The Miracle of Jesus Feeding 4,000 People

Learn the story of Jesus multiplying loaves of bread and fish

Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by James Tissot
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The Bible records the famous miracle of Jesus Christ that has become known as the "feeding the 4,000" in Matthew 15:32-39 and Mark 8:1-13. In this event and another similar one, Jesus multiplied some loaves of bread and fish many times over to feed a huge crowd of hungry people. Learn more about these miraculous stories found in the Bible.

Jesus the Healer

At the time of Jesus, word had been spreading about a healing man who could help the ill recover from their maladies. According to the Bible, Jesus healed those he passed or who followed him.

"Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel."—Matthew 15:29-31

Compassion for the Hungry

As many know when crowds of people want something, most will stand in lines for days to get it. This was the case in the time of Jesus. There were thousands of people who did not want to leave Jesus to go get some food. So, people began starving. Out of compassion, Jesus miraculously multiplied the food that his disciples had with them, which was seven loaves of bread and a few fish, to feed 4,000 men, plus many women and children who were there.

In Matthew 15:32-39, the story unfolds:

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way."

His disciples answered, "Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?"

"How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked.

"Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish."

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven full baskets of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was 4,000 men, besides women and children.

History of Feeding the Masses

This was not the first time Jesus did this. According to the Bible, in John 6:1-15, prior to this mass feeding, there had been a separate event at which Jesus performed a similar miracle for a different hungry crowd. That miracle has come to be known as the "feeding the 5,000" since 5,000 men, women, and children were gathered. For that miracle, Jesus multiplied the food from a lunch that a faithful boy gave up so Jesus could use it to feed the hungry people. 

Food to Spare

Just as in the earlier miraculous event where Jesus multiplied the food from a boy's lunch to feed thousands of people, here too, he created such an abundance of food that some was left over. Bible scholars believe that the amount of the leftover food is symbolic in both cases. Seven baskets were left over when Jesus fed the 4,000, and the number seven symbolizes spiritual completion and perfection in the Bible.

In the case of the feeding of the 5,000, 12 baskets were left over when Jesus fed 5,000 people, and 12 represents both the 12 tribes of Israel from the Old Testament and Jesus' 12 apostles from the New Testament. 

Rewarding the Faithful

Mark's Gospel tells the same story as Matthew's does about the feeding of the masses, and adds some more information that gives readers insight into how Jesus decided to reward the faithful and dismissed the cynical.

According to Mark 8:9-13 says:

...He got into the boat with his disciples and went to the region of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees [Jewish religious leaders] came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven.

He sighed deeply and said, "Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it."

Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.

Jesus had just performed a miracle for people who hadn't even asked for it, yet then refused to make a miracle happen for people who asked him for one. Why? The different groups of people had different motives in their minds. While the hungry crowd was seeking to learn from Jesus, the Pharisees were trying to test Jesus. The hungry people approached Jesus with faith, but the Pharisees approached Jesus with cynicism.

Jesus makes it clear throughout the Bible that using miracles to test God corrupts the purity of their purpose, which is to help people develop genuine faith.

In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus fights off Satan's efforts to tempt him to sin, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, which says, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." The Bible makes it clear that it is important for people to check their motives before asking God for miracles.