Miracles of Jesus: Feeding the 5,000

Bible Story: Jesus Uses Boy's Lunch of Bread and Fish to Feed Thousands

Jesus Christ feeding the 5,000 bread loaves fish Bible miracle
"The Feeding of the 5,000" painting attributed to Ambrosius Francken the Elder. Getty Images

All four Gospel books of the Bible describe a famous miracle known as the "feeding of the 5,000" in which Jesus Christ multiplied a small amount of food -- five pieces of barley bread and two small fish -- that a boy offered from his lunch into enough food to feed a massive crowd of people. The story, with commentary:

Hungry People

A large crowd followed Jesus and his disciples to a mountainside, hoping to learn from Jesus and perhaps experience one of the miracles for which he had become famous.

But Jesus knew that the crowd was hungry for physical food as well as for spiritual truth, so he decided to perform a miracle that would provide both.

Later, the Bible records a separate event at which Jesus performed a similar miracle for a different hungry crowd. That miracle has come to be known as "feeding the 4,000" because about 4,000 men were gathered then, plus many women and children.

The Bible records the story of this famous miracle that has come to be known as "feeding the 5,000" in Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, and Luke 9:10-17, but it's the biblical account in John 6:1-15 that provides the most details. Verses 1 through 7 describe the scene this way:

"Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.

The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?' He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, 'It would take more than half a year's wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!'"

While Philip (one of Jesus' disciples) was clearly worried about how to provide enough food for all of the people gathered there, Jesus already knew what he planned to do to solve the problem. Jesus had a miracle in mind, but he wanted to test Philip's faith before setting that miracle in motion.

Giving What He Had

Verses 8 and 9 record what happened next: "Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 'Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?'"

It was a child who had the faith to offer his lunch to Jesus. Five loaves of bread and two fish weren't nearly enough to feed thousands of people for lunch, but it was a start. Instead of worrying about how the situation would turn out or sitting back and watching without trying to help, the boy decided to give what he had to Jesus and trust that Jesus would use it somehow to help feed the many hungry people there.

Miraculous Multiplication

In verses 10 through 13, John describes Jesus' miracle in a matter-of-fact way: "Jesus said, 'Have the people sit down.' There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about 5,000 men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.

He did the same with the fish."

"When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, 'Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.' So they gathered them and filled 12 baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten."

The total number of people who miraculously ate all they wanted that day may have been up to about 20,000 people, since John counted only the men, and many women and children were also present there. Jesus showed everyone in the crowd gathered there that day that they could trust him to provide what they needed, no matter what.

The Bread of Life

The thousands of people who witnessed this miracle didn't fully understand Jesus' purpose for performing it, however. Verses 14 and 15 record: "After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, 'Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.' Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

The people didn't understand that Jesus wasn't interested in impressing them so he could become their king and overthrow the ancient Roman government under which they lived. But they did begin to understand Jesus' power to satisfy both their physical and spiritual hunger.

Many of those who had eaten the food that Jesus had miraculously multiplied searched for Jesus the next day, John records, and Jesus told them to look beyond their physical needs to their spiritual needs: "Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval" (John 6:26-27).

In the ensuing dialogue with the people in the crowd, Jesus identifies himself as the spiritual nourishment that they need. John 6:33 records Jesus telling them: "For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

They respond in verse 34: "'Sir,'" they said, 'always give us this bread.'

Jesus replies in verse 35: '"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."