Mark 8 Commentary

Mark 8 Commentary

vv.1-10: “This second feeding miracle invites comparison with the first. […]   Note how this feeding occurs immediately after Mark has recorded how Jesus crossed purity boundaries and social barriers. Jewish purificatory customs comprised the chief hindrance to associations between Jews and Gentiles, and Jesus has dismissed these concerns as peripheral (7:1 – 23). The healing of a Syrophoenician woman’s daughter opened the door to the possibility that Gentiles might also be fed without filching bread from the children (7:24 – 30).

“The context, therefore, suggests that Jesus is now offering a predominantly Gentile crowd the same opportunity to be fed by his teaching and by his miraculous power that he offered to the Jewish crowd. We may think that it is only fair that Gentiles get a share in Christ’s benefits, but from Mark’s Jewish perspective the inclusion of Gentiles is a token of the end-time reign of God. The miracle signifies that Jesus is not simply ‘a redeemer, a messiah like Moses and David’; he is the Redeemer, offering redemption to more than just the people of Israel […]

“The present account brings into bold relief the arrested development of the disciples. They were in on the first miracle feeding of five thousand in a deserted place, but this does not stop them from asking Jesus, ‘But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?’ (8:4). The answer to their question is obvious: from Jesus. The disciples are slow on the uptake and grope for answers in the dark, expecting nothing miraculous from Jesus. Again, Jesus patiently has the disciples go through their inventory of provisions. They do not yet realize that even with their scanty supplies, they have in Jesus enough to feed the entire world.”[1]

vv.11-13: “This oath fragment does more than say that no sign will be given this generation; it conveys with some vehemence that he will prevent it from happening at all costs.

“Why does Jesus oppose giving the Pharisees a sign from heaven? […] The reason Jesus balks at giving a sign here in 8:11 – 12 revolves around two issues: the meaning of the expression ‘a sign from heaven,’ and the defiant disposition of these opponents.

“(1) ‘A sign from heaven’ does not refer to the author of the sign — a sign from God. Signs by their very nature came from God, so that the phrase ‘a sign from God’ is redundant. The Pharisees specifically ask for a sign ‘from heaven.’ They have in mind a peculiar type of sign distinct from another sign they may have requested. […] This generation, represented by the Pharisees, asks Jesus to do something that will signal Israel’s deliverance from her enemies and their crushing defeat. A sign from heaven is something that ‘is apocalyptic in tone, triumphalistic in character, and the embodiment of one of the ‘mighty deeds of deliverance’ that God had worked on Israel’s behalf in rescuing it from slavery.’

“Ironically, this request comes after the miraculous feeding, a miracle that pointed to the blessing, not the destruction, of Gentiles. Jesus refuses to give the Pharisees a sign from heaven because God has sent him to give his life on the cross for all humanity, not to smash the enemies of Israel or to give the nation political mastery of the world. He will not give in to pressure to take a course of action different from God’s purposes.

“(2) The Pharisees have already received plenty of proof in Mark 1 – 2 of the source of Jesus’ power, and they come now only as detractors who wish to tempt him. When Jesus addresses them as ‘this generation,’ this phrase recalls the stubborn, disobedient generation of the desert (Deut. 32:5, 20; Ps. 95:10 – 11).”[2]

vv.14-21: “This passage sheds a very vivid light on the minds of the disciples.  They were crossing over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and they had forgotten to bring bread with them.  We will best get the meaning of this passage if we connect it closely with what goes before.  Jesus was thinking of the demand of the Pharisees for a sign and also thinking of Herod’s terrified reaction to himself.  […] To the Jew leaven was the symbol of evil.  Leaven was a piece of dough kept over from a previous baking and fermented.  To the Jew fermentation was identified with putrefaction and therefore evil.  […]

“What is the point?  What possible connection is there between the Pharisees and Herod?  The Pharisees had just asked for a sign.  For a Jew—we shall see this more fully shortly—nothing was easier than to think of the Messiah in terms of wonders and conquests and miraculous happenings and nationalistic triumphs and political supremacy.  Herod had tried to build up happiness through the gaining of power and wealth and influence and prestige.  In one sense, for both the Pharisees and Herod the Kingdom of God was an earthly Kingdom; it was based on earthly power and greatness, and on the victories that force could win.  It was as if Jesus by this detached hint was already preparing the disciples for something very soon to come.  It was as if he was saying, ‘Maybe soon it will dawn on you that I am God’s Anointed One, the Messiah.  When that thought does come don’t think in terms of earthly power and glory as the Pharisees and Herod do.’

“In point of fact this hint of Jesus passed clean over the disciples’ heads.  They could think of nothing but the fact that they had forgotten to bring loaves, and that, unless something happened, they would go hungry.  Jesus saw their preoccupation with bread.  It may well be that he asked his questions, not with anger, but with a smile, like one who tries to lead a slow child to see a self-evident truth.  He reminded them that twice he had satisfied the hunger of huge crowds with food enough and to spare.  It is as if he said, ‘Why all the worry?  Don’t you remember what happened before?  Hasn’t experience taught you that you don’t need to worry about things like that if you are with me?’ ”[3]

vv:22-26: “Again we see the unique considerateness of Jesus.  He took the blind man out of the crowd and out of the village that he might be alone with him.  Why?  Think about it.  This man was blind and apparently had been born blind.  If he had been suddenly given back his sight amidst a crowd, there would have flashed upon his newly-seeing eyes hundreds of people and things, and dazzling colours, so that he would have been completely bewildered.  Jesus knew it would be far better if he could be taken to a place where the thrill of seeing would break less suddenly upon him. […] That is why Jesus was so supremely great.  He could enter into the mind and heart of the people whom he sought to help.  He had the gift of considerateness, because he could think with their thoughts and feel with their feelings.  God grant to us this Christlike gift. […]

“Jesus used methods that the man could understand.  The ancient world believed in the healing power of spittle.  The belief is not so strange when we remember that it is a first instinct to put a cut or burned finger into our mouth to ease the pain.

“In one thing this miracle is unique—it is the only miracle which can be said to have happened gradually.  Usually Jesus’ miracles happened suddenly and completely.  In this miracle the blind man’s sight came back in stages.  There is symbolic truth here.  No man sees all God’s truth all at once.  One of the dangers of a certain type of evangelism is that it encourages the idea that when a man has taken his decision for Christ he is a full-grown Christian.” [4]

“Since the man does not recover his sight immediately, the reader gets the impression that his blindness is stubborn and hard to cure. The miracle shows Jesus’ power to heal even the most difficult cases. The Markan context, which portrays Jesus’ struggle to get his disciples to see anything, gives this unusual two-stage healing added significance. The blind man’s healing occurs between two examples of the disciples’ blindness (8:14 – 21; 8:31 – 33). This physical healing of blindness serves as a paradigm for the spiritual healing of the disciples’ sight, which also comes gradually and with difficulty.

“As we near the midway point of this Gospel, the first half has drawn attention to the disciples’ inability to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah empowered by God. When it finally dawns on Peter, the spokesman for the group, that Jesus is the Christ, the disciples encounter a new hurdle to their understanding. The second half of the book will reveal their inability to understand that this Messiah must suffer and die and be vindicated in his resurrection.

“As Jesus asked the blind man, ‘Do you see anything?’ so he will ask the disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter does see something. After all of Jesus’ mighty works and deeds, he has a flash of insight: ‘You are the Christ’ (8:29). The first stage of healing is complete. But he only has partial sight, as Jesus’ stern rebuke in the next sentence makes clear (8:33). Peter sees, but he sees the equivalent of walking trees. Both Peter and the disciples require a second touch before they will see all things clearly — that the Messiah must suffer and die.” [5]

vv.27-33: “THE FIRST COURSE of instruction takes place in the unlikely location of Caesarea Philippi, which lay on the border between the Holy Land and Gentile territory and was famed for its cultic associations with the nature god, Pan. Herod the Great built a grand marble temple here to revere the Roman emperor; and his son Herod Philip enlarged the city and renamed it in honor of Caesar. A Roman governor exercising Caesar’s power will execute this Christ, but the resurrection will begin to topple the very foundations of the empire and reveal the power of God. Peter’s recognition that Jesus is the Christ occurs in a pagan outpost — as far away from Jerusalem as one can get and still be in Israel. Jesus will push from here to Jerusalem, the Holy City, where they will only mock him as the Christ as he suffers on a cross (15:32).

“Jesus teaches his disciples by asking them probing questions. The first one is (8:27): ‘Who do people say I am?’ The disciples report his favorable ratings in the polls. The man in the street holds a good opinion of Jesus. Their views offset the slander of his bitter opponents, who regard him as a pawn of Beelzebub; the worries of his kinsmen, who think that he is out of his mind; and the bias of his fellow citizens in Nazareth, who dismiss him as just one of them. Most put Jesus in the pigeonhole of prophet figure, maybe even John the Baptizer or Elijah. These opinions remind the reader of Herod’s top-level speculation about Jesus — that he was John the Baptizer, Elijah, or one of the prophets (6:14 – 15). Whether the people believed that God sent him to announce doom and gloom or doom and dawn, they at least believe God sent him.

“These people have not hit on the truth, however. Jesus is more than just another in a long line of messengers God has dispatched to the people. Thus, Jesus probes further, ‘Who do you say I am?’ So far, the disciples have only called him ‘Teacher’ (4:38), but they have asked themselves the same question, ‘Who is this?’ (4:41). Peter moves to the head of the class by giving the answer that makes sense of all that they have witnessed: ‘You are the Christ’ (8:29). His confession occurs in the very center of the Gospel. This passage serves as a hinge between the first half of the Gospel, where Jesus’ power is so prominent, and the second half, where his weakness becomes predominant.

“This confession represents a significant leap of faith, given the current expectations associated with the Messiah. It was by no means obvious that Jesus was the Messiah. A few people were healed, many were fed, but Israel was not yet free from pagan domination. In the first century most Jews believed the Messiah would be a royal figure, the offspring of David, whom God would empower to deliver Israel from her foes. […]

“The reader knows that Peter’s answer is correct from the title of the Gospel (1:1). It seems a major breakthrough. He has finally caught on, and the reader might expect that the disciples have finally begun to shake off their persistent stupor. The secret will soon be out. But Jesus does not confirm Peter’s confession or praise him for his insight. Instead, he rebukes him to tell no one (8:30). […] Jesus does not want Peter’s faulty opinions proliferating among the crowds, whose ability to grasp Jesus’ identity is even more limited than the disciples.

“The latter option is supported from what follows. After rebuking Peter, Jesus explains that it is necessary for the Son of Man to suffer (8:31); and this announcement, spoken to them ‘plainly’ (8:32), plunges them back into an uncomprehending daze. Jesus undermines Peter’s new-found faith to lead him to a higher level of faith. The Son of Man’s suffering, rejection, and death all have to do with God’s hidden way of salvation. The secret is not that Jesus is the Christ but has to do with what he will do as Messiah — or, rather, what will be done to him. […]

“Peter displays astonishing nerve by trying to set Jesus straight on what is and what is not necessary. He calls Jesus aside and ‘rebukes’ him for being so mistaken as to think that the Messiah will ever have to suffer. His counter-rebuke reveals his ignorance about the nature of Jesus’ messiahship and his deep offense at Jesus’ teaching. Paul said that the cross was foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews (1 Cor. 1:23), and Peter is the first to stumble over the offense of a suffering Messiah. Like the blind man from Bethsaida, the scales have partially, and only partially, fallen from his eyes. Preconceived notions about the Messiah blur his vision, and he only appraises things from a human perspective. He has begun to understand that Jesus’ great manifestation of power means that he must be the Messiah, but he does not have any understanding how Jesus’ passion ties into his identity.

“Peter’s concept of the ‘Christ’ is too narrow, too laden with selfish, human fantasies. He thinks that the Christ will establish a reign of peace and righteousness by overthrowing the powers who hold God’s people Israel in a vise of oppression. The Christ is, by definition, a winner, destined for honor and glory. Anyone with Jesus’ amazing powers to silence the sea and unclean spirits, to heal the sick with a word or a touch, and to feed thousands from a few scraps is headed for glory and universal veneration. Anyone who has heavenly authority to forgive sins on earth (2:10) and to determine what is permissible on the Sabbath (2:28) need not suffer on earth. How can such a Messiah be rejected and become a victim of violence? For Peter, a suffering Messiah is impossible. The Messiah will come as a triumphant hero, dishing out punishment to those who oppose him.’ [6]

vv.34-9:1: “Three demands. (1) Jesus insists that if the disciples want to follow him, they must deny themselves. He does not ask disciples to deny something to themselves but to deny the self and all self-promoting ambitions. Discipleship is not part-time volunteer work that one does as an extracurricular activity. God refuses to accept a minor role in one’s life; he requires a controlling place. Those who deny themselves have learned to say, ‘Not my will but thine be done.’

“(2) Jesus demands that his disciples take up a cross. This vivid imagery must have sounded strange before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection but would have communicated danger and sacrifice. Public executions were a prominent feature of life. Cicero described crucifixion as a cruel, disgusting penalty, the worst of extreme tortures inflicted on slaves and something to be dreaded. The Romans made the condemned carry the transverse beam of the cross to the place of execution, where they affixed it to the execution stake. By requiring disciples to carry their cross, Jesus expects them to be willing to join the ranks of the despised and doomed. They must be ready to deny themselves even to the point of giving their lives.

“(3) Jesus tells his disciples to follow the way he has chosen, not the way they would choose for themselves. Jesus does not want a convoy of followers who marvel at his deeds but fail to follow his example. The procession he envisages is a rare sight: disciples following after their Master, each carrying a cross. The imagery means that disciples must obey his teaching, including what he says about giving their lives.

“The rationale. Jesus appeals to the basic human desire to secure one’s life as the rationale for making such a sacrifice. Humans seek to guarantee their lives but usually choose ways destined to fail. Jesus offers a paradoxical principle for successfully saving one’s soul: To save one’s life, one has to lose it. Human beings make futile attempts to safeguard their lives by storing up goods in bigger barns, but nothing that one acquires in this life can ransom one’s soul from God. If we give up our lives for his sake and the gospel, we will be given the only life that counts, life from God.

“A solemn warning. Jesus next warns his disciples about the judgment, when each one will have to give an account before the Judge. The warning implies that when the Son of Man comes in the glory of his Father, he will come as the Judge (see Matt. 25:31 – 32). He warns disciples not to retreat from his present shame in the eyes of this world as the crucified Messiah. They must side with him now in his suffering and humiliation, or they will not be at his side in the glorious age to come. The individual’s stance toward Jesus will determine the final verdict.

“Jesus uses the threat of judgment to induce his followers to be faithful. To be put to shame is the opposite of divine vindication (Pss. 25:3; 119:6; Isa. 41:10 – 11; Jer. 17:18). Those who may be frightened by the edicts of earthly courts (represented in this Gospel by Herod Antipas, the high priest’s Sanhedrin, and the Roman governor, Pilate) should fear even more the decision of the heavenly tribunal, which determines their eternal destiny. The petty tyrants, who for a fleeting moment hold the whip hand, can inflict fearful punishment. But one cannot appease them or straddle the fence. To win the favor of the world and its despots means to lose the favor of heaven. To win the favor of heaven means to lose the favor of the world.

“In the judgment, the utter powerlessness of God’s hostile adversaries will be manifest as they are brought to the bar to answer to God. Those who have thrown in their lot with them will find that they have made a fatal choice. They have bartered a few more years of life on earth with this wicked and adulterous generation for an eternity with them in hell. Giving one’s life in service to God may mean losing a few years on earth, but the result will be spending eternity with the glorified Son of Man. Jesus does not say that confessing him will make us happier but that it will save us from God’s judgment. The better part of wisdom is to follow Jesus’ way, even if it leads to earthly humiliation; the only other choice leads to divine condemnation. This warning hits home when Peter cannot make the same bold confession in a hate-filled courtyard (14:66 – 72; see also 13:9).

“A confident promise. Jesus concludes this first lesson on discipleship requirements with a solemn promise that some of them will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God coming in power (9:1). The suffering will not go on forever. The resurrection of the Son of Man (8:31) and his coming in glory with the holy angels (8:38) removes the sting from the humiliation of a cross.” [7]


[1] David E. Garland, Mark (NIVAC; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), Electronic Ed.

[2] David E. Garland, Mark (NIVAC; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), Electronic Ed.

[3] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[4] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[5] David E. Garland, Mark (NIVAC; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), Electronic Ed.

[6] David E. Garland, Mark (NIVAC; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), Electronic Ed.

[7] David E. Garland, Mark (NIVAC; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), Electronic Ed.

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