Summary: There is more to this miracle than is commonly preached
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
The account of The Feeding of the 5,000 is found in all four Gospels. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers to record them. Whereas the basic facts are quite similar, there are some differences as well in the detail that is included. Matthew, Mark and Luke do not tell us where the fish and loaves came from. It is in John, we learn of a lad who had brought them. This has led many to preach on the willingness of the lad to share his lunch. The Lord multiplied the lad’s generosity, but the miracle started with the lad. Unfortunately, the Scripture does not tell us of the lad’s attitude. So where this is a touching detail, we are missing the main point of the feeding of the 5,000, even in John. It is a non-issue in the other gospels.
There are several contexts that need to be established in order for us to receive the full richness of the account. The first context is where this occurs within the ministry of Jesus. All of the gospels place it in the middle of Jesus’ ministry. John provides the least historical context as he goes straight from the controversy in Jerusalem over the healing of the lame man on the Sabbath. The other gospels ground this event in sharper context. It happens after Jesus had sent out His disciples on a mission tour. He had charged them and warned them that their message would be rejected in some places and accepted in others. This was an early indication of what to expect. Even though the tour went well, and they seemed to have experienced euphoria over what they considered to be a great success in that they had power even over devils, Jesus had to gently correct them to rejoice that their name was in the Book. Jesus knew all of the road ahead, including His rejection and crucifixion as well as all the things the disciples would suffer for His name.
Sandwiched in between their going out and their return is the account of John the Baptist. John had been thrown into prison for His witness. Even though the disciples would not yet suffer for their testimony of Jesus, there was one who was already in prison. The rigors of imprisonment had shaken his faith, and he sent men to aks Jesus if he had got it right. Jesus reassures John. Soon afterward, John was beheaded in prison. Matthew also includes the account of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth, which according to Luke, had occurred earlier in His ministry. If we understand that there are two ways the gospels are ordered. The first is chronological. There is a general tendency going from birth, death and resurrection. But there is also a logical order in which cause-effect relationships are placed next to each other. Matthew uses such in the anointing of Jesus for burial by Mary of Bethany. John and Mark keep the historical order by placing it at evening of what would become Palm Sunday. But Matthew groups it with Judas going to the chief priests to betray Jesus. Matthew wants us to know that the indignation Judas had for the waste of the spikenard was the cause of his going to betray him later in the week. John also relates this event to Judas’ betrayal in a different way. So I think this is why Matthew mentions the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth along with the execution of John the Baptist. The feeding of the 5,000 occurs in the midst of rejection in all four gospels, at least by the religious authorities.
We must also examine what happens after the feeding as well. Luke skips directly to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ at Caesarea Philippi. After the waling on the water, John has a long discourse on the Bread of Life in which many would be offended and desert Jesus. But Peter makes the initial confession of Jesus as the Messiah. Mark and Matthew go on with Jesus going into Gentile territory and doing a mission there. Included in this was the feeding of the 4,000 in Gentile territory. Then the scene goes to Caesarea Philippi and Peter’s confession, followed by Jesus explicitly talking about His suffering and death in Jerusalem.
When we put these accounts together, we see the themes of suffering and rejection by many and acceptance by a few. We shall learn of other connections after we exegete the text.
The other context we must examine is the connection of the History of Israel and this account. John makes this connection explicit in His Bread of Life discourse. But there are many clues that tell us that all of the Gospel writers make this connection as well.