19 min read


Mark 6:1–52 (ESV) —

6:1-6: Reception in Nazareth

1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

  • This section we see another set of human questions showing confusion about who Jesus is that follows right on the heals of demons declaring who he is.
  • They are amazed at him, but ultimately unbelieving (they took offense). What do their questions indicate was the source of their offense?
    • They are familiar with Jesus’, his humble beginnings, and lack of pedigree and that is a scandal to them. How could the Son of God, the Messiah, be from here? Who does this guy think he is?
      • Does a similar familiarity today keep people from seeing who Jesus really is?
      • What difficulties have you found bringing Christ to those who were closest to you before becoming a Christian?
      • How do we risk taking similar offense when the pedigree of a messenger of Christ doesn’t align with our expectations (e.g. background, degrees, etc.)? c.f. 2 Cor. 4 “jars of clay”; John Bunyan the tinker, etc.

This verse testifies to the genuine humanity of Jesus. Until he began his ministry, his deity was so hidden that even people in his hometown, who had known him well since childhood, had no idea that he was also fully God. (ESV Study Bible)

  • It says he could do no mighty work (except heal a few sick!) because of their unbelief. Why would Jesus’ power be limited?
    • The answer seems to be that their unbelief kept them from coming to Jesus at all. The few that were sick and came to him were still healed.
  • They were astounded at his teaching but v6 it’s Jesus’ turn to marvel at their unbelief.
    • Do you have a category for this? We know, and Mark helps us to see, that Jesus is fully God, but he is also fully human. As a human on earth, he did not know everything. Here he is described as being surprised by Nazareth. These people know so much about Jesus, and still they do not believe. Jesus is surprised that their hearts are so hard.

6:7-13, 30: Jesus Sends Out the Twelve (and they Return)

7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. … 30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.

  • This section creates another sandwich with v.30 connecting back to this, with the death of John the Baptist in the middle.
  • Jesus sends the twelve (and eventually he would send more cf. Luke 10:1) out to do carry forward the work he’s been doing - preaching repentance, casting out demons, healing the sick. Some observations:
    • The disciples are portrayed throughout the gospels as being a little slow on the uptake, not always grasping the significance of things. But here Jesus entrusts them to carry forward his mission to Israel, which means they had to have understood enough to preach the message, even with all the gaps in their knowledge. This should be a comfort to us as we do the same, knowing that Christ has equipped and will equip us with the knowledge we need to serve where he’s called us, regardless of whatever deficiencies we may yet have.
    • It says ‘he gave them authority’ - this is the basis for all of the Church’s work in the world. We are not perfect, but we have Christ’s authority - as Paul says we hold this treasure in “jars of clay” and by his authority we can be Christ to the rest of the world.
  • They are commanded to travel extremely light. What could be the point of this?
    • Jesus wants them to not be over-resourced and self-sufficient, but to need and accept hospitality from the people they meet with and ultimately depend on God for providing.
    • While this command is specific to the disciples and we’re not specifically called to engage in missions with no resources, the principle of being devoted to the task at the expense of personal comfort and the willingness to depend on the provision of God at the hands of others still very much applicable.
    • Likewise, we should view it as all of our responsibility, even those who may not be actively going into the mission field, to be willing to provide for and help support those who are working in service to the gospel.
  • Why did Jesus tell them to remain in the first house they come to?
    • Respect for the hosts and the hospitality shown
    • Avoid the temptation to get established and then accept “upgrades” in accomodations by more prominent people.
    • We must be careful to show no partiality in our ministry, by giving preference to the wealthy or prominent.
  • What do you make of the command to “shake the dust off your feet”?
    • This would be something Jews did when leaving a Gentile house. The witness is one of judgment against these Jews who are to be treated as outside the people of God for their rejection of the message of the kingdom.
    • This is effectively a testimony against them of their unbelief and the expectation of pending judgment
    • Is this ever appropriate response today? It seems like this is most appropriate to the urgency of bringing the message to Israel during Jesus’ day.

6:14-29: Death of John the Baptist

14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Why put this story here, right betwen the sending out of the disciples and their return?

  • This story situated between the sending out of the disciples adds some dark overtones to the account and clues us in that this coming kingdom and the work of the Messiah won’t look as expected. John is very much the forerunner to the Messiah, and we can see the suffering of John as a foreshadowing of the suffering of the Messiah.
    • Like Herod, who is intrigued and afraid to put John to death but has his hand forced by Herodias, later Pilate will be hesitant to put Jesus to death but have his hands forced by the Jewish leadership.
  • John’s death not only foreshadows Jesus’ suffering and death, but is sandwiched between the sending and returning of the disciples to connect the disciples to the same reality. Although they will be empowered to continue the work of Jesus, they should also expect to face the same opposition.
    • The prospect of death when bringing the message of Christ to unbelieving power is real.
    • c.f Jesus’ teaching in Mark 8:34
  • This is the essence of the Christian life in between the ages - there is much victory over darkness and much rejoicing, and there is also much opposition and much suffering for the name of Christ. Hebrews 11 captures this dichotomy so well:

Hebrews 11:32–38 (ESV) — 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

  • We also see a contrast between Herod’s lavish (and disturbing) banquet, with the much different banquet put on by a much different king in the next section.

6:31-44: Feeding of the 5000

31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

  • Jesus and the disciples try to get away privately, but the crowds are persistent
  • We see Jesus showing compassion here in two ways:
    • To the disciples first, seeking to bring them away for a time of rest after their mission. It is appropriate and right to seek respite from the steady flow of busy ministry. Jesus is not calling us to breakdown from over exertion, even in the midst of the urgent and time-bound mission to Israel.
    • To the crowds second, not getting angry that they were spoiking this time of retreat but realizing they were like sheep without a shepherd.
  • This account of the feeding of the 5000 is rich with OT echoes, and I think it would be instructive to consider some of them here:
    • The first few involve Moses with the people of Israel in the wilderness:
      • The well-known story of God providing manna for the people
      • Numbers 11:21-23 where the people demand meat, and God tells Moses he will give them meat.
        • 21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!’ 22 Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?” 23 And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”
      • Numbers 27:15-17, where Moses requests that the Lord send someone to lead the people after he is gone.
        • 15 Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, 16 “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.”
    • 2 Kings 4:41-44, where Elisha feeds 100 men with 20 loaves.
      • 42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’ ” 44 So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.
    • Ezekiel 34:1-16ff, where the Lord indicts the shepherds of Israel for abusing and abandoning the sheep and promises to care for them himself, and appoint one shepherd, a new David, the Messiah, to watch over them. Also, Jeremiah 23:1-6:
      • “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. 3 Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD. 5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
    • Psalm 23:1-3, the Lord is our shepherd and leads us to green pastures - notice the emphasis in the passage that the people sit down in groups on the green grass
      • The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
    • Isaiah 25:6-9, which depicts the great end times salvation as a feast on a mountain:
      • On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
  • The main takeaway from all of this: Jesus is the Lord who provides for his people in the wilderness, he’s the good shepherd who guides his sheep to green pastures and restores their soul, he’s the greater Moses and the greater Elisha, and in contrast to the kings/shepherds who have abandoned their people, he will not abandon them and they will feast together in the great end-time banquet.
    • Is there an application here as well concerning how Jesus does not shy away from meeting the physical needs of the people? He does not teach and then dismiss them to go find food (as the disciples proposed) but teaches and provides. (James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:17-19)
    • We can also see here a general encouragement that God can and does provide what is needed for those who depend on him. It is not through our extensive planning and effort, but through our dependence on him.

6:45-52: Jesus walks on water

45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. 47 And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, 49 but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 51 And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

  • The disciples are struggling again on the water, and this time without Jesus
  • He walks on the water to them
  • What is meant by “He meant to pass by them”?
    • This response is exactly what happens in Job. God alone walks on the sea (Job 9:8), but the response three verses later is, “Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him” (v 11).
    •  The passage echoes the incident where God “passed” before Moses (the same verb, parerchomai, occurs in the Septuagint of [Ex. 33:19, 22; 34:6], giving a glimpse of his glory. But it also echoes [Job 9] where Job says that it is God who “trampled the waves of the sea” ([Job 9:8]; the Septuagint has peripatōn … epi thalassēs, “walking on the sea,” using the same words as [Mark 6:48], peripatōn epi tēs thalassēs) and then also says, “he passes by me” ([Job 9:11], Gk. parerchomai). There is an implicit claim to divinity in Jesus’ actions. (ESV Study Bible)

And in 1 Kings 19:11–12, the Lord tells Elijah to stand on the mountain, “for the LORD is about to pass by.” One can conclude from these passages that when Jesus wants to pass by his disciples, he wills for them to see his transcendent majesty as a divine being and to give them reassurance.4 God cannot be fully seen, but Jesus can. The one who comes to them on the sea is not simply a successor to Moses, who fills baskets with bread in the desert. Only God can walk on the sea, and Jesus’ greeting is not simply a cheery hello to assuage the disciples’ fears. He greets them with the divine formula of self-revelation, “I am.” Isaiah 43:1–13 is significant as a backdrop for interpreting this passage. The disciples have been summoned by Jesus to pass through the waters, and Jesus is with them (Isa. 43:2). (Garland, D. E. (1996). Mark (pp. 263–264)

  • Key is v52 - they did not understand about the loaves, for their hearts were hardened
  • Jesus very clearly shows his divinity, but they are dulled to the reality.