“After breaking the loaves, [Jesus] distributed them to the disciples, the disciples in turn to the crowds.”—MATTHEW 14:19.
1-3. How did Jesus feed a large crowd near Bethsaida? (See opening picture.)
IMAGINE the scene. (Read Matthew 14:14-21.) It was just before the Passover of the year 32. A crowd of about 5,000 men, along with women and young children, had followed Jesus and his disciples to an isolated place near Bethsaida, a village on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee.
2 When Jesus saw the crowd, he felt sorry for the people, so he healed the sick among them and taught them many things about God’s Kingdom. When it got late, the disciples asked Jesus to send the people away so that they could buy food for themselves in nearby villages. But Jesus told his disciples: “You give them something to eat.” Jesus’ words must have puzzled them. They had very little food, only five loaves of bread and two small fish.
3 Motivated by compassion, Jesus performed a miracle. It is the only miracle included in all four Gospels. (Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13) Jesus had his disciples tell the crowd to sit down on the green grass in groups of 50 and of 100. After saying a prayer, he broke the bread and divided up the fish. Instead of giving the food to the people directly, Jesus gave it to the disciples, and then the disciples gave it out to the crowd. They had more than enough food to feed everybody. Just think: Jesus fed thousands through the hands of a few, his disciples.*—See endnote.
4. (a) Jesus was even more concerned about giving his followers what kind of food? Why? (b) What will we discuss in this study article and in the next one?
4 Jesus was even more concerned about giving out spiritual food to his followers, that is, teaching them the truths in God’s Word. He knew that if they learned those truths, they could have everlasting life. (John 6:26, 27; 17:3) The compassion that motivated Jesus to feed bread and fish to the crowds also motivated him to spend many hours teaching his followers. (Mark 6:34) But he knew that he would soon return to heaven. (Matthew 16:21; John 14:12) From heaven, how would Jesus continue to give out spiritual food to his followers on earth? Just as he did when he fed the crowds, he would feed many through the hands of a few. Who, though, would be the few? Let us learn how Jesus used a few to give out spiritual food to his many anointed followers in the first century. Then, in the next article, we will discuss a question that is extremely important to each one of us: Who are the few Jesus uses to give us spiritual food today?
JESUS CHOOSES THE FEW
5, 6. (a) What very important decision did Jesus make so that his followers would have the direction they needed after his death? (b) How did Jesus prepare his apostles to care for an extremely important assignment after his death?
5 A responsible family head makes sure that his family will be cared for in case he dies. Similarly, Jesus, who would become Head of the Christian congregation, made sure that his followers would have the instruction and direction they needed after his death. (Ephesians 1:22) For example, about two years before he died, Jesus made a very important decision. He began choosing those few he would later use to feed the many. Let us discuss what happened.
6 After praying all night, Jesus chose the 12 apostles from among his disciples. (Luke 6:12-16) For the next two years, he spent a lot of time teaching these 12 men, both by what he said and by what he did. He knew that they had much to learn. In fact, during that time they were still called “disciples,” or students. (Matthew 11:1; 20:17) Jesus gave each of them valuable counsel and thorough training in the ministry. (Matthew 10:1-42; 20:20-23; Luke 8:1; 9:52-55) Clearly, he was preparing them for an extremely important assignment after his death and return to heaven.
7. How did Jesus show what the main responsibility of the apostles would be?
7 What assignment would the apostles have? As Pentecost of the year 33 got closer, it was clear that the apostles would take the lead in the congregation. (Acts 1:20) What, though, would be their main responsibility? After Jesus was resurrected, he said something to the apostle Peter that gives us the answer. (Read John 21:1, 2, 15-17.) In front of some of the other apostles, Jesus told Peter: “Feed my little sheep.” With these words, Jesus showed that the few he would use to give spiritual food to the many would include the apostles. These words also show how much Jesus loves his “little sheep”!*—See endnote.
FEEDING THE MANY FROM PENTECOST ON
8. How did new Christians at Pentecost show that they clearly knew whom Christ was using?
8 Starting at Pentecost of the year 33, the resurrected Christ used his apostles to give out spiritual food to the rest of his anointed disciples. (Read Acts 2:41, 42.) Jews and proselytes who became anointed Christians that day clearly knew whom Christ was using. With complete trust, they “continued devoting themselves,” or stayed loyal, “to the teaching of the apostles.” The new Christians were eager to learn the truths in God’s Word, and they knew exactly who could teach these truths to them. They trusted in the apostles to explain the things that Jesus said and did as well as the meaning of the scriptures that applied to him.* (See endnote.)—Acts 2:22-36.
9. How did the apostles show that they never forgot what their main responsibility was?
9 The apostles never forgot that their main responsibility was to teach and direct the congregation. For example, notice how they solved a difficult problem that could have caused division in the new Christian congregation. Interestingly, the problem was about food. Some were upset because the Greek-speaking widows were not receiving their daily food but the Hebrew-speaking widows were still receiving theirs. How did the apostles solve this problem? They appointed seven qualified brothers to make sure that all received the food they needed. Most of the apostles had probably helped to give out food to the people when Jesus miraculously fed the crowds. But they now felt that it was more important for them to give out spiritual food to the congregations. In this way, they were able to give all their time to “the ministry of the word.”—Acts 6:1-6.
10. How did Christ use the apostles and older men in Jerusalem?
10 In the year 49, there was a governing body made up of the apostles who were still living and some other qualified elders. The Bible refers to them as “the apostles and older men in Jerusalem.” (Read Acts 15:1, 2.) As the Head of the congregation, Christ used this small group of qualified men to make decisions on questions involving Christian beliefs and to direct the preaching and teaching of the Kingdom good news.—Acts 15:6-29; 21:17-19; Colossians 1:18.
11, 12. (a) What shows that Jehovah blessed the way his Son gave out spiritual food to the congregations in the first century? (b) How did people know whom Christ was using to feed the congregations?
11 Christ used a governing body to give out spiritual food in the first century. Did Jehovah bless this? Most definitely! How can we be sure? The book of Acts tells us: “Now as they [the apostle Paul and others traveling with him] traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.” (Acts 16:4, 5) Notice that those congregations became strong and grew because they loyally supported the governing body in Jerusalem. This is proof that Jehovah blessed the way spiritual food was given out to the congregations by means of his Son. Let us remember that it is only with Jehovah’s blessing that God’s people can have peace and become many.—Proverbs 10:22; 1 Corinthians 3:6, 7.
12 So far we have learned that Jesus gave out spiritual food to his followers in the same way he gave out physical food to the crowds: He fed many through the hands of a few. Back then, it was clear whom he was using to feed the congregations. For example, the apostles, who were the first members of the governing body, were able to perform miracles to prove that they had Jehovah’s blessing. Acts 5:12 says: “Through the hands of the apostles many signs and portents continued to occur among the people.”* (See endnote.) So there was no reason for those who became Christians to wonder, ‘Who really are the ones Christ is using to feed his sheep?’ But at the end of the first century, the situation changed.
WHEN THE WEEDS WERE MANY AND THE WHEAT FEW
13, 14. (a) What warning did Jesus give about an attack? When did his words begin to come true? (b) How would the congregation be attacked? (See endnote.)
13 Jesus foretold that the Christian congregation would be attacked. Remember, in his illustration of the wheat and the weeds, Jesus warned that weeds (false Christians) would be planted among the wheat (anointed Christians). He said that the two groups would be allowed to grow together until the harvest, which would happen at “a conclusion of a system of things.” (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) It did not take long for Jesus’ words to begin to come true.*—See endnote.
14 The apostasy had already started in the first century, but the apostles were like “a restraint.” They prevented false teachings from infecting the Christian congregation. (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6, 7) However, once the last apostle died, the apostasy spread, and the wheat and the weeds grew together for many centuries. During that time, the weeds became many and the wheat became few. There was no organized group regularly giving out spiritual food. That would eventually change. But the question is, When?
WHO WOULD GIVE OUT SPIRITUAL FOOD DURING THE HARVEST?
15, 16. What were the results of the Bible Students’ careful study of the Scriptures? What question could be asked about the Bible Students?
15 As the time for the wheat and the weeds to grow together was coming to an end, some people started to show strong interest in learning Bible truths. Remember that in the 1870’s, a small group of people, then called Bible Students, got together and started Bible classes. These classes were no part of any church or religious group of Christendom. The Bible Students humbly and carefully studied God’s Word to find the truth.—Matthew 11:25.
16 The Bible Students’ careful study of the Scriptures had very good results. These loyal men and women exposed false teachings and taught the truth of God’s Word to others. They published Bible literature and sent it around the world. Many who wanted to learn Bible truth read their literature and became convinced that this was the truth. So we might ask: In the years before 1914, were the Bible Students the group that Christ said he would use to feed his sheep? No. The wheat and the weeds were still growing together, and the group that Christ would use to give out spiritual food was not yet ready. The time had not come for false Christians to be separated from true Christians.
17. What important things happened starting in 1914?
17 As we learned in the previous article, the time of the harvest began in 1914. Starting in that year, several important things happened. Jesus became King, and the last days began. (Revelation 11:15) From 1914 to the early part of 1919, Jesus along with his Father inspected and cleansed God’s spiritual temple.* (See endnote.) (Malachi 3:1-4) Then, starting in 1919, it was time to begin gathering the wheat. Was it finally the time for Christ to appoint one organized group to give out spiritual food? Yes, it was!
18. What appointment did Jesus say he would make? What was the important question after the last days began?
18 In his prophecy about the time of the end, Jesus said that he would appoint a “slave” to give out spiritual “food at the proper time.” (Matthew 24:45-47) Who would this “slave” be? Just as he did in the first century, Jesus would once again feed many through the hands of a few. But after the last days began, the important question was, Who will be the few? That and other questions about Jesus’ prophecy will be discussed in the next article.
Paragraph 3: Later, when Jesus fed 4,000 men, together with women and children, he again gave the food to the disciples, and then the disciples gave it out to the people.—Matthew 15:32-38.
Paragraph 7: During Peter’s lifetime, all the “little sheep” who would be fed had the hope of life in heaven.
Paragraph 8: The fact that new Christians “continued devoting themselves to the teaching of the apostles” shows that the apostles were teaching others regularly. Some of the teaching of the apostles was included in the inspired books that are now part of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Paragraph 12: Christians who were not apostles also received miraculous gifts of the spirit. But it seems that, most of the time, these gifts were given directly by an apostle or in the presence of an apostle.—Acts 8:14-18; 10:44, 45.
Paragraph 13: The apostle Paul’s words at Acts 20:29, 30 show that the congregation would be attacked both from the outside and from the inside. First, false Christians (“weeds”) would “enter in among” true Christians. Second, “from among” true Christians, some would become apostates and speak “twisted things.”
Paragraph 17: See the article “Look! I Am With You All the Days,” in this issue, page 11, paragraph 6.