1 ¶ After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. 2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. 4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. 5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? 6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him, 9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? 10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.
Verse 1 says the Sea of Galilee as also called the Sea of Tiberias. Tiberias was built on the western shore of Lake Galilee by Herod Antipas as his capital and named in honor of Emperor Tiberius who reigned from AD14-37 (Luke 3:1- Tiberias is the Greek name for the Latin name Tiberius, a versus u). Eventually, the Sea of Galilee was also known by that name. After the fall and destruction of Jerusalem it became a center of learning. The Jerusalem Talmud came from there and it became the center from which the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible was edited. (9)
We are told here that people followed him, a great multitude, because they saw miracles, physical miracles where people who were sick were healed. Sickness that isn’t hidden in hospitals and clinics but goes untreated because doctors are financially inaccessible and the level of medicine is nothing near what it was in a metropolis like Rome would have been evident all around. It would have been evident in despair, lesions, bloody sores, broken limbs, blindness, scabs, and other crippling physical conditions, particularly among the poor. Those people born with mental deficiencies and challenges would have had to compete with those thought to be “normal” for their daily bread and just plain survival. This is a big deal and not to be dismissed lightly. The suffering of the poor in the poorest countries on earth is unbelievably awful, even today. When Christ healed a sick person there was certainly rejoicing, not the cavalier attitude that many people seem to have when they are spiritually healed at the moment of salvation.
Jesus often sat to teach. This was a sign of authority even in the early church. Kings sit on a seat or throne to dispense judgment (Acts 25:17). A cathedra in Latin is a chair or in Greek a seat. For the Pope to speak ex cathedra those words have the full authority of his position in the Roman Catholic Church. Roman governors sat to dispense Roman justice (John 19:13). The Apostles had their own seats when they came to visit the house churches of the New Testament.
The early church leader, Tertullian, said;
Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones (or chairs, seats) of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings (original letters) are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally. (10)
Jesus taught both sitting and standing as is evidenced by the so-called Sermon on the Mount starting in Matthew 5 and the similar sermon He gave standing in a plain beginning in Luke 6:17.
Passover was near and Jesus, knowing what He was about to do, asked a question of Philip, setting up what was about to happen. There are five thousand men. Often a count is made not counting women and children. This device of counting only men can, perhaps, be traced to the census one would take to see how many able-bodied men were available to fight in war, as you can read in the Old Testament.
Matthew 14:21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children.
But, there were only five loaves of bread and two fishes, which a young boy had brought with him, available. So, it is clear that the crowd had not brought their own lunch like some unbelieving people would insist.
It is a very important point in verse 11 that God uses His men and women to do work on the earth and any Bible version that leaves out, “he distributed to the disciples,” is probably one of those that can safely be thrown in the trash as counterfeit. The verse is corrupted in the critical text of Westcott and Hort based on two of the most in-error manuscripts known to Bible scholars, Codexes Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, and the Bibles that flow from that sewer.
God performs miracles all the time in this world by using people that are obedient to Him. On a general human level he has unknowing people do His will. Do you think the doctor cured you? Guess again. Do you think the mechanic replaced your exhaust for free of his own accord? Wrong. And as far as Christians are concerned people are fed, clothed, sheltered, and given the gospel of salvation all over the world, not by an angel of the Lord glowing brightly in God’s glory and seen by all but by simple, believing, and obedient Christians who seek to do His will.
When you help at a rescue mission God is working through you in a much greater sense than the doctor and the mechanic mentioned previously because you are giving the gospel of salvation to those you are feeding. Jesus gives you the word to distribute to feed their souls as you feed their bodies.
On another level, this passage points out that God can take a little and do much with it. He can take what appears to be an insignificant, even ridiculously small amount of resources and make serve as if they were a great abundance. When was the last time one of us thought we couldn’t do anything useful because we didn’t have enough money, couldn’t speak well enough, write well enough, were successful enough, or had a high level of education. Didn’t Moses try to use his lack of speaking ability as an excuse while Paul admitted he was a terrible speaker but so what?
God can take whatever little we have and make it do the work of much, if we are obedient to Him.
For the skeptic and the atheist, altruism and kindness don’t have an evolutionary benefit. Evolution requires that you seek your own and let others be damned. What is important, according to evolutionary theory, is that you succeed and others fail. But, here, the story is not about competition for limited resources. Noticing there are only five loaves and two fishes everyone doesn’t start killing each other over who will get to eat it. No, the story is about compassion and God’s power over natural events. As the Book of Job teaches, God manually runs natural events and performing a miracle from our point of view is a simple matter for Him.
It is said here that Jesus is that prophet spoken of by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. He has now been called and called Himself the Messiah, the Christ, and the expected Prophet of God.
Twelve baskets of bread, perhaps signifying the twelve tribes of Israel, are left over. Maybe this also signifies the distribution of God’s word around the world from a small start. But, I believe there is a plain question that can help us each day.
As I heard a gifted preacher once ask, what will you do with your 5 and 2?
(9) Unger, Archaeology and the New Testament, 130.
(10) Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 36, Peter Holmes, transl. Early Christian Writings, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian11.html. (accessed 5.22.2015).