From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 14:13-21
Spectacular though it was, the multiplication of the loaves was not an unprecedented event. Similar miracles involving food appear in the Old Testament.
One thinks of the manna that rained down from heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod 16:4–21). So too Elijah, when he stayed with a poor widow of Zarephath, caused her nearly empty jar of meal and her depleted cruse of oil to supply the household with food throughout an extended famine (1 Kings 17:8–16).
Most relevant here is the miracle of Elijah’s successor, Elisha, who multiplied twenty loaves for one hundred men and still had some left over (2 Kings 4:42–44). Against this background, Christ’s miracle shows that he wields a power even greater than that of the prophets of Israel, for he started with fewer loaves than Elisha and fed a vastly larger crowd!
But the significance of Jesus’ action does not end here. The multiplication of loaves not only draws our minds back to the Old Testament; it also points us forward to the institution of the Eucharist.
Readers familiar with the Last Supper account are not likely to miss the connection between these events, for Matthew recounts them in similar terms. Notice that both events take place at the same time (evening, 14:15; 26:20), and those in attendance assume the same posture (reclining, 14:19; 26:20). Likewise, Jesus performs the same actions with the bread in both instances, and in the same sequence (took, blessed, broke, gave, 14:19; 26:26). Lastly, Jesus hands the broken loaves to the same recipients (the disciples, 14:19; 26:26).
No doubt Matthew considers the multiplication of the loaves an anticipatory sign of the Eucharist to be distributed as communion to the multitudes of God’s people.