The Feeding of the Five Thousand
The Feeding of the Five Thousand
“He blessed the food and breaking the loaves he gave…and they ate and were satisfied.”
The story of Christ miraculously taking a boy's lunch and turning it into a feast for thousands is taught to children in Sunday School. We are told how 5,000 people were hungry after a day of listening to the teaching of Jesus, and since there were no supermarkets or fast food restaurants, Christ provided a meal. While we know the story well, we often miss the significance of the event as a testimony not only of Christ’s supernatural powers but, more importantly, it serves as a testimony of the legitimacy of Christ’s claim to be the Messiah.
In revisiting the story, we first note that the numbers far exceeded five thousand. In the story, which is repeated in all the gospels, it is mentioned that five thousand men ate and that the number did not include the women and children (verse 21). In other words, there were far more present, perhaps as many as ten to fifteen thousand.
However, to understand the whole story, we must return to another miraculous feeding in the Old Testament. In Exodus 16:1-2, the people were also in the wilderness without food and hungry. In response to their cry, the Lord supernaturally fed the people by providing bread (manna) for them to eat. This miracle was embedded within the Jewish faith and led to the Jewish tradition that the Messiah would miraculously provide food for the people when he came. In Psalm 132:15, we find that when God establishes his reign through the Messianic king, he would “abundantly bless her provisions: and satisfy her needy with bread.” Throughout the Old Testament, bread symbolizes God’s provision and blessing. When God withheld his blessing, there was a shortage of bread (Isa. 30:20, Lam 1:11). However, when God blessed his people, he would provide ‘bread from heaven” (Neh. 9:15 and Prov. 28:19).
When Jesus miraculously provided the people with bread, it had messianic implications. It was a demonstration that Jesus was more than just a prophet; he was the new and more excellent Moses that would come (see Deuteronomy 18:15). In this act, with its parallel to the provision of the manna, Jesus is manifesting himself to Israel that he is the Messianic King. It pointed out that through Christ, God was not pouring out his abundant physical blessing to his people but his spiritual blessing. The Messiah is the one through whom God brings the sustenance of life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus takes it a step further. Not only does Jesus provide the physical blessing of bread, but he is, in fact, the spiritual bread that gives spiritual life. In John 8:35, we find the first of seven “I am” statements that provide a clear connection to the affirmation of the identity of the God of Israel as the “I am” (Exodus 3:14). In this first affirmation, Jesus proclaims that “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is the one through whom we attain spiritual bread and life. In the miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus was not just showing his compassion for people's hunger. Still, he showed he was the Messianic King who gave his people physical and spiritual life and blessings.
Just as the people were in the wilderness lacking physical food, today, we are in a spiritual wilderness where people lack spiritual food. We long for hope and security in a world of chaos and uncertainty. People are looking for hope. This comes through the person of Christ. He is the source of both physical and spiritual life. In him, we find God's blessings and humanity's hope. Jesus invites us to join him in another feast, where he is not just the one who gives us bread, but he is the bread. When we base our life upon Christ, he gives us true and lasting satisfaction and joy.