1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5 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?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 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. 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. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
15 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. – John 6:1-15 ESV
After recording Jesus’ less-than-flattering address to the religious leaders, John picks up the story with Jesus leaving Jerusalem and traveling back to the region of Galilee. As is clear from a reading of the other gospels, John chooses to skip a lot of other important events in Jesus’ life and picks up his narrative with the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. It was not that John was unaware of these other details of Jesus’ life because he would have been an eyewitness to all of them. It is that he was purposefully piecing together key events that provided further evidence to support his theme of Jesus’ deity. For John, the whole point of his gospel was to prove that Jesus was the Word of God made flesh.
…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV
Throughout his gospel, John concentrates his attention on those events surrounding the life of Jesus that help support his thesis. He intentionally chooses the stories that he feels best illustrate the point he is trying to make. John is not so much interested in providing a day-by-day account of the life of Jesus as he is in demonstrating and proving the deity of Jesus.
So, he picks up the story with Jesus arriving at “the other side of the Sea of Galilee” (John 6:1 ESV). We know from Luke’s gospel that the scene for this miracle was near a town called Bethsaida, located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 9:10). According to Matthew’s account, upon hearing the news of John the Baptist’s beheading by Herod, Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 ESV). But when He returned to shore, Jesus found a large crowd had gathered to see Him. Mark adds that Jesus viewed the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV) and His compassion led Him to heal many of those who were sick among them. According to John, Jesus’ actions attracted an even larger crowd, filled with people from the neighboring towns who were anxious to see this miracle worker for themselves.
John describes Jesus gathering His 12 disciples and taking them to the crest of a local hillside. They had just returned from their first official missionary assignment (Mark 6:30-32; Luke 9:10) and Jesus knew they needed rest and a time to debrief from their experience.
The scene is set. John the Baptist is dead. The disciples of Jesus have returned from their assignment, tired and hungry, but anxious to share about all the miracles they had performed (Luke 9:6). A large crowd has gathered, drawn by news of the miracles of Jesus. And John adds the somewhat random note that the Feast of the Passover was just around the corner. That reference will become more important as his story unfolds.
John, in his recollection of the day’s events, describes Jesus as turning to Philip and asking, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5 ESV). None of the other gospel accounts include this conversation between Jesus and Philip. It may be that John was the only one of the disciples who overheard this exchange. It is significant because Philip was the only disciple who was from Bethsaida (John 1:44). He would have had firsthand knowledge of the area and known where bread could be purchased. But John indicates that Jesus’ question was really just a test.
Philip and his companions had just returned from the assignment given to them by Jesus, and Luke provides the instructions they had received.
One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes. Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town. And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”– Luke 9:1-5 ESV
And Luke adds that they had followed Jesus’ instructions, traveling from village to village, “preaching the Good News and healing the sick” (Luke 9:6 ESV). These men had been given “power and authority” by Jesus so that they had been able to cast out demons and heal the sick, just as He did. And when they returned to Jesus, they told Him all that they had done.
Now, Jesus gave His disciples a test. He wanted to see how they were going to handle this particular moment in time. Had their faith been strengthened by their recent experience? Did they believe that the power and authority given to them by Jesus was enough to handle any circumstance they might encounter? Jesus wasn’t interested in knowing whether Philip had a source for the purchase of bread. He wanted to know if His disciples were convinced that He was the source of all things. He had given them power and authority, and they had seen it in action. But now, when faced with what appeared to be an overwhelming physical problem, would their faith fail them?
Philip’s response to Jesus’ question provides the answer:
“Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” – John 6:7 ESV
From Philip’s perspective, the problem was greater than their capacity to solve it. There were just too many people to feed. And Andrew reveals just how dire the situation really was: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9 ESV). The other gospel writers indicate that the disciples concluded that the best solution was to let the people fend for themselves.
“…send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” – Matthew 14:15 ESV
“Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” – Mark 6:36 ESVC
“Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” – Luke 9:12 ESV
They failed the test. Their personal experience wielding the power and authority given to them by Jesus had been real, but its effect had been shortlived. They were unable to look at their current situation and see that the solution was well within their reach. But Jesus knew that nothing was impossible. So, He instructed the disciples to gather the crowd (the sheep without a shepherd) and seat them on the grassy hillside. Then John records that Jesus “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” (John 6:11 ESV).
Jesus, with the power and authority given to Him by God the Father, fed the sheep. He shepherded the flock of God, miraculously meeting their need in full. This amazing event should bring to mind the 23rd Psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV
John points out that the people “ate their fill.” They were completely satisfied. No one went without and there was no one who failed to have their need fully met. The Shepherd fully satisfied the needs of His flock. In fact, there were 12 baskets of leftovers gathered by the disciples. Each of them held in his hands a basket full of tangible proof that with the Lord as their shepherd, they would never have a single unmet need.
But it is interesting to note that John describes the reaction of the people, but not of the disciples.
“This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” – John 6:14 ESV
The people were amazed by what they had seen and experienced. But John portrays the disciples as strangely silent. Jesus had just displayed His divine power and authority yet again, yet the disciples had nothing to say. But the people were ready to crown Jesus as their king. And John concludes the story with a telling comment:
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. – John 6:15 ESV
Jesus withdrew. He left the crowds and His disciples behind, choosing instead to seek time alone. And Mark tells us that Jesus “went up on the mountain to pray” (Mark 6:46 ESV). Escaping the craving crowds and His disconcerted disciples, Jesus sought the companionship of His Heavenly Father. The Son of God returned to the source of His power and authority, seeking to hear from the one who knew Him best.
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New Living Translation (NLT)
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