The “Feeding of the 5000” is found in all four Gospels: Matthew 14:13-21… Mark 6:30-44… Luke 9:10-17 … John 6:1-15. The Greek term used in Matthew 14:21 specifies males. Matthew says “besides women and children.” Some Bible scholars therefore believe the actual number fed that day could have been far more than 5000, maybe 15000, or more.
Only two miracles are recorded in all four Gospels, the resurrection and the feeding of the five thousand. This alone does not necessarily make this miracle more important than any other. But when we look at its content, we see something that might. There is more to this miracle than a display of the power of God as when (say) Christ turned the water into wine or raised the dead.
This miracle shows the role of Christ in the plan of God and in our lives.
John the Baptist had just died and the disciples returned from their preaching mission:
“Then He took them aside privately into a deserted place belonging to the city called Bethsaida. But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing.
When the day began to wear away … the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”
But He said to them, “You give them something to eat” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men.
Then He said to His disciples, “Make them sit down in groups of fifty. And they did so, and made them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. So they all ate and were filled, and twelve baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them.” (Luke 9:10-17)
Christ repeated this miracle later by feeding 4000. Both miracles contain the same lesson when we read what Christ said: “Beware the leaven of the Pharisee and the leaven of Herod … when I broke the 5 loaves for the 5000 … when I broke the 7 loaves for the 4000 … How is it you do not understand?” (Mark 8:15-21) Christ is pointing to something beyond just the miraculous nature of the event.
What exactly is it that Christ wants us to “understand”?
What is the “leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod?”
Expositor’s Greek Testament says: “ … leaven here is conceived as an evil influence … a spirit, a zeitgeist, insinuating itself everywhere, and spreading more and more in society …” The leaven of the world is the spirit of the world. It does not matter which group is pushing a philosophy contrary to Christ. They all have one thing in common; they all are contrary to the truth and knowledge of Christ.
Similarly, Paul later warned of the Gnostics. He referred to two kinds of knowledge in the world. He first said Christ embodied all truth and knowledge (Col. 2:3) and then warned “Beware lest anyone cheat you philosophy and empty deceit according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8)
Christ and Paul both divide all knowledge into that which is true and that which is false. Although writers and philosophers often “discover” true knowledge, God always remains its ultimate source. The Bible and God’s creation are two ways God reveals truth to mankind. Creation reflects the natural and spiritual laws of God, which in turn define cause and effect relationships in our lives, and in the universe. Those who love God meditate of all His works (Psalm 111:2)
What is it that Christ wants us to “understand”?
With this miracle, Christ begins to unfold the understanding that He is the Bread of Life. It is an understanding that ultimately culminates in the Passover:
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and He who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35) “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and are dead” We who are sitting here today could say the same thing about our own distant ancestors. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven that one may eat of it and not die … if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever” (John 6: 48-50)
When we “eat the bread of life” we put it inside of us that becomes a part of us and allows us to “live forever”:
We put within us knowledge of God: “If you abide in me and MY WORDS ABIDE IN YOU, you shall ask what you desire and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7) We come back to the truth of God. We put inside of us the truth of God … not the leaven of the world.
And we receive from God the Holy Spirit which also becomes a part of us: “We are His witness to these things, and so is THE HOLY SPIRIT WHOM GOD HAS GIVEN to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32) We receive the Holy Spirit so that we can live according to the truth of God and become the children of God.
So it is truth and the Holy Spirit that abide in us and set us free from death.
What did He mean “never hunger”?
We read the day “began to wear away” The people would soon be hungry. When we become hungry, we become tired and weak … physically. But Christ said: “He who comes to me shall never hunger”. He was speaking of spiritual hunger. The word “never” makes these words of Christ an unconditional promise. But the promise is conditional upon “coming to Him” That is how we claim the promise.
We easily know when we are physically hungry, tired, and depleted. Do we also recognize when we are depleted spiritually? Christ knew, and we read how He needed to get away from everything, be alone, and renew Himself spiritually.
There are forces in the world that grind us down spiritually: Cares of this world, temptations, sin, illness, trials, sorrows, wars, sufferings of others … and if perchance we should dwell 24/7 alone in a bubble, our own thoughts, memories and time itself would wear us away. We cannot thrive spiritually in this life without “the bread of life”.
Besides Christ being our “bread of life”, the miracle portrays other lessons.
Christ offers us a working relationship. We can be the agents of His will.
When the day began to “wear away” the disciples came to Christ with a problem. They needed to feed the people. There is a lesson of hospitality here. Notice what He said to them “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13) In effect, He is says “They are hungry, so what are you going to do about it?” The problem was theirs to solve.
Christ offers to all of us a working relationship with Him. He made this plain earlier when He had sent His disciples out to preach the Kingdom of God. He now repeats that lesson in the feeding of the multitude. Notice His FIRST response is not to solve the problem Himself but to place that burden upon his disciples. They come up with 5 loaves and 2 fish. This did not solve the problem. NOW He takes over but STILL He depends upon His disciples to help Him.
“Then He took the 5 loaves and 2 fish and looking up to heaven He blessed and broke them, and gave them to his disciples to set before the multitude” (Luke 9:16). Christ fed the people through the agency of His disciples after first acknowledging God as the source for all good things. The disciples relied on Christ for the food, and they distributed it. Paul would later state: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase … we are God’s fellow workers” (Read from 1 Cor. 3:6-9)
What is there to learn from this? Christ did not think His disciples were incapable or helpless. He encouraged the disciples to first try to solve the problem themselves. We do not just exist in order to survive and attain some measure of happiness. We do not just exist just in order to “make it into the Kingdom”. Christ says to us: Exist … that you may become the agents of my will.
We are not just agents of God’s will in preaching the gospel to the world. As individuals, we become the agents of God’s mercy … encouragement … love … to others as we see the need. A wife can be the agent of God’s will towards her husband. A husband can be an agent of God’s will towards his wife. A friend can become an agent of God’s will towards a friend.
Here is something we all can pray about: How can we best be the agents of God’s will in all we do, and put to good use the spiritual energy that comes from “the bread of life”?
This Miracle shows the power of God: To turn “poverty into plenty”
Christ taught us another fundamental lesson of life. Some in this life seem have more bread and fish (so to speak) than we do. Some of us are born rich. Some of us are born poor. I am not just talking about money.
We see inequality everywhere. Besides just “stuff” … some are better educated … some better looking … some have better home lives … some have better health … better opportunities … more friends … others seem to have more pleasing personalities … some of us feel unequal because we are young … some of us feel unequal because we have become old … etc. Think of the parable of the talents; God did not distribute talents or anything else for that matter equally.
In doing so, was God really being unkind?
It has become a “philosophy of the world” to think so. Inequality has become a dominant issue in our time. Rather than striving to grow and improve, the world encourages envy and anger at those who have more than we do. Our inequality means we are entitled … we are “victims”. This philosophy of the world which is not of Christ teaches it is even moral to take from others whom we perceive have more than we do.
In feeding the 5000, Christ shows He can help us overcome what we lack in this life. Christ can turn our poverty into plenty. God can take what is ordinary to create the extraordinary. God delights in taking a humble, seemingly insignificant person and using him or her for His glory:
“God has chosen the things the world considers foolish to put to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the things that are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27) … if we seek Him. This is lesson that is repeated over and over in Bible, from Gideon’s 300 to the miracle of feeding a multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
We must not believe our small resources are too little to live a meaningful and happy life.
What is the lesson of the leftovers?
One lesson is that God will give us far more than we need:
“And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others” (2 Cor. 9:8) “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Eph. 3:20)
Another lesson teaches us that God is against waste: Here is a note from the NIV on Mark 6:43: “Bread was regarded as a gift from God, and it was required that scraps that fell on the ground during a meal be picked up. The fragments were collected in small wicker baskets that were carried as a part of daily attire. Each of the 12 disciples returned with his basket full.”
A third possible lesson is prophetic: The 12 baskets signify a promise of the whole world being fed the bread of Christ.
The final question:
At the end of the miracle, Christ first asked:“Who do the crowds say I am?” Then He looked at His disciples and asked them “But who do YOU say I am?” (Luke 9:20) It is a question He asks you and me today.
Perhaps we may say: We are made in the image of God … and in this life our purpose is to fit that image more perfectly. Phil. 2:13 says “God works in us to will and do His good pleasure” With Christ our bread of life, the old creation passes away. We are becoming a new creation. He is the one who transforms me into a new creation. He is my ultimate Transformer.
The one who created the entire physical universe has become my spiritual Creator.
(Helmut Rudajs, November, 2015)