Luke XXXIII: Lk. 9:1-17
The Kingdom of God is the Kingdom of the Risen King of Israel. In this Kingdom, God fills empty hands with plenty to share; He makes the weak His means of power.
The New Twelve
Notice that Luke has organized this section with a high concentration of “twelves” (8:42, 8:43, 9:1, 9:12, 9:17). Remember, we noted several indications that Luke wants us to think about Israel when we read about Jairus’s daughter and the woman with the flow of blood. She is like a barren Israel and Jairus and his wife laugh at the thought of receiving their child back from the dead (8:53, cf. Gen. 18:12-15, 21:6). If Jesus can make a barren woman fertile and call a child from the barren womb of the grave, then He is doing what God did for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What God did for Abraham and Israel, He is now doing through Jesus. Therefore Israel is being called to believe in Him just like Abraham did centuries before. This is how Israel will become good soil and bear abundant fruit (8:15). This is how she will weather the storms of empires and demons (8:22-39). This is how she will be cleansed and healed (8:40-56). So when Luke then immediately tells us how Jesus called the twelve and sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, to cast out demons, and to heal the sick – the same point is being pressed (9:1-2). This new “twelve” is calling the rest of Israel to join them in believing in Jesus.
Twelve for Twelve
So it’s not an accident that word reaches Herod, and he is perplexed (9:7). On the one hand this demonstrates that the twelve really did have a significant impact on Israel – word got back to Herod. It also indicates the kind of impact they were having: it reminded people of John, Elijah, or one of the other prophets of old (9:8). And while Herod wants to see Jesus, do not miss the fact that it is the twelve who have caused this disturbance in the villages through their preaching and healing (9:6). Herod’s perplexity also has hints of fear. “He sought to see him” sounds a lot like how his dad (also “Herod”) had wanted to “see” the baby Jesus when the wise men showed up from the east looking for Him (Mt. 2:1-8). This is another indicator that the new Israel forming around Jesus is a true Israel. They are being mistaken for Elijah or one of the prophets of old, and Herod is acting like a Pharaoh, threatened by this new Israel. And if that were not enough, Luke takes us immediately to the twelve upon their return from their preaching trip, and Jesus feeds this new Israel with miraculous bread in the wilderness (9:10-17). In case, we are still wondering who Jesus is and what He is up to, Luke is laying out a meticulous case for why we should see Jesus as the founder of a new and renewed Israel, a nation that believes in God like Abraham their father, a nation delivered from tyrants and fed miraculously in the desert (like the Exodus). And this means that the twelve are new “patriarchs” – new fathers of a new Israel.
One of the significant points of this section is how Jesus empowers the twelve. He gives them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and He sends them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (9:1-2). He fills them with this power and authority, and at the same time sends them out with nothing (9:3). It doesn’t seem like an accident that in the same section when they return (somewhat weary, no doubt), they say that the crowds should be sent away to find food (9:12). The twelve certainly don’t have enough food for the multitude, but Jesus says, “You give them something to eat” (9:13). The disciples come up with five loaves and two fish, but there were about five thousand men, plus women and children (9:14). Jesus instructs the twelve to arrange the thousands of people in groups of fifty (9:15), and then He gives thanks, breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples to set before the crowd (9:16). And everyone ate and was satisfied, and they took up twelve baskets of leftovers (9:17). The twelve feed the thousands and have leftovers.
Conclusions & Applications
I think this miracle is often somewhat misnamed. The miracle isn’t merely “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand” with five loaves of bread and two fish. No, Jesus told the twelve to feed the five thousand, and then Jesus enabled them to. The miracle was that the twelve apostles were able to feed the five thousand.
In the first instance, this is a story for the Church, the New Israel of Jesus. The twelve apostles were the twelve foundation stones of the Church (Rev. 21:14, Eph. 2:20). While that apostolic office was unique, all who embrace the faith and obedience of the apostles are members of that apostolic church. And the central elements of that Church are the proclaiming of the kingdom and the breaking of bread. This can often seem powerless and ineffective. How can we make a difference in a world that thinks we are backwards and foolish? And Jesus sends us out with nothing (it seems). And it often seems like we do not have the resources to help the people who do show up. But Jesus still says to the Church: You give them something to eat. How do we do that? We sit down together, and we give thanks and break this bread and share this wine. And the solemn promise of Jesus is that there will be more when we finish than when we began. Not only that, but Luke makes it clear that this proclamation and this meal really are powerful and really do collide with the powers of the world and every Herod. In fact, when Jesus has the disciples sit the people in groups of fifty, He is arranging them in the formation of the Exodus, when a nation of slaves marched out of Egypt a conquering army (Ex. 13:18).
There is also an extended application in this passage for all Christian leaders. It is a rare leader who looks at the demands and the resources to meet those demands and thinks everything is smooth sailing. Most leaders have high expectations, intense demands, and there never seems to be enough: not enough time, not enough sleep, not enough energy, not enough manpower, not enough results, etc. And yet as a Christian leader, Jesus sends you out with empty hands and says, “You give them something to eat.” But the command carries with it a promise. When you live by faith in Jesus, there will be more when you finish than when you began. Anger, despair, and fear are the responses of unbelief, but Christ is risen (Phil. 3:7-11).