Another Exodus. 31 People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. 32 So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.
It seems as though Jesus and the apostles have attracted a large crowd of people. The short lake voyage, back to the old familiar surroundings of the sea, after tramping the dusty roads, must in itself have been a rest and relaxation for the Galilean fishermen. But the small size of the Sea of Galilee made it quite possible for the crowds, travelling along the shore, to outdistance the little ship, which probably had no favorable wind.
The text is not specific enough to know if the ones coming and going in great number were people that had been following Jesus already, were folks drawn in by the missionary endeavors, or were folks who simply lived in the locale. In any case, whatever Jesus’ plan for he and the apostles to have time apart and alone in order to rest and renew, the people have other ideas, hungering within for something more – even if they could not name the hunger. Perhaps they too needed rest. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them. Maybe this is why “they hastened.”
That God provides rest for his people within the wilderness is a recurring theme in the Scripture. It was the literal rest of the wilderness generation led by Moses and Joshua which became the type of the final rest promised to the people of God in a second exodus in the preaching of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The ancient hope of rest within the wilderness is to be fulfilled as Jesus gathers his disciples to a wilderness-place that they may be by themselves. The disciples and the multitudes that pursue them prove to be the people of the new exodus. The presence of Jesus and the provision of God will give to this time of withdrawal the character of rest within the wilderness.
Many scholars note that Greek syntax is unclear (see note), but Lane is not convinced there is a lack of clarity, and he offers: …withdrawal of the multitude from the several Galilean villages to the wilderness where they experienced Jesus’ compassion was the direct result of the mission activity of the Twelve. By accenting the relationship of the multitude to the disciples (“they saw them, and they recognized them and they ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them”) Mark shows that the provision of rest in the wilderness was the ultimate intention behind the disciples’ commission by Jesus.” It is notable that the same word for “rest” (anapausasthe) is also used of our eternal reward – truly, the ultimate intention of God.
I would also offer that this time of rest point ahead to the remainder of the Markan passage (vv.35-40) in which the miraculous feeding of the multitude foreshadows the rest associated with the Last Supper, a rest celebrated in our own Eucharist.
But it is also interesting to note that the people did not “follow” Jesus to the deserted place; they went ahead on their own. This Greek word, epiginosko, usually means “thorough knowledge about.” That is, the prefix epi- implies a more detailed knowledge than ginosko by itself. People had “come to know,” but know (or recognize) what? What do they expect from Jesus? What do they “recognize” or think they “know” about him that leads them to go to where he is going? What motivates people to drop everything and seek Jesus today?
Mark 6:33 People…many…they: The Greek sentence is awkwardly overloaded. The term “many” is located after the two verbs “saw” and “came to know”, but prior to the conjunction and. The sentence could refer to an indefinite “they” who saw Jesus and the disciples leave, a smaller group who recognized those in the boat, and that group plus others who ran to the spot where the boat is going.