Miraculous Witness to Israel

OVERVIEW - The feeding of 5,000 men was a spectacular witness to Israel, yet most Jews continued to reject him as Israel’s Messiah - Mark 6:31-56

Bread - Photo by Wesual Click on Unsplash
The
feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle story recorded in all four gospel accounts, which demonstrates its importance to the early church. In John’s gospel, it occurred near the Passover season. In Luke, only the twelve disciples participated in the distribution of the bread and fish. Mark places the story after the account of the execution of John the Baptist - [Bread - Photo by Wesual Click on Unsplash].

In the preceding story, Herod held a banquet to which only members of the upper class were invited. It ended with the beheading of John. In contrast, Jesus provided a “banquet” in the open fields, to which any and all were invited. It met the basic needs of common people. Herod’s banquet brought death, but Christ's, life.
  • (Mark 6:31-44) – “And he says to them, Come apart into a desert place, and rest a while. For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desert place. And the people saw them going, and many knew them, and they ran together there on foot from all the cities and out-went them. And he came and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came to him and said: The place is desert, and the day is now far spent; send them away, that they may go into the country and villages round about and buy themselves something to eat. But he answered and said: Give you them to eat. And they say unto him: Shall we go and buy two hundred shillings worth of bread, and give them to eat? And he says to them: How many loaves do you have? Go and see! And when they knew, they say: Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them that all should sit down by companies upon the green grass. And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. And he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and broke the loaves; and he gave to the disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they all ate and were filled. And they took up broken pieces, twelve basketfuls, and also of the fishes. And they that ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Jesus saw the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd.” In the Hebrew Bible, the image of a shepherd symbolizes royal figures appointed to lead nations. Here, Jesus is the “shepherd” sent to lead the nation of Israel - (Numbers 27:17, 1 Kings 22:17, Isaiah 63:11, Jeremiah 10:21, Ezekiel 34:5, 37:22, Nahum 3:18, Zechariah 13:7).

In the New Testament, the Greek verb rendered “compassion” is only applied to Jesus, and only in the three synoptic gospels - (Splangchnizomai - Matthew 9:36, 14:14, 15:32, 18:27).

The disciples saw the crowd and the lateness of the hour, then asked Jesus to send them away to the “country and villages round about so they could buy something to eat.” They had just returned from a successful mission in which God had supernaturally provided for their needs; however, here, they desired to send people away with their most basic needs unmet.

Two hundred denarii.” This was approximately two hundred days’ worth of income for the average laborer in Galilee. The bread that Jesus distributed came from the provisions of the twelve disciples. While he broke the bread, he gave it to his disciples to distribute to the crowd. At Herod’s banquet, the king and his guests were waited on and served by slaves. In contrast, the disciples served the crowd, including many women and children.

Mark states that about five thousand “men” were present. Presumably, some women and children were also there, which would mean more than five thousand individuals were fed. This assumption is confirmed in Matthew’s account - (Matthew 14:21).

Feeding of the 5000
In Galilee, Jesus had become a recognized figure; his works were well known. This explains why he condemned the cities of Galilee for refusing to repent. Unlike the surrounding Gentile cities, Capernaum and
  several other Jewish towns had received an adequate witness of the kingdom of God, yet they still refused to repent.

There are several parallels between this event and the story of Moses when he led Israel in the wilderness. He, likewise, was a “shepherd” sent to lead Israel. The multiplication of the loaves parallels the provision of manna in the wilderness. And both Jesus and Moses divided the people into orderly groups before serving them - (Exodus 16:14, 18:21-25, Numbers 27:17, John 6:22-59).

Jesus Walks On Water. The town of Bethsaida was located near where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee, and only a few miles from Capernaum. Bethsaida meant “house of fish,” and fishing was its chief industry. It was one of the Galilean cities condemned by Jesus for not repenting despite his miraculous deeds.
  • (Mark 6:45-52) – “And straightway he constrained his disciples to enter the boat, and to go before him to the other side to Bethsaida, while he himself sent the multitude away. And after he had taken leave of them, he departed into the mountain to pray. And when even was come, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he alone on the land. And seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary to them, about the fourth watch of the night he is coming to them, walking on the sea; and he would have passed by them: but they, when they saw him walking on the sea, supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him, and were troubled. But he straightway spoke with them and says to them: Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up to them into the boat; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves; for they understood not concerning the loaves, but their heart was hardened.
The story opens with a strongly worded sentence: “And immediately he compelled his disciples to get into the boat and go forth to the other side.” Why did he compel them to depart so hastily after feeding the 5,000?

The parallel account in John provides relevant details. After feeding the crowd, certain men were “about to come and take him by force to make him king.”  Jesus reacted by “withdrawing to the mountain by himself,” following which his disciples departed by boat - (John 6:15).

In Mark, Jesus also departed alone “to the mountain to pray.” It is likely he was reacting to the attempt to proclaim him “king.” Possibly, he wished to remove his disciples before they also became caught up in any nationalistic fervor.

He was destined to be the king of Israel; however, not in the manner envisioned by the crowd, and Galilee was a hotbed of zealot activity. Quite possibly, zealot activists were present among this crowd, perhaps even encouraging others to seize Jesus and turn him into a revolutionary figure.

Jesus began to walk on the water after “seeing the disciples straining at the oars, for the wind was against them.” Why does Mark state that Jesus intended “to pass them by”? Note the Old Testament parallels:
  • (Exodus 33:19, 22) - “And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name `Yahweh', and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy…. and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.”
  • (Exodus 34:6) - “Then Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’.”
  • (1 Kings 19:11) - “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before Yahweh. And behold, Yahweh passed by.”
In the Hebrew Bible, God revealed information about His grace and compassion when “he passed by.” Likewise, in the middle of the storm, Jesus declared, “take courage; it is I.” The all-powerful but unseen God had made himself known and “visible” in the person, teachings, and ministry of Jesus, and here, in an act of mercy and deliverance. Yet, despite this miraculous deliverance, the disciples still did not grasp who Jesus was.

Jesus Heals Many in Gennesaret. The town of Gennesaret was in a different direction and some distance from Bethsaida, the town to which the disciples first set out by boat; the storm had blown them off course.
  • (Mark 6:53-56) – “And when they had crossed over, they came to the land to Gennesaret, and moored to the shore. And when they were come out of the boat, straightway, the people knew him, and ran round about that whole region, and began to carry about on their beds those that were sick, where they heard he was. And wheresoever he entered, into villages, or into cities, or into the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.
The “fringe” of his mantle referred to the tassels Israelite men were commanded to sew on the four corners of their outer garment. Considering the mixed population of Galilee, some men in the crowd were almost certainly ritually “unclean.” However, rather than rendering Jesus “unclean,” touching his garment delivered all who were ill and oppressed by demons.

Yet, despite this series of spectacular miracles, neither the crowds nor the disciples understood who Jesus was.





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