Luke 9:10–17 . . . Bible Study Summary with Photos

   Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

The account of Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand with five loaves and two fish may be the best-known of Jesus' miracles. It's the only miracle recounted in all four of the Gospels; it has a way of capturing the imagination. Hopefully, you'll see today that this is not so much a miracle account but a lesson, more for the disciples' benefit than the crowds' who got fed. To understand it we need to put ourselves into the setting of Jesus' disciples. (Incidentally, Luke abbreviates his account, so in order to appreciate the whole story, information from the other gospel writers will be included.)

Awaiting and Welcoming the Crowds (vv. 10–11)

The disciples — exhilarated and exhausted — have returned from their recent two-by-two mission adventures. They need a rest, a break from the multitudes. Jesus, too, is dealing with grief, having heard of John the Baptist's death and burial (Matthew 14:8–13), and asks the disciples to join him in a solitary place where they can rest and regroup together. According to Mark 6:32, they take their boat toward a deserted area near the town of Bethsaida, perhaps only a few miles from Capernaum. They took it to get away from the crowds that were following them.

Actually, Jesus and his disciples failed to lose the multitude and gain their hoped-for rest time. Mark tells us: "But many who saw them leaving, recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd. . ." (Mark 6:33–34). As weary as he and his disciples are, Jesus doesn't turn people away; he doesn't complain or become testy; instead he makes them feel welcome (see v. 11, shown below). Mark adds: "He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things" (v. 34).

So there Jesus is, in this deserted place along the shore of Galilee, far from any town. For many hours, Jesus teaches and heals in this lonely place, speaking from his heart to the huge crowd about his Father and the kingdom of God. And the people are absorbing it.

Something to Eat, But Not Much (vv. 12–13)

In each of the three Synoptic Gospels, the disciples, at the end of a long day, ask Jesus to close the meeting to enable the people to buy something to eat before they begin their long journey home. This hasn't been a planned gathering: it's spontaneous; the crowds have given no thought to provisions or distance; the multitudes' only thought has been to hear Jesus and see him heal others; they're miles from home; their stomachs are sending hunger signals; the sun is beginning to set. What's more, there are about five thousand men, "besides women and children" (Matthew 14:21). Surely it's time to close, the disciples say.

'You give them something to eat.' (Luke 9:13)

Click to enlarge

But Jesus' reply is startling! "You give them something to eat." Why does he respond this way? Why can't he be practical? Was the Feeding of the Five Thousand a test? If so for whom? Not for the crowds, but for the disciples! They had a very important lesson to learn. But first, they had to be driven to the point where they'd realize the inadequacy of their own resources. John's gospel shows that Jesus had anticipated all this: "He asked this only to test [Philip], for he already had in mind what he was going to do" (John 6:6). In Mark and John, we hear the disciples' protest: "That would take [a staggering sum]! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" (Mark 6:37; cf. John 6:7). Such a sum was way beyond what Jesus' band are carrying with them.

But Jesus pushes the disciples even further. Mark records his discomforting question: "How many loaves do you have? Go and see." In effect, You don't have thousands of dollars, but what DO you have? Check your resources and tell me how much you have. The disciples themselves don't have any bread at all. But they find some that a boy's mother has packed a lunch for him, and he wills it to Jesus, so they bring it forward, still a bit miffed that he's pushing them this way. They know there isn't enough food; why does he want an exact count of what's obviously inadequate? Yet, because he's the Master, they diligently report: "We have only five loaves of bread and two fish — unless we go and buy food for all this crowd" (v. 13).

Sitting Down, Giving Thanks, and Breaking Bread (vv. 14–16)

Jesus begins to organize the miracle, getting the crowds arranged in an orderly fashion, presumably with paths between groups of fifty so the disciples can determine how much bread should be brought to each group. The distribution channel is in place (vv. 14–15). Next, Jesus takes the loaves and fish, perhaps placing them in a basket in front of him; lifting his eyes to heaven he "blesses them." When the Jews prayed before meals, they didn't pray, "Thank you for this food that we are about to receive." Instead, they'd use it as an opportunity to praise and bless God himself. The traditional prayer is: "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the world, who has caused bread to come forth out of the earth." [See more on this practice from Dr. Ralph Wilson.] Dear Hearty Boy disciple: Do you bless God before your meals the way Jesus did? If not, why don't you begin today?

Regarding distribution, the disciples appear to have baskets. Imagine seeing Jesus breaking the small barley loaves into one disciple's basket, with that disciple going to and serving a group of fifty, while Jesus fills the next disciple's basket. In the phrase "he gave them to the disciples," the Greek word used for "to give" is the imperfect tense of didomai, indicating continued action in the past. Perhaps, better, it should be translated: "Then he kept on giving them to the disciples to set before the people." A couple hundred baskets later, and a lot of breaking of fish and bread, each seated group has had their first round of food. Jesus and his disciples may have served in this way for several hours. Breaking, carrying, distributing, and then returning to Jesus for more, again and again.

Dining Is Done: Twelve Baskets of Leftovers (vv. 17)

This enduring process continued until everyone had eaten their fill. Then, presumably, Jesus dismissed the crowd and the people began their long walk home, full of food, and full of wonder at this Jesus. The disciples are obviously very tired by now. But Jesus gives them one further task. The disciples are to pick up the broken leftover pieces of bread that are scattered over the hillside. When their task is finally complete they come back with twelve baskets full!

Why does Jesus require his very tired and worn-out disciples to collect all of the leftovers? Jesus wouldn't have been worried about being criticized for littering, would he? No! It was Jesus intent and purpose to make the point to his disciples [and us] that God's provision that day [and today] wasn't merely adequate; it was more than enough to meet his people's needs. Incidentally, weeks later, when they're again short of food, Jesus reminds them by asking: " 'When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?' 'Twelve,' they replied" (Mark 8:19). Each disciple can feel the weight of his basket of leftover bread as he carries it back to Jesus, while never forgetting the abundance of their day.

In Conclusion

Wonder for a moment: Why did Jesus perform this miracle? Did he do it out of compassion? Possibly. He could certainly have dismissed the people early enough to allow them time to have gotten home early enough to get something to eat. But he decided against that. Likely, this miracle was mainly intended for the disciples' benefit. Jesus could have created bread at the snap of his finger — Poof! He didn't need the disciples' pitiful five loaves and two fish. But they — and we — needed to learn a few very simple principles of ministry, such as these:
      1.  Our personal gifts and resources are woefully inadequate to meet many needs.
      2.  We should take inventory and prayerfully bring those gifts and resources directly to Jesus.
      3.  When we place them in his hands to do what he wishes with them, we release control to the Holy Spirit.
      4.  He, in turn, blesses them and places them into our hands, multiplied and more powerful than we could have imagined.

Realize this: We must release our resources to our Lord God in trust. Their smallness, in our eyes, mustn't become an obstacle. He's teaching us a lesson that requires us to trust him by doing what he asks, even if we don't have a clue what he'll do with it.

If/when we learn to trust Jesus, we'll experience the joy of becoming a hard-working basket-bearer, driven to distribute Jesus-empowered food to the spiritually hungry multitudes. We'll also insist on remaining with the people so we can pick up leftover pieces as we and they marvel at the weight of the Lord's abundance.




It Makes You Wonder . . . .

  • Q. 1  What was Jesus' motivation for teaching on this day, even though he and his disciples were tired?
  • Q. 2  Why didn't he create bread and fish from nothing? Why did he ask the disciples to find what they could?
  • Q. 3  What is the significance of Jesus' command: "You give them something to eat"?



This Week's Passage
Luke 9:10–17

New International Version (NIV) [To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 9.]

You can also watch this passage-specific video clip from the "Jesus" film.


Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

10When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.

12Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, "Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here."

13He replied, "You give them something to eat."

They answered, "We have only five loaves of bread and two fish — unless we go and buy food for all this crowd." 14(About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each." 15The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.