After this, Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 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. 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. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 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?” 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. 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. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 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.
Understanding And Applying the Text
We see here several hints about who John was writing to. He calls the Sea of Galilee the Sea of Tiberias. Tiberias is a Greek name. He also explains the Passover is a feast of the Jews. First what Jew would not know what Passover was? Second, “of the Jews,” indicates John’s audience is not Jewish. It appears John is writing to Gentiles.
All the other gospel writers include this event. But John leaves out some things the others mention. For example, the other gospel writers say Jesus taught the crowd during the day. They mention Jesus healed sick. John does not. The other writers say the sun was setting. In the other accounts, the disciples requested Jesus send the crowd away. And the other accounts mention this occurred shortly after John the baptists death. This is not a case of John being careless with facts. John is using the story to aid in making his point. That point is, Jesus is the Christ. (John 20:30) This is one of the signs John chose to make that point. The details contained in the other Gospels did not aid and could have distracted from the point.
These omissions do not make John’s Gospel more or less reliable. All biographers pick and choose details. They choose some and drop others to help the reader better understand. They are trying to paint a picture of the person they are writing about. And some details and get in the way.
This passage shows how eager the people were to hear Christ. They forgot all about themselves. They had no concern about spending the night in a desert place. They had brought no provisions for the day or evening.
This is a stark contrast to our indifference today. We much prefer food and comfort to sound teaching and doctrine. The slightest interruption draws our attention from prayer and the word of God. This is an affliction that affects all mankind. We are unworthy of God’s kingdom until we learn to desire food for the soul more than physical food. Christ cares for those who neglect themselves to follow him.
It is easy to find examples where we believe this did not occur. There are godly people, devoted the kingdom who are exhausted, hungry and martyred. Christ does try our faith and patience. Yet from heaven, He knows our wants. He is careful to relieve them as far as is necessary for our welfare. When help or aid is not given it is withheld for the best of reasons. We may not know or understand the reason.
John says Jesus told Philip to get bread for all the people. The other gospel writers say Jesus told all the disciples to get bread. (Mark 8:1, Matthew 14:15, Luke 9:13) Critics may point this out as a contradiction. It is not. Philip was the one who spoke up and Christ addresses him but to all the disciples generally. Besides, John points out Andrew was right there and responded. The other writers attribute this to all the disciples. It is not at all unreasonable to say they said it when only one was speaking for them all. The difficulty exists only if the normal rules of discourse are not applied to the conversation.
A denarius was about a day’s wage for unskilled labor. The exact amount of value is of no real importance. The point is Andrew is saying it would take a lot of money to buy the bread to feed everyone. It would take so much money it was unreasonable to expect them, or anyone, to buy bread to feed the crowd.
Christ tells the disciples to the have everyone sit down. Now the disciples have no idea what is coming. But they comply. They had just shown they believed the task to feed everyone was unreasonable. But their obedience, in the face or hopelessness, is praiseworthy.
Christ takes the bread and fish and gives thanks. Christ teaches us by example, whenever we take food we are to begin with prayer. When we gobble down our food without thinking of God, we profane the gifts of God.
The message of the miracle is this. Christ is God incarnate. We are to seek the kingdom of God. When we do so, all other things will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). Christ not only gives spiritual life, the Father commanded him to also nourish the body.
Christ did not provide delicacies for the people. He provided barley bread and fish without sauce.
Christ commands the disciple to fill the baskets so nothing goes to waste. This further illustrates the miracle. Jesus met the need with more than enough. Christ filled the crowd with food left over. But Christ also illustrates frugality. We are not to mistreat God’s bounty. We are to take care and use it in thankfulness.
The miracle was not wasted on the crowd. They recognized Jesus as the Messiah. This was the purpose of the miracle. That they might see. But they apply an improper purpose to what they have just understood. It is not uncommon for people to misapply God’s revelations. Even when they appear to have entered the right path they fall away.
To be fair, there was some reasonableness to what they did. Jesus was King. But they took upon themselves the liberty of making a king. The scriptures are clear. This right belongs to God alone. “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psalm 2:6)
In making Him King, they thought they offered holy worship to Christ. When we define how we worship our worship is profane. When we offer worship to Christ as we see fit, we take upon ourselves that which belongs to God. God tells us how to worship. He is king. We do not make Him king.
The worship the people offered was a profane worship. As a result, Christ left. They wanted to make Jesus a king against His will. They wanted to take Him by force. When we try to give God honors of our own invention we are guilty of the same offense. Obedience is the foundation of worship.
The people knew the redeemer was to be a king. But they contrived in their own heads it was to be an earthly kingdom. When we mix our opinions with God’s word, faith degenerates into frivolous conjecture.