Jesus fed large crowds on two occasions. We are more familiar with the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 8), but have you ever wondered why later Jesus repeated this miracle with 4,000 people?
In context, we are told, “Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis” (Mark 7:31). The Decapolis was a confederation of ten Greek cities, mostly on the Jordan River’s far side. It was Gentile territory. They had followed Jesus for three days and were in a lonely place. Then Mark tells us many of the people following Jesus “have come from far away.” Who were these people?
The language may help us identify them. J.A. Brooks explains:
The expression translated “a long-distance” and cognates are used in the LXX to describe the Gentile lands to which Israel had been exiled … The early church sometimes referred these passages to the calling of the Gentiles. Mark, therefore, may have wanted his readers/hearers to see an allusion to the Gentiles.
This story is the highlight of Jesus’ ministry to the Gentiles in Mark. It began when Jesus took his disciples to Phoenicia and cast a demon out of a Gentile woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24 – 30). Then Jesus healed a deaf man in the Gentile territory on the far side of the Jordan River (7:31 – 37). Now Jesus has been teaching for three days in the wilderness and feeds a crowd of 4,000 people, most of whom are probably Gentiles (8:1 – 10).
What does this tell us? The Jews may have been God’s chosen people, but He never stopped loving all of his children. Because we have the Old Testament, we know much more about God’s relationship with the Jewish people but scattered throughout its pages, we find Gentiles who also worship the Lord. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, was a priest of Midian. Balaam was a prophet of the Lord, and who can forget Melchizedek, whom Abraham worshipped with? When we come to the New Testament, we have the mysterious wise men who come to worship the baby Jesus.
Jesus fed the 5,000 Jews in Mark 6, and he fed 4,000 Gentiles in Mark 8. The point is: God loves everyone and desires all of his children to come home.