SYNOPSIS – The feeding of 5,000 men was a spectacular witness to Israel; nevertheless, most Jews refused to accept Jesus – Mark 6:31-56

The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle story that is recorded in all four gospel accounts, which demonstrates its importance to the early church. In John’s gospel, it occurred near the Passover season. In Luke, only the twelve disciples participated in the distribution of the bread and fish – (Mark 6:31-43, Matthew 14:13-21, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-15).

The gospel of Mark places the story after the account of Herod’s execution of John the Baptist. No doubt, a comparison of the two events is intended.

In the preceding story, Herod held a banquet at one of his fortresses to which only members of the upper classes were invited. His banquet ended with the beheading of John. In contrast, Jesus provided a “banquet” in the open fields to which any and all were invited. His “banquet” met the basic needs of common people and caused them to be fed until satisfied. Herod’s banquet brought death; Christ’s life.

(Mark 6:31-44) – “And he saith unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desert place apart. And the people saw them going, and many knew them, and they ran together there on foot from all the cities, and outwent them. And he came forth and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, The place is desert, and the day is now far spent; send them away, that they may go into the country and villages round about, and buy themselves somewhat to eat. But he answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred shillings worth of bread, and give them to eat? And he saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them that all should sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. And he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake the loaves; and he gave to the disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they all ate, and were filled. And they took up broken pieces, twelve basketfuls, and also of the fishes. And they that ate the loaves were five thousand men.”

Jesus saw the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd.” In the Hebrew Bible, the image of a shepherd is used to symbolize royal figures that lead nations, not to portray men that shepherd flocks of weaklings. Here, Jesus is the “shepherd” sent to lead the nation of Israel – (Numbers 27:17, 1 Kings 22:17, Isaiah 63:11, Jeremiah 10:21, Ezekiel 34:5, 37:22, Nahum 3:18, Zechariah 13:7).

In the New Testament, the Greek verb rendered “compassion” from this passage is only applied to Jesus, and only in the three synoptic gospels – (Splangchnizomai – Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 18:27).

The disciples saw the crowd and the lateness of the hour, then asked Jesus to send them away to the “country and villages round about so they could buy something to eat.” But he responded, “You yourselves give them something to eat.” The disciples had just returned from a successful mission in which God had supernaturally provided for their needs; however, here, they desired to send people away with their most basic needs unmet.

Feeding the 5000
Feeding the 5,000

Two hundred denarii.” This was approximately two hundred days’ worth of income for the average laborer in Galilee. The bread that Jesus distributed came from the provisions of the twelve disciples. While he broke the bread, he gave it to his disciples to distribute to the crowd. At Herod’s banquet, the king and his guests were waited on and served by slaves. Here, at this “banquet” in the wilderness, the disciples waited on and served the crowd, including many women and children.

Mark states that about five thousand “men” were present. Presumably, some women and children were also present, which means that more than five thousand individuals were fed. This assumption is confirmed by Matthew’s account – (Matthew 14:21).

In Galilee, Jesus became a recognized figure – His works were well known. This explains why he condemned the cities of Galilee for refusing to repent. Unlike the surrounding Gentile cities, Capernaum, and several other Jewish towns had received an adequate witness of the kingdom of God and its “king” but still refused to repent.

There are several parallels between this event and the story of Moses leading Israel in the wilderness. Moses, likewise, was a “shepherd” sent to lead Israel. The multiplication of the loaves parallels the provision of manna for Israel. Both Jesus and Moses divided the people into orderly groups before serving them – (Exodus 16:14, 18:21-25, Numbers 27:17, John 6:22-59).

Jesus Walks On Water

(Mark 6:45-52, Matthew 14:22-36, John 6:16-21)

The town of Bethsaida was located near the section where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee, only a few miles from Capernaum. Bethsaida means “house of fish” – Fishing was its chief industry. It was one of the cities of Galilee condemned by Jesus for not repenting despite the miracles performed there – (Matthew 11:16-24).

(Mark 6:45-52) – “And straightway he constrained his disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him unto the other side to Bethsaida, while he himself sendeth the multitude away. And after he had taken leave of them, he departed into the mountain to pray. And when even was come, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land. And seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary unto them, about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking on the sea; and he would have passed by them: but they, when they saw him walking on the sea, supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were troubled. But he straightway spake with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the boat; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves; for they understood not concerning the loaves, but their heart was hardened.

This story opens with a strongly worded sentence – “And immediately he compelled his disciples to get into the boat and go forth to the other side.” Why did Jesus compel them to depart so hastily after feeding the 5,000?

The parallel account in John provides relevant details. After feeding the crowd, certain men were “about to come and take him by force to make him king.”  Jesus reacted by “withdrawing to the mountain by himself,” following which his disciples departed by boat – (John 6:15).

In Mark, Jesus also departed alone “to the mountain to pray.” It is likely he was reacting with haste to the attempt to proclaim him “king.” Possibly, he wished to remove his disciples before they also became caught up in this nationalistic fervor.

Photo by Ray Bilcliff on Pexels.com

Jesus was destined to be the king of Israel; however, not in the manner envisioned by the crowd. Galilee was a hotbed of zealot activity. Very possibly, zealot activists were present among this crowd, perhaps even encouraging others to seize Jesus and turn him into a revolutionary figure.

The “fourth watch” of the night was between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. Jews commonly divided the night into three watches – Romans into four. Mark’s reference to the Roman practice is another indicator that his gospel was written for Gentiles residing in Rome.

Jesus began to walk on the water after “seeing the disciples straining at the oars, for the wind was against them”; that is, only after they were in trouble. Why does Mark state that Jesus intended “to pass them by”? Note the Old Testament parallels:

  • (Exodus 33:19, 22) – “And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name `Yahweh’, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”….[22] “and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”
  • (Exodus 34:6) – “Then Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’.”
  • (1 Kings 19:11) – “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before Yahweh. And behold, Yahweh passed by.”

In the preceding passages, God revealed information about His grace and compassion when “he passed by.” Likewise, in the middle of the storm, Jesus declared – “Take courage; it is I.” The all-powerful but unseen God had made himself known and “visible” in the person, teachings, and ministry of Jesus, and here in an act of mercy and deliverance.

Despite this miraculous deliverance, the disciples still did not grasp who Jesus – (“They were greatly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened”).

Jesus Heals Many in Gennesaret

(Mark 6:53-56. Matthew 14:34-36)

Gennesaret was in a different direction and some distance from Bethsaida, the town to which the disciples headed by boat. The storm blew them off course from their intended destination. ‘Gennesaret’ was another name for the Sea of Galilee. The name refers to a plain on the northwest shore reputed for its fertility.

(Mark 6:53-56) – “And when they had crossed over, they came to the land unto Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. And when they were come out of the boat, straightway the people knew him, and ran round about that whole region, and began to carry about on their beds those that were sick, where they heard he was. And wheresoever he entered, into villages, or into cities, or into the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.

The “fringe” of his mantle refers to the tassels Israelite men were commanded to sew on the four corners of their outer garments. Considering the mixed population of Galilee, some men in the crowd were almost certainly ritually “unclean.” Rather than rendering Jesus “unclean,” touching his garment delivered all who were ill.

Despite this series of spectacular miracles, neither the crowds nor the disciples yet recognized who Jesus was.

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