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Groups of Hundreds and Fifties

And He commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass. They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food and broke the loaves and He kept giving them to the disciples to set before them; and He divided up the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish. There were five thousand men who ate the loaves.

Mark 6:39–44

Why does Mark record this interesting detail about the arrangement of the people? What might this add to the narrative in Mark?

Here are a few thoughts.

Mark’s account of the gospel is highly political and subversive. Mark is basically taking the empire and comparing it to Jesus. In Mark 1, for instance, he calls Jesus the Son of God, which is a shot at the Roman emperors who claimed divinity. Mark’s teaching concerning the kingdom would be offensive to those wed to Rome. As a last example, the demons in Mark 5:9 call themselves Legion, which would not have gone unnoticed.

So, when the people sit down in fifties and hundreds, anyone who looked out and saw that, or read it in Mark’s writings, would have pictured an army. Keener points out, in the IVP Biblical Background Commentary, that some may have thought that Jesus was organizing them as ranks for a messianic army (InterVarsity Press, 1993).

Now, with these details, lets read the people’s reaction to this miracle in the gospel account of John.

Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

John 6:14–15

Do you see why they might try to take Him by force to make Him king? He had just performed an amazing miracle as they all sat down in groups like an army. It seemed like the perfect thing to do. But Jesus rejects their advances because their concept of the kingdom was not God’s will, so it wasn’t His will.

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