Mark 6:30-44 – The Feeding of the 5000

In the previous post I pointed out that Jesus’ miracles function as some kind of self-revelation. He says something about himself and his mission when he heals or casts out demons. Perhaps one of the best example of this is the miraculous feeding of a large crowd, a miracle so important that it is found in all four gospels.

Fish and bread mosaic from Tagbha

The feeding of the 5000 is a symbolic miracle in which Jesus departs to a lonely place and provides a crowd with miraculous food in the wilderness. Everyone eats until they are satisfied and there is a great quantity which remains. As early as Albert Schweitzer, this event has been seen as an anticipation of the eschatological feast. Schweitzer thought that the “messianic feast therefore played a dominant part in the conception of blessedness from Enoch to the Apocalypse of John” (Quest, [London: A & C Black, 1931], 377).

Many commentators also see this miracle is an anticipation of the messianic banquet. France, for example, says that “for those with eyes to see it, this will be a foretaste of the messianic banquet” (Mark, 260.) Similarly, James Dunn says that a shared meal in a desolate place “would probably carry strong messianic overtones to those with even half an ear” (Jesus Remembered, 646). There are a number of elements of banquet in this miraculous feeding that make it likely that Mark (and Matthew) intended this event to be seen as an anticipation of the messianic banquet. In fact, the miracle is an example of an intertextual blending of Wilderness tradition and eschatological banquet texts.

First, the miracle enacts the expectations of Isa 40-55, specifically that Israel would re-gather in the wilderness and re-experience the wilderness events. This includes the provision of food at the hand of their God. The event occurs in the wilderness or a “lonely place. The people are being fed in the wilderness, calling to mind the Wilderness tradition. Wright, for example, correctly points out that not only is the location of this even significant, but also the fact that the people are fed in the wilderness and immediately after the feeding the Lord works a great miracle at the Red Sea, just as Jesus will do a great miracle on the sea (Jesus and the Victory of God, 193).

There are other allusions to Wilderness tradition here. When Jesus sees the great crowd he is move with compassion and observes that they are “like sheep without a shepherd.” This is an allusion to Num 27:15-23. Just prior to Moses death, he asks the Lord to appoint a leader over the people, so that they will not be like sheep without a shepherd. They are seated in συμπόσιον, or “eating parties.” The groupings are in of fifty and a hundred evokes the wilderness tradition as well. In Exod 18:21, 25 Moses divides the people up into groups of “a thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Num 31:14).

Second, after the crowd eats the food, they are described as satisfied (Mark 6:42). Eating bread in the wilderness naturally recalls, manna, although only the gospel of John makes this allusion explicit. The verb χορτάζω (to “be satisfied”), however, appears in the Psalms several times in clear wilderness tradition. In LXX Ps 80:17 [ET 16] the word is used to describe the food provided in the wilderness. In Ps 106:9, the psalmist describes the satisfaction of the people when the Lord fed them in the wilderness at the end of the exile. This Psalm begins with a gathering of the people after the exile from every direction. Some have passed through the wilderness yet the Lord led them on a straight path back to the Land where he “satisfies their soul.” In Ps 131:15 χορτάζω appears in the context of the restoration of Zion. Zion is personified as a woman who will have abundant provisions, her poor “will be satisfied with bread.” There are a number of places in the LXX where this word describes the abundance of the eschatological age (Isaiah 33:5).

This  miraculous feeding in the wilderness is therefore an allusion to the tradition of an eschatological banquet at the beginning of the new age. In all four Gospels Jesus reveals his messianic intentions by hosting a meal in wilderness for a “new Israel.” Jesus is not doing the miracle simply to meet the physical need of his audience, but rather to evoke whole streams of tradition from the Hebrew Bible, proclaiming that the messianic age has begun.

13 thoughts on “Mark 6:30-44 – The Feeding of the 5000

  1. Yes, too bad Schweitzer was influenced by liberalism, he had a good mind! I have a nice second edition (1953) of his book: The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (English ot Brit). Man I miss them London Bookshops! 😉

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  2. It seems to me there is quite a contrast with Numbers 11. Moses refuses to feed the Israelites (Numbers 11:13) – they are too heavy (glorious) for him. (Numbers 11:14). You can hear the complaint in Moses raised voice: the music as implied by the te`amim is here.

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    • Sometimes contrast is a key to these sort of intra-canonical allusions. My point here was the feeding was in units not unlike the Jesus miracle. (OTOH, there is a rejection of Jesus despite the miraculous feeding.)

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  3. I believe that this, and the Wedding in Cana (Jesus turning huge jars of water into wine when they ran out of it) are closely related. Mostly due to the fact that they’re both introductions into the new Messianic era, but also because of the intentions the Jesus had behind both miracles. Although, this one is a bigger spectacle than turning water into wine (since only a few servants and his disciples knew about it). Not only did Jesus provide enough food for the thousands of people that crowded around him, but he provided an excess of food. This, as P. Long pointed out in his article, fulfills the the expectations in Isaiah, that “Israel would re-gather in the wilderness and re-experience the wilderness events”. Also, I found it eye-opening when P.Long related the feeding of the 5000 to the giving of manna at the end of the exile. I find it interesting that the only other time the term “to be satisfied” is used is in the gospel of John (since this story is in all four gospels). And it is so closely related to the end of the exile; which is where the similarity between feeding the 5000 and the Wedding in Cana introducing Jesus’ ministry. Though they’re completely different in the aspect of publicity, they still have the same purpose.

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  4. I have never heard the feeding of the five thousand taught as a symbolic act representing the messianic banquet. Dr. Long makes an interesting case here with the reference to Isaiah 40-55. The fact that the event occurs in the wilderness does seem to carry more significance when thought about in light of this passage. The more we study the ministry of Jesus the more I am continuing to see the connections between what he was doing and what God did with Israel in the Old Testament. At the same time, however, the parallels are easy to miss without a proper knowledge of God’s relationship with Israel in the OT. For second-temple period Israel, though, these connections must have been so obvious. Every miracle Jesus performed and every conversation he engaged in was a statement loaded with claims of divinity. The more I begin to understand the reality that the Jews knew who Jesus was claiming to be, the more I am beginning to understand the density and significance of Christ’s every action.

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  5. I really enjoyed how Pablo made the connection between the feeding of the 5000 and the miracle of the water being turned to wine. We see that in the miracle of the water to wine, not many see what happens. However, with Jesus feeding the 5000, we still do not get the full grasp of how many people really saw the miracle. “20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.” (Matthew 14:20-21) from verse 21 we see that it was way more than 5000 that ate the bread. We should at least triple that number to about 15,000. If each man was married and had one child, then there would be at least 15,000 people that ate… plus some for those who had multiple kids and grandparents. It is amazing to me how this occurs in Christs ministry. He never disappoints, and he continually fulfills the prophecies from the OT.

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  6. I never looked at this miracle as being a image of what is to come at the eschatological banquet. I enjoyed reading the examples such as the miracle enacting as the expectations of Isaiah 40-55, when God provided for them in the wilderness. Just like God providing in the wilderness, it is re experienced in this miracle. It is a lonely place in which God provides plenty for many and they are satisfied and fed. Not only are they satisfied, but there is an abundance left over for them. This is a perfect image of the eschatological banquet because we will be satisfied and not left empty in any way. I beleive it is an image of the eschatological banquet because it depicts how Jesus was given a little amount, but yet provided an abundance, and all were satisfied. This is kind of like the parable of the mustard seed and the kingdom of God. It’s a small seed that is first planted, then grows into the largest tree, and all the birds of the air (Christ followers) dwell there. I only make that comparison because it gives an image of the yet to come Kingdom of God, thus, this feast, is also yet to come also.

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  7. The story found in the Bible never ceases to amaze me. What would seem to be completely unrelated events seem to mirror each other and give each other meaning. As Dr. Long says, the feeding of the 5000 is one of those events that is rich in meaning if read in context of the whole story of the Bible. The feeding of the 5000 alludes back to the time in the wilderness when God provided manna for the Israelites. This idea of provision is very rich in meaning. “The symbolism of bounty – everyone filled, and twelve baskets and seven baskets left over – reflects the bountiful gift of salvation which God pours out on his people” (Strauss 465). The connection between the wilderness and being in a ‘remote place’ (Mark 6:35) and the connection between providing manna and providing food from the loaves of bread and fish are very purposeful. To understand Jesus’ ministry on earth we must understand that he was very purposeful and intentional in his actions and words. It would be ignorant to see miracles such as this one as simply a demonstration of God’s power. Although it certainly a demonstration of God’s power, there is much more meaning to it.

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  8. I really think that the feeding of the five thousand is an incredible story. The fact that it relates and is a parable to the end times is not surprising to me. Everything Jesus did had past and present meaning and has future implications for today. As far as validity goes, I believe this miracle would be extremely hard to fake, I have heard of stories of the disciples running and getting the food during Jesus prayer. The problem with this is that the disciples would not have had time, and the bible never says that any one closed their eyes it only states, “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” (Mark 6:41a) They would not have had time to do this anyway. I think that the cultural implications of this miracle are something to look at as well, I am not expert in first century Jewish culture, but food was much harder to come by. I think that we take for granted how much we have. The fact that Jesus took the time to care for the peoples physical needs displays his love for them. He cares for them, not only that they believe him, but that they do not go hungry. He is not like the Jewish leaders who care for the law more than the person practicing it. He is thoughtful, and everything he does and did makes a difference.

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  9. I had no idea that the feeding of the five thousand was a symbolic act that represented the messianic banquet. The more I think about this idea it makes sense that this is true. Jesus’ parables give us insight to the Kingdom of heaven. Part of Jesus’ ministry was to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven. Strauss mentions, “The Synoptic Gospels draw a close connection between Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God and his miracles” (461). I like Scott’s point when he said that more we understand what God did with Israel the easier it is to make connections with Jesus and his ministry. Strauss says, “[miracles]Their background and inspiration is better seen in the Old Testament themes of the restoration and renewal of creation, and of the powerful presence of the kingdom of God” (460).

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  10. I’ve never considered the Feeding of the Five Thousand to be anything more than a story of Jesus’ provision and God’s power. This again reaffirms our need to understand Jesus and His ministry in historical context. When we recognize and understand the history of those He is ministering to directly it becomes much easier to understand why He did the things He did. Also, while Jesus feeding the five thousand most likely correlates with the Messianic Banquet it also tells a story completely stand-alone. I certainly feel as though there is so much more to who Jesus was than what is often taught or conveyed through christian literature. We need to stop assuming truth and start seeking truth.

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