Five Thousand Pilgrims

Yeshua fed five thousand with a few loaves and a few fish. From where did those five thousand people come? The Gospel of John hints that they were Passover pilgrims.

A fresco in the Greek Orthodox church of the twelve apostles in Capernaum, Israel. (Image © Bigstock/kobby_dagan)

“Yeshua went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples” to teach (John 6:3). The crowds continued to grow at an astonishing rate. Several hundred quickly became more than a thousand. The disciples lost count as the sea of people grew. They surrounded the teacher. The road along the shore seemed like a river of people. As word spread, more and more people continued to come.

From where did all these people come? The Gospel of John reports that “the Passover, the feast of the [Judeans], was near” (John 6:4). The Torah says, “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me ... Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord GOD” (Exodus 23:14, 17). The devout men of Galilee went up to Judea every spring to keep the feast of Passover (Pesach) in Jerusalem. They returned to Judea fifty days later for the festival of Pentecost (Shavu’ot). They went up once more in the fall for the festival of Booths (Sukkot). Since each pilgrimage festival required the Galileans to make a journey to Judea, the Gospel of John refers to them as “The Passover of the Judeans,” “a feast of the Judeans,” and “the Judean Feast of Booths.”

Why does the Gospel of John mention this detail? The unusually large crowd of five thousand people may have been the result of pilgrims from Galilee on the road to Jerusalem to keep the festival. Before the festivals, caravans of pilgrims gathered in the villages and cities of Galilee in preparation for the journey up to Jerusalem. Overnight the gathering pilgrims transformed a small village into a city of tents.

Recently, Yeshua’s disciples had travelled to all the local villages, ministering and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, performing miracles in the name of Yeshua. His fame had spread widely. While near the north shore of the lake, the pilgrims naturally wanted to see the famous prophet themselves. Before the end of the day, the crowd numbered in the thousands—a small army. When Yeshua saw that a large crowd was coming to Him, He said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” (John 6:5).

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