Mark 8 • The Work of the Suffering Servant


Hebrew scholars during the Second Temple Period – the time leading up to Christ’s First Coming culminated by the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD – derived from Scripture two pictures of the Messiah to come which they called “HaMashiach Ben Joseph” – “The Messiah the Son of Joseph”, and “HaMashiach Ben David” – “The Messiah the Son of David”. They knew that the Messiah would come in the character of Joseph as a servant and called this aspect of the Messiah “The Suffering Servant”. But they also knew He would come in the character of David which they called “The Conquering King”. They had great debates as to how the Messiah would come and fulfill both aspects at the same time. What they failed to realize which we now understand in hindsight is that it is one Messiah, but two comings. At His First Coming Jesus fulfills the work of the Suffering Servant and dying for sin; at His Second Coming He fulfills the work of the Conquering King and establishes His kingdom. The Gospel of Mark concentrates on how Jesus fulfilled the role of the Suffering Servant and this chapter provides an overall view of that particular work.

Read verses 1-9

Q: Where is this taking place?

A: In Mk. 7:31 leading into this chapter we are told that this is “within the region of Decapolis”, a Greek term meaning “ten cities”. It was actually an independent Gentile culture like a separate country which had its own army, court system, and currency. What is significant here is that Jesus is ministering among a population that is mainly Gentile.

Q: What is the chief characteristic of the Suffering Servant being expressed in this event?

A: Compassion. (v.2)

Q: Is this the same event as the feeding of the 5,000?

Mark 6:32-44

Mark 8:1-9

  • 5,000+ people, mostly Jews
  • With Jesus one day
  • Takes place in Galilee
  • Five loaves, two fish
  • Twelve baskets left over (small lunch baskets)
  • 4,000+ people, mostly Gentiles
  • With Jesus three days
  • Takes place near the Decapolis
  • Seven loaves, a few fish
  • Seven baskets left over (large hampers)

Q: It was not that long ago when Jesus fed the 5,000. Why would Jesus’ followers question Him again in the same situation?

A: It is most likely because the last event and during the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He focused almost exclusively on the Jews; now He is showing the same compassion for the Gentiles.

Application: By Jesus’ time Judaism had come to falsely embrace the notion that they were to separate themselves and never engage Gentiles in direct opposition to their calling to be a light to the rest of the world. The Suffering Servant comes to fulfill God’s whole plan to BOTH Jew and Gentile.

Read verses 10-21

Q: Where does this event take place?

A: “The district of Dalmanutha” indicates that they have crossed the Sea of Galilee and returned to a place that is mainstream Israel and therefore mostly Jewish. Since “Dalmanutha” literally means “slow firebrand”, there might also be a spiritual allusion to what is taking place here.

Q: Why would Jesus respond to their test by “sighing deeply in His spirit”?

A: When they are asking for a “sign from heaven”, this could also be translated as “an attesting miracle” to better understand what they are looking for. He had fed the 5,000 – mainly composed of Jews, and yet this was not proof enough for the Pharisees because we know in the parallel account in John (Jn. 6:30-33) that their standard was something akin to Moses who had brought down bread from heaven rather than multiplying earthly bread as Jesus had done. (See Dt. 8:3 about manna.)

Q: So what is Jesus actually saying when He declares, “Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation”? Is He refusing to reveal Himself to the Jews?

A: This is actually a way of stating that because they have set their own standards by which to test the Messiah and in the process dismissed His authority and miracles, they will not be given a sign by their own standards but will have to make do with the ones He is providing.

Point: A yielded and believing heart is strengthened by the works of Christ; a hardened and unrepentant heart rejects them and is ultimately judged by them.

Q: Why was the issue not really about the bread but the leaven?

A: Leaven had to be removed from every Jewish household during Passover (Ex. 12:18-20) and leaven was prohibited with offerings. (Ex. 23:18; 34:25; Lev. 2:11; 6:17) It is not just an allusion to sin but to false doctrine (Gal. 5:1-9), unjudged sin in the Church (1 Co. 5), and hypocrisy (Lk. 12:1). This is not about temporarily backsliding from the truth but pursuing a spiritually unfaithful lifestyle.

You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.

— Galatians 5:7–9

Q: What, exactly, is the “leaven of the Pharisees”?

A: Hypocrisy and false teaching. The Pharisees were those who had twisted the Word of God into something never intended.

Q: What, exactly, is the “leaven of Herod”?

A: Worldly compromise. The Herodians forsook the Word of God in favor of becoming as much like the Romans as possible.

Q: What is the lesson that Jesus wants the disciples to learn? Why is He making a big deal about the bread and the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000?

A: Signs and wonders always point to a greater teaching which is more important than the signs and wonders themselves. Physical bread only satiates physical hunger temporarily; spiritual bread addresses something much greater whether it is to consume the erroneous teachings of the Pharisees and Herodians or the Gospel of the Messiah.

Q: Why do the two healings – one preceding this section and the one to follow – actually reflect what has been taking place here?

A: These two men – the deaf man with the speech impediment (Mk. 7:31-37) and the blind man – illustrate the disciples’ spiritual condition described in v.18.

Observation: Jewish readers in the 1st Century would connect these two miracles with the messianic promises of Isaiah 53.

Q: What is the chief characteristic of the Suffering Servant being expressed in this event?

A: Concern.

Application: The Suffering Servant does not merely come with the authority of God’s signs and miracles but with a greater burden that everyone should understand and accept the greater message behind them.

Read verses 22-26

Q: Where does this event take place?

A: Bethsaida which literally means “House of Provision”. It is an interesting step in the sequence of places visited in this chapter.

Q: What is unique about how Jesus healed this blind man compared to other blind men as recorded in the Gospels?

A: The Gospels record Jesus healing at least seven blind people and each time the approach was different. This is the only “gradual” miracle recorded in any of the Gospels and it is also unique in that he not only took the man away from the crowd but out of the town.

Q: Why do you suppose Jesus took the man not just away from the crowd but out of the city entirely?

A: In the context of what has been taking place to this point, one of the key issues is people rejecting the greater message and meaning behind the miracles. It would be a very powerful way of Christ letting the town know it was under the judgment of God as He specifically stated in Matthew 11:21-24. Just as with the Pharisees, no more evidence would be given to them.

Q: Was this man born blind?

A: Probably not since he could recognize the difference between men and trees. (v.24) Spiritually he represents someone backslidden in the character of the Prodigal Son.

Q: What might be the greater teaching of the gradual two-stage healing of the blind man?

A: It is probably an allusion to the fact spiritually it is not just about being able to see, but being taught how to use the eyesight once it is restored. In other words, it is an illustration of salvation followed by sanctification, of discipleship and no longer living according to the old life.

Q: What is significant about Jesus both sending him “to his home” and simultaneously commanding him, “Do not even enter the village”?

A: It means that the man was not from Bethsaida, the city from which Jesus removed him, and was therefore not to return to the old life but to become Christ’s witness by returning to his home town as a witness of a new creation in Christ.

Q: What is the chief characteristic of the Suffering Servant displayed to those in Bethsaida?

A: Condemnation. This is always what Christ’s works accomplish in those who reject Him personally.

Application: The Suffering Servant doesn’t come to merely restore sight to the spiritually blind, but to educate them how to “see” going forward according to the true intent and meaning of God’s Word and will.

Read verses 27-33

Q: What might be indicated by the fact that the next event takes place in Caesarea Philippi?

A: The literal meaning of “Caesarea” is “severed”.

Q: How might “severed” be appropriate to this section?

A: Christ is separating Himself from the affiliations being attributed to Him by the people and establishing in plain language to His disciples that He is not only the Messiah, but fulfilling the scriptural role of the Suffering Servant.

Q: Why would “severed” be especially appropriate where the Suffering Servant is concerned?

A: Although they recognized that the Messiah would come as both the Suffering Servant and the Conquering King, by Jesus’ time they no longer wanted a Suffering Servant; they desired only the Conquering King to conquer the Romans, establish His kingdom, and rule the earth from Jerusalem. Christ is now beginning to teach them the fact that it is “one Messiah, two comings” and that the work He had come to do is NOT that of the Conquering King and all that is associated with the Millennial Reign, but that of the Suffering Servant as ultimately expressed in His crucifixion.

Observation: This obsession with the Messiah the Conquering King explains not only Jesus’ harsh treatment of Peter in this particular instance, but is revealed by how Peter reacted at the Mt. of Transfiguration (he believed the Millennial Reign had begun), and the disciples’ question of when this would occur at the Olivet Discourse, when He rose from the dead, and just prior to His ascension (Acts 1:6-8).

Q: What is the chief attribute of the Suffering Servant being expressed?

A: Crucifixion. He will reiterate this teaching in Mark 9:30-32 and Mark 10:32-34.

Application: In His First Coming the Messiah comes as the Suffering Servant to be crucified and pay the price for sin; it is only at His Second Coming that the Messiah comes as the Conquering King to establish His Millennial Kingdom.

Read verses 34-38

Q: So what has been the greater teaching behind everything else that has taken place up to this point?

A: The proof of belief in Christ and His work is found in discipleship, those who actually put His Word and example into practice and live like Him.

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

— Romans 10:8-10

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

— 1 John 4:1-3

Q: From this teaching, what are the three conditions Jesus establishes for true discipleship?

  1. We must surrender ourselves completely to Him.
  2. We must identify with Him in suffering and death.
  3. We must follow Him obediently wherever He leads.

Q: This is not a trick question: Is denying self the same as self-denial?

A: Self-denial is what takes place when we occasionally give something up; denying self is what takes place when we surrender ourselves to Christ for the purpose of exclusively obeying His Word and ways alone.

Application: The act of salvation may be marked by a dedication to Christ, but what must take place going forward is a daily “dying to self” as we take up our cross and follow Him. From the human perspective we are losing ourselves, from the divine perspective we are finding ourselves.

Q: What is given here as the motivation for true discipleship?

A: “…for My sake and the Gospel’s…” (v.35) It is simultaneously an inward working in terms of our relationship with Christ (“for My sake”) and an outward working in terms of our relationship with others (“and the Gospel’s”).

Application: Because we live for Him we therefore live for others.

Q: What chief attribute of the Suffering Servant is here being expressed?

A: Consecration.

Application: The Suffering Servant does not come to make citizens or converts but disciples, people whose lives visibly reflect the spiritual condition of their hearts.

Overall Application