“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, He told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” (John 6:1–15, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns referring to Jesus)
I’m still thinking about Jesus’ comment in John chapter 5 when He said that the things He was yet to do would make people marvel (verse 20). On the heels of chapter 5 and Jesus’ strong statement to the Jews about His relationship with the Father and the fullness of the authority granted Jesus, John presents another amazing sign demonstrating that Jesus is for real. Some unspecified amount of time after this encounter with the Jews Jesus had left Jerusalem and crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. We read that Jesus went up on the mountain where He sat down with His disciples. Giving us some perspective on timing we are told that it was at the time of Passover (April). Being up there He looked out to see a large crowd moving in. By this time His reputation had grown, and our passage tells us that a large group of people were gathering to see Him. I can just imagine among the crowd that there were some who were either ill and in need of healing or knew someone who was. And there were definitely those who were following Him to see what He would do next.
Matthew gives us a bit more information on this event (as well as the other gospels), telling us that Jesus had compassion on them healing their sick. He also tells us that evening had come and them being in a desolate place meant they had no ability to find food. The disciples urged Jesus to send them away, but Jesus resisted telling them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16, ESV) From the various gospel accounts this must have been a baffling response from Jesus. Looking back to John’s record we read that Jesus asked Philip where they were going to buy bread to feed all of these people. Throughout all of our encounters so far it has been established for us that Jesus uses questions and actions in order to stimulate a response which He can then direct toward His intended end. In this case Jesus already knew the answer to feeding the crowd, but He asked His disciple “to test Him” as our passage reads. He was asking in order to demonstrate something bigger than His disciples would not have imagined, something that would clearly cause everyone to marvel at the outcome.
Philip looked at the money that they had and how that even if they spent every bit of it on bread there would not be enough to give everyone even a little bit. Simply put, they did not have the financial resources to solve the problem so this could not be the answer. It is then that Andrew chimed in that he had found a boy that had five barley loaves and two fish, but even this would be horribly inadequate for so many people. Looking at the shared resources Andrew saw that there still was not enough. Having heard from both of these men, Jesus told everyone to sit down. Our passage records that there was a large area of green grass where the men sat down of which there were 5,000 in number. That was a huge crowd realizing that this was just the count of men (see Matthew 14:21), not reflecting the number women and children of which we know there were some as the loaves and fish which Andrew discovered were possessed by one of the boys.
After they were seated Jesus prayed and gave thanks. Then He distributed the bread and the fish among those who were seated. Our passage then records that everyone ate a tiny, tiny morsel, scraping to find the smallest crumb. NO! It tells us that they all ate until they were satisfied and there were still leftovers. In fact, there were enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets with the remaining fragments of the loaves, which surely was more than they started with. Imagine the looks on their faces. Imagine the amazement as the miracle that Jesus worked was clearly demonstrated in the super abundance of what was left over with each person knowing that he had had enough. The murmur in the crowd must have been astounding. Who is the man? Did you see what He did? Their overwhelming response, we are told, was that they concluded that Jesus must be “the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
The Jews had long been looking for a prophet who would come with the word of God and instruct them (Deuteronomy 18:15). They were expecting that this person would come and remain with them. They were looking for the promised king who would come to rule them, and they were ready to be delivered from their political persecution. Expecting that God would send this person in this particular way, Jesus perceived that they were ready to drag Him off and proclaim Him king. But Jesus knew this was not the plan of the Father. Yes, He was sent with the words of the Father. Yes, He would one day rule as King of kings and Lord of lords. But this was not the time, and He could not allow the crowd to mess with God’s plan so He withdrew from them, even leaving His disciples behind. Matthew adds that he sent them away to get in a boat and go ahead of Him to the other side (Matthew 14:21).
As I was re-reading this passage I was reminded of communion. I remembered the passages speaking of Jesus sharing the Passover with His disciples for the last time until they were to do it again in His Father’s kingdom, and I thought about the words of Paul as he affirmed communion as something to be shared among all believers on a regular basis. I was reminded that as Jesus broke the bread and gave it to His disciples He told them, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Matthew 26:26) And I thought about the words of Paul as He had been instructed by the Lord saying, “and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”” (1 Corinthians 11:24, ESV) Reflecting on these I also thought about the extra fragments that remained after the 5,000 were fed.
When we share in communion today, as Christians have throughout the centuries, we do so with the knowledge that God the Son became man to give His body for us so that we might be saved. He shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We do this knowing that the effectiveness of His work on the cross was not limited to 12 or even 5,000, but was for all who would believe without limitation. The hyper-abundance of fragments that were gathered into the twelve baskets gave me cause to think about how limitless was Jesus ability to give life to all who believe. When Jesus broke the bread there was no limit to who it would reach.
Continuing into John chapter 6 we will read how people continued to stumble over who He claimed to be and how they rejected what He had come to do because they could not accept who He is. Multiple times in this chapter we read Jesus’ words claiming Himself to be the Bread of Life. The first time, in verse 35, was Jesus direct statement that this is who He is. The second, in verse 41, we find that the Jews grumbled because this is who He claimed to be. Then in verses 47 and 48 we read, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” (John 6:47–48, ESV)