10.01.12 Lk. 9:10a; Mk. 6:30-34; Lk. 9:11 (Mt. 14:12-14; Jn. 6:1-4) Bethsaida: The Disciples Return

10.01.12 Bethsaida: The Disciples Return

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 04, 2016  -  Comments Off on 10.01.12 Bethsaida: The Disciples Return

10.01.12 Lk. 9:10a; Mk. 6:30-34; Lk. 9:11; Jn. 6:4 (See also Mt. 14:12-14) Bethsaida




Lk. 10a When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus all that they had done.


Mk. 30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to Him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 32 So they went away in the boat by themselves to a remote place, 33 but many saw them leaving and recognized them. People ran there by land from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 So as He stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things.


Lk. 11 When the crowds found out, they followed Him. He welcomed them, spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and cured those who needed healing.


Jn. 4 Now the Passover, a Jewish festival, was near.


It was now Passover, a year prior to His crucifixion. Instructing the disciples became increasingly more important than teaching the crowds, although His popularity was exploding. As a result, it was becoming increasing difficult for Jesus to find peace and quiet. Ironically, the more popular He became, the more difficult it was for the disciples to understand that He would die.


10.01.12.Q1 Is there a “wilderness” near Bethsaida (Mk. 6:31)?


Some English translations associate the word “wilderness” or “desert” with this small town of Bethsaida.  The difficulty is that Bethsaida was located along the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, far from any wilderness or desert. The Greek word in Mark 6:31 that describes it is eremos (2048), an adjective signifying a remote, lonely, and unpopulated.[1]  At times the word “wilderness” is translated as “desert,” but this term was not always a reference to climate, but lack of population. A wilderness can also be a very solitary area as were some regions near Bethsaida. Bethsaida was definitely not a desert area, but a village in an unpopulated area.

The town was referred to as the “house of fishing” by Josephus[2] although it could also imply hunting with the use of a snare.[3]  The town was known for its beauty and became known as Bethsaida Julias, in honor of Caesar’s daughter.  Scholars believe it was located within the territory controlled by Herod Philip on the eastern side of the Jordan River, upstream from where the river flows into the Sea of Galilee.[4]

“They were like sheep without a shepherd.” Scholars have offered two possible interpretations for this phrase:

  1. The Jewish people did not have spiritual leaders who loved and cared for them. There is no question that the leading Pharisees, and most certainly the Sadducees, were worthless and a majority of scholars believe the phrase was directed toward them.[5] The term “sheep without a shepherd” is found in a number of Old Testament accounts,[6] but few prophets were as dynamic in their use of this term as was Ezekiel in 34:1-10. So when Jesus used it, there was a powerful connection.
  2. However, there is also another possible meaning to this term. Some scholars have suggested it is a reference to the followers of John the Baptist who no longer had him as their spiritual guide. He had been preaching for at least two years at this point, and he had established quite a following of disciples and listeners. When Jesus spoke these words, He was not speaking of the general population of the Jewish people, but rather of those who had been following John.  He had mercy on them, and soon they became His followers.


When John was in prison, the guests of the Herodians were feasting on the good food, but his disciples and followers, who were for the most part poor peasant farmers, had little or nothing to eat. When they heard the news of John’s death, they became discouraged. There clearly existed a spiritual vacuum.  They had looked to John as the new Elijah who would in some way prepare the way for the Messiah.


When they came into the presence of Jesus, He performed the most profound miracle.  He multiplied fishes and loaves of bread until everyone was full.  Clearly, this was a reflection of the manna that fell from heaven during the times when their forefathers wandered in the desert wilderness. Moses had prayed for a shepherd for Israel (Num. 27:17; cf. Ezek. 34:5) and God provided Joshua (whose name in Greek is “Jesus”). Both Moses and Jesus were leaders with a shepherd’s heart for leading sheep through the wilderness.  Now, however, not only were their stomachs being filled, but they also heard Jesus preach hope and life to them. He became their new shepherd.


So many of the people really were like sheep without a shepherd.  The religious establishment had become corrupt in every conceivable manner and some leaders believed there were those who were simply unteachable.  The famed Rabbi Hillel, whose grandson was the teacher of the Apostle Paul, said the following:


A brutish man dreads not sin, and an ignorant man cannot be saintly, and the shamefast man cannot learn, and the impatient man cannot teach, and he that engages overmuch in trade cannot become wise; and where there are no men (you ought) to be a man.[7]


Mishnah, Aboth 2.6


Poetic parallelism like this was typically used as a memory device, as this helped the ancients to memorize word for word large portions of both the written and Oral Laws.  Mark considered the life of Christ so important for his audience that he wrote in an accepted manner to help them memorize what Jesus taught. To the gospel writer, this was more significant than recording detailed events for which modern critics search.[8]


Evidently, not all followers of John the Baptist became followers of Jesus.  A few of them banded together and formed their own religion and today they are known as the “Mandeans,” or “Mandaeans.”[9]  Their name Mandaean is Aramaic meaning knowledge, a translation from the Greek word gnosis.[10] They have also been called “Christians of Saint John” even though they consider Jesus to have been a false prophet. Since John was a baptizer, they practice frequent baptisms as Christians practice communion.


Scholars believe the Mandaeans left the Jordan Valley at the time of the Second Revolt (A.D. 132-135), moved eastward and relocated to where they are living today, namely in Iran and Iraq in the cities of Wasit, Nasiriyya, Basra, and in Chuzistan along the eastern shore of the Tigris River.[11]  Arab Bedouins at one time called the Yarmuk River the River of the Mandaeans, where John the Baptist preached east of the Jordan River.[12]

[1]. Vine, “Wilderness.” Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary. 2:676.


[2]. Josephus, Wars 3.3.5.


[3]. Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 464 n1.


[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.2.1.


[5]. For example, see Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 170-71.


[6]. Num. 27:17; 1 Kg. 22:17 = 2 Chron. 18:16.


[7]. Bracketed insert mine for clarification.


[8]. The gospel writers not only recorded various events and teachings of Jesus, but each writer applied his own style to emphasize the importance of his message.  Mark not only wrote ideas in poetic style, but also themes – a writing technique that helped his audience memorize his message. See an example of the poetic themes of Mark 6:31 – 8:30 in Appendix 11.


[9]. The name “Mandaeans” is also spelled “Mendaeans.” Today there are only a few thousand who practice their religion of Mandaeism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandaeism Retrieved December 9, 2012.  See also K. Kessler. “Mandaeans.” Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge. New York, Toronto, London: Funk & Wagnalls. 1891. 3:1467-69; Mould, Essentials of Bible History. 494.


[10]. Fruchtenbaum, The Jewish Foundation of the Life of Messiah: Instructor’s Manual. Class 10, pages 2-4.


[11]. Kessler, “Mendaeans.” 3:1467-69.


[12]. Pixner, With Jesus through Galilee. 110.


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