7Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, 8others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life. 9But Herod said, "I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear such things about?" And he tried to see him.
10When 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, 11but 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.
12Late 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."
13He 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." 14(About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, "Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each." 15The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. 16Taking 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 set before the people. 17They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (NIV)
1. Preaching the gospel is proclaiming the coming rule of God (compare v.2 to v. 6).
The things that are of "first importance" regarding the Gospel are Jesus' atoning death on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead (1 Co.15:3-8). However, at this point in Christ's ministry, Jesus' disciples would not have yet understood these truths; it is not until verse 22 that the Lord reveals to them that the " Son of Man must suffer... be killed and... be raised to life". So in what sense could we possibly say the disciples were preaching the gospel when they went from village to village?
Answer: they were proclaiming the coming of God's kingdom, which means the arrival of God's complete and ultimate rule, where He will vanquish evil once and for all, and live among His people forever (1 Co 15: 23-28; 51-58; 2 Th 1:3-10; 2 Pe 3:10-13; Rev 20:7-21:4). What the disciples were calling the people to do, therefore, was the same thing John the Baptist had commanded - repent (see, again, Luke 3:4-18).
So, how are the facts of Christ's death and resurrection central to this grand message of the coming kingdom?
a) Christ's work on the cross "inaugurates" the kingdom of God by:
- being the means through which God judges the sin of believing sinners (Rom 3:21-26), so that they may be reconciled to him (1 Pe 3:18), declared righteous (2 Co 5:21), and set apart as His people (Tit 2:11-14)
b) Christ's resurrection is also central to God's kingdom because:
- it shows that Christ is indeed God the Son, second Person of the Trinity (Rom 1:1-4)
- it shows that He has conquered death (Acts 2:23-24; 1 Co 15: 20-27)
- it confirms that He will give new life, and new bodies, to all who have trusted in Him (Jn 11:25-26; 1 Co 15:35-58; Phil 3:20-21)
2. The proclamation of the Gospel should be accompanied wherever possible by compassionate ministry to people's needs (vv. 1-2, 11-13).
A "word and deed" ministry is what Jesus intended for his twelve, as he gave them not only the command to preach the gospel, but also the ability to heal the sick (vv. 1,2,6).
Jesus follows the pattern himself once the crowds arrive at Bethsaida (v. 11-13).
"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (1 Jn 3:18) - by this statement, John is not inferring that words are unnecessary (otherwise, passages like Prov 15:23 and Eph 4:29 would be meaningless).
Discussion Question #1: In what ways is the activity of meeting people's needs complementary to the activity of evangelism?
3. In ministering to others, God's people can expect to receive opposition from some (v. 5).
Jesus assumed that the disciples would: "if people do not welcome you..." (v. 5) Later in their lives, all of the disciples - except for the Apostle John - would die a martyr's death for their faith.Recall, also, Paul's words from 2 Cor 2:14-16: "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life".
Note, however, that we are not obligated to expend our energy on the unresponsive: "shake the dust off your feet" (v.5); Jesus also says elsewhere: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs" (Mt 7:6).
4. False ideas about Christ do not bring clarity to the curious; only confusion (vv. 7-9).
Discussion Question 2: What evidence of "fascination with Jesus" do we see in our society today? Why is it not enough in God's sight?
5. The Lord takes pleasure in multiplying resources for those who feel they are ill-equipped for ministry (vv. 13-17).
Jesus was unfazed by the fact that the disciples had only five loaves of bread and two fish; he took what they had, and turned it into something spectacular.
Discussion Question 3: How does the account of the feeding of the 5000 encourage you? Convict you?
Other things to note, in closing:
1) "gave them power...to drive out all demons and cure diseases" (v. 1)
Question: Are Christ's workers given such powers today?
- Some would say "yes" (typically called "continuationists")
- Some would say "no" (typically called "cessationists")
2) "take nothing for the journey" (v. 3) - Jesus may have been communicating to the disciples that they need to keep their ministry travels simple and focused, or that they need to be reminded of their dependence on God and what He provides (which includes what others provide).