In the Gospels we read that Jesus multiplied bread and fish on two occasions. Here is their possible significance.
While you do need to link all of the Gospels together to get the best picture of both feedings, the Gospel of Mark ties them together very well.
In Mark the feeding of the 5000 is in chapter 6 and the feeding of the 4000 is in chapter 8.
Jesus himself links these two multiplications of loaves together
Mark 8:15-21 And He was giving orders to them, saying, "Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." And they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? "Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?" They said to Him, "Twelve." "And when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?" And they said to Him, "Seven." And He was saying to them, "Do you not yet understand?"
Jesus places special emphasis on the numbers of loaves, people, and baskets collected.
What is also significant is where these multiplications took place.
In Mark 6 we see Jesus feeding the 5000 people with 5 loaves and some fish in
Mark 6:32 And going up into a ship, they went into a desert place apart.
This takes place in a desert. This is sounding a lot like the exodus where Moses was with a crowd in a desert and they all received bread miraculously. Jesus is taking that same event and begins to bring it to completion in the New Testament times. The significance of the 5000 and the 5 loaves points us back to the 5 books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Here we see in this miraculous feeding the number of baskets left over – 12. There are twelve baskets left over - for whom? For the twelve tribes. It is also significant that the word basket here is the Jewish word – for the word basket.
There is a problem though. At the time of Jesus there were not twelve tribes of Israel, there were really just 2 tribes – Benjamin and Judah and these were called Jews – from Judah. The other 10 tribes had been scattered to the four winds by the Assyrians and had become – lost. These 10 called themselves Israel before they were lost. This happened 722 years before Jesus was born. Those 10 tribes called Israel had become to wicked that as a punishment God allowed the Assyrians to conquer them and disperse them.
Yet God promised that one day he would reunite the Judah and Israel again.
Isaiah 11:10-12 In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. In that day the LORD will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel (=10 tribes) and gather the dispersed of Judah (=2 tribes) from the four corners of the earth.
Now let’s look at the next multiplication.
This is the 4000 with 7 loaves and a few fish. Again the numbers are significant. I think the 4000 represent those that Isaiah said were sent to the four corners of the earth. Those 10 tribes of Israel that now have become gentile and lost. Jesus intends to feed them as well.
We see at this feeding of the 4000 that the location is significant. Mark 8:4 And his disciples answered him, "How can one feed these men with bread here in the desert?"
So again we are in a desert, Jesus is being a New Moses to this crowd as well, but the word here for basket is a different word than the one we saw in chapter 6 – this is a gentile/Greek word for basket and this takes place in the Gentile territory of the Decapolis.
Now how many baskets get taken up? Seven – what is the significance of that number. Who are the seven baskets for?
Well we just read it in Isaiah 11:10-12 In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. In that day the LORD will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant which is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea. He will raise an ensign for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel (=10 tribes) and gather the dispersed of Judah (=2 tribes) from the four corners of the earth.
Jesus is now being a new Moses for the dispersed, not just for the Jew, but for the Gentile as well.
Now Jesus’ vocabulary in both multiplications is similar he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it.
This links not only the two miracles together but also links this to a greater miracle – that of the last supper where
Mark 14:22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body."
It is through this Eucharist that the Jews and Gentiles. The 12 tribes are reunited and gathered together once again in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the Mass. Prefigured by the two miraculous multiplication of bread and flesh and fulfilled in the Mass.
This Bible tidbit is based on Dr. Brant Pitre's talk: The Last Supper and the Lost Tribes of Israel.