In a recent blog by @sinsr4given , the reader was asked if he understood the spiritual significance of the baskets of leftover food that were gathered up after Jesus fed the crowd of 5000, and then the group of 4000. I decided to research his question.
On the surface, it might seem a little unusual for the amount of scraps of bread and fish to even be mentioned in this Bible story. Normally that is a fairly unimportant detail. But, not only was it mentioned, the exact amount was told to the reader. Obviously, there is an important reason why it is discussed in the Bible.
Let’s back up a little, in the way of review. In all four of the gospels, we read about how Jesus spent a day teaching and healing a crowd of 5000 men (the total number was probably at least twice that size, counting women and children) in a lonely place near the Galilean town of Bethsaida. He miraculously fed the whole crowd having only five loaves of bread and two fish. Afterward, twelve baskets of scraps were gathered up, which was much more food than they started with.
Later, in the Greek and Roman region known as the Decapolis, we read in Matthew and Mark that Jesus had attracted a crowd of 4000 men. (Plus women and children) The group was very hungry after three days, and so Jesus fed them with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. After everyone had eaten, seven baskets of scraps were collected, which was also miraculous because of the small amount of food served to a large group of people.
In both these gatherings, Jesus performed a miracle. He broke the bread, and gave it to the disciples to distribute to the people. The evidence that a miracle was performed was the remaining baskets of food.
The Bible’s account of these two events is rich in spiritual meaning and symbolism. In this blog, let’s us just look at the baskets of scraps of bread.
“Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?” (Matthew 16:9-10 KJV)
Jesus fed the crowds bread through His disciples, just like He would later feed them spiritual bread.
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 KJV)
The verse about the baskets of scraps helped both the disciples and we the readers understand who exactly Jesus was inviting to “cometh to me” and be saved. Both the type of basket and the number of baskets are important.
The crowd of 5000 gathered near Bethsaida, a Jewish area. The Greek word used for basket in their verses in all four gospels was “kophinous” (Strong 2894). It was a small wicker basket used by the Jews to carry food. They had twelve baskets left over, and that number is associated with the Jews (i.e. the twelve tribes of Israel). The number and the type of basket point to the fact that this crowd was Jewish, and Jesus was symbolically offering them the “bread of life”.
The group of 4000 met in the region of Decapolis, southeast of the Sea of Galilee, which was a Gentile area. The Greek word for the baskets at this event used in Matthew and Mark is “spyridas” (Strong4711). These were large, flexible baskets made of reeds, used by Gentiles to carry provisions. This was the same type of basket used to lower Paul down the wall in Damascus in Acts 9:25. They had seven baskets of scraps left over, and that number can be associated with completion and also with the Gentiles (the seven nations of Canaan occupying the Promised Land). The number and the type of basket point to the fact that this group was Gentile, and they also were welcome to eat the “bread of life”.
The meaning of all this is clear. Everyone is welcome to partake of the salvation that Jesus was offering, not just the Jews. The “bread of life” was being offered first to the Jews, but then to the Gentiles also. The message of salvation Jesus was first going to be given to Israel, but would later be given to the entire world.
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51 KJV)