Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000 men is one of the more well-known stories from the Gospels. Yet the geographical context, the events leading up to it, and the creative power that Jesus displays is not often considered. The timing of the feeding also helps tremendously in forming a general chronology of the Gospels. This episode develops these points.
Hi I’m Josh Hawkins and this is Episode 75 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 74, I laid some of the groundwork and context to help you rightly understand and fellowship with Jesus in the events surrounding the feeding of the 5,000. I talked about how a wearied Jesus willingly spent the entire day ministering to the crowds, driven by His compassion for them. Instead of sending them away hungry, He determined to provide for them in dramatic fashion from five loaves and two fish. I noted how there were likely 15,000 or more people who were there that evening, which is just a crazy amount of people if you think about it… Think professional basketball arena. That’s a lot of people to feed! Today I want to continue looking at the Feeding of the 5,000. But before we do that I want to say that from this point forward in the Late Galilean ministry, the tendency is for a fog to set into our minds because of all of the places Jesus travels to. But push through it if you can. The best way I’ve found to help get these events clear is to let the reference point be Capernaum. Everything makes more sense that way. You will see what I mean as we move forward. I want to do the best I can to help you so that you don’t just see a big sea of events but rather clear movements Jesus is making from one place to the other. Now let’s not forget what's just happened - Jesus went on a fourth circuit throughout Galilee, and the Twelve are with Him for part of it. Then He sends them out to preach and heal. Then all of the stories come back and merge in Capernaum after they had come back from being sent out. Things are crazy with the crowds and Jesus wants some solace and rest, so they go and seek rest somewhere. But as they are nearing shore to what they expected to be a solitary place, crowds have already gathered and are seeking Jesus again. So Jesus spends the day ministering to them but doesn’t want to send them away hungry. Let’s pick up the story in Mark's Gospel: "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." (Mark 6:38–42 ESV) Five loaves and two fish. That’s not much food. Barley was a grain that could be first harvested around the time of the Passover in Israel, and it was typically the grain that poorer people would have used to make bread. The loaves the boy carried would have been much flatter and much smaller than what we would think of a loaf of bread today. The fish were probably smaller as well and likely been dried and salted. They weren’t freshly pulled out of the sea and placed into a the boy’s bag. Now we must remember that in Galilee at the time, the socio-economic situation was such that it would be very rare to have enough food in one sitting to be truly full. But did you catch what the text said right at the end of verse 42? "They all ate and were satisfied.” John’s Gospel says that they ate "as much as they wanted”. There must have been so much food! The Gospels don’t really give us any detail on how Jesus actually accomplished this miracle of provision. Was it such that when they passed around a basket, another piece of bread just appeared? Or were there just a multitude of baskets full? Oh, these are questions I certainly want to ask Jesus in the age to come. Now what I believe is so important for us to see here is that Jesus did not ask God to do anything for Him, nor does He invoke God’s name to accomplish the miracle. Also, there’s not a single hint from any of the Gospels that tell us that Jesus was somehow empowered by the Holy Spirit to do this miracle. As I’ve talked about a little bit before, Jesus’ relationship to the Holy Spirit is nothing like ours. In this scene, Jesus was the sole bearer of creative power. I think the use of the word “multiplication” can even be a little misleading. The text never says anything about Jesus multiplying bread and fish either, as if somehow that makes it more comprehensible to us. What am I trying to say? I’m saying that Jesus created the bread and fish out of nothing. Not only that - the bread had been baked and fish had been cooked. Oh my goodness! Do you see how awesome this miracle really is, and do you see what this says about who Jesus is? Let’s keep reading from John 6: "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." (John 6:12–15 ESV) So after twelve baskets are used to hold the leftovers from the original five barley loaves, the people say something very important. They say “this is indeed the Prophet who has come into the world!” and then they begin plotting how they would take Jesus by force and make Him the ruler. For a 21st century Westerner, there are things here that we easily miss because our lives aren’t rooted in the story of the Old Testament like a first century Jew was. But there are some huge parallels going on in this scene with the Old Testament and with a very particular character from the Old Testament - Moses. First, take the arrangement of the groups as they sat down on the grass. The Gospels tell us that they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Moses arranged the Israelites in groupings of 1000, 500, 100, and 10 under their respective leaders according to Exodus 18 and Numbers 31. Also, the crowds’ response is important - in response to the miracle of bread provided to them in the middle of nowhere, they say that Jesus is “the prophet who is to come into the world!” If you remember back in Episode 43, I talked a little bit about three figures that were present in Jewish expectation in the first century. "The prophet” was one of them. Per Deuteronomy 18 verse 15, Israel was to look for a prophet like Moses - someone who would rule over and shepherd Israel just as Moses did. So just as Moses was connected with the giving of manna to Israel in the wilderness, the people connect the giving of bread to Jesus here. They’re saying: “Hey, look, we know who you are! Just like Moses gave us manna in the wilderness, you just gave us bread here! You’re that prophet that Moses spoke about in Deuteronomy!” Does that make sense? Now I mentioned this briefly in a past episode, but Israelites did not believe “the prophet” was “the messiah”. Those were two out of the three particular figures they were expecting. And they didn’t think the Messiah was going to be all three of those roles bound up into one. Of course we can look back and say that Jesus is all three of those figures, but to them at the time they were distinct offices. Now more than just the "greater Moses”, there’s something else even more significant here. Read this quote from Robert Bowman: “The miraculous feeding of over five-thousand people…has obvious associations with the feeding of the Israelites with manna in the wilderness shortly after the crossing of the Red Sea. In John’s extended account of the aftermath of this miracle, Jesus explicitly compares it to the giving of manna (John 6:31-33, 49-51, 58). According to Exodus, God, not Moses, gave the Israelites the manna (Exod. 16:4, 8, 15). Rather than casting himself in the “role” of Moses, Jesus actually casts himself both as the Lord who gives the bread and as the bread itself…” - Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, p 204 Do you see what Bowman is saying? Instead of just being the prophet like Moses, Jesus goes on to explain that He is much more. As the bearer of creative power, He is in fact the Lord Himself, the creator of everything. And He is also the bread itself, the bread who came down from heaven and who will give eternal life - literally resurrect the righteous from their graves. As we’ll see, it’s no wonder why a lot of Jesus’ followers leave Him after He starts getting really serious about who He is. So this scene closes by Jesus first sending His disciples away in a boat, then He Himself withdraws to the mountain to pray, fleeing from the fervent crowd and resisting their misguided enthusiasm. Before I wrap up this episode, here’s a couple of points for your meditation. 1) Ponder what it would have been like to sit in one of the groups of 50 or 100 people. As the bread was going around and you were eating, what was the tone of the conversation? Did anyone complain about the food? What about the noise level? What would people have been thinking about? 2) Imagine how the tone of the crowd must have changed when Jesus suddenly went missing. When Jesus went up the mountain to pray, did He have to hide from anyone? How long did the crowd search for him before disbanding? I just love this scene - it really shows forth the glory of Jesus from so many different angles. In the next episode we’ll look at yet another group of amazing miracles that fry the circuits of the Twelve - and that’s Jesus walking on the water. If you want to watch any of the past episodes in this series, find them all on my website at www.joshuahawkins.com. God bless, and come back next time!