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22 October 2018

When the crowds realized Jesus is the Prophet.

Wanna win a kingdom? Give ’em freebies.

Mark 6.45-47 • Matthew 14.22-23 • John 6.14-17.

Christians are far from decided about how the End Times are gonna play out. Well, most of us are undecided: We recognize God was deliberately vague about the details, and aren’t gonna presume to declare what his apocalyptic revelations mean. Sometimes because we’re too intimidated to try; sometimes because we know better than to try. Of course some of us aren’t so humble, and have even made intricate timelines.

What did the Pharisees do when it came to End Times speculation? Oh, they totally made timelines. You probably guessed that about ’em.

Not that their timelines lined up with one another. If you ever read the Mishna, you’ll notice Pharisees disagreed about everything. So of course there were dozens of theories about the order of events, and the various End Times figures whom the Pharisees expected would appear. There’s Messiah of course; that’d be Jesus the Nazarene. Some Pharisees couldn’t figure out how Messiah would both rule Israel and suffer and die, so they guessed there had to be two Messiahs—of course a first and second coming never occurred to them. There’s Elijah, who was raptured to heaven in a whirlwind 2Ki 2.11 and therefore hadn’t died; Pharisees figured God was gonna send him back before the End, Mk 9.11 and Jesus identified him as John the baptist. Mt 11.13-14 And there’s the Prophet, whom certain Pharisees insisted was what God meant here:

Deuteronomy 18.17-19 KWL
17 The LORD told me, “What they said is good.
18 So I raise them a prophet, like you, from among their family.
I put my words in his mouth, and he tells them everything I teach him.
19 If a person won’t listen to my words which the prophet speaks in my name, I examine them.”

Yeah, the LORD generally means any prophet he raises up—in any culture. But Pharisees imagined there’d be a quintessential prophet who especially fulfilled this word, whom the LORD would raise up special for the End Times. And Simon Peter indicated this guy also as Jesus the Nazarene.

Acts 3.17-24 KWL
17 “Now family, I know you’re acting in ignorance, just like your leaders.
18 This was how God fulfilled what he foretold through all his prophets’ mouths:
His Messiah was to suffer.
19 So turn around, turn back, so your sins can be patched up!
20 So a refreshing time can come from the Master’s face.
So he can send you his appointed Messiah, Jesus.
21 Heaven has to have Jesus till the time he restores all—
which God spoke of in the prophets’ age, through his saints’ mouths.
22 Moses said this: ‘Your Lord God will raise up a prophet for you,
from your own family, like me. Listen to him, to everything which he tells you.
23 It’ll be that every soul who doesn’t listen to this prophet
will be utterly destroyed from the people.’ Dt 18.18-19
24 All the prophets since Samuel, and those who followed him,
spoke of and proclaimed these days.”

I know; Peter didn’t quote Deuteronomy accurately. The LORD said it, not Moses; and the consequence of not listening to the prophet was “I examine them” (or as an Aramaic bible has it, “my Word examines them”—you know, Jesus). Turning that into utter destruction—well that escalated quickly. But utter destruction was kinda the mindset Pharisees had about ignoring God’s prophets. If God’s speaking, and we won’t listen, we’re kinda doomed. It’s happened before.

Hence the Prophet wasn’t a minor End Times figure. He was a big deal. The Pharisees wanted to know whether John was this Prophet, and John was pretty sure he wasn’t; he didn’t even think he was Elijah. Jn 1.19-24 Pharisees were on the lookout for the guy.

Well. Once Jesus’s students fed ’em bread in the middle of nowhere—just like Moses fed the Hebrews manna in the middle of nowhere!—guess what conclusion the crowd immediately jumped to?

John 6.14 KWL
So, seeing this miracle Jesus did, the people said this:
“This is truly the Prophet who’s meant to come to the world!”

But here’s the problem: Rather than listen to anything the Prophet might have to say about what his role really consists of—you know, like the LORD told ’em they oughta do—they immediately fell back on their culture’s expectations about the Prophet. They wanted to defy the Romans, defy Herod, and make Jesus their king. Right there. Right then. Right away.

Uh-oh.

Where’d Jesus send his students?

The other gospels don’t mention what John does about the crowds’ misbegotten plan to king their teacher. Instead Mark and Matthew mention Jesus quickly telling ’em to get out of there. Thanks to John, we now know why.

Mark 6.45 KWL
Jesus quickly demanded his students board the boat and go ahead to the far side from Beit Sayíd,
till such time as he dismissed the crowd.
Matthew 14.22 KWL
Jesus quickly demanded his students board the boat and go ahead to the far side,
till such time he could dismiss the crowds.

According to John, Jesus pointed them to Kfar Nahum, Jn 6.17 which actually isn’t on the far side of the lake from Beit Sayid. It’s less than two kilometers away. Mark and Matthew describe ’em as literally going to the far side of the lake, to Kinneret (KJV “Genessaret”) in the south. And Luke has ’em jump forward to a whole other story, Lk 9.18 which the other gospels describe as taking place in Caesarea Philippi Mk 8.27, Mt 16.13 …which is on the far side of the lake if you go east.

Thing is, in most translations of Mark, Jesus set ’em to the far side of the lake… “to Bethsaida,” i.e. Beit Sayid. (ESV, NIV, NKJV, NLT) Which is where they were. It’s where Jesus and the students went to take a break, only to have 5,000 people follow them, listen to Jesus, and get fed.

So did Mark mix up the geography? Nah; the bible translators did. Geography’s another form of context, folks. Pay attention to it!

The most obvious-looking translation of pros Vithsayidá is “to Beit Sayid.” That’s why most translators went with “to Bethsaida.” But the thing about Vithsayidá is it’s not a proper Greek word. It’s a Hebrew place name, converted into Greek characters. (Which I then converted into our Latin alphabet, so that oughta make it extra confusing.) Unlike Greek words, it doesn’t have different noun-endings depending on what part of speech it is: If it’s a subject-noun, object-noun, or possessive, it should end in -a or -an or -as. But it’s a foreign word, so it always ends in -a. And with no pronouns, adjectives, or articles (which do change ending) to show us what it is… we gotta guess. So translators guessed it’s a type of indirect object we call a locative noun. But since their guesses created a discrepancy, it’s likely a bad guess.

My guess? Vithsayidá is a different indirect object; an ablative noun. Which means pros Vithsayidá therefore means “from Beit Sayid.” It’s not an obvious translation, but it solves the problem of Jesus sending them to the very place they were. So that’s what I went with.

Now the problem of where he sent them. Mark and Matthew say Kinneret, Luke implies Caesarea Philippi, and John says their home base of Kfar Nahum. So… where were they headed?

My guess? They intended to go to Kfar Nahum. But the storm—which we’ll get to in another article—rerouted ’em all the way south to Kinneret, so they thereafter had to go back up north to Kfar Nahum. John simply skipped the trip to Kinneret, ’cause he wanted to go straight to when Jesus taught in synagogue about the living bread.

And Luke skipped a whole bunch of stuff, because he wanted to deal with the question of who Jesus is. The crowds realized Jesus is the Prophet, but Luke wanted to go straight to the story where Simon Peter realized Jesus is Messiah. To Luke—or at least to his readers—being Messiah was more important than being the Prophet. And yeah, it kinda is; but Jesus is still both, so that’s not nothing.

I should mention: While Mark and Matthew had Jesus send the students away before he dealt with the crowds, John had him simply leave. With Jesus gone, there was nobody for the crowd to king! So they dispersed and went home. And eventually, once they realized their teacher wasn’t coming back anytime soon, so did Jesus’s students.

John 6.15-17 KWL
15 So Jesus, knowing they intended to come and force him to be king now,
left again, going up a hill by himself.
16 When it became later, Jesus’s students went down to the lake,
17 got into a boat, and went to the far side of the lake, to Kfar Nahum.
It had become dark, and Jesus hadn’t yet come to them.

Time to pray.

So. Jesus ended the lesson and went off to pray. The kids in the boat, sailing or paddling home. Now for a few hours of quiet time on Jesus’s part.

Mark 6.46-47 KWL
46 Saying goodbye, Jesus went off to a hill to pray.
47 Much later, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land.
Matthew 14.23 KWL
Saying goodbye to the crowds, Jesus went up a hill by himself to pray.
Much later he was alone there.

Some Christians speculate Jesus needed the prayer time because he was tempted by the crowd wanting to make him king. I remind you Satan offered to make him king too, and Jesus easily said no to that one. I would insist Jesus—had he said anything to the crowd, instead of just walking off—would’ve also easily said no. He knew what their idea of a king would entail, and he had no intention of being that. It’s not the kingdom he preached in the slightest.

It’s certainly not the kingdom as our culture understands it. In the United States we believe in democracy. We believe the authority to rule comes from the people. (If we’re Christian, we tend to claim God put it in the people.) But I should point out humans haven’t always thought this way. In fact, since the beginning, humans believed the power to rule came from might. The gods conquered the previous gods, or the Titans, or the serpent, or whatever their myths claimed they defeated, and because they were the mightiest beings in the cosmos, that’s why the gods were in charge. And the gods picked the king—who proved the gods picked him by conquering or overthrowing all his enemies, which he could only achieve with divine help, right?

So if you believe in democracy, the acclaim of the crowds Jesus fed would be all the authority you needed to make yourself king. And if you believe divine might makes you right, Jesus’s next actions—which, the people figured, would be to overthrow Rome—would prove God was on your side. Either way will do ya for justifying the seizure of power.

But neither way is actually God’s way. It was for Jesus to obediently surrender his life to save the world. And that’s why God made him king of his kingdom. Pp 2.5-11 Obedience, not overthrow. Service, not subjugation. Jesus understands this, teaches this, and lives his entire life by this. How would he see any other lifestyle as a legitimate temptation for even a moment?

So no, he didn’t go climb a hill to wrestle with his flesh over taking the easy but wrong path. Jesus just had a long day of teaching, and now he caught a break and spent it with his Father. Prayer, when we do it right, can be restful and relaxing. Jesus knows how to do it right.

Plus he had to rest up, ’cause he had a bit of a walk ahead of him in the next story.