Mark 6 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

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(Read all of Mark 6)

Mr 6:1-6. CHRIST REJECTED AT NAZARETH. ( = Mt 13:54-58; Lu 4:16-30).

See on Lu 4:16-30.

Mr 6:7-13. MISSION OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES. ( = Mt 10:1, 5-15; Lu 9:1-6).

See on Mt 10:1; Mt 10:5-15.


Herod's View of Christ (Mr 6:14-16).

14. And King Herod--that is, Herod Antipas, one of the three sons of Herod the Great, and own brother of Archelaus (Mt 2:22), who ruled as ethnarch over Galilee and Perea.
heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad); and he said--"unto his servants" (Mt 14:2), his councillors or court ministers.
That John the Baptist was risen from the dead--The murdered prophet haunted his guilty breast like a specter, and seemed to him alive again and clothed with unearthly powers, in the person of Jesus.

15. Others said, That it is Elias. And others, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets--(See on Mt 16:14).

16. But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded; he is risen from the dead--"himself has risen"; as if the innocence and sanctity of his faithful reprover had not suffered that he should lie long dead.

Account of the Baptist's Imprisonment and Death (Mr 6:17-29).

17. For Herod himself had sent forth, and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison--in the castle of Machærus, near the southern extremity of Herod's dominions, and adjoining the Dead Sea [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 18.5,2].
for Herodias' sake--She was the granddaughter of Herod the Great.
his brother Philip's wife--and therefore the niece of both brothers. This Philip, however, was not the tetrarch of that name mentioned in Lu 3:1 (see on Lu 3:1), but one whose distinctive name was "Herod Philip," another son of Herod the Great--who was disinherited by his father. Herod Antipas' own wife was the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia; but he prevailed on Herodias, his half-brother Philip's wife, to forsake her husband and live with him, on condition, says JOSEPHUS [Antiquities, 18.5,1], that he should put away his own wife. This involved him afterwards in war with Aretas, who totally defeated him and destroyed his army, from the effects of which he was never able to recover himself.

18. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife--Noble fidelity! It was not lawful because Herod's wife and Herodias husband were both living; and further, because the parties were within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity (see Le 20:21); Herodias being the daughter of Aristobulus, the brother of both Herod and Philip [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 18.5,4].

19. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him--rather, as in the Margin, "had a grudge against him." Probably she was too proud to speak to him; still less would she quarrel with him.
and would have killed him; but she could not.

20. For Herod feared John--but, as BENGEL notes, John feared not Herod.
knowing that he was a just man and an holy--Compare the ease of Elijah with Ahab, after the murder of Naboth (1Ki 21:20).
and observed him--rather, as in the Margin, "kept" or "saved him"; that is, from the wicked designs of Herodias, who had been watching for some pretext to get Herod entangled and committed to despatch him.
and when he heard him, he did many things--many good things under the influence of the Baptist on his conscience.
and heard him gladly--a striking statement this, for which we are indebted to our graphic Evangelist alone, illustrating the working of contrary principles in the slaves of passion. But this only shows how far Herodias must have wrought upon him, as Jezebel upon Ahab, that he should at length agree to what his awakened conscience kept him long from executing.

21. And when a convenient day--for the purposes of Herodias.
was come, that Herod--rather, "A convenient day being come," when Herod.
on his birthday, made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee--This graphic minuteness of detail adds much to the interest of the tragic narrative.

22. And when the daughter of the said Herodias--that is,--her daughter by her proper husband, Herod Philip: Her name was Salome [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 18.5,4].
came in and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel--"the girl" (See on Mr 5:42).
Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.

23. And he--the king, so called, but only by courtesy (see on Mr 6:14).
sware unto her Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, unto the half of my kingdom--Those in whom passion and luxury have destroyed self-command will in a capricious moment say and do what in their cool moments they bitterly regret.

24. And she said, The head of John the Baptist--Abandoned women are more shameless and heartless than men. The Baptist's fidelity marred the pleasures of Herodias, and this was too good an opportunity of getting rid of him to let slip.

25. I will that thou give me by and by--rather, "at once."
in a charger--large, flat trencher--"the head of John the Baptist."

26. And the king was exceeding sorry--With his feelings regarding John, and the truths which so told upon his conscience from that preacher's lips, and after so often and carefully saving him from his paramour's rage, it must have been very galling to find himself at length entrapped by his own rash folly.
yet for his oath's sake--See how men of no principle, but troublesome conscience, will stick at breaking a rash oath, while yielding to the commission of the worst crimes!
and for their sakes which sat with him--under the influence of that false shame, which could not brook being thought to be troubled with religious or moral scruples. To how many has this proved a fatal snare!
he would not reject her.

27. And immediately the king sent an executioner--one of the guards in attendance. The word is Roman, denoting one of the Imperial Guard.
and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison--after, it would seem, more than twelve months' imprisonment. Blessed martyr! Dark and cheerless was the end reserved for thee: but now thou hast thy Master's benediction, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me" (Mt 11:6), and hast found the life thou gavest away (Mt 10:39). But where are they in whose skirts is found thy blood?

28. And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother--Herodias did not shed the blood of the stern reprover; she only got it done, and then gloated over it, as it streamed from the trunkless head.

29. And when his disciples heard of it--that is, the Baptist's own disciples.
they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb--"and went and told Jesus" (Mt 14:12). If these disciples had, up to this time, stood apart from Him, as adherents of John (Mt 11:2), perhaps they now came to Jesus, not without some secret reflection on Him for His seeming neglect of their master; but perhaps, too, as orphans, to cast in their lot henceforth with the Lord's disciples. How Jesus felt, or what He said, on receiving this intelligence, is not recorded; but He of whom it was said, as He stood by the grave of His friend Lazarus, "Jesus wept," was not likely to receive such intelligence without deep emotion. And one reason why He might not be unwilling that a small body of John's disciples should cling to him to the last, might be to provide some attached friends who should do for his precious body, on a small scale, what was afterwards to be done for His own.


Here, for the first time, all the four streams of sacred text run parallel. The occasion and all the circumstances of this grand section are thus brought before us with a vividness quite remarkable.

Five Thousand Miraculously Fed (Mr 6:30-44).

30. And the apostles gathered themselves together--probably at Capernaum, on returning from their mission (Mr 6:7-13).
and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught--Observe the various reasons He had for crossing to the other side. First, Matthew (Mt 14:13) says, that "when Jesus heard" of the murder of His faithful forerunner--from those attached disciples of his who had taken up his body and laid it in a sepulchre (see on Mr 6:29) --"He departed by ship into a desert place apart"; either to avoid some apprehended consequences to Himself, arising from the Baptist's death (Mt 10:23), or more probably to be able to indulge in those feelings which that affecting event had doubtless awakened, and to which the bustle of the multitude around Him was very unfavorable. Next, since He must have heard the report of the Twelve with the deepest interest, and probably with something of the emotion which He experienced on the return of the Seventy (see on Lu 10:17-22), He sought privacy for undisturbed reflection on this begun preaching and progress of His kingdom. Once more, He was wearied with the multitude of "comers and goers"--depriving Him even of leisure enough to take His food--and wanted rest: "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while," &c. Under the combined influence of all these considerations, our Lord sought this change.

32. And they departed into a desert place by ship privately--"over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias," says John (Joh 6:1), the only one of the Evangelists who so fully describes it; the others having written when their readers were supposed to know something of it, while the last wrote for those at a greater distance of time and place. This "desert place" is more definitely described by Luke (Lu 9:10) as "belonging to the city called Bethsaida." This must not be confounded with the town so called on the western side of the lake (see on Mt 11:21). This town lay on its northeastern side, near where the Jordan empties itself into it: in Gaulonitis, out of the dominions of Herod Antipas, and within the dominions of Philip the Tetrarch (Lu 3:1), who raised it from a village to a city, and called it Julias, in honor of Julia, the daughter of Augustus [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 18.2,1].

33. And the people--the multitudes.
saw them departing, and many knew him--The true reading would seem to be: "And many saw them departing, and knew or recognized [them]."
and ran afoot--Here, perhaps, it should be rendered "by land"--running round by the head of the lake, and taking one of the fords of the river, so as to meet Jesus, who was crossing with the Twelve by ship.
thither out of all cities, and outwent them--got before them.
and came together unto him--How exceedingly graphic is this! every touch of it betokening the presence of an eye-witness. John (Joh 6:3) says, that "Jesus went up into a mountain"--somewhere in that hilly range, the green tableland which skirts the eastern side of the lake.

34. And Jesus, when he came out of the ship--having gone on shore.
saw much people--a great multitude.
and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd--At the sight of the multitudes who had followed Him by land and even got before Him, He was so moved, as was His wont in such cases, with compassion, because they were like shepherdless sheep, as to forego both privacy and rest that He might minister to them. Here we have an important piece of information from the Fourth Evangelist (Joh 6:4), "And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh"--rather, "Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was nigh." This accounts for the multitudes that now crowded around Him. They were on their way to keep that festival at Jerusalem. But Jesus did not go up to this festival, as John expressly tells us, (Joh 7:1) --remaining in Galilee, because the ruling Jews sought to kill Him.

35. And when the day was now far spent--"began to wear away" or "decline," says Luke (Lu 9:12). Matthew (Mt 14:15) says, "when it was evening"; and yet he mentions a later evening of the same day (Mr 6:23). This earlier evening began at three P.M.; the latter began at sunset.

36. Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat--John tells us (Joh 6:5, 6) that "Jesus said to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? (And this He said to prove him: for He Himself knew what He would do)." The subject may have been introduced by some remark of the disciples; but the precise order and form of what was said by each can hardly be gathered with precision, nor is it of any importance.

37. He answered and said unto them--"They need not depart" (Mt 14:10).
Give ye them to eat--doubtless said to prepare them for what was to follow.
And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?--"Philip answered Him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little" (Joh 6:7).

38. He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes--John is more precise and full: "One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto Him, There is a lad here which hath five barley loaves and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?" (Joh 6:8, 9). Probably this was the whole stock of provisions then at the command of the disciples--no more than enough for one meal to them--and entrusted for the time to this lad. "He said, Bring them hither to me" (Mt 14:18).

39. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass--or "green hay"; the rank grass of those bushy wastes. For, as John (Joh 6:10) notes, "there was much grass in the place."

40. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties--Doubtless this was to show at a glance the number fed, and to enable all to witness in an orderly manner this glorious miracle.

41. And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven--Thus would the most distant of them see distinctly what He was doing.
and blessed--John (Joh 6:11) says, "And when he had given thanks." The sense is the same. This thanksgiving for the meal, and benediction of it as the food of thousands, was the crisis of the miracle.
and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them--thus virtually holding forth these men as His future ministers.
and the two fishes divided he among them all.

42. And they did all eat, and were filled--All the four Evangelists mention this: and John (Joh 6:11) adds, "and likewise of the fishes, as much as they would"--to show that vast as was the multitude, and scanty the provisions, the meal to each and all of them was a plentiful one. "When they were filled, He said unto His disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost" (Joh 6:12). This was designed to bring out the whole extent of the miracle.

43. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes--"Therefore (says Joh 6:13), they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten." The article here rendered "baskets" in all the four narratives was part of the luggage taken by Jews on a journey--to carry, it is said, both their provisions and hay to sleep on, that they might not have to depend on Gentiles, and so run the risk of ceremonial pollution. In this we have a striking corroboration of the truth of the four narratives. Internal evidence renders it clear, we think, that the first three Evangelists wrote independently of each other, though the fourth must have seen all the others. But here, each of the first three Evangelists uses the same word to express the apparently insignificant circumstance that the baskets employed to gather up the fragments were of the kind which even the Roman satirist, JUVENAL, knew by the name of cophinus, while in both the narratives of the feeding of the Four Thousand the baskets used are expressly said to have been of the kind called spuris. (See Mr 8:19, 20.)

44. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men--"besides women and children" (Mt 14:21). Of these, however, there would probably not be many; as only the males were obliged to go to the approaching festival.

Jesus Recrosses to the Western side of the Lake Walking on the Sea (Mr 6:45-56).

One very important particular given by John alone (Joh 6:15) introduces this portion: "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would take Him by force, to make Him a king, He departed again into a mountain Himself alone."

45. And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before--Him.
unto Bethsaida--Bethsaida of Galilee (Joh 12:21). John (Joh 6:17) says they "went over the sea towards Capernaum"--the wind, probably, occasioning this slight deviation from the direction of Bethsaida.
while he sent away the people--"the multitude." His object in this was to put an end to the misdirected excitement in His favor (Joh 6:15), into which the disciples themselves may have been somewhat drawn. The word "constrained" implies reluctance on their part, perhaps from unwillingness to part with their Master and embark at night, leaving Him alone on the mountain.

46. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray--thus at length getting that privacy and rest which He had vainly sought during the earlier part of the day; opportunity also to pour out His soul in connection with the extraordinary excitement in His favor that evening--which appears to have marked the zenith of His reputation, for it began to decline the very next day; and a place whence He might watch the disciples on the lake, pray for them in their extremity, and observe the right time for coming to them, in a new manifestation of His glory, on the sea.

47. And when even was come--the later evening (see on Mr 6:35). It had come even when the disciples embarked (Mt 14:23; Joh 6:16).
the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land--John says (Joh 6:17), "It was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them." Perhaps they made no great effort to push across at first, having a lingering hope that their Master would yet join them, and so allowed the darkness to come on. "And the sea arose" (adds the beloved disciple, Joh 6:18), "by reason of a great wind that blew."

48. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them--putting forth all their strength to buffet the waves and bear on against a head wind, but to little effect. He "saw" this from His mountain top, and through the darkness of the night, for His heart was all with them: yet would He not go to their relief till His own time came.
and about the fourth watch of the night--The Jews, who used to divide the night into three watches, latterly adopted the Roman division into four watches, as here. So that, at the rate of three hours to each, the fourth watch, reckoning from six P.M., would be three o'clock in the morning. "So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs" (Joh 6:19) --rather more than halfway across. The lake is about seven miles broad at its widest part. So that in eight or nine hours they had only made some three and a half miles. By this time, therefore, they must have been in a state of exhaustion and despondency bordering on despair; and now at length, having tried them long enough.
he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea--"and draweth nigh unto the ship" (Joh 6:19).
and would have passed by them--but only in the sense of Lu 24:28; Ge 32:26; compare Ge 18:3, 5; 42:7.

49. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out--"for fear" (Mt 14:26). He would appear to them at first like a dark moving speck upon the waters; then as a human figure; but in the dark tempestuous sky, and not dreaming that it could be their Lord, they take it for a spirit. Compare Lu 24:37.

50. For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: It is I; be not afraid--There is something in these two little words--given by Matthew, Mark and John (Mt 14:27; Mr 6:50; Joh 6:20) --"It is I," which from the mouth that spake it and the circumstances in which it was uttered, passes the power of language to express. Here were they in the midst of a raging sea, their little bark the sport of the elements, and with just enough of light to descry an object on the waters which only aggravated their fears. But Jesus deems it enough to dispel all apprehension to let them know that He was there. From other lips that "I am" would have merely meant that the person speaking was such a one and not another person. That, surely, would have done little to calm the fears of men expecting every minute, it may be, to go to the bottom. But spoken by One who at that moment was "treading upon the waves of the sea," and was about to hush the raging elements with His word, what was it but the Voice which cried of old in the ears of Israel, even from the days of Moses, "I AM"; "I, EVEN I, AM HE!" Compare Joh 18:5, 6; 8:58. Now, that Word is "made flesh, and dwells among us," uttering itself from beside us in dear familiar tones--"It is the Voice of my Beloved!" How far was this apprehended by these frightened disciples? There was one, we know, in the boat who outstripped all the rest in susceptibility to such sublime appeals. It was not the deep-toned writer of the Fourth Gospel, who, though he lived to soar beyond all the apostles, was as yet too young for prominence, and all unripe. It was Simon Barjonas. Here follows a very remarkable and instructive episode, recorded by Matthew alone:

Peter Ventures to Walk upon the Sea (Mt 14:28-32).

Mt 14:28:
And Peter answered Him, and said, Lord, If it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water--not "let me," but "give me the word of command"--"command," or "order me to come unto Thee upon the waters."

Mt 14:29:
And He said, Come--Sublime word, issuing from One conscious of power over the raging element, to bid it serve both Himself and whomsoever else He pleased!
And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked upon the water--"waters."
to come to Jesus--"It was a bold spirit," says BISHOP HALL, "that could wish it; more bold that could act it--not fearing either the softness or the roughness of that uncouth passage."

Mt 14:30:
But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid: and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me--The wind was as boisterous before, but Peter "saw" it not, seeing only the power of Christ, in the lively exercise of faith. Now he "sees" the fury of the elements, and immediately the power of Christ to bear him up fades before his view, and this makes him "afraid"--as how could he be otherwise, without any felt power to keep him up? He then "begins to sink"; and finally, conscious that his experiment had failed, he casts himself, in a sort of desperate confidence, upon his "Lord" for deliverance!

Mt 14:31:
And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?--This rebuke was not administered while Peter was sinking, nor till Christ had him by the hand: first reinvigorating his faith, and then with it enabling him again to walk upon the crested wave. Useless else had been this loving reproof, which owns the faith that had ventured on the deep upon the bare word of Christ, but asks why that distrust which so quickly marred it.

Mt 14:32:
And when they--Jesus and Peter.
were come into the ship, the wind ceased.

51. And he went up unto them into the ship--John (Joh 6:21) says, "Then they willingly received him into the ship"--or rather, "Then were they willing to receive Him" (with reference to their previous terror); but implying also a glad welcome, their first fears now converted into wonder and delight. "And immediately," adds the beloved disciple, "they were at the land whither they went," or "were bound." This additional miracle, for as such it is manifestly related, is recorded by the fourth Evangelist alone. As the storm was suddenly calmed, so the little bark--propelled by the secret power of the Lord of nature now sailing in it--glided through the now unruffled waters, and, while they were wrapt in wonder at what had happened, not heeding their rapid motion, was found at port, to their still further surprise.

"Then are they glad, because at rest
    And quiet now they be;
So to the haven He them brings
    Which they desired to see."

Matthew (Mt 14:33) says, "Then they that were in the ship came [that is, ere they got to land] and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God." But our Evangelist is wonderfully striking.
and the wind ceased and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered--The Evangelist seems hardly to find language strong enough to express their astonishment.

52. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves; for their heart was hardened--What a singular statement! The meaning seems to be that if they had but "considered [reflected upon] the miracle of the loaves," wrought but a few hours before, they would have wondered at nothing which He might do within the whole circle of power and grace.

Incidents on Landing (Mr 6:53-56).

The details here are given with a rich vividness quite peculiar to this charming Gospel.

53. And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret--from which the lake sometimes takes its name, stretching along its western shore. Capernaum was their landing-place (Joh 6:24, 25).
and drew to the shore--a nautical phrase, nowhere else used in the New Testament.

54. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him--"immediately they recognized Him"; that is, the people did.

55. and began to carry about in beds those that were sick, where they heard he was--At this period of our Lord's ministry the popular enthusiasm in His favor was at its height.

56. and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment--having heard, no doubt, of what the woman with the issue of blood experienced on doing so (Mr 5:25-29), and perhaps of other unrecorded cases of the same nature.
and as many as touched him--or "it"--the border of His garment.
were made whole--All this they continued to do and to experience while our Lord was in that region. The time corresponds to that mentioned (Joh 7:1), when He "walked in Galilee," instead of appearing in Jerusalem at the passover, "because the Jews," that is, the rulers, "sought to kill Him"--while the people sought to enthrone Him!