Please read Matthew 14:13-36; Mark 6:30-55; Luke 9:10-17 & John 6:1-25
When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:13-14 NIV
The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things. Mark 6:30-43 NIV
“Sheep without a shepherd” is an Old Testament picture of Israel without spiritual leadership (Numbers 27:15-21, 1 Kings 22:17). Then, in Ezekiel 34 God condemns the shepherds of Israel, those where were meant to be caring for His flock and leading them in His ways, concluding in Vs 5&6: “So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” Ezekiel then went on to prophesy God’s solution to this problem:
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” Ezekiel 34:11-16 ESV
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then He took them with Him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed Him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. Luke 9:10-11 NIV
Bethsaida means “house of fishing“. How appropriate that in the region of this village Yeshua so effectively ‘fished for men’ with His talmidim. Bethsaida was a fishing village east of the Jordan River and close to where it enters the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret). The shore of the Sea of Galilee that was east of the Jordan River was, to the Galileans, the far side of the Lake. History records the village of Bethsaida in Lower Gaulonitis being raised to the rank of a city by the Tetrarch Philip, and called Julias, in honour of Julia, the daughter of Augustus (Ant., XVIII, ii, 1; BJ, II, ix, 1; III, x, 7; Vita, 72). Ruins of a city have been found on rising ground, fully a mile from the sea, so this is the place allocated to Bethsaida on many maps of the region during Jesus’ time. As this is too far from the sea for a fishing village, Schumacher (The Jaulan, 246) suggests that el-`Araj, “a large, completely destroyed site close to the lake,” connected in ancient times with et-Tell “by the beautiful roads still visible,” may have been the fishing village, and et-Tell the princely residence.
The “green grass” of Mark 6:39, and the “much grass” of John 6:10, point both to the time of year – early Spring, just before Passover, when the grass is green from the winter rains, and to the place being on the plain of el-BaTeichah, which has rich soil producing plentiful green grass compared with the scanty herbage on the higher slopes.
Some time later, Yeshua went over to the far side of Lake Kinneret (that is, Lake Tiberias), and a large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miracles He had performed on the sick. Yeshua went up into the hills and sat down there with His talmidim. Now the Judean festival of Pesach was coming up John 6:1-4 CJB
Spring had begun, the beginning of the Jewish month of Nisan. Many were getting ready to make their pilgrimage down to Jerusalem for the annual festival of Pesach (Passover). For the first time in ten months the author of John’s Gospel re-joins the commentary. There were even more people gathering around Yeshua and His talmidim now than before. Some had come from Jerusalem for solace after hearing of Yochanan’s beheading, desperate to know that all was not now lost for them and their nation after this crime had been committed against God’s prophet. Had the author of John’s Gospel been one of these? Others came because they had seen Yeshua, or His apostles, do healings and miracles as they had gone out in pairs to all the surrounding towns. Some came because they needed a miracle. Some were hungry to learn more of the kingdom of heaven. Some had begun their pilgrimage from more northern regions to Jerusalem for the Feast and detoured to see this ‘miracle man’ whose fame was spreading far and wide. When they saw Yeshua and His talmidim leave by boat this multitude followed, traversing the well worn shoreline route. Some even made it to Bethsaida before Yeshua and His crew. When Yeshua landed He went to a solitary place, and sat down there with His talmidim. The multitude followed. So He welcomed them and spoke to them all about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
The 12 had just returned from seeing God do miracles through them as they ministered 2 by 2, but they were not prepared for Yeshua’s next instruction: “You give them something to eat”.
As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said.
And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:15-21 NIV
By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”
But he answered, “You give them something to eat.”
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?”
“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”
When they found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.”
Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. Mark 6:35-44 NIV
Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”
The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. Luke 9:12-17 NI
Philip’s home town was Bethsaida. James & John and Peter & Andrew had also been born in Bethsaida but had moved to Capernaum before they met Yeshua. So Philip was the only one who still called Bethsaida home. Maybe this had something to do with why Yeshua asked Philip where the best place to buy bread was…
...so when Yeshua looked up and saw that a large crowd was approaching, He said to Philip, “Where will we be able to buy bread, so that these people can eat?” (Now Yeshua said this to test Philip, for Yeshua himself knew what He was about to do.)
Philip answered, “Half a year’s wages wouldn’t buy enough bread for them — each one would get only a bite!”
One of the talmidim, Andrew the brother of Shim‘on Kefa, said to Him, “There’s a young fellow here who has five loaves of barley bread and two fish. But how far will they go among so many?”
Yeshua said, “Have the people sit down.”
There was a lot of grass there, so they sat down. The number of men was about five thousand.
Then Yeshua took the loaves of bread, and, after making a b’rakhah (giving thanks), gave to all who were sitting there, and likewise with the fish, as much as they wanted.
After they had eaten their fill, He told His talmidim, “Gather the leftover pieces, so that nothing gets wasted.”
They gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. John 6:5-13 CJB
This miracle brought to remembrance a miracle that God had done through the prophet Elisha:
A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain.
“Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said.
“How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked.
But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’”
Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord. 2 Kings 4:42-44 NIV
In both instances the amount of bread was inadequate for the number of people. In both instances everyone ate their fill and there were leftovers. Elisha had fed 100 men with 20 loaves, and now Yeshua had fed 5,000 men with just 5 loaves. All Israel recognised Elisha as a prophet, how could they not recognise Yeshua? In Deuteronomy 18 Moses states, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen”. (verse 15). And later in verse 18 God declares; “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers . And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” Those who ate the bread had memorised these verses from childhood.
There were many ways in which they could see that Yeshua was a prophet like Moshe (Moses):
- Both were sent to bring salvation after 400 years of ‘silence’ from God – the Israelites had been enslaved for 400 years in Egypt with no leader or prophet, and the 400 years before Yeshua came had been notably without any prophet from God.
- Both fasted for 40 days and nights – Moses while on Mount Sinai, and Yeshua in the Judean desert after His baptism.
- Both spent time in Egypt as children (as Yeshua had to be hidden there for a while as a baby to escape Herod).
- Both were born at a time when evil kings pronounced death to all Jewish baby boys in the area – Pharaoh had commanded all Hebrew baby boys to be drowned at birth, and Herod had issued a command to kill all baby boys under the age of two. Both were miraculously rescued from that threat.
- Both did miracles to testify to their God-given authority.
- Both were given God’s public stamp of approval with an audible voice from heaven, heard by the crowd – Moses at Sinai, and Yeshua at his baptism.
- Both miraculously provided the people with bread to eat – manna was sent from heaven for the Israelites and Yeshua had just fed a multitude, with 12 baskets of food left over – one for each of the tribes of Israel.
When the people saw the miracle He had performed, they said, “This has to be ‘the prophet’ who is supposed to come into the world.” Yeshua knew that they were on the point of coming and seizing Him, in order to make Him king; so He went back to the hills again. This time He went by Himself. John 6:14-15 CJB
The people were still in shock over John the Baptiser’s murder. Anger, shock and grief mingled. Religious and nationalistic fervour was high. John had pointed to this Man, and He’d just fed all of them abundantly, out of next to nothing, and with one full basket of food left over for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. Surely this was the One they had been waiting for, the One who would set their nation free, the son of David, the righteous Branch, their rightful ruler and national leader as Jeremiah had prophesied:
“I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ ” Jeremiah 23:4-6 ESV
Yeshua’s kingdom is not of this world and “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17) – He sent them away and withdrew to pray.
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowd. After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Matthew 14:22-23 NIV
Through the night He prayed.
And immediately Jesus had His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He Himself dismissed the crowd. And after saying goodbye to them, He left for the mountain to pray. Mark 6:45-46 NASB
All three gospels that mention this journey are in agreement that it involved getting into a boat and going across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret). There is an apparent discrepancy, however, with Luke having said that they withdrew “to a town called Bethsaida“, from whence the feeding of the 5,000 took place, and John having written that they went “to the far side of the Lake” – ie the eastern shore, of which Bethsaida is the most northerly point, and Mark’s account here of them leaving the place of feeding the 5,000 and getting into a boat to go “to the other side, to Bethsaida.” Over the centuries Bible scholars have proposed different theories to try to explain this – including the suggestion that there were two Bethsaidas – Bethsaida Galilee (John 12:21 refers to Bethsaida in Galilee) on the western shore and Bethsaida Julias on the eastern shore.
Then, there is dispute over which Bethsaida the feeding of the 5,000 was near to. The answers to these questions were probably obvious in the 1st Century, but the passage of time has hidden some of the evidence from us, leaving it impossible to know the exact locations now. Those uncertainties, however, don’t diminish our understanding of the message.
- Multitudes came to hear Yeshua speak and see Him heal the sick.
- After a day of teaching and healing, He miraculously fed 5,000 men, plus all the women and children, with just 5 loaves and 2 fish.
- There were 12 baskets of food left over, indicating that Yeshua is the bread of life for all 12 tribes of Israel.
- Yeshua rejected all attempts to make Him an earthly king and raise up an army of men around Him – His kingdom is not of this world.
- Yeshua prioritised times of private prayer – He spent the night in prayer.
- Sometimes when we are obeying God and attempting to do what He has told us, “go to the other side”, everything seems to fight against us and all our work doesn’t get us very far. Yeshua has not abandoned us at those times, He is watching over us and will enter into our boat and we will reach our destination with Him.
- Yeshua can walk on water – He rules over the laws of physics and over the basic elements of life.
When evening came, his talmidim went down to the lake, got into a boat and set out across the lake toward K’far-Nachum (Capernaum) . By now it was dark, Yeshua had not yet joined them, and the sea was getting rough, because a strong wind was blowing.
They had rowed three or four miles when they saw Yeshua approaching the boat, walking on the lake! They were terrified; but He said to them, “Stop being afraid, it is I.” John 6:19-20 CJB
They had spent most of the night straining at the oars and yet had only gone 5-6 kms. It was not a long journey across that northern section of the Sea, about 8km. They had managed most of it through their nocturnal strenuous efforts, yet still the shoreline seemed to allude them. God lets us struggle so that we might be humbled by our struggle. He lets us struggle so that we might see that we have nothing. He lets us struggle so that we might have faith; and God lets us struggle so that we might see the reality of who He is.
Suddenly there was Yeshua, striding across those 5-6kms as though they were nothing, coming straight to them, even about to go past them, walking on the sea that had been buffeting them so badly!
After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.
But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:23-27 NASB
Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Mark 6:48b – 50 NIV
It is significant that Job 9:8 declares of God: “He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.” This was another sign specifically of Yeshua’s divinity.
Peter responded and said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command (keleuo) me to come to You on the water.”
And He said, “Come!”
And Peter got down out of the boat and walked (peripateo) on the water, and came toward (pros) Jesus. But seeing (blepo) the wind (anemos), he became frightened (phobeo), and when he began to sink, he cried out (krazo), saying, “Lord, save (sozo) me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out with His hand and took hold (epilambanomai) of him, and said to him, “You of little faith (oligopistos), why did you doubt (distazo)?” Matthew 14:28-31 NASB
Only Matthew tells us that someone else walked on water that night. Someone who was bold enough to want to do what his Rabbi was doing. Yeshua had not long ago given them authority over sickness and demons – and it had worked! Could He also give this authority over the laws of nature? Knowing that spiritual authority only operated through obedience Peter asked Yeshua: “command me to come to you on the water.” Keleuo = to command, to give the order. In the Greek aorist imperative it commands the action to reach completion. Yeshua spoke the word. It is written in the Greek aorist imperative. It only took one word, “come” to transfer that authority and enable Peter to walk on the water.
This is one of those passages of scripture that yields more insights when we delve into the meaning of key words in the Greek.
Peripateo = walked comprehensively around; walked around in a complete circuit; walking with God in the complete circuit of faith.
Pros = moving towards a goal or destination with contact and reaction; in living relationship with the goal; the cycle of initiation and response.
Blepo = physically observe to spiritually perceive; conveys the spiritual impact of physically seeing; grasping the spiritual realities which play out in the physical world.
Anemos = a gust of air / wind; something with gusting, storm-like force like someone bent in a particular direction.
Phobeo = wanting to flee, feeling overwhelmed and inadequate to meet the situation.
Krazo = an onomatopoetic term imitating the sound of a raven’s piercing cry; to cry out loudly with an urgent scream or shriek; an exclamation of fear or pain, using inarticulate sounds that express deep emotion; it was also a technical, rabbinic term to refer to the loud summons of a prophet, needing to be heard.
Sozo = to deliver out of danger and into safety; used principally of God rescuing believers from the penalty and power of sin and into His shalom.
Epilambanomai = lay hold of something by showing personal initiative, focused resolve; lay hold in the way that is needed and doing so with resolve.
Oligopistos = oligos little in number and low in quality + pistis faith; infrequent faith; inconsistent faith.
Distazo = double stance; to go two ways at once; be double-minded; to vacillate / waver between two opinions or beliefs.
Peter climbed down out of the boat and peripateo – walked comprehensively around in a complete circuit of faith that included fear, phobeo – feeling overwhelmed and inadequate to meet the situation – and doubt, distazo – being doubleminded – but ultimately cried out with everything within him, krazo, to Yeshua to save him. What caused the double-mindedness was blepo anemos – seeing the storm-like force of the wind stirring up the Sea and perceiving that the sea of humanity would likewise be stirred up against them and it would be difficult to make any real headway. If he kept following Yeshua the road ahead would be full of difficulty and struggle. Peter was overtired, he was exhausted from struggling against the wind all night and the thought of further struggle was just too much for him. He started to sink. Yeshua epilambanomai – laid hold of Peter with focused resolve, He was not going to let Peter drown, He was determined to keep Peter from sinking too low, and to present him faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy (Jude 24).
Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
When they had crossed over they came to land at Gennesaret, and moored at the shore. And when they got out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him, and ran about that entire country and began carrying here and there on their pallets those who were sick, to wherever they heard He was. Mark 6:51-55 NASB
When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are truly God’s Son!”
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized Him, they sent word into all that surrounding region and brought to Him all who were sick; and they pleaded with Him that they might just touch the border of His cloak; and all who touched it were cured. Matthew 14:32-36 NASB
Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and instantly the boat reached the land they were heading for.
The next day, the crowd which had stayed on the other side of the lake noticed that there had been only one boat there, and that Yeshua had not entered the boat with his talmidim, but that the talmidim had been alone when they sailed off.
Then other boats, from Tiberias, came ashore near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had made the b’rakhah (given thanks). Accordingly, when the crowd saw that neither Yeshua nor his talmidim were there, they themselves boarded the boats and made for K’far-Nachum (Capernaum) in search of Yeshua. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” John 6:21-25 CJB
While both Matthew and Mark record the talmidim in the boat as being overwhelmingly amazed from seeing Yeshua walk on water and then the wind stopping the moment He climbed into their boat, Mark’s perception was that their hearts were still hardened and unable to perceive the fullness of who Yeshua was, while Matthew’s was of them worshipping Him as God’s Son. As Yeshua spoke of them having oligopistos – inconsistent faith – it is possible that both were true and they were still oscillating between faith and unbelief, even as we can find ourselves doing.
Capernaum was known as Yeshua’s ministry base, so it is not surprising that is where the crowds headed in search of Him. It was just a 3 mile (under 5km) walk from there to the wide open plains of Gennesaret where Yeshua was already healing the multitudes who were being brought to him from all the surrounding region. The crowds were now so big that wide open plains were needed to accommodate them all. Still they had no time to rest.
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2. Zakian, Christopher H. WALKING ON WATER: A RESCUE ON THE SEA OF DESPAIR. Armenian Church. [Online] February 26th, 2019. https://armenianchurch.us/2019/02/26/walking-on-water-a-rescue-on-the-sea-of-despair/.
3. Miller, Stephen M. Casual English Bible Maps For Mark. Casual English Bible. [Online] https://www.casualenglishbible.com/casual-english-bible-maps-for-mark/.
4. Zyl, Jacob M. Van. Where did Jesus feed the 5000? Near Bethsaida Galilee / Near Bethsaida Julias? Messiah Study. [Online] https://www.messiah-study.net/Feeding5000.htm.
5. Phillips, J B. An Outline of the Story of Jesus Using Maps. J B Phillips New Testament. [Online] https://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CP051GOSPELMAPS.htm.
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7. Rogers, Kevin. Is the feeding of the 5000 historical? Reasonable Faith. [Online] March 25, 2018. https://reasonablefaithadelaide.org.au/the-feeding-of-the-5000/.
8. Rushlive, Omar. Where did the feeding of the five thousand happen? RZIM Connect. [Online] April 19, 2019. https://connect.rzim.org/t/where-did-the-feeding-of-the-five-thousand-happen/15837.
9. Licona, Michael R. WAS MARK CONFUSED PERTAINING TO THE LOCATION OF THE FEEDING OF THE 5,000? Risen Jesus. [Online] August 22, 2016. https://www.risenjesus.com/mark-confused-pertaining-location-feeding-5000.
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11. Pratt, Bill. COMMENTARY ON MARK 6 (JESUS FEEDS 5,000 AND WALKS ON WATER). Tough Questions answered. [Online] November 28th, 2016. https://www.toughquestionsanswered.org/2016/11/28/commentary-on-mark-6-jesus-feeds-5000-and-walks-on-water/.
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In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
*Sending the 12 out to minister in pairs seemed to just increase the work load instead of reducing it – so many more people were now coming to Jesus. How do you deal with it when the demands of ministry become too much?
* Jesus took them away to rest, but the crowds followed – thousands of them! How do you deal with it when your attempts to rest are interrupted by the needs of others?
* It is easy to burn out in ministry with the constant pressure of people’s needs. How did Jesus deal with this, what did He do to get refreshed and able to keep giving to others?
* What are the evidences in this passage that Jesus is the Son of God and the “prophet like Moses” that the Jewish people were waiting for?
* What storms in your life have caused you to start to sink, and how did Jesus lift you out of that?