This causes them to ask if they should go and buy the amount of bread mentioned by Philip, even though they've already stated that such would not be sufficient. Jesus, instead of instructing them to go purchase food, inquires as to how much food they presently have. They report that they have five barley loaves and two small fishes, but obviously this wouldn't be enough unless they went and bought some more (cf. Luke 9:13). This small amount of food belonged to a young boy (cf. John 6:9) who was evidently kind enough to give it to them. Barley bread was the cheapest kind and it would have been formed into thin, small portions (like good-sized crackers), and the fish, also being small, were probably the size of sardines.
Jesus requested that the food be brought to Him (cf. Matt. 14:18). He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. Interestingly, although this was a deserted place, it wasn't a desert. "So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties" (Mark 6:40). As always, Jesus proceeded in an orderly fashion. The food could be much more easily and quickly served if the people were divided up into groups. Also, no one would be overlooked this way. Additionally, this would emphasize the magnitude of the miracle about to be performed because the people would realize just how many were present. Other than the resurrection of Jesus, the miracle about to occur is the only one recorded in all four accounts of the gospel.
"He looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves" (Mark 6:41). The posture of the body during prayer is not as important as the condition of one's heart (e.g., Luke 18:9-14). Jesus here sets an example to be imitated regarding the giving of thanks prior to a meal. However, our gratitude should not be limited to only those specific times. I Thessalonians 5:18 instructs Christians to give thanks "in everything."
One subtle point worth observing is that Mark records that Jesus "blessed" the loaves and John wrote that Jesus "gave thanks" (6:11). Thus, to give thanks for food is to bless it. For a person to ask God to bless his food is equivalent to asking God to give thanks for it! Such a prayer, though spoken ignorantly, is inappropriate (cf. I Cor. 10:16 - "the cup of blessing which we bless" [i.e., give thanks for]).
Mark 6:42 - "So they all ate and were filled." Wouldn't this have been an amazing sight to witness? What was once merely a meal for a boy had become more than enough for everyone in the multitude to get full! The Scriptures do not reveal how the food was multiplied. It is possible that the miracle took place directly in the hands of Jesus and that He kept breaking bread as it materialized in His hands. It is also possible that the miracle took place as the bread was being distributed to the people. In either case, the reaction of the crowd clearly indicates that they know Jesus was responsible for the miracle (cf. John 6:14). The boy who initially gave his lunch to Christ ended up with a full stomach. Luke 6:38 comes to mind - "Give, and it will be given to you..."
After the meal "they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish" (Mark 6:43). Leftovers are not to be wasted! Here is a practical lesson in good stewardship of one's physical blessings. Nothing is written about the size of the baskets, but twelve of them were filled, hence one for each apostle to carry. "Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children" (Matt. 14:21). It is impossible to know the exact number of people who were present since the women and children were not counted. Some speculate that there may have been over 10,000 people in all. Others surmise that the number would have been much lower considering their current distance from any town (i.e., there would have been few women and children present).
John 6:14 records - "Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, 'This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world'" (cf. Deut. 18:18,19). Essentially, they are proclaiming Him to be the Messiah, though their faith in Him is not constant (cf. John 6:66). Their excitement will soon lead them to try to make Jesus their physical king (cf. 6:15). This miracle is called a "sign" because it was correctly interpreted to signify that God was with the One who performed this wonderful act.