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134 Sign 4 Feeding a Great Crowd

The Fourth Sign in the Gospel of John is the feeding of a great crowd of people who had shown up and interrupted Jesus time alone with the disciples when they wanted to process the news about John the Baptists death. Jesus is concerned about these people and their need for food while they are still in the distance. The abundance that Jesus provides is consistent with he abundance of wine for a wedding and grace for all who desire it.

134 Sign 4 Feeding 5000
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Sign 4 in John Feeding the Great Crowd

6:1 Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias),

Probably to get away from the confrontation with the religious leaders who were hounding Him over the Sabbath healings. Sea of Tiberius meaning that Caesar claimed even the water in Israel belonged to him.

6:2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.

Many miracles are not recorded, we only know of a few (20:30; 21:25). The self-resurrection of Jesus and the feeding of the 5000 are the only two miracles which appear in all four gospels. 5000 is mentioned in Matthew 14:21; Mark 6:44; Luke 9:14, but not in John. John has a great crowd. Matthew is insistent that the 5000 included only men. This means that there could have been 10-20,000 people there.

6:3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples.

To sit down would mean that He was about to teach them. In the court of Pilate, the accused, Jesus, stood while the judge, Pilate, sat. We have chairs at universities because when they were started only the teacher had a chair, we have a chairman because only this person had a chair. We have standing committees because of a lack of chairs long ago.

6:4 The Jewish Passover Feast was near.

Passover is the first full moon in the Spring lunar month. Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon after the Spring equinox. Passover is near meant it was necessary to go to Jerusalem. It also meant that there would be crowds of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. These crowds would pick on the excitement of Jesus and His miracles. This would explain the great number of people who suddenly appeared on the scene while Jesus was hoping to spend some time with His disciples.

The conflict in Judea would continue and possibly, Jesus would reveal himself as king at Passover. This excitement would have been palpable among the crowds.

6:5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

Why ask Philip? He was from Bethsaida (John 1:44) and they were near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). He would have known where the nearest bakery was. It is this same Philip will later ask Jesus to, “Show us the father.” (14:8).

This was a solitary place and there was no food around there. Jesus knew they were going to be here for some time as they had travelled far to get here. Before the people were concerned about food Jesus was working to meet their need. There will be no spiritual absorption if the people are physically hungry. The Exodus was about manna from the sky and water from the rock. The Messiah, the Rock (1 Corinthians 10:1-5), the second Moses (Dt 18:15), will repeat this tangible love and care!

6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Does God help those who first help themselves? Philip could have responded: “(You) give us this day our daily bread!

Testing? “Lead us not into temptation” is part of the standard Lord’s prayer. The Latin Vulgate translation (350 AD has this wording and has been influential for the past 1700 years. The KJV followed the Vulgate and thus since 1661 the idea that God tests or tempts us has been part of our understanding even though James 1:13 indicates otherwise.

6:7 Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Philip did not get it even though he had witnessed many miracles done by Jesus. He is still thinking on the human level. He fails to enter into the mind of Jesus which can imagine a thousand other possibilities. One day Philip will learn to do this, but that time is still future.

6:8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

The situation is humanly speaking impossible. It is clear there is no hope for food for the people on this day. The artists do not do justice to the boy’s lunch. They show large loaves and big fish. There are miraculous precedents for a food miracle. Elisha fed 200 people during the famine with 20 loaves (2 Kings 4) and the manna was a 40-year daily miracle (Leviticus 16). Man’s little is God’s much! We can never imagine or match the generosity of God.

6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them.

Something is about to happen. Plenty of grass means it was a comfortable place to sit. Sitting created order and a change of atmosphere. People could see better and it would be clear where the food was coming from. If the 12 disciples distributed the food that meant each one would have taken food to 400 men plus women and children. To include women and children we need to budget for 800-1200 in each group. This means carrying food from Jesus to your group of say, 1000 people in whatever container you can lay your hands on. It is going to take 200 trips even if you can carry enough food for 5 people at a time. Take an average time of 1 minute per trip, this means 200 minutes which is three hours!

Jesus is authenticating his prayer, “You give us this day our daily bread.“ (Matthew 6:11) and his teaching, “Your father knows exactly what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8)

6: 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

Jesus is generous. You could have as much as you wanted from His hand. You could fill your satchel too. You cannot use more than God gives. Think about the abundance of sunlight and air.

6:12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”

God’s hands are on our bodies. The disciples distributed the bread and fish and now they collected what was left over. In God’s economy everything counts, there is no wastage. Every leaf that falls to the ground is food for a growing plant or animal. Every “word” of God is packed with meaning, there is no wastage here either. Our lives are to be this way. There is no place for wastage. I am sure some of them stuffed their satchels full before the extra was collected. What happened to the 12 baskets if left over food? There were polite people who had not taken extra food to ensure that all could have enough food. The extra could have gone to these unselfish souls.

6:13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

Each disciple would have had a basket or a satchel, like every woman has a purse. These baskets were for carrying food in. In supplying the multitude with food, the disciples also benefited. As we bless others, we are blessed ourselves. The manna was just sufficient for the family but here is extravagance on Jesus part. The broken fragments are symbolic of Jesus body which is to be broken and thousands of people can eat of his body and be empowered and enthused for life.

6:14 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

The prophet refers to the prophet Moses had foretold (Duet 18:15). Jesus was teaching and doing miracles like Moses, it was easy to conclude that this was the prophet. Moses had also provided bread and now Jesus was replicating this miracle.

6: 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Jesus knew His work and His time. He was not to be another king in the long line of human rulers who operated by force and deceit. He was about other business, and this temptation must be resisted also by a firm grip on His Father’s purpose and plan for Himself. This is the same temptation that He faced in the wilderness all over again. He longed for someone who would understand what He was about. A few did. The disciples who encouraged Jesus to eat at Jacob’s well (4:31). The woman who anointed his feet and dried them with her hair (John 12:1-3).

Jesus told the people to go home (Matt. 14:22). He had come to serve not to be honoured and feted as a king of Israel.

Ian Hartley,

July 2023

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