In this passage Jesus calls the twelve, gives them power and sends them to proclaim the kingdom of God. As they go, Jesus tells them not to take any extra provisions with them. This is because they are to trust the Lord to provide what they need. For the first time in the gospel, the disciples are sharing in the mission and ministry of Jesus with his enabling. They are doing the same kinds of powerful deeds and the same proclamation regarding the kingdom of God.
When Herod hears about what the disciples are doing in Jesus’ name, he become perplexed as to who Jesus is. Some are saying the Jesus is Elijah and others than he is John the Baptist come back to life. Following the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus will ask the disciples as to who the crowds say he is. They will provide the same answer – either Elijah or John the Baptist. So, the feeding of the five thousand, occurring between these two questions of who Jesus is (either Elijah or John) is sandwiched in-between in order to answer who Jesus is.
Each of the gospel writers record the feeding of the five thousand in slightly different ways to fit their own theme. In Luke’s case, he is presenting Jesus as the host of the messianic banquet – the one who brings to a consummation all God’s restorative promises. According to Luke, Jesus ‘welcomes’ the crowds, he has the people ‘recline’ as in a banquet, as host he offers the blessing, and then directs the twelve to serve the food. Jesus is not a forerunner of God’s purposes but is the one who brings in feasting in the kingdom of God.
Another theme is the disciples’ failure. Earlier we saw ow the twelve were called to share in the ministry and mission of Jesus. They were specifically told not to take extra bread as they were to trust the Lord to meet their needs. Rather than minister to the crowds as Jesus has been doing, they are inclined to send them away. When Jesus tells them to feed the people, they point to their lack of resources rather than appealing to Jesus. Jesus teaches them by his actions and each of the twelve has a basket of leftovers as a testimony and encouragement to trust the Lord in the future.
Extra note: One could also consider how Jesus’ feeding is like God’s provision of manna in the wilderness. In addition, one could consider the parallels and differences between Jesus and Elisha’s similar act in 2 Kings 4:42-44.