The Feeding of the Four Thousand

8:1 In those days there was another large crowd with nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples and said to them, 8:2 “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days, and they have nothing to eat. 8:3 If I send them home hungry, they will faint on the way, and some of them have come from a great distance.”
Mk 8:1–9 = Mt 15:32–39

Mark relates two very similar feeding miracles (Mk 6:30-34; 8:1-10; cf. Mt 14:13-21; 15:32-39). Scholars frequently assume that Mark (and Matthew following him) has told the same story twice. The feeding of the 4,000 is said to be a variant of the feeding of the 5,000, which is the version found in Luke and John.

The following reasons are adduced for thinking that Mark has given two accounts of the same story:- (a) the disciples’ question, Mk 8:4, seems odd if a feeding miracle had already taken place, not long before; (b) the two stories have many points of similarity; (c) immediately after both incidents Jesus boards a boat and sails across Lake Genneresaret; (d) after both accounts the disciples express fear of confusion because they did not understand the significance of the ‘loaves’, Mk 6:45-52 8:14-21.

However, it could equally be argued that Mark has deliberately brought out the similarities between two different incidents, in order to emphasise the teaching about the person of Christ and the disciples’ difficulties of faith.

This miracle shows the great generosity of Jesus, and his power over nature.

“I have compassion for these people” – This should not be ignored as a motive for Jesus’ miracles. ‘To be sure, Christians should be provoked by the idolatry of a Hindu city, as Paul was by the idols in Athens, and moved to evangelism. But, like Jesus when he saw the hungry crowds, we should also be moved with compassion to feed them’. (cf. Acts 17:16-17) (Stott, New Issues Facing Christians Today)

8:4 His disciples answered him, “Where can someone get enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” 8:5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied, “Seven.”
8:6 Then he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. After he took the seven loaves and gave thanks, he broke them and began giving them to the disciples to serve. So they served the crowd. 8:7 They also had a few small fish. After giving thanks for these, he told them to serve these as well.
8:8 Everyone ate and was satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 8:9 There were about four thousand who ate. Then he dismissed them.
8:10 Immediately he got into a boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
Mk 8:11–21 = Mt 16:1–12

The Demand for a Sign

8:11 Then the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven to test him. 8:12 Sighing deeply in his spirit he said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to this generation.” 8:13 Then he left them, got back into the boat, and went to the other side.

They asked him for a sign from heaven – How absurd! Jesus has just performed a sign by feeding the multitude.  They will not believe the evidence that is right front of their noses; and Jesus will not perform miracles to order.

He left them – ‘His withdrawal is emotional and judicial as well as geographical.’ (Carson, on Matthew)

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Herod

8:14 Now they had forgotten to take bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. 8:15 And Jesus ordered them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod!” 8:16 So they began to discuss with one another about having no bread. 8:17 When he learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? 8:18 Though you have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you hear? Don’t you remember? 8:19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They replied, “Twelve.” 8:20 “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick up?” They replied, “Seven.” 8:21 Then he said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

“Yeast” – because of its fermenting qualities, yeast represented decay and corruption, and its use was prohibited in certain religious rituals. Its influence is pervasive, and so in most NT refs it is a metaphor for malignant teaching, (here, Lk 12:1; Mt 22:23,29; Mk 3:6) or sin itself. 1 Cor 5:6ff; Gal 5:9 A good meaning is probably intended in Mt 13:13; Lk 13:21; cf Lk 7:13.

“Pharisees…Herod” – The teaching of the Pharisees was characterised by hypocrisy, Lk 12:1 and traditionalism; and of Herod and his followers, worldliness, Mk 6:17; Mt 22:16.  Mt 16:1 omits mention of Herod, but includes the Sadducees, whose teaching was of scepticism and rationalism, Mk 12:18; Acts 23:8. Ritualist, secularist, rationalist – they are all alive today!

A Two-stage Healing

8:22 Then they came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to Jesus and asked him to touch him. 8:23 He took the blind man by the hand and brought him outside of the village. Then he spit on his eyes, placed his hands on his eyes and asked, “Do you see anything?” 8:24 Regaining his sight he said, “I see people, but they look like trees walking.”

22-26 The account of the cure of the blind man is found only in this Gospel. It is an fulfilment of Christ’s word, Lk 4:18, that he would preach recovery of sight to the blind. He not only preached this word, but fulfilled it in his own actions.

‘The healing of the blind man of Bethsaida which is found only in Mark (Mk 8:22-26) is a two-part healing (the only one of its type in the NT) that typifies the gradual growth in spiritual sight of the disciples. It is preceded by the second story of Jesus miraculously feeding thousands, after which the disciples still do not understand. (Jesus quotes Isa 6:9-10; (or Jer 5:21) cf. Mk 4:12) It is immediately followed by (and symbolically tied to) Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, (Mk 8:27-30) a confession at best incomplete because it refuses to accept the idea of suffering.’ (Mk 8:31-38) (DJG)

The key points in this miracles are:-

1. The man is brought to Jesus by his friends. There are indications that he had little faith himself.
2. The healing took place outside the village of Bethsaida, and the man was instructed not to return to the village.
3. The miracles did not take place immediately, but in two stages.

Some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him – It is the faith of the man’s friends, rather than his own faith, which is apparent here. ‘If those that are spiritually blind, do not pray for themselves, yet let their friends and relations pray for them, that Christ would be pleased to touch them.’ (MHC)

The vivid detail in this verse testifies to the presence of an eye-witness behind this Gospel.

He…led him outside the village – Cf. v26. Presumably, Jesus did this in order to get away from distraction; cf. Mk 7:33. But he did so also to get away from the unbelieving crowds. Matthew Henry’s comment is apt: ‘Had he herein only designed privacy, he might have led him into a house, into an inner chamber, and have cured him there; but he intended hereby to upbraid Bethsaida with the mighty works that had in vain been done in her, (Mt 11:21) and was telling her, in effect, she was unworthy to have any more done within her walls.’

When he had spit on the man’s eyes – Spittle was sometimes associated with healing; however, it was also often considered disgusting and may have tested the blind man’s desire to be healed.

‘He could have cured him, as he did others, with a word speaking, but thus he was pleased to assist his faith which was very weak, and to help him against his unbelief.’ (MHC) ‘To spit on the man’s eyes and to lay hands on him are things that a blind man can feel. There is nothing magical about spittle, even if it is the spittle of Jesus; it is only an outward aid to faith and understanding.’ (NBC)

“I see people; they look like trees walking around” – The fact that the man recognized men and trees suggests that he had not been born blind but had been blinded by accident or disease.

8:25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s eyes again. And he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 8:26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

Once more

A two-stage healing

‘This is the only two-stage healing in the Gospels, and miracle stories in antiquity usually stress the suddenness of the miracle; healing by degrees was quite rare. This narrative is therefore significant and probably represents an acted parable: unlike Jesus’ opponents, the disciples have begun to see but remain blind (Mk 8:16-18) until he touches them again at his resurrection (9:9).’ (NT Background Commentary)

‘In the first miracle the blind man was led by Jesus out of the village, saliva was applied to his eyes and he was enabled to ‘see’. However, presumably because he had never remembered seeing, his mind could not interpret the images he saw. (Mk 8:24) ‘Men’ looked like ‘trees’; this is a well-recognized phenomenon in those who have never seen and who have sight made possible by corneal grafting or cataract surgery… Jesus therefore performed a further miracle. Again a simple sign, a touch, was given and then he ‘saw everything clearly’. (Mk 8:25) If the man had once learnt to ‘see’ and then become blind the second miracle would not have been necessary. (cf. Mt 9:27-31; 12:22; 20:29-34; 21:14) The sign applied for each miracle, an aid to faith, may have been the more necessary for him if he was a Gentile.’ (NBD)

‘Perhaps the one operation perfectly restored the eyes, while the other imparted immediately the faculty of using them. It is the only recorded example of a progressive cure, and it certainly illustrates similar methods in the spiritual kingdom. Of the four recorded cases of sight restored, all the patients save one either came or were brought to the Physician. In the case of the man born blind, the Physician came to the patient. So some seek and find Christ; of others he is found who seek him not.’ (JFB)

This miracle was gradual. This contrasts with almost all of his other miracles, which were instantaneous. But why?- ‘Now Christ took this way, (1.) Because he would not tie himself to a method, but would show with what liberty he acted in all he did. He did not cure by rote, as I may say, and in a road, but varied as he thought fit. Providence gains the same end in different ways, that men may attend its motions with an implicit faith. (2.) Because it should be to the patient according to his faith; and perhaps this man’s faith was at first very weak, but afterward gathered strength, and accordingly his cure was. Not that Christ always went by this rule, but thus he would sometimes put a rebuke upon those who came to him, doubting. (3.) Thus Christ would show how, and in what method, those are healed by his grace, who by nature are spiritually blind; at first, their knowledge is confused, they see men as trees walking; but, like the light of the morning, it shines more and more to the perfect day, and then they see all things clearly, Prov 4:18. Let us enquire then, if we see aught of those things which faith is the substance and evidence of; and if through grace we see any thing of them, we may hope that we shall see yet more and more, for Jesus Christ will perfect for ever those that are sanctified.’ (MHC)

‘Why did this healing take two stages? Was it perhaps because of the man’s imperfect faith? Mark does not say. It is enough that Jesus did not leave the man half-healed but persisted until he saw everything clearly. Is this a picture of the way that even Peter would only half-see the truth about Jesus at first?’ (NBC)

Noting the parallels with Mk 7:31-37, Gerber argues that the blind man identified Jesus as a magician, and anticipates healing by magical means.  In the first stage of the healing (using spit), Jesus demonstrates the insufficiency of magical approaches, since the healing is incomplete.  By contrast, the healing is completed without the use of any means apart from touch.  This then connects with the spiritual blindness highlighted in verses 27-33.

“Don’t go into the village” – The man’s home was not in Bethsaida; he was sent back to his own home. Here is another reference to the so-called ‘Messianic Secret’. These instructions to healed persons not to shout about what has happened to them seem partly to be connected with the need for Jesus to be seen as a Saviour, and not just as a miracle-worker; and partly with the need for his ministry to unfold in God’s time, and not to reach a premature crisis. On this occasion, we not in addition that the village was Bethsaida, and there was perhaps an additional reason why Jesus would not let this man witness there. This place had seen many of his miracles already, but had resolutely refused to believe in Christ. ‘Slighting Christ’s favours is forfeiting them; and Christ will make those know the worth of their privileges by the want of them, that would not know them otherwise. Bethsaida, in the day of her visitation, would not know the things that belonged to her peace, and now they are hid from her eyes. They will not see, and therefore shall not see.’ (MHC)

Peter’s Confession

8:27 Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 8:28 They said, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.”
Mk 8:27–29 = Mt 16:13–16; Lk 9:18–20

There are close parallels between Mk 8:22-26 and Mk 8:27-30, especially in the movement a lesser to a greater degree of sight, and in the injunction to silence.

‘It would be great if more people in our society were asking, “Who is Jesus?”, but they are not.  People are asking questions.  Good questions – just different ones.

‘When George Harrison died in 2001, I remember a clip being played over and over again of an interview he gave in 1992, in which he said: “The purpose of life is to find out who am I, why am I here, and where am I going? That’s what we all need answering.”‘

Nevertheless, the question of who Jesus is remains critically important, and the key to our own self-discovery.

Greg Downes, Christianity magazine, April 2013, p61

‘Mark has placed at the centre of his narrative the recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. The pivotal importance of this moment is indicated by the fact that already in the first line of the Gospel the evangelist designates Jesus as the Messiah. Yet between Mk 1:1 and Mk 8:29 there is no recognition of this fact in spite of a remarkable sequence of events which demanded a decision concerning Jesus’ identity’ (Lane). To be sure, questions had been raised about the source of his authority and wisdom, but his true identity remained unrecognised, Mk 1:27; 2:7; 6:2. Because he associated with sinners and seemed to disregard religious conventions he was thought to have demonic power, Mk 2:15-20; 3:22-30; 7:1-5. The disciples struggled to categorise him, Mk 4:41; 6:51-52, and could not penetrate the veiledness of his self-revelation, Mk 8:17-21. ‘By weaving these several strands of the tradition together in the first half of the Gospel, Mark creates a climate of tension which can be resolved only the recognition of Jesus’ dignity.’ (Lane)

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi – This Caesarea was in Herod Philip’s tetrarchy, about 25 mi (40 km) N of the Sea of Galilee.  This town was situated at the foot of Mount Hermon. This area is on the edge of Jewish territory, quiet and green and cool. Jesus would be able to teach without being mobbed by people seeking healing.

The sense of being ‘on the way’ begins in this verse, and continues in Mk 9:30; 10:1,17. It is not until Mk 10:32-33 is reached that Jesus announces, “we are going to Jerusalem”.

Jesus’ question evokes the same response as found in Mk 6:14f.

“Some say John the Baptist” – Herod saw him as a ‘John redivivus’, Mk 6:16, and the present passage suggests that he was not alone in this, even though the two had been seen together.

“Elijah” – The concept of an ‘Elijah redivivus’ is derived from Mal 3:1; 4:5. John the Baptist came ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’, Lk 1:17. Jesus himself had linked this with John the Baptist, Mt 7:13. But both Elijah and John were forerunners of Christ, but not Christ himself.

“One of the prophets” – See Mt 16:14, where Jeremiah is named. This idea crops up in the Emmaus road conversation, Lk 24:19. The Koran, too, refers to Jesus as a prophet. But the notion will be dramatically challenged in the transfiguration, Mk 9:2-9.

‘Every kind of opinion appears to have been current, excepting that one which was true.’ (Ryle)

‘To the people these may have been attributes of high honour, but they fell hopelessly short of the truth. They assigned to Jesus a role which was preparatory rather than definitive, subordinate rather than supreme, Jesus did not come to point to another, but was himself that other to whom all the prophets pointed.’ (Lewis, The Glory of Christ, 158f)

All of this suggests that it is possible to have views of Jesus which are not entirely incorrect, and yet which are inadequate, because they make him a forerunner of someone else. They also define Jesus in terms of what we already know.

8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 8:30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

“But what about you?” – ‘But now…comes the rapier-thrust that transfers theology from an armchair discussion to an uncomfortable dialogue between God and us.’ (Cole)

‘Was Jesus just a man with some good ideas, one of many spiritual leaders? Or was he the true God, the one mediator, our only source of life and peace with the Father? It is not enough to know what others say about Jesus: you must know, understand, and accept for yourself that he is the Messiah. You must move from curiosity to commitment, from admiration to adoration. If Jesus were to ask you this question, how would you answer? Is he your Lord and Messiah?’ (Life Application)

“You are the Christ” – This takes up one of the themes of the Gospel as announced in Mk 1:1. It also provides a pointed answer to Jesus’ plea in v21, “Do you still not understand?”

‘The recognition that Jesus is the Messiah is the point of intersection toward which all of the theological currents of the first half of the Gospel converge and from which the dynamic of the second half of the Gospel derives.’ (Lane)

‘This was a noble answer, when the circumstances under which it was made are duly considered. It was made when Jesus was poor in condition, without honour, majesty, wealth or power. It was made when the heads of the Jewish nation, both in Church and State, refused to receive Jesus as the Messiah. Yet even then Simon Peter says, “Thou art the Christ.” His strong faith was not stumbled by our Lord’s poverty andlow estate. His confidence was not shaken by the opposition of scribes and Pharisees, and the contempt of rulers and priests. None of these things moved Simon Peter. He believed that he whom he followed, Jesus of Nazareth, was the promised Saviour, the true Prophet greater than Moses, the long-predicted Messiah. He declared it boldly and unhesitatingly as the creed of himself and his few companions: “Thou are the Christ.”‘ (Ryle)

‘It is remarkable, if Mark’s gospel was produced in Rome, where Peter was such an important figure, that he does not mention here the great promises made to Peter by Jesus at this time. (Mt 16:18) Could it have been that Peter did not want them included? Certainly Mark did not see Peter as the first great founding bishop of the Roman church, in the way that later centuries did.’ (NBC) It would seem that Peter’s own most vivid recollection was not the words of blessing recorded by Matthew, but the Lord’s stern rebuke, v33.

‘The confession of v29 was a moment of revelation and insight. Nevertheless, the disciples failed to understand the significance of Jesus messiahship, and Mark underscores this failure after each of Jesus affirmations of his rejection and humilation: Peter rebuked him, Mk 8:32; the dsciples did not understand, and were afraid to ask, and reasoned who was greater, Mk 9:32ff; Jesus and John asked for the places of honour in his glory, and the others were indignant, Mk 10:35-37, 41. On each of these occasions Jesus called the Twelve to authentic discipleship involving humility, service and suffering, Mk 8:34-38; 9:33-37; 10:38-45.’ (Lane)

Wright stresses (overstresses?) the political dimensions of Peter’s confession: ‘Calling Jesus “Messiah” doesn’t mean calling him “divine”, let alone “the second person of the Trinity”.  Mark believes that Jesus was and is divine, and will eventually show us why; but this moment in the gospel story is about something else.  It’s about the politically dangerous and theologically risky claim that Jesus is the true King of Israel, the final heir to the throne of David, that one before whom Herod Antipas and all other would-be Jewish princlings are just shabby little imposters.  The disciples weren’t expecting a divine redeemer; there were longing for a king.  And they thoughts they’d found one.’

Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him – Part of the reason seems to be that he did not want to be publicised as the Messiah until the character of his Messiahship had been fully disclosed. None of the disciples – not even Peter, v29/v32 – yet understood this. This, accordingly, is introduced in the very next verse.

‘False and marrow hopes clustered about the designation “Messiah” in the first century, and Jesus showed a marked reluctance to use this title himself, Mk 12:35-37; 14:61-62. He clearly knew himself to be “the anointed of the Lord” but his destiny was to be fulfilled along lines other than those projected for the royal figure of popular expectations.’ (Lane)

Drane concludes his discussion of the ‘Messianic secret’ by suggesting that ‘Jesus did not use the word ‘Messiah’ of himself because of the way it would have suggested to his hearers an earthly king and a new political state. Jesus certainly had no intention of being that kind of ‘Messiah’, as Matthew and Luke highlight by showing that possibility being so decisively rejected right at the start of his ministry in the temptations. So he cast his whole ministry in a mould that would conceal his claim to be Messiah from those who did not want to understand it in the same way as he did, but that would provide enough clues to his identity as Messiah for those who were prepared to think about it more deeply.’ (Introducing the New Testament)

First Prediction of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
8:31 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 8:32 He spoke openly about this.

Mk 8:31–9:1 = Mt 16:21–28; Lk 9:22–27
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things – Cole remarks that it is no accident that this is joined to Peter’s confession, v29, because the disciples needed to realise that he must exercise his Messiahship God’s way, and not man’s.

Lane reports that ‘the son of man’ sometimes functioned as a circumlocution for ‘I’, especially in the context of humiliation, danger or death, although sometimes merely as an expression of modesty. In the present context, the disciples may have detected no more significance than this, although later references, Mk 8:38 13:26 14:62, contain clearer allusions to the son of man of Dan 7:13-14.

Earlier allusions to Jesus’ death had seemed veiled and distant, Mk 2:20 3:6. But now Jesus speaks directly, and the theme of the cross dominates the Gospel from this point forward.

There is a threefold passion prediction in Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34 (and parallels). These are often taken to be ‘prophecies after the event’, ‘but the absence of the type of theological elaboration found in the creeds (e.g., “for our sins,” “according to the scriptures” and the exaltation theme) makes it more likely that these are indeed historical reminiscences.’ (DJG)

Rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law ‘This formidable list comprises the three main power groups who made up the Sanhedrin (the elders being leading representatives of the lay nobility), and thus represents the most influential political/religious authority in Israel subject to the Roman provincial authorities.’ (France, Jesus and the Old Testament)

‘The thought is that the Sanhedrin, the priestly court of Israel, will scrutinise the Lord’s claims, and then deliberately reject him. But the true danger for all men is that of failing to pass the scrutiny of God, as Paul saw, 1 Cor 9:27.’ (Cole)

After three days rise again – See Hos 6:1-2, which by the time of the NT had taken on an eschatological interpretation. The concept of resurrection seems to go unexplained here. Much later, Mk 9:10, the disciples would still be puzzled by it. Like Martha, Jn 11:24, and all Jews except the Sadducees, Acts 23:8, they would have accepted the idea of a resurrection at the last day. But a resurrection hear and now was an alien notion. (Cole).

Lane states the the expression ‘after three days’ is a semitic equivalent for ‘on the third day’. However, he adds that it is likely that Jesus used it as an indefinite expression for a short period of time.

“Why did our Lord say”must?”Did he mean that he was unable to escape suffering that he must die by compulsion of a stronger power than his own? Impossible. This could not have been his meaning. Did he mean that he must die to give a great example to the world of self-sacrifice and self-denial, and that this, and this alone, made his death necessary? Once more it may be replied,”Impossible.”There is a far deeper meaning in the word”must”suffer and be killed. He meant that his death and passion were necessary in order to make atonement for mans sin. Without shedding his blood there could be no remission. Without the sacrifice of his body on the cross, there could be no satisfaction to Gods holy law. He”must”suffer to make reconciliation for iniquity. He”must”die, because without his death as a propitiatory offering, sinners could never have life. He”must”suffer, because without his vicarious sufferings, our sins could never be taken away. In a word, He”must”be delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.” (Ryle)

Another part of the answer to the question, Why did Jesus say, ‘must’? is found in the frequently-uttered saying, ‘It is written’. ‘In the scriptures our Saviour found the blueprint of his mission. From them Jesus learned that he would have to suffer for us; that he would die for us, as though he were a criminal, under the weight of our sins.’ (Blocher)

‘The basis for this necessity (dei) is not spelled out here, but in Mk 9:12; 14:21,49 it is traced explicitly to what is written4, and the same thought surely underlies this and Jesus other predictions of his passion. It is the divine purpose revealed in Scripture, rather than in the inevitabilities of Palestinian politics, that Jesus finds the pattern for what is about to happen to him… Psalms 22 and 69 will be echoed in Marks passion narrative on the assumption that their depiction of the persecution of the righteous can appropriately be referred to the fate of the Messiah; Zechariah 9-14 contains the recurring theme of an apparently messianic figure who is rejected by his people, pierced and smitten Zec 11:4-14; 12:10-14; 13:7-9; cf. Mk 14:27; and most obviously Isaiah 53 speaks of a servant of God who suffers and dies and whose fate is in some way linked to the restoration of his people.’ (France)

‘Hitherto Jesus sayings have contained only an isolated hint of his coming death Mk 2:20. From Mk 8:31 onwards, as soon as his identity as Messiah is explicitly acknowledged, he speaks repeatedly of what that messianic mission will involve when they get to Jerusalem Mk 8:31; 9:12; 10:33,34,38,45 not only for himself but also for those who follow him Mk 8:34-9:1; 10:30,39. The cross is explicitly set before the disciples, and its shadow now falls over all the journey to the capital city where Jesus is to be rejected and executed. There is a sense of time running out.’ (France, Jesus and the Old Testament).

He spoke plainly about this – in contrast to him veiled and parabolic way of speaking earlier, 2:20.

So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 8:33 But after turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan. You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”

The actual words of Peter’s rebuke are recorded in Mt 16:22.

‘How difficult it was to reconcile the designation “Messiah” and suffering is well illustrated by the Targum to Isa 53, where the positive statements are interpreted to refer to King Messiah but the sufferings to the people.’ (Lane)

Cross-purposes.  ‘Paul said that the cross was foolishness to Greeks and a stumbling block to Jews (1 Cor. 1:23), and Peter is the first to stumble over the offense of a suffering Messiah…He has begun to understand that Jesus’ great manifestation of power means that he must be the Messiah, but he does not have any understanding how Jesus’ passion ties into his identity.’ (Garland)

When Jesus turned and looked at his disciples – A fascinating detail, ignored by most commentators.  Jesus wanted to make sure that his sharp rebuke of Peter was heard by them all.  Matthew Henry suggests that Jesus did this ‘to see if the rest of them were of the same mind, and concurred with Peter in this, that, if they did, they might take the reproof to themselves, which he was now about to give to Peter.’

“Get behind me, Satan!” – Or even, ‘Get out of my sight!’  As Cole says: ‘No sterner rebuke ever fell on any Pharisee than on this disciple of Christ, this first Christian. In so speaking, he was now voicing, not the mind of God revealed by his Spirit, but the mind of the enemy: and so Peter could be addressed directly as Satan. The avoidance of the cross had been a temptation faced and overcome by the Lord in the wilderness: and for Peter to suggest it here was to think in human terms, and not in divine terms.’

According to Mt 4:10, Jesus rebuked Satan himself with exactly the same words.

This does not mean, of course, that Jesus regarded Peter as Satan himself, or even that he had become demonised.  What is meant is that on this occasion, Peter has unwittingly taken the side of Satan in opposing God’s plan, and must be resisted accordingly.

A slightly gentler understanding of our Lord’s words to Peter is possible: in saying, “Get behind me,” he is seeking ‘to reassert the normal relationship between disciples and teacher’ (Faithlife Study Bible); cf. Mk 1:17.  But this approach does not seem to do justice to the strong appellation, ‘Satan’.

A real temptation.  As Hurtado and others suggest, Peter’s words may well have constituted a genuine and powerful temptation to Jesus to avoid the path of suffering.  Lane says: ‘The suggestion that he should refuse the passion may be construed as a temptation coming from Satan himself who desires to thwart the divine plan of salvation, Mk 1:12f; 3:23ff.’

‘An inability to accept a suffering Saviour involves the refusal of the will of God, whose sovereign disposition of the problem of sin and human rebellion fails to conform to the niceties of human expectations. (cf Isa 55:8f) Jesus shows no inclination to justify the ways of God to men. He simply affirms that the way of the cross is the will of God.’ (Lane)

The use of Satana (rather than the synonymous Greek diabolos) suggests that we have here another example of a verbatim Aramaic saying of Jesus.

Satanic temptation by well-meaning friends.  ‘It is a strange thing, and sometimes a terrible thing, that the tempter sometimes speaks to us in the voice of a well-meaning friend. We may have decided on a course which is the right course but which will inevitably bring trouble, loss, unpopularity, sacrifice. And some well-meaning friend tries with the best intentions in the world, to stop us.’ (DSB)

‘We have here a humbling proof that the best of saints is a poor fallible creature. Here was ignorance in Simon Peter. He did not understand the necessity of our Lords death, and would have actually prevented his sacrifice on the cross. Here was self-conceit in Simon Peter. He thought he knew what was right and fitting for his Master better than his Master himself, and actually undertook to show the Messiah a more excellent way. And last, but not least, Simon Peter did it all with the best intentions! He meant well. His motives were pure. But zeal and earnestness are no excuse for error. A man may mean well and yet fall into tremendous mistakes.’ (Ryle)

Let us learn charity towards others from the facts here recorded. Let us not be in a hurry to cast off our brother as graceless because of errors and mistakes. Let us remember that his heart may be right in the sight of God, like Peters, though like Peter he may for a time turn aside. Rather let us call to mind Paul’s advice, and act upon it. “If a man be overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted.”‘ (Gal 6:1) (Ryle)

“You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” – ‘For Peter, the indication that the Son of man will die is unthinkable. For Jesus, it is inevitable.’ (Ralph Martin)

Following Jesus

8:34 Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

‘Now we see why it was so essential that Peter should grasp the conditions of Messiahship for Christ: otherwise, Peter could not grasp the conditions of discipleship for himself’ (Cole). These conditions were fulfilled literally for Peter, if we accept the tradition about Peter’s death at Rome. (cf. Jn 11:19)

He called the crowd to him – The conditions for following Jesus are relevant to everyone in the crowd, not just to the inner circle of disciples; to all believers, and not just to Christian leaders.

‘It was the Lord’s intention that those who follow him should not be detached observers of his passion, but men who grow in faith and understanding through participation in his sufferings.’ (Lane)

Take up his cross and follow me – ‘Follow my leader’. The Romans compelled a condemned man to carry his cross, or at least the cross-bar, to the place of execution. For the Christian to take up his cross means, accordingly, to count himself as good as dead. ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ (Bonhoeffer) Much of modern psychology offers a path to self-discovery and self-esteem, but Jesus teaches that I must die (to self) in order to truly live, lose myself (that is, my self-centredness) in order to find myself.

‘Self-denial,’ writes John Stott, ‘is not denying to ourselves luxuries such as chocolates, cakes, cigarettes and cocktails (though it may include this); it is actually denying or disowning ourselves, renouncing our supposed right to be go our own way.  “To deny oneself is…to turn away from the idolatry of self-centredness” (Cranfield).  Paul must have been referring to the same thing when he wrote that those who belong to Christ “have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24).  No picture could be more graphic than that: an actual taking of hammer and nails to fasten our slippery fallen nature to the cross and thus do it to death.  The traditional word for this is “mortification”; it is the sustained determination by the power of the Holy Spirit to “put to death the misdeeds of the body”, so that through this death we may live in fellowship with God.’ (The Cross of Christ, p279)

As Gundry succinctly puts it: ‘“take up your cross” means be prepared to be ridiculed, spit on, be seen and treated as a criminal, be thought to be guilty of shameful things.’

‘The crosses we bear are the small annoyances we haven’t yet managed to rid ourselves of (a dodgy knee, our interfering mother-in-law, a bad boss at work), rather than any significant suffering we intentionally embrace because we are following Jesus and want others to follow him too. We’ve chosen to ignore the fact that Jesus is here calling his disciples to make a conscious and costly decision to sacrifice ourselves, to say ‘No!’ to things we might want, even deserve or need, because that’s what it means to follow his example…Until we can talk of significant ways in which we have denied ourselves in following Jesus, we should be wary of describing ourselves as his followers…What is the suffering, what are the real crosses, you have intentionally embraced because you are his disciple? Is it the painful distance between you and your non-Christian family, because you now follow Jesus and keep trying to persuade them to follow him too? Is it a loving perseverance in a deeply unhappy marriage? Is it denying your children what their peers all enjoy so that gospel ministry can happen?’ (Ed Shaw, The Plausibility Problem)

See Gal 6:14.

8:35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel will save it.

The ‘life’ spoken of here is not zoe, physical existence, but psyche, the soul or self. Stott paraphrases: ‘If you insist on holding on to yourself, and on living for yourself, and refuse to let yourself go, you will lose yourself. But if you are willing to give yourself away in love, then, at the moment of complete abandon, when you magine that everything is lost, the miracle takes place and you find yourself and your freedom.’ (The Contemporary Christian, 56)

‘Life, like sand, trickles between our fingers whether we will or no, and to grasp it the more tightly means that it merely flows the faster from us. So a refusal to accept that “death to self,” that is the bearing of Christ’s cross and following him, is a spiritual death; whereas, by a divine paradox, spiritual life is only to be found by passing through the gate of death to self. All men must one day die. The Christian dies here and now, and so has nothing left to fear; for him, death no longer has any sting, 1 Cor 15:55.’ (Cole)

For me and for the gospel ‘makes plain the exact way in which life is to be spent for Christ, in his service, in the spreading abroad of the good news.’ (Cole)

Once a chicken and a pig took a trip together. After many miles and many hours on the road, they got hungry. Finally, the sharp-eyed chicken spotted a restaurant. Approaching the door they read a sign which said, “Ham and Eggs: our Specialty!” “Hold it!” shouted the pig. “What’s the matter?” asked the chicken. “Plenty. All they want from you is a little contribution. They are asking me for total commitment!” (Mk 8:35) Cf. Lk 14:33; Php 3:7-8.
8:36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 8:37 What can a person give in exchange for his life?

Here is a commercial metaphor. Our Lord appeals to the common sense of these Galilean tradesmen, confirming that, notwithstanding what he has just said about losing one’s life, the kingdom is a good bargain at any price. See also Mt 13:44f.

‘Any man may lose his own soul. He cannot save it. Christ alone can do that. But he can lose it, and that in many different ways. He may murder it, by loving gin and cleaving to the world. He may poison it by choosing a religion of lies, and believing man-made superstitions. He may starve it, by neglecting all means of grace, and refusing to receive into his heart the Gospel. Many are the ways that lead to the pit. Whatever way a man takes, he, and he alone, is accountable for it. Weak, corrupt, fallen, impotent as human nature is, man has a mighty power of destroying, ruining, and losing his own soul.’ (Ryle)

‘Thus, in language the weightiest, because the simple”]st, does our Lord shut up his hearers, and all who shall read these words to the end of the world, to the priceless value to every man of his own soul.’ (JFB)

A question of values
‘It is quite possible for a man in one sense to make a huge success of life and in another sense to be living a life that is not worth living. The real question Jesus asks is, “Where do you put your values in life?” It is possible for a man to put his values on the wrong things and to discover it too late.

(i) A man may sacrifice honour for profit. He may desire material things and not be over-particular how he gets them. The world is full of temptations towards profitable dishonesty. George Macdonald tells in one of his books about a draper who always used his thumb to make the measure just a little short. “He took from his soul,” he said, “and put it in his siller-bag.” The real question, the question which sooner or later will have to be answered is, “How does life’s balance sheet look in the sight of God?” God is the auditor whom, in the end, all men must face.

(ii) A man may sacrifice principle for popularity. It may happen that the easy-going, agreeable, pliable man will save himself a lot of trouble. It may happen that the man inflexibly devoted to principle will find himself disliked. Shakespeare paints the picture of Wolsey, the great Cardinal, who served Henry the Eighth with all the ingenuity and wit he possessed.

“Had I but serv’d my God with half the zeal I serv’d my king, he would not in mine age Have left me naked to mine enemies.”

The real question, the question every man in the end will have to face, is not, “What did men think of this?” but, “What does God think of it?” It is not the verdict of public opinion but the verdict of God that settles destiny.

(iii) A man may sacrifice the lasting things for the cheap things. It is always easier to have a cheap success. An author may sacrifice that which would be really great for the cheap success of a moment. A musician may produce ephemeral trifles when he might be producing something real and lasting. A man may choose a job which will bring him more money and more comfort, and turn his back on one where he could render more service to his fellow-men. A man may spend his life in little things and let the big things go. A woman may prefer a life of pleasure and of so-called freedom to the service of her home and the upbringing of a family.

But life has a way of revealing the true values and condemning the false as the years pass on. A cheap thing never lasts.

(iv) we may sum it all up by saying that a man may sacrifice eternity for the moment. We would be saved from all kinds of mistakes if we always looked at things in the light of eternity. Many a thing is pleasant for the moment but ruinous in the long run. The test of eternity, the test of seeking to see the thing as God sees it, is the realest test of all.

The man who sees things as God sees them will never spend his life on the things that lose his soul.’ (DSB)

8:38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

The Lord now deepens the argument, by addig an eschatological dimension. ‘The Son of Man’ has just been equated with the suffering Messiah, v31, but now is God’s instrument of judgement at his return. ‘The biggest puzzle for the disciples must have been how to relate all these different concepts to one another, and to the Jesus before them.’ (Cole)

The thought of this verse is similar to that of Jn 12:48.

‘When can it be said of any one, that he is ashamed of Christ? We are guilty of it, when we are ashamed of letting people see that we believe and love the doctrines of Christ, that we desire to live according to the commandment of Christ, and that we wish to be reckoned among the people of Christ. Christ’s doctrine, laws, and people were never popular, and never will be. The man who boldly confesses that he loves them, is sure to bring on himself ridicule and persecution. Whoever shrinks from this confession from fear of this ridicule and persecution, is ashamed of Christ, and comes under the sentence of the passage before us.’ (Ryle)