John 6:9-John 6:13 In 6:13, the leftovers are from the miracle food. Why is the reference to the "fragments of the five barley loaves" significant?
ESV - 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
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In my opinion, the repeated reference to the original number of barley loaves was made in the verse cited in the question for the specific purpose of emphasizing the contrast between that number and the amount of fragments (twelve baskets) that were left over (as mentioned in the same verse), even after all the people had eaten their fill. This, in turn, served as the motivation of those who had been fed in wanting to forcibly make Jesus a temporal king, which led to His subsequent withdrawal by Himself, setting the stage for His further miraculous act of later joining the apostles by walking out to them on the sea, and displaying His power to confer the same ability to Peter in response to Peter's faith and request (Matthew 14:28-29).
Anytime you focus solely on the actual physical occurrence and ignore the underlying spiritual symbolism found in any of these stories you are missing the primary lessons to be found in them. The major symbols here are the numbers themselves and the symbol of barley. There is also the significance of Jesus dividing the multitude into groups of 50 heads of household. This may be the most significant symbol in the entire story. The number 5 is the number of grace so grace is a significant factor in this story and when we are referred back to that number at the end it tells us that every fragment gathered is a matter of grace to someone. The number 12 refers to God's government and authority. Combined with the number 24 (2x12), which is the number of the priesthood, and references in prophecy to the 24 thrones of the judges in the millennium among other prophecies, shows the two sided nature of God's government. The Levites deal with most day to day functions of government and the priests deal with the direct interactions with God and between God and man. All are judges, a general title given to all governmental officials including teachers, but the priests are the supreme judges. The primary function of all judges is to teach, (not necessarily enforce) God's law; the Levites (the 12) do this on a day to day basis while the priesthood is more specialized. Here you have 12 disciples and 12 baskets you are dealing with day-to-day matters and applying Jesus words (food) to them. The people of the world are prophetically divided into three groups - barley, wheat and grapes. Barley and wheat are two types of believer, and grapes are everyone else. Barley represents the elect (the 144,000 is another symbol used of these people, as are the priests sometimes. Perhaps a better way to look at them is as more mature believers. The Wheat company is everyone else. They have accepted Jesus as their savior, but their beliefs and actions conform more to the fleshly beliefs and actions of unbelievers. We often call them "fake Christians." We would do well to remember that anyone who has ever called on Jesus' name is christian, but baby Christians look and act more like the world than like Jesus. The job of the barley believers is to teach (feed) the wheat and bring them to maturity, knowing that these believers cannot eat everything given to them and fragments will need to be gathered to be fed to them at a later time, with nothing wasted. More interesting is the grouping into 50 heads of household (groups of 50 "men.") This is reference to the governmental structure found in Exodus 18. Most of the groupings are powers of 10 and this departure from that pattern has always intrigued me but I have never found a clear reason for it. 50 is the number of Jubilee. Jubilee deals with the forgiveness of all debt (all sin is counted as debt so it deals with the forgiveness of all sin) whether the debt has been repaid or not. Jubilee can be achieved before the year of Jubilee by paying off your debt note, but in the year of Jubilee all debt is cancelled, so this grouping in some way references this, but I have never figured out just how this works. In this and all other groupings the members of the group elect their leader, and that leader represents them at the next higher level of groupings. The 10s elect their leader, who as captain of 10s represents them in the group of 50. These captains of 50 represent the groups of 50 in the group of hundreds, who elect captains that meet and elect captains of 1000s, then 10,000s, etc. God chooses the high priest and prophets, but the remainder of the leadership is elected in this manner. The 12 brought the word (bread) to the leaders of the groups of 50, who then broke it further and distributed it to the people under their authority. This is how we are intended to spread the word and feed God's sheep.
I think there are two things we can learn from this. The first is that God provides abundantly - the leftover fragments filling twelve baskets exceeded the original five loaves by a great amount. The second is that even if God provides abundantly, that is no reason to waste what He provides, and we should be good stewards of His provision. The number of baskets, twelve, may be simply because there were twelve apostles gathering the leftovers.
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