On two separate occasions, Jesus fed thousands of people with a handful of fish and loaves. I have always thought of the feeding of the 4000 as a parallel and somewhat secondary miracle to the feeding of the 5000. Almost as if the second was needed to confirm the first was not a fluke.
There are many parallels in these stories. In both accounts the disciples asked where enough bread could be found to feed so many. Each meal ended with lots left over. The feeding of the 4000 was also a sign pointing to the deity of Jesus. With both miracles, Jesus used physical realities to demonstrate spiritual truths and this is where these two miracles take us down very different paths.
The feeding of the 5000 (John 6:6-14) set in motion a series of events that culminated in Capernaum where Jesus preached the “Bread of Life” sermon (John 6:22-59). In the aftermath of the feeding of the 4000 (Matt. 15:32-39), Jesus told the disciples to “watch out and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Some translations use the word leaven rather than yeast. With the exception of the “Parable of the Leaven” found in Matthew 13, leaven is used in Scripture to symbolize evil or sin.
In the story of the Exodus, the Israelites were commanded by God to prepare unleavened bread and eat it for seven consecutive days (Exodus 12). They were instructed to remove leaven from their houses and whoever ate leaven was to be cut off from the congregation of Israel (Ex. 12:19). Refraining from leaven illustrated a separation from the world and dedication to purity in their relationship to Yahweh.
Leaven or yeast mixes throughout the dough. In the same way, Jesus warned the disciples of the danger of the spreading yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. What was this yeast? In Matthew 6:12 the disciples finally understood, “that He did not tell them to beware of the yeast in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Jesus had a lot to say about the hypocritical teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees. The following verses from Matthew 23 are most sobering. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and make long prayers just for show. This is why you will receive a harsher punishment. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as fit for hell as you are!”
The feeding of the 5000 lead to a conversation about the bread of life leading to eternal life, which is found only in Jesus. The feeding of the 4000 led to a warning about false teaching and hypocrisy. Many people who have looked to the Bread of Life have been led astray by false teaching. The warning of Jesus is as valid to believers today, as it was to believers in His day. Beware the leaven of false teachers. Beware of those who take Scripture out of context. Some call it proof texting. Always compare what you hear or read to the full counsel of God’s Word. Use Scripture to prove Scripture.