John 6: 1 – 15 Jesus feeds the five thousand
Sometime after this, Jesus crossed to the far side of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill.
According to John, most of the large crowd following Jesus were doing so because they had seen him perform healing miracles. John has explained to his readers in John 5: 36 that Jesus’ healing miracles are ‘testimony’ to who he is. Some of those in the crowd would have understood the miracles in this way, but John implies that others of them were sensation seekers.
Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Why did Jesus test his disciples like this? Was it to discover how much they had understood of his ministry, and his power?
Well, it may have been, but I suggest that it was, at least in part, to fix the event very firmly in their minds. He challenged them, put them on the spot. ‘How are you going to deal with this problem?’ They were forced to think about the scale of the need Jesus was about to fill.
Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’
There was no way the disciples would have been carrying that much money. “Can’t afford it.” When faced with a challenge of human needs, how often do we say this? Perhaps we should pray for the faith to trust God to provide.
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’
One boy’s lunch to feed five thousand grown men? Can’t be done. Except by God.
Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).
What was in the disciples’ minds as they organised the people into seated groups? Within moments they would have to satisfy the crowd with food they didn’t have. Personally, I would have been apprehensive. The best outcome I would expect would be ridicule.
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.
It’s important that Jesus gave thanks – all the gospels record it. Jesus didn’t ask God to provide more food; he thanked him for the food that he had already supplied through the boy’s generosity, and he distributed it.
Jesus knew the will of his Father in this matter; he didn’t need to ask. I sometimes wonder whether we ask too frequently and earnestly for God to provide things. Might it not be better to seek God’s will, since God already knows what we need?
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
There were far more left-over pieces of bread than in the original meal that the boy had given to Jesus.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
The crowd had seen the miracle. In human terms they believed, but they hadn’t understood. They thought of Jesus as an invincible king, one who would drive out the Romans and establish the kingdom of Israel. To avoid this, Jesus gave them the slip and withdrew from them.
It’s a mistake that it’s all too easy to make. We want our vision of Jesus, our version of salvation. That’s not how it’s going to be; we’re God’s creation, and He calls the shots.
Which is what this blog is all about. It’s my way of trying to discover God’s will by getting closer to Jesus.
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All four of the gospels have an account of this event, and they are all very similar. You can find the other accounts in Matthew 14: 13 – 21, Mark 6: 30 – 44 and Luke 9: 10 – 17. Each version says that Jesus tested his disciples by telling them to feed the crowd (or, in John’s version, asking them how the crowd was to be fed); that all the disciples had was five small loaves and two small fish; that Jesus gave thanks to God before distributing the food; that five thousand men were fed; and that the disciples gathered twelve baskets of scraps afterwards.
There are slight divergences as to the nature of the crowd and Jesus’ response to it. Matthew says that Jesus had compassion on them and healed those who were ill. Mark says that Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Luke says that Jesus healed those who needed healing. John, though, says that a great crowd of people followed him “because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill.”