Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The symbolism in the feeding of the 5000

Christ’s feeding of the five thousand with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish has to rank up there with His most famous miracles. But most people see it as nothing more than that, a display of divine power. Yet reading through it the other day I realized that there is more to it than that; I kept noticing the word ‘sign’ popping up (see John 6:2, 26 and 30) all over the place. So when a friend of mine happened to mention the other day that he thought it was strange that Jesus requested after the feeding that all the remaining food should be gathered up and to “make sure” that nothing was lost, a light bulb suddenly went off.

Allow me to expound, when scripture speaks of something being a sign it means that there is something deeper going on than what we see on the surface. For example, the cleansing of the temple was not a sudden outburst on Jesus’ part but a symbolic action being played out signifying something prophetic. After turning over the tables and driving out the animals the Jews did not say, “I knew it! I knew that eventually he would crack and reveal his true colors!” No, they responded by saying, “What sign do you show to us, since you do these things?” (John 2:18).  So here too in the feeding of a great crowd, we see a similar scenario. First, we see Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 men (not including woman and children) and then specifically requesting that the remnant of food be gathered together which added up to twelve baskets. It is no coincidence that the following day Jesus rebukes the crowd (v26-27) and tells them that He is the true bread from heaven. Jesus tells them that they were only following Him because He filled their bellies. The feeding of the five thousand is then immediately followed with the teaching that Jesus is the bread that gives eternal life to those who eat of it. This confused and offended those who heard His words as He shared them in a synagogue in Capernaum and from that day on many of His disciples turned away from Him. But when Jesus asked the twelve if they too wanted to go away, they said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

So here is the sign of the feeding of the 5000. Many were fed on just two fish and five loaves of bread and when everyone had satisfied their flesh, only twelve baskets remained. When the bread from heaven was offered to the same people, only twelve disciples (vessels for the bread of life) remained with Him. I think that Jesus knew what was in the people’s hearts and prophetically demonstrated what was going to take place the following day.

Interestingly, I noticed a chiastic structure contained within John 6 as well which is illustrated below. Notice the parallels throughout and then the culmination in part E, emphasizing the central theme of the chapter, Jesus, the bread of life!

A – 12 baskets (v13)
  B – Great wind (same word for spirit) was blowing (v18)
    C – Food which endures to everlasting life (v27)
      D – Faith in Christ (v29)
        E – The bread from heaven (v31)
        E - The bread of life (v35)
      D – Rejected by His own (v41-42)
    C – Food which leads to everlasting life (v54)
  B – The Spirit gives life (v63)
A – 12 left (v67-68)

What do you think? Am I reading too much into it or does it make sense?


  1. I like where your thoughts are going, could even be bigger: Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.... then scattered in to the world over a time span to be crushed and trialed... all to be gathered up again.. Rev 12:14 "The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." From beginning to end. It starts in Him, it ends in Him... thougts?

    1. Yes! I had not thought of it before but it certainly works. Thanks for reminding me that it all fits into the bigger picture, Ephesians 1:10 comes to mind.

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