The real purpose of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 – John 6:1-21, Part 3

A boy is standing right in front of Jesus, and the boy has a packed lunch of five small loaves of bread and two small fish. He looks across the hillside and sees the crowd of hungry people that, like him, have come to experience the miracle-worker. How is it possible that he, a boy, is the only one with food? Now Jesus’ friends are talking about taking him lunch to share with all those people.  Will Jesus take his meal?  We read in John 6, verses 10-11,

“Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.”

The food just kept going.  It multiplied somehow.  I wish I could have seen it.  I also wish my coffee beans and Cheerios and granola and blueberries would multiply.  In the history of the world, there have been many ingenious solutions to food shortage.  I once listened to an audiobook that talked about the development of corn through the past couple hundred years.  Originally, corn cobs were small.  But through science corn is what it is today, with tall stalks yielding lots of huge ears of delicious corn.  Science is miraculous in its own way, but science hasn’t replicated what Jesus did.

We can’t explain it.  Did a disciple break off a piece of bread, hand it to someone, and then when he went to break off another piece, the bread had regenerated itself miraculously so there was always more to break off?  It had to be more than just regeneration.  It had to multiplication.  How do we know this?

Hear what we read next in verses 12-13,

“When they had all had enough to eat, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.”

What is so amazing is that what started out as five loaves has now turned in 12 basketfuls of pieces of bread.  Though we read in verse 11 that Jesus also multiplied the fish, maybe the fish was more popular than the bread.  It’s certainly more nutritious.  So only bread was left over, but, my goodness. Not only did all 5000+ get their fill of bread, there were now 12 basketfuls left over. 

Observers have pointed to the number twelve as potentially symbolic here.  Twelve disciples, not each with their own basket full of bread.  Jesus not only took care of the crowd, he took care of the disciples, and not just for one meal, but for many. 

Think about that answer to Jesus’ question in verse 5.  “Where shall we buy bread?”  Buy?  At the end of lunch, with no money exchanged, the bread was overflowing to the tune of 12 baskets of leftovers.  Jesus has answered his own question in miraculous, supernatural fashion.

My wife and I have some friends that spent time as missionaries in Mozambique.  On an outreach one day, they were in a village ministering, having brought some cookies to hold them over till they returned for dinner.  A few children from the village came to greet them, and my friends began sharing cookies with them.  They remembered only having three cookies left before the children came, but far more than three children came over asking for a cookie.  When Shannon and Josue reached into the bag, there was always enough cookies to give another one.  Was the purpose to feed the people of Mozambique?  No, not even close.  Those children needed nutritious meals every day for years, not a random cookie here and there.  The miracle was a sign, pointing to Jesus.

Likewise, what was the result of the Jesus’ miracle of multiplication?  Look at verses 14-15.

“After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

This miracle was not the start of food distribution program.  It was a sign, to the disciples and to the people in the crowd.  Here’s the shocker.  The people read the sign correctly.  Jesus was the Prophet who is to come.  They are referring to a prophecy that Moses made in Deuteronomy 18:15 (which I blogged about here), almost 1500 years prior, that God would send a prophet like Moses.  What was one of the astounding miracles that God did through Moses?  God provided manna and quail for the people of Israel while they wandered in the wilderness.  And what did the people on that Galilean mountainside see Jesus do? What they saw looked an awful lot like Moses.  Jesus provided bread and fish.  The people made the connection.  They accurately identified Jesus as the Prophet, and they were ecstatic.

The Jewish people in the previous 750 years or so had faced repeated turmoil.  Invasions from foreign superpowers.  Of course, it was their own fault, because they rebelled against God.  So God allowed them to face a litany of struggles. Exile.  Oppression.  Occupation.  The Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Greeks, and in Jesus’ day the Romans, all took their turn ruling Palestine during those years.  There was only one period of 100 years when the Jews were self-governing.  But Rome came in and crushed them and ruled with a heavy hand.

You can imagine how the Jewish people hated being occupied by the Roman military.  They longed for a savior.  Their Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament was loaded with passages that predicted a savior to come, passages just like Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses says a Prophet will come.  To those people on the mountainside, having heard about Jesus’ miracles, and now seeing him provide food like Moses, they believed they were seeing prophecy unfold before their very eyes.  And they were right!

The logical next step was for the people to act.  The Prophet, the Messiah, who was to be a new king of the lineage of the great King David, should become king.  The people wanted to start a political, military coup.  For some leaders that might be tempting.  Power is a very enticing thing.  When you have 10,000 people on your side, you are a force to be reckoned with, and thus if Jesus wanted, he could make a go of it.  Attack the local Roman garrison.  With 10,000 freedom fighters on his side, he would have had a good chance of winning.  Grab the armor, the weapons, raise up more militia, keep attacking.  Did the Romans have enough soldiers stationed in Palestine to overcome 10,000? The people wanted Jesus to find out.

But no, Jesus is not here for that.  The miracle was a sign, not to start a war, but a sign pointing to the reality that Jesus was a different kind of king than they realized.  So he leaves, and goes off by himself.  He doesn’t even ask the disciples and their bread baskets to come along.  Not one.  He heads out alone.   Perhaps it was easier to hide that way.   Put space and time between him and the crowd and their grand ideas of making him king.  Not to mention the fact that Jesus often went by himself to be with his Father.  He is yet again a wonderful example for us.  It is important for us to spend time alone with God, listening for God, talking with him.  We need a steady diet of silence and solitude in our lives, directing our hearts and minds back to God.  Even the extroverts among us need silence and solitude!

What did the disciples do?  Did they also find silence and solitude. Nope. They got themselves in trouble. How so? We’ll find out in the next post.

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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