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Commentary on The Gospel of Mark chapter 6

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

Jesus Is Rejected In His Own Neighbourhood (6.1-6).

Having preached continually in the area by the Sea of Galilee and around Capernaum, and having revealed His glory through His activities, Jesus now returned to His own neighbourhood, that is, around the Nazareth area, no doubt in order to visit His family, but also in order that He might proclaim His message there. But here He was soon to be ‘put in His place’, for He discovered that the people there had little interest in Him because they knew Him too well, or at least, they thought that they did. We should note the deliberate stark contrast. He has revealed His power over nature by stilling the storm, He has revealed His authority over the spirit world by healing the demoniac, He has revealed His power over death by healing Jairus’ daughter, but to these people He is only ‘the son of Joseph’. Reality could not destroy prejudice.

It is possibly significant that neither Mark nor Matthew mention Nazareth. They speak rather of ‘His own country’. It may therefore be that He did not at this time visit Nazareth, and that what is described here took place in a neighbouring town where His married sisters had gone to live.

On the other hand it could be that Luke 4.16-30 reflects this time. But the differences rather suggest that in fact that incident was behind Him and that here He was trying again in His own neighbourhood now that He was more established. On the other hand, while Luke does appear at first sight to put the incident he describes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry it is not strictly so, for Luke 4.15 and 23 demonstrate that even His visit then took place after some considerable ministry, especially at Capernaum. So the positioning in Luke may simply be because it fitted in with, and accentuated, his portrayal of the continuing new activity of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1.15, 35, 41, 67; 2.25-27; 3.16, 22; 4.1, 14), firstly because it demonstrated that Jesus’ whole ministry was in the same power, and secondly because it laid from the beginning the foundation that if the Jews would not listen to Him He would go to the Gentiles.

But it is noteworthy that there Luke makes no mention of the disciples, although that is not decisive as Luke pointedly and deliberately (if he had Mark in front of him) ignores the disciples until chapter 5, even though he describes the healing of Simon’s wife’s mother. If it is the same incident though, it is surprising that neither Mark nor Matthew mention the attempt on Jesus’ life and His significant escape.

The truth is that it is quite possible that the incidents actually occurred in different synagogues. This in Mark (and in Matthew) is not actually said to be in Nazareth, only in ‘His own country’, thus in the district containing Nazareth. It could have been at Cana where Jesus and His family were clearly well known (John 2.1-11). If He had previously been dragged out of the Nazareth synagogue we can understand why He might have avoided going back there even when He visited His own neighbourhood, for He never sought to be unnecessarily provocative. Perhaps it was because Mark wanted his readers to recognise that it was in the area where Jesus was brought up, even though not in Nazareth itself, that he did not specifically mention names. Indeed we might ask, if it was actually in Nazareth why did Mark not say so? He has mentioned Nazareth earlier (1.9, 24).

Alternately, if it was in Nazareth (verse 3 might be seen as suggesting so, but Cana might equally apply if the family were regular visitors there) it could be that their anger, so quickly aroused in the incident in Luke, had as quickly died down, and that having since heard about His great success and powerful activity they had reconsidered what had so badly upset them the first time and were prepared to give Him, although somewhat grudgingly, a second chance. After all, they may have thought, He had then only been an enthusiastic beginner. But if so their displeasure would soon be roused again. The question is, however, merely academic. It affects not a jot the significance of the passage.

Analysis of 6.1-6.

  • a And He went out from there and He comes to His own country, and His disciples follow Him, and when the Sabbath was come He began to teach in the synagogue (1).
  • b And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “From where has this man learned these things?” and “What is the wisdom that is given to this man and what mean such mighty works (‘powers’) wrought by His hands?” (2).
  • c Is this not the carpenter (or ‘craftsman’), the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are His sisters not here with us? ” (3a).
  • d And they took offence at Him (3b).
  • c And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country (patris ’autou as in 6.1) and among his own kin and in his own house” (4).
  • b And He could there do no mighty work (‘power’) except that He laid His hands on a few sick folk and healed them, and He marvelled because of their unbelief (5-6a).
  • a And He went round about the villages teaching (6b).

Note that in ‘a’ He behaves in His own country as He does elsewhere, but in the parallel it is with a paucity of results. In ‘b’ they react to His teaching and manifestations of power, and in the parallel His mighty power is limited by their unbelief. In ‘c’ they stress that He is but one of them, and in the parallel Jesus points out that no prophet is accepted in such circumstances. Central in ‘d’ is the fact that they took offence at Him.

6.1 ‘And he went out from there and he comes to his own country, and his disciples follow him. And when the Sabbath was come he began to teach in the synagogue.’

Jesus returned home to ‘His own country’, the place where He had been brought up, and presumably visited His family if they were still living there. He had not forgotten them and He may well have thought of giving His disciples a rest. Not so much had happened in that area, and it was among the hills, so there were no crowds. But when the Sabbath came He went to the synagogue and was asked to speak there and His words were such that the people attending were amazed.

In Mark this is the last time that Jesus will be said to speak in a synagogue. Perhaps then Mark intends us to see this rejection as a picture of all who rejected Him in Israel, and as a reminder that while His divine power is being revealed to His disciples, the spiritually blind continue to be spiritually blind.

6.2-4 ‘And many hearing him were astonished, saying, “From where has this man learned these things?” and “What is the wisdom that is given to this man and what mean such mighty works (‘powers’) wrought by his hands? Is this not the carpenter (or ‘craftsman’), the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are his sisters not here with us? ” And they took offence at him.’

To begin with many were amazed at the things that He seemed to have learned. Others at the wise things that He said. And others at His miraculous powers and the mighty works He did (Mark is here bringing out that, few though His mighty works were here, they were still impressive). Thus it is apparent that to begin with things were going smoothly, although even here there is possibly the hint of dissatisfaction. Nevertheless His preaching was being listened to, they knew about His mighty works and some healings did occur. On the other hand in their eyes it did not sit well with the person that they knew Him to be. They could not reconcile it with what they knew about Him. And when He spoke on and began to speak of introducing the Kingly Rule of God, it was something that they could not accept of one they knew so well. Their question was, Who did He think He was?

Behind their amazement lay their unwillingness to accept that this local boy could be anything special. They remembered that He was after all only a village carpenter, an artisan, that they knew all His family well, and that He was but a local lad. How could He then be so special? Was this because His words had begun to stir their consciences, and they did not like it, especially from One Whom they had known all their lives? Was it because His demands were too great and He seemed to be above Himself? So quickly, through prejudice and disparagement, can a powerful ministry be halted. How wary we should be when we openly disparage a preacher.

Then they finally took offence because, having pulled themselves up sharply and dismissed His claims, they felt as though He had somehow deceived them. Their early interest had turned sour and they began to feel ashamed of it. And as men will in such circumstances they blamed Him for it. But underlying their whole attitude was their sin. In the end it is sin treasured and held on to that makes men avoid the truth.

What a contrast with what has gone before. The Lord of the elements, Lord over evil spirits and Lord of life and death, but now rejected because He was too well known.

‘To His own country.’ Possibly stated in this way to give effect to the saying in verse 4. This was the prelude to what would be His later rejection by His own people (John 1.11). But it may also indicate that while he visited His own neighbourhood He cut Nazareth out of His itinerary because of what had happened there before.

‘Many hearing Him.’ Many is ‘hoi polloi’ or just ‘polloi’. Omission of the article is strongly supported. It might thus mean all the people, many of the people or just some of the people.

‘From where ---- what is the wisdom ---- what mean such mighty works ---- is this not ---.’ There were differing views and questions among the people, but underlying all was the fact that He was but a local carpenter. Perhaps then they were beginning to suspect some doubtful source for His powers, for they no doubt knew what the Doctors of Law from Jerusalem had said (3.22). We can compare here the questionings of the disciples in 4.41, who also having little faith, asked, ‘Who then is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?’ The difference was that they would come to a positive conclusion. These came to a negative one.

Mark wants his readers to ask the same questions, and answer them correctly, for as we know he is now seeking to emphasise Jesus’ wisdom and His power.

‘Is this not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?’ The textual authorities vary considerably here. Many have ‘the son of the carpenter and of Mary’ (but then why not mention Joseph by name?). The former is more probably correct. It is in all the major manuscripts (but not papyrus 45) and we can see why it might be changed later. Calling Jesus an artisan may later have been seen as degrading Him (Origen argued with Celsus that Jesus was never called ‘the carpenter’ demonstrating how deeply the issue was felt). And ‘son of Mary’ may have been a slur as it was not normal among the Jews to describe a man as the son of his mother, even when his father was dead, unless he was of doubtful birth (compare Judges 11.1). And the people were trying to be disparaging. Perhaps then they wanted to see Him as an artisan and of doubtful birth (an indirect testimony to the virgin birth) and not as a scholar. On the other hand ‘son of Mary’ may simply indicate that Joseph was dead.

‘Brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon.’ See 1 Corinthians 9.5. They were all familiar in the district. There is no reason for doubting that they were his blood brothers (see on 3.31-35).

‘And are not his sisters here with us?’ This change of expression may naturally suggest that this was not Nazareth, but a nearby town, and that Jesus’ sisters had married and taken up residence in this place. However this inference is not necessarily required.

‘And they took offence at Him.’ Literally, ‘they were caused to stumble’. He had become a stumblingblock to them (compare 1 Peter 2.8). Their attitude to Him caused them to stumble in their obedience to God.

6.4 ‘And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country (patris ’autou as in 6.1) and among his own kin and in his own house.”

This may be a general saying rather than a specific claim to be a prophet, although others unquestionably saw Him as one, and it does indicate that Jesus would not shy from the title. But the gist of the saying is clearly that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. A comparative saying is found in the later, non Biblical, Oxyrhynchus papyrus, ‘A prophet is not accepted in his own country, nor does a physician work cures on those who know him.’

‘Among His own kin and in His own house.’ This may well have been Jesus’ addition to the saying, emphasising that as yet His own family did not believe in Him.

6.5 ‘And he could there do no mighty work (‘power’) except that he laid his hands on a few sick folk and healed them.’

The reason that He could not perform miracles was because they did not have the faith to come to Him. Those who did show such faith and came He healed. It was not He Who was inadequate, but they. There was a general lack of interest in Him because they dismissed Him as simply being a local. To come to Him for healing was thus probably thought to be undignified. There were no crowds here. (It is a reminder that when God is at work we should not look at the vehicle but at Him, otherwise we might miss out on what is happening). And yet this negative situation contains a positive message. If a preacher today were to lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them in a way which could not be doubted, he would be lauded to the skies. It indicates what great expectancy of Jesus Mark had.

6.6a ‘And he marvelled because of their unbelief.’

Jesus was filled with wonder at the total lack of faith in Him among His neighbours. His own relationship with His Father was such that He found it quite incredible that they should be so unbelieving in the face of all that they must have heard about Him, and the witness that He had given them through His early years. But such is the power of prejudice. It was a salutary lesson. (We remember Jesus’ similar astonishment that His father and mother had not known where to find Him when He was listening to the teachers in the Temple - Luke 2.49).

This reference to the negative side of things because of unbelief parallels 3.31-35. In the midst of the enthusiasm and the exaltation of Jesus Mark constantly brings us back to man’s unbelief. With success comes also suffering and derision. The Gospel is no easy ride. Later the Transfiguration will also be followed by an emphasis on His coming suffering, and then His final ministry will be followed by the greatest suffering of all. The pattern is clear. But from it all will come triumph.

6.6b ‘And he went round about the villages teaching.’

But their unbelief did not cause Jesus to slacken off. Instead He patiently went on with the work for which He had come. He continued to proclaim the Kingly Rule of God in all the villages round about. ‘For that was why He was sent’ (Luke 4.43).

The Wider Ministry begins - the Apostles Are Sent Out - Opposition Continues (6.6a-56).

Having established that Jesus is Lord of the elements, Lord over evil spirits and Lord over life and death, Mark now deals with the widening of His ministry, although again this does not take place without disappointments and opposition as before. Jesus sends His disciples out to preach with great success, although ever in the background is the shadow of Herod Antipas who was responsible for the death of John, and no doubt took an interest in their activities through his spies. On their return Jesus takes them aside to a lonely place, (it is quite probable that some of them had had a rough time of it as Matthew 10 implies), but they are joined there by a determined crowd of a few thousand people eager to hear more of His teaching. Seeing in this crowd the foundation members of His new community, He provides them with bread from Heaven, and indication that they can now partake of the Messianic banquet (Isaiah 25.8). But the success there is diminished when a further encounter with the vagaries of the sea brings out the disciples’ underlying unbelief. They have not yet learned ‘the lesson of the loaves’ (8.18-20).

Analysis of 6.6b-56.

  • a Jesus went around the villages teaching (6.6b).
  • b He sends out His disciples to teach and with authority over unclean spirits, and they reveal their faith and are successful (6.7-13).
  • c Herod executes John the Baptist, and offers his head on a dish, revealing the ways and food of the kingly rule of man on earth, but is afraid that he has risen from the dead (6.14-29).
  • d The disciples return from their mission and are called aside to be alone with Jesus (6.30-32).
  • c Jesus feeds five thousand with five loaves and two fish, revealing the ways and food of the Kingly Rule of God on earth which will result in resurrection (6.33-44).
  • b Jesus walks to His disciples on the water, and they reveal their unbelief and failure because their hearts are hardened and they do not understand (6.45-52).
  • a The people gather to Him and He heals all who come to Him (6.53-56).

Note that in ‘a’ He goes around the villages teaching, and in the parallel the crowds gather to be healed. In ‘b’ He reveals His ability to give authority over unclean spirits to His disciples, who go out in faith and are successful, and in the parallel He reveals His power over nature, and His disciples reveal their unbelief and hardness of heart. In ‘c’ Herod typifies the earthly rule of man, and the kind of ‘dish’ that it can result in, while in the parallel Jesus typifies the Kingly Rule of Heaven and the kind of food that it provides. Centrally in ‘d’ His disciples return triumphantly from their mission and Jesus takes them to be alone with Himself.

The Extension of the Ministry - the Twelve Are Sent Out Empowered by Jesus to Proclaim the Kingly Rule of God (6.6a-13).

Now begins the further expansion of the ministry. Jesus sends out His Apostles in order to extend the sphere of His ministry. It is the seed of worldwide evangelisation (compare Acts 1.8). This ministry of the Apostles is emphasised in all Synoptic sources and there is no reason to doubt its genuineness. The specific instructions given to them, so suitable to their circumstances, and the ‘primitive’ nature of the message, both confirm this. This period of ministry clearly lasted some time (verse 10).

By this sending out the glory and power of Jesus is again remarkably revealed, for ‘He gave them authority over unclean spirits’. What a remarkable statement this is. Who could possibly be seen as having such power? The giving of authority over the unseen world. Nowhere is this ever said of others. It is telling us that He not only had unique authority over the powers of evil, but was able to give that authority to others. Who could do this but the Lord of glory? Up to now Jesus has revealed His power and His authority. Now, in this commencement of the Apostolic ministry, He is revealed as the One Who can not only exercise divine powers but can convey that divine authority to others to exercise under His command. He is ‘the Lord’ of all.

In the Old Testament Moses was told by God that He would take of the spirit that was on Moses and would give it to others (the seventy elders) but that was the act of YHWH, not of Moses (Numbers 11.16-17). Elisha also asked that the firstborn’s portion (the double portion) of the spirit that was on Elijah might come on him, but again Elijah had to leave it in the hands of God as to whether it would happen (2 Kings 2.9-10). But with Jesus there was no such limitation. He is the drencher in the Holy Spirit (1.8).

Again then we are brought face to face with the uniqueness of Jesus. No other could choose to pass on the Spirit. And no other before Him had planned such an offensive. It was a systematic coverage of Galilee with His word. It was all systems go. The time to which the prophets had pointed was now here. On those who were walking in darkness in Galilee of the nations the light was now shining (Isaiah 9.2).

Analysis of 6.7-12.

  • a And He called to Him the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and He gave them authority over unclean spirits (7).
  • b And He charged them that they should take nothing for their journey except only a staff, no bread, no pack, no money in their belt, but to go shod with sandals and not to put on two coats (8-9).
  • c And He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, there stay until you leave the area” (10).
  • b “And whatever place will not receive you and do not listen to you, as you leave there shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony to them” (11).
  • a And they went out and preached that men should repent, and they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them (12).

Note that in ‘a’ He sends them out (to preach) and to cast out evil spirits , and in the parallel that is what they do. In ‘b’ they are to take only the clothes that they stand up in and sandals on their feet, and in the parallel they are to shake the dust off those sandals against those who refuse to receive them. Centrally in ‘c’ they are to remain with the first one who welcomes them (because they are His).

6.6a ‘And he went round about the villages teaching.’

Jesus’ response to the failure of His neighbourhood to receive His words was to reach out wider and go through the villages teaching the Kingly Rule of God.

6.7 ‘And he called to him the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and he gave them authority over unclean spirits.’

Jesus was aware that much needed to be done so, after a time, when He felt they were ready, He commissioned the twelve to go out in twos to teach (gathered from verse 6a) and to preach that men should repent (verse 12) and that the Kingly Rule of God was now available (Matthew 10.7). And He gave them authority so that they could cast out evil spirits. We note their twofold ministry, to teach and to overcome the Evil One. Mark selects these two as central to the work that Jesus had come to do. Healing was but a compassionate by-product. For the reason that He had come was to bring men under the Kingly Rule of God and to overcome Satan and his minions.

Travelling preachers and Rabbis were a common enough sight in the world of that day in both Jewish and Gentile territory. The difference lay in their message. But another difference applied to the Apostles. They were not to beg or seek alms, but were to go with minimum provision in poverty trusting God. Such missions were unknown in Judaism. But they indicate what should be at the root of every ministry. For while these instructions had in mind Jewish laws of hospitality, they provide the principle which should be at the root of all who serve Him full time, living at the minimum so as to maintain humility of spirit.

‘He sent them out two by two.’ He Himself knew the loneliness of the preacher and He ensured that each had another for support. Each could encourage the other and give strength in times of weakness. Compare 11.1; 14.13; Luke 7.19; John 1.35. The idea was also that everything should be established by the mouth of two witnesses. In a similar way Paul also took a major companion with him wherever he went, first Barnabas and then Silas. He had heeded well the words of Jesus.

Jesus also ‘gave them authority over unclean spirits’. But it was an authority within their limitations. They were never, as the Master was, in total control. Thus in 9.14-29 we learn of their failure in a difficult case where they became aware that they needed more prayer life behind them to succeed in such cases, something which Jesus had. They needed to grow in strength and authority through constant prayer. That incident (as did that of the Gadarene demoniac) indicates that evil spirits had differing levels of power, and so have men of God.

But He also wanted to ensure their total dependence on God, and that they would avoid accepting gifts for their services, and so He commanded them to go out trusting God to supply all their needs, and never to have two of anything. These commands assume a background such as we find in Matthew 6.19-34).

6.8-9 ‘And he charged them that they should take nothing for their journey except only a staff, no bread, no pack, no money in their belt, but to go shod with sandals and not to put on two coats.’

They were to take only the minimum that they were standing up in on their journeying. God would provide the remainder. Now the prayer that they had been taught, ‘give us today our daily bread’, would take on new meaning. Behind this requirement was the need to make clear that they were going out as preachers, not as recruitment sergeants. Like Jesus they were to be meek and lowly in heart.

‘Except only a staff.’ There is no real contradiction with Matthew. If they had a staff with them they could take it, but they were not to seek one out if they did not have one (Matthew 10.10). The point was that they were not to stop in order to obtain one, nor to think in terms of earthly protection, or of belligerence. The sense of urgency was to be paramount. We can see the situation as it arose. Firstly He said to them all, ‘Do not take a staff.’ Then one or two who always carried a staff, probably including Peter, then said, ‘Should we then throw our staves away?’ To which Jesus replies, ‘No, if you already have one, take it.’ Thus to Peter He said, ‘only a staff’. To Matthew He said, ‘Take no staff’.

And for all provisions they must trust God and God alone. Food, money, and other necessities would be provided by Him as they trusted Him and worked faithfully in His name. They had to travel by faith with minimum preparation. ‘Pack’ may mean a begging wallet. They were not to beg. God would supply their needs (Matthew 6.25-34).

These provisions demonstrated the haste with which they were to begin their journeys. They stressed the urgency of them. And they stressed what their hearts should be set on. They were to stop for nothing and be ready to live on the minimum. And like Elijah they were to depend fully on God (1 Kings 17.3-6).

‘To go shod with sandals.’ They were to go in what they were wearing and not to pack extra sandals or other footwear (Matthew 10.10; Luke 10.4).

‘Not to put on two coats.’ The same applied as with the sandals. They were not to be over-provided for, or to provide for eventualities. They were to be satisfied with minimum basic clothing. Whatever was needed extra God would provide (Matthew 6.25-34). On cold nights two coats would have been welcome protection if they had to sleep outside, but Jesus is saying, ‘trust God and recognise that He will always provide shelter for the night unless He has a deeper lesson to teach you’.

6.10-11 ‘And he said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, there stay until you leave the area. And whatever place will not receive you and do not listen to you, as you leave there shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony to them.” ’

They were not to be choosy or look for comfort. Whenever God provided them with accommodation, however poor and mean, that was the accommodation that they should continue to use in that place. They were not to look around for a better, thus causing grief and insult to the first host and delay in their ministry. They were to be satisfied with what they had, to be totally devoted to their work. Self comfort was to be ignored. Note how this provision assumes a fairly lengthy stay. And it would occur from town to town. Thus this preaching tour probably lasted many months, during which some of them may well have experienced synagogue punishment because of what was seen as their heretical message, and even have been called before Herod or some of his officials (compare Matthew 10.17-18. As in the Old Testament declaring that something would happen then assumes that it did happen. See e.g. Exodus 17.1-7 where it is simply assumed that the people drank water from the rock). They would not be seen as having quite the same status as Jesus.

But hospitality to strangers was looked on as a sacred duty in the Near East, and especially among Jews, thus they should never be short of it in places that welcomed them. The first to offer it would be indicating a quick response of faith to their message, a worthiness to be blessed by their continued presence with them. There was no danger at this stage of their becoming spongers. Later the Christian church (in the Didache) would deem it necessary to indicate that a prophet who stayed more than three days in one place was overstaying his welcome and was a false prophet.

But to be refused hospitality would be to indicate enmity and their rejection by those who refused it. So Jesus added that those who refused to listen to their message also come under this heading.

‘Shake off the dust.’ When places refused to receive them they should leave behind a sign, the dust shaken from their sandals, as a witness to the lack of hospitality of the place. This arose from the practise that pious Jews had of shaking the dust from their feet and clothing when they left Gentile territory. The idea being that such dust contained uncleanness, and that it was defiled because the Gentiles did not observe the laws of purity. Thus the similar act by the Apostles would indicate that the place was looked on as unclean and defiled. We can also compare Acts 18.6 where the shaking off of the dust indicated that the messengers were free from guilt and that the recipients had brought their judgment on their own heads, which was based on the same principle.

‘As a witness to them.’ Their solemn act would be an act of witness to the people that judgment was now declared on them because of their refusal to listen to God’s word. And if they still did not repent it would be a further witness against them at the Judgment on the last day.

6.12 ‘And they went out and preached that men should repent.’

As Jesus had commanded, the twelve Apostles went out, calling on men to ‘repent’. This meant to ‘have a change of heart and mind’, and to ‘turn from sin’ (see on 1.4) and to recognise that the Kingly Rule of God was drawing near (Matthew 10.7), indeed was there to be accepted or refused. The ‘primitive’ nature of the message (no mention of believing in Jesus or of the coming Judgment) demonstrates the authenticity of the passage. It was the initial message of Jesus, the foundation which had to be laid in preparation for what was to follow.

6.13 ‘And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.’

Their ministry was accompanied by successful acts of power. Evil spirits were cast out, and as well as that they healed the sick by the anointing with oil (compare James 5.14 where it is ‘in the Name of the Lord’). This anointing with oil demonstrated the separation of the person in question to God as in the Old Testament. They were healed because they responded to Him in faith and became His. Healing in God’s name put them in further debt to God, signifying that they were henceforth to live for Him and obey Him. They became His property. It also distinguished the ministry of the Apostles from that of Jesus, He healed through His own power and authority, whilst they healed through His power and authority. Thus the oil was also symbolic of the Anointed One in Whose Name they healed.

It is true that oil was also at this time seen as a healing medicament (compare Luke 10.34). But elsewhere when it was used it was seen as working gradually. There was nothing of that idea here. Here the thought was rather that these people were being set apart to God, and committed to the Name of the Anointed One. Healing could only be expected where there was a submissive heart (compare 2.1-12).

This ministry of the Apostles was vital preparation for their future. They preached, and they preached effectively, what they had heard from Jesus, thus sealing it in their own minds; they would then begin to appreciate how little they knew of what they should know and would thus in future pay even more attention to Jesus’ ministry (no one learns more, or is more aware of his own need to be taught, than he who genuinely seeks to teach others); and their words prepared men for the time when Jesus Himself would arrive to preach among them, and laid the foundation for the future message. Jesus clearly saw the mission as a success. Had He not done so He would not have later sent out the seventy (Luke 10.1-17). There would, of course, be a limit to what the disciples taught. They still had very mistaken ideas about the Kingly Rule of God, as John had had before them. But they could not go wrong on the central message, that the Kingly Rule of God was about to break in on men. Perhaps it was their over-enthusiasm that resulted in five thousand men seeking them out along with Jesus in the desert place.

The Response of King Herod In View Of His Previous Execution of John the Baptiser (6.14-29).

Meanwhile it was inevitable that news of the activities and power of Jesus, and of His disciples, would reach Herod’s palace through his spy system, and when it did his conscience struck him, for he had had John the Baptiser executed, and hearing about the miracles, he thought that this must be John come back to life, and was greatly troubled.

This section is inserted here for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly in order to indicate the impact that Jesus’ ministry was having. It was even affecting the palace. Nowhere was being left untouched by what God was now doing.
  • Secondly by being placed between the sending out of the Apostles and their return it is giving an indication that the Apostles’ ministry did continue for some time, a few weeks at least (he did not just want to say simply that ‘they went and returned’, which might have been misleading).
  • Thirdly it is part of the picture Mark is building up of the different opponents of Jesus. The Herodians (supporters of Herod and his attitudes) have been mentioned as opponents in 3.6, now more information is given about the court and its views. Compare also 8.15; 12.13, and their mention as ‘they’ in 9.13. They are one of the continual shadows in the background of Jesus’ ministry. That the Pharisees are mentioned more is due to the fact that Jesus tended to avoid the main cities where the Herodians predominated, whereas there were Pharisees and their supporters everywhere. But the Herodians were equally as dangerous, and were equally at loggerheads with Him and His message.
  • Fourthly it is a reminder, after a series of incidents in which Jesus has been revealed as the Lord of all, that nevertheless through His own will in coming to earth He has humbled Himself and has subjected Himself to man’s rule. He has to beware of Herod.
  • Fifthly it helps to explain why Herod never actually directly intervened in Jesus’ ministry. He never got over what he had had to do to John the Baptiser, whom he feared. Although one reason why Jesus began to move out of Galilee may well have been because He was aware of rising opposition, and he knew that His time was not yet (see Luke 13.31-33).
  • Sixthly it contrasts the success of the going forth of the new heralds with the seemingly backward step of the execution of John the Baptiser. What had seemed a great blow to the work of God had turned out in fact to be a stepping stone to greater things. John’s ministry had in fact accomplished its purpose and was now flowering in the ministry of Jesus and of the Twelve.
  • Seventhly it brings out the threat that was continually impending in the life of Jesus. Jesus had already spoken of His being ‘snatched away’ (2.20). Now the threat of Herod loomed, and He knew that what had happened to John could also happen to Him at any time. This will eventually lead on to His own warnings about His final end.
  • Eighthly, there is a contrast between John’s head being offered up on a platter through Salome to the ungodly Herodias, with the bread of God which Jesus was offering through His disciples to all who genuinely responded to Him. The one could only leave Salome and Herod covered in guilt and remorse. But that was all that Herod could offer his followers. Guilt and remorse. The other offered true repentance and eternal life.
  • Ninthly it provides the vivid contrast between the drunken and orgiastic nature of a typical oriental feast, along with the kind of fruit that it produced, and the wholesome and pure provision of God for His own, which left all satisfied.
  • Tenthly and finally, it contrasts the new Kingly Rule of God being offered around Galilee with the Kingly Rule of Herod with which no one could be satisfied. It was a contrast of extremes. Yet foolishly the majority chose the way of Herod, disgusting though it had revealed itself to be.

It may also suggest that Mark might not have been aware of what Jesus did while the Apostles were away, and thus could not tell us. His chief source of such information (Peter) was out preaching the good news. There is no suggestion at this stage that Herod became threatening, although his police might have begun to take a deeper interest in what was going on, especially once preachers suddenly began appearing all over the kingdom. Later this would change and he would become more threatening (see Luke 13.31). But while not willing to hear them he seems to have had a deep respect for genuine men of God, unless he felt that they were threatening his position, and he had perhaps learned a salutary lesson with John.


  • a And King Herod heard of him, for his name had become known, and he said “John the Baptiser is risen from the dead, and that is why these powers work in him” (14-15).
  • b But others said, “It is Elijah”. And others said, “It is a prophet, even as one of the prophets”. But Herod when he heard of it said, “John whom I beheaded, he is risen” (16).
  • c For Herod himself had sent out and laid hold on John and bound him in prison, for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for he had married her. For John said to Herod “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (17-18).
  • d And Herodias set herself against him and desired to kill him, but she could not, for Herod feared John knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. And when he heard him he was greatly perplexed, and he heard him gladly (19-20).
  • e And when an opportune day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a feast for his court officials and military officers and the chief men of Galilee
  • f And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and those who sat at meat with him, and the king said to the young woman, “Ask of me whatever you will and I will give it to you” (21-22b).
  • e And he swore to her, “Whatever you will ask of me, I will give it to you, to as much as half of my kingdom” (23).
  • d And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “the head of John the Baptiser” (24).
  • c And she came in immediately and hastily to the king, and asked saying, “I will that you forthwith give me on a plate the head of John the Baptiser.” And the king was deeply sorry, but for the sake of his oath and of those who sat at meat, he would not reject her (25-26).
  • b And immediately the king sent out an executioner and commanded to bring his head, and he went and beheaded him in prison, and brought his head on a plate and gave it to the young woman, and the young woman gave it to her mother (27-28).
  • a And when his disciples heard, they came and collected his corpse and laid it in a tomb (29).

Note that in ‘a’ Herod says that Jesus is John the Baptiser risen from the dead, and in the parallel John’s body is laid in a tomb. In ‘b’ Herod speaks of ‘John the Baptiser whom I beheaded’, and in the parallel we have the description of how he did so. In ‘c’ John had condemned Herod’s marriage to Herodias, and in the parallel Herodias’ daughter asks for his head on a serving plate. In ‘d’ Herodias set herself to have John put to death, and in the parallel that is what she tells her daughter to demand. In ‘e’ we find a description of Herod’s kingdom, and in the parallel he offers Herodias’ daughter half his kingdom. Centrally in ‘f’ Herodias’ daughter pleases Herod and he offers her whatever she wants (there is here a perverted similarity to what Jesus says that God offers to believers - Matthew 7.7-12; Luke 11.9, as symbolised in the feeding of the five thousand which follows). Note also the repetition of the offer, “Ask of me whatever you will and I will give it to you” followed by “Whatever you will ask of me, I will give it to you’, the kind of repetition found in the second part of chiasms in the Pentateuch.

6.14-16 ‘And King Herod heard of him, for his name had become known, and he said “John the Baptiser is risen from the dead, and that is why these powers work in him”. But others said, “It is Elijah”. And others said, “It is a prophet, even as one of the prophets”. But Herod when he heard of it said, “John whom I beheaded, he is risen”.’

This Herod was Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. He was tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea from his father’s death, the date of which is not certain, dating anywhere from 5 to 0 BC. (The date is dependent on the identifying of certain astronomical occurrences and interpretation of other evidence, and is complicated by the question as to whether coinage was issued with spurious dates on it in order to magnify royal claims. If the enrolment of Luke 2.1 was that of Augustus’ twenty fifth anniversary of his reign, and the celebration that of the 750th anniversary of Rome, his father’s death was after 3 BC, the year of the celebration). He ruled until 39 AD. He was not strictly a king (he was a tetrarch) but he was popularly known as one. Matthew and Luke style him correctly, Mark popularly. His attempt to be officially named ‘king’ in fact led to his downfall and he was exiled to Gaul.

When Herod heard about this man Jesus Who was going around like a prophet and doing great wonders, his conscience struck him, and he was afraid, for he had reluctantly had John the Baptiser executed and now thought that he had come back from the dead. His conscience was giving him no rest.

‘Herod heard of Him.’ The news about this new prophet who drew such large crowds and performed miracles, although not directly affecting Tiberias where Herod had his palace, would hardly remain hidden. His police would have drawn it to his attention, and also the fact that He was proclaiming the coming of the Kingly Rule of God.

‘For His name had become known.’ Everyone was talking about Him for good or bad, especially so now that His Apostles were also going around preaching. Some were saying that He was the expected Elijah (Malachi 3.1), others that He was a great prophet like the revered prophets of old. Thus some at least were positive in their thoughts about Him. It is noteworthy that they did not at this stage think Him to be the Messiah. He was not behaving like they expected a Messiah would. But they did recognise His status as a man of God. The views of the leading Pharisees that He was of the Devil had not taken hold in Galilee, nor seemingly with most of the Herodians. But Herod was burdened down with guilt and was convinced that John the Baptiser had returned and he feared what would happen next. But why was he so afraid?

6.17-20 ‘For Herod himself had sent out and laid hold on John and bound him in prison, for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for he had married her. For John said to Herod “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias set herself against him and desired to kill him, but she could not, for Herod feared John knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. And when he heard him he was greatly perplexed, and he heard him gladly.’

This summary of the situation reveals Herod’s initial reluctance to act against John, only doing so because of his strong-minded wife’s insistence and John’s accusations. But even then he had refused to allow him to be killed. John had enjoyed Herod’s special protection, for Herod had respected and feared him as a true man of God and would bring him into his presence to hear what he had to say. He did not want such blood on his hands. We have here an interesting picture of a divided Herod. On the one hand he was a tyrant, but on the other he had a kind of recognition that he should be taking God into account. Thus when it came to religious matters he vacillated between one position and the other. There is an interesting parallel here with the story of Ahab and Jezebel, where another weak king was controlled by his wife.

‘He was greatly perplexed’ (some manuscripts have ‘did many things’) probably included the fact that he was in two minds about what he should do about Herodias. A man’s struggle with himself against the attractions of a desirable woman is the cause of many a man’s perplexity. The flesh struggles with the conscience, and neither will cease its demands, often making the man behave strangely and act seemingly out of character.

‘Had bound him in prison.’ Josephus tells us that this was at Machaerus near the Dead Sea, a bleak place where there was both palace and prison. Mark does not tell us anything about the place where the events occurred.

‘Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.’ Names in the Herod family were of great complexity not helped by the fact that Herod and Philip were both family names and given freely. ‘Herodias’ was the granddaughter of Herod the Great, being the daughter of his son Aristobulus. Thus she was niece to Herod Antipas. ‘His ‘brother Philip’ was not Philip the Tetrarch who later married Salome. Rather he was another Herod Philip who lived as a private citizen at Rome, and who was a son of Herod the Great by a second Mariamne, and thus also Herodias’ uncle.

Marriage to Herodias was not only attractive because she was clearly a desirable woman, inheriting the beauty of her grandmother Mariamne, but also because she was of royal descent as part Hasmonean and thus more acceptable to the people than Antipas himself who had no recognised Jewish blood in him. But if this was part of his reason for marrying her it failed, partly due to John the Baptiser’s strictures, for they hated him even more.

‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ Marriage to a brother’s wife while the brother was still alive was forbidden (Leviticus 18.16; 20.21). This condemnation and Herodias’ resulting hatred, added to John the Baptiser’s strong support among the people. And they hated Herod Antipas all the more for this behaviour, thus making for a possible uprising. These were the reasons for John’s imprisonment.

6.21-23 ‘And when an opportune day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a feast for his court officials and military officers and the chief men of Galilee, and when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and those who sat at meat with him, and the king said to the young woman, “Ask of me whatever you will and I will give it to you”. And he swore to her, “Whatever you will ask of me, I will give it to you, to as much as half of my kingdom”.

Unexpectedly an opportune day came for Herodias to achieve her end. It is quite probable that she knew of Herod’s propensity, when drunk on such occasions, to make rash promises to dancing girls, and she plotted accordingly. She sent in her own daughter (by Herod Philip, probably the beautiful and seductive Salome. She may well have noted Herod’s glances at her), to dance before the king and all the important people with him. Such dances were expected to be lewd and suggestive, and this girl’s would be no exception, and it raised Herod’s excitement to such an extent that he offered her as much as half his kingdom as a reward.

Such an extreme offer was presumably made because it was his stepdaughter and nothing less would have been seen as sufficient (she had all she could want already), and also probably because Herod had in mind another occasion when such an offer had been made (Esther 5.3; 7.2). It was not intended to be taken literally (he was under Rome and could not give half his kingdom away) but if considered at all in his drunken state it was basically a willingness that if she wished she could rule half his kingdom (either Peraea or Galilee) under him.

‘When an opportune day was come.’ This could mean simply a suitable day for Herod to hold a feast, that is, on his birthday. But more probably it refers to Herodias’ wish to kill John the Baptiser.

‘On his birthday.’ Little did he realise that on this day of celebration he would do that which would blight his life thereafter.

‘Court officials’ (literally ‘lords’). ‘Military officers’ (literally ‘chiliarchs’), leaders of a thousand men’ but here with a more general meaning to include all high ranking officers.

‘The leading men of Galilee.’ This has led some to posit that the event may have occurred at Tiberias, but this interpretation is not necessary. Herod’s entourage would go wherever he went, especially for his birthday celebrations, and the leading men of Peraea would also be there. The specific mention here of the leading men of Galilee is rather to tie them in with the evil deed. They too were responsible for what happened to John the Baptiser.

‘The daughter of Herodias herself.’ The manuscripts are divided here, the main difference being between whether we read ’autes or ’autou. The former means in context ‘herself’ the latter would mean ‘of him’, that is Herod. The latter would be using ‘daughter’ loosely as meaning stepdaughter and may have arisen to emphasise the appalling fact that he allowed her to perform such a dance at all (in verse 24 she is clearly Herodias’ daughter’). It could, however, indicate that he had a daughter, also called Herodias (possibly like Herod a family name)

‘Came in.’ No respectable princess would have considered entering such a gathering of half-drunk men. Queen Vashti gave up her position rather than do so (Esther 1.12). And Jews would have been appalled. But Herod regarded neither. He was used to Roman orgies.

‘Danced.’ Dances at such gatherings were lewd and highly suggestive to fit in with men’s propensities. They were usually performed by experienced professional prostitutes and few rulers (or their wives) would have allowed their daughters to take part in such dances. But the Herods had a reputation for moral depravity. Some women love exposing themselves and shocking people, and Herodias’ daughter was clearly such a one, and her mother had a deeper motive in mind for which she did not mind a ‘little’ impropriety, while Herod, although possibly taken aback, no doubt enjoyed the opportunity for seeing his seductive stepdaughter in such a guise (she was not after all his blood daughter).

‘Ask of me whatever you will.’ This was no doubt Herod’s regular drunken response to an act that pleased and stirred him so that his emotions were deeply aroused. But money or jewellery was usually in mind. However, because it was his stepdaughter he extended the offer, in his drunken pride possibly even seeing himself as like Ahasuerus and not wishing to be outdone by a past foreign king (Esther 5.3; 7.2).

There are undoubted parallels between this account and events in the book of Esther, not because of deliberate copying but partly because of Herod’s own reference and partly because Mark probably intended a deliberate contrast between the chaste woman there and this immoral strumpet; a contrast between the one whose actions destroyed an evil man, who was set to destroy God’s people, and this one whose actions resulted in the death of a holy man of God (see Esther 2.9 LXX; 5.3, 6).

6.24-26 ‘And she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?” And she said, “the head of John the Baptiser”. And she came in immediately and hastily to the king, and asked saying, “I will that you forthwith give me on a plate the head of John the Baptiser.” And the king was deeply sorry, but for the sake of his oath and of those who sat at meat, he would not reject her.’

But what was she to ask for? The decision made was that it should be ‘The head of John the Baptiser.’ The idea was not hers but her mother’s, but it may well have been she who added the idea of the serving dish. They were two of a kind. ‘Came in immediately.’ Was her haste because the idea pleased her so much? The king felt trapped. He had given his oath and all his courtiers were watching.

But it was so unusual an occurrence that the leading men of Galilee could have protested, and he could have stressed that this kind of thing had not been in his mind, and that the head of John the Baptiser was worth more than half his kingdom. It might indeed bring down his whole kingdom. But neither thought it important enough to make the effort. Their ideas of their own prestige, importance and well-being came first. And John was not considered important enough to be worth intervention.

‘On a plate.’ A large dish. The crowning indignity. His gory head brought in on a plate. Who would suggest such a thing? Certainly not a well bred or sensitive princess. But it befitted the mind of a princess who could perform such a licentious dance. The two went together. Mark may well have seen here a contrast between John’s head served up on a dish, and the bread shortly to be offered by Jesus to the five thousand (verses 30-44). The first was typical of the world and what it offered, the second would be typical of what God offered, the bread of life.

‘The king was deeply sorry.’ A very strong word indicating excessive regret (compare its use in Mark 14.34)

‘Reject her.’ Possibly better, ‘break faith with her’, ‘break his word to’ (compare its use in Psalm 15.4 (14.4) LXX).

6.27-28 ‘And immediately the king sent out an executioner and commanded to bring his head, and he went and beheaded him in prison, and brought his head on a plate and gave it to the young woman, and the young woman gave it to her mother.’

The evil deed was done. No excuse can be found for Herod. Had he wanted to he could have avoided it. Probably no one would have blamed him, and no one would have seen the twisting of his oath by Herodias’ daughter as binding. It was not within the spirit of the offer. But men have strange ideas when it comes to ‘honour’, sometimes it replaces rightness, and possibly Herod was secretly glad of the excuse. Whichever was true he gave the command and John was beheaded and his head brought in on a plate.

‘An executioner.’ The word is ‘speculator’, originally it was used of a Roman scout but was then used to denote a member of the headquarters staff of a ruling personage whose duties included the carrying out of executions. This it came to be used in Aramaic and Rabbinic Hebrew for an executioner.

‘Gave it to the young woman, and the young woman gave it to her mother.’ When Herodias’ daughter looked at the grisly present she had received she faltered and passed it immediately to her hardened mother. She did not want it. There was still some vestige of decency, however small, within her. But for Herodias there was only delight. We can compare these words here, with the words, ‘He gave them to His disciples to set before the people’ (verse 41). What a contrast between two worlds.

6.29 ‘And when his disciples heard, they came and collected his corpse and laid it in a tomb.’

The same word for corpse is used in 15.45 in a similar setting and the parallel may be intentional. And they also laid him in a tomb (compare 15.46). Both the forerunner and his Master received similar treatment, and both would rise again.

Note. The differences in this account and that of Josephus, who makes the whole thing purely political, can easily be put down to differences of approach. Josephus, a Jewish historian seeking to present the Jews in a good light, is interested in political propaganda in support of the Jews and the facts here do not reflect well on them. He stated that the reason for John’s death was because Herod feared that John’s influence over the people might lead to a political rising. And that was of course true. Had it not been for that he would not have been in prison. But this does not prevent acknowledgement of the further influence of a jealous and angry woman. Mark is not concerned about politics. He is concerned about man and his relationship to God. And he may even have had sources not open to Josephus, for the wife of Herod’s steward may well have been known to him (Luke 8.3). He did not need the rumour of the marketplace. (End of note).

The Disciples Return and Take a Break - The Feeding of Five Thousand People (6.30-44).

When the disciples returned and explained to Jesus all that had happened He sought to take them somewhere where they could rest and recuperate, and no doubt where He could give them advice and reassurance. Perhaps also He was a little concerned at some of the things which they had told Him. Their view of the Kingly Rule of God had still not been tailored in line with how Jesus saw it. Perhaps they had been rousing interest in the wrong way. That was always a danger with sending out novices. And then a crowd of interested men who were anxious to learn and see more, outwitted them by making their way round the lake. Thus would occur a further revelation of the power of Jesus as Lord of creation, the miraculous feeding of a great crowd of genuine seekers.

Again we have the contrast with Herod’s behaviour. While Herod had held a great feast and had drenched the nation in the blood of a prophet, Jesus was holding a great feast and bringing to them the bread of life as promised by the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 55.1-2). This celebration feast was a proclamation that the new king was here, and that the Messianic banquet was beginning (Isaiah 25.8). Earthly kingdoms no longer mattered. Let them forget Herod and his like. The Kingly Rule of God was here.


  • a And the Apostles gather themselves together to Jesus, and they told Him all things, whatever they had done, and whatever they had taught (30).
  • b And He says to them, “Come you yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile.” For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat (31).
  • c And they went away in the boat to a desert place apart (32).
  • d And the people saw them going, and many knew them, and they ran together there on foot from all the cities, and outwent them, and He came forth and saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd, and He began to teach them many things (33-34).
  • e And when the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him, and said, “The place is desert, and the day is now far spent, send them away, that they may go into the country and villages round about, and buy themselves somewhat to eat.” But He answered and said to them, “You give them to eat.” (35-37a).
  • f And they say to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred shillings’ worth of bread, and give them to eat?” (37b)
  • g And He says to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see” (38a).
  • f And when they knew, they say, “Five, and two fishes” (38b).
  • e And He commanded them that all should sit down by companies on the green grass, and they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties, and He took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, He blessed, and broke the loaves; and He gave to the disciples to set before them, and He divided the two fishes among them all, and they all ate, and were filled
  • d And they took up broken pieces, twelve basketfuls, and also of the fishes, and those who ate the loaves were five thousand men (44).
  • c And immediately He constrained His disciples to enter into the boat (45a).
  • b And to go before Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself sends the crowd away (45b).
  • a And after He had taken leave of them, He departed into the mountain to pray (46).

Note that in ‘a’ the Apostles gathered together to Jesus to tell Him what they had done, and in the parallel He took leave of them so that He could be alone to pray. In ‘b’ He calls them to go apart into a desert place in order to get away from the crowds, and in the parallel He sends them to Bethsaida while He sends the crowds away. In ‘c’ they went away in a boat, and in the parallel they entered into a boat. In ‘d’ He saw the great crowd like sheep without a shepherd, and in the parallel they were more than satisfied. In ‘e’ He commands His disciples to give the crowds food to eat, and in the parallel they do so. In ‘f’ they assess what is required to feed the crowd, and in the parallel they discover how much they actually have. Centrally in ‘g’ Jesus takes charge of the whole situation

The Apostles Return From Their Mission (6.30-34).

6.30 ‘And the Apostles gather themselves together to Jesus, and they told him all things, whatever they had done and whatever they had taught.’

‘The Apostles.’ This is remarkably the only reference to ‘the Apostles’ in Mark. But that it carries all the full meaning of the title we cannot doubt, for by the time that he was writing the title had become a settled one (he could just as easily have called them ‘the disciples of Jesus’ in contrast with those of John - verse 29, but then it could have included more than the twelve. These were the original ‘sent out ones’). Mark would not have used it without having its meaning to the churches in mind. Indeed it is an indication that he sees here their improved and permanent status after their successful ministry. They have proved that they are genuine Apostles and can now bear the title. After this he falls back on the word ‘disciples’ because he is indicating that they have much to learn before they can successfully carry into effect their new status. He tells us no more about their further ventures.

The word Apostle was given a new meaning by Jesus (compare Luke 6.13). In classical Greek it had come to signify ‘the fleet, the armada’ and had earlier been used of expeditions. It was only rarely used of representatives, although it would be used by Paul of ‘apostles (messengers/ambassadors) to the churches’. On the other hand some have related it to the Hebrew ‘shaliach’ and its Aramaic equivalent. But while that word does mean an authorised agent or representative, such a position was temporary for a particular occasion. It was never seen as permanent. There can, however, be no question that Jesus intended their appointment to be seen as permanent. Thus if He did use ‘shaliach’ or its equivalent it was with a new significance. They were not the normal type of shaliach who acted merely as a proxy. The two terms and their functions cannot be equated. ‘Apostle’ was given a unique position of its own.

‘They told Him all things.’ They reported back in detail, both as regards actions and words. They wanted His approval and they wanted His guidance. All who have ever begun preaching will be aware of their need for both. They had much to learn. Given their expectancy of an earthly kingdom (10.37; Matthew 20.20-28; Luke 22.24-27; Acts 1.6) it might also have concerned Him as to quite what they had been saying.

6.31 ‘And he says to them, “Come you yourselves apart into an isolated (or desert) place and rest awhile.” For there were many coming and going and they had no leisure so much as to eat.’

Recognising the strain their activities had put them under Jesus desired to take them to a quiet and uninhabited place where they could rest and recover, and where He could listen to what they had to say and guide them, for the place where they were was public and they were constantly being interrupted, so much so that they did not even have a chance to eat. This appears to have been a regular problem for them (compare 3.20).

6.32 ‘And they went away in the boat to a desert place apart.’

So taking ship the group sailed to an isolated place where they could be alone. Luke tells us that this was in the vicinity of Bethsaida Julias situated near the top of the lake to the East (Luke 9.10). It was necessary even for these young and exuberant men to have a vacation sometimes, not one of making merry, but of getting alone with God. And no doubt they took food with them which they may well have consumed on the boat.

6.33 ‘And the people saw them going, and many knew them, and they ran there together on foot from all the cities and outran them.’

But this time ‘the boat trick’ did not work, for their action in taking ship was noted by those who knew them, who discerned where they were going and made their way there on foot, meanwhile publicising what they were doing so that others joined them. The boat appears to have made slow progress for the crowd arrived at the place where the boat would land before the boat even arrived. The wind may not have been kind to those in the boat which may explain why their arrival was delayed. The result was that the boat was greeted by a large crowd of people. This incident emphasises how difficult it was for Jesus to get alone by Himself, and how greatly His popularity and prestige was growing.

6.34 ‘And he came out and saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them because they were as sheep not having a shepherd, and he began to teach them much.’

Jesus was not dismayed by what had happened. He recognised the great longing of the crowd and their sense of needing guidance and help. He ‘had compassion on them’. This word for compassion is used only of or by Jesus. The word speaks of a compassion that responds with action.

‘They were as sheep not having a shepherd.’ Such sheep are aimless, poorly fed and in danger of perishing. He saw their need for a Shepherd. (See Numbers 27.17; 1 Kings 22.17; 2 Chronicles 18.16; Ezekiel 34.5; Matthew 15.24 compare Zechariah 11.4-6). ‘He began to teach them many things’ or ‘to teach them at length’. Possibly the comment about the sheep indicates that Jesus used this as an illustration in His teaching to them. Later He would certainly later tell parables about sheep (Matthew 12.11-12; 18.12-13; 25.32-33; 26.31; Luke 15.4-6) and declare that He was the good shepherd (John 10).

Some have suggested that the crowd who had gathered were there because they were hoping to stir Jesus into military action, and no doubt some of them were there with that in mind as John may be indicating (John 6.15). But we need not doubt that on the whole they were there in order to learn more about what He had to say, otherwise He would not have treated them as members of His covenant community by feeding them miraculously. However, that being said, in Galilee any prophet was seen as a possible rallying point.

The Feeding of the Five Thousand (6.35-43).

Many attempts have been made to rationalise this account. The suggestion is made that when the crowd saw the disciples (or the little boy) sharing food they too began to share their food; or that it was only a symbolic meal, merely a taste of bread giving the promise of participation in the Messianic Feast, which somehow satisfied the people. But all have to accept that that is not what the account actually says. The account tells us quite clearly that under Jesus’ ministration the food was somehow multiplied until it fed the whole crowd with more than enough. And that is the message that Mark wants to convey. The Son of God was here. That this manifestation of His power was expected to teach them a vital lesson comes out in 6.52 and 8.17-20. Unless the miracle was genuine those words would have been meaningless.

There were certainly those in the crowd who connected what happened here with Moses. Going out into the wilderness in a large crowd, finding themselves hungry, being fed by the Prophet miraculously, all pointed to bread from Heaven (compare John 6.31-32) and the possibility of coming deliverance. We can see why the crowd, and even the disciples were perhaps getting a little excited. That is why at the end Jesus compels His disciples to leave by boat before He dismisses the crowd. Things were in danger of getting out of hand. But this need not mean that this was the original reason why the crowd came. It is simply a reminder of the explosive situation in Galilee, and of how quickly believers in the Kingly Rule of God could begin to see it as happening physically. In the end only Jesus’ death could demonstrate that that was not why He had come.

6.35-36 ‘And when the day was now far spent his disciples came to him and said, “The place is isolated, and the day is now far spent. Send them away that they may go into the country and villages round about and buy themselves something to eat.”

As evening approached and Jesus went on preaching, the disciples became concerned. Had Jesus overlooked the fact of where they were? The crowd were far from home, there was nothing to eat and nowhere convenient to find food. Even now it was probably too late but at least if the crowd left now there may be a chance that they could find food somewhere if they scattered. They were being thoughtful and helpful, if a little over-optimistic. It should be noted that this does not sound like a crowd who had come together for a military purpose.

6.37a ‘But he answered and said to them, “You give them to eat.”

We must not miss the force of these words. The ‘you’ is emphatic. Jesus knew that they had no food to give. He knew that they would be baffled. But He wanted them first to be aware that feeding this crowd would require something special, secondly that it was in the future to be their responsibility to feed His people, and thirdly that there were in Him the resources they needed for the task, something that they needed to become confident about. They must recognise that they could not foist the task off on others because of the difficulties. They had to be the shepherds with His support. And feed the crowds they in fact would. It was an important lesson.

This was an amplification of the lesson that they had learned about trusting God for provision while out on their ministries. Now they had to trust God for others too. It is difficult to avoid the impression that Jesus has 2 Kings 4.42 in mind, where Elisha says to his followers, ‘Give to the people that they may eat’, at a time when there was patently too little food for everyone. There it was followed by the insufficient becoming sufficient and to spare. Was Jesus then testing out His disciples to see what they would do, and how they would respond? After all they had claimed that they had ‘understood’ about the coming of the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 13.51). Did they have sufficient understanding and faith for this moment? There may have been a slight hope at the back of His mind that it would be so, but the more probable significance in what He is doing is that He wants His disciples to recognise that in following Him and being His Apostles they must take responsibility for believers, not leave them to themselves.

( In LXX Elisha says, ‘dote tow laow’ - ‘give to the people’. Here in the translation from the Aramaic Jesus says ‘dote autois’ - ‘give to them’. LXX then uses esthio while Jesus uses phagein, but it should be noted that LXX then has phagomai in verse 43 where ‘the Lord’ says they shall eat. Mark’s source may well have been distinguishing Jesus from Elisha by deliberately using the verb ‘the Lord’ used).

6.37b ‘And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii of bread and give them to eat?”

The disciples were both incredulous and possibly a little peeked (Matthew and Luke tone this down). They knew, and knew that Jesus knew, that they did not have enough funds. Food for this great crowd would take the day’s wages of two hundred men (a denarius was a day’s wage - Matthew 20.2). How then could He expect them to feed them? It was not quite fair. Had this story been an invention there is no way that these words, spoken in this way, would have been included

6.38 ‘And he says to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” And when they knew they say, “Five, and two fish.”

Then He called their attention to what they did have. His command was firm. They must sum up their resources. And when they did so they found that they had five loaves and two fish. And little though they knew it, that would be enough. The loaves would not be large loaves. They would be the flat cakes. John 6.9 tells us that they were barley loaves, the food of the poor. The fish would also be fairly small.

6.39-40 ‘And he commanded them that all should sit down group by group on the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds and by fifties.’

Peter remembered vividly the greenness of the grass, which indicated springtime. But was there a hint here that He Who made the grass to grow by abundant rain, a wonderful provision of God, could also feed the hearts of men? (Isaiah 44.4). When the grass fails and there is no green thing it is a time of desolation (Isaiah 15.6). Thus when the grass flourishes times are good. We may also compare it with the green pastures to which ‘the Lord is my Shepherd’ led His people (Psalm 23.2). In Scripture man is often likened to the grass, usually dying grass. But this was a time of life, and the grass was alive.

‘They sat down rank by rank.’ Literally ‘garden plot by garden plot’. This was probably depicting their orderliness, or perhaps the colourful groups on the green grass. Whoever described all this, and it must have been an eyewitness, seems to have had an eye for colour. Similar descriptions are used by the Rabbis of the arrangement of their students like rows of vines in a vineyard and like garden beds, mainly depicting their orderly arrangement.

6.41 ‘And he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven he blessed, and broke the loaves, and he gave to the disciples to set before them, and he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were filled.’

There is no avoiding the miraculous supply. (It would even have taken a miracle to take two fish and give but a few hundred even a little). Jesus looked up to the Giver and then distributed to the crowd through the disciples. And all were filled. In His hands five loaves and two fish were sufficient and to spare.

‘Looking up to heaven He blessed.’ For the idea of looking up to heaven see 7.34; John 11.41; compare Job 22.26. In each case He was looking for the miraculous power of God to work. It was symbolic of calling on God.

‘He blessed’. He blessed God, as a Jewish father would give a blessing over the bread of the household. The blessing may have been the regular one, ‘”Blessed are you, Oh Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread on the earth”. Note that it is not the bread which is blessed but God Himself. It is gratitude for provision.

‘And broke the loaves’. An action preparatory to eating. Here it was for the purposes of distribution. It indicated sharing and the oneness of the company. A Jewish father would himself eat a piece and then pass the remainder round.

‘And He gave to the disciples to set before them.’ The verb in the imperfect may indicate ‘went on giving to the disciples’.

‘And they all ate and were filled.’ It is stressed that there was sufficient for everyone.

6.43 ‘And they took up broken pieces, twelve basketfuls, and also of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.’

The term for ‘basket’ denotes the wicker basket (kophinos) carried regularly by Jews, (and for which they were well known), so that they could take their provisions with them, undefiled by the world. It was indeed a popular joke among Gentiles. From where did the baskets come? They probably belonged to the disciples, although being empty.

The broken pieces would not have been gathered from the grass, (poor men did not throw away food), but would be those left over after the distribution. They were gathered so as to be eaten later. The significance of the twelve basketfuls over was that God’s supply was not only for the present but continued into the future. There was sufficient for the twelve tribes of Israel to go on being fed by Him.

‘Those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.’ The disciples had good reason to know. They had arranged the crowd in groups and had distributed the bread to the men of the households, although five thousand may be a round number. Five is the number of covenant, and ‘a thousand’ means ‘a large number’. Here the large covenant community had been fed.

But while the disciples were aware of the extent of this miraculous feeding we must recognise that that was not necessarily so for the crowds. What the disciples saw close up they only saw at a distance, and many were quite some distance away. They obviously realised that there were not huge stocks of food there but it would seem to them that the disciples (or someone) had at least twelve baskets of food available, for they saw at least twelve baskets and were not to know that the twelve baskets were empty. What they saw was the food coming round in abundance, more than twelve basketfuls could hold. They did not know exactly where from, and they probably remembered the parallel incident with Elisha From what John tells us they must have suspected that something unusual was happening, but they were probably not quite sure what.

John, however, tells us that they certainly saw it as a sign sufficient to arouse their interest so as to want to press home claims to make Him king (John 6.14), although nowhere in all four Gospels is any great surprise revealed as there would normally have been at a miracle He had performed. It seems that most knew that a miracle had happened, but did not realise the extent of it. To both Mark and the Apostles, of course, it was a genuine ‘sign’ of Who Jesus was. Thus we are probably safe in assuming that the crowd themselves did not realise quite how great a miracle it was. Probably the main significance to them of the event was that it was the initial experience of the coming of the good times promised by the prophets. On the other hand they did see it as ‘bread from Heaven’ and perceive that a miracle had taken place (John 6.14). And sadly what they then sought was not spiritual life but more of such physical bread (John 6.26).

So What Message Was Jesus Seeking to Convey?

Firstly we must recognise that this was an act of compassion. It was not something for which Jesus had prepared. He had been trying to avoid the crowds, not arranging to see them. It was because He had compassion on them that He did what He did. However there can be no question that what He did He did for a purpose, for He knew what might ensue as news of the miracle spread round. Thus we can be sure that it had been His intention to do this at some stage in His ministry.

The major question is what further significance it had. The following should be considered.

  • 1) He was revealing that He had come as the bread of life (John 6.35). Just as Moses had fed God’s people in the wilderness with bread from Heaven, so Jesus was now here to feed men with the new bread from Heaven which was Himself (John 6.31-33). Those who came to Him would never hunger. Those who believed on Him would never thirst (John 6.35). They would partake of bread from heaven which would give them life for ever (John 6.51), and they would do so by coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6.35). The bread they had already received was a promise of the sufficiency and certainty of this new bread (see Isaiah 55.2; Proverbs 9.5), and He would achieve His purpose by giving His flesh for the life of the world so that He could give everlasting life to those who came to Him (John 6.51).
  • 2) It was an indication that the One had come Who would introduce the new age promised by the prophets when men would feast at God’s table, the so-called Messianic Feast (Isaiah 25.6-8; compare Luke 13.29; 14.15; 22.16, 30).
  • 3) It looked forward to a day when through His death, and participation in the benefits of that death, men would find forgiveness, justification and new life in Him (John 6.51-58). This latter was a different lesson from 1) which was spoken to the crowds. This was spoken to His opponents who were planning His death. It finds its final portrayal in the bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. There are verbal similarities in Mark between this passage and the Last Supper.
  • 4) It indicated that One was here Who was greater then Moses (who received bread from God for the people, but did not provide it himself - Exodus 16), greater than David (who provided holy bread for his followers, but by natural means - 1 Samuel 21), greater than the prophets whose representatives Elijah and Elisha also fed men miraculously (1 Kings 17.8-16 and especially 2 Kings 4.42-44) but to a more limited extent. 2 Kings 4.42-44 was the pattern for this feast, but whereas Elisha had fed a hundred, Jesus fed five thousand. The expectancy of the Jews was that the coming Messiah would provide manna, as Moses had, in the coming age. This revelation of Jesus as greater than Moses and Elijah, who in Jewish eyes represented the Law and the Prophets, is also found at the Transfiguration where both point to Him (9.4-5 see also John 3.14; 5.45-46).
  • 5) It was a reminder to the disciples that God could provide their physical needs and that therefore they should concentrate on things of the Spirit (8.14-21).
  • 6) It was an indication that One had come Who had such power over nature that He could produce food from mere remnants and control creation. It was a pointer to the Kingly Rule of God (see 6.51-52; 8.14-21).
  • 7) As a pointer to the Kingly Rule of God it was in direct contrast to the ‘meal’ that men’s rule provided, the head of a godly prophet (6.28). Here was clearly portrayed the contrast between the two ‘kingly rules’.

There are good grounds for seeing in this feeding God’s offer of salvation to the Jews through Jesus, and in the later feeding (8.1-10) God’s similar offer to the Gentiles. This feeding was of people who had specifically come from Galilee, and the baskets that gathered the fragments were distinctively Jewish baskets by which Jews were recognised everywhere. Furthermore the number five is prominent here (five thousand men, five loaves) and that was the covenant number of Israel. The covenant of God was given specifically on two tablets in two sets of five (Exodus 32.15-16; 34.1); there are five books of the Law in the covenant; the five books of Psalms govern covenant worship; there are five fingers to the hand with which a covenant is sealed (Genesis 14.22; 24.9; Exodus 17.16; Job 17.3); five and its multiples are predominant in the Tabernacle and the Temple, thus the measurements in the Tabernacle were mainly in multiples of five; the altar was five cubits by five cubits; peace offerings for the people were in fives (apart from oxen) - Numbers 7.17-83; the cost of redemption was five shekels - Numbers 18.16.

The other feeding was in Gentile territory and followed Jesus’ dealings with the Syro-Phoenician woman. The number of persons there was four thousand, four being the number of mankind. Four rivers from Eden encompass the world (Genesis 2.10); there are four ‘corners’ of the earth (Revelation 7.1; 20.8); the four winds or spirits of earth and heaven affect mankind (Jeremiah 49.36; Daniel 2 & 7; Zechariah 6.5; Revelation 7.1); the four angels of judgment affect mankind (Revelation 9.14); four horns in Zechariah represent the outside world’s attack on God’s people (Zechariah 1.18-19; four beasts represent world empire in Daniel; four living creatures represent creation in Ezekiel and Revelation. The other prominent number in the account is seven which was the universal sacred number. (Compare also the five kings who represented the covenant land as against four kings representing the outside world in Genesis 14).

Jesus Comes to His Disciples in Their Need, Walking on the Water (6.45-53).

As ever in salvation history the blessing is to be followed by trial. Having been fed by God they must now learn that times can also be hard, and that He is trustworthy in the hard times also. In the future they would have to feed the people, but they would be feeding a people who would as well have to endure the problems of life. Christians are not sheltered from those. After their mountain top experiences they have to face the waves of hardship. They therefore needed to learn that the One In Whom they trusted would walk with them in that hardship and would bring them safe to shore.

Earlier we have seen the Apostles going out in triumphant faith and enjoying great success. Now we see them fearful and almost faithless in the face of the strong winds and the unexpected appearance of Jesus. They still have much to learn.

It is quite possible that Mark deliberately places these two great miracles (the loaves and walking on the water) after the achievements of the disciples in order to keep those achievements in perspective. Acting under His authority they had power, but their power did not compare with that of the Master Himself.

Here Jesus sent His disciples ahead of Him by boat to sail to ‘Bethsaida of Galilee’ (John 12.21). He had revealed His power over natural things in the multiplying of the bread and He would now again demonstrate to them His power over the elements. What they experienced was intended to remind them of the Scripture which said, “Your way is in the sea, and your path in the great waters” (Psalm 77.19; see also Isaiah 43.16), words spoken to the Lord of creation. Jesus was about to demonstrate again that He was Lord of creation and could bestride the waves.

However, we must read what is said and not over-exaggerate the account. They met a contrary wind, not a storm, something they were well able to deal with even if it was hard work. This is not a further account of the stilling of a storm. All that is parallel with the other account is that they were in a boat at sea and the going was tough. Here there was a contrary wind, there there was a raging storm (a very different thing to experienced sailors). Here Jesus came walking on the water, there He was asleep in the boat. Here He saves them further effort, there He saved their lives. It is true that in both cases a wind ceases, but here it is a contrary wind that is a hindrance to rowing, and that is all, while there the violence of a destructive wind was combined with the raging of the boiling sea, and that was calmed as well. Those hardy sailors would have been amazed that people called the incidents at all similar. They are different at almost every point.


  • a And immediately He constrained His disciples to board the boat and to go before Him to the other side, towards Bethsaida (45).
  • b While He Himself sends the crowds away. And after He had taken leave of them He departed to the mountain to pray (46).
  • c And when evening was come the boat was well out at sea and He alone on the land, and seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was against them, about the fourth watch of the night He comes to them walking on the sea. And He would have passed by them (47-48).
  • d But they, when they saw Him walking on the sea, supposed that it was a ghost and cried out, for they all saw Him and were distressed, but He immediately spoke with them and says, “Be of good cheer. It is I. Do not be afraid” (49-50).
  • c And He went up to them in the boat and the wind ceased (51a).
  • b And they were greatly amazed in themselves, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their heart was hardened (51b-52).
  • a And when they had crossed over they came to the land to Gennesaret, and moored to the shore (53).

Note that in ‘a’ H constrains the disciples to board the boat and make for the other side, and in the parallel they reach the other side. In ‘b’ Jesus prays in confident faith, and in the parallel the disciples are amazed and flummoxed, because of their lack of faith. In ‘c’ He sees them having a hard time against the prevailing wind and would have passed them by, and in the parallel He goes up to them in the boat and arranges for the wind to cease. Centrally in ‘d’ what appeared at first to be a horror, turned out to be Jesus coming to meet them.

6.45-46 ‘And immediately he constrained his disciples to board the boat and to go before him to the other side, towards Bethsaida, while he himself sends the crowds away. And after he had taken leave of them he departed to the mountain to pray.’

‘Immediately He constrained His disciples.’ There was certainly pressure there and we may ask why. Possibly it was to prevent the disciples from saying anything further to the crowds about the miracle (they might well have thought it would produce what they thought was a good effect), or equally probably because He was also getting uneasy at the attitude among the crowds and was fearful that in their enthusiasm at being fed by Him they were about to press His Messianic status (see John 6.15 where this is made quite clear). And He did not want the disciples, who were still struggling to grasp the truth about Him, to become involved. He preferred to deal with the matter alone. (With their limited understanding the disciples might have become equally excited. They had been preaching that the Kingly Rule of God was coming, and they may have thought that here was its beginnings, but in totally the wrong way).

A further reason was that He wanted time alone to pray. So once He had seen the disciples off and had persuaded the crowds to return to their homes He went alone into a nearby mountain to pray. For Jesus praying see 1.35 and 14.32-42, each time during the night, but compare Matthew 14.23. See also Luke 6.12; 9.18; 11.1. Jesus went without sleep to pray at crucial times in His ministry, but also no doubt prayed regularly at other times. Pious Jews prayed at ‘the time of prayer’ morning and evening. So in the midst of a despairing world He walked in total faith. These particular mentions of prayer come at the commencement of His ministry as He faces up to the huge burden involved in constant teaching, healing and exorcism (1.35), at the initiation of the new community following the Apostles’ successful ministry (6.46) and as He faces His final agony prior to His death, three great stepping stones in His life.

‘Bethsaida’ means the house of fishing, a very suitable name for a fishing town or village, and there may well have been two of them (otherwise why would John speak of a Bethsaida ‘of Galilee’? - 12.21), one at the top of the lake to the East, Bethsaida Julias, and one lower down the lake on the west bank, Bethsaida-of-Galilee, a small fishing village. Or it may be that they both refer to the same town, and that having been with the crowds to the East of Bethsaida Julias He sent them away from the crowds ‘to the other side’ across a portion of sea at the top of the lake, to the area West of Bethsaida Julias. The area would be known by the name of the town.

6.47-48 ‘And when evening was come the boat was well out at sea and he alone on the land, and seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was against them, about the fourth watch of the night he comes to them walking on the sea. And he would have passed by them.’

Night drew in as the disciples were at sea. The lake was choppy and they were heading into a strong wind, and they were finding the going extremely difficult. As they pulled at the oars and seemed to make little headway they were becoming exhausted. They were no doubt wishing that they were back on land, and would have been wondering what Jesus was doing.

We are not told at what time Jesus ‘saw’ them. It was possibly from the mountain before nightfall set in, so that, knowing the weather and their situation, He knew that their voyage would take some considerable time. Or it may have been by bright moonlight, looking across the lake. But we may assume that He spent some time in prayer, and then came down from the mountain and began His walk across the sea. Praying, making His way down the mountain at night, reaching the shore and then walking across to where they were (the waves were rough and the wind was against Him too) would also take some considerable time, and by the time He reached the spot where they were it was ‘about the fourth watch of the night’ (following the Roman system, the Jews split the night into four watches), nearly three or just after three in the morning. Thus they had been at sea nearly eight or nine hours. The adverse wind was so strong that they had made little progress.

‘And He would have passed by them.’ This was how it appeared to them and indeed was His intention if they had had sufficient faith. Mark wants us to recognise that without a boat Jesus could easily have reached the destination before them, wind or no wind. It is a reminder that there are no contrary winds to God. Passing by them may not have been His final purpose. They were not in danger, just exhausted, and He had compassion on their exhaustion. But it is clear that He had an important lesson to teach them about His power over the sea, (whose idiosyncrasies they knew), and therefore over nature. He knew that it was about time that they woke up to Who and What He was, so that they recognised His ability to be with them and keep them under all circumstances. The multiplying of the bread should have made that clear, but He knew that it had not, and now He was enforcing the lesson. And perhaps He wanted to test their faith and fortitude.

6.49-50a ‘But they, when they saw him walking on the sea, supposed that it was a ghost and cried out, for they all saw him and were distressed.’

They had spent hours at the oars and were exhausted, the wind was howling, the waves beating against the boat, and it was night, and the sight of this figure walking across the sea was the last straw. What could it be but a ghost? All of them saw it, and there was pandemonium as they shouted and pointed, or cowered back, in dismay.

6.50b-51a ‘But he immediately spoke with them and says, “Be of good cheer. It is I. Do not be afraid.” And he went up to them in the boat and the wind ceased.’

Jesus immediately assured them that all was well. They had failed the test but they would learn from it in the future. It was at this time that Peter made his attempt also to walk on the water (Matthew 14.28-31). Then having assured them that it was really He, He approached the boat and clambered in. And to their surprise the wind immediately ceased. But note that this was the cessation of a contrary wind, not the stilling of a storm.

’It is I’. The Greek is ‘ego eimi’ - ‘I am’. While Jesus simply meant ‘it is I’ (this is the regular Greek for that), it is possible that Mark intends us to get the inference that He is the ‘I am’, the God of the covenant (Exodus 3.14-15). That is why they do not need to be afraid.

6.51b-52 ‘And they were greatly amazed in themselves, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their heart was hardened.’

Mark sums up their position. They were full of amazement (and in their amazement cry out ‘truly you are the Son of God’ - Matthew 14.33), and it was because they had not learned the lesson of the multiplied loaves. They had failed to realise that One was here Who could miraculously expand nature, Who controlled material things and therefore to Whom a jaunt on the sea was as nothing. For He is the One Whose “way is in the sea, and His path in the great waters” (Psalm 77.19; see also Isaiah 43.16)

‘Their heart was hardened.’ They had seen a number of amazing things but their minds would not yield to the truth of them and what they indicated. They just could not accept it. It was not that they had difficulty believing in Jesus’ close relationship with God, and that He was pleasing to God, it was that they could not go that step further and recognise that God walked on earth in Him. They had yet much to learn. There is a constant stress on their inability to understand (7.18; 8.17-19) which brings out the accuracy and factualness of the Gospel. No one who respected the Apostles would have invented such ideas. The cry in Matthew that He was the Son of God does not alter this fact. Like the cry ‘it is a ghost’ it was wrung from them by the situation. It was not yet a thought out position.

What a contrast there is between Jesus on the mountain at prayer, and at peace, and the disciples toiling on the sea and lacking in sufficient faith. They would learn from this that they too, if they would face the problems of life serenely, must learn to enjoy times alone with God in the mountain.

6.53 ‘And when they had crossed over they came to the land to Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.’

Having crossed over they moored to the shore. They were safe on dry ground at last, and now they had Jesus with them. All is well when we have Jesus with us. They ‘ran into the shore’ or ‘moored to the shore’ is an unusual expression and is possibly a technical term used by the fishermen of Galilee. A long rope no doubt reached from the boat to a post on the shore. ‘The land of Gennesaret’ was on the west shores of the sea of Galilee. It probably refers to the fertile and well populated plain, south west of Capernaum, or possibly to a fishing village in it, the feminine suffix transliterated ‘et’ being added to the name of the plain of Gennesar. This is attested to in 1 Maccabees 11.67 (‘the water of Gennesareth’) and Josephus (Gennesar’). Compare also ‘the sea of Chinnereth’ mentioned in Numbers 34.11. The fact that they arrived here may be because the wind and waves had driven them off course so that they had no choice. Alternately perhaps there was a Bethsaida near here although there is no evidence of it.

The central purpose of this incident then was to help in revealing to the disciples that He was truly the unique Son of God (see Matthew 13.33), but it has a secondary significance in that it reveals to all Who are His that He can be with them in every kind of adversity. The church did need not fear the winds and the toil that it had to face, because there is One Who is watching Who knows their toil and their concerns, and will come to their aid when the time is right, often in ‘the fourth watch of the night’.

The Ministry Continues in Galilee (6.54-56) .

Although brief this summary gives the hint of an eyewitness. There is a memory of how people were healed just by touching his clothes. The purpose of the summary is to bring out His continued manifestations of power but it is noteworthy that His preaching is not mentioned (see below). In the midst of seeming success there is a hint of failure. They had not come to hear His words. There is outward show but the failure of true response. Yet it also continues the theme of the Messianic banquet. Here was the Isaianic healing for Israel (Isaiah 35.5-6; 61.1-2; Matthew 11.5). The king was among them.


  • a And when they were come out of the boat immediately the people knew Him (54).
  • b And ran round about that whole region and began to carry about on their mattresses those who were sick where they heard He was (55).
  • c And wherever He entered, into villages, or towns or the countryside
  • b They laid their sick in the marketplaces and begged Him that they might touch if it were but the hem of His clothing (56a).
  • a And as many as touched Him were made whole (56b).

Note that in ‘a’ they knew Him, and in the parallel as many as touched Him were made whole (an apt picture of salvation). In ‘b’ and its parallel they brought their sick to Jesus. Centrally in ‘c’ it happened wherever He was.

6.54-55 ‘And when they were come out of the boat immediately the people knew him, and ran round about that whole region and began to carry about on their mattresses those who were sick where they heard he was.’

As it was not far from Capernaum it was inevitable that people would be there who recognised Him and His disciples when they landed. Their first impulse therefore was to gather the sick from the whole region and bring them to Him. It was of course natural but confirmed the fears that He had previously voiced. They sought him mainly for healing rather than for truth.

‘The people knew Him.’ On the surface a simple statement of recognition, but possibly underlying it is that knowing Him as the Isaianic prophet they knew that they could bring all their sick for healing. It also contrasts with the people of His own country who did not know Him (6.1-6).

‘On their mattresses.’ Literally ‘on the mattresses’, that is, the mattresses that belonged to them.

6.56 ‘And wherever he entered, into villages, or towns or the countryside, they laid their sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch if it were but the hem of his clothing, and as many as touched him were made whole.’

Whether He visited town or countryside they came for healing and laid their sick ‘in the marketplaces’, that is the village meeting points where people met to talk and barter. True marketplaces would be restricted to the big towns. And He healed them all. His power was clearly manifested.

‘The hem of His clothing.’ The hem or fringe or tassels worn by every orthodox Jew (Numbers 15.37; Deuteronomy 22.12), reminding men of God’s commandments. Touching only His clothes was a sign of the deep respect that they had for Him. They did not feel that they should inflict their presence on Him by a firmer touch, but sought only a point of contact.

‘And as many as touched Him were made whole.’ Note that it was because by their act they saw themselves as touching Him that they were healed. It was He and not the garment Who healed them. The clothes were part of the man. (There is no place for relics or ‘The Robe’ here).

Outwardly His ministry was as successful as ever, but we note that while He must have used the opportunity for preaching Mark does not mention it, and in spite of His extensive travels this is true from now to 10.1, where the preaching is in Judaea. (Contrast 1.14, 22, 39; 2.13; 4.1; 6.2, 6, 12, 34). In fact the mention of teaching is now restricted to His disciples (9.30-31). And this may indeed be the explanation for the silence. Perhaps it was so that we may recognise a change of emphasis. The ministry in Galilee has reached its climax. And now the training of His disciples for the future must begin. Certainly He did continue to preach (8.1), as is emphasised in 10.1 ‘as was His custom’. So He preached continually.

It should be noted how what happens here leads into the next incident. These people who were touching Jesus would not all be observing the laws of ritual cleanliness. Thus by their touch some of them would be rendering Him ritually unclean. But how do you make unclean the One Whose power makes you clean by full healing and restoration? It was just this kind of situation in the marketplace that persuaded the Scribes and Pharisees of the need for ceremonial cleansing before a meal because of the possibility of having been ritually defiled by contact with ‘unclean’ people. Unlike Jesus they shied from the touch of ‘sinners’, but they could not totally avoid it. It is very probable that any critical Pharisee who observed the touches of the crowd would have remonstrated about it.

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