These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, teaching points, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Matthew 14:13-36 Inductive Bible Study – Feeding of the Five Thousand – Discussion Questions and Teaching Points
The below notes are taken from my Bible study on the parallel passage in Mark 6.
Title: Feeding the Five Thousand
Where were the disciples before verse 30? What had they been doing? Is there anything we can learn from this about training workers?
What did Jesus plan for them? Why did they especially need a rest this time?
Is it OK to have some time to ourselves for rest or is that being lazy when there is work to be done?
Did the crowds respect their wishes and give them some time alone? What can we learn from this about human nature? Are there people in your lives who need a lot of attention even when you don’t feel like giving it?
What did Jesus do when He saw His plans had been messed up? Is there anything we can learn from Jesus’ attitude here?
Why did Jesus have compassion on them? Do you feel likewise when looking at the masses of Guangzhou (or your city)?
Why do you think Jesus asked the disciples to give them something when He knew they wouldn’t have been able to?
What observations do you have about the miracle which Jesus performed?
Is there any significance to the numbers five and two (just that they were very small numbers!)
From other gospel accounts, where did these loaves and fish come from? What can we learn from the boy who gave them?
Why do you think there were 12 baskets of food leftover?
John 6:1-14 – Parallel account which mentions the boy who gave the loaves and fish.
Colossians 3:12-13 – Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
1 Corinthians 14:40 – All things should be done decently and orderly.
John 13:34 – A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
1. Here when the apostles met with Jesus they were not talking about what Jesus had been doing or teaching, but what “they” had “done and taught.” This is yet another passage that gives us a lot of insight into how Jesus trained the disciples. They were not just bystanders observing Jesus’ ministry. They were part of it. They participated in it. Sometimes their participation was in deeper small group discussion after Jesus’ miracles/teachings. Sometimes their participation was in preparing something like the place for the Last Supper or later in this passage finding some food. Sometimes it was asking Jesus more questions. And here we see they were also going around teaching the Word. As effective as Jesus was, He was still just one person. He could teach big crowds, but He was still limited to one place at a time. To make a bigger impact that would stretch to the ends of the earth Jesus had to train others. He had to reproduce. The disciples going around teaching meant that Jesus’ ministry expanded twelve times. In addition to the principles of reproduction and disciple making which we can get from this, we also learn another important lesson. That is that being a faithful disciple requires more than just going to listen to the pastor at church. The disciples’ participation in Jesus’ ministry in many different ways set them apart from the listeners who came to observe. Every Sunday you can go to church and see many rows of pews or seats start to fill up. But church should not be like watching a sports competition with a clear division between athletes and “spectators.” God expects all believers to participate (can you think of any verses that support this?) and that is why He has given us each a spiritual gift. Serving the body of Christ can take many different forms, but each of us should be doing something. Are you?
2. Jesus showed genuine concern for the disciples. They had been very busy doing ministry. Certainly they had faced many difficulties as well as opposition from Satan and his minions. Jesus asked them to go to a secluded place and rest. This shows that resting is a Scriptural concept. Our bodies are not made to go go go all the time either physically or mentally. Sometimes we need to have a rest. It is not good to push ourselves to far. Physically that can cause health issues and spiritually it can cause burnout. Unfortunately many Christian workers (missionaries and pastors) end up leaving the ministry because of being burnt out. There are many causes of this, but one potential cause is a lack of rest, not enough time to recharge our physical and spiritual batteries. In addition to taking the time to rest ourselves, we can take initiative to help some Christian workers. How? For example, you could offer to babysit to give parents a break. Or you could make a meal and take it to homemaker who is worn out. But before we go too far, we should remember there is a balance. While some rest is good, too much rest could be laziness. The disciples were not always resting. In fact, right before this they had been out on a preaching tour. We need to have discernment. And husbands also need to pay attention to observe their wives to provide some time of rest for them since they are the weaker vessels.
3. While Jesus was showing concern for the disciples, the common people were not. They did not care how tired Jesus or the disciples were. Their minds were filled with what they wanted to get or see rather than what they could do for others. What should they have done at this point? Instead of just presuming that Jesus and the disciples were always ready for serving them, they could have asked. Even better, they could have used their eyes and seen the weary expressions and came up to Jesus and said, “I have noticed that you and your disciples are busy from before dawn until after dusk every day preaching to us, healing us, and serving us. You must all be very tired. Today come to my house. My friends and I have prepared a nice meal. You can all have a warm bath, enjoy the meal, and there are beds/mats ready for you to hit the sack and get a good nights’ sleep. I will personally stand at the door and make sure none of you are disturbed until you have slept for 10 hours.” It is not surprising that nowhere in the gospels do we see any such invitation. In today’s world it is also rare. We can all learn a lesson from this. What can you learn? I can learn to show consideration for others, especially pastors/teachers/workers. They work hard to serve us and we can help make their lives easier (and prevent burn out) by caring for them and thinking what we can do for them rather than what we can get from them.
4. Jesus is a prime example of showing compassion to others, first to the disciples and now to the crowds. When people impose on us, our first reaction is to get angry or bitter. Yes, they shouldn’t do it. People should show consideration to us. They should be polite. And yet when people didn’t treat Jesus and His disciples the right way, He responded with love. This is what Jesus meant in John 13:34 when He said to love others how He has loved us. He loved by putting other people first and by returning good for evil. Jesus’ compassion for the people extended beyond their physical needs to their spiritual needs. He saw them how they really were, lost. Knowing that they were lost motivated Jesus to help them. Next time you in the subway during rush hour look around. Use your eyes to observe. You will probably notice a lot of pushing and shoving and maybe some angry words or glances. You will notice people cutting in line. You will notice girls and guys in their teens hanging all over each other. You will notice guys with bloodshot eyes reeking of alcohol. You will notice young guys refuse to get up from their seats and give it to a pregnant lady. You will notice old people walking from car to car looking around and hoping someone will give them a seat. You will notice masses of people playing video games. You may notice women wearing very little, but lots of makeup. You will notice whiny and disobedient kids and desperate parents. Before the end of your trip you will see thousands of people going here and there. I don’t want you to just be one of the mob, getting annoyed with everyone around you and pushing and shoving right back. Realize that the vast majority of the people you see are lost. They are like sheep without a shepherd just like the crowds that Jesus saw. I hope that you will have compassion for them like Jesus did and does. Pray for them and let this fact motivate you to reach as many of them as you can while you can.
5. The disciples suggested that Jesus send the people away so that they could eat. Jesus told the disciples to give them something to eat. Why? It was certainly an interesting request and the disciples responded like you might expect them too, which was to ask if they should buy food for everyone. My guess is that Jesus was giving them an opportunity to show their faith by making a suggestion such as, “Jesus, we can’t feed all of these people…but you can. Why don’t you do a miracle to show them your power!” In fact Jesus was doing it to test them as we see in John 6:5-7. He often tried to get them to think beyond the physical of what they could see and touch. Most of the time, however, this was a struggle for them.
6. See passage in John 6 for how they got these 5 loaves and 2 fish. Discuss what we can learn from the boy. Do you think the boy was the only one in the whole crowd who had any food? Why is he the only one mentioned? Is there any application for us today? How important was this nameless boy’s contribution? How do you think it could have impacted him later? Do you think this miracle was more beneficial for the boy or for the others who had food but didn’t volunteer it?
7. Jesus commanded them to sit down all in groups. As we see in 1 Corinthians 14:40, God is a God of order. Nothing generates chaos like free food. Jesus didn’t want a stampede or trampled people so He wisely made people sit down. If they wanted to receive the benefit from His miracle they had to do it on His terms. This is just like salvation. He offers it freely, but we have to accept it on His terms, not on our own.
8. First Jesus blessed the food. It is from this passage and the Last Supper passages that we get the principle of praying before we eat. While it’s not commanded that we do it, it is certainly a biblical idea and an excellent way to show gratitude for what we have. Remember to pray from your heart and not just do it as a ritual as fast as possible so that you can “hurry up and eat!”
9. Here we once again seeing the disciples serving. They are not sitting in a group of twelve being served by Jesus. Which group would you like to be part of? The people sitting being served? Or a disciple who is doing the serving? It is easier and more comfortable to sit and let others serve us, but it is not beneficial. In the visible church today, I think it is accurate to say that it could also be separated into two groups. One group comes and listens and is served by others (pastor, ushers, cleaners, teachers, painters, etc.) This is often the majority of any given local church. Another group is composed of people who participate in and help by serving others. This is generally the minority. Which group are you in? Even if you are helping some, don’t be content to sit and watch most of the time while helping every now and then. The disciples were continually helping Jesus serve the people and that should be our goal as well, not only in church but also in our families, fellowships, small groups, marriages, etc.
10. The people ate and were satisfied. One obvious point from this is that Jesus “made” enough food for everyone. It was free so they surely ate up. But after thinking of this verse, I know that this satisfied feeling they got from the food wore off by the next day. But the disciples could be spiritually satisfied because they took the bread of life, which means they would never be hungry again. True satisfaction doesn’t come by allowing others to serve us.
11. There were twelve baskets leftover. As many have commented before, this meant one per disciple. I don’t know if that was intentional or meaningful or not, but nonetheless Jesus made sure that the disciples were provided for. He didn’t forget them. If you serve Him, He won’t forget you either.
II. Verses 45-52
What did Jesus do when everyone had left? How is your prayer life? Are you faithful to pray to the Lord on your own or just at church?
How far had the disciples gotten while Jesus was praying?
Did Jesus go help them immediately? How long did he wait (until the 4th watch, 3-6 AM)? Why do you think He waited so long to help them?
What was their reaction to seeing Jesus walking on the water?
What happened when Jesus got on the boat? Why were they so surprised when Jesus did so many miracles?
Jesus made His disciples go first. Perhaps this was because Jesus knew His disciples were very tired from their preaching trip and needed a rest. He had planned to give them a rest before when the crowds went to the place they were going to have a “retreat” and flooded it. Jesus hadn’t forgotten His disciples, but still was compassionate toward them.
Jesus left for the mountain to pray. While reading through the gospels you often see this type of refrain. It is not an isolated occurrence, but a regular part of who Jesus is and what He does. As we have discussed before, Jesus was a busy man. He was so busy that many times He didn’t even have enough time to eat. And yet, He always found time alone to pray. On this note, we should evaluate our own prayer lives. Do we place the priority on it that Jesus did? How is your prayer life? Do you only pray if you have time and something urgent to pray about (ie: need something)? Or do you make time to pray no matter how busy you are? Do you have quality time in prayer on your own or just mutter a few quick words before a meal? The Word and prayer are the two most basic spiritual disciplines. We cannot be growing Christians without them. One thing you will notice while studying through books of the Bible is that most of the most famous Bible characters were men of prayer. They often had quality time with the Lord. If someone wrote a biography of you, is that what you would be known as?
In the evening Jesus noticed them straining at the oars. This would indicate that they hadn’t made it very far, so Jesus was still able to spot them from land. It wasn’t until the fourth watch (3-6 AM), that Jesus went out to them. How long is it from evening until the fourth watch? Depending on what time the sun set, it would probably be a minimum of about 6 hours and as long as 13 hours. Jesus did not go to help them immediately. Why do you think that is? While we do not know the exact reason in this case, we do know that God doesn’t always save us out of trials immediately. See Romans 5:3-5. Sometimes God sees fit to let us experience trials for awhile in order to develop our character. Jesus saw His disciples struggling against the wind. Actually they were already very tired at this point and this would have pushed them almost to the point of exhaustion. But for their own long-term benefit He didn’t step in. As a father, I sometimes may notice Caleb struggling to do something. Is it always in his best interest for me to step in and do it for him? No. Some things he needs to struggle with in order to learn. Maybe he needs to learn how to do it. Or maybe he just needs to learn that he can’t do it. By letting him struggle with it for a while he could learn to be humble. He could learn his own limitations. He could learn how to ask for help and not rely on himself. There are many possibilities. For the disciples, they were able to witness once again Jesus’ miraculous power. Because they had struggled already for a long time against the wind Jesus’ miracle of stopping the wind became even more amazing and highlighted His divine strength against their human weakness.
Application: Do not grow bitter with God if He doesn’t immediately save you from a trial you are facing. Just as Jesus was nearby and ready to help the disciples when it was really best for them, God is also nearby even in our trial and will step in when we need Him to, but not necessarily when we want Him to. Instead of blaming God or growing impatient or angry, when facing trials, we should look at ourselves and ask what lessons we can learn. Maybe we need to be more dependent on God, more patient, more faithful, etc. Sometimes not stepping in and helping one is a sign not of apathy, but of discernment.
Jesus walked on the water – This is not a magic trick. It wasn’t achieved by illusion or trick cameras or a high salt content. The disciples were experienced sailors and the sight was enough to scare them to the point where they cried out (a modern translation might read “screamed like girls”). The text says that they were “terrified.” It wasn’t surprise or excitement, but sheer terror. At the beginning they couldn’t tell what this figure walking on water was (it was night so the light wouldn’t have been great although there was evidently a moon). Jesus, however, didn’t leave them in their terror, but revealed Himself to them. “Take courage, it is I,” He said. The first order of business was to assuage their fears. Next He decided to do another miracle to help with the trial they were facing, stopping the wind which was set against them. At the right time God can and will step in, even powerfully, to help us.
Astonishment – Why were the disciples astonished when the wind stopped? Since they had seen many of Jesus’ miracles, including the feeding of the five thousand the same day, you would think they wouldn’t be surprised anymore. But they were. The text says that their hearts were hardened. It wasn’t easy for them to change their perspective or their worldview. Instead they often quickly forgot what they had just learned. It would be easy to sit here in the living room while having the Bible study and blame them for their short-term memories. Should we blame them or not? Probably it would be unwise to blame them since we do the same thing. I was at my dad’s house a couple days ago for dinner and I heard him reminding the family to shut a door in order to save electricity. Basically this reminder was no different than the ones I heard growing up as many as 25 years ago. But even after 5 or 10 or 25 years, people still forget. We often forget what we read in the Bible today or learned in church or Bible study last week. Even if we remember the words, we often don’t do them. In reality, in this area, we are not any different than the disciples were. How we can have victory to keep practicing what we have learned? How can we overcome our spiritual short-term memories?
More to come soon