Feeding Thousands

The crowd had grown into hundreds, the hundreds into thousands. They had journeyed for three days, food supplies were exhausted, and the people were hungry.

Yeshua looked upon the multitude with compassion. Turning to His disciples He challenged them to feed the people. His disciples responded by pondering the possibilities of feeding so many. "How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?" (Mark 8:4)

The scenario was a familiar one. The God of Israel, through Moses, had provided for their forefathers during their forty years in the wilderness. Each morning, with the exception of the Sabbath, approximately 1.2 million people were fed with manna from heaven. Only when the children of Israel entered the Promised Land did the manna stop.

The disciples were familiar with the awesome power of God toward His people Israel. Moreover, they had witnessed, quite recently, the feeding of five thousand with five barley loaves. But the question remained, "How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?" If they were required to feed them then God would have to intervene. They didn't have the resources, and so were powerless without God.

Yeshua turned to His disciples and asked them, "How many loaves do you have?" Seven loaves were found. Yeshua then took the seven loaves, gave thanks and instructed His disciples to distribute the bread amongst the people. Some fish were also distributed.

"So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments. Now those who had eaten were about four thousand." (Mark 8:8-9) Undoubtedly, it was a sign, and another confirmation of Yeshua's authority. Just as God had placed His seal on Yeshua when He fed the five thousand, so here also, with the four thousand – Yeshua was His servant.

Some understood the signs and were claiming Him to be the Messiah. Even after the first sign, with the feeding of the five thousand, there were those who believed Him to be the Prophet promised by Moses. "Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, 'This is truly the Prophet who is come into the world.'" (John 6:14)

They remembered that their forefathers had been tested by God in the wilderness. He showed them their weaknesses and proved His strengths during those forty years. In particular, His provision of bread reminded them daily that they could depend on Him for everything. "So he humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3)

Some had understood the signs. They could see the connection between Yeshua and Moses through the miraculous provision of bread. They believed that Yeshua could have performed such a miracle only with authority from God, the same authority given Moses.

But not all were convinced. "Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him." (Mark 8:11) This may seem a reasonable request. These local Pharisees, like the other spiritual leaders of Israel, were highly respected men. They had proven themselves as men of worth and honour throughout the community. They had heard the reports and were now looking for more evidence, so that they could give their endorsement – no evidence, no endorsement. Thus they demanded that He show them a sign from heaven.

The request, however, was also peculiar. For these men, seen as spiritual giants in the community, should have realized also that faith must have room to grow. Faith does not necessarily need to see evidence. Indeed, when Moses declared to the children of Israel that God would rain bread from heaven they had to wait until the bread appeared. Faith waits patiently for God and is ready to embrace Him when He arrives. Moses encouraged that type of faith behaviour when he promised bread from heaven. Sadly, in this instance, the Pharisees were zealous for more evidence, which left little or no room for faith.

The signs were there. The proof was in the eating of the bread, and there were many eyewitness reports. The seal of God was on His Servant, Yeshua. But they couldn't see it. It was as if the eyes of their hearts had been blinded by their zeal for personal evidence. Apparently, reports from eyewitnesses were not good enough.

However, they were not the only ones whose zeal was over-balanced. The disciples of Yeshua also fell short of the mark.

They were returning from the other side of Lake Kinneret and had forgotten to take some bread for the journey, when Yeshua warned, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." (Mark 8:15) The disciples thought He was talking about the fact that they had not taken any bread with them. But He was not.

"Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened?" (Mark 8:17)

Even His disciples had not fully understood the signs. Like leaven in bread they had been influenced by those whom they had honoured and respected. They, like the Pharisees, were looking for more signs. Subsequently, they showed less enthusiasm to believe in those signs which God had performed. Like the Pharisees, they preferred signs that would have justified their actions to the satisfaction of others, should they claim Him to be the One. God, however, had taught His people since the days of raining manna from heaven, that faith in Him would be justified – no faith, no reward.

"Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith." (Habukkuk 2:4)

Faith does not demand a sign. Faith waits for the sign, and will embrace it, even from a true report. Being from Galilee the disciples had seen and had been influenced by the Pharisees of the region. Some of the Pharisees whom they knew showed less faith, as in this instance, when those who demanded Yeshua show them a sign from heaven.

Whilst some of the local Pharisees were not convinced that Yeshua was the Messiah, and His disciples did not fully grasp the significance of the signs, it would appear, too, that most of the multitude did not fully understand.

The crowds hearing that Yeshua had returned to Galilee, and that He was now at Capernaum, realized that He could have only gotten there by miraculous means and so searched and enquired of Him an explanation of the events. "'Rabbi, when did you come here?' Jesus answered them and said, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labour for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set his seal on him.'" (John 6:25-27)

The possibility that God had arrived in the Messiah was now a reality. Faith was ready in the wings to pursue God and trust in Him, but zeal for the manifestation of God's power is always ready to muscle-out faith's patience. And so grew the demand for a further public demonstration, which in their minds, would have justified their claims and could well gather support for His cause.

"Then they said to him, 'What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?' Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent.' Therefore they said to him, 'What sign will you perform then, that we may see it and believe you? What work will you do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat."' Then Jesus said to them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' Then they said to him, 'Lord, give us this bread always.' And Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.'" (John 6:28-35)

Those who were looking for more proof would see none. The miracles performed had been appropriate for the moment. The feeding of thousands was ample proof – Yeshua was the Messiah – faith would see and believe.

And so He challenged His disciples: "'Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?' They said to Him, 'Twelve.' 'Also, when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?' And they said, 'Seven.' So He said to them, 'How is it you do not understand?'" (Mark 8:18-21)

The first miracle, the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves, had twelve baskets of fragments left over. This speaks of the preservation and salvation of Israel. The twelve tribes are depicted by the twelve baskets.

The second miracle, the feeding of the four thousand with seven loaves, had seven baskets of fragments left over. This speaks of God's preservation and purpose to save the nations, the Gentiles. The number four depicting the entire world, as the four points of the compass, north, south, east and west. The number seven in Scripture always points to Divine completion in the spiritual realm. Thus, the signs simply confirmed what the Scripture already declares, that God will save all who believe in His Messiah, both Jew and Gentile.

The signs were specifically meant for the people of Israel. Of all people, they should readily recognize them. Signs that confirm the identity of the Messiah, their Kinsman-Redeemer. Signs that told the people of Israel that God had arrived. His Messiah had come as foretold by Moses and the Prophets. Yeshua had been sent by God, the Father in heaven, so that His people would honour and herald Him as the Promised One.

The miracles were a two-fold witness, each confirming the other's authenticity, in that, the God of Israel (YHWH) was at work. Just as He provided bread in the wilderness, so too, bread was miraculously multiplied to feed the thousands of Jewish people. Likewise, each miracle complemented the other, in that, the God of Israel would save completely, through His Messiah. Just as the leftovers were gathered afterwards in each event, so too, no one who has faith in the Messiah would be lost; every one, Jew and Gentile, who believes in Him would be saved.

"But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me. This is the will of the Father who sent me, that of all he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of him who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:36-40)