From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
Let’s begin with a prayer. Lord, we thank You for our time together and we ask that you would guide our thoughts now as we reflect together on the glorious Gospel. Give us insight and not only a willingness to hear but also to apply and obey. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.
We are looking at a story that involves yet another miracle, actually two miracles. After the account in John chapter five, where there was a case of mistaken identity, where people failed to see who, really, He is, we have understandings on two levels at once.
In John five we saw the healing at Bethesda and then we saw His discourse in Jerusalem with the rejection of His claims. He offered a number of witnesses as to who He was and we have a discourse that illustrates, through that healing, who He really is.
In this case, the healings, the miracles, reveals something more about who He is. The discourses in John are designed to communicate a message that is cumulative in its nature. Now, in this chapter, we have the issue of the surface needs versus the deepest needs of humanity. We are going to see in this chapter that people are looking for just the surface needs. Just like the woman at the well, what was it that she wanted? She wanted physical water. The paralytic man wanted physical healing. One of the things you want to keep in mind is that we are dealing with the festival of the Passover.
It says in verse four, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.” There are going to be parallels here, with the stories and themes, to Exodus chapters 1 through 17. John is assuming that his readership has some familiarity with that. You have some imagery here, of how the manna in the Passover narrative, after you have the Passover and the great deliverance in the Red Sea and then the miracle of provision in the wilderness and the ideas that are found there are followed here and we have to understand that because it is going to give you understanding of the questions and issues that are raised. You need to see that Jesus is going to be superseding Moses himself.
For example, if you take a look at chapter six, verse five, of John, the question is raised by Jesus, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” It echoes the question that Moses raised in Numbers 11:3, “Where can I get meat for all these people?” In Numbers 11:1 the people grumbled and in John chapter six you see them grumbling in verses 41 and 43. You have the parallels there as well. In Numbers chapter 11, the manna was described, particularly in verses 7 through nine and in John 6:31 it describes the manna as well.
There is that allusion back to the manna in the wilderness. In fact, one of the interesting ones here is in verse nine, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” The interesting thing is that Moses raised this very question in Numbers 11, “We don’t have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them.” You see the similarities there? Even if we have all the fish, it won’t be enough.
Interestingly enough, in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was done about 250 BC, the word that was used for fish was ‘opsas’ and the very same word is used for fish here, ‘opsarion’, which is the plural translation. In the Numbers 11 account, for gathering all the fish in the sea, the word ‘sunago’ is used and in John 6:11, Jesus told them to gather all the fragments and the same word, ‘sunago’ is used. There are a lot of similarities and parallels and we are invited to see, then, that this is not accidental.
So, let us begin. In verse one, “After these things,” which evidently refers back to the healing at Bethesda and its sequel, which we talked about before. In chapter five, Jesus was rejected in Jerusalem because of this healing because he violated the traditions of the Elders concerning the Sabbath observance. They couldn’t really grasp that he was the fulfillment of all the Messianic promises of Scripture. What you have, by the way, are a number of events, and when you compare the three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with John’s Gospel you discover that there are a number of events that were recorded in the other Gospels that are passed over here in this one. John’s Gospel is about 92% unique to John. Most of the material will not also be found in one of the synoptic Gospels.
It is a supplementary Gospel that really assumes that the reader has some familiarity with those accounts. Some of the things that happened in between chapter five and chapter six would be that the Sermon on the Mount was given and also there were the parables of the Kingdom. So, there was some time, clearly, between these two accounts. Now, this particular miracle, the one we see in John 6, with the feeding of the 5,000, is so significant that it is recorded in all four Gospels.
It is unique to have all four of them recording it. Some theologians claim that this was not a miracle at all. The idea, apparently, is that everyone just shared their lunches. That is not the case and you can tell by their reaction. Rather, this was a definite miracle and the people wanted to make Him king, so impressed were they by this. The response, in verses 14 and 15, indicates they wanted to make Him king because they saw He was something more than they had ever seen before.
It was clearly something to be accounted for as a great sign. There were some solutions to the problems that they had. When they went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and by the way, the word in the Old Testament for this was ‘kinnerth’, for harp or lyre. The shape of the Sea of Galilee resembles a harp and so that is why they called it that. It would be approximately 13 miles in length and at its widest point, it would be about six miles across. So, it is not a very large body of water.
I might point out, by the way, that this was an inland basin and it is 650 feet below sea level. It is a good deal lower, for example than even Death Valley and it eventually reaches 1,300 feet below sea level when you reach the Dead Sea. That is the lowest point on the surface of the earth. Now, it is interesting that in the nature of this you have mountains to the West and East and those in the West are about 2,000 feet and those in the East, the Golan Heights of today, would be about 4,000 feet in height.
What is fascinating is that, typically, in the afternoon, the cooler air from the Mediterranean Sea would come across the lake and it would collide with the lower, hot air from this basin and often it would cause sudden storm systems. So, people who worked the Sea of Galilee had to be very, very careful about this because they could become quite violent.
In fact, we are going to see one of those violent storm systems in this chapter. I will point out, by the way, just a couple of things so we have this mind. Up in the Northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, there is a plain where, according to tradition, the feeding of the 5,000 took place. These people had come out because of the healings at Cana as well as at Capernaum that were very, very key and, of course, word eventually got out about His power to heal.
In any case, let us continue on. John mentions the city of Tiberias for people who may not have been familiar with the area. Herod Antipas founded that city, over on the western shore, around AD 26. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and he named it in honor of the emperor Tiberias.
Continuing, now, with verse two, “A large crowd followed Him because they saw the signs He was performing on those that were sick.” So, they were following Him around looking for signs, miracles, and wonders. They weren’t so interested in the source of the signs but in the outcomes. They wanted the healings that they would be having and they were fascinated by a miracle worker.
It goes on to say, “And Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat with His disciples.” So, He sat with His disciples and “the problem was that the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Phillip, ‘Where are we to buy bread so that these may eat’?” Now, earlier, in Mark 6:35-36, the disciple’s solution was simply to send the people away. This would get rid of the problem but it wouldn’t be in their best interests.
Consequently, Jesus asked Phillip the question, “Where are we to buy bread so that these may eat?” He is kind of testing Phillip to see how he would respond. Sometimes people think money is the answer to all their problems. Phillip answered, in verse seven; “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” That was about eight months worth of labor in those days.
He is testing, I think, the strength of Phillip’s faith and it a natural assumption for him to say if they had the money it would be no problem. One of the things folks discover in our world is that money often isn’t the answer to all things. We suppose it is but we discover it will leave us empty in the long run.
There was an old show years ago, called The Millionaire. You might recall that John Bairsford Tipton used to give out cashier’s checks for one million dollars. In this show, the basic animating device was that the recipients could never reveal the amount or the source of the money.
The storyline was centered around what impact it would have on those who received it. In most cases it was disastrous. Even now, when you hear about the impact on people winning the lottery, it is not a positive thing at all. Actually, it can be genuinely disastrous. People discover, too late, realize it is not the end to their problems. In any event, Andrew, then, found a boy, in verse eight, and said, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are those for so many people?” Now, barley loaves were a sign that these people were impoverished because barley was then associated with the bread of the poor.
I don’t know what he had in mind for Jesus to do, but he raises this question and then it goes on to say, “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down’.” The number was about 5,000 and they gathered around and sat down. “Then Jesus took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.” So what we see here is the miracle taking place in the hands of the Savior, not in the hands of the disciples. He is the One who multiplied the food and they had the privilege of passing it out.
“When they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost’. So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.” Now, this is a very important picture here because we see that in contrast to the ‘little’, in verse seven, the Lord gives it with abundance.
I am reminded of the imagery from Ephesians 3:20, where He gives you exceedingly and abundantly and beyond all that you ask for. Not only did He satisfy them but also there was food left over. There was more than they could even eat, and you are talking about a very large crowd. So, that is an amazing miracle and the imagery that we see here is that He is never impoverished, our Lord, by the generosity of His giving.
There is more than enough to satisfy the people, but it is interesting that it is still precious, so they gather it up and do not waste it. Two times, by the way, John mentions that Jesus gave thanks, here is verse 11 and again in verse 23. The Synoptics mentioned as well, in the same parable account that Jesus looked up Heaven when He gave thanks because He saw God as the source of all good and needful gifts. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, then, we need to give thanks to God for what we do have and I think God takes that and multiplies it. The idea here is that giving thanks is a settled attitude.
If this service comes out around Thanksgiving it would be certainly relevant because we’re talking about Thanksgiving. Sadly, though, it is just a tack-on. We have now reduced it to what we call ‘turkey day’. It is rather a sad thing, just like some people call Christmas ‘Xmas’. Easter is associated with the Easter bunny and Easter eggs. It is almost like diffusing the real power behind these concepts. To give thanks is critical. The Eucharist, in liturgical Churches, means simply ‘the giving of thanks’.
The idea here is that it is something we are called to do and I argue that Thanksgiving is a discipline; it is not meant to be left for spontaneous moments or a last ditch effort. It is something that we must choose to do and it is an attitude that one can have. And so, this idea here of giving thanks is this: see everything that you have as coming from the hand of God; that everything is really given by grace, everything is on loan. If we come to look at it that way we will have a different attitude on things, like if we receive the next day what we’ve given thanks for yesterday, what would we have today? Take that concept and put it to day after day, would we finally run out of things, or would we have abundance?
We must invite God to be the One who determines the content of our life. We can only do what we can do, but we have to look to God for the outcome. So, this imagery of giving thanks is a big part, by the way, of our Lord’s ministry and it is a big part of the Epistles and, indeed, a big part of the Bible; the idea of remembering God in all things. So, I see a lesson in here, give all you have Jesus and let Him do the rest. You have given Him something, though; you see the idea here? Give Him something to start with and then He can multiply that. Give Him what you’ve got and it has been said that, “The Lord gives His best to those who allow Him to make the decisions.”
And so, we see in verse 14, “When the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’.” Now, I have forgotten to mention that there is a parallel miracle in II Kings 4:42-44, where Elisha feeds 100 men with 20 barley loaves there were also baskets leftover there. Elisha is seen to be a type of Christ in the Old Testament. Now, here is what happening here, unlike the Judeans, the Galileans did accept Him as a Prophet, as anticipated in Deuteronomy 18:18.
Remember when Moses said, “There will be a greater Prophet than me who will come in the latter times.” They saw Him as a second Moses who could provide in the wilderness but they acknowledged Him for the wrong motives and the wrong intentions. And so, it says, “Jesus, seeing that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew to the mountain by Himself alone.”
So, they wanted to seize Him and they wanted to use Him for their own agenda. I guess that their hope and expectation was that if He had this kind of power He could organize them and set Himself up as the King of the Jews and overcome the Roman dominion.
This idea, as the second Moses, then, is that He could do for them what the first Moses had done for their ancestors. What did the first Moses do? He delivered the people from oppression. However, I might also mention here that 1:19-25 and also John 7:40-42 seem to show that the Messiah and the Prophet were distinguished in their public expectation. They almost saw Him as two separate figures.
Now, the Scriptures, when we put it together, both speak of Him as One because the Prophet and the King and the Priest, in this case, are all one and the same. So, Jesus escapes this fate of being used by them for their own machinations by withdrawing to the mountain to pray in solitude. It is likely that He headed somewhat further north while He instructed His disciples to leave.
So, it says, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat they started to cross the sea Capernaum. It had already become dark and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat.” Apparently, the wind was blowing contrary to where they were trying to go and so they were trying to row, instead of sailing against the wind. It says “They saw Jesus walking on the sea and nearing the boat; and they were frightened.” The word would really be ‘terrified’ because this was a water miracle now. We have the miracle of the bread and now we a miracle involving water.