IV. Ministry in Galilee and Beyond (Mark 6:7–8:30)
IV. Ministry in Galilee and Beyond (6:7–8:30)
6:7-13 Jesus gathered the Twelve together (see 3:14-19) and authorized these apostles to engage in an expansion of his ministry (6:7). As his ambassadors, they were to do what he’d been doing: preaching the kingdom, casting out demons, and healing the sick (6:7, 12-13). They were to take no extra provisions (6:8-9) because God would provide for them through the hospitality of those who’d submit to his kingdom agenda. Yet just as Jesus experienced rejection, his representatives would as well. If a place refused to welcome them and their message, they were to shake the dust off [their] feet as a testimony against them (6:11). This is a reference to the Jewish practice of shaking the dust off one’s feet upon returning to Israel from a Gentile region. If people would not receive the King’s message, his ambassadors were to symbolically proclaim their coming judgment.
6:14-16 Herod Antipas, the tetrarch who ruled Galilee and Perea, heard of Jesus’s growing fame (6:14). He was the son of Herod the Great, who’d tried to kill Jesus when he heard that a rival king had been born (see Matt 2:1-23). Superstitious man that he was, this Herod thought that Jesus was John the Baptist . . . raised from the dead, coming back to haunt him (6:14). Others believed Jesus was Elijah (whom God took away in a chariot to heaven; 2 Kgs 2:11) or one of the prophets (6:15; see 8:28). But Herod became convinced that John, whom he had beheaded, was back from the grave (6:16).
6:17-20 The mention of John’s execution causes Mark to give his readers a flashback to explain what had happened to this man who hasn’t been mentioned since he baptized Jesus in 1:9. Herod had arrested John to please his wife Herodias, who’d divorced Herod’s brother Philip to marry Herod (6:17). The divorce and remarriage had been unlawful, and John had the holy audacity to tell Herod so (6:18). As a result, Herodias hated John and wanted him dead (6:19). Herod, on the other hand, feared John, believed he was a holy man, enjoyed listening to him, and protected him from death by locking him in prison (6:20).
6:21-29 During Herod’s birthday party, Herodias’s own daughter . . . danced for him—probably in a sexually suggestive manner (6:21-22). The ruler foolishly promised her in front of his important guests that she could have whatever she wanted (6:22-23). Then daughter helped mother plot to obtain what she wanted: John the Baptist’s head (6:24-25). Herod didn’t want to embarrass himself in front of everyone. He feared John, his wife, and his party guests—but he didn’t fear God. So he had John executed (6:26-28). Then John’s disciples buried their revered teacher (6:29).
6:30-31 After their mission to proclaim the kingdom in word and deed (see 6:7-13), the apostles returned to Jesus and reported to him everything that had happened (6:30). So Jesus commanded them to go away with him to rest and eat (6:31). Sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is get some sleep. We need the reminder that we are created beings; we’re not God. The fact that we need rest is a reminder that we are dependent on the one who “does not slumber or sleep” (Ps 121:4).
6:32-34 Many people saw Jesus and his disciples departing in a boat (6:32). His popularity was at a fever pitch. Folks were so anxious to see him that they ran on foot to arrive at Jesus’s destination ahead of the boat (6:32-33). That’s dedication. When Jesus saw the large crowd, he had compassion on them. To him they were like sheep without a shepherd (6:34).
There are three things to know about sheep. They are dumb, defenseless, and directionless. Sheep lack the knowledge to make the right choices, are vulnerable to attack from predators, and struggle with decision-making. But the Lord is “like a shepherd” who “gathers the lambs in his arms” (Isa 40:11). So Jesus was moved to teach them (6:34).
6:35-36 As it became late, the disciples became worried. They were in a deserted area, so they urged Jesus to send the people away to buy food (6:35-36). From a purely human perspective, the disciples’ concerns were justified. Mark tells us there were “five thousand men” present (6:44). Were women and children also counted, there could’ve been a total of fifteen to twenty thousand people. The disciples were probably thinking, “Jesus, we’ve got some hungry people on our hands. We know you like to teach, but it’s time to bring this sermon to a conclusion. Send these folks into the villages to boost the local economies, and let’s get out of here.”
6:37 Imagine seeing the expressions on the disciples’ faces when Jesus told them, You give them something to eat. All they could say was, “It’s not in the budget!” They didn’t have the means to feed such a large crowd. Or did they? They had overlooked the fact that the kingdom power that had fed hundreds of thousands of Israelites in the wilderness for forty years (Exod 16:1-36) was the same kingdom power available to them through Jesus.
6:38-44 The Twelve informed Jesus that they had five loaves of bread and two fish—barely enough to feed the thirteen of their party (6:38). But God never lacks resources; he can always afford what he chooses to provide. So Jesus instructed them to have all the people sit and get ready for the meal (6:39). Then he blessed the loaves and fish and gave them to the disciples to distribute (6:41). And the food just kept on coming! Miraculously, enough was provided for everyone. And it’s not because everyone had a mere nibble or a few crumbs. Everyone ate and was satisfied (6:42). Five thousand men (6:44), plus women and children, were stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys. And there were still leftovers (6:43).
You may not have much. But, whatever you have, you have enough to accomplish the kingdom mission God has for you. We are called to give God whatever we have—our time, our money, our abilities. If you have the compassionate Christ who has access to the all-powerful Father, you have everything you need.
6:45 After this, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go without him to the lake’s other side. They were about to enter a trial—that is, adverse circumstances allowed by God to deepen their experience of him. Unfortunately, the disciples were going to struggle with this trial because they hadn’t learned from the previous one.
6:46 As his disciples departed, Jesus went to pray. They didn’t know what was coming, but Jesus did. And he was already interceding for them. Because of his resurrection from the dead, Jesus “always lives to intercede for” you, too (Heb 7:25).
6:47-48 As they reached the middle of the sea, the disciples were struggling because of the fierce wind that was against them. They were in the middle of God’s will (Jesus had sent them on their journey), yet they were also in the middle of threatening circumstances. If you’re earnestly and faithfully seeking to follow God, don’t be surprised when trials come. God grants these so that “your faith—more valuable than gold” may be refined and bring glory to Christ (1 Pet 1:7).
Jesus saw them straining at the oars, so though God may seem to be absent in your circumstances, rest assured that he sees you. Then Jesus came toward them walking on the sea (6:48). The very thing that was causing their problems was under his feet.
6:49-51 They became terrified, assuming that he was a ghost (6:49-50). The CSB’s “very early in the morning” (6:48) is literally “around the fourth watch of the night.” So this encounter occurred between three and six a.m. Jesus exhorted them: Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid (6:50). Then he climbed into the boat, and the wind ceased (6:51). He gave them his word, then he gave them his presence, and then their circumstances changed.
6:52 The disciples were shocked by these events because they had not understood about the loaves. Something had happened the previous day (see 6:30-44) that should’ve affected how they reacted this day. They didn’t recognize Jesus because they weren’t looking for him in the midst of their trial. And they weren’t looking for him in this problem because they’d failed to see that Jesus was the answer to the previous problem.
6:53-56 Jesus’s reputation continued to grow. Upon arriving at his destination, he was recognized by everyone (6:54). So they brought all who were sick to him, and anyone who merely touched the end of his robe . . . was healed (6:55-56; see 5:25-34).
7:1-5 As the common people grew in their excitement about Jesus, the Pharisees and scribes grew in their hatred of him. They wanted him destroyed (see 3:6). They were willing to travel to Galilee from Jerusalem to find further fault with him (7:1). They noticed the disciples eating with unclean—that is, unwashed—hands (7:2), which doesn’t mean they were failing to practice good hygiene. Rather, they were failing to practice ceremonial washing, which was something that the Pharisees and . . . Jews practiced. This was not an Old Testament requirement from God, but a tradition of the elders (7:3, 5). Mark tells us that there were many other such customs that they practiced and expected others to practice (7:4).
7:6-9 Jesus didn’t pull any punches. He called them hypocrites. They were the kind of leaders whom Isaiah talked about: those who say the right things but whose hearts are not in sync with God (7:6-7). They exalted human tradition while ignoring the command of God (7:8). They were professionals at trumping God’s Word with their own preferences (7:9).
7:10-13 As an example, he pointed to two Old Testament texts: the command to honor one’s parents and the threat of death for those who curse their parents (7:10; see Exod 20:12; 21:17; Lev 20:9; Deut 5:16). Clearly, God expects children, young and old, to respect their parents. But, in order to avoid giving financial help to parents who were in need, these hypocrites would declare their money to be corban, which was an offering devoted to God, so that they could give it to the temple instead (7:11-12). In this way, they would appear to be generous supporters of God’s work, when actually they were cheapskates who avoided their obligation to their parents and nullified the word of God (7:13). Paul makes it clear that “if anyone does not provide for his own family . . . he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8).
7:14-23 Turning from the Pharisees and scribes to the crowd, Jesus told them the truth. People aren’t defiled by what goes into them but by what comes out of them (7:14-15). Yet, when he was alone with his disciples, they still didn’t understand, so he had to give them remedial instruction (7:17-18). Bad food might make you sick, but it can’t make you spiritually unclean. God had given Israel commands about unclean animals they couldn’t eat to teach them about holiness and unholiness (see Lev 11). But, ultimately, we are not defiled by foods; we are defiled by what comes out of our hearts (7:19-23). The Pharisees were concerned about making themselves look good on the outside, but wickedness came from within them.
Following customs and traditions can’t fix your sinful heart. Only Jesus Christ, through his atoning work on the cross, can grant you forgiveness of sins and a transformed heart (see Heb 10:16-18) that is in sync with God, enabling you to love him and others.
7:24-26 From there, Jesus went to the region of Tyre, an area northwest of Galilee on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea (7:24). Previously, people from this region had come because they heard about his miraculous works (see 3:7-8). So even in this distant region, he could not escape notice (7:24). While he was there, a woman who was a Gentile pleaded with him to cast the demon out of her daughter (7:25-26).
7:27-28 Jesus responded by telling her that it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs (7:27). He was comparing the Jews to “children” and the Gentiles to “dogs”—the Greek word referred to house-dogs or lap-dogs. Matthew reports that Jesus told her he was sent to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24). Though his message of salvation would be for all people (Matt 28:19), his earthly ministry was primarily directed to the Jews. Nevertheless, this Gentile woman was humble and desperate. Picking up on Jesus’s illustration, she told him that even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs (Mark 7:28). She didn’t want to detract from his mission or prevent him from ministering to the people of Israel. All she wanted were some miracle leftovers to heal her daughter.
7:29-30 For this response—a response of faith in Jesus (Matt 15:28)—he healed her daughter. The Jewish religious leaders were seeking to kill Jesus, but this poor Gentile woman had more faith than all of them put together. And Jesus rewarded it. Faith is the qualification for experiencing the kingdom of God.
7:31-33 Jesus returned to the Sea of Galilee, through the region of the Decapolis (7:31). This is where the man who had been possessed by the “legion” of demons went to proclaim how much Jesus had done for him (see 5:1-20). The people of the region brought Jesus a man who was deaf and had difficulty speaking (7:32). Jesus took him aside. Often his miracles were performed in public, but this one was to be private (7:33).
Though Jesus could work the miraculous with mere words (e.g., 2:10-12; 3:5; 4:39; 7:29-30), frequently his miracles involved physical touch, demonstrating his compassion and confirming that he was the author of the deed (e.g., 1:31, 41-42; 5:27-29, 41-42; 6:56). On this occasion, Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears and touched his tongue, since his ability to hear and speak were the problems. Interpreters debate the purpose of the spitting (7:33), but this isn’t the only time that spittle was involved in Jesus’s healing miracles (see 8:23; John 9:6). Even Jesus’s saliva was used for God’s glory.
7:34-37 Jesus demonstrated his genuine humanity and emotional involvement in the lives of those to whom he ministered. He looked to heaven in dependence on the Father and sighed deeply in sorrow over the man’s broken condition (7:34). Similarly, Jesus wept before he raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:35). Once the man was healed, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone (7:35-36), yet the people were extremely astonished and proclaimed it (7:36-37).
8:1-3 We’ve seen what happens in this chapter before (see 6:30-44). A large crowd gathered to hear Jesus for three days, but they had nothing to eat (8:1-2). This provides a small glimpse of how powerful Jesus’s ministry was. People were willing to go without food to hear him proclaim the kingdom of God. But Jesus was concerned for their well-being. Some had traveled a long distance (8:2-3), and they needed physical nourishment.
8:4 He gathered his disciples together to address the problem. Unfortunately, none of them thought to say, “Lord, remember that time when you fed thousands with only five loaves and two fish? Surely you can do that again!” Instead, they were perplexed, having no idea where the food would come from. When you forget God’s past deeds in your life, you will forget the kingdom power available to you. You’ll fail to believe that “all things are possible with God” (10:27).
8:5-10 As before, Jesus took the only food that was available—seven loaves of bread and a few small fish—and gave thanks (8:5-7). He had thousands of mouths to feed, and only seven loaves to do it with; nevertheless, he gave thanks for what God had provided. Miraculously, they had enough to feed everyone and had more leftover food than they’d started with (8:8-9).
As God fed the Israelite multitude in a wilderness with manna and quail, so Jesus Christ fed the Israelite multitude in a “desolate place” (8:4) with bread and fish. Like Father, like Son. Jesus’s gratefulness in the midst of insufficiency is also a lesson to us. Giving thanks for what God has provided opens the door for him to respond with abundance.
8:11-13 Mark records yet another encounter with the Pharisees. They had no other intent but to seek out conflict with Jesus about his identity. They began to argue with him, demanding of him a sign from heaven (8:11) because they wanted to invalidate his messianic claims. But Jesus had already given more than sufficient proof. He had performed a massive number of a variety of miracles before multiple witnesses. The Pharisees, then, had all of the “signs” they needed and had rejected them all. And Jesus had no intention of putting on a performance for these jealous, obstinate leaders who didn’t really want proof. He refused their demand and departed with his disciples (8:12-13).
8:14-16 After that last encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus warned his disciples of how dangerous they were. The Pharisees were in league with the Herodians, political supporters of Herod Antipas (see 3:6). So Jesus described their harmful influence and teaching as the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod (8:15). As Paul writes, “A little leaven leavens the whole batch” (Gal 5:9). In other words, it only takes a small amount of leaven, or yeast, to work through and affect an entire batch of dough. So, though they were few, the Pharisees and Herodians had a tremendous ability to influence the people with their human traditions and lead them away from God.
Unfortunately, the disciples weren’t tracking with Jesus. They had forgotten to take bread with them, except for one loaf (8:14). They were discussing this (8:16), thinking that Jesus’s comments about leaven were literal and assumed he was correcting their carelessness for forgetting to pack lunch. Jesus’s metaphor had gone right over their heads.
8:17-21 The disciples’ misunderstanding wasn’t their only problem. Their worry about insufficient food demonstrated a lack of faith in Jesus. They had hardened hearts and failed to remember what he’d done (8:17-18)! Jesus had miraculously fed thousands on two different occasions using only a few loaves and fish (8:19-20; see 6:30-44; 8:1-10). His apostles’ unbelief and inability to understand (8:21) was a result of forgetting what Jesus had already done. Don’t overlook how God worked in your life yesterday; you’ll need that knowledge for the trials you’ll face tomorrow.
8:22-26 On the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee, they came to the village of Bethsaida (8:22), the hometown of Philip, Andrew, and Peter (see John 1:44). The people there brought Jesus a blind man to heal, but Jesus—to avoid publicity—took him out of the village (8:22-23, 26). Jesus then put spit on the man’s eyes, touched them, and asked him what he saw (8:23). The man responded, I see people—they look like trees walking (8:24). So although he was no longer blind, he still wasn’t seeing clearly. After a second touch from Jesus, the man’s sight was restored and he saw clearly (8:25).
In a similar way, Peter was about to demonstrate spiritual insight (8:29), but he did not yet see clearly enough. Though he believed that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter would also have to embrace everything that meant—including Jesus’s suffering and death (8:31-33).
8:27-28 Caesarea Philippi was located about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The city had been rebuilt by Philip, the son of Herod, and named after its builder and Caesar Augustus. Given Jesus’s popularity, there had been plenty of speculation about his identity. So he asked his disciples to tell him what they’d heard (8:27). Since he had preached repentance, some thought he was John the Baptist. Since he had performed numerous miracles, some thought he was Elijah. Since he made prophetic proclamations, some thought he was one of the prophets (8:28).
8:29-30 Having heard enough speculation, Jesus asked, Who do you say that I am? Peter gave the right answer: You are the Messiah (8:29). Indeed, Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, the Son of David, the coming King. But he warned them to tell no one (8:30) because he didn’t want people openly proclaiming him as the Messiah yet. There was still too much confusion about what the Messiah was to do, and that problem was about to be demonstrated by Peter himself.