Mark’s Gospel is pointed and dense. The author compiled overlapping stories to efficiently recount Jesus’ life and ministry. In the Old Testament storyline, God called Israel to Himself and set leaders over His people to shepherd them according to His will. In Mark 6, Jesus’ relationship with those hearing His teaching demonstrated His deity and authority.
(1) In Mark 6:1-6, the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus in the same manner that Israel had rejected God. The Evangelists noted that Jesus centered His early ministry in Galilee and the towns of Nazareth and Capernaum. The people of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, rejected His teaching (Matt 13:53-58//Mark 6:1-6//Luke 4:16-30). Moses chastised Israel for complaining against God when they had no food in the wilderness (Exod 16:8). When Israel demanded that Samuel give them a king, the Lord instructed Samuel not to take their request personally, saying, “They have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king” (1 Sam 8:7). The author of 2 Kings wrote that God raised up the Assyrians to take Israel captive because Israel had rejected the Lord’s instruction throughout their time in Canaan (2 Kgs 17:7-20). Jeremiah confronted the people of Judah arguing that since they had rejected the Lord’s instruction (Jer 6:19; 8:9), the Lord rejected them (Jer 6:30; 14:19). Hosea also condemned Israel for rejecting the Lord (Hos 2:13; 4:6; 13:6). The people of Nazareth heard Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue and questioned how He, a carpenter, could speak with such authority. Jesus replied, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his household” (Mark 6:4).
(2) In Mark 6:34, Mark described Jesus’ compassion on the crowds in language that reflected Moses’ perspective on Israel. Just before his death, the Lord allowed Moses to see the Promised Land from the top of Mount Nebo. The author of the book of Numbers recorded Moses’ concern for the well-being of the people after his death. Moses said, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the community who will go out before them and come back in before them, and who will bring them out and bring them in, so that the LORD’s community won’t be like sheep without a shepherd” (Num 27:16-17). For Moses and Joshua, whom the Lord appointed to succeed Moses, the flock of Israel was hapless and unprotected. On the plains of Moab, Israel was easy game for predators. The Lord raised up Joshua to lead the people into Canaan and safety. Once the people were in the Promised Land, Joshua recorded that the Lord gave them rest from their enemies (Josh 21:43-45). When Jesus saw the needy crowds following after Him and the disciples, He had compassion on them “because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). After Jesus had taught the crowds for some time, the disciples became concerned for them—where could they all get dinner? Jesus turned the concern of the twelve into an injunction, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). Jesus turned their five loaves and two fish into a banquet for 5,000 men (Matt 14:13-21//Mark 6:32-44//Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). Thus, when Jesus saw the crowds following Him, He had compassion on them not because they needed a meal but because they needed His instruction. The author of Hebrews wrote that despite Joshua’s proclamation of rest, since David later urged Israel to obey and to enjoy rest (Ps 95:7-11), the peace Israel enjoyed in Canaan was not all that God intended for His people (Heb 4:1-11). Jesus served as a shepherd-priest who offered rest to all who would make every effort to heed His message and enter His rest.