And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick. And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals. But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes. He said, Bring them hither to me. And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.Matthew 14:14-21
On the surface, this story is about Jesus giving some natural people some natural food. That’s a good thing for him to do, but I believe God wants us to learn something deeper from this story. Imagine instead of feeding 5000 men, Jesus Christ wants to feed the entire world with the spiritual food of the Word of God. God is not willing that any man would perish, but that all would come to repentance. So let’s go step by step through this account in Matthew, with some assistance from the other gospels. This is one of the few stories that appears in all 4 gospels, so I believe that is another reason it has increased importance to God and to us.
Jesus and the disciples and the multitude were in a desert place. There is little to no life in a desert. It is a barren wasteland. There was no food available in the desert, but only the food they had brought with them. The disciples had a couple thoughts about this problem of no food. Their first thought was to send the multitude away so that they can buy food for themselves. They wanted the people to look to themselves for the answer to their hunger. This is not what the Bible teaches us to do for people. We are to look to God to supply all our needs. The disciples’ second thought was that they could go and take what money they had and try to buy food to feed the multitude. This also encourages them to trust in themselves and in their own abilities to feed people. Neither of these thoughts by the disciples was the correct one. For that, we look to Jesus.
Jesus said that the multitude need not depart, but that the disciples have the power to feed them. The disciples responded with the fact that they only have 5 loaves and 2 fishes. In another gospel it says that they are SMALL fishes. This was a good response by the disciples, for it was a humble response. They acknowledge that there was NO WAY that they would be able to feed the multitude in their own strength and power.
To understand this story, we need to look at the spiritual meaning of numbers. There were 5 loaves. 5 is the number of ministry, which is taken from Ephesians 4:11, that God gave some apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. You have 5 fingers on each hand and 5 toes on each foot. Our hands were designed by God to minister to Him and to others in His name. Your feet were made to take you places for purposes of ministry. Jesus Christ said that He is the bread of life. So 5 loaves is representing the ministry of Jesus Christ to the people.
Yet, it wasn’t just 5 loaves, but there are also 2 fishes. The number two is spiritually representing witness. Acts 5:32 says there are two witnesses of God, the Holy Spirit and the church. Revelation 11 also shows the two witnesses of God, which are still the Holy Spirit and the church. The fish represent the disciples of Jesus, for Jesus said in Matthew 4:19, follow me and I will make you fishers of men. The fish are those that have been caught out of the spiritual sea of sin.
Jesus gave the solution to the disciples’ problem. He said, bring what you have to me. We need the blessing of Jesus Christ before we try to minister in the name of Jesus. It takes time spent in prayer to the Father in the name of Jesus before we will be spiritually prepared to minister for Jesus to the people of the world.
So Jesus commands the multitude to sit down on the grass. In Mark it says that it was GREEN grass. If something is green, that means it is alive. Despite being in a desert place, there was life there because Jesus was there. The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in GREEN pastures. Jesus is inviting the world to sit down and rest in a place of spiritual life and life more abundant through His name.
In Luke, it says the multitude sat down in groups of fifties. This is key. 5000 is a large number and can seem overwhelming when looked at in the natural. When one divides 5000 into fifties, it breaks the task down into manageable pieces. Jesus isn’t asking one disciple to feed the complete 5000, but he is asking individual disciples to feed their 50. We already said that the number 5 represents ministry. The number 10 represents completion. That’s why there was 10 plagues in Egypt and 10 commandments. So for 50, we have ministry going on to a complete number of people. For 5000 we have 5 times 10 times 10 times 10. 1000 represents a large complete number. So ministering to 5000 represents ministry going on to a large, complete number of people. This is symbolic of Jesus reaching the whole world with the Word of God, the true spiritual food.
Jesus took the meager food that the disciples had and sought the blessing of the Father. This is important because every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights. With the Father’s will and blessing, Jesus then broke the bread and the fish. Before the spiritual food can be distributed to the whole world, there must be a state of spiritual brokenness. Jesus represents the bread of life. He was meek and broken in spirit, which was perfected when He went to the cross and was physically broken for our sin. The body of Jesus was broken, which is what has made it qualify to be spiritual food for whosoever will, through all these thousands of years since the cross. It takes more than just Jesus to feed the 5000. It takes the fish to be broken as well. The fish again represent the disciples of Jesus, which includes you and me. Our lives must be broken in humility before we can minister to the masses. Jesus was broken and so His church must likewise be broken in spirit, so that there can be true unity of the Spirit in the ministry to the world.
The disciples gave Jesus the food they had. The Lord Jesus took it from them and blessed it and then broke it and then redistributed it back to them for distribution to the masses, the 5,000, the whole world. When we humble ourselves and refuse to minister in the power of our own strength, it allows the Lord to bless our abilities, to sanctify our abilities for His purposes, in the power of His strength. The Lord authorizes us to go in His name. That’s why He said to His broken disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. That’s why He said to go and teach all nations. He is sending forth the broken ones. Have you allowed the Word of God to break you spiritually?
What we don’t see in this story is the ministry of the Holy Spirit, yet I know He was present there. Jesus Christ said to the disciples that the Holy Spirit is among them. This is how the food was actually multiplied. The Holy Spirit manifested the multiplying of the food. As the disciples tore off some bread or some fish, the food regenerated. This is a physical example of what the Spirit does in the spirit, when He regenerates our dead spirits to be alive. This is what God wants to do to the world. He wants the complete world to be saved and to experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit, through faith in the name of Jesus.
It says that the multitude was filled and yet there were 12 baskets full of leftovers. The true church has what it takes to feed the world. We have Jesus in our lives, as the source of living waters. We have been baptized with the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, guide us into all truth. God has made us ministers of reconciliation. We are inviting the world to come unto the marriage supper of the Lamb of God. The Holy Spirit will never be exhausted. If we rely on Christ and His Spirit, the church will run and not grow weary, we will walk and not faint. When we try to minister in our strength, we get tired. When we allow the Spirit to energize us, then we have all the strength we need to accomplish God’s mission of feeding the whole world, the 5000. Let’s talk about the spiritual meaning of 12. To get 12 we multiply 3 times 4. 3 is the number of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 4 is the number of the world. 4 points on a compass, North, South, East and West. So 12 is God multiplying Himself in the world. That’s why there were 12 tribes of Old Testament Israel. That’s why there were 12 New Testament Apostles. When God multiplies Himself in the world through His Spirit and through His church, there will always be more than enough resources.
So I encourage you reader, if you have been born again and then later baptized with the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to go forth and know your God and then do exploits for Him! You might think that you have nothing to offer, that the food you have is SMALL, just like the disciples saw it. Yet, if you come to Jesus and pray to the Father in His name, He will hear and He will bless and equip you with His Word and His Spirit, so that you can be a BLESSING to the nations. Start small in ministry. Start with your “50”. Those who are in your sphere of influence in your day to day life and those you interact with on the phone and the internet. As you are faithful with little, God will make you ruler of much. He may join your efforts with others so that together you can reach the whole world, the 5000. Go in peace and be led forth with joy, in the power of Christ’s Spirit, amen!