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Mark 6

Scripture: Mark 6:1-56


  • Jesus goes back to his hometown with his disciples and starts preaching in the synagog
  • The people of Jesus’ hometown are like, “Wow! What’s up with Mary’s kid? I thought he was just a carpenter?”
  • Jesus is like, “Wow! What lack of faith there is here. I tell ya, prophets get no respect in their hometown. No respect.”
  • So, Jesus doesn’t do too many miraculous things there
  • Then Jesus continues his preaching tour and sends the 12 disciples out to the surrounding towns, two by two
  • Jesus tells his disciples to only take what they have on their back. No extra clothes, money, food, nada
  • The disciples go and drive out demons and help sick people get well by anointing them with oil
  • Herod, the king, hears about Jesus
  • People are trying to figure out Jesus’ identity. Some are saying he’s a prophet, some think he’s Elijah, but Herod thinks Jesus is John the Baptist, come back from the dead
  • Awhile back, Herod had John arrested for saying the king’s marriage was not lawful — because Herod married his cousin (ew!), Herodias, who also used to be his brother’s wife
  • Herodias wants John dead, but Herod fears him and just keeps him locked up
  • Then, at Herod’s birthday party, Herodias’ daughter does a dance that so amazes the king that he offers to give her whatever she wants
  • The girl runs to her mom to ask what she should ask for, and comes back to Herod with the request for John the Baptist’s head… on a platter
  • John is beheaded, and then his disciples come and bury him
  • Meanwhile, Jesus’ disciples come back with news of their missionary journey, and Jesus is like, “It’s crowded here. Let’s hop in the boat and go someplace for some R and R.”
  • But the people see where Jesus was going and run ahead to meet him there
  • Jesus is like, “These people are like sheep with no shepherd,” so he starts teaching them
  • It’s getting late in the day, so the disciples tell Jesus, “We should probably let everyone go get something to eat.”
  • “You get them something to eat,” Jesus replies
  • “Uh, that would cost a whole lot of money,” the disciples say. “Like half a year’s salary.”
  • Jesus says, “Give me the food you’ve got.”
  • They scrounge up five loaves and two fish
  • Jesus has the people sit down, then says a prayer of thanks for the food and starts handing it out
  • The whole crowd, about 5,000 men, eats till their full, and there’s enough leftovers to fill up 12 baskets
  • Jesus sends the crowd away, then sends the disciples on to Bethsaida, then heads up on a mountain to pray
  • Before dawn, Jesus sees his disciples rowing against the wind on the sea
  • Jesus takes a stroll on the water
  • His disciples see him and think Jesus is a ghost
  • Jesus says, “Don’t worry. It’s just me.”
  • The wind calms down and they make it to shore
  • Once on the shore, the people recognize Jesus and flock to him for healing

Historical Context:


Nazareth is estimated to have a population of 200-400 during the time of Jesus.[1]

Nazareth is about 16 miles from the Sea of Galilee, 6 miles west of Mount Tabor and 91 miles north of Jerusalem.[8]

There is no consensus regarding the origin of the name. Some scholars believe that “Nazareth” is derived from a Hebrew word for “branch”, and alludes to the prophetic, messianic words in Isaiah 11:1 – “from (Jesse’s) roots a Branch (netzer) will bear fruit.” However, the negative references to Nazareth in the Gospel of John suggest that ancient Jews did not connect the town’s name to prophecy. Alternatively, the name may also derive from the verb na·ṣar, “watch, guard, keep,” and understood either in the sense of “watchtower” or “guard place”, implying the early town was perched on or near the brow of the hill, or, in the passive sense as ‘preserved, protected’ in reference to its secluded position.[8]

Jesus’ Family

Jesus’ brothers had patriarchal names (James=Jacob, Joses=Joseph, Judas=Judah, Simon=Simeon), some have suggested that they reflect either a “pious” Jewish family or one with resurgent religious feeling and pride in their ancestral heritage.[1]

Several commentators have noticed that the names of Jesus’ family echo the names of the Maccabean leaders.[7]

Anointing with Oil

Oil was used in different senses: (1) as medicine; (2) as a symbol of the Holy Spirit, especially in the Old Testament of kings, priests, and prophets; and (3) as a psychological aid to recognize God’s presence.[2]

Anointing with oil was in common use among the Jews in cases of sickness. It was supposed to have a mild, soothing, and alleviating effect on the body.[4]

Herod Antipas

Herod Antipas was a first century AD ruler of Galilee and Perea, who bore the title of tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”). He ruled Perea and Galilee between 4 b.c. and a.d. 39 when he was exiled for asking Caesar to make him a king.[2] He was responsible for building projects at Sepphoris and Betharamphtha, and more importantly for the construction of his capital Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Named in honor of his patron, the emperor Tiberius, and originally being considered ritually unclean by pious Jews due to it being built over a cemetery, the city later became a center of rabbinic learning.[5]

Antipas was a son of Herod the Great and Malthace, a Samaritan woman who was one of Herod’s wives. His date of birth is unknown but was somewhere before 20 BC.[5]

His first marriage was to a daughter of Aretas, the Arabian king; but on a visit to Rome he met Herodias his brother’s wife (Philip, not the tetrarch), whom he seduced and married. The outrage of this union was compounded by the element of incest. Aretas took vengeance upon Herod by defeating him in a war.[6]


Though never named in Mark, other historical sources cite Salome as the daughter of Herodias.

The Greek word used to describe Salome in this account is korasion, the same term used in Mark 5 for the twelve year-old daughter of Jarius. Salome would fit this age-group as she is thought to have been born in 14 AD and thus would have been in her mid-teens at the time of John’s death (c. 31 or 32 AD).[1]

The narrative conceivably depicts a child’s performance rather than the sensuous and seductive dance (the Dance of the Seven Veils) of later art and literature. There is nothing explicit in Mark’s text that suggests the dance had sexual overtones.[1]


The Denarii is an ancient Roman coin made of silver. It was originally equal to 10 bronze or copper Roman coins, hence its name. The denarius was used from approximately 211 BC to 270 AD.

In the first century, the ordinary minimum daily wage of a day-laborer and the common soldier was one denarius (as per the custom of giving a silver coin as daily wage). The figure of two hundred denarii (over half a year’s wages) stresses the size of the crowd and the seeming impossibility to provide food for them.[1]

In today’s economy, the average daily wage of an American would be $197, making the projected cost of the meal approximately $205,ooo

The disciples likely had a common purse in which they carried donations to their ministry and money to be given to the poor. It is possible that they had, at the time of the feeding of the 5,000, several hundred denarii in their possession, as indicated when Philip (who was asked to provide the meal, John 6:7) asked Jesus whether they should take all their money and spend it on a single meal.[4]


  • Ancient peoples were convinced that geographical and hereditary origins determined who a person was and what his capacities would be. Galilee was a province that Judeans considered as backwards and unclean because of its ‘mixed’ population of Jews and Gentiles and its status as an economic and cultural “outsider.” Galileans were stereotyped as uneducated, boorish, peasant hillbillies who spoke in funny accents and were prone to become rabble rousers.[1]
  • Jesus is traditionally called a carpenter, translated from the Greek word tekton, which can also be used to refer to anyone who works with his hands in hard material.[1] In Homer the tekton is said to build ships and houses and temples. The English, word “technician” comes from the same root.[6]Justin Martyr is one the first authors to cite why Jesus was considered a carpenter (as opposed to a stone mason, or other manual profession). “He [Jesus] appeared without comeliness, as the Scriptures declared; and He was deemed a carpenter, for He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes; by which He taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life” (Dialogue with Trypho)
  • “What mighty works are wrought through his hands!” sounds like praise until the reader recalls that Jesus is named – in the very next verse – “craftsman” – one who works with his hands – and then it can be read as another bit of Markian irony, or perhaps wordplay.[7]
  • This is the only time Mary is explicitly mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. Sons are usually named in relation to their fathers. [1] Calling Jesus the “son of Mary” was likely an insult.
  • When the people of Nazareth “took offense at Him” the Greek verb literally means “they were scandalized” (eskandalizonto, from skandalon: “a stone that trips a person”).[1]
  • Note how the citizens of Jesus’ hometown did not disagree with his teachings, but questioned his qualifications and schooling. This is similar to the Pharisees questioning his authority.[2]  The people in Nazareth recognized that Jesus was wise and that he could perform miracles, but they could not believe that he came with God’s message. He was only the carpenter.[3]
  • The rejected prophet motif is common in the Old Testament (2 Chr. 24:19, 36:16; Neh. 9:26, 30; Jer. 35:15; Ezek. 2:5; Hos. 9:7; Dan.l 9:6, 10). Also, in Isaiah 53:3, the Suffering Servant is without honor amongst his own people.[1]
  • This is the last time Jesus enters a synagogue in Mark’s gospel.[7]
  • Mark’s missionaries resemble the Israelites who were preparing to eat the Passover meal in Exodus 12:11, who were ordered to wear “sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand.” If there is an Exodus motif here it is very subtle, and may serve as a prelude to the feeding of the multitude in the wilderness (6:32-44), the testing of the people (8:14-21), and the revelation on a mountaintop (9:2-8).[1]
  • Jesus command to “shake the dust off the soles of your feet” of those towns who rejected his disciples was a visual symbol of impending judgment and separation. This was a regular Jewish custom when re-entering Judah from Samaria.[2]
  • Mark calls the 12 men ‘*apostles’ for the first time here.[3]
  • Popular opinion views Jesus as a prophet (even by the hated King Herod) are used by Mark in contrast to Jesus’ friends and relatives who do not honor him as such.
  • Among the followers of Jesus and members of the early Christian movement mentioned in the New Testament are Joanna, the wife of one of Antipas’ stewards, and Manaen, a “foster-brother” or “companion” of Antipas. It has been conjectured that these were sources for early Christian knowledge of Antipas and his court.[5]
  • John’s head was brought on a “platter” – the Greek word used here refers to a shallow plate with a very short stand customarily used at feasts. The brutal irony is that John’s head is now served as one of the courses at the royal banquet.[1]
  • According to first century historian Josephus, the location of the prison is Herod’s fortified hilltop palace called Machaerus (the Black Fortress) located in the region of Peraea, east of the Dead Sea. Some suggest that Herod’s banquet was actually held in Herod’s capital of Tiberias, since Galileans attend it. Perhaps Herod had John moved to Tiberias at some point, but the trek from the Machaerus to there would take longer than an overnight trek.[1]
  • “Half my kingdom” was the type of boastful, extravagant oath, characteristic of tyrants of that era. Any person asking a gift large enough to embarrass such a monarch ordinarily found it fatal to do so; but the accepted code of that day, as it applied to such requests, required the king’s compliance with the request if it lay within his power to give it without jeopardy to himself.[6]
  • “Sheep without a shepherd” have a very short life span. On its own a sheep cannot find safe pasture to feed on or still pools of water to drink. It cannot clean itself, defend itself or find its way home. Without a shepherd a sheep is totally helpless and hopeless and in peril for its life.[2]
  • John (6:4) times this feeding near Passover, which would be in the spring when the grass is green. There is an allusion to Psalm 23 here, where the shepherd makes the psalmist lie down in ‘green pastures’.[1]
  • “‘Five loaves and two fish'” implies the disciples did not even have enough food for themselves.[2]
  • Having the people sit down in groups of 50 and 100 echoes Exodus 18:25 where Israel is divided in groups of a thousand, five hundred, one hundred, and ten under their respective leaders. This same text was taken as a model for the eschatological groupings of the Qumranic community, and seen as a blueprint for the messianic banquet.[1]
  • The theological expectations of the 5,000 attendees is explicit. The Jews of Jesus’ day expected the Messiah to provide food for them as Moses did in the wilderness (John 6:30-40).[2]
  • Common prayer over meals in ancient Judaism: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who brings forth bread from the earth.” Once said, the Jewish head of family would break the loaf, eat a piece, and then pass the bread on to others.[1]
  • Mark may be drawing a contrast between a macabre banquet by Herod Antipas for the select elite with Jesus’ compassionate banquet for the common man, with the two banquet scenes becoming embodiments of the contrast between the followers of Jesus and the powerful ones.[1]
  • “Ate and were filed”  is a statement used in the Old Testament to describe Israel being filled by the manna and quail (Ps. 78:29; 105:40). Here Jesus is positioned as the new Moses, bringing in a new age of abundance (Ps. 132:15; Isa. 49:10).[2]
  • Mark may be using the contrast of the complete dependence on the kindness of strangers and provision of God mandated by Jesus to his the disciples on their missionary journey and the feeding of the 5,000 to show once again how the disciples fail to understand Jesus.
  • Mark follows the Greco-Roman custom of dividing the night into four watches (as opposed to the Jewish custom of three watches). The time is somewhere around 3 to 6 o’clock in the morning.
  • Noticeably absent is the account of Peter walking (and sinking) on the water (cf. Matt. 14:28-31). Perhaps Peter was not fond of telling that story.[2]


  •  Why do you think Jesus was unable to do many miracles in his hometown of Nazareth? What is the role of faith in God’s works?
  • The people of Nazareth had stereotyped Jesus a simple carpenter as a means of discounting his claims and distancing themselves from having to respond to him. What classifications do we have for God that still act as limitations? Is he distant? Too holy? Does he only care about good people? Is he harsh? In which ways do we still think of Jesus as a “just a carpenter”?
  • Jesus asked his disciples to go on a missional journey to all the towns with only minimal provisions and no contingency plan. Where does Jesus want us to go and how does he want us to be dependent on others? Do we over think and over plan what Jesus has asked us to do?
  • The five loaves and two fish was not a sufficient meal for Jesus and his disciples, much less the crowd. What does this tell you about how the disciples expected to be provided for? What does this tell you about Jesus’ priority when it came to people?
  • Why do you think Jesus overfed the 5,000? Why were there 12 basketfuls of food left over?


  1. Catholic Answers Forum
  2. Utley Commentary (Bible.org)
  3. Easy English Commentary
  4. Barnes’ Commentary
  5. Herod Antipas (Wikipedia)
  6. Coffman’s Commentary
  7. Turton’s Commentary
  8. Nazareth (Wikipedia)

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