At the beginning of Luke 9, Jesus calls the twelve together and commissions them to bring the Gospel of the Kingdom, evidenced by healing throughout the land of Israel. We are not necessarily told where they went exactly but we do know that Jesus told the disciples elsewhere "I was only sent to the lost house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). And this was because it was Israel's calling and vocation to be "the light of the world", the "city set on a hill". It was through Israel that God had chosen to set right all that had gone wrong with creation. This is what "election" is all about. Therefore, Jesus intended to gather Israel to Himself to become part of His renewal movement so that they might actually become what they were intended to be, a light to the world. Therefore, Jesus sends out the symbolic twelve disciples who, by their very action of proclaiming the Gospel, are already acting as the renewed Israel, bringing light and healing to Israel first and then through Israel to the world.
The disciples return to Jesus and report all that they had done and seen and Jesus has more for them to do. The crowds who are following Jesus and beginning to believe in His renewal movement are hungry. What should He do? The disciples recommend sending them away before they don't have the strength left to get home. But Jesus has other ideas. Here is not only another chance for Jesus to demonstrate a renewed Israel once again, it is also a chance to show Israel that He Himself is the good shepherd who feeds His sheep. The reference to Herod here is not accidental. Herod, the Roman appointed king or shepherd of Israel was like the wicked kings of old who drank the best waters himself and then muddied the rest of the water so nobody else could drink it (Ezekiel 34:18). Herod had killed John the Baptist, something the true Shepherd of Israel would have never done. Here is Jesus' chance to set Himself apart from kingship in the likes of Herod. Jesus doesn't endorse a holy and violent revolution but He does practice quiet subversion. In stark contrast to Herod who kills his own sheep, Jesus, the true King and good Shepherd, feeds the sheep with only two fish and five loaves of bread. But Jesus doesn't do this alone. Jesus does this through the elect and renewed people of God represented in the twelve disciples. The disciples once again embody the renewed people of God as they "feed the flock" with the multiplied bread and fish. Jesus has come to renew Israel and make her what she was created and elected to be: a light to the world. And when the crowds have finished eating, there are exactly twelve baskets full of fish and bread left. Thus, there is enough for ALL of Israel to be fed and then some. God's provision for Israel and through Israel to the world is complete.
Luke wants His readers to have no doubt that Jesus was a renewing Israel movement, even though it was not like any of the other renewal movements that Israel had seen before. And right in the middle of this renewal movement, taking a very active role in it, was the symbolic twelve disciples.
At the end of the day, this isn't simply about God accomplishing something and standing back waiting for our applause, it is about God accomplishing something so that His people can be the means by which that accomplishment can be implemented, not because God needs it, but because God wants it that way. The harvest is still plentiful. Are you willing to be one of the harvesters?