JESUS OFFERS HIMSELF AS THE BREAD OF LIFE FOR THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL
Donald Hagner: The narrative now turns to the recounting of two dramatic “nature” miracles, the multiplying of the loaves and fish and Jesus’ walking on the water. These have the effect of sharpening further the question concerning the power and identity of Jesus. The feeding of the five thousand, furthermore, has unmistakable messianic implications.
Richard Gardner: Jesus is a gracious host who supplies the needs of God’s people as Yahweh (the Lord) did in days of old. He spreads “a table in the wilderness,” giving the people “food in abundance,” so that “they ate and were well filled” (Ps. 78:19-29).
Stu Weber: Our gracious God will provide abundantly for those of the household of faith, thus assuring us that we can risk complete obedience.
R. T. France: We move from Antipas’ lavish but degenerate feast to one with a simpler menu but a more wholesome atmosphere. This, the first of two related feeding miracles in Matthew (cf. 15:32–38), is recorded in all four gospels, with an impressive similarity in all the essentials, both in the numbers of people, loaves, fish and baskets and in the sequence of verbs which describe Jesus’ action.
The significance of the verbs used becomes clear when the five Synoptic feeding narratives are compared with the three Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ eucharistic action at the Last Supper. In all eight pericopes we find the same sequence: “took … blessed/gave thanks … broke … gave.” The same sequence of verbs occurs also in Luke 24:30 where Jesus “presides” at the meal at Emmaus. This can hardly be accidental, and suggests that the evangelists framed their accounts of the feeding (and of the Emmaus story) to reflect the wording of the eucharistic formula with which they and their readers were by now familiar. The feeding of the crowd is therefore presented as a “foretaste” of the central act of worship of the emergent Christian community, even though the menu was not quite the same. And since the Last Supper was itself a foretaste of the messianic banquet (26:29), that dimension too can legitimately be discerned in this story.
At the time, of course, this eucharistic nuance could not have been known. The disciples (and the crowd, if they were aware of how the food had been produced) would have been more likely to understand the event in terms of OT precedent. An obvious parallel would be with the miracle of Elisha, who fed a hundred people from twenty loaves, with some left over (2 Kgs 4:42–44); there are verbal echoes of the Elisha story in this pericope, and the nature of Jesus’ miracle is the same, though the scale is vastly higher. But another precedent which might have been felt to be even more significant in view of Matthew’s emphasis on the place being (literally) “wilderness” (vv. 13, 15) is that of Moses, under whose leadership a far greater number of people were miraculously fed in the wilderness not just on one occasion but for an extended period (Exod 16); the manna was given to supply their need of “bread” (Exod 16:4, 8, 12). The parallel is made explicit in John 6:25–34. Moses, however, is unlike Jesus in that he is not himself presented as performing a miracle, but simply as spokesman for God; he describes the manna as “the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Exod 16:15; cf. Ps 78:25; 105:40). There is evidence that some Jews expected a return of manna in the messianic age (2 Bar. 29:8; Qoh. Rab. 1:28; cf. Rev 2:17). . .
But whatever the OT or other nuances which might have been perceived either by the disciples or the crowd at the time or by Matthew and his readers in recalling the event, the incident stands out primarily as a spectacular miracle in its own right, yet another staggering display of Jesus’ “authority” over nature as well as over human conditions.
Grant Osborne: The two stories of rejection and death that have recapitulated the conflict of chs. 11–13 are now finished, and we enter a section on Jesus’ miraculous power (note “the powers” in 13:54) and discipleship. That carries through ch. 14 until we arrive at the next conflict narrative of 15:1–20. This juxtaposition of four themes—Christology, conflict, discipleship, and miracles—will carry through this section.
The primary theological theme is that “God will provide,” along with its concomitant motif, faith. Jesus’ compassion is demonstrated as he feeds the needy crowd, and he involves the disciples at a deeper level in this miracle than at any other time, asking them to realize that he will take care of them. This theme carries over to the walking on the water pericope, where the disciples are tested and fail to show they have learned the lesson. . .
This is one of the richest of Jesus’ miracles theologically, as seen in the fact that it is the only miracle story found in every Jesus tradition. It reaches to the past (the manna, the Elisha miracle of 2 Kgs 4), the present (God’s provision for his people), and the future (the messianic wedding feast). It is difficult to overstate its importance.
William Barclay: Galilee was a small country, only fifty miles from north to south and twenty-five miles from east to west, and Josephus tells us that in his time within that small area there were 204 towns and villages, none with a population of less than 15,000 people. In such a thickly populated area, it was not easy to get away from people for any length of time. But it was quiet on the other side of the lake, and at its widest the lake was only eight miles wide. Jesus’ friends were fishermen; and it was not difficult to embark on one of their boats and seek rest and quiet on the east side of the lake. That is what Jesus did when he heard of the death of John.
J Ligon Duncan: So Jesus’ response in this time of His own need, to the needs of others, is to have compassion upon them, to heal their sick, and to care for them. We should not underestimate the importance of this picture. It clearly impacted the disciples. This is the only parable in all of the New Testament gospels that is recorded in each of them. There are many parables in the gospels. Many of those parables are recorded in three of the gospels, but this parable is found not only in the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, but it’s found in John as well. The disciples clearly thought that this parable was of great importance. So they recorded it in each of their accounts of Christ’s ministry.
Craig Blomberg: JESUS IS THE BREAD OF LIFE FOR JEWS AND GENTILES (14:13 – 16:12). This section is tied together by two parallel feeding miracles and Jesus’ summary reflections on them (14:13-21; 15:32-39; 16:5-12). At first Jesus continues to minister to Jews (14:13-36); then he turns from them to the Gentiles (15:1-16:12). In each section the Christological question continues to be sharply focused. . .
This miracle is sometimes seen as simply an illustration of Jesus’ compassion for human need, but the lack of urgency in the setting hardly merited such a wonder. The disciples’ suggestion of v. 15 offered a realistic alternative. Rather, feeding the five thousand—providing bread for Israel in the wilderness—almost certainly was meant to call to people’s minds God’s supernatural feeding of the Israelites with manna in their wilderness wanderings in Moses’ day. Jewish tradition had come to believe that the Messiah would repeat this miracle of abundant provision of food on an even grander scale. The promise of Ps 132:15 and the somewhat similar miracles of 1 Kgs 17:9-16 and 2 Kgs 4:42-44 also provide important background. The collection of twelve baskets (one per apostle?) may well have been intended to call to mind the twelve tribes of Israel. Again we see evidence that Jesus is creating a new Israel out of those who will follow him and foreshadowing the messianic banquet (as also in 22:1-13; 26:29). He must therefore be the Messiah. Applications of this passage must focus on Christology and spiritual sustenance rather than making vague and sometimes false promises about God meeting all our physical needs. John develops precisely this spiritual import of the miracle by placing Jesus’ “Bread of Life” discourse, given in the Capernaum synagogue, shortly after his account of the feeding miracle (John 6:26-59).
I. (:13-14) VISION OF THE NEED OF THE PEOPLE PROMPTING THE COMPASSION OF JESUS
A. (:13) Attempt at Finding Solitude in a Lonely Place
“Now when Jesus heard it, He withdrew from there in a boat,
to a lonely place by Himself;
and when the multitudes heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities.”
John MacArthur: Why [did Jesus withdraw]? Was He afraid of Herod? Not at all. But He would not expose Himself needlessly to the imminent danger of such a person as Herod, whom He later called a sly fox. But if Herod was intimidated by John the Baptist, and so intimidated not only by John, but by his own wife, and by the people around him, that he murdered John the Baptist, he would stop at nothing to murder the one whom John the Baptist announced as the True King. Jesus knew full well that Herod’s father, Herod the Great, had murdered every male child in the vicinity of Jerusalem and Bethlehem in order that he might stamp out one who was supposed to be a king. And this, his son, would perhaps do no less if he were convinced that Jesus was a threat to his reign. And so our Lord withdraws privately by boat across the Sea of Galilee to a wilderness place.
I think it’s important to understand that the Lord knew that the people also saw the Messiah as a political ruler, as a king who would overthrow the Herodian dynasty, and overthrow the Roman monarchy, and establish independence and freedom for the land of Israel. And because our Lord knew that that was the people’s perception, He knew that’s what would come back to Herod, and only complicate and endanger both He and His disciples to a greater extent. And so He sought privacy.
D. A. Carson: Luke (9:10) specifies that the “solitary place” was in the region belonging to Bethsaida—i.e., Bethsaida Julias on the northeast shore of Galilee. The crowds ran “on foot” around the top of the lake, presumably crossing the upper Jordan at a ford two miles north of where the river enters Galilee. They “followed” Jesus, seeing where he was going and setting out after him; but arriving first, they were already there when he landed with his tired disciples (v.14).
William Barclay: Jesus had come to find peace and quiet and loneliness; instead, he found a vast crowd eagerly demanding what he could give. He might so easily have resented them. What right had they to invade his privacy with their continual demands? Was he to have no rest and quiet, no time to himself at all?
But Jesus was not like that. So far from finding them a nuisance, he was moved with compassion for them. Premanand, the great Christian who was once a wealthy high-caste Indian, says in his autobiography: ‘As in the days of old, so now our message to the non-Christian world has to be the same, that God cares.’ If that is so, we must never be too busy for people, and we must never even seem to find them a trouble and a nuisance.
Grant Osborne: Jesus wishes to remove himself from a politically tricky situation, the second time he has done so (cf. 12:15). Luke 9:10 tells us the “solitary place” was at Bethsaida on the northeast part of the lake, an area outside the area Antipas controlled. The addition of “privately” (κατ’ ἰδίαν) means Jesus wishes to spend time alone with the disciples and prepare them for the terrible events soon to come.
Stu Weber: Matthew’s language gives a fourfold emphasis to Jesus’ desire for solitude:
(1) he withdrew;
(2) he went by boat so the crowds on foot could not follow him;
(3) he went to a solitary place; and
(4) he went privately, emphasizing separation from the crowds, not from his disciples.
If we assume that Jesus withdrew to mourn John’s death, we see that Jesus had a deep emotional side and desired to be alone with his circle of friends.
B. (:14) Addressing the Needs of the Multitude out of Compassion
“And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them,
and healed their sick.”
Leon Morris: He saw large numbers of people, and he had compassion on them; Jesus was deeply moved at the plight of the afflicted and the poor. So on this occasion he healed their sick. Matthew does not qualify this in any way, but leaves the impression that Jesus healed all who were unwell in that crowd. Mark tells us that Jesus taught the people “many things,” and Luke that he spoke about “the kingdom of God,” but Matthew concentrates on the healing.
Grant Osborne: We see here Jesus’ adaptability and love. He wants to be alone with his followers, yet when he disembarks he sees this great horde of people. Most of us would be annoyed, but not Jesus.
R. T. France: What matters is that Jesus immediately shelved his own plans in favor of the needs of the crowd.
Bruce Hurt: Jesus’ response to the crowds should teach all of us as His disciples that flexibility is an important attribute if we are to walk in His footsteps. Are you able to cope with sudden changes in circumstances? Are you able (willing) to be “bent” or “flexed?” Are you “pliable?” How do you respond when unforeseen circumstances force a change in your ministry plans? How do you react when your plans are unexpectedly interrupted?
II. (:15-18) DIALOGUE WITH THE DISCIPLES TO URGE ACTION
A. (:15-16) First Exchange – We Have a Situation Here
- (:15) Request of Disciples – Send the Crowds away to Get Food
“And when it was evening, the disciples came to Him, saying,
‘The place is desolate, and the time is already past; so send the multitudes away,
that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’”
- (:16) Response of Jesus – You Feed Them
“But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away; you give them something to eat!’”
Leon Morris: Jesus does not say what is to be eaten or how the disciples are to obtain it. He simply turns their attention away from the hopelessness of the situation and their easy solution and invites them to think how they could help.
Grant Osborne: This is a key to the miracle, because at every level Jesus will involve the disciples in what is to transpire. He wants the disciples to learn that God’s agents must care for God’s flock. This is probably supposed to echo Elisha at the feeding miracle in 2 Kgs 4:43, “Give it to the people to eat, For this is what the LORD says, ‘They will eat and have some left over,’ ” which is also echoed here in “they all ate and were full” (v. 20).
J. Ligon Duncan: Jesus demonstrates that all the power for ministry comes through Him.
They need to know that they do not have the ability to minister before they are able to minister. Because that ability, that power, that source, that strength is only found in Christ. And so the very command of Christ to the disciples, “You feed them,” is going to drive them to their knees. Drive them to their faces in dependence on Christ because they don’t have a clue how they’re going to do this.
B. (:17-18) Second Exchange – You Are Asking the Impossible
- (:17) Complaint of Disciples – Lack of Resources
“And they said to Him, ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish.’”
Michael Wilkins: Bread and dried or pickled fish were food suitable for taking on a short journey into the hills. John tells us that a young boy had supplied them, indicating that they were small cakes sufficient for one person’s afternoon meal, not full “loaves” found on modern grocery store shelves (John 6:9). John further reports that the bread cakes were made of barley, the chief component of the staple food in Israel, especially of the poorer people.
Charles Swindoll: From a purely human point of view, they could see no way around this problem. Jesus was demanding the impossible. John’s account of this miracle fills us in on some insider information. Jesus told them to do what everybody knew was impossible in order to test them, “for He Himself knew what He was intending to do” (John 6:6).
Clearly, the disciples failed the test. In their objections, the disciples folded under the pressure of the natural, surrendered to the earthly, and capitulated to the rational. And in doing so, they had utterly forgotten that standing in front of them was omnipotence personified. Instead of saying, “We can’t,” they should have responded to Jesus the same way the prophet Jeremiah had toward God: “Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jer. 32:17). But when our minds are riveted to the human perspective, our reason will be limited to human possibilities. All we can focus on is what can’t be done. We forget that God is the God of the impossible, the one who said, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jer. 32:27).
- (:18) Care Demonstrated by Christ – Bring Them to Me
“And He said, ‘Bring them here to Me.’”
Leon Morris: The disciples had put forward their evidence of this meager supply as a way of indicating the impossibility of their doing anything, but Jesus thinks of it as the basis for action.
III. (:19-21) MIRACULOUS PROVISION WITH PLENTY TO SPARE
A. (:19) Performing the Miracle
- Directing the People to Recline at the Banquet Table
“And ordering the multitudes to recline on the grass,”
Grant Osborne: The infinitive “to sit down” (ἀνακλιθῆναι) is used for “reclining” at banquets and is probably deliberate here. This simple repast will be turned into a sumptuous feast.
- Depending on the Gracious Gift of the Father
“He took the five loaves and the two fish,
and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food,”
- Distributing the Food
“and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples,
and the disciples gave to the multitudes,”
Jeffrey Crabtree: Jesus did not make a large batch of food to feed the crowd. He just kept distributing pieces of bread and fish until no one wanted any more. The miracle was open and undeniable. The Twelve and the multitude witnessed this miracle as it was happening over the extended time it took to break enough bread and fish to feed and serve these thousands of people. In other words, it was not an instantaneous miracle but one that kept happening, like the oil in 2 Kings 4:5-6. It must have made a deep impression on the Twelve.
B. (:20) Providing More than Enough
- Ample Portions for All
“and they all ate, and were satisfied.”
D. A. Carson: Matthew omits many details—the greenness of the grass, the groups of fifty and one hundred—but points out that all ate and were satisfied (v.20), perhaps an anticipation of the messianic banquet, and at least evidence that there was lots to eat! The twelve baskets (kophinos, GK 3186, a stiff wicker basket) of leftovers and the size of the crowd (which might have been fifteen or twenty thousand total, if there were five thousand “men,” v.21) also support the latter point.
J. Ligon Duncan: This miracle points beyond the specific provision of that bread. It points beyond the gift of the bread to the giver of the bread. Jesus’ point in doing this miracle is to draw the disciples’ eyes from the physical provision of bread to Christ’s spiritual provision for what we need for eternal life. As that bread was necessary or that food was necessary to go on living, so the spiritual provision which He makes for us is necessary if we are going to have eternal fellowship with Him.
- Abundant Left Overs
“And they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets.”
Leon Morris: It would seem that each of the apostles had a basket and filled it (the baskets were full). So there was an abundant meal, but also there was no waste.
Donald Hagner: The symbolism of the twelve baskets suggests the special significance of this miracle for Israel. Messianic fulfillment means (and especially for Matthew!) that Jesus will provide for Israel before considering the Gentiles. And the feeding of the five thousand is an indication to the Jews that the Messiah is in their midst, offering to them—as in the miracle of manna in the wilderness—the reality of salvation, the fulfillment of the promises.
C. (:21) Projecting the Scope of the Miracle – Parsing the Numbers
“And there were about five thousand men who ate,
aside from women and children.”
Walter Wilson: Nothing is said of the crowd’s reaction to these events: for them the miracle occurs “offstage.” Instead, the story concludes with an authorial comment about the remarkably large number of participants, the five thousand men (cf. Acts 4:4) corresponding to the five loaves of bread.