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.
Note 1 at Lu 9:16: It is clear that Jesus broke the bread and fish and then gave them to His disciples to set before the multitude. It is not clear from these scriptures whether the food actually multiplied in the hands of Jesus or in the hands of the disciples. However, if we consider the logistics of feeding this multitude of people, which may have numbered over 10,000 (5,000 men besides women and children, Mt 14:21), it is probable that the food was multiplied in the disciples' hands.
If we use the number of 10,000 for the size of the multitude and divide them into groups of 50, there would be 200 groups spread out over a large area. That would be 16.67 groups for each disciple, or approximately 834 people. It would have been quite a task to feed that many people in a reasonable length of time, especially if anyone wanted seconds, as is implied in Joh 6:11. However, it could have been done if the food multiplied as the disciples passed it out.
On the other hand, if the food multiplied only as Jesus broke it, then the disciples would have had to get an armload of food, take it to the people, and then run back to Jesus to do it again. If they made sixty trips, which would mean they would have had to feed about fourteen people on each trip, and if they could complete each trip in two minutes, then time spent running back and forth would total two hours. They also needed time to distribute the food, which would have taken at least five minutes per trip, and that alone would total an additional five hours. That would mean a conservative estimate of seven hours for the time that it would take to both carry the food to the groups and distribute it.
Then, it also has to be taken into consideration whether Jesus could divide the food to His disciples fast enough. If each disciple took seven minutes to receive the food, distribute it, and return for more, then that would mean that Jesus had to be dividing the food fast enough to fill twenty-four people every minute. Although Jesus could do anything, this would not be the most efficient way of feeding the multitude, and there is no statement that it happened this way.
Jesus had already commissioned His twelve disciples to go preach, heal, and cast out devils, thereby multiplying His effectiveness (Mt 10:1, Mr 6:7, and Lu 9:1), so it is certainly possible that He could have multiplied the food through them also.
If the food did multiply in the hands of the disciples, then it would beautifully illustrate how we are co-laborers with Christ (1Co 3:9). Just as God works His miracles through us today, this miracle would probably not have taken place without Jesus' disciples.
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