During His mortal ministry, one of the more significant miracles Jesus performed was the feeding of the multitudes. Understanding this miraculous story can help us gain a greater appreciation of the power of the atonement as the Savior daily nourishes and strengthens us in our own mortal journey.
After hearing of the tragic news of the death of John the Baptist, the scriptures record that Jesus went into a mountain to be alone (Matthew 14:12-13). The emotions Jesus felt for the loss of his beloved relative and knowing that He Himself would also soon face a similar fate, must have been overwhelming. As He sought solitude, we are told that a large multitude followed Jesus. Remarkably the scriptures record that in this moment of great sadness, Jesus was “moved with compassion towards them” (Matthew 14:14). Instead of turning them away when He Himself was mourning, Jesus healed the sick and ministered to them.
As the day became evening, Jesus turned to His disciples and asked them to feed the large multitude. With 5000 men present, in all reality, the multitude was more likely around 10,000 to 20,000 when you include women and children. As the disciples exclaim that it would be nearly impossible to feed such a large multitude, Jesus simply asks them to bring all that they have. A young lad was found among the multitude who had five loaves and two small fishes (John 6:9). This young boy was willing to give his all, even though it would equate to nearly nothing compared to such a huge multitude. Yet Jesus teaches us that He can transform any willing offering into something far more than enough. As Jesus gives gratitude to God for the small meager offering, He first distributes the food to His disciples and then to the multitude. Miraculously, the entire multitude is fed from the small gift of this young boy.
In all four accounts of the feeding of the 5000 and also the two accounts of the feeding of the 4000, the Gospels state that the multitude was “filled” physically (see Matthew 14:20, Luke 9:17, and John 6:12 for example). This simple wording might be glossed over by many readers, but when compared to the story of Jesus feeding the multitude after He appeared to the Nephites in the Book of Mormon, a powerful connection can be made.
According to 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, after His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven, Jesus Christ showed himself unto the inhabitants of the American continent. On the first day of His three-day ministry to the Nephites, the record states: “And it came to pass that Jesus commanded his disciples that they should bring forth some bread and wine unto him” (3 Nephi 18:1). Jesus then took the bread and wine, blessed it, and gave it to the multitude, instituting the sacrament. The scriptures state that the multitude again was “filled” physically by both the bread and the wine (see 3 Nephi 18:4-5 and 18:9).
On the second day of His ministry to the Nephites, Jesus again distributed to them the emblems of the sacrament, however with one major difference. On the first day, the disciples provided the bread and wine, whereas on the second day the Lord miraculously provided the bread and wine. 3 Nephi states “Now when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold they were filled with the spirit and they did cry out with one voice, and gave glory to Jesus whom they both saw and heard” (3 Nephi 20:9). Notice again that the multitude was filled, but this time they were filled with the Spirit!
So what does connecting these two stories of feeding the 5000 and feeding the Nephites in the new world teach us about the Savior and His atonement? First, the Savior teaches us that He will always minister to us, even when He Himself might be mourning or suffering. We can always turn to the Lord and know that He will heal us, minister to us, and feed us. Second, when we bring our gifts to the Lord, He has the power to make it not only enough, but more than enough. Third, Jesus likely fed the multitudes to foreshadow the significance of the sacrament and how the atonement can strengthen us and nourish us physically and most importantly spiritually. Each week as we partake of the sacrament, though only a small piece of bread and a small cup of water, we are physically nourished and strengthened. But more importantly, as we repent of our sins, and turn to the Savior, just as the ancient Nephites, we too can be spiritually fed and nourished. Just as the small piece of bread will become part of our very body as we digest it, so too the atonement of Christ should become a very part of our being, giving us life eternal. As Jesus stated in John 6 just after feeding the multitude, “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). As we come to the Savior each Sabbath day, we are given this same powerful promise, to be filled with the Spirit of the Lord! (see Moroni 4:3).
This post was originally published for Book of Mormon Central