After the multitude had eaten, Rabbi Yeshua told His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost” (John 6:12). Mark reports that the disciples also found leftover fish. Why did He tell them to gather the leftover fragments?
Jewish law regards wasting food as a sin, but there is a deeper meaning here. The fragments that remained symbolize the Master’s teaching. He charged His disciples with the responsibility of gathering, preserving, and transmitting His teachings. The gospel narratives which compose the chronicles of the Messiah are the fragments that remain from His teaching ministry. Likewise, the agrapha (non-canonical sayings of the Master) preserved in the writings of the early church represent fragments of the Master’s teaching. As we study the words and deeds of the Messiah, we fulfill the Master’s charge to gather the fragments that remain.
The disciples “filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten” (John 6:13)—one for each of the twelve. The twelve basketfuls allude to all Israel as represented by twelve tribes.
The twelve baskets also allude to the twelve loaves of the Bread of the Presence in the Temple. The twelve loaves, which were continually in the presence of the LORD in His Temple, symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel. The priesthood ate the twelve loaves every Sabbath and replaced them with fresh loaves. In the Second Temple Era, the priesthood on a Sabbath numbered more than one thousand. The priests found the twelve loaves insufficient to feed them all; each priest received only a morsel. The Talmud says that when God’s favor rested on the nation, a miracle happened. Each priest ate scarcely more than a crumb, yet that small crumb miraculously satiated him. In addition, when the priests had eaten and been satisfied, they found that leftovers remained:
Every priest who received a piece of the bread the size of an olive would eat it and be satisfied, and some would eat it and have leftovers. (b.Yoma 38a)
The miracle of Yeshua feeding the multitudes with the five loaves alludes to this tradition. A further correlation to the bread of the presence can be seen by combining the two feeding miracles. In the feeding of the five thousand, He breaks five loaves. In the feeding of the four thousand, He breaks seven loaves. Five loaves plus seven loaves makes twelve loaves.