The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand points back to the miracles of the prophets, and it points forward to the miraculous banquet of the Messianic Era. The story harkens back to the famous miracles of Elijah and Elisha.
The prophet Elijah once sustained a widow and her son with “a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar” for several years (1 Kings 17:8-16). The prophet Elisha instructed a widow to pour off the remnants of oil from a single jar into every available container. On another occasion, Elisha fed one hundred men with only twenty wafers of barley, saying, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left over’” (2 Kings 4:43). They ate and had some left over.
Our Master Yeshua took the loaves and fish. He told the twelve, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each” (Luke 9:14). “The Gospel of Mark reports that the people “sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties” on “the green grass” (Mark 6:39-40). “There was much grass in the place” (John 6:10). The green grass confirms that the story occurred in the spring when the slopes of the hills around Lake Galilee are still green. The scene invokes the Psalm of the Good Shepherd: “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:1-2).
The Master had the people recline as they might do at a formal banquet or Passover Seder meal: “He commanded them all to recline (anaklino, ἀνακλίνω).” The reclining posture suggests the messianic banquet when the righteous will “recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). For those with eyes to see, the miraculous feeding of the multitude was a foretaste of the messianic banquet. Not unlike the miracle of transforming the water to wine, Yeshua offered a preview of the kingdom and God’s miraculous provision.
The Master instructed them to sit in denominations of hundreds and fifties, organizing them into table fellowships so that the disciples could quickly estimate a head count. “The men sat down, in number about five thousand” (John 6:10).
The Master broke the bread and the fish into pieces. His disciples distributed it to those seated. He kept breaking the bread and fish “and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people” (Luke 9:16). Everyone had enough, “as much as they wanted” (John 6:11). “They all ate and were satisfied” (Luke 9:17).