The feeding of the five thousand is recorded in all four gospels, in fact Mark records a second feeding of four thousand. This serves to remind us of the importance with which the early church viewed this miracle. Like many of Jesus' miracles, the feeding of the five thousand points beyond itself. As God, through Moses, fed the people of Israel with manna in the wilderness, so Jesus, the prophet like unto Moses, feeds a mighty crowd in "a desolate place." As Jesus' generation said of him, "this is of a truth the prophet who is to come into the world", John 6:14.
v13-14. The preaching ministry of the disciples had stirred up Herod Antipas and so Jesus decides to cool things down, cf. v1-2. Luke tells us that he withdrew to Bethsaida Julius on the northeast shore of lake Galilee. Jesus and his disciples obviously went by boat, but the crowds, having worked out where Jesus was going, traveled around the lake on foot and got there first. Out of "compassion", Jesus continues his healing ministry among them.
v15-17. By late afternoon the people are hungry and so the disciples point out to Jesus that it is time to let them go home, or to go to the nearby villages for food and lodgings. Jesus tells his disciples that the people don't need to go home, but rather that the disciples should prepare to feed them. Jesus' command, "you give them something to eat", is not a command for the disciples to perform a miracle, but rather seeks to have them rely in faith on the one who can turn water into wine. The disciples can feed the crowd if they look to Jesus. At any rate, the disciples are unable see how they can do this since they have only one plowman's lunch of Barley flat bread and pickled fish.
v18-21. Matthew continues to condense his account of the feeding, omitting many of the details recorded in the other gospels. None-the-less, he makes all the important points: i] Jesus performs the miracle, not the disciples; ii] The crowd is very large. Counting adult males only, there are 5,000 present, so the total could be around 15,000; iii] The crowd is fully satisfied with food in abundance. There is no significance in Jesus offering a thanksgiving to God for the food, since this was normal Jewish practice. There is certainly significance in the satisfaction of the crowd and the twelve baskets of scraps. We probably shouldn't call them scraps as they were more likely the broken portions of bread and fish ready for distribution, rather than bits and pieces of leftover food. The miracle reminds us that as God provided for the twelve tribes of Israel during their wilderness journey, so he will provide for the messianic banquet, both now and in the last day.
"I want to give my Lord all the praise." These were warming words from a South African swimmer who had just won gold at the Atlanta Olympics. Yet, as I heard the words, I wondered how real they were. Was she just using "Zion speak"? Did she actually think that Jesus controlled the circumstances that gave her gold? If this was the case, the other swimmers could rightly protest such divine interference. To what extent does God's providential care for his children intrude into the circumstances of life?
When God called the people of Israel out of Egypt, he promised to take them to a land flowing with milk and honey. He had called them and so he would provide for their needs. This he did with the essentials of life, in particular, Manna. When Jesus fed the 5,000 he recalled this provision, and in so doing, promised his provision for a new journey to a new land where God's people will find an eternal banquet prepared for them.
As part of God's providential care, believers are provisioned for their journey on the way and thus we pray, "give us this day our daily bread." We also share in the heavenly banquet, yes even now, although it is but a taste. These provisions are not the good things of life; these are but the benefits of God's creation. Yet, when we place ourselves in the center of God's will we do find ourselves provisioned for service and this may include tangible assets, "our daily bread", the resources we need for service. Yet, primarily the provision is a heavenly food, spiritual if you like. This food, above all else, is Christ himself: his indwelling compelling love, his enduring friendship, his determined protection from the powers of darkness....
So then, let us remember that through faith in Christ we are provisioned for service, and this to life eternal.
1. Apply some lateral thinking and work up different interpretations for the feeding of the 5,000.
2. Consider God's providential care. To what extent do you think God cares for our physical well-being.
3. "I am with you always, to the end of the age", Matt.28:20b. Discuss, in light of this miracle.