There is a great point to be made regarding a ‘great crowd’ in the Gospel according to Mark. The Gospel text for this Sunday begins with Mark 12:38, and the previous sentence [the last verse of the text from last Sunday—if the 24th Sunday after Pentecost was celebrated] is as follows in the ESV: ‘And the great throng [i.e., crowd] heard him gladly.’
The first point to be made is that the ‘the’ should definitely be there. It is the more difficult reading, especially since the crowd, no matter what size, was not mentioned before this. The only setting given in these verses is that Jesus is teaching in the temple (12:35). I think the use of the term ‘great crowd’ is very deliberate by the writer.
The phrase is first used at 5:21 and 24 when a great crowd around Jesus is important, and a miracle happens, and Jesus starts asking who was just healed. Then the phrase appears again at 6:34 and 8:1 when Jesus feeds the great crowds in the thousands by starting off with very little food. At 9:14, a great crowd is again important, and Jesus does a miracle so that it is not seen by that great crowd. The next time a ‘great crowd’ is mentioned, it is mentioned in this part of chapter twelve.
I can also visualize great crowds following Jesus during the book of Acts, eventually in many places of the Roman Empire. But things are not as simple as that. That is essentially TOO happy of an ending. A great crowd can have some great problems as well.
The text notes that a great crowd heard him GLADLY. That last word is used very rarely in the New Testament. The only other time it exists in the four gospel accounts is in this same gospel account with a description of Herod, that [6;20], although Herod was at a loss [or, in its ancient context, ‘without resources’; see BDAG, p. 119], yet he heard John the Baptist gladly.
I do not think it is so difficult to make a connection between Herod and this ‘great crowd’. Herod heard John the Baptist gladly, but he was about to come upon some great difficulties. And it will be the same for that great crowd who follows Jesus.
That great crowd does not show up at Jesus’ crucifixion, and that great crowd certainly does not show up at his resurrection. Generally speaking, great crowds do not show up too often in churches these days.
Some people are at a loss. Many people are losing their resources. Great crowds can have great problems. Even one person can have great problems! Yet, despite the difficulties, we continue to hear Jesus gladly. That is enough.