The miraculous feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle other than the resurrection that is recorded in all four gospel accounts. It can be found in Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:5-15. The fact that this miracle is in all four gospels not only testifies to the authenticity of the event but also to its importance. And by reading each account on its own merits, it seems like an interesting miracle but hardly something as exciting or powerful as, say, raising someone from the dead. But when you piece them together, you begin to understand what exactly is going on.
First, Matthew tells us that there were 5000 men “besides” women and children. The word translated “besides” more frequently means “without” or “apart from.” That understanding makes a lot more sense given that Matthew is the only one to mention women or children – simply to say that these men didn’t have them! If women and children had been present, it would have been more in line with Luke’s style to mention them.
So, there were 5000 men who did not have wives or children.
Secondly, Mark and Luke tell us that the men sat down in groups of fifties and hundreds. Now image there are 5000 strangers at a concert and the band wanted everybody to organize into groups of 50s and 100s before they could pass out free t-shirts to everyone in the crowd. How long would that take?! You’d be there for hours! Unless you are already organized somehow into your groups…
So there were 5000 unmarried, childless men who were probably pre-organized into groups of 50s and hundreds.
Third, I bring a snack with me to the office when I come into work. When I’m taking a road trip, I always bring something with me in the car. I make absolutely sure I have provisions for myself at all times. Why in the world would 5000 men go out on an all-day excursion without bringing any of the necessary provisions? Maybe they thought they shouldn’t carry any more than was absolutely necessary…
5000 unmarried, childless men who were pre-organized into groups of 50s and 100s without any extra or unnecessary loads to carry.
Finally, John tells us at the end of his account that the men wanted to make Jesus their king! Okay, I’ve NEVER wanted to place someone in authority over me and thus place myself into submission to someone simply because they gave me a free meal. Miraculous or otherwise, it would not make any sense whatsoever for these men to make Jesus king after getting a meal. Unless they had already decided that they were going to make him king beforehand…
When you put all the accounts together, we see that there were 5000 men without wives or children who had already organized into groups of 50s and 100s who brought no extra provisions and who were going out to meet their King.
Jesus fed an army.
These guys were militia men who had organized from all the little towns scattered throughout Galilee. They were ready to crown Jesus their king and march on Jerusalem to overthrow the Roman occupation in their country!
As we’ve seen throughout Mark’s book, people have been asking the question, “Who is this guy?” That very question has been asked twice already in chapter 6 – by folks in his hometown and by Herod the Tetrarch. And now it is being asked by men across the region – men who are fed up with the way their country is being run, who are done with being oppressed, and who want nothing more than to take up arms against the Roman Empire. Who is this man? He is the Messiah, the One whom God would send, the descendant of David and rightful heir to the throne of Israel in Jerusalem. And now is the time to make him King, bring our forces together, and take Jerusalem back by force!
The text says that each of them ate and was satisfied, literally stuffed. But I’m sure they went home with dissatisfied spirits. Jesus broke the bread, distributed the meal, and dismissed them. That was that.
I can imagine it was a little disheartening.
Jesus would go on to say to Pilate before his crucifixion, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”