Jesus did many miraculous signs while on earth—healing people, bringing back the dead, and a few unusual things. Only one of His miraculous signs is recorded in all four gospels—the feeding of 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
As with all the miraculous signs in John (John 20:30-31), this one has a lesson and illustrates an important aspect of the Lord’s ministry. Each sign is temporary and situational. They’re not eternal and their purposes are specific not an end in themselves.
John helps us see this miracle as a teaching opportunity with the dialog between Jesus and Philip. Jesus wanted His closest followers to learn something about Himself and the Kingdom of God. It was a lesson for His disciples not for the 5,000 people who were fed.
The miraculous sign was not about food. Everyone, including Jesus and His disciples—especially the crowd of 5,000—needed to eat again the next day. Several lessons can be gleaned from this event. One thing is certain—the crowd missed the point completely—as many people still do now.
Jesus later crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or the Sea of Tiberias). A large crowd followed him because they saw the miracles that he performed for the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat with his disciples. The time for the Jewish Passover festival was near. [vss 1-4]
As Jesus saw a large crowd coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked this question to test him. He already knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered, “We would need about a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each of them to have a piece.” One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, who was Simon Peter’s brother, told him, “A boy who has five loaves of barley bread and two small fish is here. But they won’t go very far for so many people.” [vss 5-9]
Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” The people had plenty of grass to sit on. (There were about 5,000 men in the crowd.) Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to the people who were sitting there. He did the same thing with the fish. All the people ate as much as they wanted.
When the people were full, Jesus told his disciples, “Gather the leftover pieces so that nothing will be wasted.” The disciples gathered the leftover pieces of bread and filled twelve baskets. [vss 10-13]
When the people saw the miracle Jesus performed, they said, “This man is certainly the prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus realized that the people intended to take him by force and make him king. So he returned to the mountain by himself. [vss 14-15]
(John 6:1-15 GW)
Gather the leftover pieces so that nothing will be wasted
Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions
Where does Jesus go with His disciples and what time of the year does this happen?
Who follows Jesus and the disciples and what is their reason for following?
What does Jesus ask Philip and what is Philip’s response? Who else tries to help with the situation?
What does Jesus do with the available food and what happens as a result?
The feeding of the 5,000 is an amazing miracle but what is even more amazing is what’s gathered up after all the people ate and were full—12 baskets full of leftover bread and fish!
Jesus used this situation as an opportunity to train His disciples. Here are just a few of the lessons He wanted them to learn—
Have compassion and care for the needs of the people
Utilize what you have rather than focus on what you don’t have
Look to God as a first option rather than a last resort
Practical guidance on delegation, organization, distribution, and follow-up
There’s much more to be learned from this miraculous sign but this list is a good start. Later in this chapter (Chap 6), Jesus will explain how this sign relates to Him in a metaphorical sense and His purpose for coming to earth.
So, why would Jesus have the disciples gather up what is leftover? Yes, so nothing will be wasted. But why would this be important? Two quick thoughts. First, it reinforced the miraculous nature of this feeding of 5,000 people. It also showed the Lord’s concern for what we might call follow up or follow through.
He’s always our example of faith and trust in God. Jesus saw beyond the immediate to what was next—the two events and teaching following this story.
Taking it to heart...
Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions
Why do you think Jesus tested Philip when He knew what He would do?
What did the crowd of people say among themselves and what did they want to do after this miracle?
How do you think Jesus knew what the people wanted to do and what was His response?
What are the many specific and practical things Jesus does in feeding the people and what specific insight or lesson did you gain from this story?
Meditate On This— Understanding why Jesus did what He did requires discernment and guidance from God’s Spirit. We also need to carefully observe what is said and done, and dig deeper by imagining ourselves in the story and asking ourselves relevant questions.
Prayer Focus— When you are faced with what seem to be impossible or overwhelming situations, look to the Lord first for wisdom and guidance. Trust Him to help you see beyond the circumstances, to see people with His eyes, and to know how to move forward by faith.