Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand (Luke 9:10-17)
In chapter eight, Jesus told several parables about the kingdom of God. Since then he has gone on to do many miracles which reveal the presence of that kingdom. In our passage this afternoon, Jesus is further revealing aspects of the kingdom that have come through his ministry.
Luke places this pericope on its own, but it falls in between two episodes of significant people reacting to Jesus’s identity. It follows Herod’s superficial reaction to Jesus (Lk. 9:7-9) and precedes Peter’s accurate confession that Jesus is “The Christ of God” (Lk. 9:18-20). The readers of this gospel throughout history might consider whether their reaction to Christ is superficial or spiritual.
Read Luke 9:10-17.
Jesus shows mercy to the crowd (10-11). Jesus tests the disciples (12-14a; Jn. 6:5-6). Jesus provides food for all (14b-17).
I. The Compassion of Christ (10-11)
Peter, Andrew, and Philip were all from Bethsaida (Jn. 1:44). Bethsaida was a hill located near a swampy area northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Excavations have revealed a fishing community lived there. Jesus will later pronounce a woe upon Bethsaida for their lack of repentance following the “mighty works” they had witnessed (Lk. 10:13).
John tells us it was at the time of Passover, mid-April, AD 29. This miracle likely took place near the Aish Harbor, located at the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee between Capernaum and Bethsaida. This harbor is nine miles west of the Jordan River.
This is the only miracle, other than the resurrection, that is recorded in all four gospels. The greatness of the crowd indicates how quickly his fame is beginning to spread (7-9).
The first principle of taking some time to get away (10) is quickly followed by Christ’s example of compassion (11). After withdrawing to Bethsaida, Jesus still welcomed the crowd, spoke to them, and cured the sick among them.
Jesus’ welcoming and healing compassion reveal the mercy of God (Lk. 15:20) and calls his followers to show the same kindness (Lk. 10:36-37). We should always be looking beyond our own personal needs. Christianity is too often thought of as a personal and private religion. We aren’t meant to isolate ourselves from the world, but to welcome the crowds and serve them in the strength and power that only Christ can provide. The compassion of Christ invites us to lean on his strength, especially when we are exhausted.
How would the disciples respond?
II. The Concern of the Disciples (12-14a)
Initially, I thought the twelve were showing their own lack of compassion in wanting to send the crowd away. But there’s no reason to impugn their motives at this point. They seem to be genuinely concerned. It’s getting late in the afternoon and they remain in a desolate place.
Their situation reminds us of Exodus 16:1-3. Their, the Israelites were grumbling and God provided manna and quail. Here, Jesus, the bread of life (John 6:31, 58) is about to do something just as miraculous.
Jesus tells his disciples to give the crowd something to eat (13), something they were clearly incapable of doing.
Alexander Maclaren It is often our duty to attempt tasks to which we are conspicuously inadequate, in the confidence that He who gives them has laid them on us to drive us to Himself, and there to find sufficiency. The best preparation of His servants for their work in the world is the discovery that their own stores are small.
Much like the sending out of the twelve, Jesus again is inviting them to become partners in his kingdom mission. We learn that Jesus provides the means for his disciples to obey all that he commands them to do.
The concern of the disciples is mixed with good intentions, but they lack an understanding of Jesus’ capabilities.
Bock: The disciples need to see that they can accomplish things they never dreamed of doing through their association with Jesus.1
What are some of the ways that we can show God’s mercy to our neighbors? Let’s dream big!
Jesus’ remains sufficient to provide…
III. The Provision of Christ (14b-17)
When the twelve were ready to send everyone away, Jesus miraculously feeds them all with five loaves and two fish. John points out that Andrew got the bread and fish from a young boy (Jn. 6:8-9). Matthew informs us the five thousand does not include women and children (Mt. 14:21).
Liberalism in the nineteenth century had fits with this passage. It’s not easy to explain this miracle in a natural fashion when all four gospels are in such agreement about what happened. However, once you’ve denied the virgin birth, atoning death, and resurrection of Christ, this too must be explained in a natural or figurative fashion.
One proposal was that there was a cave full of bread and fish that Jesus drew from when the crowd wasn’t looking. Another suggests that many in the crowd became willing to share their food with those who had none, when they saw the boy’s willingness to share his meal.
Sproul: Therefore, the real miracle here was not a supernatural event in space and time; it was an ethical miracle. Jesus had everybody share their lunch.2
Aside from the fact that this would’ve negated the disciples concern in the first place, it’s also an explanation that is suggested by none of the accounts themselves.
Rather than trying to move us to natural compassion, this text is calling us to something much greater. Do we trust the supernatural power of Christ to work in and through us as we attempt things beyond our natural abilities?
Wright: We aren’t even allowed the frequent fall-back position which sounds good but avoids the issue (‘the real miracle was in people’s hearts’). Christians who intend to make the gospel story their own are living a venture of faith from first to last.3
This miracle is a much larger version of Elisha’s feeding of 100 men with 20 loaves (2 Kgs. 4:42-44). Elisha tells his servant to feed 100 men with the twenty loaves of bread they had received. When Gahazi objects that there isn’t enough food, Elisha responds, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” Gahazi obeyed and the men ate and had some left.
Jesus accomplishes the miraculous deeds of the prophets in a way that shows his superiority to anyone who had come before him.
Even though we fully accept the miracle as supernatural, we can still see its lesson as symbolic.
Morris: John’s reference to it as a ‘sign’ should be taken with full seriousness. The meal brought home the truth that God in Christ can supply any need.4
We don’t minimize the miracle to make that point of application. We are called to care for one another. The twelve baskets that were left over may symbolize Christ’s ongoing sustaining of his people.
There is a satisfaction from being fed by Christ that cannot be achieved through any other means (17). And yet, until his return we do want more. We enjoy the feast not from starvation, but from craving what is found only in our final state.
Marshall: The lesson of the present feeding is the ability of Jesus to satisfy the physical needs of the people—and to go on doing so in the future. In the Lord’s Supper the stress is on spiritual food; John makes the link explicit by seeing in the feeding miracle a sign of the Lord’s ability to provide spiritual food.5
Luke’s language would have reminded the original reader of their regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The strength we need to participate in God’s kingdom purposes is continually being provided. Then and now, Jesus Christ remains sufficient to supply all our needs and to satisfy all of our cravings.
Marshall: Nothing is said about the reaction of the crowd to what had happened (contrast Jn. 6:14). For the Synoptic tradition the emphasis is not on the miracle (which is not described) but on the results, and the audience is not the crowd but the disciples. The lesson is one for disciples: Who then is Jesus?6
Although the disciples were willing to witness for Christ (Lk. 9:1-6), were they able to trust all he could accomplish through them? Did they comprehend how willing and ready he was to show compassion to the lost and helpless?
Aren’t these the same questions we need to ask ourselves? Could the answers to these questions, provided by this text, motivate our own participation in God’s kingdom purposes?
Jesus’ miraculous provision confirms his readiness and sufficiency to bring God’s mercy to a needy people. And that principle addresses the Church’s focus on evangelism and compassion, both inside and outside the church.
Wilcock: With regard to the world, we try to impress it with our success or our social importance, when our great concern should be to evangelize it. Within the church, we strive for bureaucratic efficiency and economic security, when our real aim should be its growth into spiritual maturity.7
When we operate in the strength Christ provides, and trust in his ongoing interest to show compassion, we will never lack the ability to participate in his kingdom purposes.
- Luke (p. 258). ↩︎
- A Walk with God (pp. 195–196). ↩︎
- Luke for Everyone (p. 108). ↩︎
- Luke: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 3, p. 185). ↩︎
- The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 362). ↩︎
- The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 363). ↩︎
- The Savior of the world: the message of Luke’s gospel (p. 108). ↩︎