The account of Jesus feeding the 5000 is one of his most well-known miracles as it is one of the only miracles recorded in all four gospels. But why did Jesus feed the 5000?
The simple answer is that the people were hungry and out God is one who cares about daily, practical needs of people. There are more reasons, however, for why Jesus fed the 5000.
Why Did Jesus Feed the 5000? To Test the Disciples
In John 6:5-6 it states, “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.”
Before Jesus even asked the disciples to feed the 5000, he already was planning on providing the food himself. So why does he ask them in the first place?
He doesn’t present them with the challenge of feeding the 5000 to toy with them. John 6:5 says he did it to test them. Jesus wanted to know what will happen if he asks them to do something ridiculously difficult. I say “difficult” and not “impossible” because the disciples had already come up with a plan on how they could actually feed the 5000 on their own.
They didn’t like their own plan on how to feed the 5000, but they did have one. Mark 6:37 states, “They said to him, ‘That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?’”
If Jesus wanted them to do good deeds in their own strength, he would have said, “Yeah, go buy it.” The disciples obviously had the money to feed the 5000, that’s why they were getting so nervous. They were concerned that they might actually have to spend it.
There were times when Jesus condoned the use of personal resources for the sake of his Kingdom (John 12:7), but I believe he was trying to teach a deeper lesson at this time.
Why Did Jesus Feed the 5000? To Show He Is the Answer
Jesus was trying to teach them the lesson that when God asks you do something, he’s not asking you to do it in your own strength. Jesus really did want the disciples to feed the 5000 – as we will see when Jesus gives the food to them to then give to the people – but he also wanted them to use his power to do it.
It was as if he was presenting them with a near impossible challenge to show how little power they had without him. When Andrew came up to Jesus, he asked, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9).
I like how there is such an emphasis on it being a “boy” (not a man) with five “small” (not big) loaves and two “small” fish followed with the question, “but how far will they go among so many?” It is as if when John is writing this he is really stressing how little chance they had at doing what Jesus wanted in their own strength.
I love it! As all the grown men are sitting around trying to solve this problem, it’s a little kid who is starting to understand what Jesus is trying to teach them.
When directed to love thy neighbor, the adults are looking to themselves. This child, however, is looking to Jesus. When Jesus takes the boy’s lunch his mommy probably packed for him early that day, I wonder if he was shaking his head at his grown up disciples and saying with his actions, “You should be ashamed of yourselves, letting this little boy have more faith than you all, my mighty twelve. Let me show you what I can do when someone is actually trusting in my power, even if all he has is a little lunch packed by his mother.”
By rejecting their offer to feed the 5000 in their own strength and then by taking the offer of a little boy who so foolishly offered up his meager little lunch to Jesus, Jesus is showing everyone that it’s not about how little or much you have, it’s about how much of it you are going to give to him. Jesus is teaching the disciples that him plus a little boy with faith is thousands of times more powerful than the disciples trying to do things on their own.
Why Did Jesus Feed the 5000? To Show Jesus Is Always Enough for Every Need
The text also emphasizes the amount the child gave to Jesus. Five loaves plus two fish equals seven. On a different occasion when Jesus feeds the 4000 the text makes it clear there were “seven” loaves and a “few small fish” (Matthew 15:34). Both accounts of the two miracles where Jesus multiplies a little food into a lot emphasize the number seven.
In the Bible, seven is often the number of completion. So what does this have to do with answering the question, “Why did Jesus feed the 5000?” The message is pretty clear. No matter how little you have, when you give it all to Jesus, it is always completely enough. Jesus is pointing out that when he asks us to do something, he wants us to rely on his power to do it. It didn’t really matter what the disciples had. Jesus could have rained down bread from the sky if he wanted to just like he did for the Israelites with the manna.
Remember, he asks them the question of how they are going to feed all these people to test them. Every question God brings into our lives is meant for the same reason. God doesn’t ask us to produce loving actions because he needs them; he asks us to do loving things to see if we will turn to him first to do them.
When Jesus asked the disciples to feed the 5000 and they said all they had was five loaves and two fish, that wasn’t true. They had Jesus right by their side. He was testing them, hoping they would say, “We can’t feed the 5000! But you can! Here’s all we have. Do with it what you want.”
Why Did Jesus Feed the 5000? For the Glory of God
Our fruit is supposed to be for his fame because he is the only one who has the power to produce it through us. God asks us to do important things for him but always expects us to rely on him to do it. He gives us missions that seem impossible so he has the opportunity to display his power through us for the whole world to see how good he is.
God desires to display his majesty by giving us the power to do what he commands, and as tempting as it is to take the credit, we must resist. C.S. Lewis states,“It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.”1
God used the disciples in feeding the 5000, but the glory clearly belonged to God alone. This is what God wants for us in our own lives as well. God gives the orders, he supplies the means to accomplish them, and therefore he deserves all the praise (John 3:21). And those who recognize this are the ones given the most power.
So why did Jesus feed the 5000? For the glory of God.