Mark 8-9:1: Seeing the Kingdom Halfway
This chapter is in some ways a turning point in Mark’s gospel. Up to this chapter all of Jesus’ actions have been secretive and rather enigmatic. Here is the first glimpse of an open proclamation of who/what Jesus is. But it is apparently not quite what people were expecting.
Feeding the 4000
Why another feeding? Perhaps Jesus performed this miracle a number of times (more than 2), but why highlight these two feedings? And we should notice the fact that the disciples act as though they don’t remember the first time (Mk. 8:4). Why don’t the disciples understand? Why don’t they remember? Just like last time, the Pharisees show up right after the miracle and begin asking questions. The irony of course is that Jesus has just performed a sign (for a second time!) and so Jesus sighs and moves on (vv 12-13).
How is it that you do not understand?
Jesus asks about the fragments of bread left over from both of his feeding miracles and expects the disciples to have drawn some very important conclusions. Jesus begins by warning the disciples about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and Herod (v. 15) and rebukes them for worrying about how much bread they brought along in the boat (v. 17). The numbers probably correspond to the context of the feedings. The first feeding was in Israel for Israelites (Bethhsaida, cf. Lk. 9:10) and there were 12 baskets left over. The second feeding was in Decapolis (7:31), a gentile region of Israel and there were seven baskets left over. Seven is a number that reminds us creation, the world in raw, and it is a tenth of seventy, a number associated with the nations of the world (Gen. 10). Twelve signifies the twelve tribes of Israel. The point is at least that Jesus can feed anyone: He is the bread of life. But Jesus is probably also making a subtle point about who Jesus can be life for: not just the Jews, which was indicated with the Syro-Phoenician (7:27-28).
Two Staged Healing
This healing of the blind man parallels the healing at the end of chapter 7. In both cases the man is “taken aside” away from the multitude or out of the city. In both cases Jesus performs some action first and then it is a second action or word that actually finishes the miraculous healing. In both instances, Jesus spits and touches the places where the man is afflicted. Both stories end with Jesus warning the healed man not to tell anyone. These two-staged healing stories are rather remarkable given what some of the earlier healings were like: touching his garments and simple commands of healing. But these healings act as parables showing us what the disciples and (presumably) others understood (compare 8:18 with both healings). And Peter is immediately presented as an example of this: He sees half way, recognizing that Jesus is the Christ (v. 29), but he doesn’t really understand or see what that means (v. 32).
Who Is Jesus?
Peter’s confession is that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Annointed One. Jesus warns his disciples that they should tell no one this, but in the very next episode Jesus begins to openly declare that the “Son of Man” must suffer, die and rise again. Now it is Peter’s turn to take someone “aside”. And Jesus rebukes Peter, telling Satan to get “behind” him. Interestingly, Jesus’ very next words are instructions for those who want to follow “behind” Jesus (8:34). This following essentially means death, losing life to find life.
The Kingdom of God Present with Power
The chapter break here is probably an unfortunate mistake. 9:1 appears to be the rest of Jesus’ explanation of who He will be ashamed of when He comes. This is not a warning about the end of the world, of Jesus’ Second Coming. He’s warning his disciples to be faithful, even to death because Jesus is going to judge Israel within their lifetimes (9:1). Many commentators have taken Jesus’ words to only refer to the Transfiguration which follows this episode immediately. But limiting Jesus to only this event seems to short change His warning. It seems reasonable that some of the disciples are seeing the beginnings of the glory of Jesus, but His resurrection and ascension, as well as Pentecost and perhaps ultimately the destruction of Jerusalem are all elements that point to a new kingdom being established by Christ, and His judgment of the faithless.
Conclusion and Application
The chapter opens with the dullness of the disciples. They only half way see; they only half-way understand. The healings are parables of Israel but of the disciples in particular. Peter stands as a representative. But Jesus’ own message is also being unraveled in pieces. He has told riddles to the crowds and explained them to his disciples (4:34), and now He is telling riddles to his disciples and explaining them to the crowds (8:31). We know that Jesus is the Christ, and that this means he has to die and rise again. But Jesus has divided these two facts introducing tension into the lives of the disciples. Jesus is reveling in two stages with everything, here a little, there a little, not everything all at once.
We’ve said before that this is the way God is. He delights in tension, and as His people we need to do the same. But this two stage kind of living, this two stage healing and revealing is also they way Jesus saved us. He lived and died and then he rose and ascended to glory and sent His Spirit down upon us at Pentecost. Some have suggested that this was the reason of Jesus’ deep sighs in these chapters (7:34, 8:12). Jesus’ own ministry was two staged, and so much of life is this way: birth to middle age to death, life to death to resurrection. Cities and nations are born, grow, peak and decline. These two stages are the heart of the world because Jesus Himself lived this pattern of life-death-resurrection. Sufferings and then glory. Losing life and then finding it. This is real tension, real faith: being willing to be patient and faithful in the little things now and waiting for God to bless with the big things later, down the road.