THE NEWS that King Herod had slain the holy prophet John the Baptist sent a thrill of horror to all who heard it. It came to the twelve disciples, who were just completing their work of preaching in the villages of Galilee. They feared that Herod might seize them and put them in prison; but they were more alarmed for their Master. Having slain John who had made Jesus known to the people, they feared that Herod might now try to kill Jesus himself.
They all hastened to Capernaum, where they found Jesus, and gave him the report of the places which they had visited, the work which they had done in healing and helping people and the message which they had given everywhere about the Kingdom of God. The disciples found the crowds around Jesus greater than ever before; for not only had the preaching of these disciples aroused an interest in Jesus and led many to leave their homes and seek him, but the Passover, the greatest of all Jewish feasts, was to be held soon, and the city of Capernaum was thronged with people who were on their way to Jerusalem; for as you know, this feast was held only in that city, and from every part of the land people went up to Jerusalem to attend it.
So many were the people coming and going and those who were looking for Jesus and seeking his power to cure their diseases, that Jesus and his disciples could scarcely find a chance to eat. The crowds were constantly pressing upon them. He said to his disciples:
“Come, let us take the boat and go across the lake to some quiet place, away from the crowds, and there rest for a time.”
They went into the boat and started to row over the lake. But the people saw them going and many tried to follow them. Those who had boats sailed in them after the course in which they saw the boat with Jesus and his disciples. And the others, a great multitude, walked and ran around the head of the lake, waded across the river Jordan where it enters the Sea of Galilee, still keeping Jesus’ boat in sight, and were at the beach to meet Jesus when he landed near the town of Bethsaida, which was on the northeastern shore. Here Jesus was safe, for Bethsaida was outside the rule of King Herod and in the land governed by Herod’s brother Philip.
When Jesus stepped out of his boat on the shore near Bethsaida, there he found a great throng of people, more than five thousand men, besides some women and children. When Jesus saw how eager they were and how glad to meet him, his heart of love and pity went out toward them. He cured some sick people that they had brought and he spoke to them about the kingdom of God.
The day began to draw to its close and the sun was almost sinking below the hills of Galilee, when the disciples said to Jesus:
“It is getting late and will soon be night. These crowds of people came so suddenly that they have brought with them nothing to eat. Send them away, so that they may go to the city of Bethsaida and the villages around and buy food and find places to stay through the night. We are here, you see, in a desert place, where there is neither food nor lodging for them.”
But Jesus said to his disciples, “There is no need for them to go away; do you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Shall we go into the town and buy thirty dollars’ worth of bread, so that each one of them may have a little?”
Jesus turned to Philip, one of his disciples, and asked him, “Philip, where shall we find bread that all these people may eat?”
Jesus said this to try Philip’s faith, for he himself knew already what he would do. Philip looked over the crowd gathered upon the level ground, and he answered, “Thirty dollars’ worth of bread would not be enough to give to each one even a little piece.
Jesus said-to his disciples, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.”
Just then another of the disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, came up to Jesus and said, “There is a boy here who has five loaves of barley bread and two little fishes; but what use would they be among so many people?”
Jesus said, “Bring them to me.”
So they led to Jesus this boy with his lunch basket, in which his mother had placed five large flat biscuits of barley and two small salted fishes.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Go out among the people and tell them to arrange themselves into companies, with fifty or a hundred in each company, and to sit down upon the grass.”
The disciples did as Jesus ordered, and soon all the crowd was divided up into groups of fifty or a hundred people, all seated on the ground. On the green grass, arranged in rows and squares with their clothes of different colors, they looked like beds of flowers.
Then, in the sight of all the people, Jesus took the five loaves and the two fishes. He waved his hand for silence, and while all were still, looked up to heaven, gave thanks to God for his gift of food, and blessed it. He broke the loaves which were like large flat crackers or biscuit, and gave to each of his disciples a piece and also a piece of dried fish. The disciples went among the people breaking off pieces of the loaves and fishes and handing them out. As they were broken, the loaves and fishes grew in their hands, until every one in the company had enough to eat.
Then Jesus said, “Go and gather up the pieces of food that are left, so that nothing may be wasted.”
Each of the twelve disciples carried a basket among the people, and took from them all that was left. When they came back to Jesus, all the twelve baskets were filled with the pieces left over of the loaves and fishes. There had been in the beginning only five loaves and two fishes. Of these, five thousand men, besides women and children, had eaten as much as they wanted. And now came back twelve baskets full of bits left overmuch more at the end after all had eaten than at the beginning.
When the people saw that here was one who could give them food, all that they wanted, they said to each other, “This is the man that we want for our king! He can give us bread to eat without our working for it. Let us break away from the rule of the Romans and make Jesus our king!”
Jesus knew their thoughts and what they were saying to each other, for he knew all things. He knew, too, that he was a king, but not such a king as they wished. His kingdom was to be in the hearts of those who loved him, not a kingdom won by armies and by swords. Jesus found that his disciples were pleased to find the people so eager at once to crown Jesus as their King, for that would mean high rank and offices for themselves.
Jesus, therefore, began by sending away his disciples.
He compelled them, much against their will, to get into the boat, and to row over the lake toward Capernaum. After sending away his disciples, he sent away the multitudes, who were also unwilling to go, for they could not understand why Jesus should refuse to be made king.
When all were gone away and quiet was around him and the night had come on, Jesus went to the top of a mountain near by, and spent some hours in prayer to his heavenly Father. He needed prayer, for he saw in this attempt to make him king another effort of Satan to bring Jesus under his power, by giving him a worldly kingdom, instead of a heavenly.