John 6:1-14 – What is the Point of the Leftovers?

Looking at the huge crowd gathered to hear him, Jesus asks his disciple Philip where they could possibly find enough food to feed the large crowd. As happens often in John’s Gospel, Jesus knows exactly what he is about to do so this question is a test for the disciples (John 6:6). Marianne Meye Thompson acknowledges the verb used here can refer to a temptation or trap, but in this cases it is better “examine, try, prove” (John, 140).

Fish and BreadOnce again in the Gospel of John someone misunderstands Jesus’s question and fails to anticipate the miracle. Philip points out the impossibility of buying that much food: “Two hundred denarii” worth of food would not be enough! This is more than a half-year’s wages, so Philip’s point is “we don’t have that kind of money, Jesus.” He is thinking of literally feeding the crowd, Jesus is talking about spiritually feeding the crowd the “bread of life.”

Another disciple who is only mentioned in the Synoptic gospels, Andrew, finds a boy with a small lunch. Andrew probably did not think the food could be shared, he was pointing out the impossibility of finding enough food for the crowd. The fish were probably small pickled fish (not a sardine, but something similar). No one would carry a pair of rainbow trout in their satchel on the outside chance they were needed to feed a crowd!

Jesus takes this small amount of food, offers thanks, and then distributes the food to the crowd. The crowd sees that is a miracle and wonder what kind of prophet Jesus is. They have in a mind a tradition drawn from Deut 18:15-18 that another prophet like Moses will come into the world. Moses fed the Israelites manna in the wilderness, in a similar way Jesus gives bread to a new Israel in a new wilderness.

Deuteronomy 18:15-18 (ESV) “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

It is possible this miracle is an allusion to Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44). In 2 Kings the prophet Elisha feeds 150 men with a small amount of food. There are similarities, but the more important allusion is to the wilderness period of Israel’s history.

The food provides enough for all the crowd to eat until they are satisfied and still have twelve baskets left over. Consider these are poor people who are given free food and allowed to eat as much as they want. I think they probably overate and maybe stuffed a few leftovers in their pockets to take home to the family.

The point of the leftovers? “This is the ample provision of the Lord who declared, ‘My people will be filled with the bounty’ (Jeremiah 31:14)” (Carson, John, 271). Just as Jesus provided plentiful excellent wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12) and healed a man who was crippled for thirty-eight years (5:5-6), now Jesus provides enough food everyone is satisfied and there are plenty of leftovers. Like the wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus is revealing for those who have ears to hear that he is the host of an eschatological banquet, like the manna in the wilderness God is providing new bread for his people. But as Jesus will say later in John 6 this “bread of life” is his own body which will be given for them (6:48-51).

7 thoughts on “John 6:1-14 – What is the Point of the Leftovers?

  1. I definitely think the point of leftover bread was to shows Jesus ability to provide an abundance of bread just as God provided in the account of Mosses and Elisha. Kostenberger explains that Jesus’s nourishment of the 5000 reveals that he is the giver of eternal life (Kostenberger, 100). Meaning that the bread that comes form Jesus is the bread that will fill our stomachs and never leave us hungry. Jesus’s miracle was not just to show his divine powers but was to teach the people a vital lesson that he is the new bread of life. Just as God filled the stomachs of the Israelite’s who followed Him into the wilderness Jesus also provided for those who followed him into the wilderness. These characteristics are also seen in the account of Elisha where she faced the task of feeding 100 men. God provided for the men with an abundance of bread when there was a sense of uncertainty in the narrative of Elisha. The same uncertainty and questioning that was presented in Johns narrative before the feeding the 5000. So yes I believe Johns narrative is an allusion to Elisha account due to similarities in both narratives. Overall the left over bread shows that Jesus is the new bread of life and has the same provision as God during the times of Moses.

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  2. It is so cool to see the connection that Jesus makes many times throughout his ministry as him being the bread of life. In the end he ties it all back to the last supper where the disciples are actually eating bread while Jesus is explaining that this is his body. I can only imagine the lightbulbs that were going off remembering back to the day when Jesus fed 5,000 people and gave them more than enough. Like it is mentioned, this mirracle wasn’t exactly about feeding people or about food, but was to show that Jesus is the bread of life. That he is enough and more than enough for what we need for life, for eternal life! The connection that Jesus was making to the OT was and should have ben a clue to the people of what Jesus was doing. Andrew and Philip should have right away noticed that Jesus was asking soemthing impossible, and they should have remembered the story of Israel in the wilderness being fed everyday with manna from heaven. They seem to forget this at the beggining and Jesus had to remind them of this reality. This mirracle shows that yes, God does provide for our physical needs and we can trust him for that, but also that Jesus is more than enough for us.

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  3. While there are, especially in the book of John, many symbols that represent the deity of Christ easily found in His miracles, we should also take note that these miracles were actually in themselves spectacular. The agenda of Christ was, of course, not merely to entertain, but I’m sure some of the miracles He performed were more than amusing! I believe this is so with the particular example of the feeding of the five thousand. Christ, while always on a spiritual level, was trying to demonstrate His deity and confirm the faith of His disciples, the fact of the miracle is nevertheless spectacular. There is a tendency among scholars and private interpreters of the Bible to view everything as a symbol or as merely a means to understanding some spiritual truth. While this is true, I think it reduces the originality and awesomeness of the Bible! Jesus fed five thousand people, and while it is important to understand that Christ was communicating His providence and messiahship through this miracle, it is nevertheless a spectacular phenomenon! However, against this argument, I think the reason for the leftovers was especially symbolic–for Christ knew exactly how much food that each person in the crowd was going to eat. He could have manufactured just the right amount. Jesus deliberately chose to create leftovers to signify that when He provides for His people, He is not frugal. Yes, God does provide for our needs, but He also gives us more than enough (Jeremiah 31:14). Kostenberger also makes the point that when we work for Jesus, our labor is never in vain because He rewards us appropriately. Let us, therefore, work for God diligently, knowing that He will astonish us with His endless resources.

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  4. From what we know about Jesus, He is the student who does not just fulfill the requirements; He is that overachiever that messes with all our grades! (Insert laughing emoji). On a real note, when God fed the Israelites in the desert, the manna would melt away when the Sun got hot; anything they gathered in disobedience would rot (Exodus 16:20). This was a way of making sure Moses and the Israelites trusted God with all their provisions or “everyday bread”.
    In 2 Kings 4:42-45, Elisha follows instructions from God to feed 100 men. In this case, Elisha had a man, from Baal-shalishah, bring him twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain from his first crops. Elisha started with a lot more than Jesus did and only had 100 men to feed. The similarity is still present because the men were all fed and there was more leftover.
    One cannot argue that what Jesus did was superior in nature, but for people who had heard these things happening before wondered if He was just another prophet. For people who were used to seeing miracles, this miracle was not that special. They were more worried about being full. As mentioned in the post, these people were most likely poor people who follow Jesus around because they could rely on His provision whether that be physical or spiritual. This makes me think about Bloom’s Taxonomy from Psychology. Maslow shows in his hierarchy of needs that physiological needs, in this case, food, is at the very bottom. This is a need that must be fulfilled before a person can move up in any way. Jesus says the He is the “bread of life” (John 6:35) which using Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is saying that we need Him to be the foundation of our spiritual life (Matthew 6:33). He is the “food” or “spiritual bread” in our life.

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  5. The point of the leftovers was very clear to me, to prove just the kind of miracles that jesus can do. If we look back at the prophet Elisha, we see the same story, with the same outcome. isn’t it crazy that Jesus performs the same miracles, once done by prophets and then predicted would happen once the King came to live on earth? It is very fascinating to me, yet also Jesus came to provide food for us. Yes, although Jesus himself provided literal food for the multitude of people, he also provided his body, as “leftovers” for the followers of him. This is yet another time, I think that Jesus provides a story, a miracle that shows just how clever he really was. Almost all of his stories have hidden meanings that are not clear to anyone during the time they are given and this is creative to note. Jesus performs the miracles as a lesson for those watching, not to boast and gain all this attention, he truly wants to change lives, just like his death changed many lives after his death.

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  6. I like how Jesus asked Philip how to feed the great crowd. Jesus invited his disciples into the process of faith. Jesus could have just told them how He was going to provide the food and drink, but instead he gave asked Philip a question to stir his and the other disciples faith.
    I also liked how John included how much this would have costs to feed everyone- more than half a years wages!
    This is insane! I think that John wanted us to see how if the disciples tried to feed other through their own strength, it would not go very well. That is like the same thing for us today, when we try to accomplish things through our own abilities.
    When Andrew then sees the little boys lunch of two fish and five loaves of bread, it is interesting how Andrew suggests the idea, but right after he does he asks, “but how far will they go among so many people?”
    Sometimes we have the faith to see the provisions of the Lord, but we then we let doubt creep in on how it will come to fruition.
    I love how it says that Jesus gave thanks before He distributed the bread. Before the miracle happened, Jesus thanked the Father.
    Jesus saw thankfulness to the Father as important, for the provision was from the Father for the people to see the glory of the Lord.
    The last think that I saw as interesting was that when Jesus was distributing the bread, He gave to the people as much as they wanted. He did not hold back, but gave them an abundance of food to fill their bellies.
    Just like Jesus gave an abundance of bread and fish to the people, He also give life and life abundantly!
    Let us have more faith that He loves us and He will continue to provide for us.

    Like

  7. I like how Jesus asked Philip how to feed the great crowd. Jesus invited his disciples into the process of faith. Jesus could have just told them how He was going to provide the food and drink, but instead he gave asked Philip a question to stir his and the other disciples faith.
    I also liked how John included how much this would have costs to feed everyone- more than half a years wages!
    This is insane! I think that John wanted us to see how if the disciples tried to feed other through their own strength, it would not go very well. That is like the same thing for us today, when we try to accomplish things through our own abilities.
    When Andrew then sees the little boys lunch of two fish and five loaves of bread, it is interesting how Andrew suggests the idea, but right after he does he asks, “but how far will they go among so many people?”
    Sometimes we have the faith to see the provisions of the Lord, but we then we let doubt creep in on how it will come to fruition.
    I love how it says that Jesus gave thanks before He distributed the bread. Before the miracle happened, Jesus thanked the Father.
    Jesus saw thankfulness to the Father as important, for the provision was from the Father for the people to see the glory of the Lord.
    The last think that I saw as interesting was that when Jesus was distributing the bread, He gave to the people as much as they wanted. He did not hold back, but gave them an abundance of food to fill their bellies.
    Just like Jesus gave an abundance of bread and fish to the people, He also give life and life abundantly!
    Let us have more faith that He loves us and He will continue to provide for us.

    Like

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