4 Views on the Significance of the Feeding of the 5000

The feeding of the 5000, aspects of which we have discussed in the past several articles, is a well-known episode in the Gospels. Children learn it early in Sunday school; in fact there was a boy involved so children identify even further with the story.

The story of the feeding is familiar; but what is its significance to us? In this last article of the series we take a look at four possible answers to that question.

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)—The Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes—c.1620

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)—The Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes—c.1620

1. The Feeding of the 5000 as a Great Demonstration of Jesus’ Power and Authority

Some believers see the feeding of the 5000 as the greatest public demonstration of Jesus’ power and authority. It was massive and it was very, very public. This impressive public demonstration of Jesus’ power validates his teaching and his claims to represent the Father.

Jesus had already healed many people both publicly and privately; but his feeding of the 5000 was an impressive, over-the-top accomplishment. And it worked, the crowd was even more excited by Jesus and wanted to make him king on the spot.

I think this is a valid view. It was perhaps Jesus’ most impressive public act. Of course, his being raised from the dead was more impressive and significant, but it was not nearly as public.

2. The Feeding of the 5000 as an Example of Jesus’ Empathy, Compassion, and Generosity

Some believers emphasize the feeding of the 5000 as an example writ large of Jesus’ empathy toward other people, his compassion for others, and his characteristic generosity toward those in need. And Jesus’ generosity here also serves as an example to us to be consistent in our own empathy, compassion, and care toward others.

I think this is a valid view. While we cannot feed 5000 people with next to nothing, we can live in constant awareness of the needs of others. We cannot address all their needs, but we can try to be consistently generous as Jesus was. His example here, and elsewhere, should have a tremendous impact on our own actions toward others.

3. The Feeding of the 5000 as a Lesson in Following Jesus with Proper Motivations

When we read about the feeding of the 5000 in John, we are faced with the importance of our motivation in following Jesus. In reaction to the ‘miracle’ food, many in the crowd wanted two things: 1) to make Jesus king, and 2) more ‘miracle’ food. When it became clear that Jesus would agree to neither, many of his followers left him. They had followed Jesus out of misguided motivations rather than being in harmony with Jesus’ mission and motivation.

Jesus’ strong responses to the pressure of the crowd point to the importance of Jesus himself and not just what he can do. Jesus indicates that he, himself, is the source of our new life; he, personally, is the bread of heaven. His message and teaching are much more important than his power.

I think this is a valid view, and it raises the question: What is our motivation in following Jesus? Do we follow Jesus because he is the source of new life and the initiator of the kingdom of God on earth, or do we follow him from different motivations?

As I look around the church today, I see many who seem to follow Jesus from improper motivations:

  • To escape angry God and eternal hell
  • To benefit from health and prosperity
  • To exert power and domination over other people

I think it is very important that we follow Jesus for the right reasons and not for our own misguided ones. I realize that motivations can be mixed, but our guiding motivation must be Jesus himself, his teaching, and example—not free bread or some other substitute benefit.

4. The Feeding of the 5000 as a Reflection of the Eucharist

Some believers think Jesus’ references in John 6 to eating his flesh and drinking his blood are a reflection on the Last Supper that is posthumously inserted into story of the feeding of the 5000.

Paul is the first to tell us what Jesus said at his last meal in 1 Corinthians 11:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

While John 6 reports what Jesus said to those of the 5000:

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.

I think connecting Jesus’ comments after the feeding of the 5000 with the Last Supper is a valid view, but I think the text of the Eucharist is dependent on Jesus’ crisis experience with the 5000 rather than the story in the feeding of the 5000 being derived from the Eucharist. Either way, the imagery of the flesh and blood of Jesus reminds us that it is Jesus, himself, that is paramount in our following him.

These four lessons are all good ones for believers; let us all consider them.

In this series: Insights into the Feeding of the 5000


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6 Responses to 4 Views on the Significance of the Feeding of the 5000

  1. michaeleeast says:


    There are two feeding stories in the Gospels.

    5000 on one side of the lake and 4000 on the other.

    The 5000 were on the Jewish side.

    The 4000 on the Roman side (where the Roman garrison was stationed).

    Some say that this is symbolic of Jesus feeding the Jewish followers

    and the gentile followers respectively.

    If taken symbolically Jesus is satisfying the spiritual hunger of

    the Jews and the gentiles.

    Food for thought.


    Michael E. East.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Edie Taylor says:

    When I was a kid the novel, The Robe, portrayed the mass feeding occurring because many people in the crowd did have lunches with them, and they were moved by their experience of Jesus to share with others This was considered scandalous by most of the fundamentalists we knew, but my mother’s view was “isn’t that the real miracle, to change people’s hearts? Isn’t that what Jesus was teaching?” She was skeptical of a lot of the”miracles” but had a deep faith in the love of Jesus

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Edie, I am skeptical of many of the miracles mentioned in the gospels; but this one seems to ring true to me. I am familiar with the thought that Jesus caused other people to share their lunches. This is possible–I wasn’t there. But why is this point not made in the stories? I would think that if this were the objective, and it was successful, the stories would reflect that.

      But who can say for sure?


  3. Edie Taylor says:

    Perhaps, but it seems likely that whoever first wrote the stories down wasn’t there either. At one level the “sharing” story is more mundane and therefore less likely to appear miraculous or to have a God-given objective. But decades later the memory could be part of the overwhelming sense that something truly wonderful had happened. I guess I am uncomfortable with stories that appear “magical.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Edie, I agree with you that those who recorded the miracle stories were not present at the events themselves, but it is likely that they received the stories from the preaching of Jesus’ earliest followers who WERE there. This does not mean that their preaching was word-for-word quotes of Jesus or that some stories were not enhanced during the preaching to make a point.

      Like you, I also have reservations regarding some of the ‘magical’ elements in the gospels including miracle stories such as turning water into wine or walking on water; these actions seem frivolous and without much of a point. But the feeding of the 5000 has multiple attestations (sources) and John, in particular, seems to tie it to a crisis and turning point in Jesus’ mission. See https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2017/04/10/the-temptation-of-jesus-in-the-book-of-john/

      But of course I was not there myself, so I can’t be 100% certain.


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