Five Loaves, Two Fish, One Messiah: Lessons on God’s Plan from the Feeding of the Five Thousand

"The Feeding of the Five Thousand" Victoria & Albert Museum

“The Feeding of the Five Thousand”
Victoria & Albert Museum

One of the most familiar Bible stories is that of Yeshua (Jesus)[1] feeding the five thousand.  This amazing and encouraging story is the only one of Messiah’s miracles recorded in all four gospels.  Since all four gospel writers deemed this event significant, there must be some deeper meaning to it than is apparent in a casual reading.  Yeshua demonstrated His compassion and ability to meet human needs, but He also taught His disciples a valuable lesson in faith and in doing the will of God.  By satisfying the hunger of 5,000 men and the women and children with them, Yeshua brought the Kingdom of God into their midst in ways none of them had experienced before, and He did so in a demonstration of Holy Spirit power.  What more could there be to the feeding of the five thousand than this?  Much indeed.  In this one miracle, Yeshua provided a sign of His Messiahship, a teaching on the seven thousand year plan of God, and a prophecy about the end of this age.

Lunch in the Wilderness
This miraculous feeding of a large crowd happens soon after Yeshua hears the reports from the disciples who had returned from their first missionary expedition.  He takes them aside to an isolated location where they can rest, but it is not long before the multitude finds them.  What happens next is recorded in Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, and John 6:1-14.  All four accounts are essentially the same, but Mark’s version adds a few important details:

Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.  And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.  So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.  But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities.  They arrived before them and came together to Him.  And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  So He began to teach them many things.  When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late.  Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”  But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”  And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?”  But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”  And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.”  Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.  So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties.  And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fishHe looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.  So they all ate and were filled.  And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.  Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.  (Mark 6:30-44 NKJV, emphasis added)

Two things of note in Mark’s version of the story are his attention to numbers and his care in telling us what happened separately to the loaves and to the fish.  These are important details that a casual reader would miss.  Mark specifies that the cost of feeding the crowd would be more than two hundred denarii, and then tells us twice that there are five loaves and three times that there are two fish.  He also notes that Yeshua gave the bread to the disciples to distribute, but that Yeshua Himself distributed the fish.  Finally, Mark explains that those who ate of the loaves (not the fish) were about five thousand men, and that the disciples took up twelve baskets of fragments of the bread in addition to the remains of the fish.

What does all this mean?  The answer comes by looking at the passage with Hebraic eyes to discern the lessons that our Hebrew Messiah was teaching His Hebrew followers.[2]

BFB140303 Aleph BetNumbers As Signs

Hebrew, like many other ancient languages, assigns meanings and numerical values to letters.  Those meanings and values impart a more complete picture of God’s intent in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures.  In this story of feeding the five thousand, the first number we encounter is two hundred, when the disciples tell Yeshua that not even two hundred denarii worth of bread would be enough to feed the people.  The numbers in question are two and its multiple, two hundred.  Two is the value assigned to Bet (ב), the second letter of the Hebrew aleph bet (alphabet).  Two means division or difference, and on the highest level refers to the balance or interaction between God and man.[3]  The meaning of Bet is “house”.  When a man builds a house, he first takes a wife so he can have children by her.  God showed us this by example.  We know that the Son of God, Messiah Yeshua, has a Bride, and that through Him come sons of God, saved by grace through faith in Yeshua (Isaiah 62:5; John 3:29; Revelation 21:9; Hosea 1:10; Romans 8:14-19; Galatians 3:26, 4:1-6; Ephesians 2:8-9).  There is an ancient Hebrew teaching explaining how this is expressed in the very first letter of the Bible, an enlarged Bet in the word beresheet (בְּרֵאשִׁית), translated “In the beginning”.[4]

The number two hundred equates to the letter Resh (ר), which means “person, highest”.[5]  In scripture this number often indicates insufficiency, and in this instance it means that the best the disciples could offer would be insufficient to feed the crowd.[6]  Thus from the start we understand that Yeshua will be teaching something about the interaction of God with humans, specifically how God will bridge the gap where the insufficiency of human means falls short of the need.

Seven Thousand Years = Seven Days

The next numbers we encounter are five (loaves of bread) and two (fish), which together make seven.  Both food items are associated with Yeshua.  He identified Himself as the Bread of Life (John 5:22-58; Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; I Corinthians 11:24), so the connection with the bread provided to the hungry multitude is easy to see.  The connection with the fish is something we shall cover shortly.  For now it is important to note that the seven items given to feed the people show something about the seven thousand year plan of God.

Seven is the number of perfection and of completion, but its true significance is in showing us the plan of God to redeem and restore His creation.[7]  This is apparent in the first chapter of the Bible, where God creates the world in six days and rests on the seventh.  Each day equates to a period of one thousand years, culminating in the seventh, the “Day of the Lord”, which is the Messianic Age of rest for the entire earth.  The Apostle Peter explains to us that, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (II Peter 3:8 NKJV).  Peter was referring to Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, which says:

For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night.  (Psalm 90:4 NKJV)

Five of these thousand year “Days” are periods when God works exclusively through humans to achieve His intent, but on the other two “Days” God personally intervenes in human affairs, first to redeem and then to restore His creation.  Those are the two comings of Messiah.[8]  Yeshua came the first time at the end of the fourth millennium after creation to take all the sin of the world on Himself and die as the perfect sacrifice.  As God’s Passover Lamb, Yeshua accomplished the work of redemption from the curse of the law of sin and death (Genesis 22:8; John 1:29; Romans 6:1-14).  Then He returned to His Father in heaven.  There He waits until the dawn of the Seventh Day, when He will return as King of Kings to judge and rule the nations and repair the ravages of six millennia of sin (Isaiah 1:24-26, 44:21-28, 49:1-13; Jeremiah 16:14-21; Ezekiel 20:33-38, 29:21-29; Micah 2:12-13; Zechariah 9:11-17; Revelation 19:11-16).[9]

As a sign of this great plan, Yeshua had his disciples distribute the fives loaves, but He Himself distributed the two fish.  The meaning is this:  in five of the seven Days, God’s servants deliver the Bread of Life that He has provided through His Word, meaning specifically the written Word recorded by Moses, the Prophets, and the Apostles (Psalm 68:11), but in the Fourth and Seventh Days, Messiah Himself will deliver nourishment since He is the Living Word of God (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2; John 1:1-16).

BFB140305 Fish SymbolJots, Tittles, and Fish

But what is the connection of fish with Yeshua?  To understand that, we must delve into jots and tittles.  Yeshua brings these things to our attention:

Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV, emphasis added)

A common Christian teaching is that “jot” refers to the letter Yod (י), the smallest Hebrew letter, or to Iota (ι), the smallest Greek letter, and that a “tittle” is the smallest stroke of a letter.  That is not correct.  Jots and tittles are special Hebrew scribal marks intentionally inserted in the text to convey a specific meaning.  They are considered part of the scripture, a fact that Yeshua confirms by His statement in Matthew 5.  Sadly, Christian translators have ignored these marks for the last two thousand years largely because they have no understanding of what they mean and no way to translate them.[10]

Jots are simply dots placed over a particular word, such as the six dots appearing over the word “kissed” in Genesis 33:4.  Those dots are said to represent the teeth of Esau, who, although he seemed to be reconciled with his brother Jacob, really wanted to bite into Jacob’s neck and kill him.  That is a prophetic picture of the strife between the descendants of Jacob and Esau down to the present day with the conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.

Tittles are special markings in the text, such as letters made larger or smaller than normal, bolded letters, gaps in the text, and letters drawn in strange ways.  One example already mentioned is the enlarged Bet in the first word of the Bible, word beresheet (בְּרֵאשִׁית), which conveys the meaning that God intends to build a house on the earth by taking a wife and having children among mankind.

The tittle that has specific meaning to the story of the five loaves and two fish is the Inverted Nun.  Nun (pronounced noon), the Hebrew letter that corresponds with the English N, normally is written like this:  נ.  The picture Nun presents is a fish getting ready to dart away.  Fish tend to surprise us by their presence.  Often we do not see them in the water until they jump and splash, or swim away very quickly.  This surprise reminds us that there is life out in the water, and for that reason the Nun means not only “fish”, but the quickening of life.

If a normal Nun means life, then an inverted, or backward, Nun must mean something more profound, perhaps even life from the dead.  That is one way of interpreting the nine verses in scripture set apart by Inverted Nuns.  The special characters work the same way as brackets or parentheses (the Inverted Nun was the origin of brackets).  The first two of these distinguished verses are Numbers 10:35-36:

So it was, whenever the ark set out, that Moses said:  “Rise up, O Lord!  Let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.”  And when it rested, he said:  “Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel.”  (Numbers 10:35-36 NKJV)

In Hebrew Torah scrolls the text, with emphasis on the Inverted Nuns, appears like this:

BFB140305 Inverted Nuns

Jewish teaching is that these two verses, set apart by these tittles, transform the five books of Moses into the Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1).  In other words, the wisdom in Numbers 10:35-36 equals the wisdom in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the rest of the book of Numbers.  They stand apart, splitting Numbers into three distinct sections which, when added to the other four books of Moses, create the Seven Pillars of Wisdom.[11]

What is this great wisdom?  When considered from a Messianic perspective, with Yeshua in the center, it is the work of God in redeeming and restoring His creation.  Moses gives us a prophecy of Messiah’s resurrection by saying, “Rise up, O Lord!  Let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.”  That is exactly what happened when Yeshua rose from the grave, as Paul explains in his letter to the Colossians:

Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.  (Colossians 2:15 NKJV)

In the next verse, Moses tells us what will happen at the end of this age:  “Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel.”  This means that Messiah will come back to bring resurrection to His people, the redeemed of Israel.  The testimony of the prophets and the apostles explains that these redeemed and resurrected ones of Israel are those who, by faith, call on the name of the Lord for Salvation (Yeshua means Salvation) and are grafted in to the congregation/assembly/commonwealth/nation/”church”[12] of Israel (see Ephesians 2 and Romans 9-11).  Paul provides a summary of this great mystery in I Corinthians 15, particularly in these verses:

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.  Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.  (I Corinthians 15:20-24 NKVJ)

This interpretation of the Inverted Nuns of Numbers 10:35-36 coincides with the seven other Inverted Nuns, which appear in Psalm 107:23-28 & 40:

Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.  For He commands and raises the stormy wind, which lifts up the waves of the sea.  They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths; their soul melts because of trouble.  They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits’ end.  Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brings them out of their distresses. . . He pours contempt on princes, and causes them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way; (Psalm 107:23-28, 40 NKJV)

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" Jan Brueghel the Elder

“Jonah Leaving the Whale”
Jan Brueghel the Elder

This Psalm brings to mind Jonah, the famous prophet who went down to the sea in a ship.  It tells the story of Jonah as he tried to run away from the Lord by sailing to the far country of Tarshish, only to be caught in a massive storm that subsided when the ship’s sailors through Jonah into the sea.  The scripture says that Jonah was swallowed by a great fish, and three days later was vomited up onto the land.  While in this watery grave, Jonah himself composed a psalm:

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.  And he said:  “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me.  Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.  For You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all Your billows and Your waves passed over me.  Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of Your sight; yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’  The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; the deep closed around me; weeds were wrapped around my head.  I went down to the moorings of the mountains; the earth with its bars closed behind me forever; yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God.  When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer went up to You, into Your holy temple.  Those who regard worthless idols forsake their own Mercy.  But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed.  Salvation is of the Lord.”  So the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.  (Jonah 2:1-10 NKJV)

Jonah’s prayer is prophetic, telling us what will happen to Messiah when He is sacrificed to take away our sin and suffers in the depths of hell (Sheol) until His resurrection.  This is the “sign of Jonah”, which Yeshua said would be the sign given to prove that He is Messiah (Matthew 12:39-42, 16:4; Luke 11:29-32).  Through Jonah we have a powerful connection of Messiah Yeshua and His work of atoning death and resurrection to the Inverted Nun, and to the letter Nun itself.  This is the Hebraic origin of the fish symbol common in Christianity to this day.

Putting It All Together

With all of these elements in place, we now have a more complete picture of what Yeshua taught by providing a miraculous lunch to his audience:

  • The disciples estimated 200 denarii would not be enough to feed the multitude.  This tells us that the lesson is about God’s interaction with mankind, and that His provision more than satisfies the need when man’s best efforts prove insufficient.
  • The seven elements of food (five loaves and two fish) remind us of the seven “Days” (7,000 years) of God’s plan to redeem and restore His creation.
  • The five loaves are the Bread of Life, broken for our sakes and distributed by the servants of God.  For five of the seven Days of God’s plan, humans are responsible for distributing this Bread, which is the Word of God (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).
  • The two fish call our attention to the work of Messiah on the Fourth and Seventh Days of God’s plan.  Fish, pictured in the Hebrew letter Nun (נ), remind us of life.  The Inverted Nuns of the Numbers 10:35-36 and Psalm 107:23-28, 40 speak to the quickening of life and resurrection from the dead promised by God.  This is the work of Messiah.  On the Fourth Day He died for the sins of the world, rising from the grave three days later, completing the sign of Jonah and scattering His enemies.  On the Seventh Day, Messiah will return to impart resurrection to all Israel and establish his Kingdom forever.  Only God (Messiah) can do this, and that is why only Yeshua distributed the fish to the multitude.
  • The disciples gathered twelve baskets of fragments from the bread.  When the Twelve Tribes of Israel are restored, they will bring with them an uncountable multitude into the Kingdom (see Revelation 7, especially verses 9-10).

There is even more to the feeding of the five thousand, and to Yeshua’s many other miracles and parables, which we have yet to understand.  For example, Mark records that, “those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men” (Mark 6:44).  Does that mean that even though the whole multitude ate of the bread, not all of them ate of the fish?  If they did not eat the fish, what does that signify?  Do they start on the journey of life in Messiah, but not finish?  Do they have a lesser status in the Kingdom than those who ate the fish from Messiah’s hand?  Should we be encouraged or disturbed by this detail?

It will take more prayer and study to answer these questions and the many more questions they will generate.  That is the Hebrew way of learning, a joyful and fulfilling method that God’s people have often missed.  The Christian approach to scripture reflects the Greek and Latin methods of the Church Fathers, which do not take enough account of the Hebraic methods of Moses, the prophets, the apostles, and Messiah Himself.  We miss much knowledge, understanding, and wisdom by ignoring the Hebrew roots of God’s Word because they are too “Jewish”.  Yet Jews also miss the full picture, for even though to them are given the oracles of God and much more (Romans 3:1-2, 9:1-5), rabbinical Judaism rejects Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah and therefore does not understand how He fulfilled the work of redemption and will soon fulfill the work of restoration.  Thus “blindness in part has happened to Israel” (Romans 11:25), both the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of Israel.  God promises to address these blind spots so that “all Israel will be saved”.  Let us pray for this day and see if perhaps we may hasten its coming.


[1] The name Jesus is the English rendition of Messiah’s Hebrew name, Yeshua, which means “Salvation”.  His title, Messiah (Anointed One), is translated into English as “Christ”.  My preference is to refer to our Savior as Messiah Yeshua, but I will be quoting from the New King James Version of the Bible, which refers to Him as Jesus Christ.

[2] The Apostolic Writings (New Testament) are in Greek, but the events they record, particularly in the Gospels, occurred in a Hebrew or Aramaic setting.  Yeshua as a first century Jew lived in a Hebraic culture and most certainly taught His disciples in Hebrew and in Aramaic.  It is not only logical, but essential, to approach His teachings and those of the Apostles from a Hebraic perspective.

[3] E. W. Bullinger, Number in Scripture:  Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance, 4th Ed., Rev.  London, Eyre & Spottiswoode (Bible Warehouse) Ltd., 1921, p. 83.

Monte W. Judah, “Heritage of Abraham:  Foundations of the Faith Presentation Materials”, Lesson 4, Lion and Lamb Ministries, Norman, OK, 2009.

[4] Monte W. Judah, “The Jots and Tittles of Moses”, in YAVOH, He Is Coming, Lion and Lamb Ministries, Norman, OK, July 2004, http://lionlamb.net/v3/YAVOH-HeisComing/2004/07.

[5] Judah, “Heritage of Abraham”.

[6] Bullinger, p. 262.

[7] Ibid, p. 140; Judah, “Heritage of Abraham”.

[8] The following chart is reproduced, with some modification, from Monte Judah, “Heritage of Abraham”.

Creation

Day

Created

1000 Year Period

1

Light, Darkness Adam created.  Told if he sinned he would die in that day (he lived 930 years).

2

Waters, Heavens Noah and the flood

3

Plants with seeds Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.  Abraham told in his seed all the families of the world would be blessed (Planting of the Lord)

4

Lights in the Heavens Kings, Prophets, those who show the things of God, regarded as lights in the heavens (Daniel 12:3).

5

Living Creatures Messiah’s first coming (at the end of the Fourth Day, beginning of the Fifth Day) to make us new living creatures.

6

Man Man to fill the earth and subdue it.

7

Sabbath The Last (Seventh) Day.  Messiah returns to judge the nations and rule from Jerusalem.

[9] Detailed teachings on Messiah’s two comings on the Fourth and Seventh Days are available through 119 Ministries at http://119ministries.com/brit-hadasha-series-part-2-4th-and-7th-day-part-1 and http://119ministries.com/brit-hadasha-series-part-2-4th-and-7th-day-part-2.

[10] Judah, “Jots and Tittles”.  “Small and Large Letters”, The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol 11, pp. 411-412.

[11] Judah, “Jots and Tittles”.  The Jewish Encyclopedia, “Inverted Letters”, vol. 8, p. 368, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&keywords=v8+p368&commit=search.  For a recent Jewish teaching on the Inverted Nuns, see Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, Chabad of Brooklyn Heights, “The Upside Down Letter Nun”, http://www.chabad.org/multimedia/media_cdo/aid/1874450/jewish/The-Upside-Down-Letter-Nun.htm.

[12] “Church”, is a rendition of the Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία; Strongs #G1577), the congregation or assembly of God.  Ekklesia corresponds to the Hebrew qahal (קָהַל; Strongs #H6950), a term used throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament) to refer to the congregation or assembly of Israel.  God’s purpose since the days of Abraham has been to establish a way for all the nations of the earth to be brought into fellowship with Himself through the nation of Israel.  From the beginning, the purpose of the nation of Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), the vehicle of salvation for all nations.


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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About The Barking Fox

I am . . . - A lifelong disciple of Jesus (Yeshua) of Nazareth. - An avid student of the Bible. - A devoted husband and father. - A 29-year veteran of the United States Army. - A historian who connects people with their own stories.

4 responses to “Five Loaves, Two Fish, One Messiah: Lessons on God’s Plan from the Feeding of the Five Thousand”

  1. EsseRealis says :

    Great teaching Al, I love the depth and the meaning that is uncovered from understanding the context!

    Like

    • The Barking Fox says :

      Thanks, Brandon. You’ve been putting up some good things yourself over at EsseRealis! I appreciate those hard questions you’ve posed over the last few days. They are the kind of questions Abba’s people need to keep on asking until we are walking in accordance with the answers He reveals through His Word.

      Like

  2. Pete Rambo says :

    Enjoyed this post!!

    I can not hear or read about Jonah without thinking of these two GREAT videos!

    (I love all of Stu Lowndes’ stuff!!) https://www.youtube.com/user/slowndes79

    Enjoy!

    Like

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