Setting the Stage
Recorded in Mark 6:30-56 are the trifold miracles of Jesus feeding five thousand men with five loaves and two fish, Jesus walking on water, and Jesus healing the sick.
Oftentimes, these texts — as well as their parallel accounts in Matthew, Luke, and John — are preached with the conclusion that Jesus is our Shepherd Provider (feeding of the 5,000), our Comforter (walking on water/calming the storm), and our Healer (healing the sick). While these conclusions are true, they are the penultimate points of the text. That is to say that they are not the main point that the author is trying to convey from the stories.
Mark helps us to see the point of these miracles (the feeding of the five thousand in particular) when he tucks away a small verse at the end of his narration of Jesus’ walking on the water. Upon entering the boat to comfort his disciples, Mark tells us that the disciples were confounded at Christ, “for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
This little note by Mark begs the question: what were the disciples supposed to understand from Jesus’ miracle with the loaves? Furthermore, what are we supposed to understand from this miracle?
The Aim of Mark’s Gospel
In the opening verse of his gospel narrative, Mark makes it clear what he’s trying to communicate. Mark is solely concerned about establishing Jesus’ identity as “the Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).
As we read the opening chapters, Mark draws our attention to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in Christ (1:2), the Father’s affirmation of Jesus as his divine Son (1:11), demons shrieking at the sight of Jesus and calling him “the Holy One of God” and “Son of the Most High God” (1:24, 5:7), Jesus’ performance of a plethora of supernatural miracles (1:21-2:12), and Jesus forgiving a man of his sins — an act the Jews questioned him for as they rightly said only God himself can forgive sins (2:5-7). In the midst of all of this, we see that Mark is drawing evidence and arguments for the opening claim of his gospel: that Jesus truly is the Christ, the divine Son of God.
One conclusion that we can make from all of this is that Mark details these miracles that Jesus performs in order to validate and convey Jesus’ divinity; the fact that Jesus is himself God in the flesh.
Therefore, when we come to Mark 6 and see these three miracles we should be floored and rightly understand (where the disciples were confounded) that these miracles vindicate and authenticate Jesus’ identity as God, for no man can do the miracles he is performing (cf. John 3:2). But if we stop here, we actually miss the particular beauty of Christ that Mark is showing us.
An Inspired and Inerrant Commentary
Oftentimes, those who teach the Scriptures will consult with commentaries in order to see how scholars and theologians have interpreted a given text. However, every (good) preacher understands that even the best commentaries are still fallible and prone to error more or less. However, there is one commentary on Mark 6:30-44 (the feeding of the 5,000) that is in fact inerrant, perfect, and free from error. No, it’s not by D.A. Carson, but from Jesus himself in John 6:22-59.
In the gospel of John, the Apostle records the miracles of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and walking on water in 6:1-21 before transitioning to detailing the sermon Jesus gave “on the next day” (6:22). This sermon, Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, is based off of the previous day’s miracle with the loaves (6:26), and is where Jesus makes the claim that he is the bread of life (6:35).
Here Jesus speaks to his Jewish audience and tells them that they are seeking him not because they saw signs, but because they ate their fill of the loaves the previous day, referring to the feeding of the 5,000 (6:26). Jesus then exhorts these Jews to not merely seek bread for their bellies but for the bread which the Son of Man gives which leads to eternal life (6:27). Jesus dialogues with the crowd more before stating “If anyone eats of this bread [referring to Jesus], he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51).
Jesus, commentating on the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, states that He is the bread of life. He contrasts their desire for physical food with their need for spiritual food.
Here is where we begin to see the dots starting to connect on the primary meaning of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000.
This connection is further clarified Mark 14. As he and his disciples sit together during the Last Supper, Jesus takes bread, and when he had broken it, he says to his disciples, “Take; this is my body” (14:22). At this point let’s lay out a sort of inter-gospel chronology.
- In Mark 6, Jesus takes 5 small loaves of bread, breaks them, and feeds a multitude.
- In John 6, Jesus narrates this miracle, saying that the crowd that ate the loaves is in need of the true bread from heaven and claims that he himself is this bread, the bread of life.
- In Mark 14, Jesus takes bread, breaks it, and tells his disciples “this is my body.”
- Finally, in Mark 15, Jesus goes to the cross, his body is broken, and now multitudes of nations come to him for eternal life as they feed on him by faith.
Yes, Jesus is our Shepherd Provider, he is our Comforter, and he is our Healer. Matthew 6:25-34, Hebrews 4:14-16, and Psalm 103:3 attest to this, accordingly. But this conclusion of the text is, again, penultimate. Ultimately, Mark 6:30-56 and the miracles of the loaves, the walking on water, and the healing of the sick convey the divinity of Christ and anticipate his redemptive work on the cross.
Jesus breaks the bread and feeds the five thousand, but the disciples don’t yet understand (Mark 6:52) that this miracle communicates that Jesus truly is the Son of God. That this God has taken on a body in order to go to the cross himself and be broken so that every man, woman, and child who comes to him in faith will be fed with food that does not perish, but food that leads to eternal life.
This is the beauty and glory of Christ miraculous feeding of the 5,000: it is a beautiful, compassionate foreshadowing of Christ’s breaking the bread of his own body in order to feed us, to save us, and he himself being our greatest satisfaction. That he is not like the bread of earth which will leave you hungry a few short hours later, but that he is the bread — the God — who we were created to enjoy in perfect relationship for all of eternity.
Have you tasted this bread?