This article is a Bible study on Mark 6:31-44.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2014. 4 pages.

The Miracle of Jesus: The Feeding of the Five Thousand

Read Mark 6:31-44

fish and bread

For many parents in many parts of our world today, it is a struggle to fill the empty stomachs of their families. We who live in highly privileged areas of the Western world often fail to recognize what a pressing need physical hunger is. Count­less others in our world have hungry hearts, minds, and souls, lacking what is truly necessary and truly satisfying in life on an emotional and spiritual level. How much emptiness sin has brought into this world! The fact of the matter is that we don’t have what it takes to provide for our own bodies and souls, much less for the needs of others. However, there is One who does, as we see in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.

Neglected Sheep🔗

This is the only miracle recorded in all four gospels. It took place around the time of the Passover (John 6:4). After a busy season of ministry in and around Capernaum, Christ and His disciples had boarded a boat in order to retreat for a while. They travelled about four or five miles, directly across the lake, to the area of Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). When people saw the Lord Jesus and His disciples coming off the boat, news of their where­abouts quickly spread, and people came from all directions to gather around the Savior (Mark 6:33). Moved with compassion, Christ taught the people. He perceived that they were like sheep without a shepherd, who needed spiritual direction and guidance (Matt. 9:36). Mark tells us “he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34); Luke mentions that he “spake unto them of the kingdom of God” and that He accompanied His words with signs, healing those in need (Luke 9:11). Clearly, the Lord would give Himself no rest until He had fed these neglected sheep with spiritual food convenient for them.

Short-Sighted Disciples🔗

When we put the various gospel accounts next to each other, especially Mark and John, we notice Christ’s two-step process to prepare His disciples for this miracle. First of all, as He saw the large crowd was gathering, He asked Philip, one of His disciples, a telling question: “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” (John 6:5). John goes on to tell us that Jesus asked this in order to prove Philip, “for he himself knew what he would do” (6:6). In other words, Jesus was preparing the way for the miracle which He would do. Philip had once confessed: “We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (John 1:41); sadly, at this moment, Philip focused on the practicalities of the situation rather than on the almighty power of the Messiah who was with him. He answered the Lord:

Two hundred pennyworth (or denarii the daily wage for a day-laborer) of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.John 6:9

It would take a lot of money, Philip was saying, to feed a crowd this large! As the hours wore on, it must have become obvious to the disciples that these people, in addition to the spiritual food Christ was providing, needed physical food. They urged the Lord to “send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread” (Mark 6:36).

hand with money

Instead of sending the people off to find their own food, Jesus gave His disciples, secondly, an explicit directive: “Give ye them to eat” (Mark 9:13). But how could Jesus ask them to pro­vide food for such a large crowd? If only they had recognized His prompting to look to Him to supply in this need. One commen­tator explains it this way:

If they are to give food to this tremen­dous multitude with no food in their possession, then Jesus must mean that they, the twelve, have a source of supply that they have entirely overlooked.1

Andrew did report that there was a boy in the crowd who had five barley loaves and two small fish, but he could not see what good such a small amount of food would do: “What are they among so many?” (John 6:8). It is clear that the faith of the disciples was not in exercise. If only their eyes had been focused on Christ, rather than on the circumstances, they might have eagerly anticipated His miraculous help.

Do we recognize our own thoughts in the words of Philip and Andrew? Often, like the disciples, we would rather that God “send away” our problems than that He would glorify His great­ness through them. Our limited human understanding so often fails to see the divine possibilities that present themselves in our impossibilities! How small our thoughts are, and how quickly we reach the end of our reasoning! If only we looked more to God, whose thoughts are much higher than ours (Isa. 55:8, 9).

How the disciples might have benefitted from remembering the Lord’s mighty deeds in the past! If they had remembered how Joseph had fed all of Egypt from His storehouses of grain (Gen. 42:55), they might have looked to this greater Joseph for provision. If they had remembered God’s provision of manna in the wilderness (Ex. 16:14, 15), they might have expected an abundant supply of food here as well. If they had remembered God’s promise that He could open the windows of heaven and give a blessing too great to contain (Mal. 3:10), they might have prayed for God to rend the heavens. These men had been eyewitnesses of Christ’s miracle at the wedding in Cana, when He had provided a miraculous supply of wine for the guests.

If only they would have looked in expectant faith to Him, of whom we read: “The eyes of all wait upon thee, and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing” (Ps 145:15, 16).

A Glorious Shepherd🔗

Christ would magnify His glory by using a humble meal to provide for this large crowd. This would be a meal furnished by the heavenly King, but not according to the standards of earthly kings. Barley loaves were hard, flat cakes, and were considered the food of the poor. The fish, which would most likely have been dried or roasted, would help make the bread more tasty and nutritious. And yet how this miracle would be evidence that Christ chooses “the base things of the world, and things which are despised” to exalt His glory (1 Cor. 1:28).

Christ commanded the disciples to have the crowd sit down. He would do His work in an orderly fashion, and so He instructed that the people sit down “by companies” (Mark 6:39). The people sat down “in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties,” we’re told (Mark 6:40); this way the disciples could move in aisles through the groups of people to distribute the food. In the original, the word “ranks” suggests the picture of a garden bed. Especially against the green grass, these people must have resembled “a great garden with its beds all beautifully regular.”2 The orderly God of cre­ation, who had fashioned the flowers, herbs, and grasses, would now tend His spiritual garden, for the glory of His Father.

Christ did not proceed without “looking up to heaven” (Mark 6:41), thus thanking His Father (John 6:11) and blessing the food (Mark 6:41). What a reminder of Paul’s teaching: “Whether we eat, or drink ... do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Then, quietly and gently, as He broke the bread, the miracle happened and the bread multiplied. The Savior kept distributing food to the disciples, who in turn passed it out to the hungry multitude.

breaking bread

A Satisfied People🔗

Centuries before, manna from heaven had continually sus­tained millions of hungry Israelites in the desert. Now, through His incarnate Son, God once again spread a table in the wilderness and was filling hungry hearts. All five thou­sand men, plus women and children, were plentifully fed from a single poor boy’s lunch.

What an instructive event this was for the disciples! After initially wanting to send the people away, they were now learn­ing to serve the people out of Christ’s fullness. Each time they ran out of supplies, they had only to run back to Christ to receive fresh supplies to put into the hands of these needy people. Can’t you imagine them watching Christ dividing up this poor boy’s lunch and watching it grow under His hands? Natural processes that normally took a season to complete (sowing seed, growing grain, harvesting, threshing, and baking bread) were compressed into a second under the mighty hands of the Word made flesh. What normally takes place over a span of months in the hidden recesses of the sea of Galilee (fish hatching and maturing, being caught by toiling fishermen) all took place instantaneously under the hand of the Creator, who had formed the sea and dry land and filled them with life.

Near the seaside that day, the people’s hunger was satisfied. We read that “they were filled” (Mark 6:41). Mark also tells us that the leftovers from the meal were enough to fill twelve baskets full (6:43). Surely, when God fills the hungry with good things, He satisfies them. His supplies are overflowing!

What thoughts would have been in your mind on that evening if you had been in the crowd, looking out toward the sun setting over the shimmery sea of Galilee? The next day, Christ would teach the people with these words:

I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger: and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.John 6:35

How those words should have had rich meaning for anyone who had been witness to this miracle! Do we receive the food God daily supplies us with as a miracle? Or when we sit rank and file in our various houses of worship, do we receive the spiritual food God has appointed for us through His ministers with thanksgiving and awe (see 1 Peter 5:2)?

On the cross, Christ did so much more than break a boy’s poor lunch; He Himself was broken in order that He might feed souls empty of righteousness and life with Himself. There He was so much more than the Creator; He was the Redeemer. On Calvary, He didn’t simply create food, but He recreated people, whom He has formed for His praise. By His grace and Holy Spirit, He empties them of their pride and self-righteousness and fills them with Himself. With Him as their Shepherd, they have no wants (Ps. 23:1). They learn more and more what it is to be satisfied with Him. Have you tasted and come to know this all-sufficient Mediator?

basket with bread


  1. If these people were like sheep without a shepherd, what does that say about the scribes and Pharisees, who had been appointed to shepherd the people? Compare this with Ezekiel 34:12.
  2. Think of ways in which we use an Andrew or Philip type logic to our problems in daily life, family life, and/or spiritual needs.
  3. Considering that Christ did His miracle in an orderly way, what does this say about order in our daily lives? What order should we give to spiritual routines in our lives? How might you help your congregation improve its order?
  4. Compare this miracle with some of the Old Testament miracles where food was supplied in miraculous ways. What is different about this miracle?
  5. How does Christ tend the garden of His church today through His servants? How should we come to hear God’s Word?
  6. How does Christ fill the emptiness of our hearts with the fullness that His death and resurrection bring to poor sinners?


  1. ^ R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis Augsburg, 1948) 265.
  2. ^ R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Mark’s Gospel (Minneapolis Augsburg, 1948) 267.

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