As Christians we are to be like Christ. In order to be like Christ we have to know what He is like. The best way to learn about Christ is to read the Gospels. Lots of books discuss views and ideas about Him, but the Gospels reveal Christ. Every story, statement, and teaching unfolds some aspect of His divine and human natures, the beauty of His character, the faithfulness of His redemptive work, and His call to follow Him. As we study this Fourth Gospel, we are viewing Christ.
We just finished a study of chapter 5 which dealt with some very important teachings about who Yeshua really was. He was accused by the Jewish leaders of making himself equal with God. He responded to this accusation by saying, I am equal to Yahweh in every way. He claimed equality with God the Father and pointed to evidence to back up those amazing claims. Then he demonstrated that the Father also bears witness to his deity and equality with Him. If you want a clear teaching on the deity of Christ go to John 5.
And as we come to chapter 6 Yeshua wanted to see whether His disciples had really grasped what He was saying: that He was none other than God in human flesh (6:5-6). So He gives them a test, which they fail.
The miracle that we are going to look at today of the multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of the multitude is the only miracle besides the Resurrection that is recorded in all four Gospels. But, in the Fourth Gospel it is not only a miracle, it is a "sign" that serves as a preface to Yeshua's teaching on the true Bread of Life.
This will be the fourth miracle that Lazarus has recorded so far. The first one was creating wine at the wedding in Cana. The second one was in chapter 4 and that was the healing of a nobleman's son. And the third one was in chapter 5 and that was the man at the pool who had been there for so many years and Yeshua healed him and told him to pick up his bed and walk. So this is miracle number four that we look at today.
This section of the text records the high point of Yeshua's popularity. This is the only chapter in John that treats the Galilean phase of Yeshua's ministry which occupies so much of the Synoptics.
After these things Yeshua went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). John 6:1 NASB
"After these things"—is the Greek expression, meta tauta, which is the same expression that introduces 5:1. It is a vague expression that establishes sequence, but not tight chronology. It's a generic statement that we're now leaving the subject of chapter 5 and moving to a completely different scenario. The last geographical reference in chapter 5 placed Yeshua in Jerusalem. John 6:1 has Yeshua on the Sea of Galilee. So Lazarus has moved the scene from Jerusalem to Galilee and jumped a period of time.
So the connective phrase "after these things" doesn't tell us the precise historical context that went before the feeding of the men on the side of the Sea of Galilee. But Matthew gives us some of the details.
Now when Yeshua heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. Matthew 14:13 NASB
What happened immediately proceeding this feeding of the multitude was the slaughter of John the Baptist by Herod. And the other Gospel writers say that as a result of that event the Lord Yeshua went out to be alone.
"Yeshua went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias)"— in the Gospels several names are used for the large northern lake through which the Jordan River flows. Here Lazarus calls it the "Sea of Galilee" as well as referring to it by its Roman name, the "Sea of Tiberias." We are told in verse 16 that this event takes place across the Sea of Galilee on the opposite shore from Caperanum which is east of the Sea of Galilee (well known today as the Golan Heights). That was the more sparsely populated side where fewer Jews and more Gentiles lived.
So Yeshua, "went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee"—how does He get to the other side? Mark fills in some details for us. In the first part of Mark 6 Yeshua sends out His disciples:
And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits; Mark 6:7 NASB
Then in verse 30 Mark comes back to the discussion about the disciples being sent out. Here, we see the disciples returning from their mission on which Yeshua had sent them two by two:
The apostles gathered together with Yeshua; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. Mark 6:30-32 NASB
The end of verse 31 in the Greek literally reads: "They didn't even have an opportunity to have a meal." This is why Yeshua took these disciples off to a lonely place; to minister to them and to teach them.
So the Twelve had just returned from a preaching and teaching mission and Yeshua wants to pull them back and regroup and find out what happened. He's exhausted. They're exhausted. They need time together. So they go to the eastside which was much more rural, they went for some R&R.
A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. John 6:2 NASB
If they are in a boat how is a "large crowd" following them? While Yeshua and His disciples are crossing the lake in a boat people are following them on the land.
The people saw them going, and many recognized them and ran there together on foot from all the cities, and got there ahead of them. When Yeshua went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. Mark 6:33-34 NASB
On the Sea of Galilee, from any point on the rocky shore, all other locations along the shoreline are visible. It isn't too difficult for people to watch a departing ship and to follow it across the lake as it moves towards its destination - and this is exactly what this crowd appears to have done.
Yeshua and the disciples get to the shore and they are hoping for a little R & R. But when they arrive, there are thousands of people waiting on the shore to meet them. Word is spreading about Yeshua' miracles. It is now almost impossible for Him to avoid crowds of people following Him in their desire to witness His miracles. As the people see the boat going across the sea, they are running on land. They keep going through cities, and more and more people follow. By the time Yeshua lands on the shore, there is a huge mob. So much for the R&R.
Let's say that this is you. You have been so swamped at work that you don't even have time to eat lunch. So you go off to a secluded place for a break and when you get there there's a mob waiting for you to minister to them. How would you feel, how would you respond?
The text says Yeshua saw them and He was irritated with them. No it doesn't. It might make us feel better if it did say that, but that is not what it says. It says, "He saw a great multitude, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd."
Sheep without a shepherd are a disaster. They panic, and they do not know where to go for food and water. They are constantly in danger. Yeshua looks at this crowd of people and "He felt compassion for them." That word for compassion is a very strong word. The word literally conveys the idea of a heart contracting convulsively. We might say, His heart was squeezed by what He saw, or He was overwhelmed by the consciousness of human need. The Greek word used here for compassion is "splagchnizomai,". Splagchnizomai is found only in the Gospels and in every usage it is always related to need.
Our God is a compassionate God-when Moses stood before the Lord on Mount Sinai, Yahweh revealed Himself to Israel's leader. The first adjective the Lord used to describe Himself to Moses is "compassionate":
Compassion belongs to the Lord God; it is a vital aspect of His divine nature. So when we look at Christ, we should not be surprised by the compassion that He demonstrated as the Messiah. The Lord Yeshua the Christ is a compassionate God. You know what that means? As Christians, as children of the heavenly Father, we have a duty to imitate Christ, who is described in the Bible as compassionate.
The world today is heartless and cruel. It has become indifferent to suffering and hurt. But as God's children, we are to have a heartfelt compassion toward those who hurt. We are to be like our God. How do we get this heartfelt compassion? By spending time with God. The more you walk with Him, the more you will look like Him.
Then Yeshua went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. John 6:3 NASB
Yeshua went up on the mountainside to be alone "with His disciples," who had just returned from their mission throughout the towns of Galilee. The fact that He "sat down" shows that this was an official teaching session with His disciples.
Only Lazarus mentioned that this happened on a mountain. The word translated "mountain" is the Greek word oros which means mountain and not "hillside." Most modern translators change the wording of this passage because these elevated areas around the Galilee are not what we would call mountains. But the Gospel writers always refer to "the mountain" when Yeshua ascends a height to teach or perform a miracle because "the mountain" is an important theological symbol which links the reader to Tanakh imagery and theological events that took place on mountains.
In Hebrews the inspired writer tells us that just as Moses brought the Children of Israel to God's Holy Mountain, Sinai, now Christ has brought New Covenant people to God's Holy Mountain.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, Hebrews 12:22-23 NASB
The Church is God's Holy Mountain, just as Mt. Moriah had been for the Old Covenant people as the site of the Temple.
Lazarus might have mentioned a mountain to place Yeshua and Moses in a comparative relationship. Several things suggest this possibility here. First, Moses had been contrasted with Christ in the closing verse of chapter 5. Second, John specifically connects the feeding to the Jewish Passover in verse 4. The Passover had its origins in the Mosaic period and the Passover liturgy in Judaism emphasized the manna provided by Moses. Manna will be specifically introduced in verse 31.
Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. John 6:4 NASB
We saw that what happened in chapter 5 occurred at a feast of the Jews. If that feast was Passover, then that would mean a whole year had gone by. But if the feast in chapter 5 was the feast of Tabernacles, it would then have been six months.
Because Passover was near the pilgrims from the Galilee and Jewish communities to the north in Roman occupied Syria are traveling south to Jerusalem for the Feast in Jerusalem. God ordained the sacrifice of this feast in Exodus chapter 12 as a perpetual commemoration and reenactment of Israel's deliverance from slavery in Egypt. D. A. Carson writes of the political implications of the Passover:
"… the Passover Feast was to Palestinian Jews what the fourth of July is to Americans, or, better, what the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne is to loyalist Protestants in Northern Ireland. It was a rallying point for intense, nationalistic zeal. This goes some way to explaining their fervour that tried to force Jesus to become king …" [D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), p. 269.]Therefore Yeshua, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?" John 6:5 NASB
They went to this remote place to relax and regroup but then a crowd shows up. In the Synoptic Gospels, it is late in the day when this happens. And Matthew 14:14 says, "He spent the day healing the sick." Keep that in mind. Luke 9:11 says, "He spent the day speaking to them concerning the Kingdom of God, salvation." And Mark says, "He did this because He was moved with compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd."
Only Lazarus recorded that Yeshua approached "Philip" about the need. This would have been understandable, since Philip was from Bethsaida, the nearest sizable town (1:44).
This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. John 6:6 NASB
The verb peiraz ('test') is commonly used by the Gospel writers in the bad sense of "tempt", to solicit to do evil. The word itself, however, is neutral.
So to test him Yeshua asks, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?"-this is an impossible situation, humanly speaking. And Philip answers:
Philip answered Him, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little." John 6:7 NASB
Philip, just like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, was thinking only on the physical level. "Two hundred denarii" represented about eight months' wages for a working man.
They don't have any money but even if they had two hundred denarii it wouldn't be anywhere's near enough.
There were no resources. This is a desolate place, there's nowhere to go to buy bread for this many people. There are no fast food places, no caterers, no nothing. This is an impossible situation. Immediate food for twenty thousand-plus people, are you kidding? [Chuck-E Cheese with 200 kids.]
In 1:45 Philip identified Yeshua as "the one that Moses and the prophets wrote about," the Prophet/Messiah, but he still doesn't seem to get fully who Yeshua is. Philip was a student of Scripture so he would have been familiar with Numbers 11, where Moses asks Yahweh a question very similar to the one Yeshua asks:
"Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, 'Give us meat that we may eat!' Numbers 11:13 NASB
In this event Yahweh accepts Moses' question as a petition and provides food for the Children of Israel. Philip should have understood that the Messiah has the power to do the same miracle. Adding to that what we saw in chapter 6, Yeshua taught them quite clearly that he is Yahweh. So feeding these 20,000 people should be no problem, after all he fed millions of Israelites.
Philip would have also known the story from 2 Kings 4 about the famine in Gilgal where the prophet Elisha also took barley loaves and fed a multitude with some bread left over:
Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, "Give them to the people that they may eat." His attendant said, "What, will I set this before a hundred men?" But he said, "Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, 'They shall eat and have some left over.'" So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD. 2 Kings 4:42-44 NASB
He knew this story and surly he understood that Yeshua was greater than Elisha because Yeshua is Elisha's God.
Philip would have also known Jeremiah 32:
'Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You, Jeremiah 32:17 NASB
If Yeshua is the Lord God in human flesh, Creator of heaven and earth, then nothing is too difficult for Him! And also remember what I told you to keep in mind, Matthew 14:14 says:
When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. Matthew 14:14 NASB
Yeshua spent the day healing the sick. So Philip had been seeing miracles all day.
To Yeshua's question, "Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?" Philip should have answered, "You are Lord of all creation you can make food rain from heaven." He should have said, "Lord, I've seen You turn water into wine. I watched You heal a man's son from a distance. I saw you heal the man who had been unable to walk for 38 years. I've watched You perform dozens of miracles. Surely, You can provide bread for this hungry multitude, even as God provided manna in the wilderness!"
But Philip thought things through on a purely human level, just like we so often do. The disciples just didn't get it. They saw miracles all the time, but they can't believe for a miracle in this situation. Do you know what the disciples solution to this problem was?
When it was evening, the disciples came to Him and said, "This place is desolate and the hour is already late; so send the crowds away, that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Matthew 14:15 NASB
That's their solution, send them away! The Lord didn't want the disciples to solve the problem, he wanted them to realize that humanly speaking there is no solution.
One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him, "There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?" John 6:8-9 NASB
Why does Andrew seem to pop up out of nowhere? Well, according to Mark 6:38, Yeshua told the disciples to go into the crowd and find out what they could. Go search the crowd, see what might be available. So Andrew finds a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. Only from Lazarus do we learn that the five loaves and two fish came from a boy's lunch. He also informs us that the loaves were barley bread. They were small, flat barley cakes, probably about the size of a small pancake. Barley was the inexpensive bread of the poorer classes poor people. The two fish were either pickled or dried small fish, like sardines.
Yeshua said, "Have the people sit down." Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. John 6:10 NASB
They sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Mark 6:40 NASB
This took place in March or April (near Passover) when the grass is still green, before the hot summer sun burns it brown.
All four evangelists recorded the size of the crowd in terms of the males present. This was customary, since these people lived in a predominantly paternalistic culture. Matthew tells us:
There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children. Matthew 14:21 NASB
Matthew uses the Greek word aner for "man" that distinguishes a man from a woman, that distinguishes a husband from a wife, that distinguishes a man from children. And so it is not the generic term "men" which word include women and children as well. But "men", that is males of a fighting age. The chances are that many of the wives were present and many of the children were present. Commentators assess that the whole crowd therefore probably numbered around 20,000. In groups of 50 it would require 100 groups to serve only the men, so there must be approximately 400 groups of 50 seated on this grassy mountain.
Maybe there is a picture here of Yeshua as the Good Shepherd, making His sheep lie down in green pastures (cf. Ps. 23:2). Setting a table before them.
Yeshua then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. John 6:11 NASB
Yeshua keeps reaching into the little basket where the boy had his lunch, and the food simply keeps on coming. It must have be something like the widow's oil and flour in the 1 Kings 17:
Then Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. "For thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain on the face of the earth.'" 1 Kings 17:13-14 NASB
We have a similar situation in our text the boys lunch just doesn't run out.
Our text says that Yeshua, "took the loaves, and having given thanks"-this is an accurate translation. In Mark it says, "He blessed the food" -the text actually records simply that Yeshua "blessed," and this would be the normal practice for the Jew who gave thanks to God - a blessing of God for the provision would be spoken rather than a pronouncement over the food to bless it. The traditional and usual blessing said at the time of a meal was: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth." He wouldn't have blessed the food, but blessed God for providing it for them.
Think about this food they were eating. It was a direct creation of God. These barley loaves never came from grain, that never grew, were never prepared by man. The fish never swam in the sea. Yeshua directly created them, that was the best bread that anyone has ever eaten. Those were the best fish you ever tasted. This is heavenly food. This would have caused them to eat a little more than normal.
When they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost." John 6:12 NASB
The text says they ate, "as much as they wanted… when they were filled-so they were saying, I'm stuffed, I can't eat another bite. The word "filled," it's a word used in animal husbandry, they were foddered up. They stuffed themselves on this bread and fish. This is the ample provision of the Lord who declares, "And My people will be satisfied with My goodness" (Jer. 31:14).
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. John 6:13 NASB
Collecting what was left over at the end of the meal was a Jewish custom.
"Twelve baskets"-whenever the number twelve is used in these stories, I believe that it relates to the twelve tribes of Israel. Yeshua himself said He chose twelve disciples so that they might sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. This is a reminder to these disciples that Yeshua was the Promised One who was to come to Israel.
Did you notice that they gathered up the bread but there is no mention of fish? What happen? Were the majority of people there on the ketogentic diet so they skipped the bread and ate only fish? I think the fish aren't mentioned here because the bread is of primary importance for Lazarus in view of Yeshua's discourse on the Bread of Life later in this text.
In this story of Yeshua feeding 20,000 people we come face to face with the element of the supernatural. Or do we? Liberals have suggested several alternatives to the supernatural. Some hold that a "miracle" took place in men's hearts. Seeing this little boy share his food induced the selfish to share their provisions, and when this was done there proved to be more than enough for them all. Others think that the feeding should be understood as a sacramental meal, rather like Holy Communion, wherein each received a tiny fragment.
Now, if the feeding of 20,000 people had been the result of people sharing, or if everybody had a communion size dose of food, do you think that the people would say, "This is that great prophet that should come into the world." I don't think so. I think the view of the crowd here was that a miracle so great had been performed that they were convinced that this must be the prophet that Moses had prophesied would come.
Obviously there is nothing in the text to support the popular liberal interpretations that the miracle consisted of Yeshua making the people willing to share their food, or that everybody just got a bite. The text says they ate, "as much as they wanted… when they were filled-so they were saying, I'm stuffed, I can't eat another bite.
Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." John 6:14 NASB
The people say Yeshua as the one promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-20; the "new Moses", the One who is to be the Messiah. Certain segments of Judaism expected the Messiah to repeat the miracle of the manna. This expectation appears to have arisen from the combination of understanding the Messiah as a prophet like Moses and the general view that the Messianic Age would be a time of utopian plenty. Thus the feeding of the five thousand enabled Yeshua to affirm his messianic ministry without uttering a single word about messiahship.
Think about the setting here. They are in a wilderness place (just as with the exodus), they've been divided into numbered groups (just as the exodus), and this great teacher has miraculously provided bread for them to eat (just as God provided manna during the exodus). And what's more, after they collect up the leftovers (as was the Jewish custom), they discover that they have filled twelve baskets with bread. A basket for each of the twelve tribes of Israel; everyone sees the significance of that. Surely this is it—the time when Israel will regain its political and religious independence. This is the time when Messiah would overthrow the Roman oppressors and they would be free.
So Yeshua, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. John 6:15 NASB
Yeshua knows that the crowd is about to try to take Him by force, and make Him King. Moses had provided military leadership for the Israelites, and had liberated them from the oppression of the Egyptians. These Jews concluded that Yeshua could do the same for them, and so they now sought to secure His political leadership by force.
Our text tells us that Yeshua, "withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone." Mark adds a few details:
And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away. Mark 6:45 NASB
Mark says "immediately"—this is one of Mark's favorite words. This was not a month later. This was not a week later. This was a matter of minutes later. Mark also says, He "made" them get into the boat. This is a very strong Greek word. The verb anagkazo [an-ang-kad'-zo] means: "He forced/compelled them (to go ahead without Him)." We would say He forced them onto the boat. In other words, Mark wants you to know that they were absolutely sure this was what Yeshua wanted them to do. They did not get partway out and think, I wonder if Yeshua wanted us to leave? He forced them in the boat.
Think about the dynamic of this situation. Here was a sizeable crowd of over 20,000 people enthusiastic about Yeshua. Popularity was at a high point. At this point the disciples could even get swept up in "Messiah fever." If He was crowned king, then that put them into prominent positions! Visions of titles and benefits danced through their heads! So Yeshua acted promptly to get them out of there.
The crowd's desire for a national, political Messiah was not Yeshua's plan. His kingdom is heavenly and spiritual. When asked by Pilate, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Yeshua answered,
Yeshua answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." John 18:36 NASB
In other words, yes, I am a king, but not the way you think I am. They needed to move beyond the physical and see the Kingdom of God.
The disciples just like us tried to come up with natural solutions to life's problems. Philip says, We don't have enough money. Andrew doubted the little the boy had would do any good. We don't have enough food. In the other Gospel accounts of the miracle the disciples told Yeshua to send the people away, get rid of the problem. What they and we often fail to see is that we need to trust Yeshua in each and every situation of life.
And those who know Your name will put their trust in You, For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You. Psalms 9:10 NASB