6:1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.
- Commentators note that there is a special emphasis on this event (the feeding of the 5000) in the gospels. Carson says, “This is the only miracle during Jesus’ ministry that is recorded in all four Gospels.” This is the fourth major sign recorded for us in John’s gospel.
- Some say this was not an actual miracle of Christ multiplying/creating new fish and bread. I dismiss this, as do most serious scholars. Leon Morris says that, “there are three principle ways of understanding what happened.” Those include Christ working a “miracle in people’s hearts”, thus having them share all their packed lunches with each other. This is more a miracle of ethics, rather than creation from nothing, and its strain upon the text cannot stand. A second way to look at this would be that Christ divided out the small amount of food into tiny samplings, and a kind of sacramental communion was held – of course this doesn’t square well with verse 12 which indicates that they were all “filled.” The last way in which this could be seen is the way it actually happened, which is how I believe it to be.
- Sproul points out that theological liberals state that Jesus and His disciples hid food in a cave ahead of time in a sort of clandestine attempt to show a false miracle. This liberal viewpoint runs contrary to the obvious thrust and text of Scripture.
- When it says “after this” the text seems to indicate some time between Jesus’ talking in chapter 5 and the event we’re about to read of. The ESV study notes say that as much as a year could have been indicated – and several other commentators indicate something similar. It all depends on whether or not the undisclosed “feast” in 5:1 was the Passover Feast. As Carson notes, “The expression is vague: it establishes sequence, but not tight chronology.”
- The Sea of Tiberias was the same, as we see here, as the Sea of Galilee. It was named after Tiberias Caesar, and was a more common name among gentiles and those living several years after Christ. Tiberias was also a city on the seaside that Herrod Antipas had built (about A.D. 20).
- Calvin tells us that, “the whole lake did not bear that name, but only that part of it which lay contiguous to the bank on which Tiberias was situated.”
6:2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.
- It is not insignificant that John notes the motivation for the following Jesus was producing. Ryle comments, “There seems to reason to suppose that this multitude followed our Lord for any but low motives.”
6:3-4 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.
- These verses serve to give us the context of where we are, and that it was again a time of an annual feast. And as to the location, Carson notes, “The Greek to oros does not necessarily refer to a particular mountain or hillside, but may simply mean ‘the hill country’ or ‘the high ground’, referring to the area east of the lake and well known today as the Golan Heights.”
- Calvin notes (and there is agreement among others on this point) that Jesus was undoubtedly looking to sit down and rest here. But the crowds were not going to allow this to happen. Calvin says we ought to take a lesson from this, “We are therefore taught by this example to form our plans in conformity to the course of events, but in such a manner that, if the result be different from what we expected, we may not be displeased that God is above us, and regulates everything according to his pleasure.” He talks about how Christ submitted to God’s will in everything, and that here, despite wanting to rest, Christ submits to the Father’s plan for him in that moment.
6:5-6 Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
- John adds the editorial disclaimer in verse six so that we understand the deity and vast knowledge of Jesus. It is almost as if to say, “Jesus had a plan already, but He was using this as a teaching moment for Philip.”
- Carson notes that the word “test” here is peirazo and is “commonly used by the Evangelists in the bad sense of ‘tempt’, to solicit to do evil. The word itself, however, is neutral, and is entirely appropriate here.”
- Mark’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus had already begun teaching them and had perhaps taken a break to consider or begin to deal with feeding them.
6:7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”
- So here is Philip’s response to the “testing” of our Lord. Does he pass the test? How do you think Christ would have had him respond? I wonder if some faith would have been appropriate in the circumstances, given the number of amazing things Christ had already done. In other words, instead of just giving a mere accounting of their financial situation, it would have been better if Philip had said, “Lord, we only have 200 denarii, but with you all things are possible, what would you have us do?” Instead Philip answers by giving the accounting, and adds to it a negative inflection that what they have in money won’t be enough to satisfy the needs of all of these people. What was predominant in his words are what can’t be done, rather than what can be done. So, in my estimation, Philip failed to give a faith-filled answer (Sproul agrees with me and says he “flunked” the test).
6:8-9 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,  “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
- Similar to the response of Philip, Andrew says “what are they for so many?” What is at the heart of this? Unbelief. They were not quick in prayer and supplication, but were quick to doubt what could be done for these people.
- John’s gospel is the only one to tell us that this bread was “barley.” Barley was really inexpensive bread. D.A. Carson provides more detail, “The ‘small fish’ were probably pickled fish to be eaten as a side dish with the small cakes of barley bread. Andrew’s point of course, was that this tiny meal was ludicrously inadequate to the need. John mentions it to heighten the miracle.”
6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.
- First, we see that the grass is still green (from Mark’s account) and this tells us that it is likely the spring time (Passover connection grows stronger), before the sun had burnt the grass.
- Secondly, it’s evident this number is only a count of the men. The ESV study notes say, “The men numbered about five thousand, plus women and children, totaling perhaps as many as 20,000 people.” Carson says it could have even well exceeded this number.
- MacArthur brought something to my mind about what this organization must have been like – when he says “can you imagine twelve men serving 15,000 people!?” What an amazing spectacle. It also brought to mind the fact that it would have taken a long time to get everyone food. The people would have to wait on the Lord, and be patient for His provision – how much do we need to take that lesson to heart!
6:11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.
- Note that the first thing Christ does is “give thanks.” Unlike the disciples, His first action is to prayer. Carson notes something that I never would have thought of before, and it’s really got me thinking about our own prayers before meals. He says, “If Jesus used the common forth of Jewish thanksgiving, He said something like this: ‘Blessed are though, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.’ Jesus ‘blesses’ God, i.e. He thanks God; He does not ‘bless’ the food.”
- I can’t help but think about how much sense that makes. When we pray prior to a meal, are we asking God to somehow do something miraculous to the food by “blessing” it? I’ve often thought about what we are actually asking of God here. Are we asking Him to make sure that the food does its job? Are we so small in faith that we need to ask God that He look out for the digestive work to be done while also ensuring that all the necessary protein and vitamins get properly distributed to our bodies??? Are we not better off blessing/thanking the Lord God for His provision for us, in order that we may give glory and worship to Him for taking care of our needs? I think this may seem a small thing, but it is important that when we pray to the Lord God Almighty, that we are cognizant of our words. We must not allow ritual to replace reverence.
- Note secondly that He distributed “as much as they wanted.” This is similar to the way He operated at Cana when He filled 180 gallons of wine for the wedding.
- I always think of how abundant His blessings are to us. We cannot comprehend the how good Heaven is going to be – and how horrible Hell is going to be. But everything Jesus did and said was a “sign” of something even more full that was to come, I think. When He feeds 20,000 people here, and then goes on to say later that He is “the bread of life”, our thoughts immediately ought to run to what we know about Jesus and His actions here on earth. Everything points to Him going above and beyond our expectations. It reminds me of my dad growing up. There were so many times when I would ask for something, or desire something – maybe I just wanted to make a trip with Dad to the store, or go with him golfing – but what would normally happen would be his going above and beyond my expectations. It was his modus operandi to bless me beyond my limited expectations. He would always make those times just wonderful. There would always be something he’d do to go above and beyond.
- That is how Jesus acted. And His actions mirror His teaching about how the Father acts toward us in comparison to our earthly fathers. Matthew 7:11 tells us that Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Calvin says, “But as flesh solicits us to attend to its conveniences, we ought likewise to observe that Christ, of his own accord, takes care of those who neglect themselves in order to follow him.”
- But not only is Jesus the great giver of good gifts, but secondly, He is also the creator of all things, and the fact that He could make something from nothing is not lost of J.C. Ryle who says, “he can call into being that which was not before, and call it out of nothing.” To Ryle this has a specific application for the gospel, and follows up by adding, “We must never despair of anyone being saved.”
- Thirdly, Calvin points out that this miracle shows not only the specific power of the gospel to certain men, but in another way, it shows God’s earthly provision of food for all mankind – in theology we call this “common grace.” He notes, “we shall be compelled to discern the blessing of God in all the creatures which serve for our bodily support; but use and frequency lead us to undervalue the miracles of nature.”
- Fourthly, I think this section of scripture, and this miracle in particular, show us that Christ identifies with us in our humanity, and feeds His children. He knows that they have needs, He knows that we have needs (Matt. 6:8), and He moves to fulfill them, while pointing to His even greater fulfilling power – that of the bread of life.
- This leads to my fifth point, which Ryle called “the sufficiency of the Gospel for the wants of all mankind.” And what I think he is getting at is what I just mentioned above, namely that Jesus Himself is the “bread of life” (6:35) and that those who come to Him will no longer hunger. His gospel will satisfy that vacuum in your life, that longing for something better – what R.C. Sproul calls “The soul’s quest for God.” As noted above, the abundance of Christ’s blessings in salvation are evident in the blessings He showed here to these people. As Ryle puts it, “There can be no doubt that this was meant to teach the adequacy of Christ’s Gospel to supply the necessities of the whole world. Weak, and feeble, and foolish as it may seem to man, the simple story of the Cross is enough for all the children of Adam in every part of the globe. The tidings of Christ’s death for sinners, and the atonement made by that death, is able to meet the hearts and satisfy the consciences of all nations, and peoples, and kindreds, and tongues. Carried by faithful messengers, it feeds and supplies all ranks and classes.”
6:12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”
- It occurs to me that John left this part of the even in the gospel account for a reason. And it is an unusual thing to remark upon, but let me try to explain why it is significant (for all scripture is significant and we can learn from each verse 2 Tim. 3:16). This verse is about stewardship. But it does beyond what we might normally apply it to. Specifically, there are two things that I think must be noted here.
- First, He is reminding us by this instruction to his disciples, that we ought to always be thankful for what He has provided us, and to be good and careful stewards of His blessings so as to not seem unthankful and capriciously waste our blessings, and in a manner, show a distain for His provision and an arrogance toward God for what He has given, as if we will certainly be blessed again (this is an attitude of self-righteousness).
- The second thing, and probably the most significant, is that He is showing His disciples that they are to be stewards of the men and women who He entrusts to their care here on earth. J.C. Ryle says that this is one of the main themes of this section of Scripture, in fact. He says this section shows “The role and office of a minister – to distribute the bread of Christ with no power in himself, but all from Christ.” At the heart of this role, the minister is Christ’s hands and feet to carry out His purposes and spread His gospel here on earth, “That none may be lost.” The fact that Jesus uses this phrase “none may be lost” is significant because it sets the stage for the teaching He is about to lay before them about His role as the Good Shepherd. We will see in the following verses that in this role, He loses none of His sheep.
- Note also here that they were gathering “fragments” of what remained – this is significant because as part of the picture of this great miracle, Jesus is not only concerned with the whole pieces, but also the fragments which represent the sick, the needy, the sinful, those in need of salvation (Matt. 9:12). He came into this world to seek and save the lost so that no one of His children, His elect, would be lost (Luke 19:10). If this isn’t comforting to you, then you must have no feelings at all. For this is the most wonderful thing to me. Jesus Christ cares about me. He cares about the least of His children. No detail is left to chance, no small thing beyond His notice, no weak soul will be unaccounted for when the Book of Life is opened.
- Now you might be thinking, “I am not a leader in the church, so this doesn’t apply to me.” But there you would be wrong. For every parent, every father, every mother is a leader in their home. We are all stewards of God’s gracious gift. We ought to always bear that in mind and act with care so that “nothing is lost.” That is our charge as careful stewards of the gifts we have been given (1 Pet. 4:10) – especially the most important gift of salvation, which we are stewards of (1 Cor. 4:1).
6:13-15 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.  When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
- The reaction of the people here was perhaps different than what we ought to take from it. In fact, at first I thought about taking verses 14 and 15 separately because they both seem to have plenty to say on their own, however, I think its vital to put them together, and this is why: when the people react to the miracle in verse 14 by calling Jesus “the prophet”, it is tempting to think that they have finally got it right. They finally see Him as the Son of God and the Messiah in the full spiritual sense for which He wanted them to see Him. But our hopes are dashed by verse 15 which tells us that they wanted to make Him “king” – evidently their hearts and minds were still set on a political ruler being the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. In other words, they still didn’t “get it.”
- Calvin deftly points out that, “…they erred egregiously in taking upon themselves the liberty of making a king; for Scripture ascribes this as peculiar to God alone, as it is said, I have appointed my king on my holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:6), again what sort of kingdom do they contrive for him? An earthly one, which is utterly inconsistent with his person.” He goes on to say that we need to learn an important lesson here, “Hence let us learn how dangerous it is, in the things of God, to neglect His word, and to contrive anything of our own opinion; for there is nothing which the foolish subtlety of our understanding does not corrupt.”
- What precipitated their desire for Him to be “king”? I think it was probably a combination of what has been mentioned above, along with an understanding of the role of the Passover feast and how that would have been drumming up nationalistic fervor among them. Carson notes that, “It was a rallying point for intense, nationalistic zeal. This goes some way to explaining the fervor that tried to force Jesus to become king.” Carson goes further and explains that, “The juxtaposition of vs. 14 and vs. 15 presupposes that the people who think Jesus may well be the eschatological Prophet understand this Prophet’s role to be simultaneously kingly. If the first prophet, Moses, had led the people out of slavery to Egypt, surely the second would help them escape servitude to Rome.”
- Sproul also says something similar about the nature of the Passover being like our 4th of July, “it was the supreme celebration of national pride,” he says. “So while this frenzy was going on, stoking the people’s hopes for someone to deliver them from the yoke of Roman tyranny, the perfect political candidate appeared on the scene. He even provided that which wins political votes everywhere – a chicken in every pot, or a loaf and a fish in every lunch. It doesn’t get any better than that. The people said, ‘This is the kind of king we want – one that will care for us from the cradle to the grave.’ But Jesus read their hearts, and He knew that the kind of king they were looking for had nothing to do with the kind of kingdom He had come to inaugurate. They were looking for the kingdom of man; He came to bring the kingdom of God. It was His mission to provide His people with so much more than bread and fishes.”
- The next thing we need to note here, and perhaps it seems a small thing in comparison with the large political and spiritual issues at hand in the verses prior, is that Jesus had times of solitude. This is something we often neglect in our own lives, and something we ought to keep in mind as we seek to model the behavior of Christ.
- Now, you should ask, “to what end?” The end for Christ was to spend more time with the Father. In Luke 5:16 we’re told that, “…he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” We too ought to withdraw for times of solitude for the purpose of prayer. We need to free ourselves from the distractions of this world, and spend some time in prayer with our Father.