Jesus feeds 5,000 people (2). Mark 6:33-45

We’re back in Mark 6 today taking another look at the feeding of the 5,000. We went through this passage last week, but to refresh our memory let’s read it again.

33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 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. 35 And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36 Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” 37 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?” 38 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.”39 Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. 41 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. 42 And they all ate and were satisfied. 43 And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men. 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

Last time we saw how Jesus, without anyone asking, multiplied five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed a crowd of over 5,000 people. All ate and were satisfied and there were 12 baskets full left over. Today we look at how this feeding is more than just a miracle – it’s a sign. That is, it points to something about Jesus; about who Jesus is and the salvation he brings

That this is so comes out in the very next story, in Mark 6:51-52. After Jesus walked on the water and the winds ceased these verses say –

51And they (the disciples) were utterly astounded, 52for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

Mark is saying, if the disciples had understood what the feeding of the 5,000 was about, they would not have been surprised that Jesus could walk on water. They understood that Jesus did a great miracle, but they missed something important. So what is it that they didn’t understand? This is our topic today.

And first we note that there are –

Parallels between the feeding of the 5,000 and the feeding of Israel in the wilderness

There are connections between the two. Not everything is the same for sure, but there’s enough commonality to make a link. Let’s look at this –

1. Location. The Israelites were in the wilderness. The 5,000 are in a desolate place. And Mark emphasizes this by saying it three times (vs. 31, 32, 35).

2. Organization. The Israelites were organized into groups of 1000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s (Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 1:15). Jesus organizes the 5,000 into groups of 100’s and 50’s reminiscent of this – v. 39-40.

3. A miracle. There was a feeding miracle of bread (manna) and meat (quail) – Exodus 16. There is a feeding miracle of bread and meat(in this case fish).

4. Much food. There was an abundance of food – Exodus 16:12. Psalm 78:25 says of this, “he sent them food in abundance.” All 5,000 eat and are satisfied with much left over; 12 baskets full.

So there are broad parallels between these stories. Let’s see now what this tells us about –

Who Jesus is

  • Moses was the leader or shepherd of Israel during this feeding.
  • And Jesus is the shepherd in our passage, who teaches and feeds the multitude.

This connection between Moses and Jesus is highlighted in that Jesus alludes to Numbers 27 in v. 34 when he says that the crowd of 5,000 are “like sheep without a shepherd.” That’s because Numbers 27:16-17 is a prayer of Moses that uses shepherd language and has this phrase in it:

16Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation 17who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.

This is Moses praying for a successor, another shepherd for Israel. And historically this was Joshua. But interestingly the name “Jesus” is another form of the word for “Joshua.” So the reference to this passage in v. 34 indicates that Jesus is acting as the true successor of Moses come to shepherd God’s people.

(A similar connection to Moses is made in John’s telling of the story where some in the crowd want to make Jesus king because they think he is, “The prophet who is to come into the world” – referring to Deuteronomy 18:15-19, again talking about Moses’ successor.)

And there are other messianic predictions that use shepherd language (See – Micah 5:2-4, Zechariah 13:7, Jeremiah 23:1-6). Ezekiel 34 in particular connects with the phrase “like sheep without a shepherd” because it describes the scattering of the sheep due to Israel’s bad shepherds. And then God promises in –

v. 23 – And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

So this is a prophecy about the coming Messiah. And in Mark 6, Jesus is the Shepherd who feeds the 5,000.

All of this shepherd language and the allusions to Moses or Joshua or David as previews of the Messiah make the point that Jesus is the true Shepherd and Messiah of Israel. Who is Jesus? The feeding of the 5.000 portrays him as the Messiah.

But there’s more. Only a glance at our story shows that Jesus is much more than just a human Messiah. Who was it that fed Israel in the wilderness? It was God, not Moses. In Exodus 16:15 Moses said, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Also Psalm 78:23-24)

And who is it that feeds the 5,000? It is Jesus. Mark 6:41 says “Jesus broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all.” Jesus takes up the role with the 5,000 that God held with Israel in the wilderness in creating food for God’s people. He is much greater than Moses, Joshua or David, or whoever.

That he takes up God’s role shows us that Jesus is the Son of God. He can do what only God can do. Like father, like son, Jesus is God’s son. This is who he is.

Next, we look at what this story tells us about –

The salvation Jesus brings

And first we note that the feeding of the 5,000 points back to Passover. This was the meal that remembered and celebrated Israel’s salvation from slavery. Because of the death of the Passover lamb, the firstborn of Israel were spared and everyone was freed from Egypt.

  • In our passage, in v. 39, the reference to “green grass” shows us that this happened in springtime, which is broadly when Passover occurs.
  • And we learn more specifically that this indeed happened at the time of Passover in John 6:4.

So the Passover meal is certainly in the background to help us understand this feeding miracle.

Second, the feeding of the 5,000 points forward to the Messianic banquet. This is that great meal of celebration at the end of the age that Isaiah 25:6-9 talks about –

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine . . .. 8He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces . . .. 9It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.”

Jesus talks about this event in numerous places, for instance in Matthew 8:11 he says,

I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

  • In our passage, in v. 39 the word “sit” can also be translated as “recline.” It’s a word used for how you sit or lay down at an ancient banquet. It’s the same word that’s used in Matthew 8:11 – “recline at table.”
  • Also in v. 39 the word used for “group” (symposia) can mean dining groups at a banquet.

This banquet terminology shows that the feeding is being presented as a preview of the still to come messianic banquet on the last day.

And then finally the feeding of the 5,000 points to the Lord’s supper. Not everything is the same, for instance in the Lord’s supper you have bread and wine and the feeding has bread and fish. (Although throughout the emphasis is on the bread and not the fish.) But despite some differences, there’s a connection.

And in fact, as I have shown you before, the Lord’s supper itself is connected to both Passover and the Messianic banquet.

Here are some connections between the Lord’s supper and the feeding:

  • Both involve reclining, that is, they are pictured as banquets – 6:39; 14:18
  • In both Jesus is the host of the meal
  • And in both Jesus performs the same actions, in the same order: he takes, blesses, breaks and gives the bread – 6:41; 14:22

That the feeding of the 5,000 is connected to the Lord’s supper shows us that the bread from the Lord’s supper (the Passover bread) which symbolizes Jesus broken body on the cross for our salvation -is also symbolized in the broken bread of the feeding miracle.

As we learn from John’s account of the feeding, Jesus is the true bread that comes down from heaven.

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Who is Jesus? He is who Mark told us he was in chapter 1:1 – “the Messiah” and “the Son of God.”

And what does he do? He brings forth the salvation of the kingdom of God that Marks tells us Jesus preached in chapter 1:15. This salvation was pictured long ago in the Passover meal, predicted in prophecies of the Messianic banquet, symbolized in the Lord’s supper and also in the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus feeds 5,000 people (1). Mark 6:33-45

Jesus feed 5000 people: Literary structure

Today we’re in Mark 6:33-45 looking at the feeding of the 5,000. This is a really important story. In fact it’s the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. Think about that, of all that Jesus did.

I want us to look at it in two parts – first today, what Jesus did, that is, the miracle itself, and then next time what this miracle tells us about who Jesus is and the salvation he brings.

Mark 6:33-45

And we begin with setting the scene: vs. 33-34. Last we heard, the 12 had just come back from being sent out by Jesus. And they were overwhelmed by the crowds, so much so that they couldn’t even eat. So Jesus said, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” – Mark 6:31. Now a desolate place doesn’t mean here a desert, it means a place where there aren’t any people. But this plan get derailed –

33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34When he went ashore he saw a great crowd . . .

So Jesus and the 12 are in the boat, but the crowd on land is especially eager and run by foot ahead of them. Jesus and the 12 must not have gone a great distance because the crowd greets them when they land.

Now where they land is disputed, that is, where Jesus feeds the 5,000. Here’s my understanding. Luke 9:10 tells us that they land near Bethsaida, which is just East of where the Jordan river comes into the Sea of Galilee. And John tells us that they cross the Sea of Galilee to the other side, that is, to the eastern shore. So it seems best to say that they’re somewhere East of Bethsaida, where there are no villages or towns – the yellow circle on the map below.

Galilee feeding of the 5000

. . . and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

 Certainly there would’ve been the temptation for Jesus and the 12 to be angry that their attempt at rest has been thwarted. But instead of this our verse tells us that Jesus “had compassion on them.” It can also be translated as he had pity on them  or felt sympathy for them.

Why? “Because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The shepherd image is a common one in the Old Testament for leaders among God’s people (Numbers 27:17). If sheep don’t have a shepherd, they don’t know where to go; they have no one to guide them to food or to protect them from dangers. So this is a serious critique of the current leaders of Israel. They have failed at their job.

Jesus’ response is simple –

And he began to teach them many things.

They don’t have proper guidance and so he gives this to them. He teaches them about the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15). [Pastors/elders are called shepherds (Acts 20:17-35; 1 Peter 5:1-4). And certainly in the New Testament shepherding is closely connected to teaching (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:7; Titus 1:9).]

We saw before that we need to have times of rest away from our work for the kingdom. But here we also see that sometimes, out of love, we must interrupt our times of rest from kingdom work to meet a real need.

There is also another lesson, we too should have compassion towards those who don’t know the way.  Not hatred towards unbelievers or even Christians we strongly disagree with. Not disgust. Not anger. We should have mercy and try to help them understand.

This brings us to the feeding of the crowd

 35And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. 36Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

So the disciples are thinking very practically here. Let’s let them get back to civilization before dark – so they can get some food for themselves. It was probably late afternoon.

But Jesus has a different idea –

37But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.”

Practical thinking is fine, except when it goes against what Jesus wants to do – which is a miracle here.

The first part of Jesus’ statement can be translated, “you yourselves give them something to eat.” The emphasis is on you the 12, not the crowd. They are being stretched here.

And this is a lesson for us. God will stretch us as well. As we go through our lives as followers of Jesus we too will experience times when we need to move beyond merely practical thinking; what seems sensible to do what God wants to do, which is often counter-intuitive and seems all upside down and out of whack. So with all our practical sense and wisdom we need to be careful to discern when God is asking us to set this aside to do something crazy for him.

And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?”

They’re still thinking practically here and they raise two problems.

1. Shall we go? But this involves the same problem that the crowd would have – they’re in a desolate place, far away from anywhere to get food. And 2. the cost is prohibitive. 200 denarii is the equivalent of 200 hundred days wages for a common worker (Matthew 20:2). That’s about 8 month’s wages. And this is an amount they most certainly don’t have.

They don’t yet get what Jesus is up to. Jesus is their greatest resource and he is right there with them and he doesn’t charge any money. Since they are clueless, Jesus helps them.

38And 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.”

Jesus gives his practical thinking disciples a practical task, “go and see” what we have. When he says “you” it means the crowd also. As we learn in John, what they find comes from a boy in the crowd (John 6). They report back that they have five loaves of bread and two fish, which were probably dried.

39Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties.

That there’s green grass tells us that it’s Spring time. And John tells us that it was during Passover, which would have been sometime during March/April.

Jesus gets the crowd organized to facilitate the distribution of food.

41And 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.

After the blessing the miracle begins. Now, just how the multiplication actually happened is unclear. It says he “broke the loaves” and “divided the two fish.” Does this mean that he kept breaking the loaves and more appeared each time some was taken. Or does it mean that the loaves and fish themselves multiplied so that there was a pile of each Such details weren’t preserved. The fact is simply that the amount of food increased.

Notice how it was the disciples who gave the crowd food, just as Jesus said to them, “you yourselves give them something to eat.”

42And they all ate and were satisfied. 43And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

We have three things in these verses that highlight the magnitude of this miracle.

1. All ate and were satisfied. To eat till you’re full was not something that could be taken for granted in the ancient world. This was a feast of bread and fish.

2. There was an abundance of leftovers. Twelve baskets full.

3. And the crowd was large, 5,000 men. And as Matthew tells us there were also some women and children there (14:21).

Just an observation – no one in the crowd is recorded as being amazed by this miracle. Did they know the full story of how the food was multiplied?

Also, notice the contrast with Herod’s feast a few verses back, where all the big wigs were together and John the Baptist was murdered. Notice the contrast between this and Jesus meeting the needs of common people.

Here’s a lesson for us from this story God takes what little we have and makes it more than enough. Any time God uses us we are inadequate. But he can take who we are and the gifts we have and multiply them to accomplish his purposes.

The story ends by noting that the disciples and the crowd leave.

45Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

The word “made” can also be translated “compelled.” This may reflect what John says about how the crowd sought to make Jesus their king. He didn’t want them getting caught up in this. More likely it’s that the disciples would have been very reluctant to leave Jesus on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They were always together and they were the ones who took care of his needs and also kept the crowds away from him at times.

The phrase “to the other side, to Bethsaida” is a little strange. Since we learn in v. 53 that they’re heading West to Gennesaret, he must mean they are to go West “towards” Bethsaida over to the other side.

Galilee Jesus feeds 5000 2

Earlier the disciples had wanted to dismiss the crowd so they could get food. Jesus here dismisses them having himself met their need.

Let me end by saying –

Jesus is amazing!

What a miracle! What power! What ability to do things that go beyond human understanding. No one even asked him to do this . It was pure grace. Jesus is amazing!