then to earth escorted by holy angels as in Matthew 25:21. It is then that His Messiahship will be fully revealed. Tragedy will be followed by triumph.
One further point must be made here. It is often pointed out that if this is a reference to the second coming it is the first clear reference to be found in Mark’s Gospel, and that is undoubtedly true. But equally strange would it be if Mark made little reference to the second coming at all. For Mark did not write in a vacuum. He was fully aware of the tradition that was common in all the churches, and would therefore write in the light of it. It would, however, be left to Matthew and Luke to provide fuller details, and Luke especially makes clear that the idea of Jesus’ second coming was proclaimed throughout His ministry (e.g. Luke 12:35-48).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Mark 8". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27