The feeding of the 5000 is the only story — other than Jesus’ last week on earth — which is found in all 4 gospels. It is mentioned in several other passages as well. Even though it’s part of a familiar story, this question is one of the more obscure questions that we’ll cover.
We ended chapter 5 in Jairus’ house with Jesus’ raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead. In chapter 6, Mark tells us the story of the growing opposition to Jesus (6:1-6), the sending of the 12 (6:7-13), and the tragic death of John the Baptist (6:14-29). We pick up the story when the 12 have returned to Jesus.
Clues and Contexts
- Mark follows this passage with the account of Jesus walking on water and comments: “And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:51-52).”
- In Mark 8:14-21, after feeding the 4000, Jesus comments: “Do you still not understand (Mark 8:21)?”
- Luke follows the story of the feeding of the 5000 with Peter’s confession (Luke 9:17-20).
- John tells us Jesus asked this question only to test Philip (John 6:5-10).
- John also tells us when the crowds came looking for Jesus after this event, Jesus taught them about the bread of life (John 6:24-35).
- All these clues suggest the feeding of the 5000 made a larger spiritual point.
6:30The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. – Mark 6:30-34
- The disciples return and report to Jesus about their trips. Jesus is aware that they are tired and need a break. Jesus invites them to a quiet place where they can escape the crowds.
- They get in a boat and head to a deserted place, but their plans are cut short.
- Archaeologists tell us that it’s a few hours sail from Capernaum to Bethsaida, the spot of the feast, but it’s shorter distance by land. While Jesus & his disciples chose the less conspicuous but longer journey, the crowds arrived at the spot before him by taking the faster, more public route by land.
- The crowd was probably largely the result of Passover Pilgrims en route to Jerusalem, along with followers of John the Baptist who began following Jesus after John’s recent execution.
- Jesus reacts to the crowds with compassion which results in teaching.
- The crowd is like sheep with no shepherd to protect and feed them. Jesus feeds them spiritual food first.
- The need to physically eat is largely ignored in the account up to this point.
6:35And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” 38And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. 42And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. – Mark 6:35-44
- Jesus starts with the poorest of meals and makes a feast.
- Notice the contrast to the feast of Herod in Mark 6:14-29.
- It would take 8 months of wages to buy that amount of food.
- When Jesus asks you to do the impossible, he’s usually trying to make you realize you can’t do it alone.
- The test: who do you turn to when you’re faced with the impossible. When you have a need, who do you trust to solve it?
- Like most of the miracles, this feeding is to attest to the fact the Jesus is the Messiah.
- Who do you turn to in your hour of need? You turn to him.
- Why does Luke follow this event with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ? Because that is what they were suppose to learn.
- Why does John follow this story with the passage about Jesus being the bread of life? Because this physical meal signified a spiritual reality.
- Why do the disciples fear when they see Jesus walking on the water and think he’s a ghost? Because they didn’t learn the lesson of the loaves — this is the Messiah, the son of God.
- The lesson of the loaves is that Jesus is the Messiah, the true Son of God.
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