Jesus Feeds The Five Thousand


‘When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 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.’ Matthew 14:13-15

Here we find the fourth sign, Jesus feeds the five thousand, and this is the fourth sign recorded by John and the only miracle that is recorded in all four Gospels. This event is also recorded in Mark 6:32-44 / Luke 9:10-17 / John 6:1-15. It seems the disciples came to tell Jesus all that had happened to John. Matthew 14:1-12. There are only two miracles of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels, the feeding of the 5000 and His resurrection.

Everyone needs some time out from our busy life schedule and Jesus knew that the disciples needed some time out, for many of them had first believed because of John’s preaching. They withdrew across the sea of Galilee to a quiet place for meditation and prayer.

‘Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.’ John 6:1-2

‘The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ Mark 6:30-31

Here we see Jesus’ love and understanding of people, He wasn’t only a leader but a leader with compassion for the multitudes. On this occasion, His healing of the sick was motivated by His compassion. Matthew 15:32 / Matthew 20:34 / Mark 6:34.

The disciples want to send the people away, but Jesus had other plans. Jesus asked Philip where they were going to get food in order to feed so many people, but the question was really a test of Philip’s faith.

‘When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.’ John 6:5-6

Jesus tests Philip, this again is particularly relevant if the apostles have been out performing miracles, healing, preaching etc. He already knew what was to happen, but it was appropriate for His plans to test, ‘peirazo’, Philip at this time, to see if he understands that his Lord can supply every need and handle every situation.

Philip fails the test miserably as he looks only to himself and the common purse for a solution. He ignores the role Jesus could play by employing His power and fails to understand. John 14:8.

‘Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’ John 6:8-9

Here we see Andrew attempting to get something organised and he finds a ‘paidarion,’ a little boy with some food and presents this to Jesus. He passes the test where Philip failed, and he gives Jesus the chance to perform a miracle, he uses a little initiative and gets the job done. Jesus asked the question in order to stimulate a faith response from Philip and the others.

‘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 five thousand men, besides women and children.’ Matthew 14:16-21

Notice how Jesus allowed them time to search for food to feed the people. Among the disciples, or among the multitude, they came up with only five loaves of bread and two fish. The disciples suggested that someone go into the city and buy food.

‘He replied, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They answered, ‘We have only five loaves of bread and two fish— unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.’ (About five thousand men were there.) Luke 9:13-14

The loaves would have been small, almost like rolls, ‘artos’, round flat cakes made with wheat flour, or black barley bread, it was the common daily bread of the people. The fish were probably dried or pickled as was the norm at the time.

‘But he said to his disciples, ‘Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.’ The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.’ Luke 9:14-17

The multitude of about five thousand men, plus women and children, were asked to sit down in groups of fifty for an orderly distribution. Other accounts tell us that Jesus split the people into groups of fifty, and all are fed until satisfied and then that which was left over was collected into baskets normally used for sowing seed. They weren’t big, but by this stage size was insignificant. Bread was regarded by the Jews as a gift from God, and so no food was wasted.

‘Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So, they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties.’ Mark 6:40

Mark reports that the people sat down on the green grass, and the number given is 5000 men. This could have been the total number present, or another 5000 women and children could have been there. Matthew 14:21 says ‘5000 plus women and children’.

The total present was insignificant because if Jesus could feed 5000, He could just as easily feed 10,000, Psalm 23:1-2.

Notice that Jesus always gave thanks before eating, as did Paul at a later stage, some Bibles say, ‘blessing’ but this wasn’t blessing the crowd, but thanks for the bread. In other words, Jesus thanked the Father for the food.

This is what He did for the bread and the wine when He instituted the Lord’s Supper, He didn’t bless the bread and the wine, He thanked God for providing it. Matthew 26:26-27 / Mark 14:22-23 / Luke 22:19-20.

‘Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.’ John 6:11

Jesus left a good example for the disciples in the years to come to do likewise concerning the blessing of food, 1 Timothy 4:4-5.

Why twelve baskets?

There are so many ideas out there about the significance of the 12 baskets, the number 12 is such a common recurring number throughout the Scriptures. The number 12 is mentioned 48 times and the word twelve is mentioned 133 times. Jacob had 12 sons which became the 12 tribes of Israel, Abraham’s son Ishmael had 12 sons and Jesus had 12 Apostles.

There’s always a danger of reading a text and making it mean something which it wasn’t meant to mean, I personally believe that the 12 baskets of food were left so that each one of those disciples who participated could take one.

This miracle was unique, Jesus asked them to take up the leftovers in order to impress on the minds of the disciples that this was a miracle of creation. They knew how much bread and fish they started with and how much was left over and the only conclusion they could come to was that bread and fish had been created by God who was in their midst.

Later in His ministry when He wanted to confirm who He was in the minds of the disciples, Jesus asked them to recall this miracle and the second feeding of four thousand in Matthew 15:32-38 where Jesus discussed the ‘bread of life,’ which discussion resulted from this miracle. Matthew 16:8-19 / John 6:27-59.