BRIEF INTRO: This account from Mark is similar to another that he wrote about in Chapter 6 (vv.34-44). Similar but very different incidents in the life of Jesus and the disciples! The storyline is much the same; the outcome too. So, what does this account offer to help us see Jesus more clearly? What can we glean from this that will challenge us in our walk of faith? Let’s get into it!
“In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat, Jesus summoned His disciples and *said to them, 2 “I feel compassion for the [a]people because they have remained with Me for three days already and have nothing to eat. 3 And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way; and some of them have come from a great distance.”
FOCUS ONE: The compassion of Jesus
In those days, Jesus was becoming more popular. The “multitudes” followed Him wherever He went. His preaching and teaching amazed them. His miracles astonished them. Who wouldn’t want to be around this guy? The problem that arises again (cr. 6:34-44) is that the people do not want to leave Jesus. This time they “remained” with Him for three days and had run out of food.
Mark opens our eyes again to the compassion of Jesus. He was concerned for their welfare. He knew they were with Him for three days listening to His teaching. He knew they had nothing to eat and wanted to care for them! The fact that they stayed with Him so long and would pass out from hunger while traveling to their homes for food affected Him.
Jesus called the disciples to His side and explained to them the situation. Sadly, we will observe in the following focus point that they still are slow to comprehend who Jesus is and what He is capable of.
4 And His disciples replied to Him, “Where will anyone be able to find enough [a]bread here in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” 5 And He was asking them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven.”
FOCUS TWO: The disciple’s hardness of heart
If we were not astonished at Mark’s statement about the disciples after He walked on water, we ought to be now. Mark told us that “they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (6:52). It seems hard to believe that people can experience Christ firsthand and miss the undiluted testimony to His divinity that He expressed. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we are not beyond the scope of irrationality we witness here. How long did Jesus pursue you? How many amazing things did He do in your life and those around you to get you to understand who He was? How long did it take you to get it?
Did you observe that I placed the word “anyone” in the scripture above in bold print? Why would I do that? Because that word indeed says it all, at least in regards to where they are at in their understanding. The man (God/man) is standing beside you; He already did this exact thing before, WITH FIVE THOUSAND PEOPLE, and you participated in it, and now He wants to do it again, and you look right past Him! Anyone?
Mark wants His readers to understand that Jesus is compassionate. He also wants to point out the irrationality of unbelief. That is what we are witnessing with the disciples, what a stark contrast is seen here between the disciples and the multitudes. They walked with Jesus since He called them unto Himself. They experienced firsthand His authoritative teaching and astonishing miracles. They even did many miracles with the power and authority He gave them (6:7-13). And yet they fail to recognize His ability to feed these people!
The multitudes, on the other hand, are not panicked. They heard about what He was doing in different places and had enough confidence that He could do it again.
6 And He *directed the [a]people to recline on the ground; and taking the seven loaves, He gave thanks and broke them, and started giving them to His disciples to serve, and they served them to the [b]people. 7 They also had a few small fish; and after He had blessed them, He told the disciples to serve these as well. 8 And they ate and were satisfied; and they picked up seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces. 9 About four thousand [c]men were there; and He dismissed them.
FOCUS THREE: Christ’s deity displayed
Upon the disciple’s inability to recognize who could feed these people, Jesus asks them, “how many loaves do you have.” Jesus, just like we saw in feeding the five thousand, blesses the fish and loaves and provides four thousand plus people! Take notice that all the people “ate and were satisfied.” So, in this situation, they didn’t have to walk through the crowds searching for food.
You might think that this miracle is insignificant and wonder why Mark would even bother writing about it since the feeding of the five thousand is much grander in scale than this feeding of only four thousand. That would be a wrong conclusion. First, the repeat of such a miracle reinforces the power and authority Jesus has among men. Second, it forces people to answer the question: Who do you say I am?”
One other interesting fact must be observed. The Greek word for basket used in this account is not a tiny basket that could easily be carried about. This word is referencing a basket that could fit a man into it! The basket in the account of the five thousand is smaller. So, even though they only picked up seven baskets full (unlike the 12 baskets in Mark 6), they possibly picked up as much OR more than the last time!
Below is a comparison of the two events mentioned throughout this post: If you take the time to study the comparison, you will notice differences.
The feeding of the 5000
Disciples want to send the crowd away to find food
Jesus responds you give them something to eat
They search out and find five loaves and two fish
Jesus commands them to recline in groups on the green grass (hundreds, fifties)
He looked toward heaven and blessed the food
Broke the loaves and kept giving them to the disciples
All ate and were satisfied
12 baskets full of all remained
He commands disciples to leave in the boat and then dismisses the crowd
The feeding of the 4000
A great multitude was with Jesus for 3 days
He feels compassion for them because they have no food
Jesus does not want to send them away hungry, worried about fainting from hunger along the way
Disciple question as to where “anyone” would be able to find enough food to satisfy so many people
Jesus asks how many loaves they have (they instantly know this) 7 and a few small fish
Jesus direct the multitudes to sit down on the ground
He took the loaves and gave thanks and broke them and gave them to His disciples to serve
The bread is served first, fish later (v.7)
They ate and were satisfied
Seven baskets full were left over of the broken pieces
They were fed and sent away
And then disciples with Jesus get into the boat and leave
My point? Simply put, these are two very different settings, with different particulars that signify to us that these are eyewitness accounts and NOT some allegory we need to decipher. The redundancy is intentional on Mark’s part and allows the readers to gain greater insight into who Jesus is!