Jesus Feeds Four Thousand
1 About this time another large crowd had gathered, and the people ran out of food again. Jesus called his disciples and told them, 2 "I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. 3 If I send them home hungry, they will faint along the way. For some of them have come a long distance."
4 His disciples replied, "How are we supposed to find enough food to feed them out here in the wilderness?"
5 Jesus asked, "How much bread do you have?"
"Seven loaves," they replied.
6 So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to his disciples, who distributed the bread to the crowd. 7 A few small fish were found, too, so Jesus also blessed these and told the disciples to distribute them.
8 They ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. 9 There were about 4,000 people in the crowd that day, and Jesus sent them home after they had eaten. 10 Immediately after this, he got into a boat with his disciples and crossed over to the region of Dalmanutha.
Once again Jesus is confronted by a crowd of hungry would-be followers. As on an earlier occasion, here he decides to miraculously provide more than enough food for all of them.
Out of food again (Mark 8:1)
"Many commentators suspect that the two feeding stories are in fact versions of one original episode in the life of Jesus."611 However, such a theory goes far beyond mere differences of detail to be expected when the same stories are told by the different gospel writers. In point of fact, there are noteworthy similarities between many of Jesus' miracles: large crowds; Jesus touching the sick; faith commended; etc. That said, there are quite a number of noteworthy contrasts between the two feeding stories:
Matthew and Mark. Both Matthew and Mark recorded two different miraculous feedings (Matthew 14:13-21 = Mark 6:30-44; Matthew 15:32-39 = Mark 8:1-10).
Eyewitness testimony. "Matthew and Peter (Mark's source) were present in person at both miracles and are reliable authorities."612
Number fed. Whereas the first miraculous feeding involved 5,000 people, the second involved 4,000 - not including women and children.613
Another miracle. Mark seems to identify this as a second miracle: "In those days, when there was again a large crowd and they had nothing to eat ... " (v. 1).
Initiative. Whereas in the first feeding the disciples asked Jesus to send the people away so they could find something to eat, in the second feeding Jesus was the first to mention the peoples' need for food (v. 2). Were the disciples merely waiting patiently for Jesus to act?614Or was the possibility of a second miraculous feeding more than they could comprehend?615 Or did the disciples discount the possibility of a second miraculous feeding because of what had happened the last time when, following the miracle, the crowd had tried to make Jesus king by force?616
Time. Whereas the feeding of the 5,000 appears to have taken place on the same day the crowds had gathered, the feeding of the 4,000 took place after they had been with Jesus for three days (v. 2).
Surroundings. Whereas the first miracle took place in an area surrounded by villages and farms, the second was in a "desolate place" (v. 4, NASB).
The crowd. Whereas the first miraculous feeding involved mostly Jews, it seems likely that because of its location this one involved many, if not mainly, Gentiles.617 (There is some dispute over this point, however, since Mark did not specifically mention Gentiles618) That being the case, this miracle can be understood as "an acted parable of the Gentile mission that prefigures the mixed nature of the church."619 Jesus thus demonstrated that his mission was not exclusively for the Jews. Citizenship in God's kingdom is a matter of faith, not race; and Jesus came to save people around the globe, not just around Galilee.
Food. Whereas the 5,000 started with five loaves of (flat) bread and two fish, the 4,000 started with seven loaves of (flat) bread and "a few small fish" (v. 7).620 (The number seven may have both a literal and a symbolic meaning, since it was often associated with the Gentiles. "In Jewish tradition, Gentile nations numbered seventy [from Genesis 10:1-32], and Gentiles were sometimes said to be bound, not by the Israelite covenant, but by God's covenant with Noah that is said to have seven commandments [Genesis 9:1-17]. In Acts 6:1-7, seven leaders were chosen for the Greek-speaking Christians."621)
Leftovers. Whereas the 5,000 ended with the disciples gathering "twelve full baskets of the broken pieces, and also of the fish" (Mark 6:43), the 4,000 concluded with the disciples picking up "seven large baskets full of what was left over of the broken pieces" (Mark 8:8). Because of the types of baskets used to gather up the scraps, apparently there were more leftovers following the second miraculous feeding: compare "basket" in Mark 6:43 (kophinos), Mark 8:8 (spuris), and Acts 9:25 (spuris).622
Jesus. Above all else, we should remember that Jesus himself specifically referred to the two different miraculous feedings: " ... when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand ... When I broke the seven for the four thousand ... " (see Mark 8:18b-20; compare Matthew 16:9-10).623 (all NASB)
What, Me Worry?
Do you ever feel as though God is so busy with important concerns that he couldn't possibly be aware of your needs? Just as Jesus was concerned about these people's need for food, he is concerned about our daily needs. At another time Jesus said, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' … Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things" (Matthew 6:31-32 NKJV). Jesus knows that you have come a long way or that you may be at the point of collapse. Do you have concerns that you think would not interest God? There is nothing too large for him to handle and no need too small to escape his interest.624
They were satisfied. Jesus had provided enough to fill everyone up. Not just a taste, not merely a helping, but more than required. Because Christ has abundant compassion, his work on our behalf satisfied our needs superabundantly. Because Christ has given so much to us, we should have compassion toward others that reflects God's gracious provision. When we have the means, we should err on the side of generosity. Those under our care should say, "I have had plenty!" Let Jesus' generosity encourage you to give big portions to needy people.625
Can you imagine the disciples trying to horde the bread and fish during Jesus' miraculous feedings? "One for you, two for me. One for you, three for me. ... " Of course not. In the same way, God blesses us abundantly not so that we can keep it all for ourselves but, rather, so that we can share it with those all around us who have little or nothing.
??? How can this passage help us better understand Jesus' mission to save the lost?