The Feeding of the 5000 is one of only a few stories appearing in all four Gospels. Jesus miraculously feeds a large crowd and intentionally evokes several images from the Hebrew Bible in order to reveal something about himself. The authors of the Gospels include the story as part of their presentation of who Jesus is.
First, is introduced in a way that recalls Israel’s history. “Sheep without a shepherd” reflects an image used for Israel in the Hebrew Bible (Num 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Ezek 34:5). The miracle itself is not unlike Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44, who fed a crowd of 100, some would draw an analogy to the manna in the wilderness in the book of numbers (Moses fed the people in a wilderness place as well both with manna and quail.)
When the disciples point out to Jesus that the place they are in will not be able to meet the physical needs of the crowd, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the people. They assume that Jesus is speaking about physically feeding them, and respond that they could not possibly buy the food required to feed a crowd of that size. Did Jesus mean literal food here? Probably, but on a more subtle level he is setting up the miracle. Jesus has them recline on the “green grass” then provides them with their food. The way of telling the event highlights the people as sheep who have found their true shepherd, Jesus makes them lie down in a green pasture and provides them with their daily needs.
This is an important event, important enough to be included in all four Gospels. What makes it so significant? This event is an anticipation of the Messianic Banquet. There are two events in Hebrew Bible this miracle may evoke. In both cases the food is literal, and the provision is from God. God provides food for his people. In Exodus 16 God provides for the people of Israel with manna and quail. Elisha feeds 120 men in 2 Kings 4:42-44.
At least some Jews expected the return of manna at the beginning of the messianic age. In The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch), the great chaos monsters Behemoth and Leviathan will be slaughtered and fed to those who have survived to until the time the Anointed one appears. Then…
“the earth will also yield fruits ten thousandfold. And on one vine will be a thousand branches, and one branch will produce a thousand clusters, and one cluster will produce a thousand grapes, and one grape will produce a cor of wine. And those who are hungry will enjoy themselves and they will, moreover, see marvels every day. 7* For winds will go out in front of me every morning to bring the fragrance of aromatic fruits and clouds at the end of the day to distill the dew of health. And it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will come down again from on high, and they will eat of it in those years because these are they who will have arrived at the consummation of time.” (Translation by A. F. J. Klijn, in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:630–631.)
If there was indeed an expectation among some Jews that the long exile would soon be over and a true shepherd would appear to lead Israel as Moses did in the wilderness, then it makes sense manna would return in the eschatological age since manna was the food provided by God for his people in the Wilderness, the place where God first made Israel his people. If Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah expected by the prophets, it follows that he would intentionally evoke the expectations of people living in Galilee in the first century. 2 Baruch is written sixty years after Jesus, but it was constructed on the foundation of the same Hebrew Bible Jesus and his contemporaries used.
Is Jesus intentionally alluding to stories from the Hebrew Bible in order to call attention to his own role in the presence of the kingdom? Is this an “already” aspect of the kingdom? If this is the case, then what is this miraculous feeding saying about Jesus?