Bread and Fishes
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 6:1-13; (compare Matthew 14:15-21, Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17)
The sixth chapter of John has a number of very interesting exchanges: some between Jesus and the disciples, others between Jesus and the Jews in general. Some were fairly simple teaching, while others involved serious miracles. Some of the people responded favorably, some did not. Some believed His Word, others did not.
The feeding of the five thousand happened here. One of the occasions in which He walked on water is also here, as well as some very serious teaching about the nature of salvation.
Some interesting words come up, too…words which are the same in English, but different in Greek… so, let’s take a look at the first narrative in John 6.
1 After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. 2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. 4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. 5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?
6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, 9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand
In verses 1-4, we do not have a specific place named…in all four Gospel Accounts, it is simply called a deserted place, on the coast of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias.)
In every account, Jesus and the disciples had attempted to get some rest, by departing in a boat, and going to a place where they expected no crowds. But the people figured out where He had gone, and they ran on foot to catch up.
The core facts are there in all four accounts: Jesus and the disciples attempted a “retreat.” It backfired, as the people followed them, because of the miracles of healing they had either seen Jesus do, or had heard about: In John it says they had seen the miracles. In Matthew, it says that Jesus was moved with compassion, and healed their sick in that place as well. In Mark, it says that Jesus felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began teaching them many things. (He didn’t waste a good teaching moment!) In Luke, it says He spoke to them regarding the Kingdom of God and healed those who needed it.
But in all four Gospels, it says the day was far spent and no one had eaten, so food became a priority. In John’s account, He asked Philip, “How are we going to feed these people?” And it says it was a test. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the disciples pointed out the need, and wanted to send the people away to find food. But in all three of those accounts, Jesus commanded them to give the people food: “You give them something to eat!” Why did He say that?
How they came up with the five loaves and two fishes varied a bit as well: no disagreement, but, as is often the case, we have to read all four accounts, to get the whole picture. In the John account, Philip answered that two hundred denarii worth of bread (“200 pennyworth in KJV”…in either case, eight- or nine-months wages) would only buy enough for all of them to have a little. In Mark, the same number came up, as possibly a group estimate…perhaps they just agreed with Philip.
A boy’s lunch, freely offered
In all four accounts, Jesus took what they had (the five loaves and two fishes (in the John account, we see where they got it) and multiplied it to feed the crowd. There is a detail here in John that is easy to miss: These were a small barley-bread loaf—not a big loaf of Italian white bread, or any such thing. It was a boy’s lunch. (Apparently, he volunteered it, as Andrew gave him credit in John 6:9…Two small fish, and five fairly small barley loaves.)
The next thing we miss is because of the problems with translation: In translating Greek to English, it is perfectly accurate to translate “anthropous” as “Men”…but it is a non-gender specific noun, used of “men” to indicate “humans”…men as opposed to angels or animals. But there is another word used here, as well… the Greek word “andres,” specifically meaning “male adult humans.” So, when Jesus told the disciples “Make the men sit down,” He used the word “anthropous”, literally meaning, “Make the people sit down.” But after everyone had been seated John says, “there were about five thousand men:” but this time John used the word “andres,” meaning specifically men. So, If I were reading only this passage, I might guess that no women or children were there. Or I might assume that each man had a large family with him. In either case, I would be guessing or assuming, and that is a dangerous way to build understanding. So, lets turn over to the other accounts to get a clearer picture:
In Mark and Luke, all it says is “they that ate” were “about five thousand men” (again using the gender-specific term, andres.) But, in Matthew 14:21, we get a little more information: he uses the same gender specific noun to describe the five thousand men, but then points out that this was not counting the women and children. We don’t have to assume: There were women and kids present, and they all got fed! No guessing was needed! (But we don’t know how many.)
Finally, when they picked up the baskets of fragments there were twelve basketsful of fragments of both fish and bread (Mark 6:43), left over from the meal which had started off all fitting in one basket or bag…a young boy’s lunch. Incidentally, the Greek word for “basket” here, “kophinos” means a “handbasket.” There is another word which speaks of a larger basket.
You give them Something to eat!
What was Jesus getting at when he told the disciples “You give them something to eat”? He knew they had nothing to offer. He also knew that the youngster was going to offer his food. John’s account says that the whole conversation was a test; He knew what He was about to do.
But the command was that the disciples were to feed the flock. What did they feed them with? The Bread that Jesus provided, miraculously multiplying the gift of that youngster. (I wish I could find out what became of that boy. He isn’t named, but he stepped up and offered what little he had. The disciples commented that it was “too little to matter, with such a crowd.” Jesus made it feed them all. Remember there were five thousand men, not counting women and children. So…how many? I don’t know: possibly far more than five thousand. We have no way to know whether there were many beside the men. But Jesus commanded His disciples to go feed them.
What about Us?
What “bread” do we have to offer? What has God provided us, that could be multiplied to His glory and our joy? A number of you have been gifted to feed the flock from the written Word. It is not a “comfortable” gift. It takes us “out of our comfort zone,” as the saying goes today. We may not really want to bear the responsibility. I sometimes feel pretty overwhelmed by the burden. But this is what God has called me to do, so, I do it: Not because I get a bang out of it, but because that is the task God has given me to do!
Jeremiah was quite reluctant to do the job he was called to do. And his was a very difficult ministry. He is often called “the weeping prophet,” because he spent so much time grieving over Judah and Israel. As far as we can tell from scripture, only a couple of people actually believed him during his ministry. Ezekiel didn’t have a happy assignment, either. Nor did Daniel or Habakkuk: But all of these servants of God went ahead and obeyed and found their joy in the person of their Savior.
Use what You have been Given!
If the Lord has put some loaves and fishes in your hand, no matter how small, in terms of gifting, please don’t let it go to waste. And, if God is calling you to feed the flock, to “give them something to eat,” then look to Him to hand you the food and get moving! Where do we find “sheep food?” We find it in the Word of God. Jeremiah 15:16 says, “Thy words were found, and I did eat them: and thy word was unto me the joy and the rejoicing of mine heart, for I am called by thy name, O Lord, God of Hosts!” Every single believer is called by the name of Jesus, as we are part of His body…and we are all to feed upon His Word. 1st Peter 2:2 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.”
The shepherds are still commanded to feed the flock: that is their specific task within the body. But every believer can take that command and apply it to his or her own gifts, knowing that every member of the Body of Christ has the task of reaching out to bless those around us. We do it in different ways. And that is fine. The parts of a person’s body don’t all do the same thing. But the parts of any body, including the Body of Christ, are made to work well together as a team, to carry out the desires of the Head, for the blessing of all.
What about that Boy who gave His Lunch?
What if that young fellow had believed the “general consensus,” that his gift was “not big enough to help?” Or, what if he had reasoned that “Mom gave this food to feed me! If I give it away, it will not accomplish what she wanted to happen!” You see, in reality, that was all he had! He did not offer one loaf and one fish, or four loaves and one fish: he offered it all.
Everything I have can be offered to Jesus, to be used the way He wants. And, what did the boy get out of the deal? Well, to begin with, he got what everyone else got: He got to eat his fill! (Possibly he ate more than he had actually brought: everyone else certainly did!) In the second place, and more eternally relevant, he was mentioned in the Gospel accounts, and everyone who ever reads God’s Word finds out about that youngster who gave what he had to Jesus, and the results of his offering.
But the earthshaking thing that he got out of it, is that he was privileged to be a part of one of the most famous miracles of Christ! He was an integral part of the feeding of the five thousand! In a way, he was more involved than the twelve disciples were: all they did was to distribute the food. He gave his food to Jesus and saw it multiplied to meet the needs of a multitude, including the disciples and himself.
What about you?
You have the privilege of offering the bread of life to everyone around you. Jesus bought it for all of us at the Cross. He provided Himself, as the true Bread of Life, as He points out later in this chapter. But you and I have the incredible privilege of passing on that food to others, and watching it multiply. No matter what other gifts or values you may add to the Body at large, every single one of us has this specific privilege. You can feed the hungry. You can offer the Bread of life and the Water of life to anyone willing to take it. And if they receive it, and are born again, we have the joy of seeing them grow to a point where they begin leading others to Christ as well.
What if someone else acts as though your contribution is too small to be worthwhile? Remember the boy who gave his lunch? His small contribution has had eternal results!
Whoever it was who took the trouble to lead Billy Graham to Christ has a whole lot of spiritual grandchildren today! You don’t know how far God will take your gift of love and worship and obedience to His Word. All we have is what Jesus gave us. And all we can do is offer it back to Him as an act of worship.
Lord Jesus, teach us to follow you and to make our lives a living sacrifice to you as an act of worship. Help us to see the hungry people and to feed them with your Grace.