The Feeding of the 5,000

Title: The Feeding of the 5,000

Bible Book: John 6 : 1-14

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Miracles of Jesus; Feeding 5,000; Jesus, Power of



In recent weeks, we have been looking at the miracles in John’s Gospel. There are seven signs (or miracles with a message) that are highlighted in the fourth gospel, and they include…

The Changing Water Into Wine At Cana John 2:1-11

The Spiritual Lesson Is That Jesus Has The Power To Change Us

The Healing Of The Nobleman’s Son John 4:46-54

The Spiritual Lesson Is That Jesus Has The Power To Heal Us No Matter How Far Away We Are

The Healing Of The Man At The Pool Of Bethesda John 5:1-16

The Spiritual Lesson Is That Jesus Has The Power To Cause Us To Walk

The Feeding Of The 5,000 John 6:1-13

The Spiritual Lesson Is That Jesus Has The Power To Feed Us And Bring Us Into Fellowship

Jesus Walking On Water John 6:16-21

The Spiritual Lesson Is That Jesus Has The Power Over Our Storms

The Healing Of The Man Born Blind John 9:1-7

The Spiritual Lesson Is That Jesus Has The Power To Give Us Vision

The Raising Of Lazarus John 11:1-44

The Spiritual Lesson Is That Jesus Even Has The Power Over Death

Today, we’re looking at the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. According to Nelson’s Complete Book Of Bible Maps & Charts, this miracle took place in the spring of A.D. 29. And according to Luke 9:10, it happened near Bethsaida, which means a fishing shack or “house of victuals.”

As Warren Wiersbe said, “The feeding of the 5, 000 was a miracle of such magnitude that it is recorded in all four Gospels.”

Matthew 14:13–21
Mark 6:30–44
Luke 9:10–17
John 6:1–14

Some time ago, I read a little excerpt in the Reader’s Digest that said…

For several weeks an electric sign outside a church in our town advertised the parish’s annual supper. It was to be an all-you-can-eat sausage feast with mashed potatoes, green beans, sauerkraut, coleslaw, and homemade pie. The morning after the event, the church sign had been changed. One succinct word now appeared: “B-U-R-P!”

(Contributed to “Life In These United States” by Mary Kate McGregor)

There was probably some belching that followed the buffet here in John 6. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that the multitude was “filled.” And John tells us in verse 11 that they were all given as much as they wanted.

All four gospels tell us that there were five thousand men, and Matthew 14:21 says, “they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.” Some suggest that there may have been 15 to 20,000 in attendance at this meal.

The miracle here is that they started out with “five barley loaves and two small fishes” (John 6:9). But after Jesus distributed to the disciples, and the disciples, in turn, distributed to the people, they ended up with 12 baskets of leftovers according to verse 13.

As we look at this portion of scripture today…

I. We Discover The Timing In This Miraculous Account

(John 6:1–5, 10)

A. The Timing Helps Us To Understand The Gathered People

(John 6:1-4) After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. {2} And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. {3} And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. {4} And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.

John MacArthur said…

The fact that the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near places this incident several months after the events of chapter 5. It also suggests that the enormous crowd may have consisted, at least in part, of pilgrims preparing to travel together to Jerusalem for the feast. Moreover, it was at Passover, which commemorates the nation’s deliverance from Egypt, that the Jews’ nationalistic feelings reached their peak. That may help explain the crowd’s zealous attempt to make Jesus king (v. 15).

In “The Fourfold Gospel,” J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton wrote that…

This Passover is computed to have been held on April 16, A. D. 29. This statement as to the time of year prepares us for his further statement that there was much grass in the plain. It also explains in part the gathering of a multitude in this secluded region. Pilgrims on their way to the Passover would gladly go several miles out of their way to see the great Prophet perform a miracle. The excitement, due to the mission of the twelve and the death of the Baptist (mentioned in the previous passages in Mark’s gospel), also tended to swell the crowd.

B. The Timing Helps Us To Understand The Grassy Plain

(John 6:10) And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

Adam Clarke said…

[There was much grass in the place.] Perhaps newly mown grass, or hay, is meant (so the Vulgate foenum), and this circumstance marks out more particularly that the Passover was at hand. In Palestine the grass is ready for mowing in March; and this miracle seems to have been wrought only a few days before the commencement of that festival, see John 6:4.

Again, MacArthur said…

John’s personal recollection that there was much grass in the place is the type of detail an eyewitness would recall. It further confirms that the feeding of the five thousand took place in the spring (Passover [v. 4] was in March or April), before the grass withered under the scorching summer sun.

Even though John tells us that “there was much grass in the place,” the other gospels tell us that the disciples pointed out that it was “a desert place.”

(Matthew 14:15) 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.

(Mark 6:35) And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed:

(Luke 9:12) And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place.

II. We Discover The Tenderness In This Miraculous Account

(John 6:2; Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34)

A. He Had Compassion On The Sick Who Had No Solution

(John 6:2) And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.

John has recorded two previous miracles of healing, and so the record of this next miracle which he highlights emphasized the fact that this multitude followed Jesus with these miracles in mind…

The Healing Of The Nobleman’s Son John 4:46-54

The Healing Of The Man At The Pool Of Bethesda John 5:1-16

And as these sick folks come, and others who have sick people with them, Matthew says…

(Matthew 14:14) And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.

Strong’s Concordance defines…

moved with compassion – Greek 4697. splagchnizomai, splangkh-nid'-zom-ahee; mid. from G4698; to have the bowels yearn, i.e. (fig.) feel sympathy, to pity:--have (be moved with) compassion.

The United Bible Societies New Testament Handbook Series explained the phrase from the RSV…

As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick.

He may require identification as “Jesus,” and went ashore may necessitate an indication of prior action, “got out of the boat.” In fact the verb went ashore literally means “got out”; the problem is that the text does not state what it was that Jesus got out of. Phps (“When Jesus emerged from his retreat”) is unlikely. More likely is the meaning “out of the boat” (AT, GeCL, TEV) or “disembarked” (Mft, Brc, NAB); went ashore, “stepped ashore” (NJB), and “came ashore” (NEB) assume departure from a boat.

Throng is the singular form of the word “crowds” of verse 13; TEV translates great throng as “large crowd.”

He had compassion (TEV “his heart was filled with pity”) literally means “his insides were stirred up.” This can also be rendered as “he felt very sorry for them” or by a figurative expression from the receptor language. Some West African languages use an expression such as “his stomach (or heart, or liver) was hot (or, sad) because of them.”

The noun translated sick occurs only here in Matthew; elsewhere in the New Testament it is found in Mark 6:5,13; 1 Corinthians 11:30. The literal meaning of the noun is “powerless,” though it may also mean “sick, ill.” Of course their sick refers to “people (among them) who were sick” or “the sick people there.”

The relations between the verbs in this verse are slightly different in the RSV text (As he went ... he saw ...; and he had compassion ... and healed) and in TEV (“Jesus got out ... and when he saw ... his heart was filled ... and he healed”).

B. He Had Compassion On The Sheep Who Had No Shepherd

(Mark 6:34) And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

moved with compassion – Greek 4697. splagchnizomai, splangkh-nid'-zom-ahee; mid. from G4698; to have the bowels yearn, i.e. (fig.) feel sympathy, to pity:--have (be moved with) compassion.

Mark uses that same expression but shows another motivation of Jesus’ compassion.

As Albert Barnes said…

Verse 34. [Much people ... as sheep ...] They had no one to teach them and guide them. The priests and scribes were proud and corrupt; they despised the common people and neglected them.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary edited by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck says…

When Jesus... saw the large crowd, He felt compassion (not annoyance) toward them. This inner emotion moved Him to help them (cf., e.g., Mark 6:39-44). He viewed them as sheep without a shepherd, lost and helpless, without guidance, nourishment, or protection. In several Old Testament passages (Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Ezekiel 34:5, 23-25) the sheep/shepherd image is associated with the “wilderness” (‎eremos‎; cf. Mark 6:31-32). This crowd, representing the nation of Israel, received compassion, extensive teaching concerning God’s kingdom (cf. Luke 9:11), and the provision of their needs (Mark 6:35-44) from Jesus, the true Shepherd (cf. John 10:1-21).

They had no one to lead them or to feed them.

III. We Discover The Testing In This Miraculous Account

(John 6:5–9)

A. The Faith Of The Brethren Was Tested

(John 6:5-6) When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? {6} And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.

Strong’s Concordance explains that the word “prove” in verse 6 means ‘to test.’

prove – Greek 3985. peirazo, pi-rad'-zo; from G3984; to test (obj.) i.e. endeavor, scrutinize, entice, discipline:--assay, examine, go about, prove, tempt (-er), try.

Again, in “The Fourfold Gospel,” McGarvey and Pendleton wrote…

When sent to see what was in their larder, it appears that they had nothing at all. Andrew reports the finding of the boy's lunch while it was as yet the boy's property. Some of the others, having secured it from the boy, report it now at the disposal of Jesus, but comment on its insufficiency. Eastern loaves were thin and small, like good-sized crackers, and around the Sea of Galilee, the salting and preserving of small fish was an especial industry. These fish, therefore, were about the size of sardines. The whole supply, therefore, was no more than enough for one hungry boy. But each loaf had to be divided between a thousand, and each fish between twenty-five hundred men.]

MacArthur wrote…

Late in the day (Mark 6:35) or as the day was ending (Luke 9:12) and it “was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, ‘This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves’” (Matt. 14:15). Jesus, however, had a different solution in mind. He said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” Why the Lord singled out Philip is not revealed. It may be that he was the administrator of the Twelve, the one responsible for arranging meals and taking care of logistical details. The question was intended to articulate the impossibility of anyplace where such bread could be secured.

Jesus was not trying to discover what Philip was thinking, since He already knew that (cf. 2:25; 21:17). Nor did He need Philip’s input to help Him formulate a plan. He knew that Philip knew of no place to get bread and had no plan to provide it. The Lord’s purpose in questioning Philip (and by extension the rest of the disciples; cf. Luke 9:12) was to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do—and it had nothing to do with buying bread. As He does with all His people, the Lord posed the dilemma as a way of testing the disciples to strengthen their faith.

… Philip’s faith (along with the rest of the Twelve’s) was found lacking, and he exclaimed hopelessly, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” To Philip it seemed pointless to discuss where they might get bread, since they clearly did not have enough money to buy it if they could find it. A denarius equaled one day’s pay for a common laborer (Matt. 20:2), so two hundred denarii would be approximately eight months’ wages for an average worker. Philip’s response stressed the impossibility of the situation in his eyes, and revealed the insufficiency of his faith. He had already seen Christ perform many miracles, including turning water into wine (2:1-11). He would have also been familiar with the various Old Testament accounts of God’s miraculous provision of food (Ex. 16; Num. 11:31-32; 1 Kings 17:9-16; 2 Kings 4:1-7). Yet, “rather than focusing on Jesus, Philip’s mental computer began to work like a cash register, and all he could think about was the total cash that would be needed to provide just a little bread for each person” (Gerald L. Borchert.

Craig Keener pointed out in the IVP Bible Background Commentary that …

The “barley” loaves are reminiscent of 2 Kings 4:42-44, where Elisha multiplies such loaves. Philip’s and Andrew’s skepticism also mirrors that of Elisha’s prophet disciples (2 Kings 4:43).

B. The Faith Of The Boy Was Tested

(John 6:9) There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?

There is a children’s sermon in “The Biblical Illustrator” by someone named M. G. Dana that points out…

I. THE INTEREST A BOY CAN HAVE IN JESUS. He may have heard his parents or acquaintances tell about the Saviour, and, boy-like, he probably made up his mind that, when an opportunity came, he would go where He was, and look and listen. There was evidently something about Jesus that interested little people. We know that He loved them, and if He loved them He would be apt to talk to them in a way to please and do them good. Children always are quick to find out those friendly to them.

II. THE USE JESUS CAN MAKE OF EVEN A BOY. No one in this multitude, it seems, except this lad, brought anything to eat. Whether this was a lunch his parents put up for him, or what he brought along with him to sell, we do not know. The fact that he had the loaves and fishes is mentioned to Christ who considered the fact of some importance. For He called the boy to Him, and then took what he had, and made his few loaves and fishes answer for the wants of all. Nor could anyone have been more astonished than the boy himself to see how those loaves and fishes lasted. Christ can use children if they are willing, and sometimes they have been of great service. He can use their gifts, whether they be the pennies which they have earned, or some piece of handiwork they have made. None are too young to serve Jesus, and such have often been employed by Him to accomplish good.

III. IT IS ALWAYS BEST TO KEEP IN GOOD COMPANY. This boy would have missed a great deal if he had not gone out that day to see, Jesus. If he had given himself up to having some fun with his comrades, he would not have been honoured as he was by Christ. If this boy had told his mates that he was going to hear the wonderful Teacher whose fame was filling the whole country, they might have ridiculed him, and tried to persuade him to go with them; but by bravely following out his purpose to see and hear for himself, he not only was gratified therein but was noticed and used by Jesus. I think that proved to be the most noteworthy day in his life. What he heard and what happened to him at that time he could never forget, for it probably influenced him as long as he lived. He may have become a follower of Jesus from that day, and a preacher of the gospel to others when he grew up to be a man. It was the turning point in his history.

IV. We Discover The Thanksgiving In This Miraculous Account

(John 6:1–5, 10)

A. He Gave Thanks Because This Would Be A Supernatural Supply

Jesus giving of thanks is mentioned twice in this chapter…

(John 6:11) And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.

(John 6:23) (Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks:)

given thanks (vs. 11) – Greek 2168. eucharisteo, yoo-khar-is-teh'-o; from G2170; to be grateful, i.e. (act.) to express gratitude (towards); spec. to say grace at a meal:--(give) thank (-ful, -s).

What must His table blessing have sounded like?

God is great (and I and my Father are one)

God is good (in fact, there is none good but one, and that is God)

Let us thank him for our food

Through my hands He shall feed … and supply this great big need.

One writer mentioned “The Duty Of Thanksgiving” and said…

Christ is our example in this. He placed Himself voluntarily in a condition of need, and when the need was supplied as here He expressed His gratitude to God. (S. Robins in The Biblical Illustrator)

Warren Wiersbe said…

The problem, of course, was how to meet the needs of such a vast crowd of people. Four solutions were proposed.

First the disciples suggested that Jesus send the people away (Mark 6:35-36). Get rid of the problem (see Matthew 15:23). But Jesus knew that the hungry people would faint on the way if somebody did not feed them. It was evening (Matthew 14:15), and that was no time for travel.

The second solution came from Philip in, response to our Lord’s “test question” (John 6:5): raise enough money to buy food for the people. Philip “counted the cost” and decided they would need the equivalent of 200 days’ wages! And even that would not provide bread enough to satisfy the hunger of all the men, women, and children (Matthew 14:21). Too often, we drink that money is the answer to every need. Of course, Jesus was simply testing the strength of Philip’s faith.

The third solution came from Andrew, but he was not quite sure how the problem would be solved. He found a little boy who had a small lunch: two little fish and five barley cakes. Once again, Andrew is busy bringing somebody to Jesus (see John 1:40-42; 12:20-22). We do not know how Andrew met this lad, but we are glad he did! Though Andrew does not have a prominent place in the Gospels, he was apparently a “people person” who helped solve problems.

The fourth solution came from our Lord, and it was the true solution. He took the little boy’s lunch, blessed it broke it, handed it out to His disciples, and they fed the whole crowd! The miracle took place in the hands of the Saviour, not in the hands of the disciples. He multiplied the food; they only had the joyful privilege of passing it out. Not only were the people fed and satisfied, but the disciples salvaged twelve baskets of fragments for future use. The Lord wasted nothing.

The practical lesson is clear: whenever there is a need, give all that you have to Jesus and let Him do the rest.

B. He Gave Thanks Because This Would Be A Satisfying Supply

(John 6:11) And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that the multitude was “filled.” And John tells us in verse 11 that they were all given as much as they wanted.

(Matthew 14:20) And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.

(Mark 6:42) And they did all eat, and were filled.

(Luke 9:17) And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets.

The Strong’s Concordance defines…

filled – Greek 5526. chortazo, khor-tad'-zo; from G5528; to fodder, i.e. (gen.) to gorge (supply food in abundance): The word is translated in the New Testament as--feed, fill, satisfy.

A. T. Robertson said that the phrase that John used, “As much as they would,” means “as much as they wished,” or as much as they wanted.

V. We Discover The Truths In This Miraculous Account

(John 6:1–5, 10)

A. There Is The Truth That Jesus Is The Prophet

(John 6:14) Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.

(John 6:15) When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.

A. T. Robertson said…

The prophet that cometh ‎ho ‎‎profeetees ‎‎ho ‎‎erchomenos‎. There was a popular expectation about the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:15 as being the Messiah (John 1:21; 11:27). The phrase is peculiar to John, but the idea is in Acts (Acts 3:22; 7:37). The people are on the tiptoe of expectation and believe that Jesus is the political Messiah of Pharisaic hope.

Cf. (Deuteronomy 18:15) The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken;

(Deuteronomy 18:18) I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

Albert Barnes noted that…

[That Prophet ...] The Messiah. The power to work the miracle, and the benevolence manifested in it, showed that he was the long-expected Messiah.

As John MacArthur stated…

No doubt Jesus’ miraculous provision of food reminded the crowd of Moses and the manna God provided for Israel in the wilderness. The feeding of the huge crowd was a true creative miracle—not, as some skeptics argue, a story of how Jesus manipulated the crowd into sharing their lunches with each other. If that were all that happened, the crowd would hardly have viewed it as a miraculous sign pointing to Jesus as the Christ. The people correctly realized that the miracle was supernatural and proved Jesus was the Messiah, though they drew wrong conclusions as to what that identification meant.

The crowd’s statement, made immediately after Jesus had healed their sick and filled their stomachs, revealed what the people were really looking for in a messiah. They wanted an earthly deliverer, one who would meet all their physical needs—and food and health were at the top of the list—as well as freeing them from the hated yoke of Roman oppression. Thus they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king. With Him as their provider, they would never want for food, and would have the potential to be healed of every illness. They could march to Jerusalem, overthrow the Romans, and establish the ultimate social welfare gvvstate. Jesus, however, refused to be forcibly made king on their selfish (and unrepentant) terms.

B. There Is The Truth That Jesus Is The Provision

John 6:26-42

(John 6:35) And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

Jesus said that it’s not just about the meal; He said ‘It’s about Me!’ He is not just the Provider, but He is actually the Provision. He is the abiding satisfaction. He is God’s Man and God’s Manna!

Warren Wiersbe wrote of this later section in John 6 that…

The disciples may have been impressed that so many people stayed through a storm in order to seek their Master, but Jesus was not impressed. He knows the human heart. He knew that the people originally followed Him because of His miracles (John 6:2), but now their motive was to get fed! Even if they were attracted only by the miracles, at least there was still a possibility they might be saved. After all, that is where Nicodemus started (John 3:1-2). But now their interest had degenerated to the level of food.

Jesus pointed out that there are two kinds of food: food for the body, which is necessary but not the most important; and food for the inner man, the spirit, which is essential. What the people needed was not food but life, and life is a gift.


If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior today, then this message is for you…

Jesus bypassed the natural process to implement the supernatural. The natural process for obtaining bread would be to grow the barley, harvest it, winnow it, grind it, mix it, bake it, and then distribute it. The natural process for obtaining the fish would be the laying of the egg, the hatching, the growing, the catching, the cleaning, and the preparing. But Jesus bypassed the natural process to implement the supernatural. The natural process for a human being is to be born, to live, to die, and (without Christ) to go to hell. But Jesus can still bypass the natural process and implement the supernatural so that you can be born, and live, and be born again or saved, and then die, and then live again after death with Jesus forever in heaven. Let Jesus do the miraculous in your life today.

Many of you may know Jesus as Savior, but today He is calling you to move beyond your doubts and excuses. Perhaps today, He is calling you trust Him or surrender to Him.

As I was studying this passage, I listened to a song several times that was written with this passage in mind…

Verse 1

A multitude was gathered on a hill near Galilee

To hear the words of Jesus and his miracles to see,

But as the day wore on his disciples came to say,

There’s not enough to feed them Lord should we send them away.

And from a little boy whose basket of five barley loaves of bread

And with two fish, five thousand hungry people would be fed

Verse 2

In each and every life there’s a basket filled with goods.

Although, it may not be used, exactly as it should

So many throw it all away or keep for themselves

While others they never use it, they just place it on a shelf.

Lord I know that what you done for me my basket can’t repay.

But maybe with it you could feed some hungry soul along the way


Lord here’s my basket; it’s not much I know,

But take it and use it, please don’t refuse it, maybe it will grow,

Although I could keep it, I’ll give it to you,

So Lord here’s my basket; you don’t have to ask; it’s the least I can do.

Christ may be calling you today to move past your excuses and simply trust in His ability to do the miraculous.

Perhaps today, He is calling you to give your meager resources into His mighty hand as the lad did in this passage.

Whatever He is calling you to do today, I pray that you will respond obediently and without hesitation.

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