After this, Jesus crossed over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. A huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous signs as he healed the sick. Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with his disciples around him. (It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration.) Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.
Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!”
Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”
“Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.
When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.
see also Matt 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17
The end of chapter 5:45-47 references Moses, the great prophetic patriarch of the Jewish faith. Now John picks up the story with a crowd following the now celebrity Jesus. The other gospel accounts talk about Jesus healing people, so the crowd followed looking for a miracle. In a sort of Moses analogy, he leads the people in a wilderness moment, climbs the hill harking back to the moment when God meets with Moses on the mountain, an encounter with God is going to happen.
The question is not intended to be answered but rather a test of faith in the disciples, he is trying to get them to see beyond the impossible situation to a heavenly solution. In the other accounts of this story Jesus says very bluntly “you feed them”. Of course they could dismiss the crowd and let them go home but that would deny Jesus an opportunity to show his glory again. Jesus is looking for people to see beyond the visible, he is giving them lessons of faith and expecting the disciples to rise to the challenge.
Jesus sends out a word “you feed them” so he expects that word to produce something, he is still teaching them about the ways of faith as the very culture of the kingdom. We wont understand the kingdom of God if we don’t understand faith and use faith to operate. It is the very operating system of heaven. In order for it to work it needs ‘word’, once the word comes then faith can be activated.
There is no doubt that the story demonstrates that God is the provider of all our needs, in the face of complete impossibility he is able to provide what is needed, if we operate with the eyes of faith.
Philip’s response was a response with natural eyes. He saw the problem and realised the scale of what couldn’t be done. Philip realised this was an impossible problem. He had worked out in his head that even if there was a supermarket near by, they wouldn’t have enough money!
We can be so good at managing stuff that we forget the bit that God can do! It is very limiting to vision if we just operate within the realm of what we can see. People with vision see beyond the visible and practical, they see possibilities. Jesus could have stopped at that moment and the story would never have been told. A believer’s vision needs to have the scope of heaven in it, it must be bigger than could possibly be done.
Have we forgotten how to believe for the impossible? We work everything out and leave no room for God to do his bit. Its why the tithe is an offence to our finances, giving away 10% of your tight income is madness, but it makes room for the impossible to happen.
The boy was young and pretty insignificant “the insufficient from the hands of the insignificant became sufficient and significant when placed in the hands of Jesus.” (Boice). Think of David and Goliath, Virgin Mary, dust of earth to create mankind!
Many of us struggle with our insignificance, well you are completely underestimating God’s ability to do something great. Your insignificance does not disqualify you from significance, in fact it is an invitation for your true identity. All you need to do is come with your bread and fish in your hands and be willing to be used.
Andrew’s response was a response with spiritual eyes. He heard the word, realised the problem and went looking for a solution, and what a ridiculous solution he found. Here was a boy with a packed lunch, why on earth was Andrew suggesting that this was enough to even get anywhere close to bringing a solution? But Andrew had the seed of faith, it may be a stupid idea but it was the seed of faith!
The loaves of Barley hark back to the story of Elisha feeding 100 men with 20 loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44) this was a mini miracle, and prophetically speaks of the superabundant miracle of Jesus. It is interesting how John is trying to get the Jewish reader to see that what has gone before is a shadow of what Jesus is announcing.
Sit down (6:10-11)
The good shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures (Ps 23:2), here the shepherd is living out the best known psalm, a miraculous feeding of sheep/disciples, hungry people searching for truth are now being fed with the bread of heaven. Bread miraculously being transformed before their very eyes, like manna dropping from heaven to feed a people in wilderness. The imagery is rich, Jesus is re-enacting and fulfilling the story of the people of God being fed by manna in the wilderness, he declaring a new covenant people.
Mark 6:40 tells the story saying that they got seated in 50 and 100, the groups of meaningful community, Jethro told Moses to bring governance to the people of God in these numbers, its how we operate our communities, group people together so they can be fed.
Scraps of abundance (6:12-13)
When the disciples picked up the leftovers, they were seeing the results of this packed lunch multiply to the point of abundance. Their eyes were being opened, they were spiritually dull (Mk 8:17-21) but now they were trying to understand this move of God, faith was a force of such power that their vision was changing.
With all the OT imagery in this sign, people would remember the teaching that a prophet would arise from their midst (Deut 18:15). Now with this manna miracle, they begun to murmur that this is the new Moses who would deliver them from the Roman occupation. Make Jesus King was their cry. Well of course he was already King of Kings, but getting the title King was not on Jesus’s agenda, his eyes were on the cross and his mandate was the demonstration (sign) of the kingdom on earth. Jesus slips away to avoid the clamour for popularity, he is a man on a mission and any celebrity status would confuse this mission.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”
28 They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”
29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”
30 They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? 31 After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
32 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. 33 The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”
35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Spiritual things (6:26–27)
Later on the disciples got into a discussion about the bread miracle. The disciples still saw things materialistically rather than seeing with spiritual eyes. They were failing to grasp what was significant here. Jesus is trying to get them to see that they need more than bread to sustain them, they need word (Mt4:4 ‘man does not live on bread alone, but by every word’). We are foolish if we thing that our physical and emotional needs are the only things that need meeting, actually it is our spirits that need feeding. For humanity to function at its God created capacity it needs to be alive in spirit and fed with spiritual things.
Just believe! (6:28–29)
The disciples wanted to learn how do signs and wonders, they were just like us, they wanted to move in power. Jesus’ response to them is simple…’believe’. The heavenly order is ‘believe and see’ (Jn 11:40). Should our focus be to replicate the works of Jesus or rather to receive the life of Jesus?
Bread of Heaven (6:30–33)
They are still saying that they want to see and then believe, do a miracle and then they will believe, just like their forefathers, who ate the manna in the desert, so they want the sign first. Jesus invites them to eat the bread of heaven, the manna, but he is offering them true spiritual bread, a bread that will bring life. Not a bread that you can grasp physically but a bread that is truly life giving. Thats what we get access to, bread of heaven, something that can nurture a person to spiritual life!
The parallels with Moses come up again, Moses accessed manna for 40 years and the people didn’t ever really believe. Jesus is the genuine bread from heaven .. so believe!
I am the Bread of Life (6:35)
Here is the invitation into the very nature of Jesus. He is the bread that can sustain, the bread that can satisfy, the bread that can fill you up, the bread that can meet your hunger. That is the invitation today, bread available for you.
Bread is essential, it is the symbol of the basic staple of life, something for all, something taken daily (yesterdays bread is always stale). Bread is the essence of that which sustains us, in the snow storms we run to the shops to buy bread and milk -its the basics!
Lords prayer says “give us today our daily bread” Mt 6:11, we need food to survive, we also need need spiritual food. Bread is the invitation to life itself. Are you being fed with spiritual bread? Are you getting what you need?
Jesus statement is a declaration that he is the sustainer of all things, he is not only the provider of our needs but he is the sustainer of our souls.
Jesus is offering us an invitation to consume him, to eat him, to be satisfied by him. He uses bread to offer a spiritual satisfaction for us, he takes the historic imagery of God providing for his people and brings it up to date. He provides for people in the immediate physical surroundings and he also offers people a deeper satisfaction, something spiritual and satisfying.
As believers we get to make people the same invitation. Of course we need to be providers of physical need, but we offer so much more. We offer satisfaction to the deeper longing of the human soul.
Lord’s Supper (6:53-58)
The words here are deliberate, they are a description of the lords supper which is yet to be introduced. It describes and sums up the sense of invitation to take the manna of heaven that will give you not just momentary satisfaction but eternal connection. We eat the bread of his body, draw into Jesus fully to be found in him, we take the wine for joy and sacrifice to be cleansed. I am the true vine and I am the bread of life come together in the meal we celebrate Jesus.