We come back to the Gospel of John as we work through the whole Bible. John 6 gives us the feeding of the 5,000, the walking on water, and several discourse passages where Jesus teaches the people.
If I were writing a commentary, I would spend many thousands of words here. Instead, though, it’s a blog. So, you get a little bit and then will have to dig the rest out for yourself. I will highlight one major sweep of the passage:
There are at least 5,000 adult men with Jesus at the beginning of the passage. This is quite the crowd. They are watching the signs and hearing His Word, not as we do from the page but directly from His mouth. Yet by the end of the passage, Jesus looks at the Twelve and asks if they are going to go away also. Peter’s response is hardly enthusiastic to my ears: “To whom shall we go?” It sounds almost like they would leave, but they know Jesus is the Messiah. They may not like the hard things about following Him, but there is no other option.
In that, I think many of us ought to be close to the same way. We hold to the faith not because it is temporarily beneficial. Not for the easy teachings. Not for the happy sermons. We hold to the faith because there is truly no where else to go. There is nothing else for me: if God has not spoken truly through the Word, if I am not redeemed in Christ, then I have nothing. I do not have to have tried everything to know this, but I know that there is one right path and it is to follow Jesus.
Now, on to a little focus in this passage: the Feeding of the 5,000 is considered important for more than one reason. Obviously, the story itself bears importance for demonstrating the power of Christ over the physical world. There is the obvious value in teaching that we bring what we have and God uses it. We should note that few people would have looked to a young kid to provide the first step in the solution.
Yet that is not what I would highlight at this point. I would, instead, draw your attention to one of the quirks of New Testament studies. We find that there are great similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three are often called the Synoptic Gospels, meaning that they see the life of Jesus through almost the same eye. (If I am recalling correctly, syn meaning something like “together” and optic meaning something like “appearance” or even “eye.” These are seen together Gospels.)
Then, there is the Gospel of John. John sees things very differently. Now, I hold that this is because John wrote after Matthew, Mark, and Luke were in circulation and John wrote with an intention toward filling gaps in either events or meaning that the Synoptics left unsaid. There is debate about how to characterize the percentage of difference between John and the Synoptics, but until you hit the Passion Week, the week of the Crucifixion, there are no miracle narratives recorded in both the Synoptics and John.
Except this one. This event is recorded in all four Gospels. Further, all four carry some variations, indicating that they are not merely copying each other but including their own knowledge and understanding of the event.
Let us dwell on this for a moment: if the Bible contains exactly what God intended it to contain, has truth without any mixture of error, and is the complete Word of God, then there is a reason that this story shows up four times. It is apparently important. Very important.
Think about it. If you have a job, your boss repeats important things. If you are the boss, you repeat important things. In life, this is true, otherwise, why put signs in the bathrooms to tell employees to wash their hands? It’s important enough to remember.
The question is not if the feeding of the 5,000 is important. The question is why?
Here is why:
1. Jesus shows compassion. The hungry people have needs, those needs are met by His hand.
2. The story shows His power. Five loaves leads to twelve baskets of leftovers, so that the disciples have snacks for the week? Only God can do this.
3. Jesus subtly rebukes Satan here. What was one of the temptations of Christ? To make bread. Here Jesus makes bread for the right reasons. That’s right, the tempter gets reminded here that he did not box out the power of God.
4. Jesus reveals His true purpose. It is not to rule over mankind without first atoning for sin and going to the Cross. John 6:15 points out that the people were ready to revolt with Jesus at the head of them.
Instead, He backs down, preaches the hard truths, and drives many followers away. Because His goal is not a revolution of government but a surrender of mankind to Himself, the One who vanquishes sin and death.
This is important enough to tell us four times, which is more than we are told about Jesus’ birth. Or about certain aspects of the Cross. Or Creation, or Paul’s journeys, or even the Second Coming. Keep that in mind: some truths really are more worth repeating.
Today’s Nerd Note: John 6:49-58 is sometimes used to justify a belief that the practice of taking Communion or the Eucharist is mandated for salvation. This is, however, stretching the point. First of all, the elements of Communion remain what they were: bread and the fruit of the vine. If it is necessary to eat the actual body of Christ, this would make Communion pointless.
Second, taking this as actually eating the flesh of Christ slides toward a pagan view rather than a Christian one. It is necessary to understand figures of speech as figures of speech, even if one is taking the text “literally.” Here is no different: Jesus is referring to complete dependence on Him, not to literally eating Him.