The Ministry of Jesus
The ministry of Jesus lasted for an estimated three or four years. There are many events described in the four gospels about who he was with, what he did, and what he said. Excluding the events at the beginning and end of his ministry, only two were recorded by all four gospels.
John 21:25 says:
There are many other things which Jesus did. If they were all written down, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
While perhaps a bit of hyperbole, the point is valid. There were so many things that Jesus did, that the four gospel writers did not see fit to write about all the same things. Perhaps the author of John knew about the synoptic gospels and didn’t feel the need to repeat most of what they had to say. Whatever the reasons, they picked two very different events to highlight two important points.
Feeding of the 5,000
After extended preaching and the death of John the Baptist, Jesus was tired. So he fled the crowds. But the crowds found out where he was and followed him. Instead of turning them away, he spoke to them about the Kingdom of God and healed the sick. The day grew late and the crowd was hungry. The disciples wanted to send the people into town to buy food. Jesus asked for the food they had, five loaves and two fish, said a prayer, and divided the food up. They proceeded to distribute the food. 5,000 men were fed. Starting from five loaves there were 12 full baskets of scrap bread left over.
There are a few details taught about Jesus in this passage: He taught about the Kingdom of God, he healed the sick, he performed supernatural miracles, and he was so popular that they were ready to force him to be their king.
Of all the acts of Jesus, why did all four gospels choose to include one of the most outrageous miracles that Jesus did? I suppose if the feeding of the 5,000 is true, the other miracles must seem simple in comparison. It’s easy to reject healings as having natural causes, demon possession as mental illness, and other scientific explanations for miracles. But the feeding of the 5,000 appears to violate the very laws of physics. Or does it?.
Some posit that the real miracle was that Jesus got the crowd to work together, share what they had, realize that they had brought way more than enough to feed everyone. This has been called a “miracle of sharing”, although this isn’t really a miracle under the normal definition of miracle. That said, knowing he could get over 5,000 people to share their food enough to have food leftover is not to be scoffed at.
Others make the case the Jesus didn’t perform any miracles but that these were used as literary devices.
There is a detailed write-up about how the four accounts bolster each other to give additional legitimacy to the account and an air of authenticity that would be difficult to fake:
- John says Philip is from the town of Bethsaida in Galilee. Luke tells us the miracle took place in the outskirts of the town. Combine the two and it is clear why John says Jesus consulted Philip, who is hardly ever mentioned elsewhere.
- In Matthew Jesus denounced Bethsaida for ignoring the miracles performed there, but Matthew never stated any miracles were specifically performed there. When combined with Luke, it becomes clear that Matthew was referring to at least this event.
- Mark describes the grass as green. In Galilee the grass is brown for most of the year. Except that John states that it was right before Passover, the only time of the year when the local grass could have been green.
- Mark says many were “coming and going”, but does not say why. When combined with John, we realize that this is traffic related to the coming Passover feast.
Whether you believe that this was a supernatural miracle, a “miracle of sharing”, or a non-literal literary device, the passage demonstrates the authority of Jesus. This event represents a summary of the main purposes of his public ministry: preach the gospel of the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and performing great acts.
There has been lots of debate about the authenticity of scripture, whether the events described happened exactly as described or whether they were fictionalized accounts (possibly of real events). Over the centuries much ink has been spilled by scholars and non-scholars on these issues. Regardless of your take, the essentials of Jesus are clear.
Peter’s Profession of Faith
I debated including this point. The synoptic gospels contain almost the same exact story, but John’s description of peter’s profession of faith is different. All of them do occur in context after the feeding of the 5,000. Ultimately, even if they don’t describe the same event, they do all describe Peter declaring who Jesus was.
Matthew 16:16 says:
You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (REV)
Mark 8:29 says:
You are the Christ. (REV)
Luke 9:20 says:
The Christ of God. (REV)
John 6:68-69 say:
…You have the words of life in the Age to come. And we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God. (REV)
Peter recognized that Jesus was the Christ (or Messiah), the holy Son of God, who was sent by God as holy messenger to preach the “life in the Age to come” (the kingdom of God).
The Essential Jesus
The two stories of Jesus show him in both his public and private light. Publicly he was a teacher of the Kingdom of God who did great deeds. Many wanted to him to be King of the Jews. In private with his disciples they saw him as the long awaited Messiah, the Christ. In only two events the whole purpose of the ministry of Jesus, prior to his death, can be seen. Jesus filled the role of prophet (as Christ Messiah) and heir to the kingdom. He would later fulfill the role of both priest and sacrifice.