California Capitol Bible Study: The Tragedy of Unbelief (Mark 6:1-6)

Mark 6:1-6a Jesus went out from there and *came into His hometown; and His disciples *followed Him. 2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his own relatives and in his own household.” 5 And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He wondered at their unbelief.

6:1 – Jesus had been traveling around the region of northern Galilee, especially in and around Capernaum. Now he’s back in his hometown of Nazareth, 25 miles to the southwest.

It is striking to realize that Jesus Christ, the most influential person to ever walk the earth, spent most of his life in Nazareth, which was by no means a prominent place. Nazareth was in fact a tiny town with a total population of probably under 500 people. It was as obscure as it was small, located on a road to nowhere and never once named in the Old Testament or in the rabbinic literature of the Mishnah or the Talmud or by Josephus. Yet, it was from this humble town that the divine son of God launched out to save the world.

6:2-3 – Mark 6 records that Jesus returned to Nazareth, not to visit, but to preach. The last time he was there he preached in the synagogue and his words inflamed the townspeople so much that they tried to kill him (Luke 4:16-30). Now, in his mercy, he gives them one last chance to hear the word of God. Once again, he preaches in the local synagogue, as was customary for visiting rabbis. Mark records that the people were astonished at the profundity of his teaching (6:2) – the word here is ekplḗssō, which means literally to “whack one’s senses.” We could say he “blew their minds,” which was a typical reaction to Jesus’ teaching.

The people of Nazareth were astonished by Jesus’ teaching, but they were not about to trust in him. In fact, they minimized him, saying in effect, “Who does this guy think he is? He’s nothing special.”

The problem, of course, was not at all with Jesus, but with his hearers. They were similar to a tourist I read about who was eager to see everything in a famous art gallery and so he fled from picture to picture, scarcely noticing what was in the frames. “I didn’t see anything very special here,” he said to one of the guards as he left. “Sir,” the guard replied,” it is not the pictures that are on trial here — it is the visitors.” (From Warren Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary, V1, p. 129.)

6:3 The people of Nazareth “took offence at Him” (6:3, skandalizó = stumbled, tripped over). As a result, Jesus “could do no miracle there,” not because he lacked the power to do so, but because there was no reason to do them. The purpose of Jesus’ miracles was to reinforce faith in people, but these people would have none of it. They were sadly too filled with unbelief to receive what he had to give.

6:4-6 Their unbelief was so pronounced, in fact, that Jesus “wondered” at it. (6:6). This word means “to marvel, to be awestruck, to be astonished out of one’s senses.” It was common for people to have this reaction to Jesus’ teachings (Mk 5:20, 12:17, 15:5, etc…), but there are only two times when Jesus is said to have had this reaction to something. One was at the faith of the Roman centurion where one would not expect it (Luke 7:9). And now he marvels at the lack of faith where he had a right to expect it – among Jews in his own hometown.

The Tragedy of Unbelief:

As this passage demonstrates, unbelief in Christ is a terrible thing. It may be compared to a thick, dark, veil that covers people’s hearts and prevents them from connecting with God (see 2 Cor. 3:12-16). Though the Nazarenes were presented with an abundance of evidence to prove Jesus’ identity as Messiah, their persistent unbelief cut them off from the tremendous blessings that could have been theirs. Worst of all, unbelief has eternally disastrous consequences because belief in Jesus Christ is essential for salvation.

John 6:29 “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him (Jesus) whom He has sent.”

John 3:18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

John 8:24 Jesus said, “…unless you believe that I am He, you will indeed die in your sins.”

Revelation 21:8 “But for the … unbelieving …, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

It is crucial to realize that believing does not mean merely mentally assenting to Christ’s existence or even to his words. The Nazarenes knew Jesus personally for years, but that was not enough to save them. The word believe (pisteuó) in the Bible means a confident trust, and it always demonstrated by repentance and a desire to be obedient to God’s word (see Mark 1:15, 6:11; James 2:18-26).

The Prevalence of Unbelief:

A wise man living on the East Coast of the U.S. once asked me, “With so many large and influential churches and ministries out in California, why is there still so much ungodliness there?” It was a good question. Over the past century, California has been the home to many nationally known Christ-centered ministries – perhaps more than any other state in the United States. However, many people in the Golden State are at best apathetic to learning more about Jesus or following his teachings. Jesus warned the Nazarenes that those who were most familiar with him would be the most uninterested (6:4), and it is still often true today.

The Remedy for Unbelief:

1. Guard Against It. Indulging in sin can harden our hearts to God. Instead, we need to seek to know and honor the Lord each day.

Hebrews 3:12-13 “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, … so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

2. Confess It. I prayerfully confess my lack of faith to the Lord and ask him to help me.

Mark 9:24 I do believe; help my unbelief!”

3. Attack it. When unbelief is present, we can follow the example of Jesus’ half-brothers, mentioned here in Mark 6:3. They did not believe in him at this time (John 7:5), but they most certainly trusted in him later after witnessing his undeniable resurrection (Acts 1:14). In fact, his brothers James and Judas probably later authored letters in the New Testament (The epistles of James and Jude). Furthermore, when the apostle Thomas struggled with doubt, Jesus did not rebuke him for it. Rather, Christ lovingly provided Thomas with the overwhelming evidence he needed in order to confidently believe (John 20:19-29). If you lack faith today, look to God for the answers you desire so that your faith may be made strong too.


(A printable formatted copy of this and other Capitol Bible Studies is available online at



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