These small group studies of the gospel of Mark contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Mark 8:1-21 Inductive Bible Study
Jesus feeds the four thousand (1-10)
No sign will be given to this generation (11-13)
Jesus warns them about the Pharisees and Herod (14-21)
I. Verses 1-10 Discussion Questions
How is this story similar to the feeding of the five thousand? How is it different? Are there any additional insights/lessons you can learn from it? Compare and contrast the disciples’ attitudes in Mark 6 and here.
This was likely in Decapolis (Mark 7:31), which was primarily a Gentile region. This is the same region Jesus healed the man possessed by legion. Because it was a Gentile region, we see God’s grace and Jesus’ ministry extended beyond the Jews.
It is likely that many of the people coming heard about Jesus from that man and now had an opportunity to meet Jesus for Himself. It seems Jesus was following a similar strategy as Paul did later, which is to visit places, preach and teach, and then go back again for more encouragement and follow-up.
Once again, Jesus’ compassion is highlighted. The people had mostly not eaten for days. Obviously Jesus’ teachings were very powerful, which made them want to keep staying and listening to Him.
The disciples still didn’t seem to get it. You would think they might just immediately say, “Here’s some bread. Do another miracle like last time.” This idea was so foreign to their normal human logic that none of them said this and perhaps even thought about it. While it is only two chapters apart, we are not sure how much time has elapsed. If a month or two or more had gone by that could also help explain why they didn’t immediately think about it.
The crowds were commanded to sit on the ground. No record is shown of an explanation. They needed to obey without necessarily knowing why.
This time, there were seven loaves and a few fish. The exact number is not important. What’s more the fact that a different number is reported each time shows us that the number is real (and not an allegory) and that the reporting and writing is very accurate and precise down to the simplest details. Each loaf then needed to feed about 600 people (not counting women and children) and then fill up a very large basket (the word means something like hamper, which a person could fit into).
Jesus blessed the food again, reminding us of the principle of giving thanks before eating.
People ate, were satisfied, and there was lots leftover. His miracle was more than sufficient. It was abundant.
Jesus knows our needs. He can abundantly supply our needs. We have a responsibility to obey His commands even when we don’t know why and trust that He has a good reason for them.
Verses 11-13 Discussion Questions
Why did the Pharisees go to see Jesus?
What can we learn from this about people’s motivations? Do you think they told Jesus directly “we came to argue with you?”
Why did they want to see a sign?
How did Jesus feel when they came to Him?
Why did He not give them a sign? Was it just this once or did he never give them a sign? What may have been the difference?
Matthew 12:38-40 – No sign would be given to this adulterous generation except for the sign of Jonah.
1 Corinthians 1:22 – The Jews seek for signs and the Greeks seek for wisdom.
Judges 6:17 – Gideon asked for a sign.
John 2:11 – Jesus performed a sign at the wedding in Cana?
1. The Pharisees were still hostile to Jesus’ ministry. Crowds followed Jesus around wherever He went. But not all of the people were welcoming or friendly. Pharisees travelled long distances just to watch Jesus “like a hawk” and find any excuse to blame Him or argue with Him in public. Wherever there is a large crowd of people together there are sure to many people there with their own motivations, sometimes even bad ones. Not everyone goes to church because they want to learn more about God and grow in their relationship with Him. The Pharisees had an amazing privilege. Of all the people who have ever lived on the earth, they actually had the chance to see Jesus face to face and listen to His teaching. But they wasted their chance.
Application: We too are greatly privileged. We each have a Bible. Most of us actually have multiple Bibles and Bibles on our computer, smart phone, kindle, etc. There are many churches and fellowships around which we can go to. We have unprecedented access to Bible teaching. The internet gives us loads of information on any passage we are studying and there are hundreds of thousands of Christian books which we can read. Do you take this for granted? Do you give your complete attention to the sermon on Sundays? Do you treasure God’s Word? Do not waste the opportunities God has given you to get to know Him better.
2. The Pharisees demanded that Jesus give them a sign. In and of itself this was not a bad request. Jesus was making a lot of claims and promises. It would be natural to want some evidence that Jesus is who He said He was. However, Jesus had already done many signs (what signs have we read about in recent chapters?) Did these not count? The Pharisees dismissed all the signs that Jesus had already done and kept demanding more. Notice too that their request was not sincere. They were not considering believing in Him. It was a challenge, not a genuine desire to learn.
3. Jesus saw through their request. He knew their hearts. He knew that doing a sign for them would not change their minds. It would be like showing off just because He could. Why did Jesus do most of His signs? Most of them were motivated out of compassion. Any examples? I cannot think of a single miracle which He did (except for the Resurrection) just to show people He could. He is not like a trained monkey to perform on demand. He did not need to prove Himself to them and indeed nothing He did would have been proof in their minds anyway. This demand is actually very similar to Satan’s testing of Jesus in the wilderness. Clearly Jesus was not swayed by, “If you are the Son of God, you will…” challenges. In Matthew 12:38-40, we see that Jesus said only one sign would be given to the people and that sign was not given immediately. That sign is the sign of the resurrection. This is the greatest and only proof necessary to show Jesus is who He said He was. It also seems to be the only one He did to show who He was rather than to help other people (although all of His miracles showed His divinity as well.)
What do we learn from this?
- We should not challenge/test God.
- The same question could be asked out of a sincere heart (Gideon) and granted, or out of a desire to challenge. Evaluate your heart.
- Jesus did what He knew was right, not just what people expected of Him. He did not give in to peer pressure of any kind. We should not either.
- Invest your time in people who are sincere about learning about God, not in people who seek to challenge or argue.
- It is not normally worthwhile to argue with those types of people (a possible exception could be for the sake of sincere people who are also in the group).
Verses 14-21 Discussion Questions
What may have stimulated Jesus to talk about the “leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod?
What do you think he was referring to?
What does leaven generally represent in the Bible? In this case is it good or bad? How do you know?
How did the disciples interpret Jesus’ statement?
What was Jesus’ view of this?
Why did they keep thinking about the physical things when Jesus was referring to spiritual things?
What was Jesus’ response this time to their short-term memories?
What can we learn from verse 18? How can we move beyond focusing on the things we can see around to the spiritual truths and Christ’s spiritual kingdom?
What teaching method did Jesus use here? (Questions)
Did it lead them to understand? (Yes, see Matthew 16)
Matthew 16:8-12 – Parallel passage.
Colossians 3:2 – Set your mind on things above not on things on the earth.
Hebrews 5:14 – Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained.
Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition.
1. Jesus often used situations they were facing to teaching something. In this case it appears that the discussion of bread prompted Jesus to give an illustration about the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod. Because Jesus was normally with the disciples everyday life provided countless “teachable moments.” For those who are discipling others, try to spend more time with them so that you can share in real life situations. Parents also should seek to teach their children not just at set times during the day but all through the day as you encounter teachable moments.
2. Originally, the disciples didn’t understand this statement. They thought it had something to do with the fact that they forgot to take the bread. But Jesus didn’t care they forgot to take the bread. He had just done two miracles feeding more than nine thousand people anyway. The issue seems to be that they were still thinking in the physical plane rather than the spiritual plane. Jesus had already done many miracles and taught them many lessons. Yet many times, they still didn’t “get it.” When Jesus used examples or parables they were often stuck and couldn’t figure out the meaning of what He taught them. Jesus wanted them to move past the basics and their immature thinking and start to grasp what He was teaching them.
Application: Discernment is important. We need to look at the things around us with spiritual eyes filled with wisdom from the Lord. We need to keep studying, keep growing, and keep pressing on towards a closer relationship with and a higher understanding of and a deeper obedience to the Lord.
3. Jesus used questions to lead them to understanding. He did not just give them the answer or lecture them. Rather through questions He forced them to use critical thinking skills to look at the issue. These questions helped them to think through this statement on their own and then find the answer. Instead of feeding them the answer this time (in which case they probably would have forgotten it soon after anyway) He showed them how to use their minds in order to find the answer, which they would be able to do every time in the future. This is similar to the Chinese idiom, “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” As we disciple others we need to carefully consider this truth. Do not always be in a hurry to tell others the answer or lecture. Instead try to “coach” people to find the answer themselves. This will be much more powerful.
4. See Cross-References. Jesus’ teaching method worked. The disciples thought of the answer themselves. They realized Jesus was referring to the teaching of the Pharisees and Herod. What was the matter with the Pharisees’ teaching? How about Herod’s?