The miracle of feeding five thousand is the only sign that appears in all four gospels. As such I’m inclined to conclude it was the most significant of acts in regards to Jesus manifesting Himself as the Messiah. In fact, in John’s reports of the event, the beloved disciple makes a special mention that the multitudes were convinced Jesus was indeed the prophetic Messiah of which Moses spoke:
John 6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
The reference comes from Deuteronomy 18:15 in which Moses prophesies:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—”
Just as Moses brought the people manna in the wilderness, so now Jesus miraculously produced an abundance of bread from the slightest of provisions¹. No doubt many were now convinced and excited by the event desiring to introduce this Galilean of Nazareth to the rest of the Jews as the Messianic King.
The event’s storyline in the synoptic gospels are similar in presentation; Mark’s writings the most detailed of the trio. However, when we come to John’s version, we see several departures in reporting. The one most striking to me is deciding who will supply the food for the crowds. The first three evangels report the disciples initiated the concern when they implored the Savoir to:
(Mark 6:36) “Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
The story, as John tells it, is a tad bit different; Jesus asks Philip directly (possibly as a follow-up question):
(John 6:5) “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
Both are correct, they’re just told from two different perspectives. No doubt, knowing the financial situation of the ministry, the disciples became concerned they didn’t have enough in their wallets to buy food for such a large gathering. However, the Savior’s tendency is to take ministerial responsibility for feeding the whole multitude and so He looks at Philip and asks, “Where are we to buy bread…?” testing this disciple.
This is an unparalleled insight into the Savior’s thinking, affections and motives towards the surrounding humanity. Yes, He knew how He would handle the situation beforehand; still the opportunity to teach God’s provision in the ministry couldn’t be overlooked. So often we look at our wallets and decide the crowds can take care of themselves—let them “buy themselves something to eat.” But, if Jesus has called us to do something we can expect He’ll provide for the event. So, if we hear Jesus ask, “Where shall we buy bread?” let’s not answer in cynical doubt rolling our eyes up into the back of our heads. Instead, look around with a positive attitude for the nearest convenience store and point—“there’s a lad with five loaves and two fishes.” If Jesus took ministerial responsibility then, surely He is capable of doing the same now. “For He already had in mind what He was going to do.” Generally it’s our attitudes that need a little adjustment from covetousness. What more can we really do if He asks? If five loaves and two fishes are all that’s in your wallet, put it forth and just wait to see how Jesus will bless that offering!
J. Robert Hanson
¹ John 6:9 There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?