Feeding the 5,000
By Jack Kelley
It’s the only miracle before the Resurrection mentioned in all four Gospels. It must be important.
As evening approached the disciples came to Him and said, “This is a remote place and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about 5000 men besides women and children (Matt 14:15-21).
I’m Only Going To Say This Four Times
This is the only miracle Jesus performed before His Resurrection that is included in all the gospels, and so it must be important. Reading all four accounts (the one from Matthew above plus Mark 6:32-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-13) is necessary to gain the full impact of the story, because each writer included details unique to his version. (For my article on the need for four gospel accounts, read).
The basic premise is laid out in Matthew. There were 5000 men plus an undetermined number of women and children who had followed Jesus into a remote spot having heard that He was in the area. (Remember it was only the Jewish Leadership that rejected Him. He was enormously popular with the people. That’s one of the reasons the leaders feared Him.) Some of the disciples became concerned as evening approached that the people would be hungry and there wouldn’t be anything to give them. They had located 5 barley loaves and 2 fish, only enough for one or two. When Jesus took what they had and gave thanks for it, it became more than enough to feed the entire crowd. 12 baskets full of pieces were left over, more than they had started with.
Look For The Hidden Meaning
The feeding of the 5000 turns out to be as important symbolically as is it is factually. As is frequently the case the numbers given in these accounts are spiritually significant. (I encourage you to undertake a study of the Biblical use of numbers, “Number in Scripture” a book by E.W. Bullinger being a good reference to help get you started.) When the number 5 is used you’ll often find that it’s within the context of a manifestation of the Grace of God, and 2 is the number of witness (Deut. 19:15). 12 is the number of government and often refers to Israel as well. Add to these the fact that Jesus identified Himself as the Bread of Life given for us (John 6:35), and that the fish became the symbol for believers in His Word, a name also used of Him (John 1:1), and the hidden message begins to emerge.
With these insights, we can see the message Jesus was sending: “By the Grace of God you’ll be spiritually fed as the Bread of Life gives Himself to you. The witness of His Word will sustain you and enough of the Bread of Life will be given for all the House of Israel.” Jesus likened this miracle to the giving of the manna in the wilderness, indicating that it was a foreshadowing of Him (John 6:25-40).
Let’s See You Do That Again
By the way, on another occasion Jesus miraculously fed 4000 men plus women and children (Matt 15:29-31, Mark 8:1-10). There they found 7 loaves and a few small fish among the crowd. Again Jesus made it sufficient for all and there were 7 baskets full left over. Four is the number of the Earth because by day 4 the creation of Earth was complete, (Days 5 and 6 deal with populating it) and 7 denotes divine completion, for on the 7th day the creation was finished and God rested from all His work. Here the symbolism denotes that Jesus was giving Himself to all the Earth and there is plenty for everyone’s spiritual hunger to be completely satisfied. Many scholars see this miracle being Gentile in focus while the feeding of 5000 is aimed at Israel. Put the 2 together and see that there’s enough of Him for all the world, Jew and Gentile alike. The Feeding of the 4000 is carried in only 2 gospels, a witness to both Jew and Gentile.
Back To The 5000
In his account of this miracle Mark describes the crowd as being “like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34) and mentions that the grass upon which the people were made to sit down was green, recalling the phrase from Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” And indeed Psalm 23 describes how the Good Shepherd tends His flock. Mark also inserts an additional use of the number 5, describing how the people were organized into groups of 100’s and 50’s.
And incredibly Mark hints that the disciples actually had enough money with them to buy dinner for the entire group (Mark 6:37). So much for the notion that Jesus and His disciples were penniless vagabonds living off the land.
Luke adds what I think is the most fascinating piece of information of all: the location of the miracle. It was near a town called Bethsaida. The name is usually translated “house of fishing” and denotes their proximity to the Sea of Galilee and the town’s major industry. But the Hebrew root words making up Bethsaida provide real insight into God’s sense of humor. Beth is Hebrew for house, and sayid literally means “box lunch.” This miraculous and instantaneous feeding took place near the “House of the Box Lunch” and was perhaps the real origin of the fast food industry (just kidding).
John says that the event took place near the time of the Jewish Passover, explaining why the grass was green (it was spring time) and let’s us in on what Jesus was thinking. Would His disciples who knew Him better than anyone suggest that He had the supernatural power to feed them all or propose a merely human solution? How like us they were. With all the power of the universe in their midst, they could only devise a response based on their own capability (John 6:5-9). John also gives us the crowd’s reaction. “Surely this is the Prophet Who is to come into the world,” they said. Jesus, knowing they intended to come and make Him king by force withdrew again to a mountain by Himself (John 6:14-15). They didn’t understand that Jesus needed to fulfill His role as the Obedient Servant by first dying for their sins before accepting His destiny as King of Kings. Later He accused them of only following Him because He fed them (John 6:26). Sounds like us again.
A Lesson In Nutrition
And so in these miraculous feedings, we see the gospel story told in a truly practical manner. By giving us His Son, our God brings life to all His people Jew and Gentile, completely satisfying our spiritual hunger and sustaining us through the power of His Word. Interesting that bread is a carbohydrate, a type of food that instantly energizes us, while fish, being protein gives us staying power.
Now you know the adult version.