After my series on the parables, I found I was drawn to look into the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. I have never studies the mighty works of Jesus as a focused effort before and am looking forward to finding nuggets of truth that we can be encouraged by.
I have provided a general introduction, with an opportunity to download two files for your reference in my initial post Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus – Introduction. I found that the format I used for the parable posts were useful to keep me on track, and will continue to use them for this series, with some minor tweaks. With that said, let’s take a look at
Jesus Feeds 5,000
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And 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. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When 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. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But 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?” And 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.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And 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. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing. Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, “Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” But he said to them, “You give them something to eat.” They said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish–unless we are to go and buy food for all these people.” For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.
After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
This miracle is recounted in all of the gospels, and as such we have much to consider as we venture through the texts. The passage speaks of supply in the face of want, of the patience of the Master as He seeks some down time, of the disciples riding high on a recent victory. This passage has it all, and hopefully we can find a small nugget of truth that will give us guidance for the day.
Questions to Consider
Who were the audience?
Those who witnessed this miracle were those who actively participated in the work, that is the disciples, along with those who passively participated, by consuming food until they were satisfied.
Regarding the number in the crowd, the gospels tell us of five thousand men, along with women and children. Of the number of women and children, some have suggested an equal number of women (as wives) and an even greater number of children, since the assumption is that family units were present. This may be so, and if so, the volume of the audience fed that day could be as high as twenty thousand.
Since this was the time of the festivals, as John 6:4 describes, it may be that the crowd consisted primarily of men, since festival attendance was required of the males only (Deuteronomy 16:16).
No matter the number, whether five thousand or twenty thousand, the audience was huge and this miracle stands out as a well known work of God, that had somewhat surprising results.
When did the Lord perform this mighty work?
It is good to remember some of the happenings just prior to this miracle, and the reason Jesus sought solitude. John the Baptist had just been martyred, and this not only reinforced the obvious course of the Messiah’s ministry and life, but indicated a step closer to the inevitable confrontation with the powers that be.
The disciples had also just returned from their first missionary journey with tales of victory, and Jesus may have sought a time of reflection and review with the disciples.
Beyond both of these pivotal occurrences, Mark 6:31 simply states that the Lord sought some relief from the constant “coming and going” of the masses. He simply wanted a break.
Fat chance that was gonna happen!
Where did the Lord perform this mighty work?
See Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus – Introduction for downloadable reference file.
Mark 6:32 speaks of the Master and His disciples heading to a desolate place for rest, while Luke 9:10 speaks of the town called Bethsaida.
Bethsaida is an interesting little town, in that Jesus included it with the town of Chorazin when He condemned the people of the region for their rejection of His ministry.
Matthew 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
It is reported that the town/village of Bethsaida was abandoned in 65 AD due to the advance of the Roman armies. It is no longer a populated area.
Bethsaida is also referenced in John 1:44 as the hometown of Peter Andrew and Philip.
John 1:44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Grassy plain of Bethsaida
There is some debate amongst scholars and archeologist as to whether Bethsaida was on the shore of Galilee or approx. 6 miles inland (as the map above indicates). For our purposes in this post, let us understand the miracle occurred outside of the town, on a grassy solitary place.
Why did the Lord perform this mighty work?
As with the last miracle, Jesus saw the great crowd and had compassion on them. They were like sheep without a shepherd. Out of this compassion, the Lord began to teach them many things. (The miracle of the feeding was, humanly speaking, an afterthought.)
Consider the compassion of the Lord, as He recognized them as shepherdless sheep, and that He began to teach, even though He sought solitude. Even as the disciples realized the lateness of the day, and was advising the Lord to “send them away”, He wouldn’t abandon the crowd. Remember – He originally came to this desolate place to find some quiet, and to reconnect with the disciples.
Something else may be going on here that is not explicitly said within the text. The disciples had just returned from a victorious missionary journey. Tasks assigned during this journey included preaching the kingdom of God, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and driving out demons. (see Matthew 10:8). They had just returned from exercising authority over sickness, demons and death!
Could they not feed a few hungry souls?
But alas, the Lord’s patience is present with His people, though we are such slow learners. He took what the disciples provided to Him and multiplied the scraps to feed multitudes. I suppose He was not only teaching the multitudes, but also His disciples by the actions He continually performed in front of them!
He is the Great Teacher!
What was the message for the original audience?
For the crowds, they received a meal from a miracle working preacher, after He taught the crowd of the kingdom of God. I am curious what the Lord taught, but would not be surprised if He didn’t provide instruction on the temporariness of a meal. But that is my imagination running away with the story!
The crowds may have seen the miracle, or they may not have. Over five thousand men would have created a distance that may have restricted many from seeing how this food was provided. Complete conjecture on my part, but one thing is certain, in that when Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and said a blessing, He did so to honor and thank His heavenly Father.
For the disciples, the message was somewhat different. I like what the Lord said in Matthew 14:16
“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
I can just imagine the thoughts running through the disciples minds. Just as they recounted their successful missionary journey, they were being challenged to provide food for multitudes. This wasn’t part of the program – Jesus spoke of glamorous healings, and sensational raising’s of the dead. Producing food for irritating crowds had not been in the original instruction from the Lord! What’s worse – after they abdicated their ability to produce the food, (which I fully understand!), they were each assigned the task of a waiter and table cleanup for the masses. This was definitely a drop in status.
Also, it would be so good to hear the inflection of the disciples voice when they brought the loaves and fish to Jesus. Do you suppose the disciples came to the Lord with someone’s lunch, with a hopeless, “what can we do” attitude? I know that is my first response to a seemingly impossible request from the Lord.
Could the message for the disciples be somewhat different than what I first imagined when I approched this miracle? Could it include a realignment for the disciples thinking, an effort to bring them back down to earth, in that they still had so much to learn?
What is the message for us today?
Be prepared to be stretched.
Personally, I have been in a bit of a holding pattern recently, and as you may see, the emphasis of the passage is speaking of being stretched, used and entering new areas of service that may not be comfortable. New ventures that may be at first areas of failure, yet the Lord is ever patient with His people, and His mercy teaches us that He will be there for us as we seek Him. He is the Great Teacher!
Be prepared to learn
And we claim to be the students, the disciples as we Christians call ourselves. To be a disciple is to be a learner, but do you feel you have learned it all, that you are fully instructed in the ways of the Lord, that you are a guide to the blind and teacher of the ignorant?
Hold up a bit my friend, for this type of pride has caused me more harm than good. As a matter of fact, I can’t recall any good that it has provided to anyone!
Be prepared to be corrected, to be reproved, to come down a notch, to wait on tables even though you have recently moved a mountain. Be a good student, and as you seek Him, some humble pie may need to be consumed!
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