Mark 8

What good is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul?  This and other great sayings are in today’s reading.

Jesus Feeds Four Thousand / 8:1-10

Differences in detail distinguish this miracle from the feeding of the five thousand described in chapter 6. At that time, those fed were mostly Jews. This time, Jesus ministered to a mixed crowd of Jews and Gentiles in the predominantly Gentile region of the Ten Towns. Jesus also began with different quantities of bread and fish, and he did not require his disciples to admit their own inability to solve the problem.

Even in Israel, Jesus took the gospel to a mixed audience. Jesus’ actions and message had a significant impact on large numbers of Gentiles right from the start. Mark had his readers in mind when he recorded these facts. Examples of Jesus’ compassionate ministry to non-Jews would be very reassuring to Mark’s primarily Roman audience.

8:1-3 Jesus was ministering in the region of the Ten Towns (7:31), where he had healed a deaf and mute man, causing his popularity to spread throughout the area. It comes as no surprise, then, that another great crowd had gathered. In this episode, the crowd had been following Jesus for three days, listening to his teaching and observing his miracles. Whatever supplies they had brought along were depleted, so most of them had nothing left to eat. Jesus was concerned about sending them away hungry. Although the disciples had seen Jesus feed five thousand people, they had no idea what Jesus would do in this situation.

8:4-5 As before, the crowd was in the wilderness (6:35), and the disciples asked the obvious question about how they were going to find enough food in such a place. Jesus had already found the resources in a previous remote place for an even larger crowd, and in this instance, when the disciples checked with the crowd, seven loaves were found. Yet the disciples were completely perplexed. Like the disciples, we often forget God’s provision for us in the past.

8:6-9 Jesus took the seven loaves and gave thanks to God for the provision he was about to give. He broke apart the loaves and the disciples passed them out as before (6:41). The verbs could read, “Jesus kept on giving bread to the disciples and they kept on distributing it” to the crowd. A few small fish were found and after blessing them, Jesus ordered that these too should be distributed. As had happened before, each person in the crowd ate and was filled. The seven loaves and few fish multiplied so that even the scraps were more than they had begun with. As before, the Greek word used here for people is andres, meaning “male individuals.” Therefore, there were four thousand men; add to this number the women and children.

8:10 Once Jesus knew the people had eaten their fill and would not faint from hunger on their journey home (8:3), he sent them on their way. Jesus and the disciples once again got into a boat and sailed to the region of Dalmanutha. While there is no site identified as “Dalmanutha,” it may have been another name for Magdala or Magadan (Matthew 15:39), a town located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. This was Mary Magdalene’s hometown (Luke 8:2-3).

Leaders Demand a Miraculous Sign / 8:11-13

Jesus had been able to escape the probing Pharisees for a while as he visited in Gentile areas (7:24–8:10). His last dealing with them had involved the issues of the law and ceremonial defilement, and Jesus had called the Pharisees hypocrites (7:6). But the Pharisees weren’t going to give up in their relentless attempts to discredit Jesus before the crowds. So they constantly demanded “proof”—even more than they had already seen.

We can anticipate similar tactics in our own efforts to communicate the gospel. We may be asked to “prove” the existence of God. Such approaches are rarely honest; they are attempts to derail our message. These demands for proof, like the ones Jesus heard, are usually smoke screens covering up a refusal to believe. Though he was constantly under attack, Jesus always received those who were genuine seekers.

8:11 Upon Jesus’ return to Jewish territory, the Pharisees came to argue with him. They demanded a miraculous sign from heaven—something beyond a mere miracle. A sign was used by God and his prophets to accomplish two purposes: (1) A sign showed trustworthiness or reliability—if a prophet said something would happen and it came to pass, it demonstrated that he was telling the truth from God. (2) A sign showed power—if a message was accompanied by a sign, it authenticated the power and authority of the prophet.

The Pharisees were asking for a sign to back up Jesus’ claims and miracles. Perhaps they regarded his other miracles merely as random occurrences. Using the principle from Deuteronomy 13:1-3 and 18:18-22, the Pharisees were trying to draw Jesus into a trap. If he could not produce a sign, they could accuse him of being a false prophet. They had already seen and heard about many miracles, but that was not enough for them.

8:12-13 Jesus’ sigh was a groan from the depths of his spirit. The obstinate rejection by those who should have been most able and eager to recognize him deeply distressed Jesus. His rhetorical question reveals his amazement that this generation (represented by these stubborn religious leaders) would ask for a sign—they had already seen many miracles and heard incredible, life-changing teaching. But they chose to reject Jesus. He knew that he could have done any type of spectacular cosmic miracle and they would not believe in him for they had already chosen not to believe in him.

Jesus did not come to earth to convince people to come to him by performing wonders; he came inviting people to come to him in faith, and as a response to their faith, he performed great miracles. But for these self-righteous religious leaders there was little hope. After this encounter, Jesus left abruptly, got into the boat, and departed back toward the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This event marked the end of his public ministry in the region of Galilee.

Jesus Warns against Wrong Teaching / 8:14-21

Up to this point, Mark has conveyed the rejection of Jesus by his family and the religious leaders. At the same time, Mark has shown the inability of Jesus’ closest followers to grasp his identity. With the two feeding miracles still fresh in their minds, the disciples failed to reach a conclusion about Jesus. The question Jesus asked the original disciples applies to us: “Don’t you understand even yet?”

8:14-15 Jesus had left his confrontation with the Pharisees abruptly, and the disciples went along with him. Apparently, at some point out on the sea, they realized that they had forgotten to bring any food. As the disciples were worrying about bread, Jesus used the opportunity to teach of the danger of the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod. Yeast is a key ingredient in bread, for it causes the dough to rise. “Yeast” in this passage symbolizes evil. Just as only a small amount of yeast is needed to make a batch of bread rise, so the evil teachings and hypocrisy of the religious and political leaders could permeate and contaminate the entire society. Jesus used yeast as an example of how a small amount of evil can affect a large group of people. The wrong teachings of the Pharisees were leading many people astray. Jesus warned his disciples to constantly beware of the contaminating evil of the religious leaders (see also 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 5:9).

8:16 Jesus issued a warning, and the disciples quietly talked among themselves. They didn’t understand the warning and interpreted Jesus’ words in an odd manner. The phrase might also be translated, “But we have no bread at all.” In other words, “How can we be in danger of their yeast if we don’t even have any bread?” Their literal understanding missed Jesus’ point entirely.

8:17-18 Jesus was saddened that the Jewish religious leaders, the people who should have rejoiced at Jesus’ arrival, had completely rejected him. It angered him that these religious leaders had the power to spread their unbelief throughout the nation. Jesus’ disciples had not escaped the contamination, for even they consistently failed to realize who Jesus was. Jesus’ rebuke in these verses is a series of questions focusing on the disciples’ hard-heartedness, blindness and deafness to the truth, and lack of memory regarding all that they had seen and experienced with Jesus. Each question was a stinging rebuke to the disciples.

8:19-20 Jesus quizzed the disciples further over their lack of perception. Did they even remember the feeding of the five thousand? When he had broken only five loaves and fed more than five thousand, how many baskets full of leftovers did they collect? They remembered that there were twelve baskets full. Then Jesus asked them what had just occurred when he had broken seven loaves and fed more than four thousand. The disciples knew that there were seven large baskets full. Both times they had collected more leftovers than food that they had at the beginning.

8:21 The disciples correctly answered Jesus’ questions (8:19-20). In doing so, the conclusion should have been obvious. His question, “Don’t you understand even yet?” was more of an appeal. The disciples needed to understand, and after all they had seen and heard, they should have reached the obvious conclusion that Jesus was their Messiah, the Son of God.

Jesus Restores Sight to a Blind Man / 8:22-26

The miraculous healing of the blind man from Bethsaida showed how Jesus responded with compassion to an obvious need, and gave an “acted-out parable” to demonstrate that insight seldom comes instantly. The disciples’ struggle to grasp Jesus’ identity parallels the blind man’s experience of receiving his sight.

The healing of this blind man and the healing of the deaf-mute (7:31-37) are recorded only in Mark’s Gospel. In both miracles, Jesus took the man away from the crowd before performing the miracle, used saliva, touched him, and did not publicize the event. This healing of the blind man is unique because it is the only record of Jesus healing in stages.

8:22 Jesus and the disciples went back across the sea to Bethsaida. The miracle recorded in this section was recorded only by Mark and is a fitting story following the account of the disciples’ persistent spiritual blindness in 8:14-21. Upon Jesus’ arrival, some people brought a blind man and they begged Jesus to touch him.

8:23 Jesus led this blind man out of the village. Some have placed a great deal of symbolic significance on Jesus’ special handling of this miracle, but the Bible text simply does not tell us for sure. It is uncertain why Jesus put saliva on the man’s eyes. We do know that spit was commonly recognized in these times as having healing properties. The Bible text also doesn’t explain why Jesus did the healing in two stages. It may have been because of the man’s lack of faith or to show that spiritual sight may be incomplete but can be restored gradually and fully by faith. We do know that Jesus was not faltering in his power or daunted by the man’s blindness. He healed the man fully.

8:24 In response to Jesus’ touch and question, the man replied that he saw people (the disciples and the people who brought him), but they were blurry, like trees. If the man had been blind from birth, he had never seen trees, but he knew the shapes from having touched them. The incomplete healing was not an indication of Jesus’ inability to heal thoroughly the first time. Instead, it was a vivid teaching for the disciples. Sight was there, but it was not complete. The disciples too had spiritual sight, but it was far from complete. Jesus had rebuked the disciples for their lack of sight, but there was hope for them, just as there would be complete healing for this man.

8:25-26 After Jesus touched the man a second time, the man’s sight was completely restored. Jesus told the blind man to return home, but not to go into village or tell anyone about what had happened. Obviously, people were going to find out, but Jesus did not want an immediate outpouring of sick people coming to him for healing. This gave Jesus time to move away from the area before the miracle was discovered. Jesus always had compassion on people in need, but he never lost sight of the fact that his mission was first and foremost the healing of people’s souls.

Peter Says Jesus Is the Messiah / 8:27-30

The previous eight chapters recorded enough evidence to make Peter’s confession, described here, reasonable. Further evidence in the Gospel reveals that Peter was saying more than he knew for sure. Matthew’s parallel account of this incident includes Jesus’ statement that Peter had made this declaration with the Holy Spirit’s help. The final eight chapters of Mark’s Gospel point to Jesus’ death. From this point on, the journey leads to Jerusalem, and to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The full impact of Peter’s declaration would not be understood until Jesus’ resurrection. With that event, the central spotlight of history came to rest on the person of Christ.

8:27 Caesarea Philippi was located about twenty-five miles north of Bethsaida. The city lay in the territory ruled by Philip (Herod Antipas’s brother, mentioned in 6:17). The influence of Greek and Roman culture was everywhere. The city was primarily non-Jewish, known for its worship of Greek gods and its temples devoted to the ancient god Pan. When Philip became ruler, he rebuilt and renamed the city after Caesar Tiberius and himself. As Jesus and the disciples walked toward Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples what they had heard from the people regarding his identity.

8:28 The disciples answered with the common view that Jesus was one of the great prophets come back to life. This belief may have stemmed from Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said he would raise up a prophet from among the people. (For the story of John the Baptist, see 1:1-11 and 6:14-29. For the story of Elijah, see 1 Kings 17–21 and 2 Kings 1–2.) All of these responses were incorrect, revealing that Jesus’ true identity was still unrecognized by the people. They didn’t see that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

8:29 Mark’s Gospel thus far has built up to this very question: “Who do you say I am?” Jesus had just recently asked the disciples, “Don’t you understand even yet?” (8:21). Here they have their “final exam,” their opportunity to show their understanding of Jesus, apart from what the crowds and religious leaders thought. Just as the disciples had to come to a personal understanding, acknowledgment, and acceptance of Jesus, so each person must do the same.

Peter, often the one to speak up, declared what he had come to understand, “You are the Messiah.” In his declaration, Peter revealed his belief in Jesus as the promised King and Deliverer. The problem now was to help these disciples understand the kind of king Jesus would be. Peter, and indeed all Israel, expected the Messiah to be a conqueror-liberator who would free the nation from Rome. Jesus would be a totally different kind of conqueror-liberator who would conquer sin and free people from its grasp.

From this point on, Jesus spoke plainly and directly to his disciples about his death and resurrection. He began to prepare them for what was going to happen to him by telling them three times that he would soon suffer and die and then be raised back to life (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34).

8:30 Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah because at this point they didn’t fully understand the significance of Peter’s confession—nor would anyone else. Everyone still expected the Messiah to come as a conquering king. But even though Jesus was the Messiah, he still had to suffer, be rejected by the leaders, be killed, and rise from the dead. When the disciples saw all this happen to Jesus, they would understand what the Messiah had come to do. Only then would they be equipped to share the gospel around the world.

Jesus Predicts His Death the First Time / 8:31–9:1

Matthew, Mark, and Luke connect Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah with the Lord’s teaching about his crucifixion. This comes as no surprise. After all, messianic expectations were in the air. A strong consensus had developed about the political role the Messiah would play once he made himself known. The idea that the Messiah would “save people from their sins” had gotten lost among the list of social and political evils that the Christ would correct. Ultimately, the people wanted a Messiah who would crush the Roman occupation and raise Israel to prominence among the nations. Instead, Jesus explained that the Son of Man must die. Peter’s response to Jesus clearly indicates how difficult it was for people to accept the idea of a suffering, dying Savior.

8:31 This was the turning point in Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. From then on he began teaching clearly and specifically what they could expect, so that they would not be surprised when it happened. Contrary to what they thought, he would not yet be the conquering Messiah because he first had to suffer, be rejected, be killed, and rise again. But one day he would return in great glory to set up his eternal Kingdom.

Son of Man was Jesus’ preferred designation for himself (see also 2:10, 28), and the name most often used other than “Jesus” in the New Testament. The title “Son of Man” emphasized Jesus as the vindicated, authoritative, and powerful agent of God.

Jesus’ teaching that the Son of Man must suffer corresponds to Daniel’s prophecies that God was in complete control of the plan for redemption (see Daniel 7:13-14; 9:26-27). The suffering also recalls Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. The fact of his being rejected looks back to the rejected “stone” in Psalm 118:22. Jesus knew exactly from what quarter the rejection would come: the leaders, leading priests, and teachers of religious law. These three groups made up the Council, the Jewish supreme court that ultimately sentenced Jesus to be killed (14:53, 64). Despite all this talk of impending death, a light shone through Jesus’ words, for he also mentioned that he would be raised from the dead.

8:32 This was too much for Peter. Jesus had spoken openly, but his news was most unwelcome. If Jesus was going to die, what did this mean for the disciples? If he was truly the Messiah, then what was all this talk about being killed? So Peter took Jesus aside and told him he shouldn’t say things like that.

8:33 Peter often spoke for all the disciples. In singling Peter out for rebuke, Jesus may have been addressing all of them indirectly. Peter had just recognized Jesus as Messiah; here, however, he forsook God’s perspective and evaluated the situation from a human one. Peter was speaking Satan’s words, thus Jesus rebuked Peter with the words, “Get away from me, Satan!” Unknowingly, the disciples were trying to prevent Jesus from going to the cross and thus fulfilling his mission on earth. The disciples were motivated by love and admiration for Jesus; nevertheless, their job was not to guide and protect Jesus, but to follow him. Only after Jesus’ death and resurrection would they fully understand why he had to die.

8:34 These words applied to the disciples and to all who want to follow Jesus. This statement offered special comfort to the Christians in Rome to whom Mark was writing, for they often faced persecution for their faith. Jesus invites every person to follow, but one who desires to follow him must have two attitudes: (1) a willingness to put aside selfish ambition, and (2) a willingness to take up his or her cross.

To put aside selfish ambition means to surrender immediate material gratification in order to discover and secure one’s true self and God’s interests. It is a willingness to let go of selfish desires and earthly security. This attitude turns self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

To shoulder one’s cross was a vivid illustration of the humility and submission Jesus asked of his followers. When Jesus used this picture of his followers taking up their crosses to follow him, the disciples, the people, and the Romans (Mark’s original audience) knew what he meant. Death on a cross was a form of execution used by Rome for dangerous criminals. A prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution, signifying submission to Rome’s power. Following Jesus, therefore, meant identifying with Jesus and his followers, facing social and political oppression and ostracism, and no turning back. For some, taking up the cross might indeed mean death. But Jesus’ words meant that his followers had to be prepared to obey God’s word and follow his will no matter what the consequences for the sake of the gospel (8:35). Soon after this, Jesus would take up his own cross.

The initial decision to follow Christ and be his disciple is a once-for-all act. From then on the believer is no longer his or her own; that person belongs to Christ. To follow Christ is also a moment-by-moment decision, requiring denial of self and taking up one’s cross. Following Jesus doesn’t mean walking behind him, but taking the same road of sacrifice and service that he took. The blessing for us is that we can fellowship with him along the way.

8:35-36 The Christian life is a paradox: to attempt to keep your life means only to lose it. A person who keeps his or her life in order to satisfy desires and goals apart from God ultimately loses life. Not only does that person lose the eternal life, he or she loses the fullness of life promised to those who believe. By contrast, those who willingly give up their lives for the sake of Christ and of the gospel actually find true life. To give up one’s life for Christ’s sake refers to a person refusing to renounce Christ, even if the punishment were death. To be willing to put personal desires and life itself into God’s hands means to understand that nothing that we can gain on our own in our earthly lives can compare to what we gain with Christ. Jesus wants us to choose to follow him rather than to lead a life of sin and self-satisfaction. He wants us to stop trying to control our own destiny and to let him direct us. This makes good sense because, as the Creator, Christ knows better than we do what real life is about.

8:36-37 To reinforce his words in 8:35, Jesus asked his listeners a rhetorical question. What good would it be for a person to gain the whole world (that is, to have power or financial control over the entire world system of which Satan is the head) but to lose his or her soul (that is, to lose eternal life with God)? Every person will die, even those most powerful or most wealthy. If they have not taken care to “save” their lives for eternity with God, then they have gained nothing and have lost everything. A world of pleasure centered on possessions, position, or power is ultimately worthless. Whatever a person has on earth is only temporary; it cannot be exchanged for his or her soul.

8:38 Jesus constantly turned the world’s perspective upside down with talk of first and last, keeping and giving up. Here he offered his listeners a choice. If they chose to be ashamed of Jesus, then Jesus would be ashamed of them at his Second Coming (they would be rejected from eternal life with him). By extension, those who were not ashamed of Jesus and his words, in spite of the adulterous and sinful culture surrounding them, would be accepted by Christ when he returns in glory. Many are fearless in business, battle, or sports but cower at potential ridicule. Speak up for your faith, for your convictions, and for Christ.

Jesus, the Son of Man, will judge when he comes with the holy angels. Jesus Christ has been given the authority to judge all the earth (Romans 14:9-11; Philippians 2:9-11). Although his judgment is already working in our lives, there is a future final judgment when Christ returns (see Matthew 25:31-46) to review and evaluate everyone’s life. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11 on how we are to live until Jesus returns and 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 on how God will judge those who trouble us.) This judgment will not be confined to unbelievers; Christians too will be judged. Their eternal destiny is secure, but Jesus will review how they handled gifts, opportunities, and responsibilities in order to determine their rewards in the Kingdom. At the time of judgment, God will deliver the righteous and condemn the wicked. Rejecting Christ may help us escape shame for the time being, but it will guarantee an eternity of shame later.

 We’ll look at chapter 9 tomorrow.  I’m praying that you will GROW more like Christ,


For more about The Ridge Fellowship go to

Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary
Life Application Bible Notes
New American Commentary
Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible – Commentary
Preaching the Word Commentary


About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
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