A word for the heart

with Alan Bailey

Mark 8:1-21 - The Gospel of Mark

Bible study


Welcome to this Bible Study. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.

Mark 8:1-21

This passage from Mark has a lot to say about bread. Bread speaks of our main way of being fed. It meant that in New Testament times and still today we think that way. Bread is at the centre of our daily sustenance. Mark’s Gospel brings us many lessons Jesus taught, mostly with everyday objects to make clear His meaning. We will see that even those close to Him, His disciples, were often unable to see the point, or were slow to understand. Yet the significance of what Jesus taught is so great, so life-changing. Let us read more.

Verses 1-3 During those days another large crowd gathered. Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.”

The crowd was there because they had seen enough to convince them that Jesus was exceptional. Amazing healings took place, so many of the people were hopeful of a personal touch from the Lord. But now, time has elapsed and they are hungry. We see the care of Jesus for these ordinary people. He can’t simply send them off faint with hunger.

Verses 4 & 5 His disciples answered, “Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” “How many loaves do you have? Jesus asked. “Seven” they replied.

What a problem! Thousands of hungry people far away from a centre where food could be purchased! An impossible situation it would seem. But you may remember that they had faced this situation before. Back in Chapter Six, verses 30 to 44 we read how Jesus fed 5000 with five loaves (something like rolls) and two fish. This time there were seven loaves available according to the disciples who must have been enquiring among the people. It is amazing that the disciples couldn’t anticipate what the Lord would do. It was as if they had forgotten an outstanding lesson learned not that long ago.

breaking bread

Verses 6 & 7 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. When He had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the people, and they did so. They had a few small fish as well; He gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them.

It would be easy to think that this feeding event and the previous one were the same occasion, reported a bit differently. But that is surely not the case. As we will see, Jesus spoke about them as separate events, referring to some of the differences. We should not lose sight of the magnitude of these miracles. Our minds can’t comprehend how the food could be multiplied like this. But just consider the creation of the universe. How inconceivable that is! Marvels of creation are on every side—and we, ourselves are marvels. The creation of extra bread and fish is a small miracle in comparison.

Verses 8-10 The people ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. About four thousand men were present. And having sent them away, He got into the boat with His disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha.

This report shows that there was more than enough to feed the crowd. It would have been more than four thousand people as women and children were not in the count. As always, a spiritual lesson can be seen. In John’s Gospel Jesus spells it out. He says there that people are hungry for satisfaction in their lives. Jesus then claims that He is the Bread of Life and that people coming to Him will find utter satisfaction. He also likens the life He gives to people to water, another central daily requirement.

Verses 11-13 The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test Him, they asked Him for a sign from heaven. He sighed deeply and said, “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” Then He left them, got into the boat and crossed to the other side.

The Pharisees had not witnessed this miracle we read about. But it is ironic that their question came straight after such an amazing revelation of Jesus’ power. But it would be hard to imagine that they had not had some contact with other miracles and the many reports of what Jesus had done. Yet they ask for a sign. Maybe they thought He would call down fire from heaven or some such display to prove who He was. But Jesus was not into putting on displays to make people believe. His miracles always served a purpose. They blessed people and glorified God. Also, He knew that no sign would satisfy them. Note how that even after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, these people, though having to admit that it happened, still did not believe in Him.

Verses 14-21 The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. “Be careful,” Jesus warned them, “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are you hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. And when I broke the loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”

The reason why Jesus didn’t want them to broadcast what had happened is that the crowds would grow larger and become a great hindrance. Note the amazement of the crowd. It has often been suggested that people in Bible days were gullible and unscientific. But we can be absolutely sure that people didn’t believe that virgins have babies, that the dead rise again, that the blind receive sight and so on. A miracle was a miracle for them as much as it is for us. This assures us that the Gospel records are telling us about true events. The whole Gospel story would not hold together if the record of what Jesus said and did was not true.
Any fraud or fake would soon be forsaken and forgotten.


Perhaps it would be good for us to read again these questions Jesus asked and see just how they affect us. Are we, too, slow to understand?

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