Jesus is unable to work many miracles in his hometown because of their unbelief. Jesus sends out the twelve. John the Baptizer is beheaded after a girl’s dance and a foolish promise. Jesus feeds the five thousand. He walks on water. He heals many sick people, when he walks by in the marketplaces, and they merely touch his garment. This post briefly discusses his divine attributes, his miracles, and his human nature.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The translation is mine. I add yet another translation for one purpose: to learn. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
I ask Growth Application (GrowApp) questions after each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
I add some Greek word studies, in a nontechnical way. The Greek terms with brief definitions can also be looked up at biblehub.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Returns Home (Mark 6:1-6)
1 Now he left from there and went to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 While it was the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who listened were amazed, saying, “Where does he get these things? And what is this wisdom that is given to him? And what are these miracles done through his hands? 3 Isn’t this one the builder, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here among us?” So they were offended at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown and among his relatives and in his household.” 5 He was unable to work any miracles there except, laying his hands on a few sick people, he healed them. 6 He was amazed at their unbelief. He went around, circulating through the villages, teaching.
Recall that Mark 3:20-21 says his family was going to take custody of him, for they believed (wrongly) that he was out of his mind. And 3:31-35 says that stood outside a meeting and called to him or summoned him to go outside. However, he replied that his true mother and brothers were those who do the will of God as he gestured to his listeners, implying that his mother and brothers were not doing the will of God at this stage in their (mis)understanding of their brother and son.
It is best to move on, even after many victories. No one should rest on his laurels. Move forward to the next challenge. And the next challenge for him was going to be tough. Rejection hurts, but in this case, he was amazed (v. 6).
“hometown”: it can be translated just as easily as home region, but hometown is meant because Jesus says his household or house (v. 57). Matthew informs us of where he settled: Nazareth (Matt. 2:23; 4:13). At most 1600-2000 inhabitants in the surrounding area, and 500 lived in the town.
“disciples”: The noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
Commentators Wessel and Strauss says that Jesus was not stopping over to visit his family, because he had his disciples with him. Instead, this was a ministry stopover, one among many in many other places. Perhaps. Or perhaps both a ministry stop and a family visit. Maybe he wanted to give his family and small-town friends another chance to accept him. As we shall see in this passage, they did not.
He was well known to the townspeople, but only he was simply an ex-carpenter or an ex-builder, and his brothers and sisters were well known to them. His sisters probably married local men and were still in the village of Nazareth. (Is it too much to speculate that it was one of his sister’s or brother’s wedding in nearby Cana [John 2:1-12]? Is that why his mother was so involved in getting the wedding banquet right? We shall never know for sure.)
He often taught in synagogues. He could reach interested people there.
“What is the source?”: that’s a more or less literal translation.
“wisdom”: BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon, and it translates the noun sophia (pronounced soh-fee-ah and used 51 times) as “the capacity to understand and function accordingly—wisdom.”
So biblical wisdom is very practical. It is not like the wisdom of the Greek philosophers, which was very abstract. But let’s not make too much of the differences. In the classical Greek lexicon, sophia can also mean: “skill in handcraft and art … knowledge of, acquaintance with a thing … sound judgment, intelligence, practical wisdom.” In a bad sense it can mean “cunning, shrewdness, craft” (Liddell and Scott).
The adjective is sophos (pronounced soh-fohss and used 20 times) and according to BDAG it means (1) “pertaining to knowing how to do something in a skillful manner, clever, skillful, experienced”; (2) “pertaining to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct, wise.”
“miracles”: it is the plural of the noun dunamis (or dynamis) (pronounced doo-na-mees or dee-na-mis, but most teachers prefer the first one). It is often translated as “power,” but also “miracle” or “miraculous power.” It means power in action, not static, but kinetic. It moves. Yes, we get our word dynamite from it, but God is never out of control, like dynamite is. Its purpose is to usher in the kingdom of God and repair and restore broken humanity, both in body and soul.
A miracle happens only when God intervenes and patches up deficiencies in our soul and defects in our body. Fiery evangelists will not like the words “patches up” because it sounds weak, and maybe they are right. So we can say “restore” our souls and heals our bodies. Something was wounded or missing in our souls, and he fills in our needs. Something is wrong with our bodies, but he straightens it out or heals it, so now our bodies are renewed. However, miracles can only last until we die. Then some part of our body will wear out. Further, miracles are not for show or to raise money. People are hurting, and miracles can help them and restore them. Jesus even downplayed his miracles. I don’t believe he would have filmed them and then pitched the videos to enrich himself, if he were ministering today.
“this one”: it could be considered condescending or derogatory: “this guy.”
“builder”: the term in Greek is broader than carpenter and can include builder of any kind. But the term primarily describes a woodworker, hence “carpenter” in many translations. They were probably subcontractors in the building industry, which was going on nearby in the towns of Sepphoris and Tiberias, where there were building programs. It can also mean that they build furniture and put up beams, for example.
“son of Mary”: this is about as clear a proof that one can have that Joseph had died. He is also marked as Mary’s son, the closest Mark will get to the virgin birth. Wessel and Strauss say that this is an insulting way of referring to a son, in Jewish culture. Normally one refers to the father: “son of Joseph.” Recall that rumors circulated that Jesus was illegitimate (cf. John 4:41; 9:29). But I prefer the insight that this is a comment on Jesus’s virgin birth, better than the insult term.
Though the context is unhappy and antagonistic, I really like the names of his family, and I love how one of his brothers was named after their father Joseph (Matt. 13:55 calls him Joseph, so Joses is a variation on this name). But I wish Mark had mentioned his sisters’ names.
No offense to Roman Catholics, but these two verses read naturally as describing the sons and daughters of Mary and Joseph; they are not stepbrothers or stepsisters or Jesus’s cousins. According to the Gospel of John they apparently did not believe in their brother’s full ministry, but they knew that he was special and had a call of God. They wanted him to show himself to the world. He declined. Then the text says, “For neither did his brothers believe in him” (John 7:7). So his brothers were promoting him, but they did not know what they were talking about. There is a lot of information in his family dynamics, and it is not always functional.
But eventually his brothers came around (or two did). Jesus’s brother James was a pillar in the church in Jerusalem until his martyrdom in A.D. 62 (James who was martyred in Acts 12:1, was one of the twelve apostles, brother of John, both sons of Zebedee). Later church history records that Simon led the church in Jerusalem. James wrote the Epistle of James, and his brother Judas wrote the tiny Epistle of Jude (the Greek says Judas). By reading them, you can get a feel for how committed they were to their resurrected brother, who was King of kings and Lord of lords. Sibling rivalry over!
“offended”: it does come from the Greek verb skandalizō (pronounced skan-dah-lee-zoh), and in this context it means “take offense” “get angry” “shock.” (We get our word scandal from it.) The townspeople were offended and in disbelief. They saw him grow up. He was not as thoroughly educated as the Pharisees and teachers of the law. His hometown people folded their arms and harrumphed. Between the lines and behind the scenes, the people of Nazareth, except a few, had contempt for him.
This saying sums things up nicely, but it has a lot of negatives in it (“not without”). Maybe we should translate it as positives: He has much honor except in his hometown. He got much honor outside of his home area, but not here. Familiarity bred contempt. First-century Israel was an honor and shame society, meaning that people were in competition to acquire honor, sometimes to the detriment of another person. To shame Jesus meant they had the honor. They were above him, looking down on him. So their questions in v. 2 has an unpleasant, skeptical air about it.
“relatives … household”: once again, his family did not honor him as God would have it. Jesus didn’t seek it; he simply taught and did a few miracles.
Jesus was unable to do many miracles except heal a few sick people (it’s the standard Greek verb for “could” or “can” with the negation “not,” which I translate as “unable”). Commentator France writes: “Mark often highlights the importance of [faith] in healing and other miraculous contexts (2:5; 4:40; 5:34, 36; 9:23–24; 10:52; 11:22–24), so there is no surprise in seeing the opposite effect attributed to [unbelief], but the description of Jesus as unable to work miracles is christologically striking ….” What follows is an explanation for why Jesus was “unable” to do mighty miracles, except heal a few sick people. And by the way, healing a few sick people would be considered remarkable for anyone else other than Jesus, but for him, he marveled at their unbelief.
People need to seek him and have faith in him, and apparently a few did, but most did not. Miracles that directly touch people’s minds and bodies need people to approach Jesus directly. Every healing he did in the four Gospels needed a response from people—even the man lying by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2-8). People have to have faith. True, he was about to feed the five thousand (14:13-21), but he did not require faith from them because he was not healing their body, as he did the lepers and paralytics and the minds of the demonized. In other words, God is still sovereign over nature—multiplying bread and fish and his Son walking on water—without faith from the bystanders. But God requires faith from us when it involves the healing of our persons and bodies, but he does not need our faith when he acts sovereignly. His Son had the faith to walk on water and feed the five thousand.
Further, people must not have contempt for the Lord or for his ministers. Too many times I have observed that people walk into healing meeting with contemptuous attitudes towards the minister. Contempt and skepticism does not bring healing. Snark ≠ simple faith.
For your healing, press in to God’s power and love with faith. For a sovereign miracle, press in to God’s power and love with faith. From our limited point of view, we need faith. From God’s unlimited point of view, he acts as he wills. So we have a person’s faith and God’s sovereignty interacting in this one verse. It is difficult to sort out (for me at least).
But down here on earth, God requires us to have faith in him, and we get faith by hearing the word about Christ (Rom. 10:17). Get Scripture in you, and it will build your faith. Ask the Lord for faith. “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). That’s our part in the human-God interaction. Leave the results up to your loving and powerful Father.
One other main point of this verse is that despite his people’s condescending rejection of him, the kingdom of God was able to get through the narrow gaps or cracks. He healed a few people. The kingdom of God, as small as a mustard seed (4:30-31), will grow in the soil of faith and watered by the Spirit.
One last point about this verse. Usually people are amazed at Jesus (1:22, 27; 5:15, 20, 42). Amazement is a theme. Here, however, Jesus is amazed at their unbelief.
This response means that he was willing to heal as many as wanted to be healed, but most took a standoffish outlook towards him. Imagine someone offering you a million dollars, but because he is from your hometown, you don’t take it. You are above it all. Jesus was offering them healing and other miracles, like the ones he performed in Mark 5 and before. They said no thanks. We know you and we don’t need them.
His response was to move on to other villages. Maybe they would be more open to his teaching and wisdom and miracles.
GrowApp for Mark 6:1-6
A.. In Mark 3:2-21 and 31-35, Jesus was rejected by his family. Here he is mostly treated casually and even contemptuously by his hometown. How about you? How much rejection have you experienced in following Jesus?
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve (Mark 6:7-13)
7 Now Jesus summoned the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority order unclean spirits. 8 He instructed them that they take nothing on the road except a staff only, not bread, not a knapsack, not copper coins in the belt, 9 but sandals for wearing, and “don’t wear two shirts.” 10 He said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. 11 And if any place does not welcome you or listen to you, go out from there and shake the dust from under your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 They went out and proclaimed that people should repent, 13 and they expelled many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
This section is very important because Jesus had enough confidence in his disciples to commission them. His training and their capacity to receive his training must have been sufficient for this commissioning. Jesus did not fret or have anxiety when he was alone without the twelve. And he trusted God when his disciples were sent out doing what he commanded them to do and say.
Here we have a special commissioning. It is a short-term mission trip, but a powerful one. He delegates authority to them.
“sent”: this verb is apostellō (pronounced ah-poh-stehl-loh), and it is related to the noun apostle, but let’s not overstate things. It means “to send” and is used 132 times in the NT. BDAG says it means (1) “to dispatch someone for the achievement of some objective, send away / out” (the disciples are sent out: Matt. 10:5; Mark 3:14; 6:17; Luke 9:2; 10:1; John 4:38; 17:18). (2) “to dispatch a message, send, have something done.” Here it could be translated as “commission.”
Key point: the rabbinic text, the Mishnah, says, “the one sent by the man is as the man himself” (m.Ber. 5.5 in Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament vol. 1, [Baker Academic, 1994] p. 542).
Missionaries today who go out by themselves, one by one, take too many risks. They should go out two by two—or more. Safety in numbers, both physical and moral safety.
“authority”: it is the noun exousia (pronounced ex-oo-see-ah), and it means, depending on the context: “right to act,” “freedom of choice,” “power, capability, might, power, authority, absolute power”; “power or authority exercised by rulers by virtue of their offices; official power; domain or jurisdiction, spiritual powers.”
In Luke’s version, he adds power (9:1), so let’s look at the term.
“power”: it is the noun dunamis (or dynamis) (pronounced doo-na-mees or dee-na-mis, but most teachers prefer the first one). It is often translated as “power,” but also “miracle” or “miraculous power.” It means power in action, not static, but kinetic. It moves. Yes, we get our word dynamite from it, but God is never out of control, like dynamite is. Its purpose is to usher in the kingdom of God and repair and restore broken humanity, both in body and soul.
As I will say many times throughout this commentary, the difference between authority and power is parallel to a policeman’s badge and his gun. The badge symbolizes his right to exercise his power through his gun, if necessary. The gun backs up his authority with power. But the distinction should not be pressed too hard, because exousia can also mean “power.” In any case, God through Jesus can distribute authority to his followers (Matt. 10:1; Mark 6:1; Luke 10:19; John 1:12).
So do we have the same power and authority that the twelve have in this passage, or are they a special case? Restrictive interpreters say they are special cases with unique callings, while freer interpreters say we too, as disciples of Jesus, can have the same authority. I come down on the freer interpretation.
Jesus will give us authority even over the nations, if we overcome trials and persecution (Rev. 2:26). And he is about to distribute his power in Acts 2. Never forget that you have his authority and power to live a victorious life over your personal flaws and sins and Satan. They no longer have power and authority over you; you have power and authority over them.
The disciples learn, however, that some demons are stubborn (Mark 9:18). They were unable to expel one and needed Jesus, who he scolded them for their unbelief.
For systematic theology about Satan and demons and and practical theology of deliverance, see my posts:
Strauss: “Jesus here demonstrates remarkable authority. Not only does he have divine authority to preach, heal and cast out demons, but he can pass it on to others. It is more than just delegated; it is his own authority to give.”
These are the words of Jesus. This is his commissioning and his commands, more than counsel or good advice or “things to pack” list.
“don’t wear two shirts”: the syntax (sentence structure) shifts, indicating first-hand eyewitness testimony. In other words, Peter was probably preaching his stories, and eyewitness storytellers may sometimes leave in the exact wording, though grammatically awkward when it is mixed in with a report. Mark left in this command form, “Don’t wear! …” Grammatically awkward, but revealing of Peter telling his story.
“staff”: Matthew (10:10) and Luke say not to take a staff, while Mark says to take one (6:8). How do we reconcile this? I attempt an answer at this post:
See these posts in a fifteen-part series on the reliability of the Gospels:
14. Similarities among John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels (celebrate the countless numbers of similarities in the arc of the storyline!)
15. The Historical Reliability of the Gospels: Conclusion (start here for summaries of each part with links back to them)
‘Total’ Inerrancy and Infallibility or Just Infallibility? (my view of Scripture)
The main thing is not to let your faith become so brittle that it snaps in two when these differences emerge. It does not matter in light of the main message of this passage, which is that they were sent and learned how to minister as Jesus did. Keep the main thing the main thing.
The other items show this was a short-term mission trip. Copper pennies could be translated as generically as “money.” In other words, on this short-term mission trip, don’t take a wad of cash. Depend on God and the hospitality of generous people.
Some take this list of prohibited items literally and claim that no true preacher should have basic supplies, but depend on the good graces of the people. If their conscience says to follow this path, then they should. But if they follow other Scriptures, which says a worker is worthy of his pay (Luke 10:7) and that those who receive good teaching should give material resources to the teachers (Gal. 6:6), then they should follow that. In other words, Jesus’s restriction should not be viewed as universal—required for all times and all missionaries. Jesus sent them out on a short-term mission trip.
The point to this verse is to command the twelve not to wander around from house to house, particularly when one house is richer and offers better bedding and food than the poorer house. If the poor house invites them first, they should accept it and not yearn for the rich house. Don’t show favoritism (cf. Jas. 2:1-7).
Shaking the dust off of their feet is what devout and strict Jews did when they left pagan territory, so they could remove the ceremonial uncleanness. But the ceremonial uncleanness is not the point here because the twelve disciples were going into Jewish towns and villages (Matt. 10:6). Instead it means “you—not we—take responsibility for your decision!” It signifies that rejecting the kingdom of God is deadly serious. Nehemiah shook the dust out of the fold of his garments when he made the returning Israelites give back the property and children who were sold into slavery, in a promise that apparently required the shaking. “In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!” (Neh. 5:13, NIV). Paul and Barnabas shook the dust off their feet to the Jews in Pisidian Antioch when they rejected the kingdom, and then the missionary pair left for Iconium (Acts 13:51). In Macedonia Paul spoke to the Jews about Jesus the Messiah, but they rejected and mocked him. “When they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his clothing and said to them: ‘Your blood be upon your head! I am clear! From now on I will go to the Gentiles!’ (Acts 18:6, my tentative translation).
Their message was simple. Repent (Luke 9:2 adds that they should proclaim the kingdom of God.) Let’s look more closely at the verb.
“repent”: it is the verb metanoeō (pronounced meh-tah-noh-eh-oh, and the noun is metanoia and is pronounced meh-tah-noi-ah). The verb literally means “to change one’s mind” (and so does the noun). But it goes deeper than mental assent or agreement. Another word for repent is the Greek stem streph– (including the prefixes ana-, epi-, and hupo-), which means physically “to turn” (see Luke 2:20, 43, 45). That reality-concept is all about new life. One turns around 180 degrees, going from the direction of death to the new direction of life.
Yes, repentance is wonderful as a foundation, but we must move on to Christ’s deeper teachings. In our context today, we should teach repentance to an audience where there may be the unrepentant and unconverted, but let’s not harangue the church with constant calls for them to repent. They need mature teachings. Too many fiery preachers never allow their churches to grow, but shriek about fire and brimstone (eternal punishment). Happily, this seems to be changing, and preachers bring up repentance, but also realize that there are many other doctrines in Scripture.
Success! They cast out many demons and heal many sick people. What surprised me was the oil. It is often used today in healing services or in small groups. The twelve must have borrowed it from the people whom the twelve visited. It has been said that oil was a kind of therapy or medicine (Luke 10:34). That may be true in some cases, particularly when a wound occurs. However, Jas. 5:14 says that if anyone is sick, he should call for the leaders of the church and they should anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. There does not seem to be a medical reason for this kind of anointing.
The NT authors permit us to read certain items in the OT as symbolic, so let’s take some time to do a symbolic reading of oil.
Oil speaks of the sacred anointing for consecrating the priests (Exod. 29:7; 30:22-33).
Next, Samuel took a flask of oil and anointed first Saul (1 Sam. 10:1) and then David (1 Sam. 16:1) to be kings. In 11 Sam. 6:3, we read: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David” (see Ps. 89:20). In Ps. 23:5, David proclaimed that God anointed his head with oil.
Heb. 1:9 says that God anointed his Son Jesus with the “oil of joy.”
Mark 6:13 says Jesus anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. James 5:14 says oil was used to anoint the sick.
In Luke 4:18 Jesus said God has anointed him to carry out the ministry of God. Acts 10:38 says God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit. Paul said that God anointed them (2 Cor. 1:21). “Christ” means “the Anointed One.”
We, God’s New Covenant people, are also have an anointing from the Holy One, who will guide his people to the truth (1 John 2:20, 27). The Holy One is the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).
From these verses oil came to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Oil, the anointing, and the Spirit are linked. Being in Christ, we are all anointed by the Spirit.
However, if you don’t like a symbolic reading, then skip it. The choice is yours.
“heal”: the verb is therapeuō (pronounced thair-ah-pew-oh, our word therapy is related to it), and it means to “make whole, restore, heal, cure, care for.”
Finally, let’s introduce the topic of whether apostles exist today.
Jesus was formally separating these twelve from the crowds and any of the other many disciples. Recall that Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) disciples, as well (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20). There are these twelve who will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28) and whose names will be written on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14). This special office can never be duplicated. These twelve have a unique vocation and commission.
However, in the NT there are a lower order of apostles. Barnabas was called an apostle (Acts 14:14); Andronicus and Junia (a woman) were probably apostles, depending how one reads the Greek (Rom. 16:7) (I say they were). Certain brothers, including Titus, were called apostles (2 Cor. 8:23). Epaphroditus was an apostle (Phil. 2:25). Things that mark an apostle are signs, wonders, and miracles (2 Cor. 12:12), and men who were not numbered among the twelve could do them (Luke 10:9). Even Philip, who was titled an evangelist, could do them (Acts 8:4-13). Evidently, Stephen could work them in great power of the Spirit, and he became a deacon (Acts 6:5). Surely other men, whose ministries went unrecorded, could claim to do them without being an apostle or titled in some way (Mark 16:17-18). In any case, no one has to be one of the twelve to be commissioned and work miracles.
The point to the linked post is that the lower order of apostles is open to certain men and women today but be warned! Anyone who claims the title must be checked out, especially if he gave himself this title or allowed some “yes men” to call him an apostle.
GrowApp for Mark 6:7-13
A.. Everyone has a calling, from soccer mom to famous evangelist. What is your commission? Has it changed as you have gone through the stages in life? How?
Herod Executes John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29)
14 Now King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’s name was known. People were saying that John the Baptizer was raised from the dead, and for this reason the powers are working in Jesus. 15 Others were saying, “He is Elijah.” Others were saying, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 When Herod heard about him, he was saying, “He is the one whom I beheaded—John—he is risen from the dead!”
17 For Herod himself had sent for and arrested John and bound him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because Herod had married her. 18 For John was saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife!” 19 But Herodias bore a grudge against him and wanted him killed, yet she was unable, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. He protected him. Although he heard him often, he was perplexed and yet he readily listened to him.
21 Now when a suitable day arrived, Herod threw a feast on his birthday for his court officials and military commanders and leading people of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias entered and danced, she pleased Herod and the dinner guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he swore a strong oath to her: “Whatever you request of me, I will give it to you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 So she went out and told her mother. “What will I request?” She said, “The head of John the Baptizer!” 25 She immediately and hurriedly went back in to the king and requested, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptizer on a platter, right now!” 26 Although the king was grieved, he did not want to refuse her because of the oaths and the dinner guests. 27 So immediately the king sent and ordered an executioner to bring his head. He left, beheaded him in prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about this, they came and took his corpse and placed it in a grave.
A long introduction before we get to the verse by verse comments:
Commentators believe that this long passage is an intercalation or “sandwich” between the sending out of the twelve (vv. 7-13) and their report back (vv. 30-31). The point is that John was the ultimate disciple of God, because he laid down his life for righteousness and integrity and God. It illustrates the cost of discipleship to Mark’s original community or communities (Mark 8:34-35).
This whole scene between John and Herod and Herodias reminds the reader of the conflict between Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 16:29-19:3; 21:1-29). Elijah won the battle of wills between him and the queen. It is a sad fact, however, that Herodias got the better of John.
The entire pericope from v. 14 to the end is presented as a flashback.
Let’s review the historical tidbits. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to AD 39). Matthew correctly identified him as a tetrarch. Mark also called him king (v. 14), for that was his popular title locally and in Rome. He was not really a king, however. He was a son of Herod the Great (r. 37 BC to AD 4).
Herodias had married yet another son of Herod the Great, Herod Philip I, whose mother was Mariamne), but he did not rule. Herod Antipas talked Herodias into leaving Herod Philip I, and she did, while Herod Philip I was still living. Both Herod Antipas and Herod Philip I were her uncles. The girl who danced was named Salome and was Herodias’s and Herod Philip I’s daughter. So she was Herod Antipas’s stepdaughter and grandniece. Since this dance was at his birthday party and wine flowed, we can be sure that he was drunk, and her dance, no doubt sexual, pleased him, so he made a rash vow. Her mother knew the dance would please her drunk husband.
The law which Herod and Herodias were breaking is found in Lev. 18:18, which reads: “You shall not uncover the nakedness [i.e. have sexual relations] of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness” (Lev. 18:16, ESV). It was permitted to marry a brother’s wife if he were dead, which is called a levirate marriage (from levir or brother-in-law or husband’s brother) (Deut. 25:5-10).
5 “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. (Deut. 25:5-6, ESV)
If a brother died, his brother, probably the next oldest, was to marry his widow, to carry on his brother’s name.
However, as noted, Herod Philip I was still alive, so this marriage was illegal, by the standards of the Torah. John called out Herod Philip I and Herodias. He paid with his life. John knew the Torah well enough to proclaim it; he was not merely a fiery prophet who did not know the Scriptures.
John’s unjust death explains why so many societies for the past three hundred years revolted against kings and their regimes. They accumulated too much power and money in the hands of the few. Executing a prophet like John after a dance and by the command of a “king” must never be done again. Nowadays, in communist countries a person can be imprisoned and even executed for criticizing the government. In Islamic countries, a person can be imprisoned or executed for criticizing Islam. Both situations are inhumane and unjust and must be fought against. People must have the freedom of speech.
The length of this story indicates how important John was in the story of the Messiah. John handed on the baton to Jesus, so to speak.
All the guesses of who Jesus was agree that Jesus was some sort of prophet.
See my post about Jesus’s prophethood.
It is accurate to call him a prophet, just as it was accurate to call Ronald Reagan “governor” (he had been the governor of California). But it does not describe him fully. Accurately, yes, but fully, no. Jesus was much more than a prophet.
Mark uses the substantive participle “baptizing one” or “Baptizer.” I decided to go for it, instead of the “Baptist.”
Mark uses the unspecific “this.” “This” what? It refers to the miracles he was working throughout his ministry.
“The powers are working in him”: Herod didn’t know how to categorize Jesus, so the king would get things wrong, like believing that Jesus was John raised from the dead. Maybe Herod thought Jesus was a ghostly power or a god.
The people who thought Jesus was Elijah were alluding to Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6, which says Elijah will come back in spirit and turn the households towards each other in unity and peace.
“bore a grudge”: could be translated as “nursed a grudge” or closer to the Greek Herodias “had it in” for John (France).
Herod held or threw (or literally “made”) a feast for himself and invited important people in his petty realm. Jesus, in contrast, the servant king, whose identity had not yet been fully revealed, reached out to everyone, the lowly and high-and-mighty.
In v. 22, there is a complicated debate about Greek manuscripts and the name of the daughter. Is her name also Herodias? Maybe so. I went with what the modern translations say: she was the daughter of Herodias. Matt. 14:6 also says she was Herodias’s daughter. That’s good enough for me and my missional translation and commentary. If anyone wants to dig deeper, then he is invited to read the comments online, at the links, above in the Introduction.
This offer of half of Herod’s kingdom is proverbial. The offer is similar to the offer made by King Ahasuerus to Esther (Esth. 5:3, 6; 7:2). It is hyperbolic (rhetorical exaggeration). Herod is saying, “Ask me for anything. I’m the king! I can give it!” (Strauss).
Herod Antipas swore a strong oath. Jesus teaches us not to do this at all:
33 Again, you have heard that it has been said to the people of old, “You shall not swear falsely. You shall give back to the Lord the oaths you have sworn” [Lev. 19:12; Deut. 23:22-23]. 34 But I tell you not to swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God; 35 neither by the earth because it is the footstool for his feet; neither by Jerusalem because it is the city of the great King; 36 neither should you swear by your head because you are not able to make one hair white or black. 37 But let your word be “yes, yes, no, no.” Anything beyond them is from the evil one. (Matt. 5:33-37)
Keep your life simple and full of integrity. Just keep your word, straightforwardly, without complications.
The daughter adds the grim element of a “platter,” reflecting the feast. She also says “right now!”
John’s disciples buried his body. They took a great risk to appear before Herod, but they wanted to honor their dead mentor and prophet.
“disciples”: See v. 1 for more comments.
Now let’s honor John by reviewing his short life.
John’s birth is announced (Luke 1:11-20), and the angel Gabriel announces he will be filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb:
“Don’t be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will birth you a son, and you will call his name ‘John.’ 14 He will be a joy and rejoicing for you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great before the Lord. And he will not drink wine or alcohol, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. (Luke 1:13-15)
His mother Elizabeth conceives (Luke 1:23-25). Her shame of barrenness was removed.
24 After those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived and secluded herself for five months. 25 She said, “And thus the Lord acted for me in the years he looked with favor and removed my shame among the people.” (Luke 1:24-25)
His birth takes place (Luke 1:57-66). People knew he would be special, because of the human-oriented miracles that surrounded his birth:
“No one of your relatives is called by that name.” 62 They began to make signs to his father as to what he would want to call him. 63 He asked for a little writing tablet and wrote, saying, “John is his name.” And everyone was surprised. 64 Instantly his mouth was opened, and his tongue, and he began speaking and praising God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors; and in the entire hill country of Judea, these words were spoken throughout. 66 Everyone who heard tucked it in their hearts, saying, “What will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1:61-66)
He begins his ministry in the wilderness of Judea (southern Israel) He wore austere clothing and ate honey and locusts. He prepared the way of the Lord Messiah (Matt. 3:1-12; Mark 1:2-8).
1 In those days, John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 saying, “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has drawn near!” 3 For he is the one spoken of through Isaiah the prophet, saying:
A voice shouting in the wilderness:
“Prepare the road of the Lord
Make straight his paths!” [Is. 40:3]
4 John himself had his clothes of camel hair and leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region around Jordan went out to him, 6 and they were being baptized in the Jordan River by him, confessing their sins. (Matt. 3:1-5)
He preached the baptism of repentance, which meant that people had to bring forth or do good works in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:7-12; Luke 3:7-14; Acts 13:24)
7 Then, seeing many Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 So then produce fruit in keeping with repentance, 9 and do not think to say among yourselves, ‘We have Father Abraham.’ For I tell you that God is able from these rocks to raise up children to Abraham! 10 Already the axe is being plied to the root of the tree! Therefore, every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and tossed into fire! 11 On the one hand, I baptize you with water for repentance; in contrast, the one coming after me is stronger than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry! He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire! 12 The winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his wheat in the storehouse, and he will burn the chaff in unquenchable fire! (Matt. 3:7-12)
John’s baptism of repentance did not go far enough. People needed to be filled with the Spirit, and only Jesus the Messiah could do this, and John himself said so:
11 On the one hand, I baptize you with water for repentance; in contrast, the one coming after me is stronger than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry! He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire! 12 The winnowing fork is in his hand and he will clear out his threshing floor and gather his wheat in the storehouse, and he will burn the chaff in unquenchable fire! (Matt. 3:11-12)
Here is how his (ultimately) insufficient baptism of repentance and water had to be supplemented with the fulness of the Spirit. Paul is speaking to certain disciples who had received only John’s baptism:
2 He said to them, “Have you received the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They replied to him, “We have not at all heard whether there is the Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul put his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, they began to speak in Spirit-inspired languages and to prophesy. 7 They were about twelve men in total. (Acts 19:2-7, tentative)
As noted, he testified concerning Jesus (Matt. 3:11-12; Mark 1:7-8; John 1:29-36). Here is a key passage from the Gospel of John:
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34, ESV)
He proclaimed that Jesus was to become greater and he lesser (John 3:25-30). “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
He baptized Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17; Luke 3:21-22), and the Father’s declaration over his Son teaches that the Son really must increase and John must decrease.
13 Then Jesus appeared from Galilee to John at the Jordan in order to be baptized by him. 14 But John was preventing him saying, “I have need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?” 15 But in reply, Jesus said to him, “Permit it now, for in this way it is appropriate for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John permitted him. 16 And being baptized, Jesus instantly got up out of the water, and look! the heaven opened up to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down as a dove and coming upon him. 17 And listen! A voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight!” (Matt. 3:13-17)
He was arrested by Herod (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14). Matthew announces this before he described it in more detail in 14:1-12. Herod really did arrest John and kept him in prison soon after Jesus began his ministry. Poor John languished in prison from then on.
In prison, he expressed doubts about Jesus’s Messiahship (Matt. 11:2-6; Luke 7:18-23)
As we just read in this chapter, he was unjustly beheaded by Herod (Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29), as we see in these twelve verses.
And as noted above, he fulfilled the prophecy about Elijah returning in Spirit (Mal. 4:5-6; Matt. 11:7-19; Mark 9:11-13).
John was a powerful prophet, called of God. His cousin Jesus was called to surpass him, yet John did not mind one bit. In fact, John announced that this would happen, so he was not emotionally insecure about it. He understood his place. It is a sad fact that he died young at the hands of an unjust royal family (of sorts).
I trust that my tribute to him reveals who he was and his high-level character and calling.
GrowApp for Mark 6:14-29
A.. It seems everyone misunderstood who Jesus was. How do you view him? Just a good moral teacher? A prophet? An eastern guru?
B.. Read John 1:1-4. Who is Jesus more fully?
C.. Now what does he mean in your life?
Disciples Report Back and Jesus Feeds Five Thousand (Mark 6:30-44)
30 The apostles had gathered around Jesus and reported to him everything which they did and what they taught. 31 He said to them, “You come by yourselves to a deserted place and rest for a little time.” For many people were coming and going, and there was no suitable time to eat. 32 So they departed in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 And the people saw them going and many recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns there and arrived ahead of them. 34 And getting out of the boat, Jesus saw a huge crowd and was moved with compassion for them because they were like sheep who did not have a shepherd. He began to teach them many things.
35 The day was getting late. His disciples approached him and said, “This place is deserted, and it is already late. 36 Send them away, so that they may go out into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy for themselves something to eat.” 37 But in reply, he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go out and spend two hundred denarii for bread and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How much bread do you have? Go and look.” When they found out, they said, “Five and two fish.” 39 He ordered them to have everyone sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 They sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 Taking the bread and two fish and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke the loaves and gave it to his disciples. They set it before them and apportioned the two fish for everyone. 42 Everyone ate and was satisfied.
43 They picked up the pieces that filled twelve baskets and also with the fish. 44 Those eating the bread were five thousand men.
“apostles”: it comes from the Greek noun apostolos (pronounced ah-poh-stoh-loss), and it is related to the verb apostellō (pronounced ah-poh-stehl-loh). The term means “sent ones” or “commissioned ones.” It is probably used here to distinguish the twelve from John’s disciples, who were mentioned in the previous verse. See v. 13 for more discussion of the term.
At final judgment, Jesus will require all of us to render an account of our leadership (Heb. 13:17). Here they are reporting to him what they did and taught. It was a time of rendering an account. No doubt they asked him questions, as well. He learned a lot about them. Would they go the distance, even during and after his death, when they weren’t sure he would be resurrected?
People were coming and going all the time, and they were draining their energy. There is everything right about taking some time out and retreating. Go for it. So they withdrew to a deserted place.
Luke adds the detail that he went near the town Bethsaida, which was a town on the northern side of the Lake of Galilee (9:10). John 1:44 says that Philip, Peter and Andrew were originally from the town. Bethsaida was not a deserted or isolated place (v. 15), so we should understand that Jesus led the crowd away from the town.
But their retreat was not to be. The crowd recognized them and ran ahead and got there before Jesus and the twelve did. How would you or I react? Exasperated? “Go away! We’re on a retreat right now!” Jesus did not react that way (no word on how any of the twelve felt about the encroachment!). However, in v. 45 he himself does send the crowd away, so he is not enthralled to them.
He was moved with compassion. The verb could be translated as “felt compassion,” but this attribute which God shares with us cannot remain static or unexpressed. It has to be active, or else it cannot be compassion.
Let’s explore the verb and the related noun more deeply. The verb is splanchnizomai (pronounced splankh-nee-zoh-my) and is used 12 times, exclusively in the Gospels. “It describes the compassion Jesus had for those he saw in difficulty” (Mounce, New Expository Dictionary, p. 128). BDAG defines the verb simply: “have pity, feel sympathy.”
BDAG further says the noun splanchnon (pronounced splankh-non) is related to the inward part of the body, especially the viscera, inward parts, entrails. But some update their translation with the noun as “heart.” So the verb is also related to the inward parts of a person. It could be translated as “Jesus felt compassion in the depths of his heart.”
As an important side note, in Hebrew the verb raḥam (pronounced ra-kham, and used 47 times) means “to have compassion on, show mercy, take pity on and show love.” The noun raḥamim (39 times) (pronounced rach’meem) means “compassion, mercy, pity.” Both words are related to the word for “womb,” when a woman feels close to and love for the human life growing there. It’s deep in God, too.
“They were like sheep without a shepherd”: In Num. 27:17 Moses prays to the Lord:
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. (Num. 27:16-17, ESV)
The Lord answered his prayer and appointed Joshua. See also 1 Kings 9:4; 22:1; 2 Chron. 18:16; Ps. 78:72; Jer. 23:1-6; Ezek. 34:22-23; Mic. 5:2-4; Zech. 13:7, for more on the theme of people needing a shepherd. Thank the Lord that many good shepherds are serving well without recognition and fanfare.
Jesus taught them many things. Luke says Jesus spoke to them about the kingdom of God (9:11). Matthew and Luke add the detail that Jesus healed the people too (Matt. 14:14; Luke 9:11). People need shepherds today and thank God there are numerous ones out there nowadays, but too few overall
Now the time is getting late. It was later afternoon, when Jews of that time ate their meal (France). Jesus had been teaching them about the kingdom for as long time. (I wonder if we would have the stamina.) The disciples note the late hour, so they spring into action. They inform Jesus that it’s time to wrap this thing up. He should send them away to buy food. However, most were poor, so would they have the money to buy what they needed? Maybe some would, but not many.
“disciples”: see v. 29 for more discussion of the term.
Now it was Jesus’s turn to spring into action. He challenged the disciples to give them something to eat. “You give them something to eat”: “you” is not needed grammatically, so it could be translated as “You give them something to eat,” for extra-emphasis.
Would they catch on? Would they ask the Lord to multiply however much food was out there? No. They replied that they had two hundred denarii (one denarius was about a day’s wages for farm work, but that amount is a little misleading because an agriculture worker had seasonal work, so he had to stretch what he got during the harvest). How could that amount pay for the necessary food? He asked his disciples to take inventory, “Go and look.” They came back and gave their report. Five loaves and two fish. Now it was impossible for that small portion to feed so many people. But they are thinking logically and naturalistically. They did not factor in the Lord’s power, even though they saw him calm the storm and were awe of him (4:35-41).
When Jesus issued this challenge, the disciples must have thought he was detached from everyday reality. He was too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. It is true that he was heavenly minded, because he had a miracle in mind. He was in constant communication with his Father, and he expected a miracle. The twelve were not in such a deep and close communication.
They retorted. I’m convinced that they doubted they had the money to buy loaves of bread to feed five thousand men, not counting women and children (Matt. 14:21). but that is a little misleading because an agriculture worker had seasonal work, so he had to stretch what he got during the harvest. Perhaps not even Joanna and the other women (Luke 8:1-3) could buy that much in one day for one meal. But if they did so regularly, the community fund would have depleted fast, since Jesus spoke to many crowds, many times. And no doubt the twelve did send them away on other occasions. But not here, not now. Jesus would not allow it. A miracle was in the offing.
“loaves”: the bread was flat and about eight inches in diameter.
Jesus organized them in groups. This would make the distribution easier. There is no need to clamor after the food and watch the strong get there first and take the most. Instead, they sat down on green grass, which indicates the springtime, and it may echo Ps. 23:2, which says the sheep have a shepherd and makes them lie down in green pastures. There is nothing wrong with organizing people. Efficiency is not a sign that man has taken over to the neglect of the power of God. Both are needed. In contrast, sometimes the more fiery evangelists despise or at least ignore such earthly and ordinary matters. Their meetings can become chaotic. Order and calm are not bad things (1 Cor. 14:40).
So we see a chain of command. Jesus broke the bread and distributed it to his disciples, and they in turn set it out before them, in groups, to prevent rushing and pushing. Once again, organization is not a bad thing.
“bless”: it comes from the Greek verb eulogeō (pronounced eu-loh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard), and it literally means to “speak well.” BDAG defines the term, depending on the context, as follows: (1) “to say something commendatory, speak well of, praise, extol”; (2) “to ask for bestowal of special favor, especially of calling down God’s gracious power, bless”; (3) “to bestow a favor, provide with benefits.” Here it is the second definition. Some translations have “he gave thanks.” Being grateful even for food shows gratitude and an acknowledgement that God is the source.
Traditional form for blessing bread: “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the world, who bringest forth bread from the earth” (France).
“satisfied”: I have heard too many miracle stories about food distribution. The kettle of soup would not feed the surge of people who came into the soup kitchen, but the soup never ran out until the last person was fed. Apparently, the miracle was so great and powerful that the disciples picked twelve baskets full of fragments or leftovers, in abundance.
“twelve baskets”: this number matches the number of disciples. The leftovers were for the disciple’s advantage and use. No doubt they used it for themselves, sold some of it and also gave some of it away. In your paycheck from work, it is good to give some, save some and spend some, like paying the bills or buying necessities and some luxury items.
This number does not include the women and children ate apart from the men, which Matt. adds in (14:21). In other words, five thousand men plus women and children. There had to be well over 10,000 people in total, probably over 15,000. Commentator Lane tells us that the towns of Capernaum and Bethsaida had 2000-3000 people, in each. The people came from miles around to add up to 10,000-15,000. This was truly a miracle.
One more theological point: Jesus indirectly shows himself to be the bread of heaven—indirectly because he does not announce it, as he did in John’s Gospel (6:35), after he fed the five thousand (6:1-14). This refers to the manna from heaven that fed the ancient Israelites going through the wilderness (Exod. 16). Jesus is our bread of heaven. He is our sustenance.
Another theological point: this feeding probably refers to the messianic banquet at the end of the age (Is. 25:6-9).
It is further interesting, in discussing the miraculous feeding, that he did not pray for them to receive supernatural strength to walk home without fainting or collapsing along the road. He fed them. God works miracles, true, but he also recognizes the human conditions and limitations. They may not have had faith to sustain their journey back home. They needed to be fed. It was a fitting solution to a long and happy three days of teaching and healing. They ate and were satisfied.
And I note that he worked these miracles without the faith of the people or the disciples, but he certainly had faith. In the miraculous feeding, it carried all of the five thousand men plus women and men and the twelve disciples. He also had compassion on them. So his faithfulness (connected to faith) and his compassion led to the miracle.
Faith has to be present somewhere, even if it comes directly from the Father to one small child. In this case, Jesus alone had faith.
GrowApp for Mark 6:30-44
A.. Have you heard of a miracle of provision at a soup kitchen? How about in your life? Tell your story.
Jesus Walks on the Water (Mark 6:45-52)
45 Afterwards, Jesus urged his disciples to get in the boat and go ahead to the other side to Bethsaida, while he was sending the crowd away. 46 As he was saying goodbye to them, he withdrew to the hills to pray. 47 When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48 Seeing them struggling to row (for the wind was against them), about the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the lake and wanted to go by them. 49 But seeing him walking on the lake, they thought that he was a ghost, and they cried out, 50 for everyone saw him and were troubled. But immediately he spoke to them and said to them, “Courage! It is I! Do not fear!” 51 He got in the boat with them, and the wind stopped. They were exceedingly amazed between them, 52 for they did not understand about the loaves, for their heart had been hard.
Jesus “urged” them is a milder version of the Greek verb “compelled” or even “forced.” One option is even milder for the Greek verb: “invited.” But the latter translation is unusual. Jesus pressed or conscripted them to get into the boat.
As for Bethsaida, Luke’s version of the feeding of the five thousand says that he took them to Bethsaida, yet here they have to cross over to the other side to get to Bethsaida. Evidently, they went at first towards Bethsaida on their retreat, but then they wandered a long way off when Jesus began to heal them. The remoteness was the whole point of the miracle feeding. They had to go back to the towns and villages to buy food. So Jesus now compels them to get in the boat and go back to Bethsaida by water, not by land. The boat trip would not have involved crossing the entire length of the lake, however.
“disciples”: see v. 1 for more comments.
In the geographic discrepancy between Bethsaida and Gennesaret, Strauss proposes:
Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him to nearby Bethsaida, “while he dismissed the crowd” … He planned to meet them there, but if he was delayed, they were to embark westward toward Capernaum and Gennesaret. This solution finds some support from Matthew’s account, which says that they were to go ahead of him “while … he dismisses the crowd” (Matt. 14:22). It would also explain why the disciples were still in the middle of the lake hours later (v. 48), i.e., they first went to Bethsaida and waited several hours for Jesus. Only later, when Jesus was delayed on the mountain, did they embark toward Gennesaret. (p. 285)
That sounds reasonable to me.
As I noted above, in vv. 8-9:
‘Total’ Inerrancy and Infallibility or Just Infallibility? (my view of Scripture)
The main thing is not to let your faith become so brittle that it snaps in two when these differences emerge. It does not matter in light of the main message of this passage. Keep the main thing the main thing.
In the previous pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section of Scripture, Jesus had compassion on the crowd that ran towards him and his disciples. He did not chase them away in exasperation. In these two verses, however, he really did need to spend time alone. He didn’t even want the disciples around. He went up to the hills. The Greek literally reads: “the mountain,” and I translated it that way, but the best of scholarship says that it was a hilly area, so I changed it to “hills.” I assume, nonetheless, that he chose the highest hill / mountain around.
He needed to pray. Luke 5:16 says he often got alone by himself to pray. The lesson for us is obvious. If the mighty Son of God, who miraculously fed five thousand, plus woman and children, and is about to walk on water must pray, then we should too. No, our prayers won’t guarantee that we’ll walk on water, because God has to will it, but we still need to get our perspective right and our faith built up. Prayer is necessary for that.
Let’s look at prayer and praying for a moment.
As noted elsewhere throughout this commentary series, it is the very common verb proseuchomai (pronounced pros-yew-khoh-my) and appears 85 times. The noun proseuchē (pronounced pros-yew-khay) is used 36 times, so they are the most common words for prayer or pray in the NT. They are combined with the preposition pros, which means, among other things, “towards,” and euchē, which means a prayer, vow and even a mere wish. But Christians took over the word and directed it towards the living God; they leaned in toward him and prayed their requests fully expecting an answer. It is not a mere wish to a pagan deity.
Prayer flows out of confidence before God that he will answer because we no longer have an uncondemned heart (1 John 3:19-24); and we know him so intimately that we find out from him what is his will is and then we pray according to it (1 John 5:14-15); we pray with our Spirit-inspired languages (1 Cor. 14:15-16). Pray!
The fourth watch of the night is between 3:00 and 6:00 hours, early in the morning. The day was about ending. This shows, indirectly, that Jesus spent many hours praying. He could see that they had trouble rowing their boat. How could he see at night? It must have been the springtime (they sat down on green grass, v. 39), and the wind was blowing, so fog was not hindering his vision. In spring, it must have been a full moon. It’s not so difficult to see a boat and men struggling, at least in a silhouette, in moonlight while he was on top of a high hill. (Sidebar comment: I went to the lake of Galilee when I was about nineteen years old, and it is beautiful and bright at night.)
It is humorous (to me, at least) that he intended to walk past them (“Hello! Don’t mind me! I’ll see you in a short while in Bethsaida!”). However, humor aside, this “passing by” may refer to Exod. 33:19 in which God promised Moses that God would “pass by” the cleft of the rock where Moses was hidden. Also, in 1 King 19:11-12, the Lord said he would “pass by” where Elijah was. This entire passage may refer to this passage in Job: God “alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea … Behold, he passes by me, and I see him not; he moves on, but I do not perceive him” (Job 9:8, 11, ESV). This is an indirect reference to Christ’s deity. It was a manifestation of the divine presence, a theophany of sorts.
In any case, the disciples saw him and cried out with fear and were terrified or troubled. So he had to minister to them and their fear. They thought they had seen a ghost. They were not thinking that they had seen Jesus’s ghost, since they had no reason to believe he was dead. It was just a ghost (or so they wrongly thought). However, there are no ghosts, but their fear got the better of them and warped their beliefs. The disciples had bad theology. It came from pop culture. Beware of pop culture. It is bound by bad thinking, mixed in with Satan’s devices and strategies.
“It is I”: it could be translated as “I am.” In light of the divine manifestation of Christ, it is possible that Jesus was referring to Exod. 3:14: “I Am who I Am.” On the other hand, it was a common way of saying, “It’s me!” You can decide, based on the context.
It should be pointed out that only Matthew records the incident of Peter asking to climb out of the boat and sinking when he was doubleminded and his faith slipped away (14:28-31). Many scholars believe that Mark got his Gospel from listening to Peter preach and retell his story about his time with Jesus. Maybe Peter didn’t want his moment of failure publicized in writing!
Now the episode of fear and terror ends in peace and calm. As soon as he gets in the boat, the contrary wind stopped. Jesus brings peace whenever he is by your side and gets in your “personal boat,” so to speak. You don’t need to fear the storms of life, when things are going in an unexpected and contrary direction. Jesus will be right there with you.
What about the bread in this context? They should have connected that the Lord who could feed five thousand men, plus women and children, could also walk on water and clam the storm. Further the reference to the loaves may hearken back to the Exodus theme. Moses worked nature miracles–nine of them–and now Jesus did three–feeding them with bread, walking on water, and calming the storm. He was leading them in a better and newer exodus (Strauss, comments on 6:51-52).
Now what about the hard heart? This may also relate to an Exodus theme. Pharaoh had a hard heart (Exod. 7:3, 13, 22; 8:15, 32; 9:12; 10:1). But let’s not overblow the contexts. The Pharaoh was a national monarch and pagan and led his nation toward judgment; these disciples were on a quest, and eventually all of them would believe (except Judas).
Apparently Mark is simply communicating that their hearts were dull and thick and unperceptive. The disciples fail to make the connection from one miracle (feeding the five thousand) to the next (walking on water). No one knows for sure, with detailed knowledge, why hearts get hard. Inability or small capacity in their souls to process all the data? That reason applies to them. He was the Messiah and Son of God, and they believed for a little while, but then they slid right back into complacency. Maybe they simply expected things to go this way. However, they were exceedingly amazed or stunned or astonished, so they could not be completely complacent or used to things. Apparently they just has small souls and little minds. They simply could not process the spiritual, kingdom data that Jesus was feeding them.
The main point is that the disciples did not need to show so much fear and draw the wrong conclusion that they were seeing a ghost. They should have known that the only option was Jesus. They had seen him calm the storm, after all (4:35-41). Mark is answering the question which his original listeners must have been asking: how could those men not connect the dots? They were hard of heart or small of soul or thick of mind.
Let’s end this passage with a foray into systematic theology: Jesus “imported” his omnipotence with him, when he was a baby—yes, even when he was a baby. He did not lose his divine attributes or lay them aside, nor did he lose his “omni-” attributes (e.g. omniscience or omnipresence). Even the attribute of invisibility was expressed in his divine nature, which was invisible to onlookers. Jesus retained all the divine attributes during his Incarnation, but they were surrendered to the Father. As he grew, he became aware of his mission and his attributes.
3. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Was God Incarnate (introduces the theory of kenosis or emptying and taking the form of a servant, in a Q& A format)
4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant (discusses the invisibility attribute of Jesus and the omni- attributes more fully)
So did he work this miracle by his omnipotence or by the power of the Spirit?
(1). He worked this multiplication miracle and walking on water and calming the storm by his divine omnipotence and the will of the Father.
(2). He worked these miracles by the power of the Spirit and the will of the Father.
(3). He worked these miracles by his omnipotence, the power of the Spirit, and the will of the Father.
The dominant Scriptural testimony of his ministry is the second option (Acts 10:38; John 3:34). If it is the second option, then it opens the door for his followers today to work the same miracle by the will of the Father. I also like the third one.
One thing is certain: The Father and the Spirit cooperated with his divine nature, so the first and third persons of the Trinity are working together in the Son of God. His entire ministry was about doing what the Father did and in a similar manner. All of his prayers and commands were done by the Father’s will.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. (John 5:19-20, NIV)
So in those two verses, the Father and Son cooperate to do the works–the miracles. And the Father anointed the Son with the Spirit. Thus, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit performed the works or miracles in the Gospels. It is the Trinity working together who inaugurated the kingdom of God and confirmed it by the signs and wonders. We too, by the Father’s will, and in the name of Jesus, through the power of the Spirit, can do the works of God.
GrowApp for Mark 6:45-52
A.. When Jesus got in the boat where his disciples were, the contrary wind stopped. How has his presence calmed the storms in your life?
53 When they crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and tied the boat up. 54 After they got out of the boat, the people instantly recognized him 55 and ran here and there in that whole region and began to carry sick people on mattresses here and there to the place where they heard that he was. 56 And wherever he went—villages or towns or hamlets—they set the ill people in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch the tassels on his garment. And whoever touched him was healed.
Now we know why Jesus wanted to go to the other side. He needed to minister to people over there. Gennesaret: You can look it up on a Bible map where it was. For my limited purpose, I note it was a fertile plain south of Capernaum.
I like the fisherman’s touch. They tied up the boat. Recall that many scholars say that Mark got his Gospel from hearing Peter preach, and Peter was a fisherman. Of course he would be concerned about tying up the boat. In Matthew’s version, he omits that tiny detail (14:34-36).
The whole scene is one of excitement and crowds gathering and anticipating where he would be next. This was social networking in its most primitive form. Jesus was always on the move. We have to fill in the blank that he was also teaching them.
The marketplaces was the centers of town where people gathered, a square, even when market days were not going on. It was a natural place for them to ask him to permit them to touch the tassels on his prayer shawl. I also like that people carried their sick friends and relatives on mattresses or mats or pallets—all possible translations of the noun. They really cared for them to go to all that trouble. I wonder if we care for our own ill friends and families. I certainly hope people do not suffer alone and die alone.
Remember what Matt. 25:34-35 says:
34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty and you me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; and I was in prison and you came to me.’ (Matt. 25:34-35)
Those two verses are talking about visiting the disciples of Jesus (not spiritualized to be talking about Israel, as some teach). We must visit the down and out.
For an interpretation of Matt. 25:31-46, please visit:
Here in Mark 6:53-56, the wise people took their sick to Jesus, who healed them.
I love this verse. They entreated or begged or pleaded with him to do one simple thing. Could they—would he permit them?—to touch the edge of his cloak or garment? He permitted it. He loved their faith. He honored it. Dear people of God, we have only job, from our limited human point of view. We must have faith in him to be healed. Reach out to him. No, it is not superstition to touch the fringe or tassels of his garment. But don’t turn it into a gimmick and sell them to people.
Here’s what Num. 15:37-41 says about the tassels on the edge of the prayer shawl.
37 The Lord said to Moses, 38 “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 40 So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. 41 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Num. 15:37-41, ESV; see Deut. 22:12)
The goal here is to remember God always. The tassels on Jesus’s garment showed that he was a man of devotion and prayer. His fellow-Jews could see his witness. But I see no reason to start a movement of law-keeping Christians to wear this shawl everywhere. Of course it harms no one physically or morally, but law keeping that is not about moral law is risky because the NT streamlines such outer appearances. Galatians warns about keeping rituals (circumcision and not eating with Gentiles) that put up walls between believers. Prayer shawls may be a needlessly pious sign that one is more super-spiritual than the other church member sitting across the aisle. Bottom line: the Hebrew Roots Movement can be excessive and exclusive and major in the minors. However, Jews who have surrendered to their Messiah, Yeshua, may feel free to wear this if they attend a Messianic congregation. Let your Bible-educated conscience be your guide.
After Pentecost, Peter walked by people, and his shadow healed them (Acts 5:15) and Paul’s clothing was a contact point for healing (Acts 19:12). Never condescend towards people’s faith and the means by which God chooses to heal them. The power is not in the cloth or the dimmed light, but in God through his Son.
“healed”: The verb is sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times in the NT), and is passive (“be saved”). Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive voice it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
As noted throughout this commentary on Mark, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
As noted, please don’t turn this “clothing miracle” into gimmicky fundraising ploy. This “method” of healing is unusual, not usual. Don’t build an entire theology and practice on it.
GrowApp for Mark 6:53-56
A.. The healthy people cared for their ill friends and relatives and brought them to Jesus. Do you care enough for the sick to bring them to Jesus and minister to them?
Summary and Conclusion
This long chapter is filled with rejection, martyrdom, and miracles. It would seem that miracles would exempt us from unhappy circumstances, leading to death, but this is not always the case in the world in which we live.
First, Jesus was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth. The townspeople said among themselves: How is this guy better than we are? Where does he get the wisdom and the miracles through his hands? How can a regular builder like him advance so much farther than we have? Pshaw! We don’t believe it. Then Jesus stated the obvious: A prophet has honor except from those closest to him. Familiarity breeds contempt. Please be sure, if a hometown boy excels and surpasses you, that you don’t sneer and act jealous or mock. Maybe God is doing something in his life. Accept and welcome him. He may bring blessings into your life.
Second, he sends out the twelve on a short-term mission. He gives them his authority to heal the sick and expel demons. He lists prohibited items, indicating don’t get rich from missions. Depend on God and let him bring in the needed funds. On long-term mission trips, also depend on God to build your orphanage and drill your wells and provide food, clothing, and shelter. Keep the main thing the main thing—healing the sick, expelling demons and teaching. Then in v. 30 they report back, presumably to his home base in Capernaum. We will all have to report back in heaven when we stand before God to be judged by him for our works and words.
Third, John the Baptizer’s final days are recounted. Some scholars see this as a miniature Passion Narrative. I like the idea. But what a sordid reason for John’s martyrdom! A girl dances and John is done for, because he called out or denounced a local petty king. Roman law allowed for a woman to divorce her husband, but not Jewish law. So Herodias uses this loophole to divorce Herod Philip, her first husband and half-brother to Herod Antipas. This passage is placed here between the commission of the twelve and their report back, probably because the long passage explains and shows the cost of discipleship. Stand for righteousness in an unrighteous society, and you may pay with your life.
Fourth, we have a nature miracle of the multiplication of the loaves of bread. It was a mighty miracle, because probably 10,000 to 15,000 people were there and needed feeding. He is the bread of heaven, and this prepares us for the Eucharist or communion. By faith and the Spirit, we “feed” on Jesus’s presence.
Fifth, Jesus walks on water. He has authority over nature in this way too. He acts as he sees the Father doing, and the Father willed that he would do this miracle. Reports have surfaced around the globe that Christian missionaries have walked on water when the genuine need required it, but not to show off. I believe them.
Sixth and finally, Mark offers a summary of Jesus’s miracles and healings. This stands in contrast to the condescending unbelief of the Nazarenes, his hometown people. The problem was not with them but with their attitude of unbelief. Here in Gennesaret they were so expectant that they did not need individual attention. They simply reached out to him in the marketplace and received their healing. To me, my seeing healing ministries up close tells me that this kind of healing is amazing. The usual way inside a church is to call for the elders of the church to pray (Jas. 5:14-15). Out in the open, in a stopover during traveling ministry campaign, elders may not be available. So their faith to touch his garment is very convenient. Amazing. The Lord probably does not do healings this way today because the evangelist would become a trophy hunter, looking for more and more people, just to boast and raise more money. Character matters, and by my observation, most people ain’t got it, for them to handle this much power. In contrast, Jesus was not focused on himself but on the kingdom. He was not a trophy hunter but sought God’s kingdom first (Matt. 6:33).
As a life-long learner, I refer to a community of Bible teachers. They are excellent and are much farther down the road than I am, but they are too technical for the laity. I hope I simplified things. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
Decker, Rodney J. Mark 1-8: A Handbook on the Greek Text (Baylor UP, 2014).
France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Eerdmans, 2002).
Garland, David E. Mark: The NIV Application Commentary (Zondervan, 1996).
Lane, William L. Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes (Eerdmans, 1974).
Strauss, Mark L. Mark: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Zondervan, 2014).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 1993).
Wessel, Walter W. and Mark L. Strauss. Mark: The Bible’s Expositor’s Commentary, Vol. 9, Rev. ed. (Zondervan 2010).