Jesus feeds the the four thousand, 8:1-21


Jesus and his disciples are still presumably on the eastern side of lake Galilee, in Gentile territory. A large crowd of 4,000 people have gathered, and very much in line with the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus feeds the crowd from seven loaves and a few small fish supplied by the disciples. After the miraculous meal, Jesus and his disciples travel by boat to the western shore of the lake - Jewish territory. There Jesus confronts some Pharisees who demand a "sign from heaven." Leaving his opponents, Jesus then travels by boat to Bethsaida on the northern end of the eastern shore. Here the disciples argue over the lack of supplies. Jesus reminds them of the feeding of both the 5,000 and the 4,000 and the abundance of food that remained. "Do you still not understand", Jesus asks them.

The passage

v1-9. The story of the feeding of the four thousand is very similar to the feeding of the five thousand; only some of the details are different - the size of the crowd, the number of flat-bread loaves and pickled fish, the number of baskets of food remaining. Interestingly, the baskets are different. In this account the baskets are a large flat-pack type, but probably nothing is implied by this difference. It's not overly clear, but it seems likely that, unlike the feeding of the five thousand, this feeding takes place in Gentile territory; it is a mixed crowd of some four thousand people. The count of the five thousand is of men only. Like the feeding of the five thousand, the miracle alludes to the wilderness journey of the people of Israel. As God fed them in the wilderness, so God now feeds a new Israel in the wilderness, probably including Gentiles, and this at the hand of Jesus the messiah. The long awaited reign of God's messiah has begun.

v10. Leaving the site of the miraculous feeding, Jesus and his disciples travel overland to lake Galilee, cross the lake by boat, reaching the western shore of the lake at the village of Dalmanutha. The actual site of this village is not known today.

v11-12. At the village, Jesus is confronted by a party of Pharisees who demand that he perform a messianic sign. They have concluded that Jesus is not the messiah and would like their opinion confirmed. Jesus willingly complies and doesn't do a trick for them. A faithless people see nothing of God's grace.

v13. Leaving Dalmanutha, Jesus and his disciples embark and head north toward Bethsaida.

v14. The disciples have failed to organize provisions for the journey and are arguing over their lack of foresight. In this context Jesus warns them to beware of the evil influence of the Pharisees and Herod, most likely with respect to their lack of faith. Jesus then reminds his disciples of the miraculous feedings they have recently witnessed. Do the disciples really think that their lack of provisions will hinder the mission of Jesus the messiah? "Do you still not get it?" Jesus asks them.

The blind shall see

It's hard to image the disciples worried about a shortage of provisions, having just witnessed the miraculous feeding of some four thousand people. How did they not get it? The trouble is, we are all short on perception. Let me illustrate.

Like most people I have always opened a tin of paint by putting a screw driver under the lid and twisting. After three or four times of opening the lid this way, the rim is damaged and it gets harder and harder to open. Some time ago a professional painter witnessed my destructive efforts and pointed out that the screw driver is best put in sideways to the lid and used as a lever by pushing down. How simple is that? Here I am, seventy years old, having opened hundreds of tins of paint at home and at work, watched dozens of people open tins, and never worked out the right way to open a tin; never twigged to the obvious.

Here was Jesus in full revelation mode, doing the Moses thing in the wilderness, and the disciples didn't get it, didn't see Jesus as God's anointed messiah founding a new eternal people of God. The chances are that, just like my flawed methodology for opening paint cans, the disciples would never have twigged to who Jesus is unless Jesus opened their eyes. It really is interesting how Mark arranges the gospel story. After this incident Mark records Jesus' staged healing of a blind man. At the first healing attempt he can see, but he sees people "like trees walking." So, Jesus has another go and the man sees "everything clearly." The disciples may be short on perception, but they will see, albeit slowly. The key, of course, is faith, a seeking relying faith. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you", Matt.7:7.

We see around us people blind to the obvious. When I look at nature I see the hand of God. When I witness its destructive side, I am reminded that I may live in a thin place, close to heaven, but it's not heaven, its not where the lion will lay down with the lamb. Secular man looks at nature and sees nothing but mere irrational chance. That same lack of perception can infect believers; a disciple is not immune to dullness. I sat through a communion service recently where I was told that the bread and wine were symbols of justice toward the poor, that our sharing in the bread and wine served as a prompt to share our resources with the poor. What happened to the atonement?

So, dullness of mind is part of the human condition. Gladly, Jesus opens the eyes of the blind, but only if you want to see. "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees", that self satisfied dulness devoid of faith. Rather, be a seeker after truth, look to Jesus to open your eyes, rest on Jesus and see.


1. Compare the feeing of the 5,000 with the feeding of the 4,000 and note the differences.

2. What is the leaven of the Pharisees?

3. What didn't the disciples understand?

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