Studying the Gospels Together: Mark Eight

As part of the ReMarkAble series at First Baptist Church, I will be releasing weekly posts with my notes for those who are using the Studying the Gospels Together (STGT) method in their Adult Community Group. You can read more about the STGT Method here and how this site is integrating the ReMarkAble series here.

Introductory Comments

Most scholars regard Mark's eighth chapter as the location for a major pivot within the story line of the entire gospel. It centers upon Peter's confession of Jesus as Christ and Jesus' foretelling of his death and resurrection. The chapter also contains multiple overtones of Jesus' message that God's Kingdom is not just for Jews, but also for Gentiles.

Jesus feeds the four thousand, in strikingly similar fashion to the way he fed the five thousand only a couple chapters earlier. Although, it is important to also note the small differences in the story which communicate something as well. The feeding of the four thousand and Jesus' instruction to his disciples about the leaven of the pharisees highlights Jesus' identity as messiah. The confession from Peter is a significant moment. Jesus' disciples recognize him as not just a prophet, but the Christ. While the disciples understanding is growing, they still lack a full understanding of who Jesus is and why he came. This is characterized in Peter's rebuke of Jesus after hearing that Jesus was going to suffer and die. Peter was beginning to understand, but he still lacked a full understanding of what Jesus was doing in the world. This chapter continues to teach us more about who Jesus is, why he came and what it means to follow him.

Things to Note

In the STGT Method, we begin by noting five different activities of Jesus.

(P) Prayer

There is no specific reference to Jesus praying in this chapter.

(W) Reads or references God’s Word

There is no specific reference to Jesus reading or referencing God's Word in this chapter.

(F) Relates to God the Father

There is no specific reference to Jesus relating to God the Father in this chapter.

(HS) Relates to the Holy Spirit

There is no specific reference to Jesus relating to The Holy Spirit in this chapter.

(R) Overflows in loving relationship with people

This will be the most common category we see. Jesus is constantly interacting with people through his teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons, or discipleship. I will not list all possible ways that this is seen in this chapter, but only mention a few.

(8:1-12) The feeding of the four thousand: This story has many parallels to the feeding of the five thousand from Mark 6. You can probably find them quite easily, although I will focus on the small differences which are very important to observe. First, his compassion is not founded upon them being like "sheep without a shepherd (Mk 6:34)." This time his compassion finds its ground in their physical need for food and nourishment. Jesus has compassion, "because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. (8:2)." Jesus expresses concern here for their actual physical needs. Jesus cares for both our spiritual and our physical needs. Similar to the feeding of the five thousand, his ability to provide physical nourishment through food points to his identity as messiah and his ability to provide for our spiritual needs as well. The final difference, which is important to note, is that they end up collecting seven baskets after everyone has eaten to satisfaction. Geographically, Jesus is in Gentile territory. In the previous feeding miracle, they collected twelve baskets - one for each tribe of Israel. In this miracle, they collect seven baskets - a number signifying completeness, standing for all humanity (BlombergJesus and the Gospels, pg. 321). This miracle shows that Jesus is messiah, but not just Jews. Jesus is messiah for all of humanity.

(8:22-26) The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida: This miracles serves two purposes in this context. The miracle itself is an expression of compassion and points to Jesus' identity. Similar to the previous chapter, Jesus uses saliva in this healing. Again, this would have been a contextual way of going about the healing. Jesus may have employed some cultural methods, which would have helped the people recognize his healing. The healing itself is a sign of his compassion for the man, and also a marker of his ability to heal.

The other purpose of this story is likely a living parable of sorts. This is the only two-part healing we see in the gospels. Given the literary context, it may point to the progressive understanding the disciples were coming to about Jesus. They were once blind, and now they are beginning to see in part. As though they are only seeing a shadow of who Jesus is. Soon they will see more fully. Within this chapter, the progressive understanding happens. The disciples first observe the feeding of the four thousand, and are given more instruction by Jesus in the boat. Then Peter confesses Jesus is Christ, but the subsequent rebuke by Jesus at Peter's lack of understanding shows that they do not yet fully see.

Questions for Reflection

What does this passage tell us about who Jesus is?

Jesus is the messiah: The identity of Jesus as messiah has been developed over the entirety of the gospel so far. This chapter simply continues to clarify who Jesus is. Similar to the feeding of the five thousand, the feeding of the four thousand in this chapter points back to God's provision in the wilderness. The difference here is that Jesus is doing it in a Gentile context. When the disciples misunderstood Jesus' intention with his statement about the Pharisees leaven, he reminds them of both feedings. One to five thousand in a Jewish context, the other to four thousand in a Gentile context. Jesus is messiah. And he is messiah to all humanity.

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ: The statement by Peter about Jesus being the Christ is a significant moment in the development of Jesus' ministry. His disciples are starting to truly understand who he is. As a reader, the placement of the statement is also important. Mark has been working very hard in his gospel to clarify Jesus' identity as messiah. Here, Mark uses Peter's statement to give us a definitive answer about who Jesus is. The implications of Jesus' identity as the Christ are still lost upon the disciples. When Jesus explains that he would eventually suffer, die and rise again, Peter rebukes him. Peter thought the Christ was going to come and overthrow the Roman Empire and bring restoration to the nation of Israel. Peter still did not fully understand. The rest of Mark's gospel leads toward the climactic point of the Christ hanging on a cross. Not one who would come to raise an army, but rather suffer at the hands of the elders, priests and scribes.

What does this passage tell us about why Jesus came?

Invite both Jews and Gentiles: Jesus gives us a clear indication in this chapter that the coming Kingdom is not just for Jews, but for Gentiles as well. This would not be fully realized for quite some time, but Jesus is paving the way for Gentile inclusion into the family of God. This is seen in the feeding of the four thousand within a Gentile context. Jesus' explanation to the disciples in the boat, highlighting both feedings at once, is also an indication that the Kingdom would expand to the Gentiles. Finally, the healing of the man from Bethsaida shows Jesus' compassion and willingness to heal even those outside of Jewish territory.

To suffer, die and rise again: Once Peter makes his landmark statement acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, Jesus explains that he came to suffer, die and rise again. It says that Jesus "said this plainly (8:32)." Up until this point, Jesus has not explained his future suffering so clearly to his disciples. He had been still establishing himself as the messiah. Now that Peter has recognized Jesus as the Christ, Jesus could begin to prepare his disciples for what was to come. Jesus teaches about his eventual death two more times in Mark's Gospel. In this particular instance, Peter does not fully understand and he rebukes Jesus. In response, Jesus rebukes Peter back, saying that Peter's intentions are in line with Satan and not the things of God. Jesus maintains his position, knowing that his future would require him to suffer on the cross in order to redeem his people.

What does it say about what it means to follow Jesus?

Deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus: The chapter ends with Jesus providing some instruction about what it means to follow Jesus. Self-renunciation is imperative to what it means to follow Jesus. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. For some, this may actually mean physical death as a result of following Jesus. For others, it means being selfless for the sake of Jesus, when we would have otherwise wanted to prioritize ourselves. It could mean that we must be willing to maintain our faith and commitment to Jesus and his teachings at the cost of some social, financial or relational standing. Following Jesus must come before all things, including our own comforts, priorities and desires. Are we willing to deny ourselves for the sake of Jesus and his gospel?

Questions for Application

In response to what you have read, what is one action step you believe God is calling you to make this week?

(1) Pray that God would reveal ways in which you have not died to self. How are you being selfish? How are you holding onto certain idols or desires which are detracting from your ability to fully follow Jesus? Ask God to show you ways that you are not heading Jesus' command to deny ourselves for the sake of Jesus and his gospel message.

(2) Like every chapter, there are a variety of applications that could be made. I would love to invite you to make comments regarding applications that you see for your own life. Please share with one another in the comments section below, and encourage one another as we seek to apply God's Word to our lives.

What is one thing you learned this week you could share with someone else? Who do you plan to share it with?

This question is meant to simply help us learn how to share what we are learning from Jesus. We see in this chapter that Jesus wants his message to spread. When we follow him, we become conduit of that message. We do not need to feel the burden of sharing everything we know about Jesus in every conversation we have, but it can be more natural to share something we are learning. What is something you learned that you could share with someone else? Think about who you might want to share it with.