Jesus once said, “The very works that I do bear witness of me, that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). The “works” of which he spoke included miraculous signs (cf. 10:19-21, 24-25, 37-38). This is the only miracle which is recorded in all four accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).
The twelve had been sent out on a preaching tour through Israel to proclaim, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:1-15; Mark 6:7-13; Luke 9:1-6). They, having completed their tour, now return to Jesus and report on what had been done (Mark 6:30; Luke 9:10).
Jesus says, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31; Luke 9:10). Thus, they set out for some rest and relaxation.
However, they do not escape unnoticed. They are spotted leaving the area, and a multitude begins to follow them. They follow because: (1) John the baptizer has been recently beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29). John’s disciples are somewhat like sheep without a shepherd (cf. Mark 6:34). Except, they did know that John had pointed them to Jesus (cf. John 1:29-30; 35-37; 3:28-30; 5:31-33). So, they turn to him. (2) They have witnessed the signs (John 6:2).
The multitude follows Jesus into the desert. There, he has compassion on the people. He also heals the sick (Matthew 14:14; Luke 9:11).
However, there appears to be a problem. The multitude is large, five thousand men, plus women and children (Matthew 14:21). It is getting late (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:35; Luke 9:12). The people are hungry (they had spontaneously followed without adequate provisions). Where could food be found for so many? Moreover, if found, how would it be paid for? (John 6:5-7). A search is made (Mark 6:38). Five loaves and two fishes were found among the multitude, but what were they among such a number? (John 6:8-9).
Jesus has the disciples organize the crowd into groups of fifty [(Luke 9:14; Mark 6:40). Perhaps this is done to make service efficient and to ensure that no one is neglected]. He prays, giving thanks to God (John 6:11 cf. Matthew 14:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16). The multitude is miraculously fed. They received “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). In fact, there are leftovers (Matthew 14:20; Mark 6:43; Luke 9:17; John 6:12-13). The people exclaim, “this is truly the prophet who is come into the world!” (John 6:14).
Jesus fed the multitude physical food. However, he is the bread of life (John 6: 35, 48). He has something far greater to offer than relief from physical hunger (John 6:27, 49-51, 63).
- He fed the multitude in an orderly manner (Luke 9:14). We should do things “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). The early church was organized in such a way that the Grecian widows were not neglected (Acts 6:1-ff). We should make more effort to make sure that no one gets left out or “falls through the cracks”.
- Jesus instructed that the fragments be gathered up “so that nothing is lost” (John 6:12). Perhaps we should learn from this to be frugal and not wasteful.