Jesus Feeds the Multitude Again (Mark 8:1-9)
The circumstances surrounding this miracle were similar to the occasion of some months before; yet it is evident that the disciples had forgotten—as we often do—the remarkable manifestation of divine power that they had seen at that time. The heart of Jesus Christ was touched by the need of the multitude, and His heart ever controlled His hand. For three days they had flocked about Him and paid attention to His teaching. Their food supplies had all given out and they were left with nothing to eat. He could not bear to leave them in that desolate condition. Many lived at quite a distance from the place in which they were. To go home hungry would work a real hardship on them.
“From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?” It was the expression of the unbelief in the hearts of the disciples. That they should so soon have forgotten the miraculous feeding of the five thousand would seem incredible if we did not know something of the untrustworthiness and unbelief of our own hearts.
“How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven.” The disciples were to have the privilege of sharing with others the provision they had made for their own need. This time they did not procure the food from someone else. Following the same procedure as in the previous miraculous feeding (Mark 6:30-44), the people were seated on the ground, and after giving thanks Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples to distribute to the multitude.
“They had a few small fishes.” 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.
“They did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat.. .seven baskets.” Again there was an overabundance. After the multitude was fed, the disciples received seven hampers of food in return for the bread and fishes they had entrusted to Jesus to dispense. The leftover food was sufficient to last a long time.
“They that had eaten were about four thousand.” Again Matthew 15:38 adds, “Beside women and children.”
It has often been pointed out that in the original Greek text two different kinds of baskets are indicated in the two accounts of miraculous feedings of the multitudes. In Mark 6, after the feeding of the five thousand, there were twelve handbasketsful left over. Handbaskets were such as folk carried with them when traveling on foot. In Mark 8, after the feeding of the four thousand, there were seven hampersful left over. Hampers were large baskets that were often used for carrying fish or transporting other goods.
The number of baskets left over in each miracle suggests a spiritual lesson. The number twelve is generally used in Scripture for administrative completeness, whereas seven is the number of mystical or spiritual perfection. The twelve baskets signified the abundant provision that will be enjoyed under Messiah’s reign. The seven hampers tell us of the perfection of spiritual blessing when we learn that not by bread only do we live, “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
One of Jehovah’s names of old was El Shaddai—“the God all-sufficient.” Our Lord was revealing Himself as the incarnate God, abundantly able to meet every need, when He fed the multitudes who on these two occasions flocked to hear Him preach the gospel of the kingdom. His supplies are unlimited. What we need is faith to count on the riches of His mercy and to draw from His abundant store. The bread He gave pictured Himself as the bread of God come down from Heaven. If a man eat of this bread he will live forever (John 6:51).
The incident recorded in Mark 8:1-9 brings to an end one distinct phase of Christ’s ministry.
Jesus Warns His Disciples (Mark 8:10-21)
Returning to the western side of the lake, in the region of Dalmanutha or Magadan, Jesus was met by some caviling Pharisees. Ignoring all the marvelous works that He had performed, they came asking for a sign from Heaven to authenticate His messiahship. We are told that Jesus sighed deeply in His spirit; His inmost being was grieved to find such unbelief and determined opposition from those who should have led the populace in the path of subjection to God and obedience to His Word. Why should they ask a sign? It was only an evidence of the state of their hearts. He declared that no sign would be given to that evil generation. They were set in their attitude of enmity against Him whom God had sent to redeem Israel.
Leaving them to their unbelief and hardness of heart, the Lord departed again to the other side of the lake—that is, to the region of Bethsaida Julias. There were two cities called Bethsaida, one on the western, and the other on the northern side of the sea of Galilee.
In their haste to leave Dalmanutha the disciples failed to replenish their store of bread. The characteristic bread of that country was flat loaves that were easily carried about. Apparently there was some expression of apprehension as to what provision they could obtain when they disembarked. The Lord took occasion to warn them, when He knew their concern, to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the leaven of Herod. Conscience-smitten because of their carelessness in not having made proper provision for the needs of the group, the disciples leaped to the conclusion that Jesus was warning them not to purchase bread from the parties mentioned. But the Lord made it clear that by using the term leaven He was referring to the doctrines of these religious and political systems. These doctrines corrupted all who received them. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy and self-righteousness. The leaven of Herod was political chicanery and worldliness.
In order to ease the minds of the disciples as to food for their bodies Jesus reminded them of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand on one occasion and the four thousand on another. In each case there was not only abundance for all but many baskets of fragments were salvaged for future use. Why be anxious as to what one would eat on the morrow when the Creator of all things was with them? How ashamed the twelve might well have been of their doubts and fears as Jesus put the pointed question, “How is it that ye do not understand?”
Jesus Heals a Blind Man (Mark 8:22-26)
When the disciples reached Bethsaida Julias, they witnessed another evidence of the power of their Master. This miracle was of an exceptional character. So far as the record goes it is the only instance where healing was only partial at first and not instantaneous.
A blind man was brought to Jesus by friends who pleaded that He might touch the closed eyes and so give sight to the poor, afflicted one. Instead of doing this in the presence of all the people, Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the city. It was as though, realizing that many in the crowd were but curiosity seekers, He would take the man aside and minister to him alone. Jesus then put His hands on the man and asked him if he was able to see. The man exclaimed, “I see men as trees, walking.” Sight was but partially restored. He could see different objects but could distinguish men from trees only by their walking. Once more Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes and told him to look up. Now he was healed completely and he saw every man clearly.
Just why healing was not immediate we are not told—possibly because of lack of perfect faith on the part of the blind man or his friends. The work having been accomplished, Jesus dismissed the now happy man and told him not to go back into the town or tell of his healing to anyone there.
Peter Declares His Faith (Mark 8:27-30)
“Whom do men say that I am?” Jesus questioned His disciples in order to elicit from them a definite confession of His messiahship and divine sonship. As they moved about they heard many people discussing Jesus, and undoubtedly they had often debated in their own hearts the things that were said.
We remember that Herod, goaded by a guilty conscience, felt sure that Jesus was John risen from the dead. Others shared the same view. Some, remembering the prophetic declaration recorded in Malachi 4:5, thought Jesus must be the promised Elijah. Another group simply thought of Him as a new prophet who had suddenly appeared in Israel.
“Whom say ye that I am?” It is not enough to be familiar with other men’s views of Christ, be they right or wrong. Our Lord’s question was intended to emphasize the responsibility of individuals to know Him for themselves. Peter’s answer was the result of deep conviction based on a divine revelation: “Thou art the Christ.” The fuller confession given in Matthew 16:16 is a declaration of Peter’s faith in Jesus both as the Messiah of Israel and the divine Son of God. He is both. In fact He could not be the Messiah (Christ) were He not the Son of God, for the Christ was the Son given and the Child born, as prophesied in Isaiah 9:6. It is to Him the Father says, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:7).
Mark did not mention the Lord’s commendation of Peter or Jesus’ prophetic words concerning the building of His church upon the rock of His deity (Matthew 16:17-19). Mark also omitted Jesus’ giving of the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, which Peter used on Pentecost and in Cornelius’s house to admit Jews and Gentiles into the kingdom. All we are told in Mark 8 is that the disciples were not at that time to begin the work of making Jesus known to the world in His true character. They were to wait until after His death, resurrection, and ascension to God’s right hand in Heaven.
Jesus Teaches of His Death and Resurrection (Mark 8:31-38)
Our Lord knew exactly what awaited Him, and told His disciples in plainest language what the order of events would be. He had come into the world to die. While His death would be the demonstration of man’s bitter hatred toward God, it was also to be the supreme expression of God’s love to man. His death was to be followed by the physical resurrection of the body of Jesus, the proof that redemption was accomplished so the believer might be justified from all things. The foreknowledge of Jesus may be accounted for in three ways, all in perfect harmony with each other. In the first place, though He had become man, He did not cease to be God, and therefore He knew from the beginning all things through which He was to pass. Then as man He was a student of the Word. He knew the Scriptures and came to fulfill them. So He based His predictions on the Scriptures. And lastly He was a prophet speaking under the direct control of the Holy Spirit.
“Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.” Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Now he ventured to rebuke the Lord as though He were a discouraged man, speaking from the standpoint of one crushed and disappointed by the continued opposition of His foes. The Lord at once recognized in Peter’s foolish though well-meant words the voice of the adversary, seeking to turn Him aside from the cross where He was to die as the supreme sacrifice for sin. His sharp rebuke silenced the blundering apostle, but neither Peter nor the rest really understood the revelation given.
Our Lord could make atonement for sin only by His sacrificial death. There was no other way. The word translated “atonement” in the Old Testament means far more than “at-one-ment,” which is accepted by many as its true meaning. Thoughts of appeasement, satisfaction, substitution, redemption, pacification, and reconciliation are all involved. In the New Testament the concept of the atonement is expressed by a Greek word meaning “propitiation.” Many English terms are needed to reveal all that is involved in the vicarious death of the cross. But apart from resurrection, all would be meaningless.
“Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” A man carrying a cross was a man going out to die. The true disciple of Jesus is one who refuses the claims of self, and is ready to “die daily” for his Master’s sake (1 Corinthians 15:31). To deny oneself is more than to be self-denying or unselfish. It means the utter setting aside of the self-life, that Christ alone may be seen (Galatians 2:20).
“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it.” The professed follower who is concerned with his own best interest and lives to gratify his own natural desires will find out at the judgment seat of Christ that his life has not counted for God—it is really lost. On the other hand, Jesus said, “Whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s… shall save it.” A life laid down for Christ’s sake is a life saved for that day when all that has been done to glorify God and make known His gospel will be rewarded richly.
“What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The Revised Version reads, “And forfeit his life.” That is, present temporal gain will sink into nothingness if the soul, the real life, has been frittered away in things that do not profit. The only life that counts is that which has been lived for eternity.
“What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” This question is generally used as though it meant, What shall a man take in exchange for his soul?” But it is the very opposite. If the soul is lost, what shall a man give to reclaim it? His case will be utterly hopeless. He cannot buy back the life that has been forfeited because of sin and selfishness.
Jesus solemnly declared that He will be ashamed in the final reckoning day of any who are ashamed of Him now. Our eternal destiny depends on our attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ. To confess Him openly before men means eternal life and salvation. To deny or be ashamed of Him means eternal judgment and everlasting ruin.
Christ is the touchstone that will be used to test all hearts. As is our attitude to Him, so will be God’s attitude to us when the day of reward shall come. Our blessed Lord laid down His life in order that He might save our souls and have us wholly for Himself. He loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). He considered no sacrifice too great in order to redeem us and make us His own. Surely then we should be prepared to go even to death in order to prove our love for Him. His death was atoning. By it we are justified when we trust in Him (Acts 13:39). Our sins are forever put away by His precious blood. We could have no part in making propitiation, but we are called upon to deny self and to lay down our lives if need be to attest our faithfulness to Him and our love for a world for which He gave Himself (1 John 4:10-11). If Christ died for all, then God saw all as dead, that they who live through faith in Him might henceforth live not unto themselves, but unto Him who died and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
Again and again Jesus told His disciples of His approaching death and resurrection, but they seemed utterly incapable of grasping the meaning of His words. Yet His purpose for coming into the world and taking humanity into union with His deity was to die for them. Jesus sought to prepare the minds of His followers beforehand so that when they saw Him die, their faith would not fail.
All through His life Jesus had the cross before Him. He became man that He might die as our kinsman-redeemer (Leviticus 25:48) in order to bring us into life and liberty. Some time ago I read a sermon on “The Recklessness of Jesus.” The preacher, while professing warm admiration for our Lord’s earnestness of purpose, bewailed the sad impulsiveness that took Him to Jerusalem the last time. The preacher asserted that Jesus literally threw Himself into danger and courted the opposition of the leaders in Israel who were bent on destroying Him. How much better might it have been for the world, suggested this unconscious blasphemer, if He had remained quietly in Galilee. Jesus could have established a school for teachers in Capernaum, written a number of books, thereby enriching the religious literature of the world, and died at last in a good old age. Countless disciples, who honored and loved Him, could have been trusted to carry His instruction to the ends of the earth. One shudders at such wicked nonsense.
Had the Lord Jesus not died for our sins, there would have been no living message to carry to the world. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We are told that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). “Christ died”—that is history. “For our sins”— that is the central doctrine of grace. Before He left the glory that He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5), He said, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God” (Hebrews 10:9). The will of God to which He referred specifically was the settling of the sin question. He came to earth to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:26). Voluntarily He put Himself at the disposal of sinful men that this will of His Father might be carried out (John 14:31). No one took His life from Him; He laid it down of Himself (John 10:18). All was foreknown and predetermined, though this did not lessen man’s guilt in rejecting Him (Acts 2:23).