In this journey through John, we’ve arrived at the feeding of the five thousand in John chapter six. Chapter six is a single event that spanned a couple of days, that starts with this miracle. I’ll be posting a few entries about this chapter, so here at the start, let me telegraph my intention that, as the title suggests, this is part one of a series.
The very first thing I took note of is that this was happening about the time of the Passover (6:4). Wait a second, wasn’t it just Passover back in chapter two (2:13)? That means from John 2:13 to John 6:1, about one year has passed. This serves to remind me that the Gospels are not a day-by-day retelling of everything that happened in Jesus’ ministry. When the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle John to write this account of the Gospel, he brought to John’s mind the things that were important to the purpose of the narrative. And what is the purpose of John’s Gospel? He tells us in John chapter twenty.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
This isn’t to say that every miracle Jesus did wasn’t done to demonstrate that he was the Christ, but that the miracles that the Holy Spirit inspired John to record most clearly demonstrate that he is the Christ. So if you’re a chronology person, don’t get hung up that John skipped things. The purpose is not to detail every miracle, but to call attention to the miracles that most clearly demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah.
Now to the miracle before us.
I must be honest. This is another one that I started hearing when I was four years old. Jesus feeds five thousand men (and women and children which probably makes it closer to fifteen thousand, but back then it was customary to only count the men) with a handful of barley loaves and a few fish. I’m so familiar with it that I’m in danger of losing my amazement. So I’ve approached this today, trying to see with fresh spiritual eyes.
Let’s get past the obvious. This is a miracle. He feeds thousands of people with a boy’s picnic lunch. And he doesn’t just give them crumbs, but everyone present eats their fill. Then on top of that, there are plenty of leftovers: twelve baskets full of uneaten food.
Now for the not-so-obvious. Why did the Holy Spirit choose this miracle as one that most clearly demonstrates that Jesus is the Christ? This is the cool part.
What did Jesus ask Philip? “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (6:5) Philip answered with a logical, mathematical problem. Two-hundred denarii wouldn’t even be enough to feed everyone even a little. It is said that two hundred denarii is about an unskilled workman’s yearly wage. Sometimes people criticize Philip here for not having faith that Jesus could make something happen, but that isn’t the point. Jesus was testing him, but I don’t believe he was testing his faith. The answer was correct, not because it was mathematically accurate, but because it pointed to the human impossibility of the task. In other words, Philip was saying, “Jesus this is humanly impossible.” This was the correct answer and the answer that Jesus was wanting to hear because it opened the door for the Holy Spirit to show his power. The Spirit worked through Jesus to show that the things that aren’t humanly possible are possible with God.
But this isn’t why this miracle is recorded. It’s a great lesson we should remember, but it isn’t the main reason it was included.
These Jewish men (and women and children) seated on the mountainside received plenty of bread and fish that cost them nothing. They were fed by the compassion of the Lord. In their ears, in their eyes, what they were witnessing had to remind them of the prophet Isaiah:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)
“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
Plus, this was Passover. The picture of bread, the reminder of the manna; no one had been fed in this manner since Moses, which may have reminded them of Moses’ very words:
“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” (Deuteronomy 18:15)
They were getting a glimpse of who Christ truly is; so much that they were thinking about rushing him and crowning him King! For them this was a clear display that he could be the Messiah. But what about us? For these Jews things were unfolding before their eyes. For us, we have the full story, the full Word of God that shows us how the story ends. How does this miracle most clearly display that Jesus is the Christ for today’s reader?
What is the bread? Later in this chapter Jesus says that he is the bread of life (6:35). What does Jesus do with the bread? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all specifically say that he, himself broke the bread. Then he gave the bread to his disciples. Then he multiplied the bread as they faithfully distributed it. Ring any bells?
- Jesus is the bread (John 6:35).
- Jesus broke the bread. He willingly offered his body (the bread) as a sacrifice (Luke 22:19).
- Jesus gave the bread to his disciples. At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell, Jesus was sending his Spirit (the bread) into each of the disciples (John 14:16). Coincidence here that Pentecost involved a barley grain offering? I think not.
- Jesus multiplied the bread as the disciples faithfully distributed. Once the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, the preached and thousands more received Jesus, in essence they received the multiplied bread (Acts 2:37-41).
This miracle foreshadows to us how he will spread the Gospel of the Kingdom through us! And it all starts and finishes with him! He willingly lays down his life. He willingly sends his Spirit. He willingly multiplies himself through us as we share the Gospel! That’s how God’s kingdom grows; by the authority, power, and works of Jesus Christ alone! Our role is one of joyfully joining him in the work. This indeed is an incredible, Christ exalting miracle that foreshadows his rightful identity as Messiah!