Mark 8:1-21 – Jesus Feeds Four Thousand, Pharisees Seek a Sign, and Jesus Teaches His Disciples


Mark 8:1-21


For the second time, Jesus feeds a large crowd. Scenes of conflict and confusion follow.


The feeding of the four thousand takes place on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. With seven loaves and a few small fish, Jesus satisfies the hunger of the people, and seven baskets full of broken pieces are left over (8:1-10). After crossing the sea to the district of Dalmanutha, the Pharisees seek a sign from Jesus (8:11-13). The irony of their request must be seen in light of Jesus’ feedings of the thousands, and Jesus responds, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly, I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation” (8:12).

The final crossing of the sea (8:14-20) summarizes the table traditions addressed in a larger set of passages (6:14-8:10). On the sea Jesus teaches his disciples in light of two table settings, saying, “Watch out–beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod” (8:15). This warning refers back to 7:1-23 and 6:14-19, respectively. Jesus also calls to their remembrance the two feedings (8:18-20), asking about the number of baskets of broken pieces that were left over after the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44) and the feeding of the four thousand (8:1-10).
The third cycle of stories about Jesus and his ministry concludes at 8:21. Jesus’ words to the disciples lead to the crucial question in Mark: “Do you not yet understand?” (8:21). Up to this point in the Gospel the disciples have not been able to understand God’s kingly reign and rule present in Jesus of Nazareth. Their eyes are blind, and only Jesus’ healing touch can open them. In the following verses, he begins to do just that.