When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been killed, he boarded a boat to travel to a solitary place. People heard that Jesus was leaving so they followed him on foot, around the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.
When Jesus arrived on shore, he saw a large crowd. He had compassion for them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples went to Jesus and said,
“This is a remote place and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go into the towns and buy themselves food.”
“They do not need to go away. Give them something to eat.”
“We have only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered
“Bring the food to me,” Jesus said.
Jesus directed the people to sit down in the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves of bread. Then he gave them to the disciples and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied.
When they finished eating, the disciples picked up the food in baskets. They picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those that ate was about five thousand men, not counting the women and children.
What the story means to us today
We have the capability (and responsibility) to help others
The feeding of the five thousand was a miraculous event that further demonstrated Jesus’ phenomenal abilities for the people. But for modern-day Christians, it is a story that emphasizes the importance of ministry, compassion, and our responsibility to care for others – even if we think we are incapable of doing so.
Despite seeking solstice from the crowd, Jesus did not send the people away to fend for themselves. Instead, he stood firm in his faith, prayed to God, and took the initiative to feed the people. He had no responsibility to do this. It was simply the proper Christian thing to do.
Additional thoughts and considerations
Miracles in the Bible
Because it falls so far outside the bounds of rational explanation, the feeding of the five thousand is one of the miracles in the Bible that detractors have the most trouble accepting.
Detractors propose that Jesus simply broke the loaves of bread and fish into tiny specks of food and gave each person a speck. Several facts presented in the story discount that proposal. Firstly, feeding of the five thousand is reported in all four gospels. It was a widely visible event. Trickery would have been difficult. Secondly, the story concludes with an explanation that rules out deception. After the people had eaten, they were full – and there were twelve basketfuls of broken loaves of bread and fish left over!
How did the crowd follow Jesus if he was in a boat?
Those that are familiar with area can map out the route the crowd took to follow Jesus. Luke tells us that the solitary place Jesus withdrew to was Bethsaida. Bethsaida lays on the northeast shore of Galilee. Capernaum lies on the northwest shore of Galilee. Thus, Jesus traveled across the northern end of Galilee, from Capernaum to Bethsaida. The people “followed” Jesus by running along the shoreline, then crossing a ford in the upper Jordan river (about two miles north of where the river enters Galilee). They would have then sat on the shore waiting for the boat to dock.
Why would Jesus flee the crowds and withdraw to solitude?
From this point in Matthew onward, we find Jesus’ teachings are directed more at the disciples than the public. Jesus knows his life is in danger and likely knew his time on earth was drawing to a close. He used his remaining time to focus on the disciples who would be responsible for continuing the spread of Christianity long after Jesus died.
Jesus gives thanks before breaking the loaves
Jesus gives thanks before breaking the loaves of bread. Christians know it is their responsibility to thank God for the provisions he afforded. In this instance, we probably even know the prayer that Jesus offered. A common Jewish prayer before eating was this:
“Blessed are thou, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Not 5,000 but more than 5,000 are fed with five loaves and two fish
The verses in Matthew tell us that “the number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” This means there were five thousand men fed – not counting the women and children who were present and also ate. Thus, the true number of people fed by five loaves and two fish could have numbered fifteen to twenty thousand people – a massive crowd of followers.
The science and history behind the story
Bread and fish in the region of Galilee
Jesus and the disciples moved from Capernaum to Bethsaida. Both are seaside towns on the Sea of Galilee. We know from historical records that much of the area was poor. The food that was easiest and cheapest to obtain was bread and fish. Thus, both were staples of an ancient Galilean’s diet.
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
The NET Bible
14:13 Now when Jesus heard this he went away from there privately in a boat to an isolated place. But when the crowd heard about it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14:14 As he got out he saw the large crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 14:15 When evening arrived, his disciples came to him saying, “This is an isolated place and the hour is already late. Send the crowds away so that they can go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 14:16 But he replied, “They don’t need to go. You give them something to eat.” 14:17 They said to him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” 14:18 “Bring them here to me,” he replied. 14:19 Then he instructed the crowds to sit down on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, and looking up to heaven he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. 14:20 They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over, twelve baskets full. 14:21 Not counting women and children, there were about five thousand men who ate.
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
New King James Version
13 When Jesus heard it, He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. 14 And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. 15 When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
16 But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 And they said to Him, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.”
18 He said, “Bring them here to Me.” 19 Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. 20 So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. 21 Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
13–14 When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.
15 Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.”
16 But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.”
17 “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said.
18–21 Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
King James Version
13 When Jesus heard of it, he departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed him on foot out of the cities. 14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. 15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. 16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. 17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. 18 He said, Bring them hither to me. 19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. 20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. 21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.