When the five thousand were fed, as recorded in Mark 6, the
disciples took the initiative by calling their Master's attention to
the needy condition of the crowd. On this second occasion the Lord took
the initiative, and drew His disciples' attention to their need,
expressing His compassion and concern on their behalf. As on the first
occasion so again now the disciples have simply man before
them, and think only of his powers which are wholly unequal to the
situation. They had not yet learned to measure the difficulty by the
power of their Lord.
Hence the instruction which was conveyed by the feeding of a huge
crowd with earthly resources of the tiniest order, was repeated. There
were slight differences, both as to the number of the people and the
number of the loaves and fishes used, but in all the essentials this
miracle was a repetition of the other, as once more He fulfilled Psalm
132: 15, and displayed the power of God before their eyes.
Having fed the multitude, He dismissed them Himself, and immediately
after departed with His disciples to the other side of the lake, just
as on the previous occasion. On His arrival certain Pharisees came with
aggressive intent requesting a sign from heaven. He had as a matter of
fact just been giving very striking signs from heaven in the presence
of thousands of witnesses. The Pharisees had no intention of following
Him, and hence had not been present so as to see the sign for
themselves, still there was ample witness to it if they cared to
listen. The fact was of course that on the one hand they had no desire
to witness any sign that would authenticate Him and His mission, and on
the other hand they had no ability to see and recognize the sign even
when it was plainly before their eyes. Their utter unbelief grieved Him
to the heart.
In verse 34 of the previous chapter, when He was confronted with
human weakness and disability of a bodily sort, He sighed: here
confronted with blindness of a spiritual sort, He sighed deeply in
His spirit. Spiritual incapacity is a far more serious matter than
bodily incapacity. They were blind leaders of a blind generation and
groping about for a sign. No sign would be given to them, for to blind
men signs are useless. This was the occasion when, as recorded at the
beginning of Matthew 16, the Lord told them they could discern the face
of the sky, but not the signs of the times.
Let us not dismiss this matter as being something which only
concerns the Pharisee: in principle it also concerns ourselves. How
often has the true believer been troubled and disheartened, thinking
God has not spoken, or acted, or answered, when really He has, only we
have not had eyes to see. We may have continued beseeching Him for more
light, when all the time all that was wanted was a few windows in our house!
The motive actuating these Pharisees was wholly wrong, since their
object was to tempt Him. So the Lord abruptly left them and departed
again to the other side of the lake, which He had left but a short time
before, and the disciples were without bread. Thus for the third time
they were face to face with the problem raised in the feeding of the
five thousand and the four thousand, only on a very small scale.
Alas! the disciples no more met the problem in the strength of faith
when it was on the small scale than when it was on the great scale.
They too had not so far had eyes to see the power and glory of their
Master, as displayed twice in His multiplication of the loaves and
fishes. True faith has penetrating vision. They should have discerned
who He was, and then they would have looked not to their paltry loaves
or fishes but to Him, and every difficulty would have vanished. In the
small crises that mark our own lives are we any better than they were?
The Lord's charge about the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod is
not explained to us here, as it is in Matthew, but we must note its
significance. He referred to the doctrine of the two factions, which
worked like leaven in those who came under the influence of the one and
the other. That of the Pharisees was hypocrisy. That of the Herodians
was utter worldliness. In Matthew we read of the leaven of the
Sadducees, and this was intellectual pride which led them into
rationalistic unbelief. Nothing does more effectually blind the mind
and understanding than leaven of these three kinds.
The blind man of Bethsaida, of whom we read in verses 22 to 26,
exactly illustrates the condition of the disciples at that time. When
the blind man was brought to the Lord, He took him by the hand and led
him out of the town, thus separating him from the haunts of men, just
as previously He had turned His back upon the Pharisees and those with
them (verse 13). Outside the town the Lord dealt with him, performing
His work in two parts-the only time, as far as we remember, that He
acted thus. As the result of the first touch he saw, "men as trees,
walking." He saw, but things were badly out of focus. He knew that the
objects he saw were men, but they looked much bigger than they were.
Thus it was with the disciples-man was too great in their eyes. Even
as they looked at the Lord Himself it would seem that His humanity
eclipsed His Deity in their eyes. They needed, like the blind man, a
second touch before they saw all things clearly. The presence of the
Son of God amongst them in flesh and blood was the first touch that
reached them, and as a result they began to see. When He had died and
risen again and was ascended to glory, He laid His second touch upon
them in shedding forth His Spirit, as recorded in Acts 2. Then they saw
all things clearly. We may well earnestly pray that our spiritual
vision may not be near-sighted and out of focus, lest the great trees,
we think we see, turn out to be merely feeble little men strutting
about. Such a state is possible for us, as 2 Peter 1: 9 shows, and
there is no excuse for us, since the Spirit has been given.
The blind man, when cured, was not to go into the town nor testify
to any in the town; moreover the Lord Himself now withdrew with His
disciples to Caesarea Philippi, the most northerly town within the
confines of the land, and very near the Gentile border. Clearly He was
beginning to withdraw Himself and the testimony to His Messiahship from
the blind people and their yet more blinded leaders. Here He raised the
question with His disciples as to who He was. The people hazarded
differing guesses, but all imagined Him to be some old prophet revived,
just a man, and none had sufficient interest to really find out.
Then Jesus challenged His disciples. Peter became the spokesman and
answered confessing His Messiahship, but this only produced a rejoinder
which probably astonished them greatly, and may astonish us as we read
it today. He charged them to be silent as to His Messiahship, and began
to teach them as to His approaching rejection and death and
resurrection. Any testimony that had been rendered to Him as the
Messiah on earth was now formally withdrawn. From this point He
accepted His death as inevitable, and began to turn the thoughts of His
disciples to that which was impending as the result of it. This was the
orderly progress of things on the human side; and it does not
contradict nor clash with the divine side- that He knew from the outset
that which was before Him.
Moreover, the disciples were as yet hardly fit to bear further
testimony, had it been needed. Peter indeed had some measure of
spiritual sight, for he had just confessed Him as the Christ; yet the
intimation of His approaching rejection and death raised a vehement
remonstrance from this very man. In this Peter's mind was being swayed
by Satan, and the Lord rebuked this spirit of evil who was behind
Peter's words. Peter's mind was set on "the things that be of men," and
so he answered very aptly to the man of whom we have just read, who saw
men as trees walking. Though he recognized the Christ in Jesus, he
still had men before him, and in this the other disciples were no
better than he. So how could he go forth as an effectual witness to the
Christ whom he recognized? No wonder, after all, that at this point He
charged His disciples that they should tell no man of Him.
We may pause here, each to face the fact that we cannot effectually
go forth in testimony unless we really know the One of whom we testify,
and also know and understand the situation that exists, in the face of
which the testimony has to be rendered.
In the closing verses of our chapter the Lord begins to instruct His
disciples in the presence of the people as to consequences that would
follow from His rejection and death. They imagined themselves to be
following a Messiah who was to be received and glorified on earth; and
the fact was, He was about to die and rise again and be for the present
glorified in heaven. This entailed an immense change in their outward
prospects. It meant the denying of self, the taking up of the cross,
the losing of life in this world, the bearing of shame as identified
with Christ and His words, in the midst of an evil generation.
The force of "deny himself" is hardly expressed by "self-denial," which is the denying oneself of something. What the Lord speaks of is not that but the denial, or the saying of "no," to oneself. Also,
"take up his cross" does not mean bearing trials and troubles merely.
The man who in those days took up his cross was being led to execution.
He was a man who had to accept death at the hands of the world. To say
"no" to oneself is to accept death internally, on one's own spirit: to take up one's cross is to accept death externally at the hands of the world. That is what discipleship must mean, since we follow the Christ who died, rejected of the world.
This thought is expanded in verses 35-37. The true disciple of
Christ is not aspiring to gain the whole world; he is ready rather to
lose the world, and his own life in it, for the sake of the Lord and
His Gospel. The perfect Servant, whom Mark depicts, gave His life that
there might be a Gospel to preach. Those who follow Him, and are His
servants, must be prepared to give up their lives in preaching the
Gospel. If they should be ashamed of Him now, He would be ashamed of
them in the day of His glory.