Jesus had taught and ministered to the crowd for three days, so they are starving! As many had come a distance to see Him, He didn’t want them collapsing on the way home.
The sums involved are somewhat intriguing. When Jesus fed the 5,000 Jews there were 12 baskets left over from 5 loaves. Now with 4,000 Gentiles to feed He starts with 7 loaves and ends up with 7 baskets of leftovers. The interpretive key is the passage about the Syrophoenician woman in chapter 7, where Jesus says the bread is for Israel first and she answers the crumbs are for Gentiles.
Twelve symbolises the twelve tribes of Israel, The ‘people of God’, first established in the Old Testament. Seven is the number of perfection or completeness.
- Old Covenant: Christ first feeds people and yields 12 baskets. This speaks of God first establishing the People of Israel (12 tribes) in the Old Testament.
- New Covenant: Christ next (literally “after three days” see Mark 8:2) feeds people and yields 7 baskets. This is God establishing the Church – the fullness of the Gentiles in covenant with God. I love how Mark uses three days to symbolise that this new covenant, applying to all the nations, happens after the resurrection! God is so good!
Next we get an amusing series of anecdotes of the disciples not understanding, then Peter getting it, then Peter not getting it again. The “it” being who Jesus is and the new covenant He is bringing into play.
The disciples realise they have forgotten to bring bread with them for the boat journey. Jesus hears them bickering and uses that to quiz them on two of his recent signs that make you wonder – the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of the 4,000. Some scholars doubt both miracles happened and put it down to the authors repeating themselves, thereby showing they haven’t got it either!
Jesus is “the bread of life” – He has more than enough bread to feed (i.e. to save, offer eternal life to) Israel, symbolised by 12 baskets left over when He fed 5,000 Jews, AND the Gentiles, symbolised by seven baskets of bread left over when He fed 4,000 Gentiles. Twelve is the number of tribes of Israel; and seven is the perfect number and the number of Gentile nations occupying the Promised Land (the known world as it were!). Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who has come to save any and all who come to him – Jew or Gentile. The Gospel is good news for everybody. The disciples in their physical hunger haven’t quite got it yet. They have glimmers, but not perfect sight of the revelation of the new covenant.
So the next healing of the blind man in Bethsaida illustrates this growing revelation. It’s the only recorded miracle of Jesus that is in gradual – a glimmer of light, more clarity and then perfect vision. This operates on two levels. Firstly, the revelation of who Jesus is and what He has come to do is gradually being revealed – first a glimmer, then more clarity then perfect vision – we will see that with Peter as we read on. Secondly, sometimes we need to keep on praying until the healing happens – this miracle makes it clear that to make a ‘positive confession’ that you are healed by faith when you still have symptoms is a bit daft. Keep praying until the healing actually happens. This is the only time Jesus needed to do that, but it’s typical, currently, for me.
Peter goes from a glimmer to more clarity now – “you are the Christ”. He still doesn’t have full vision – that will come at the resurrection, His restoration and then Pentecost! Peter sees by revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed One they had been waiting for, the Messiah. So Jesus can then begin to teach that the Christ is going to have to suffer and die before glory in the resurrection. Peter hasn’t quite connected the OT prophetic passages of a suffering servant with the conquering King. So he shows he hasn’t fully got it yet – that he has a bit of clarity, but not spiritual 20:20 vision yet. Jesus rebukes him because he is thinking humanly, not God’s way fully yet. God’s ways are different. Saving your life requires dying to self, not worshipping self. Self can’t help. If self could help, Jesus would have come and given us a book token and a Latte.
Lord Jesus thank you that are revealing more and more of who you are, and of the glorious new covenant. Help us to die to self and live in your abundant life and glory from the cross. In your precious name, Amen.