Q. Both times when Jesus fed the multitudes, there were different numbers, and differing amounts in the left over baskets. Do you see any significance, or is there a teaching, on these numbers, both of the size of the crowds and the leftover baskets full? I would be interested in seeing what you have thought about this. Thanks
A. You have to be a student of the symbolic use of numbers in Scripture to get the hidden meanings of this. When Jesus fed 5000 He was demonstrating His grace, five being the number of grace. The 12 baskets left over signify that He was directing His grace to ward all of Israel.
In the feeding of 4000 He was focused on the whole Earth. Four is the number of the Earth because on the 4th day Earth’s creation was complete. Having seven baskets left over means He was able to meet everyone’s needs, because seven is the number of divine completion.
In both cases the meal symbolized the giving of his life for our sins, hence His declaration that He’s the bread of life. It was an act of grace for Israel and the whole world and sufficient for both Jew and Gentile.
The study of the symbolic use of numbers in Scripture is not a salvation issue and you can learn much from the feeding of the multitudes without it. But it is one of those things that can enrich your understanding. It’s not an arbitrary or mystical thing either. The numbers are real and exact, and they also have precise meanings. A lot of research has gone into discovering how God uses numbers symbolically. E.W. Bullinger’s book “Number in Scripture” is a good resource. You can find it on line at www.philologos.org