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.


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.

The meaning of the Lord’s supper. Matthew 26:26-28

We are going to be sharing together in the Lord’s Supper next Sunday, Lord willing, and so I want us to look at the Scriptures and remind ourselves what this meal of Jesus means. Today we look at the symbolic meaning of the bread and the cup, and next week I would like for us to look at what it means for us to receive these elements.

 Let’s begin by reading Matthew 26:26-28 –

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

The first thing we need to note, is that –

The supper symbolically portrays Jesus’ death on the cross

  • He says of the bread – “this is my body” (v. 26). The bread is connected to his body
  • He says of the cup – “this is my blood” (v. 28). The cup is connected to his blood

Now, some Christians take this too literally. They say that the bread and wine turn into Jesus’ real body and blood in one way or another. But Jesus is using figurative language. And the reason we know this, is that Jesus’ body and blood were still a part of him, with the disciples in the room as he spoke. What Jesus is saying is that this bread is a symbol of my body, and this cup is a symbol of my blood.

But the point is not just that these elements represent him the bread and cup represent his death on the cross. 

  • That the bread is broken as it was distributed to be eaten shows that his body is broken – an image of his death on the cross
  • That the cup is poured out when they drank it shows that his blood is poured out – an image of his death on the cross.

These two elements signify Jesus’ death on the cross.

But there is another layer of meaning that helps us to understand the meaning of the bread and the cup, and thus Jesus’ death on the cross. This comes to us from –

The Exodus event

– and how God delivered Israel from Egypt. Jesus himself makes this connection. He intentionally uses the bread and the cup to connect his meal to the Exodus story. Let’s look at how this is so.

First, the bread comes from the Passover meal. Jesus makes it clear that the Last Supper is a Passover meal when he says, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” – Luke 22:15. The Passover was the event that set Israel free, the meal celebrates that deliverance [Mishnah mPes 10.5]

And then the cup is identified by a phrase that comes from the covenant ceremony, from Exodus 24, when Israel entered into covenant with God. Jesus calls the cup the “blood of the covenant” – Matthew 26:28.

So there is a clear connection.

  • The bread not only points us to Jesus on the cross, it also points back to the Passover
  • The cup not only points us to Jesus on the cross, it also points back to the covenant ceremony at Sinai

Let’s look at this in more detail.

When the Exodus story begins, Israel was in slavery without God, afflicted and miserable. But God heard their cries for help and acted to deliver them.

One of the ways he saved them was the the Passover – Exodus 12:6b-7; 11-13  

 . . . the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight. Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it . . .. In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.

 What do we learn from the Passover meal? 1) There is a sacrificial death. They were to “kill their lambs” and put the blood on their door frames – 6b. 2) This death brings salvation to Israel. Not only are they not killed by the plague, they are delivered from slavery, misery and death in Egypt. v. 11 says, they are to eat it “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand” because they will be leaving just after this.

And then we have the covenant ceremonyExodus 24:5-8. This is when Israel entered into covenant with God at Mt Sinai.

And Moses sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”

What do we learn from this covenant ceremony? 1) There is a sacrificial death. They “offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen” – v. 5. 2) This death brings Israel into a new relationship (or covenant) with God. They received from God forgiveness for their sins (Moses took the blood and threw it on the people. Also, Hebrews 9:20-22; and Exodus Targum). And they committed to obey God. “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” v. 7.  Even though they knew of Yahweh before, they were not in this kind of relationship with him. So this really is a new.


Bringing this all together

 When the Exodus story is brought in as a background to the event of Jesus’ death on the cross, we learn several things. First, just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, so we are enslaved to Sin, Satan and Death; without Christ we are slaves to these hostile powers, lost in the world. There is a parallel here.

Second, just as they were delivered from slavery, so are we through Christ.

  • In the Passover, there was a sacrificial death (a Passover lamb) and this death brought salvation from slavery.
  • So, Jesus’ death is sacrificial (he is our Passover lamb) and it brings us salvation from slavery to Sin, Satan and Death.

The bread reminds us of this. It points back to the Passover deliverance and forward to Jesus’ death on the cross and makes the connection between the two.

Finally, just as they entered into a relationship with God, so we enter into a new covenant relationship with God.

  • In the covenant ceremony there was a sacrificial death which brought them into a new relationship with God, through the forgiveness of their sins and their commitment to obey God.
  • So, Jesus’ death is sacrificial and it brings us into a new covenant relationship with God in the same way. We are forgiven, as Jesus said, “for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” – Matthew 26:28. And we commit to obey God in baptism, to quote Jesus from Matthew 28:20, “to obey all that I have commanded you.”

The cup reminds us of this. It points back to the covenant ceremony and forward to Jesus’ death on the cross and makes the connection between the two.