“And He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits…So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them…
The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all they had done and taught. And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things.
And when it grew late, His disciples came to Him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.’ But He answered 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 it to them to eat?’ And He said to them, ‘How many loaves do you have? Go and see.’ And when they had found out, they said, ‘Five, and two fish.’
Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And He divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.
Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. And after He had taken leave of them, He went up on the mountain to pray…And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.”
I can understand why the disciples were so confused about the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus had just told the disciples to come away to a desolate place and rest because things had been so crazy that they hadn’t even had time to eat. They had been ministering, healing, and spreading the news to repent, and they needed rest from their work.
But then when a crowd gathered, Jesus had compassion on them and taught them. The disciples must have been growing impatient, wanting to get away from all the people to find rest. Jesus had shown them that rest was important. When it got late, the disciples were still focused on getting time to rest. They thought now that Jesus had taught these people, they should be sent away to buy something for themselves to eat.
But Jesus wanted to provide for them with a miracle and teach them an important lesson. He is the one who will satisfy us–spiritually AND physically. Verse 42 says, “And they all ate and were satisfied.” Jesus taught a lesson with His every word and action. Feeding the large crowd here recalls the miraculous provision of manna in the wilderness (this large crowd was in a desolate place too). The Israelites had to rely on God to provide their food each day; in the same way, we need to rely on God to provide for our every need. Through this miracle, Jesus wanted the people to understand that He was their Provider.
But having time alone to rest and pray was still important. After teaching this lesson, He “immediately” made his disciples get into the boat. Then He went up on the mountain to pray. Through example, Jesus shows us the importance of rest and prayer in our work and ministry.