Luke 9:16

ESV And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
NIV Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people.
NASB And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and, looking up to heaven, He blessed them and broke them, and gave them to the disciples again and again, to serve the crowd.
CSB Then he took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke them. He kept giving them to the disciples to set before the crowd.
NLT Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people.
KJV Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.

What does Luke 9:16 mean?

When the disciples realize the crowd would need something to eat, Jesus says, "You give them something to eat" (Luke 9:13). Despite having performed miracles of healing in Jesus' power (Luke 9:1–6), the disciples immediately consider the practical implications: it would take two hundred days' wages to feed the crowd (Mark 6:37). Yet they only have five loaves of barley bread and two fish (John 6:7–9). They forget where the power to perform miracles came from: Jesus. He turns the small meal into enough for five thousand men, and all the women and children present, with twelve baskets of extra besides (Matthew 14:21; Luke 9:17). The disciples feed the people as they distribute what Jesus has provided. This is a reminder that God will not ask us to do anything for which He does not also equip us.

Bible scholars debate the biblical and theological implications of Jesus blessing and breaking the loaves and feeding the people. Some see a parallel to the provision of manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16). If so, the twelve leftover baskets would suggest Jesus is greater than Moses, as the manna of Moses' era did not result in leftovers. It could also be related to the miracles associated with Elijah (1 Kings 17:8–16) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:42–44), showing Jesus fulfilling the prophetic role (Deuteronomy 18:15). Others see this as a prelude to one of Jesus' last earthly encounters such as the Last Supper (Luke 22:19) and Jesus' meal after His resurrection with the men He met on the road (Luke 24:30). Others see this as related to the early church's regular fellowship with meals (Acts 2:46; 20:7), our observance of the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23–26), or even the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7–10).

More likely, however, Jesus wants to show that God cares for those in need. We see this with Elisha and the widow's oil (2 Kings 4:1–7) and Jesus and the wine at Cana (John 2:1–11). The disciples learn that God doesn't just empower them to provide spiritual truth, but also sometimes the ability to meet practical needs. The feeding right after a significant section of miraculous healings (Luke 8:27—9:6) reflects Mary's Song of Praise: "…he has filled the hungry with good things…" (Luke 1:53). Jesus doesn't feed the people only to point to spiritual truths—He does it because they are hungry.

That doesn't mean the consequences stop there. After the people have eaten, Jesus makes a wise retreat into the mountains, knowing they want to make Him king (John 6:15). When He and the disciples return to Capernaum, the people find Him. Jesus unveils their hearts: they don't care about the miracles that show He is the Messiah and the Son of God. They only care that they received food without working. He then teaches a lesson about what it means to follow Him which is so difficult to hear that many leave (John 6:22–66).

Perhaps a sidenote, Jesus feeding and presumably eating with so many thousands of men, women, and children reiterates His willingness to fellowship with the unclean and sinners. This was something religious leaders of that era avoided as a matter of principle (Luke 5:29–32).
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