Mark 8 - Who Is Jesus?
A. Feeding the four thousand.
1. (1-4) Jesus gives the disciples an opportunity for faith.
In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.” Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”
a. I have compassion on the multitude: The situation is similar to the recent feeding of the five thousand. We see both a hungry multitude and a compassionate Jesus, so Jesus presents the dilemma to the disciples: what do we do?
b. How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness? We can imagine Jesus hoping one of the disciples might say, “Jesus, You did this before. You can do the same kind of work again.” Jesus hoped they would regard His past faithfulness as a promise to meet their present need.
i. It’s easy to criticize - or even mock - the disciples for their response. But when we see how patient Jesus is when we lack faith, or when we are simply dense in understanding, then we sympathize with the disciples.
2. (5-10) Jesus and the disciples feed the multitude.
He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.” So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude. They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand. And He sent them away, immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha.
a. How many loaves do you have? Jesus asked them to give up their own food this time. Before, they used the food of the little boy, but this time Jesus made the disciples give.
b. So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground: “He intended them not only a running banquet, a slight come-off, but a full feast, a good meal, and therefore bade them sit down and feed their fill.” (Trapp)
c. Broke them and gave them to the His disciples to set before them: Jesus did what He only could do - the creative miracle. But Jesus left to the disciples what they could do - the distribution of the bread.
d. They also has a few small fish: It seems that the disciples kept the fish from Jesus until they saw He could multiply the bread. They needed to see that we are safe giving everything to Jesus.
i. “Why were these not mentioned before? Could it be that they had been withheld by the doubting disciples until they saw how the bread was multiplied? Apparently, the fishes were blessed separately and then distributed as the bread had been.” (Ironside)
e. So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments: At the end of the meal, they gathered more bread than they had to begin with. This is miraculous provision. The seven large baskets show that God provided out of His abundance.
f. Many scholars argue this specific occasion never happened. They claim that this is merely a re-telling of the feeding of the 5,000. Their main argument is “how could the disciples forget Jesus’ previous work so quickly?” But even mature Christians, having experienced God’s power and provision sometimes go on to act in unbelief. This isn’t so surprising after all.
B. The leaven of the Pharisees.
1. (11-12) The Pharisees ask for a sign from heaven.
Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”
a. Seeking from Him a sign from heaven: In the mind of the Pharisees, this was not a request for another miracle of the type Jesus had already done. They are asking for a dramatic sign from the sky, something similar Elijah’s fire from heaven (1 Kings 18).
i. Testing Him: This is not a friendly encounter. The word tested could be translated tempted. The Pharisees are tempting Jesus to perform a miraculous sign just as Satan did in the wilderness.
b. He sighed deeply in His spirit: This attack, and the unbelief it showed, distressed Jesus. He was amazed at the unbelief and audacity of these religious leaders. “The sigh physical, its cause spiritual - a sense of irreconcilable enmity, invincible unbelief, and coming doom.” (Bruce)
i. This demand for a “special” sign was an extreme example of the arrogance and pride of the Pharisees towards Jesus. Essentially, they said, “You have done a lot of small-time miracles. Come on up to the big leagues and really show us something.”
ii. “Behind the demand for a sign was the prior, firm conviction that Jesus’ authority was demonic in origin, his works are an expression of black magic.” (Lane)
c. No sign shall be given to this generation: Jesus refuses, because His miracles are not done with the intention of convincing hardened unbelievers. Instead, Jesus did miracle to show the power of God in the context of mercy. Those who believe that if people see enough signs, they will come to faith, presume to know more than Jesus did. He condemned the generation seeking a sign.
2. (13-15) Jesus warns of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod.
And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”
a. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisses: This leaven isn’t merely yeast, but a pinch of dough left over from the previous batch, as in the making of sourdough bread. This is how bread was commonly leavened in the ancient world, and a little pinch of dough from the old lump could make a whole new lump of dough rise and “puff up.” So, the work of leaven was considered an illustration of the work of sin and pride. The presence of a little can corrupt a large amount.
i. “Sometimes the Jew used the word leaven much as we would use the term original sin, or the natural evil of human nature.” (Barclay)
b. Jesus essentially said, “Beware of the evil way the Pharisees and Herod think of the Kingdom of the Messiah, for in a short time I will reveal the truth of it to you.” Both Herod and the Pharisees idealized the Kingdom as domineering power and authority. Herod saw it more as political power and authority, and the Pharisees saw it as more spiritual power and authority, but they still saw the kingdom in this high-minded way.
3. (16-21) Jesus questions the twelve about their lack of understanding.
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.” But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still 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 for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?” And they said, “Seven.” So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”
a. It is because we have no bread: When Jesus spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, the disciples didn’t relate it to a spiritual idea at all. All they could think of was the bread that goes in the stomach, not the bread that goes in the soul.
b. Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Jesus confronts His disciples over their lack of understanding. From this, we can know that they could have done better than this. They could have understood more if they applied themselves more.
i. How much more could we understand if we applied ourselves more? What would Jesus have to say to us about our level of understanding? These disciples do not yet have the Holy Spirit indwelling them in full measure - but we do. What is our excuse?
c. Do you not remember? Their understanding should have been based on seeing what Jesus already did. We can always take the past faithfulness of God as a promise for His continued love and care.
i. This is one of the situations where we wish we had a recording of Jesus’ words to hear what tone of voice He used? Was it a tone communicating anger, concern, or frustration? We know that even when Jesus confronted His disciples, He did it in love.
4. (22-26) Blind eyes are opened.
Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.”
a. He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him: Adam Clarke has an interesting perspective on this: “It is likely that this was done merely to separate the eyelids; as, in certain cases of blindness, they are found always gummed together. It required a miracle to restore the sight, and this was done in consequence of Christ having laid his hands upon the blind man: it required no miracle to separate the eyelids, and, therefore, natural means only were employed - this was done by rubbing them with spittle.”
b. He put His hands on his eyes again: This is the only “gradual” or “progressive” healing described in the ministry of Jesus. It is another example of the variety of healing methods Jesus used.
i. But why did Jesus choose this method at this time? Probably as an illustration to His disciples, showing them then that their spiritual blindness - shown in the previous passage - will be healed, but only gradually.
ii. Truth be told, this is how most of God’s work happens in us. We receive it little by little. We like to tell ourselves and others that we make huge spiritual leaps at one moment, but most real Christian growth happens little by little.
iii. Wessel Quoting Calvin: “And so the grace of Christ, which had formerly been poured out suddenly on others, flowed by drops, as it were, on this man.”
iv. “Art thou blind? Then come to Jesus that he may restore thee. Hast thou a measure of light? Then pray that he may lay his hands again on thee, that thou mayest be enabled to read thy title clear to the heavenly inheritance.” (Clarke)
C. Jesus reveals His mission.
1. (27-30) Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah.
Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?” So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.
a. Who do men say that I am? Jesus did not ask this question because He didn’t know who He was, or because He had a twisted dependence on the opinion of others. He asked this question as an introduction to a more important follow-up question.
b. John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets: People who thought that Jesus was John the Baptist didn’t know much about Him, and they didn’t know that Jesus and John had ministered at the same time. But both John and Elijah were national reformers who stood up to the corrupt rulers of their day.
i. Perhaps in seeing Jesus as John the Baptist or Elijah, people hoped for a political messiah who would overthrow the corrupt powers oppressing Israel.
c. Some thought Jesus was a herald of national repentance, like John the Baptist and some thought Jesus was a famous worker of miracles, like Elijah. Some thought Jesus was someone who spoke the words of God, like the prophets.
d. But who do you say that I am? It was fine for the disciples to know what others thought about Jesus. But Jesus had to ask them, as individuals, what they believed about Jesus.
e. You are the Christ: Peter knew the opinion of the crowd - while it was complimentary towards Jesus - wasn’t accurate. Jesus was much more than John the Baptist, or Elijah, or a prophet. He was more than a national reformer, more than a miracle worker, more than a prophet. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.
i. Calling Jesus the Messiah was right on the mark, but easily misunderstood. In the thinking of most people in Jesus’ day, the Messiah was a political and national superman. “Toward the close of the OT period, the word ‘anointed’ assumed a special meaning. It denoted the ideal king anointed and empowered by God to deliver his people and establish his righteous kingdom.” (Wessel)
2. (31-32a) Jesus reveals His mission plainly: to come and die, and then rise again.
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly.
a. That the Son of Man must suffer many things: Why must Jesus suffer many things and be killed? Because this was the predicted work of the Messiah (Isaiah 53:3-12). He must die, and He must after His death rise again.
i. The suffering and death of Jesus was a must because of two great facts: the man’s sin and God’s love. While His death was the ultimate example of man’s sin against God, it was also the supreme expression of God’s love to man.
b. He spoke this word openly: This was an unbelievable shock to anyone expecting or hoping that Jesus was the national and political messiah. It is as if a presidential candidate announced toward the end of his campaign that he will go to Washington to be rejected and executed.
i. “A suffering Messiah! Unthinkable! The Messiah was a symbol of strength, not weakness.” (Wessel)
ii. “Sometimes the Messiah was thought of as a king of David’s line, but more often he was thought of as a great, super-human figure crashing into history to remake the world and in the end to vindicate God’s people . . . The Messiah will be the most destructive conqueror in history, smashing his enemies into utter extinction.” (Barclay)
3. (32b-33) Peter rebukes Jesus; Jesus rebukes Peter.
And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
a. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him: Peter’s intent was love for Jesus, but he was unwittingly used of Satan. You don’t have to be demon possessed to be used of Satan, and we need to be on guard lest we are unwittingly used.
i. Matthew 16:17-19 gives us a little more insight into this passage. We read there that after Peter made the confession of faith recorded in Mark 8:29 (You are the Christ), Jesus then answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. Jesus went on to further build up Peter after that complimentary word. It’s not hard to see Peter following these steps:
- Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah
- Jesus compliments Peter, telling him that God revealed this to him
- Jesus tells of His impending suffering, death, and resurrection
- Peter feels this isn’t right, and he feels that he hears from God
- Peter rebukes Jesus
ii. We can infer that if Peter was bold enough to rebuke Jesus, he was confident that God told him what was right and that Peter was wrong. Where it all broke down was that Peter was far too confident in his ability to hear from God.
- What Peter said didn’t line up with the Scriptures
- What Peter said was in contradiction to the spiritual authority over him
b. Get behind Me, Satan! This was a strong rebuke from Jesus, yet entirely appropriate. Though a moment before Peter spoke as a messenger of God, he then spoke as a messenger of Satan. Jesus knew there was a satanic purpose in discouraging Him from His ministry on the cross, and Jesus would not allow that purpose to succeed.
i. We can be sure that Peter was not aware that he spoke for Satan, just as a moment before he was not aware that he spoke for God. It is often much easier to be a tool of God or of the devil than we want to believe.
c. You are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men: Jesus exposes how Peter came into this satanic way of thinking. He didn’t make a deliberate choice to reject God and embrace Satan; he simply let his mind settle on the things of men instead of the things of God, and Satan took advantage of it.
i. Peter is a perfect example of how a sincere heart coupled with man’s thinking can often lead to disaster.
ii. Peter’s rebuke of Jesus is an evidence of the leaven mentioned in Mark 8:15. With his mind on the things of men, Peter only saw the Messiah as the embodiment of power and strength, instead of as a suffering servant. Because Peter couldn’t handle a suffering Messiah, he rebuked Jesus.
4. (34) In light of His mission, Jesus warns those who want to follow Him.
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
a. Let him deny himself, and take up his cross: It was bad enough for the disciples to hear that Jesus would suffer, be rejected, and die on a cross. Now Jesus tells them that they must do the same thing!
b. Deny himself, and take up his cross: Everybody knew what Jesus meant when He said this. Everyone knew that the cross was an unrelenting instrument of death. The cross had no other purpose.
i. The cross wasn’t about religious ceremonies; it wasn’t about traditions and spiritual feelings. The cross was a way to execute people.
ii. In these twenty centuries after Jesus, we have done a pretty good job in sanitizing and ritualizing the cross. How would we receive it if Jesus said, “Walk down death row daily and follow Me”? Taking up your cross wasn’t a journey; it was a one-way trip. There was no return ticketing; it was never a round trip.
iii. “Cross bearing does not refer to some irritation in life. Rather, it involves the way of the cross. The picture is of a man, already condemned, required to carry his cross on the way to the place of execution, as Jesus was required to do.” (Wessel)
iv. “Every Christian must be a Crucian, said Luther, and do somewhat more than those monks that made themselves wooden crosses, and carried them on their back continually, making all the world laugh at them.” (Trapp)
c. Jesus makes deny himself equal with take up his cross. The two express the same idea. The cross wasn’t about self-promotion or self-affirmation. The person carrying a cross knew they couldn’t save themselves.
i. “Denying self is not the same as self-denial. We practice self-denial when, for a good purpose, we occasionally give up things or activities. But we deny self when we surrender ourselves to Christ and determine to obey His will.” (Wiersbe)
ii. Denying self means to live as an others-centered person. Jesus was the only person to do this perfectly, but we are to follow in His steps (and follow Me). This is following Jesus at its simplest: He carried a cross, He walked down death row; so must those who follow Him.
5. (35-9:1) Why we must take up our cross and follow Jesus.
“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” And He said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.”
a. Whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it: We must follow Jesus this way because it is the only way that we will ever find life. It sounds strange to say, “You will never live until you walk down death row with Jesus,” but that is the idea. You can’t gain resurrection life without dying first.
i. You don’t lose a seed when you plant it, though it seems dead and buried. Instead, you set the seed free to be what it was always intended to be.
b. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Avoiding the walk down death row with Jesus means that we may gain the whole world, and end up losing everything.
i. Jesus Himself had the opportunity to gain all the world by worshipping Satan (Luke 4:5-8), but found life and victory in obedience instead.
ii. Amazingly, the people who live this way before Jesus are the ones who are really, genuinely happy. Giving our lives to Jesus all the way, and living as an others-centered person does not take away from our lives, it adds to it
c. For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed: It isn’t easy to walk death row with Jesus. It means that we have to associate ourselves with someone who was despised and executed. But if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us.
i. “If Jesus Christ had come into the world as a mighty and opulent man, clothed with earthly glories and honours, he would have had a multitude of partisans, and most of them hypocrites.” (Clarke)
ii. Jesus is coming again in glory, and if we will rebel against the world, the flesh, and the devil, we will share in the glory.
iii. Most people think of following Jesus as conforming to the “establishment.” Actually, Jesus calls us to rebel against the established order of this world. We are called to rebel against the tyranny of the flesh, against the fear and conformity of the world, against the traditions of man. Jesus encourages a “slave rebellion,” where the slaves of sin, Satan, and the world rebel against their masters.
d. Some standing here . . . will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God present with power: Walking with Jesus doesn’t just mean a life of death and crosses. It also means a life of the power and glory of the kingdom of God. Jesus promised some of His disciples glimpses of that power and glory.
i. “The unveiling of Jesus’ glory in the presence of the three disciples corresponds to the assurance that some will see.” (Lane)
©2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission.