The miracle of Jesus feeding more than 5,000 people is distinctive in that it is the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels: Matthew 14:14-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-14. (This is similar but not identical to the feeding of four thousand recorded in Matthew 15:32-39 and Mark 8:1-9.)
In the Matthew account, the scene begins to develop. “…He departed from there by boat to a deserted place by Himself. But when the multitudes heard it, they followed Him on foot from the cities. And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.”
Luke 9:10 identifies the location to be near the city of Bethsaida, in the northeast area of the Sea of Galilee. Mark 6:34 adds that He also was teaching them many things. At the end of the day, about sunset, the disciples suggested to Jesus that He send all the people away to get food. “But Jesus said to them, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
Details from John 6:5-9 fit in here. “He said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’ But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.’ One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?’” In Matthew 14:18, Jesus said, “Bring them here to Me.”
Jesus then gave His disciples world-class usher training, and had them organize all of the people in groups of 50 or 100, seating them on the grass. (Mark 6:40) Imagine thousands of people in dozens of groups sitting in sections, all waiting for food, and all that’s on the menu are two fish and five loaves of bread.
Jesus “took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled…” (Matthew 14:19-20) “So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.’ Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.” (John 6:12, 13) Mark 6:43 adds “And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.” Twelve baskets of leftovers!
Matthew 14:20 clearly implies that many more than 5,000 people ate that day, and were filled. “Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.” Everyone was satisfied and no one was overlooked. And there was food to spare! One of Elijah’s miracles was the multiplication of the flour and oil for the widow in Zarephath, but never before had food multiplied in such abundance as the feeding of the five thousand men, “besides women and children.”
Only in John 6:14 is a reaction to this miracle. “Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” They were referring to Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18: “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.”
This sixth chapter of John reveals a major turning point in Jesus’ ministry. It starts with the miracle of feeding thousands of people physical bread, and concludes with Jesus teaching about the spiritual bread, “the true bread from heaven.” In verse 35, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”