Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand!
General Idea: Sometime after Jesus' confrontation with the Jewish leadership, He gave a new Passover meal and tested the faith and resilience of the Disciples. Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee; as His fame spread, the great number of people who followed Him primarily witnessed a show. The fact of real healings and hard-hitting teaching aroused the minds and wills of people. Jesus sat down on the side of a hill around the time of the Passover as this great crowd of people converged upon Him. Jesus, testing Philip's faith, asked where you think we can buy food for these people. Jesus, of course, had a plan; in fact, He had a great miracle in mind, but how would the Disciples respond? Philip, thinking of actually going out and buying food, said it would take a small fortune to feed them all and said we can't do it. Andrew noticed that a small boy had some food-five barley loaves and two dried fish-but wondered how this could feed everyone. Jesus told the Disciples to have everyone sit down; there were over five thousand men and their families there. Jesus took the boy's lunch, gave thanks to God, and passed the food around to everyone. One boy's lunch miraculously produced enough to feed everyone until they were full-with lots left over. Jesus then asked that all the leftovers be gathered so nothing was wasted. It started with five loaves of bread and left twelve baskets of leftovers; more was left over than was there initially. The people who witnessed this impossible act realized that Jesus was more than meets the eye; He was a Prophet, perhaps the One they had been waiting for. Jesus, recognizing that their intention was to force Him to be a militant leader, walked away into the hills alone.
Contexts and Background:
This passage is the only miracle besides the resurrection that all four Gospels record, indicating its importance. This event took place one year before Jesus' passion. During this time, Herod was tricked into killing John the Baptist. Then, after Jesus' confrontation with the Jewish officials, He proceeded to the outlining areas. The wording and theme parallels Moses, who gave the Passover by God's decree and performed great miracles; now, Jesus does the same. Josephus, a first century, Jewish, Roman historian, recorded many miracle workers around this time claiming to be the Messiah, but their acts were merely magician tricks that could be replicated by anyone in the know. What Jesus does cannot be replicated. Proponents of this miracle claim that Jesus was a clever observer and noticed that the people already had food with them, so when He gave thanks, people shared their food and thus there was no miracle. However, this is not what the text states or is confirmed in all four Gospels with precedence elsewhere in Scripture (Deut. 18:15; 2 Kings 4:42-44; Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:7-44; Luke 9:7-17; John 3:24; Acts 5:34-40).
Commentary-Word and Phrase Meanings:
· Some time after this. This passage possibly takes place about six months after the previous passage, which was set in the Feast of the Tabernacles.
· Sea of Galilee. It is a small, yet important lake, 13 miles long and eight miles wide, which is located in a basin 700 feet below sea level, making it one of the lowest points on earth.
· Sea of Tiberius. This was the Roman name for Galilee, then a new city that Herod had built around 18 to 22 A.D. Thus far in John's account, Jesus' ministry had centered around Jerusalem. Now, Jesus takes His Message on the road to the "man on the street." (Matt. 14:13-15)
· People followed him. Even though the people were coming to Jesus to see signs and wonders, He always emphasized the teaching and the resulting conviction and life transformation.
· Miraculous signs. Jesus' miracles in John's Gospel thus far consisted mostly in healing. Jesus broadened His persona and the people's expectations. There were many more healings that are not recorded in the Gospels. Even though the people were probably only interested in a show, Jesus had compassion for their stomachs too (John 4:46-54; 21:25).
· Mountainside/hillside... Not a specific hill, this is the area today know as the "Golan Heights" (Matt. 14:23; Mark 6:46).
· Sit down. Another comparison to Moses who went up to Mt. Sinai while Jesus came down to meet on this mountain.
· Passover. This is the second Passover John recorded; the rest of the chronology that follows indicates, there will be one more just before Jesus arrest, signifying that Jesus ministered for over three years. This feast celebrated how God delivered and provided for His people; God's judgment "passed over" the faithful Hebrews and went after Pharaoh and his people. Jesus demonstrated how God was doing this now through Him (Ex. 12:43-51; John 2:13; 11:55).
· Said to Philip. This was not a question for information, rather a teachable moment. Phillip was from Bethsaida, which was the nearest town from where they were, so he knew the area. Phillip's mind went to logistics; Jesus wanted to challenge his faith and expectations.
· Buy bread. Another comparison to Moses, as he asked this question of God, and now Jesus asks this question of man (Num. 11:13).
· Test/prove him. Meaning to see if something or a person is real and worthwhile, God tests us to prove or to refine our faith. It was common for both Greek and Jewish teachers to quiz and challenge their students to resolve difficult problems and challenges. Jesus was trying to get His Disciples to see and think beyond what they saw and thought. To comprehend who Christ was, we have to get away from our myopic thinking and spiritual blindness. This is also a call to trust and, in this case, to expect a miracle (Gen. 22:1-8; Mark 6:52; 8:17-21; James 1:2-15; 1 Pet. 1:7).
· Eight months' wages / Two hundred denarii / two months' pennyworth. Two hundred denarii were two hundred day's wages, thus showing how enormous the cost of food was. This may have been impossible by human means, as people then did not have much disposable income. Additionally, there would probably not be enough bread in the village to buy if one did have the means. This was a test of faith for one who is like an unskilled wage earner worker with no means to do this or one who only sees the here and now. It showed Jesus' power so He could teach His purpose. In contrast, fishermen, a vocation that included most of the Disciples, could make this in a month or two. However, it was still a great amount to sacrifice (Matt. 20:2; Mark 6:7-13; John 12:5-6; 13:39).
· Andrew. He takes a different approach to Jesus' question; he sees if there is already food there and if it can be shared. This would disprove the liberal interpretation that Jesus just coaxed people to share (Mark 6:38).
· Barley loaves/bread. This reflects Elisha's miracle of feeding 100 men with 20 loaves, but on a much grander scale, showing that Jesus is greater than the Prophets. These were like pancakes or pita bread, small and thin; barley was cheaper and less desirable than wheat. Fish and bread were the daily essential food staples for that time and region. (2 Kings 4:38-44).
· Sit down… Green grass. This points toward Jesus as the Good Shepherd, caring for His sheep. It also indicates the spring and freshness of the land during the Passover season and Moses' leadership over the Hebrews. It would be a pleasant day and the ground would be a comfortable place to sit. Mark records that the people sat in groups of 50 and 100 (Psalm 23:2; Mark 6:34-40).
· Five thousand. In Hebrew, as well as in other ancient cultures, they only counted the men, which would represent a family, thus the actual numbers would be over twenty thousand people .Also, in Jewish culture then, the men ate separately and sat in front, while the women took care of the children a bit further away in the rear (2 Kings 4:42-44; Matt. 14:21).
· This was a time before electronic sound systems. Outside, with no natural sound system from the curved parabolic hard surface to echo like the coliseums had, the sound would be absorbed by the soft ground. For all these people to hear Jesus would have been a miracle in itself. It is interesting to point out that the biggest coliseums of the day, like in Rome and Ephesus, seated the same amount, twenty to fifty thousand people, but those stone surfaces would not be as comfortable as the soft ground on a nice picnic-like day.
· Giving thanks. This was the duty of the family patriarch, the head of the home. Gratitude is our chief response to show our faith, sincerity, and reliance on our Lord.
· Distributed. The people ate till they were full. Multiplying of food and other essential things was a theme in the Old Testament testifying to God's faithfulness and provision. The celebration of Hanukkah is about the oil of the lamps, during the Temple during a siege by the Greeks in 164 BC, lasting eight days when there was only enough for one (Ex. 16; 1 Kings 4; 17:6; 19:8).
· Left over. This is a testimony that Jesus meets our needs more adequately than we need. Wasting food was considered morally wrong and very offensive to both Jews and Greeks. God's provision should never be taken for granted or wasted! Having more leftovers than the original loaves and fish is further testimony to the magnitude of this miracle. It also showed that Jesus was a good host, whose duty was to have more than what the guests might need.
· The Prophet. The people were looking for a Prophet like Moses who said someone like himself would come in the future. He represented God's Law and how God delivers and cares for His people. This was the high point of Jesus' popularly who fulfills this prophecy not is not a mere Prophet. Later, we will see that His challenges and call to discipleship would cause most to turn away (Deut. 18:15-18; 33:4-5; Matt. 16:14; John 1:20-21; 7:40-41; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37).
· King by force. Jesus is the Real King of kings, but His throne is spiritual and eternal, not as the earthly realm of politics that is always shifting or about misguided pride and expectations and misplaced hope. The crowd wanted a militant Messiah who would deliver them from the Romans. This was not God's plan; furthermore, it would not have benefited two thousand years of Christianity or us today. The people were so blinded by their expectations of a Messiah, they did not see what God foretold, what He had, or what they needed (Psalm 2:7-12; Dan. 7:13-14; Zech. 9:9; Matt. 4:8-10; Luke 4:5-6; John 1:29, 49; 6:63; 18:36).
Devotional Thoughts and Applications:
Would you rather have fast food Christianity or the slow and grow meal of true spirituality, the conviction and empowering, faithful, living Christ equipping you? One is superficial and weak; the other, strong and able. One leaves us malnourished spiritually and confused mentally and even weak physically; the other, well fed and healthy. Yet, most will see what is fleeting over what is true. So, how about you? We need to seek our Lord and ask Him what needs to be cleansed. What is defiling me? What ills, thoughts, and ways do I have about myself that need to be tossed out? What assumptions do I have that need to be convicted? What hopes do I have that do not line up to His plan for my life? What call or dreams did the Lord give me that I have not followed through with yet? What is cluttering up my temple? Allow Christ to cleanse you too! Allow the Sovereign, loving Grace of our Lord be your spiritual food so you are spiritually cleansed and healthy and able to serve. Allow His molding-not the ways of feeble, shallow opportunists or spiritual thieves who seek to rob you of your will and money so the church goes without, and its pews are filled with apathy and those of weak and fickle faith.
The Disciples had a fast-food mentality, looking for an easy solution for the problem, including sending the people away as Mark records. The thinking of "let's take care of ourselves first and move the people and problem off our plate" does not solve any problem; it only delays or increases it. The call is for us to reflect how much we trust in Christ for His provision. How do we respond to difficulty and hardships? We have to see Jesus as the Good Shepherd who takes care of His sheep (us), even when we do not see it. Allow Him to meet your wants and needs and do not worry about the calculations and logistics. Do your best, engage your faith, and do not be lazy; cast your anxiety on Him. Allow Jesus to be your banquet, feeding your faith and life.
Is your life the birthplace for Christ? Is your life His replication in you? Make sure Christ the Lord has entered and empowered you so your life is centered on Him and not on your circumstances and concerns! We cannot just observe the miracle of God's saving grace to understand it; we have to experience and live it to comprehend it and then our lives become a reflection of His work to others too.
The Essential Inductive Questions (for more Inductive questions see Inductive Bible Study):
- What does this passage say?
- What does this passage mean?
- What is God telling me?
- How am I encouraged and strengthened?
- Is there sin in my life for which confession and repentance is needed?
- How can I be changed, so I can learn and grow?
- What is in the way of these precepts affecting me? What is in the way of my listening to God?
- How does this apply to me? What will I do about it?
- What can I model and teach?
- What does God want me to share with someone?
1. Do you prefer to hang out where there are large crowds of people (base ball game) or in a small group of friends (dinning out) or even be alone at home? What does this say about you?
2. How do you think the boy felt when his lunch was miraculously magnified to feed everyone until they were full-with lots of leftovers?
3. Why did Jesus test the faith of His Disciples? How has He done this with you? Does this concern you or help you? How have you been blinded with wrong expectations?
4. This is the only miracle, besides the resurrection, that is recorded in all the Gospels. What does this say about its importance?
5. Why do you think Jesus' fame spread and caused a great number of people to follow Him? What causes people today to follow someone? How do you discern who you follow?
6. What causes a teaching or a teacher to arouse your mind and will? What about others you know or church folks or secular folks today? Whom do they follow and why?
7. Why did Phillip think these people could not be fed? Do you see how Jesus always emphasizes the teaching and resulting conviction and life transformation?
8. Philip's and Andrew's minds went to logistics; where does Jesus want your mind to go to when times are uncertain or confusing? How do faith, logistics, and planning go together?
9. Signs and wonders are important and have been used to showcase that God is at work. However, how can they get in the way of faith?
10. Why do you suppose the people were blinded by their expectations of a Messiah, therefore were unable to see what God foretold or what they needed?
11. What can you do to make sure that you never take God's provision for granted or waste it? How has Jesus met your needs? Seeing this, how can you now trust Him even more?
12. What do you think you need to be challenged in your faith and expectations? If Jesus were to test to see what is real and worthwhile in you, what would He find? How can your church encourage you to improve or to refine your faith?
© 2009, R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org/