The feeding of the five thousand

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. 'This is a remote place,' they said, 'and it's already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.'

But he answered, 'You give them something to eat.'

They said to him, 'That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?'

'How many loaves do you have?' he asked. 'Go and see.'

When they found out, they said, 'Five—and two fish.'

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. 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 his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. (Mar 6:35–44)

One miracle

The Gospel accounts of our Lord's feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand are very similar, apart from the numbers involved, so for teaching purposes they can be viewed as one miracle and their details used collectively.

There are five teachings that come from these miracles. Two are concerned with what God does for us—we will look at those in this study; and three with what God wants us to do—we will look at those when we come to the feeding of the four thousand later in this series.

Material provision

Before Jesus fed the four thousand he said:

'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.' (Mar 8:1–3)

In the previous study we saw that Jesus had compassion on the people with respect to their spiritual needs and their physical needs; in response to that he taught them the Word of God and healed their bodies. These verses show that he also had compassion on them with respect to their material needs.

Jesus fed the five thousand and the four thousand by performing miracles, which were dramatic proofs of his love and care. But he also told his followers how they would be provided for at other times. Those words apply to us:

We are not to worry about what we will eat, or drink or wear (the essentials of life), or how we will obtain them, for our heavenly Father knows that we need them. Instead, we are to seek his kingdom and his righteousness first of all (make spiritual things the priority in our lives), then all the material things we need will be given to us as well (Mat 6:25–34).

That doesn't mean that we don't have to pray if we have a need, but we have the assurance that our heavenly Father will provide.

Jesus said:

'Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?' (Mat 6:26)

Did God send his Son to die for birds? No, he sent him to die for us. So if God feeds the birds, how much more will he feed those for whom his Son died. And not just feed us, but provide everything else we need as well.

Rom 8:32 says:

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things [every material thing we need]?

Spiritual provision

Of the thirty-six miracles of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, only one of them is found in all four of the Gospels: the feeding of the five thousand.

If that miracle is found in all four Gospels then, arguably, it's the most important miracle he performed. Could that be true? I believe it is, because the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand are the only miracles that point to the cross.

V41 of this chapter tells us that before Jesus fed the people he took the loaves, looked up to heaven, gave thanks and broke them. Why did he do that?

Having taught his disciples to ask their Father for their daily bread (Mat 6:9#150;11), it was only right that he thanked him for providing it. But he didn't have to look up to heaven to give thanks, and he didn't have to break the loaves before he multiplied them; I believe something more than that was being taught here.

The breaking of bread is central to the Christian faith because it represents our Lord's death on the cross. Jesus looking up to heaven, giving thanks and breaking the loaves, was a symbolic act: he was showing that he was the spiritual bread who had come down from heaven to give spiritual life to the world (Joh 6:32–33).

After feeding the five thousand the people followed Jesus across the lake (Joh 6:23–24). When he saw them he told them that they had followed him because he had provided for their material needs (Joh 6:26).

He then told them not to work for (material) food that perishes—not to make that the priority in their lives—but for (spiritual) food that endures to eternal life which he, the Son of Man, would give them (Joh 6:27). Jesus Christ is that spiritual food (Joh 6:33).

Spiritual food is more important than material food. We need material food to live, but spiritual food so we can live forever. By breaking the loaves before he fed the people, Jesus was showing that their spiritual needs (which would be met by his death on the cross) were more important than their material needs.

In Joh 6:48–51 Jesus compared himself to the manna Israel ate in the desert, which was material food, sent from heaven, from God. But even though it came from God, the people who ate it still died physically.

Jesus, however, is the spiritual manna God has sent from heaven. Whoever eats of that manna will live forever spiritually.

Spiritual or material?

What is more important to you, the spiritual or the material? It should be the spiritual because the material (which includes this present heaven and earth) is only temporary and will soon pass away (Mat 24:35); but that which is spiritual is eternal.

The Bible is a spiritual book and its central theme is salvation: how we can have our sins forgiven and receive eternal life. That is the most important subject of all because it governs our eternal destiny.

Michael Graham
November 2008
Revised October 2014

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

guide | home | next