Christ's miracle of feeding the five thousand is unique in that it is the only one that all four gospel writers mention (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). It illustrates Jesus' authority over nature and His divine intervention on behalf of others, showing that He is concerned about both humans' physical and spiritual needs.
Jesus is moved with compassion at the sight of thousands of people who had made a great effort to hear His message of hope. Although He is tired after a long day, He embraces the opportunity to teach them and heal the sick among them. As evening descends, His disciples suggest that the hungry crowd be disbanded to seek necessary food from the surrounding villages, but Jesus has something else in mind.
To test Phillip's faith, He asks him how the people could be fed. Not only does Philip learn a lesson of faith, but all of the disciples learn that true faith must rely on divine resources, not physical and material ones. Phillip begins to tally all of the meager supplies the disciples had among them, and somewhat stymied, says, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them." One denari was a day's wage at the time.
Then Andrew tells Jesus, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish." Yet, because of their lack of faith, the disciples cannot see any possibility of feeding the great multitude with their scarce funds and the scanty food on hand. However, faith enables us to see that with the omnipotent God, all things are possible.
This miracle is a magnificent act of creative power. No amount of human reasoning can reduce this miracle to a natural phenomenon. Indeed, complete understanding of miracles is beyond human capability to understand. By an act of His own creative power, Jesus revealed proof of His deity to thousands.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Feeding the Five Thousand (Part One)
At first, Jesus' miracle of feeding the 4,000 (Matthew 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-10) may seem to be the same as the one He performed for 5,000 (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15). They do have a few similarities: Jesus multiplies loaves and fish; a multitude is fed; the disciples are skeptical; and they collect leftovers.
However, some distinct differences nullify any notion that they are the same: The crowds are of different sizes; the disciples speak first in the first miracle, but Jesus does in the second; they occur in discrete locations; they follow different events; the numbers of loaves and fish differ; the numbers of baskets differ; the baskets themselves are different; and finally, Jesus spends one day with the 5,000, but three with the 4,000.
Jesus Himself removes any doubt by referring to them as two different miracles. He mentions the different numbers of people present at the two events, the different numbers of baskets of fragments gathered afterward, and the different sizes of the baskets (Matthew 16:9-10; Mark 8:19-21).
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Feeding the Four Thousand
Just prior to this miracle (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14), the people anticipated where Jesus was headed. By walking along the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, the crowds joined Him, and He, feeling compassion, healed their sick. When evening came, the disciples sought to send the crowds away because supplies in that remote place were inadequate to feed so many. Despite having only five loaves of bread and two fish at hand, Jesus desired to give them something to eat, and with just these, He performed an astounding miracle. The bread and fish continually multiplied so that everyone was satisfied—so much that twelve basketfuls of broken pieces were left over.
This took place at Bethsaida just before the Passover (John 6:4). Jesus primarily intended this miracle to teach the disciples, although a witness of the Son of God's power had also been impressed upon the multitude. In it, Jesus illustrated the kind of ministry His disciples would conduct after His departure: feeding people with spiritual food, and their source would be Christ Himself. They would have to replenish their supply of spiritual food continually by maintaining a close relationship with Him, but they would be responsible for feeding their congregations.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Feeding the Five Thousand (Part Two)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing John 6:1: