Mark depicted Jesus’ authority over the natural world and human opponents. Disease, death, and doubt had met their match in Jesus the Son of God. Mark and the other Gospel writers noted that the Pharisees opposed Jesus because He did not operate according to their traditions. Jesus cited the Old Testament—texts the Pharisees knew well—to confront them for their hypocrisy. The disciples also displayed hypocrisy, dull to the power of Jesus and overly sensitive to natural human needs and desires. Jesus cited the Old Testament to confront the Pharisees and to assure His disciples of His greatness.
(1) In Mark 7:6-10, Jesus cited statements from Isaiah and Moses to defend His disciples when the Pharisees accused them of violating cleanness laws. In Isaiah 29, Isaiah confronted Israel for their superficial religion. Israel went through the motions of the temple and honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from God (Isa 29:13). So, when a delegation of Pharisees from Jerusalem questioned Jesus for allowing His disciples to eat before ceremonial washings (Matt 15:1-20//Mark 7:1-23), Jesus said, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites” (Mark 7:6). Ritual washings were only required for priests entering the tabernacle (Exod 30:19; 40:13; Lev 22:1-6) and those who had a bodily discharge (Lev 15:11). The Pharisees applied Moses’ teachings more broadly, but Jesus would have none of it. He confronted the Pharisees for extending Moses’ command about washing while ignoring Moses’ command about the need for children to honor their parents. Jesus cited the fifth commandment (Exod 20:12; Deut 5:16) and the commandment that children who cursed their parents were to be put to death (Exod 21:17; Lev 20:9) to indict the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Concerning cleanness, Jesus said, “Nothing that goes into a person can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him…For from within, out of people’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, evil actions, deceit, lewdness, stinginess, blasphemy, pride, and foolishness” (Mark 7:15, 21-22).
(2) In Mark 8:18, Jesus cited phrases from Jeremiah and Ezekiel to help His disciples recognize their shallow spiritual insight and remind them of His ability to provide for them. In Jeremiah 5, the prophet condemned Israel because they rejected God. They had eyes but could not see and ears but could not hear the truth God spoke through His prophets (Jer 5:21). The people of Judah did not fear Him who gives the early and late rains so that the earth yields a harvest (Jer 5:24). Jesus took up Jeremiah’s argument and applied it to His disciples. After Jesus had compassion on the crowds surrounding Him and fed over 4,000 people with a few loaves and fish, He left with His disciples in a boat (Mark 8:1-10). When the Pharisees pursued Jesus asking Him for a sign from heaven to show His messianic power, Jesus again boarded a boat on the Sea of Galilee to escape. Fleeing the crowds and the Pharisees for a moment, Jesus was in private company with His disciples and He said to them, “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod” (Mark 8:15). Jesus was concerned that the hypocrisy of the Jewish leadership might pervade His band of followers and impede their discipleship (Matt 16:5-12//Mark 8:15-21). But the disciples thought that Jesus was concerned about bread—which they forgot to bring when they boarded the ship and set sail. Jesus cited Jer 5:21 and chastised the disciples for their lack of understanding. Like Jeremiah’s audience, the disciples had forgotten God’s ability to provide. Jesus argued that since He was able to supply His disciples’ need for food—as He had just demonstrated in the feeding miracle—the disciples were to give full attention to combatting the influence of the Jewish leadership.