John 6:1-14 – Feeding the 5000

The Feeding of the Five Thousand appears in all four Gospels.The details in John are in some ways more detailed. For example, the role of Andrew and Philip are unique to John, in the synoptic gospels the disciples who ask Jesus about the crowds are anonymous. The use of the disciples to react to Jesus is typical of John, as is the mention of the words and deeds of other disciples outside of Peter, James and John.

Fish and Bread, Feeding the 5000

That this event occurs at the time of the Passover is extremely important for understanding the point of the miracle. Passover celebrates the rescue of Israel out of Egypt. God sent plagues on the Egyptians and took his people out into the wilderness where he provided for them both food and water. What is more, the rescue from Egypt at Passover marks the beginning of Israel as a nation.

John wants to present Jesus as a “prophet like Moses” in this section. It was Moses who provided food to the people of Israel in the wilderness after the first Passover and then led the people through the waters of the Red Sea. In Exodus 16 God provides for the people of Israel with manna and quail.  Jesus provides food then walks on the water. There is even a parallel in the reaction of the crowds – the crowds  “murmur” in 6:41 in such a way that implies that they have not really understood the miracle.

When Jesus provided food for a large crowd of Jews in a wilderness location, consciously re-enacting the original Passover. Like celebrating the fourth of July in America, celebrating Passover evoked a nationalistic spirit even in Galilee. Perhaps because many in Galilee thought of themselves as “occupied” by the Romans, Passover could easily develop anti-Roman sentiment.

This miracle could be taken as the beginnings of a revolution. When he seats people in groups he is organizing the people into “tribes” just as Moses did. The crowds in fact misunderstand the sign in just this way and try to force Jesus to be a king. As D. A. Carson said, “In the light of v. 15, where the people try to make Jesus king by force, it is easy to think that, at least in John, the specification of five thousand men is a way of drawing attention to a potential guerrilla force of eager recruits willing and able to serve the right leader” (Carson, John, 270).

The crowd thinks that Jesus is the Prophet, a messianic figure, a second Moses who leads Israel into the wilderness and provides manna for them. Isaiah 40-55 makes us use of the original wilderness period to describe the return of Israel from Exile.  There seems to have been a general feeling among the people, perhaps especially in Galilee, that the exile was still going on because Israel’s king had not come nor has the whole nation been gathered back to the land.

This nationalism would have been especially strong during the Passover. Israel was remembering his origins. Families were re-enacting the inaugural Passover meal in their homes and talking about what God has done for them in the Exodus and journey to the land. It is very easy to see what the people thought, Jesus is like Moses, gathering a force in the wilderness which could be used to secure the land, in this he is a new Moses. But Jesus is also a new Joshua- the people of Galilee were willing to take up arms to liberate the nation.

After Jesus explains that his kingdom is not going to be an armed rebellion, the crowds begin to fall away and even Jesus’ own disciples begin to grumble about this “hard teaching” (6:60-66) .  The verb used in verse 61 (γογγύζω) is used for the complaints of the Israelites in the wilderness period (they were “murmuring”). Just like Israel in the past, present Israel is complaining, questioning whether Jesus is the true messiah or not.

The Twelve, however, remain faithful (6:67-69).  Peter is the disciples who responds that there is no one else to follow since Jesus has the words of life.  The inner circle is committed to following Jesus since there is no life (water, bread) anywhere else.  If that is true, Peter says, “What other teacher are we going to follow?” If Jesus is the teacher who has the truth, it is because he is also God incarnate – once again, who else are they going to follow?  They know the truth, they cannot now turn to any other teacher.

Indeed, what other teacher are we going to follow?

13 thoughts on “John 6:1-14 – Feeding the 5000

  1. The Gospel of John has a way of underlying themes as John writes to people to allude to the past like the Old Testament. As explained above, the feeding of the 5000 does allude to the time when Moses was in the wilderness with the Israelites and God gave them manna to eat. It was meant to be a sign of salvation history as both times people saw and believed that God and Jesus are powerful enough to create multiples of food and even still have some leftover. But, even both stories people doubt. The people in the wilderness grow bitter and are not grateful of the food they get to eat and the people Jesus speaks to, they leave after they believe that he does not want to have a revolt. I believe that this is because the 5000 people have a preconceived notion or a subconscious bias that is already engrained in them. They do not believe Jesus is who he is because in their minds they have this preconceived notion that “the coming Messiah is a political figure who would restore Israel to its former glory, overthrowing the Roman overlords,” (Kostenberger, 93). They were surely let down when Jesus did not want to revolt and start a revolution, because this is what they believe the Messiah is coming to do, but Jesus is not a political leader. He is man and God in one and He shows love and does not resort to violence. So, so this is why I believe that the people do not fully believe and follow Christ, only the twelve faithful ones do.

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  2. Through the feeding of the 5000, Jesus was giving the Jewish people a situation that was familiar and a subtle reveal to who he was. It seems that the people understood portions of Jesus’s sign as it related back to the mana in the wilderness, but the overall understanding did not take place. They were so set on the idea of a revolutionary uprise to overthrow the government when Jesus was trying to explain that he was so much more and that the overthrow would not be of a government but over death itself. “Once again, John is not content to narrate; he shows how what Jesus does reveals who he is: in this case, the Giver of eternal life.” (Kostenberger, 83). With the multiplying of the bread and fish, he was giving the parallel of the people of Israel being fed with mana which God provided from heaven. Jesus providing bread is his way of showing that he is God in human form. Jesus then takes his analogy a step further in John 6:32-35. Not only is he the provider of living bread, but he is the living bread. Through him, those who believe “may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Just as both the people who received mana and those who were fed in the feeding of the 5000 were not just merely fed, but they were given enough to have their fill. Jesus’s salvation then is not just giving a new life, but a life that is full.

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  3. The Passover is something that is linked to the feeding of the 5000 miracle that takes place due to the fact that it is a time that is representing when the Israelites were brought out of Egypt. It is a time to remember that God is the one who provided for them when they had nothing and no means of being about to provide for themselves. This is why John incorporates that the Passover is going to take place shortly after this miracle does. “The mention of the Passover sets the context for what Jesus is about to do” (Köstenberger, 82). With in Johns telling of the story, we see that Jesus could be compared to the role that Moses had in being the leader and the provider for the large group of people. However, it is God who continues to sustain His people so that they are able to become the nation of Israel. God provides manna for the people to eat, as well as quail through a miraculous means. Jesus, in the feeding of the 5000, is the one who provides enough food for everyone, plus leftovers, from just two fish and five barley loaves. This is a reflection of the provision that was provided for them in the wilderness. He is taking them back to their roots, their descendants that brought them to this land. Jesus is representing to them that He is here to sustain the people and bring them to Him.

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  4. Indeed Jesus displayed himself to the 5000 as the truth and the one who was sent from God. By Jesus’s feeding of the 5000, He demonstrated qualities that proved his divine nature and his relationship with Father. Through John’s description of the environment and the setting, readers could tell he was mimicking his narrative in order to reference other Old Testament accounts. Jesus showed the 5000 that He too has some of the same characteristics as God demonstrated in the account of Moses. Kostenberger states that John wrote his narrative of the feeding of the 5000 to show readers that Jesus carried some of the same characteristics of previous servants of God (Kostenberger, 99). Although Jesus set the stage to make a connection towards his relationship with God the people were under the impression that He was the new Moses. The people did not recognize Jesus as a teacher who has come to spread the word of the Father but as a symbol of rebellion. Instead of taking a deeper look at Jesus’s actions of providing them with an abundance of bread they were in a whole different mindset. The people were waiting to follow someone who was coming to lead a rebellion but instead were disappointed by Jesus’s arrival.

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  5. It is interesting to see how different people responded to Jesus’ discourse about being the Bread of Life. In reaction to feeding 5000 people, many believe that he is in fact the Messiah, the one they were told would lead them out of exile and free them from oppression. But Jesus goes on to explain more of who he is,using metaphors to say he is “the source and giver of all true spiritual life” (Kostenberger, 87). And there are two very distinct reactions to what Jesus says.
    Many of his disciples, people that had been following Jesus for months at this point, say “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60). They are struggling to relate what Jesus told them to their preconceived notions of who the Messiah is and are perhaps confused by his metaphors. This prompts what might be one of the saddest verses in the Bible, in verse 66 where many turned away from Jesus and walked away, after being so close to believing and receiving eternal life. He then asks the twelve if they also want to leave, trusting in God and the plan that he has. Peter says, “To where shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69). Instead of turning away, the Twelve affirm their faith even more, and trust in who Jesus is and what he will do.

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  6. Kostenberger mentions the fact that Jesus is viewed as the second Moses in the feeding of the five thousand because it reminds the people of when their ancestors were fed in the wilderness. Throughout John and the other gospels, it is interesting to note that the people do not think that Jesus is who he says he is. It is like they are looking for some other possible answer to what he is doing. They do not want to accept the fact that he is the messiah because he is not what they expected. They expected a messiah who would rule on earth wipe out the Romans and set all the injustices to the Jews right. So the people try to grasp at straws about who Jesus is instead of believing in him and what he says. The same is true today people do not want to have to submit to God and so they try to explain things away. They want to live the way they want to and not to have submit to a higher power. As Christians though we have to realize that we know who Jesus is and we need to follow him. Jesus is the messiah who the prophets foretold and we need to follow him and no one else.

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  7. The feeding of the 5000 is one of the few miracles that happen in all of the Gospels. This is an important observation, because of what happens in John’s Gospel. The people try to make Jesus their King, even though Jesus tells them it is not His time. The crowd of people are the Israelite’s in the wilderness, and Jesus is a Moses character. At the same time they had 12 leftover baskets of food represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and the 12 disciples. The feeding of the 5000 is a miracle that represents Israel coming out “the Exile” that the book of Daniel alludes to.

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  8. It is quite interesting to me to know that the feeding of the 5000 appear in the synoptic Gospels as well as John, and it is interesting too dissect why that is. I think in the way that the world is going, there are many examples of false teachings. For example, and this is interesting to me, Google sees themselves as God. Google has setup their campaigning around providing any sort of information someone could ask for. For instance, Google provides billions of people with the ability to find any kind of knowledge they want. As Christians, isn’t our source of knowledge and wisdom the Bible? We should not be following suit, and trying to find teachings through other sources. Google, may not be a good example of scriptural teaching, but the fact that they base their advertisements around “knowing all” seems like a direct attack on God and his ability to know all.

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    • Good post Jordan, I really like your insights on how Google could be considered a God replacement. I use Google several times a day and know life would be very different without a search engine at our fingertips. The fact that they claim to know all is very shocking, although technically you can find the Bible on Google. Jesus is very clear that through his is the bread of life. All the answers that Google has are short term worldly answers. Jesus will continue to fulfill our needs and keep us satisfied. I think that most companies advertise to show that their product or service is what we need to be happy. This crowd of people heard about the signs that Jesus had been performing and traveled to see for themselves. Jesus knew how he was planning on feeding them but wanted to see what his disciples thought they should do about feeding them. Jesus now had the opportunity to show five thousand people his “advertisement” of why they should follow him and how they will have an eternal life of happiness verses an earthly lifetime. After the sign, there are still many who are confused and ultimately choose to not follow Jesus. This is hard to believe that even after hearing the signs that Jesus has done, and then deciding to go see for yourself, and then having Jesus feed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, that they would not choose to follow him.

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  9. The feeding of the five thousand has similarities to Exodus 16 when Moses is leading the Israelites. A key difference that I noticed is that Moses has to go up on the mountain and receive the message from the Lord, while Jesus is the message. They know Moses is a prophet because of this, yet they assume that Jesus must be a prophet because of the knowledge that He has, even though this is His own knowledge. When Peter says that Jesus has the words of life, and that is why there is no one else to follow, I am thinking that this applies to today’s world as well. There are plenty of other sources that we can go to for information, but none is going to be as fulfilling as the words from the Word. There is a comparison between the bread that is supplied and the bread that He is offering. The bread that is used to feed the five thousand does not last forever, it is only satisfying for a short time. Jesus could have just gathered everyone together to tell them how he is the bread of life, but they would have been even more confused than they already were. This compares to the story of Moses as well. While the manna seemed to be the highlight of the story for the Israelites, God was actually doing something behind the scenes, He was wanting to show the Israelites why they should trust Him. Jesus did the same thing wanting them to see how important the bread was, and the power Jesus has, and make them realize how much better the bread of life is.

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  10. I can see the disciples and the people surrounding Jesus, having this expectation of Him to liberate the nation, like you said. Some could have had this idea in their minds of how Jesus was going to use His power to take the promised land and to defeat Rome. The people could have also had all these expectations for Him, but once He began to teach about eating His flesh and blood and how if you choose to eat this bread, you will live forever, they did not understand. Thus because they did not understand, many turned away.
    Verse 60 says, “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’”
    I wonder how many of us hear a word from the Lord through a sermon, a song or even a thought and think, this is to hard to understand. Instead of going to Holy Spirit and asking for wisdom, we just move on from the revelation that God desires to give us.
    I really want to encourage one another by saying that if you do not understand, ask God to help you understand.
    He does not say things to confuse us, just like you would not do with your children or future children, but rather He speaks with clear communication, so that we may be closer to His heart.

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  11. This is a great story but I do have to say that I have never really thought about how all of the people thought that Jesus was the new Moses. I find it also interesting that the disciples find thees things that Jesus is saying to be rather hard to deal with as well. I think the thing that we really need to know about this passage is that Jesus is Lord, and He is not someone who we make Him be, but rather Jesus is going to be Jesus no matter who you think Jesus is.

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