Title: The feeding of the 5000
Scriptures to Read: Mark 6:30–44; Matthew 14:13–21; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–13
Occasion [Luke 9:10; Mark 6:30-32]
After being sent out in pairs to proclaim the message of the mystery kingdom, the apostles return to Jesus and give an account of “all that they had done and taught.” Mark adds in verse 31 that there were so many people coming and going that they didn’t even have time to eat. So Jesus, taking the apostles with Him, went away in a boat to a secluded place at a city called Bethsaida on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd actually ran around the sea to arrive ahead of Jesus in the boat! The fact that it is a large crowd here indicates that the interest of the people is still quite high in spite of their leaders’ rejection of Jesus. John gives us some insight into their motivation in verse 2. They are following Him primarily because of “the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.”
Jesus response to the crowd [Luke 9:11b; Mark 6:34]
Mark says that “He felt compassion for them.” And he gives the reason: “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” They have not yet made a decision as to whom they should follow: the old shepherds, or the new one. Therefore, as Luke says, “He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing.”
The responsibility of the disciples
Jesus also recognizes their personal need to be fed. And the ministry He performs is the typical ministry of a rabbi where He is teaching, tending, and feeding. Now the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to the surrounding villages to buy food for themselves. And Jesus responds by saying to them: “They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat.” He makes them responsible to feed the people!
Private lesson to the disciples [John 6:3-6]
First of all, notice that Jesus goes up on the mountain and sits down with His disciples. So, although there is a crowd of at least five thousand, the conversations with His disciples are quite private, and the lesson He is teaching is specifically for them. Secondly, notice that John says: “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.” This is the third Passover to occur during Jesus’ ministry. And since His ministry began at the time of Passover, this event marks the beginning of the third year of His ministry. Then John continues with the word therefore. What does that indicate? It means that the miraculous feeding of the crowd which is to follow is going to happen because the Passover is near. Now why would that be? This crowd has been following Him all day without food and so they would be quite hungry. Not only that, it is a three-day journey up to Jerusalem where they are about to go for the Passover. And they would need a good meal before they begin that journey.
Why did Jesus ask Philip the question: “where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”
John says that Jesus “Himself knew what He was intending to do.” He knew He was going to miraculously provide food for the crowd. So the purpose of the question was not to find out where there was bread, but to test Philip, as John also records. This is his home territory, and so Philip knows that there just isn’t enough food available to be bought for the crowd. In John’s account to see Phillip’s response (vv7-9). He says it would cost more than 200 denarii and there still wouldn’t be enough bread! One denarius was one day’s wages, so to feed all these people would cost more than 200 day’s wages. Then Andrew pipes up and says that they have “five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people.” So, Jesus has made them responsible to feed the crowd, but all they have is two fish and five loaves. And they are incapable of doing it themselves. And for the apostles the purpose of this miracle is to teach them the nature of the ministry He will be entrusting to them, and to instruct them concerning divine provision for that ministry.
The miracle [Luke 9:14b-17]
Now Jesus performs the miracle to feed the crowd. Jesus gave thanks, and broke the bread and fish and kept giving it to the disciples who distributed it to the people until they were all satisfied. He provided and gave to them the food, which they in turn gave to the people. Here we see that He gives the apostles the responsibility to distribute what He provides. All four gospels record that the people were filled or satisfied and when they gathered the left-overs it turns out that there were twelve baskets full of the pieces of bread and fish. It began with just five loaves and two fish and there ends up being twelve basketsful left over. And Matthew 14:21 points out “there were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children.” So the crowd was much bigger than 5,000.
The purposes of this miracle
We see here that Jesus had two purposes in performing this miracle. Firstly, Mark tells us that He had compassion on the people, so one of His purposes was to feed the people. But secondly, He used the miracle as an object lesson for the disciples, drawing their attention to three things they were to learn from it.
1. First of all, they are responsible to feed the people (Luke 9:13).
2. Secondly, they are incapable of doing it themselves (John 6:5-9).
3. And thirdly, they are responsible to distribute what He provides (Matthew 14:19).