This article is an exposition of Mark 3:7-12.

Source: Marcus - Het evangelie volgens Petrus (Kok Kampen). 3 pages. Translated by Freda Oosterhoff.

Mark 3:7-12 Commentary - God’s Son Continues to Deliver Israel from Demons

In 3:7-12 Mark describes the gathering of large crowds of people, Jesus’ healing activity, and his actions with respect to demons. Because of the general character of this description, many speak here of a “collection report.” They suggest that Mark, as editor of this narrative about Jesus, first gives a general idea of Jesus’ activities as an introduction to a new collection of material for his miracle stories.1 Pesch believes that this typical pericope had already been found by Mark as a generally accepted summary of Jesus’ public appearance.2 Lührmann treats it as editorial: the incidental happenings are thus elevated to become typical characteristics in the “biography of the righteous.”3 Schmithals prefers to see the pericope as a conclusion of the preceding stories, which typify the reaction of people (“Chorschluss”).4 But although the description in 3:7-12 is indeed quite general, we don’t do it justice if in this manner we speak of a “typifying summary.” For Mark presents this pericope as an account of what happened after the Pharisees had deliberated with the Herodians to kill Jesus.

According to 3:7 he withdraws (with his disciples) to the sea. The verb used here often suggests a drawing back in dangerous situations. If it only said that Jesus withdrew with his disciples, then one could still think of a retreat in general (Acts 23:19; 26:31). But that is not the case here, for we read that many from Galilee followed him. The verb “withdraw” must therefore be understood in connection with the preceding verse (3:6): Jesus moves away from the threat of the conspirators in Capernaum and turns again to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. What now takes place happens, therefore, after the healing of the man with the withered hand. We are dealing here with a situation that is historically determined, and not with a summary (see also 3:9).

From all Israel people are now coming to Jesus. Mark distinguishes two groups among those present: a) the witnesses of his deeds (followers from Galilee) and b) those who have heard about those deeds (streams of people from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, Perea, and from the neighbouring territory of Tyre and Sidon). There are two great crowds (one of which is mentioned in 3:7 and the other in 3:8) and they represent, as appears from the description of the areas, the entire people of Israel.

Verse 9 then shows that Jesus indeed withdrew from the threatening Pharisees but that he did not at all withdraw himself from his people Israel. On the contrary, precisely in these days he occupies himself with the entire people. He also humbly offers his service to the people. When with their large numbers they come so close that they threaten to crush him he tells his disciples to prepare a little boat for him. This piece of information shows again that a specific historic situation is described here (preceding the time of parables: in 4:1 the presence of “the little boat” is assumed). This also shows how the Saviour moved as man among the people. With one word he could have made the crowd step back, but in humility he prefers to be among them and arranges the preparation of a boat along the coast to deal with the emergency.

The necessity of this precaution is shown clearly in 3:10: he healed many, so that people pressed around him to touch him. There were in fact many who were plagued by unclean spirits. Mark uses here a remarkable word: many suffered “scourging, flogging.” In 5:29, 34 the word is used for the suffering of the woman with the discharge of blood. It means “whiplash, stripe” (Acts 22:24; Heb. 11:36). In Luke 7:21, as in Mark 3:11, it is used for people who are being healed of stripes. Here we can think of all sorts of plagues and burdens with which a person can be tortured. The word that is chosen suggests an active power that administers the plagues (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-8: an angel of Satan). Since after verse 10 we hear of the attitude of the unclean spirits when they see Jesus, we may assume that these unclean spirits are the tormenting causes of the plagues that are experienced as “stripes” in people’s lives.

These unclean spirits acknowledge Jesus (3:11). They do what the people should have done: fall down before him and confess him to be the Son of God. They even cry this out. Yet this acknowledgement is not a confession implying a call for help. They acknowledge the reality of the coming of the Son of God and they fear (James 2:19-20); but they remain unclean and averse to doing good works.

Mark 3:12 shows that Jesus prohibits such propaganda. Repeatedly he forbade them to make him known. It is wrong to speak here of a hiding of Jesus’ true identity: the demons are so loud that everyone hears time and again who Jesus is! And he himself does not deny the truth of what they cry out. The people, however, hear repeatedly that he does not want these demons as preachers. They are not allowed to spread their knowledge, which does not remain a secret. It is not that Jesus’ identity must be kept a secret; at issue is the choice of the preachers, or their rejection. Jesus comes on behalf of Israel, as the Son of God. Israel’s spiritual tormentors are not to become his decoys!

The situation of Mark 3:7-12 closely resembles that of Matthew 4:23-25 (the gathering of the crowds before the Sermon on the Mount). What follows will show that the two pericopes refer indeed to the same time. What in the two Gospels look like typifying summaries of Jesus’ public appearance in general are in fact parallel descriptions of a very specific moment wherein Israel is brought together to the Saviour. While the leaders have already begun with the first preparations of a process that must lead to his death, he shows himself to the people as the Good Shepherd for them all, mighty over the demons that castigate the people with many plagues. This show of love and authority formed the majestic prelude to the teaching of the people in the Sermon on the Mount.


  1. ^ Taylor, V., The Gospel According to St. Mark. The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes and Indices (London, 1952); Gnilka, J., Das Evangelium nach Markus. EKK. 2 delen (Neukirchen, 1978-79).
  2. ^ Pesch, R., Das Markusevangelium. Herders Theol. Kommentar zum NT. 2 delen (Freiburg, 1976-77).
  3. ^ Lührmann, D., Das Markusevangelium. Handbuch zum NT (Tübingen, 1987).
  4. ^ Schmithals, W., Das Evangelium nach Markus. Ökumenischer Taschenbuchkommentar zum NT. 2 delen (Gütersloh, 1979).

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