Food miracles occur frequently in the Bible.
When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord miraculously fed them with quail and manna, and gave them water from a rock.
Ravens brought bread and meat to Elijah twice each day while he was at the brook Cherith, and then the Lord worked through him to multiply the oil and flour of the widow of Zarephath.
Likewise, Elisha multiplied oil to provide for the widow of one of the sons of the prophets, removed the poison from a pot of stew, and fed a hundred men with twenty barley loaves and some corn.
The use of these food miracles can also be found in the New Testament.
Jesus’ first miracle in Cana of Galilee was the turning of water into wine.
Later he fed five thousand with five barley loaves and two small fish.
This food miracle, by the way, received the longest and most in-depth treatment of any of Jesus’ miracles.
Almost the entire sixth chapter of John, which has more than seventy verses, is devoted to it.
And in our text, Jesus fed four thousand with seven loaves of bread and /a few/ small fish.
These miracles use food for a purpose.
We concern ourselves with food every day.
Our lives depend on it.
But even more important is spiritual food, viz., the blessings of the gospel.
Without these, our depraved would remain in the spiritual death in which we were born.
The use of food in miracles testifies to the fact that, just as the Lord provides for the outward needs of our bodies, so he also gives us food unto everlasting life.
This can also be seen in the fact that several of the sacrifices also involved food — some were intended only for the priests, while others were also enjoyed by worshipers.
In the book of Revelation, everlasting life is pictured by a wedding banquet and by fruit trees lining the street.
Yet, the greatest food of all is Jesus himself, who is /the bread of God … which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world/ (John 6:33; cf.
35, 48, 51).
Ultimately, all the food miracles, sacrifices and representations of heaven as a banquet direct our attention to him.
The Multiplication of Food
The miracle recorded in today’s text most closely resembles the miracles of Elijah and Elisha that we’ve already mentioned.
Their miracles bore witness to the fact that God had called them to be prophets.
Jesus’ miracles also give evidence that he was also God’s prophet, but they go beyond that.
Inasmuch as they go far beyond the miracles of all the Old Testament prophets, they demonstrate that Jesus is the greatest of all the prophets, a prophet greater even than Moses.
His miracles demonstrate that he was sent by the God the Father to do the Father’s will.
They were, therefore, part of his Messianic ministry.
Interestingly, Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying food on two separate occasions.
That fact raises questions in our minds.
If he could multiply food once, why would he do it a second time?
Once shows that he can do.
Or was there a different point being made with each of the two feedings?
There are several similarities between the two miracles.
After each Jesus crossed the sea (6:45–56; 8:10), was challenged by the Pharisees (7:1–23; 8:11–13), talked about bread (7:24–30; 8:14–21), healed someone whose senses were not working (7:31–36; 8:22–26), and gave the gift of faith (7:37; 8:27–30).
In fact, these miracles and the events surrounding them are so similar that many liberals insist that the two accounts are really reporting only a single story.
I use the word “story” advisedly here, since that is all that these accounts are to them.
They do not report history, i.e., events that actually took place in the world of space and time, but mere stories — myths, legends, folklore.
The problem, though, is that one miraculous feeding is as problematic as two.
They get around this by claiming that the Biblical stories had a completely different purpose.
Instead of giving history, they give hope.
They were given to arouse the church to an existential response of faith.
If we believe in the impossible, then we’ll have the courage to face the difficult.
But this answer only exposes their hypocrisy.
If one miracle gives hope, then why wouldn’t two distinct miracles give greater hope?
A second miraculous feeding would only add to their existential experience that much more.
Just to be clear about this: the real purpose of liberal theology is NOT to give hope, but to undermine the accuracy, and therefore the authority, of Scripture.
By denying the second miraculous feeding, they leave you with the impression that the Word of God cannot be trusted.
This is nothing but the devil’s lie: has God really said?
The claim that both feedings depict only one incident is based on the similarity of the two accounts.
But that’s only part of the truth.
The dissimilarities are equally as significant because they help explain why Jesus performed the same miracle a second time.
The first dissimilarity is the location where the miracles took place.
Mark doesn’t say specifically where Jesus fed the five thousand.
He reported only that Jesus had gone /into his own country/ (i.e., Capernaum) and then /went round about the villages/ (cf.
Luke, on the other hand, gives us the exact place: Jesus fed the five thousand in a deserted area just outside the city of Bethsaida (Luke 9:10).
This places the first miracle on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, in an area primarily inhabited by Jews, who should have connected it with all the food miracles of the Old Testament.
But they did not do so.
Instead, after Jesus miraculously fed them, they asked him to give them a sign that was like one of the food miracles.
John wrote, /They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee?
what dost thou work?
Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat/ (John 6:30–31).
The Jews should have seen in the feeding of the five thousand powerful evidence supporting Jesus’ messianic claim.
However, the second feeding took place on the southeastern side of the Sea of Galilee, exactly opposite the site of the first miracle, in a region known as Decapolis (cf.
Mark 7:31; Matt.
Although some Jews lived in Decapolis, it was predominantly a Gentile region.
We cannot assume, therefore, that those who witnessed this miracle would have been as familiar with the Old Testament, and particularly with the food miracles that we read there.
This gives a completely different perspective to the feeding of the four thousand.
Another dissimilarity in the two feedings has to do with the reason for Jesus’ compassion.
Mark 6:34 explains why Jesus did the first miracle.
It says, /And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things/.
The prophets of the Old Testament often spoke of the Jews as God’s sheep, but in the first century they were sheep without a shepherd.
They had rejected God’s reign.
They no longer had a king like David to lead them out and to bring them in, and they refused to acknowledge that David’s greater Son had arrived.
Jesus had compassion on them because they were stumbling around blindly without a guide.
The Lord’s concern was the spiritual well-being of the people.
But the reason for the second miracle was exactly the opposite.
In this case, the people had severely inconvenienced themselves in order to be led by the Good Shepherd himself.
Jesus noted this in verse 2 of our text when he said, /I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat/.
Jesus was concerned that they would faint on their way home because they had devoted themselves to following him.
His concern was for their physical welfare.
A third dissimilarity is the dinner blessing.
The first feeding followed the common custom of the Jews, viz., a single prayer of blessing for the entire meal (6:41).
In the second feeding, however, Jesus gave thanks for the bread, distributed it, and then offered thanks for the fish (8:6–7).
Again, Jesus may have adopted different approach because the multitude was mostly Gentile.
Not being accustomed to prayer before meals, the double blessing would have emphasized the fact that God supplies all of a believer’s needs through Jesus Christ, and therefore we must express our gratitude to him in everything.
The double blessing in the Lord’s Supper probably has the same significance.
Just to wrap this part of the discussion up, the size of the crowds for the two feedings was different, the amount of fish and bread at hand was different, and the amount of food gathered after the meal was different.
But perhaps the most decisive point of all comes from the lips of Jesus himself.
In verses 19 and 20, he spoke of the two feedings as distinct events.
He said, /When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up?
They say unto him, Twelve.
And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up?
And they said, Seven/.
A Gentile Audience
So far, I’ve indicated a few times that the multitude that witnessed the second feeding consisted mostly of Gentiles.
And this is really what the second miracle was about, viz., God visiting the Gentiles with the blessings promised to Abraham.
We can see this if we examine the flow of the narrative up to this point.
We’ll begin immediately after the feeding of the five thousand.
John’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus’ teaching turned the Jews away.