SESSION NINE: THE FEEDING OF THE 5000 (JOHN 6:1-15)
INTRO: Do you prefer to socialize at large parties, have a dinner for four, or spend a quiet evening with a friend? Why?
- Why did the crowd follow Jesus (v. 2)? What did they think about him?
- What was the test that Jesus was using on Philip (v. 5)? From their responses, what grades would you give Philip and Andrew?
- Why was there more food after the feeding than before?
- How could the nearness of the Passover feast (when Jews from all over came to Jerusalem) fuel the desires of the people (vv. 14-15)? What does Jesus' response indicate about his idea of his kingship?
- When has God stretched your limited resources (physically or emotionally) far beyond what you could have imagined? In what way do you need to trust Him to do so now?
- How are you like Philip and Andrew--failing to remember something about Jesus when you face a difficult situation?
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this story? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
COMMENTARY: FEEDING OF THE 5000 (JOHN 6:1-15)
It's a Sunday School story that most Christians have heard over and over and over again. And yet, there's much we often miss in this beautiful tale of a boy with his lunch and 5000 hungry Israelites wanting to feed on God's Word. So let's set the scene.
Several months earlier, Jesus had been in Jerusalem for one of its festivals. This would’ve been the second time in less than a year that he made the long trip from Galilee to the great capitol city of Israel. The first time happened on the heels of a wedding in Cana, when he met with Nicodemus after dark during Passover (John 2-3). The second time occurred after converting a Samaritan woman and healing a community leader’s son, when Jesus met and healed a paralytic by the pool of Bethesda. We learn now that the Passover, again, is near. It’s been a full year between John 3 (Nicodemus) and our feeding of the 5000 story in John 6 (v. 4).
THE CROWD (John 6:1-4)
The problem with being a great teacher, particularly one who works miracles for the lame, blind, deaf and possessed, is that person can start to draw a crowd. Jesus is a charismatic and dynamic new rabbinical voice. He's getting attention...and lots of it.
Consequently, there were moments when Jesus had crowd fatigue. He needed to withdraw from the people who were draining his energy, time and peace. Jesus was under continuous stress and embraced "rest" or sabbath. Like God rested on the seventh day, Jesus practiced taking time away. He needed his rest and relaxation...for a two reasons. First, Jesus wanted down time with his disciples. It was in such moments that he could teach them deeper truths about his IDENTITY, inculcate his PURPOSE and drive his MISSION. Second, Jesus knew solitude was necessary to reconnect with the Father. To pray he had to get away!
The other gospels tell us the reason Jesus headed for the other side of Galilee. Jesus has just learned some tragic news about his cousin John the Baptist. Herod had beheaded John. This information was unsettling, disturbing and sad. The disciples of Jesus, particularly James and John (also related to John the Baptist) had to have been concerned. Could Jesus be next? Herod was an unhinged egomaniac. Jerusalem was no longer safe.
Jesus needed space and he needed it now. The quickest way to travel was by boat (Matthew 14:13). What no one expects is for the crowd to follow him. That’s even crazier than Herod.
From Capernaum to the other side of the sea of Galilee it was about a four-mile sail. Jesus, no doubt, hoped to escape the crowds by yachting across the sea. Normally this was enough to ditch the people and make a clean break. But not this time. To everyone’s amazement, the crowd followed Jesus around the top end of the lake to the location he eventually landed. In Mark’s gospel it says many in this crowd ran around Galilee to beat Jesus (Mark 6:33).
The landing was near Bethsaida Julias, a little village by the mouth of where the Jordan river dumps into Galilee, The village was named after Caesar’s daughter. In order for the people to meet Jesus, they had to move fast. Consequently, they were likely hungry and weary. It’s also a crowded spot. Because the Passover festival (and feast) was near, many Galileans were on the road. Maybe Jesus hoped to use these traveler crowds as cover for his own disappearance? If so, that idea backfired. A crowd draws a bigger crowd. Now the Passover pilgrims want to see what this other crowd is talking about.
PHILIP (John 6:5-7)
This story is the only story, outside of the final week of Jesus’ life, that is told in all four gospels. John 6:1 says it’s “some time after” the healing at the pool. In reality, it’s been between 6-10 months. John literally skips months between chapters 5 and 6. But, as we’ve learned already, John prefers to tell the stories the other gospel writers don’t. Without John we’d have never been at a wedding in Cana, in the dark with Nicodemus, by a well with a Samaritan woman or near a pool with a paralytic.
In this story of the feeding of the 5000, John gives us details that none of the other gospels give. The greatest insight is he fleshes out three key characters to the story: Philip, Andrew and a boy. Let’s start with Philip. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, he’s just one of the names in the listing of the twelve disciples. But thanks to John. we know Philip better.
We learn in John 1 that Philip is one of Jesus’ first disciples. He’s also from Bethsaida, the same Bethsaida where this feeding of the 5000 took place (Luke 9:10). The crowd is hungry and tired. So is Jesus and his disciples. Mark noted they left Capernaum without eating (Mark 6:31). Normally, a traveler would have a food supply for a longer trip. No doubt those traveling to the Passover had food on them. But evidently the crowd that followed Jesus from Capernaum did not. They didn’t have time to prepare travel food. Neither did the disciples. It’s why Matthew says Jesus had compassion on the crowds, because they were in a remote place and clearly hungry.
Philip is asked by Jesus about where to buy bread for the crowd (John 6:5).
The other gospels tell a different story. They say the disciples came to Jesus and encouraged him to send the crowd away. It was getting late. Remember a Jewish day started at sundown. Matthew, Mark and Luke all say the sun is getting low. It’s late afternoon or early evening.
But John says Jesus invited Philip to solve the problem. Philip was certainly the man for this job. He was from Bethsaida (House of Fishing) and would have local knowledge about where to buy groceries (John 1:44). But Philip told Jesus the cost was too great. A man needed to work half a year to pay for that party...and that’s just for a bite of bread.
ANDREW (John 6:8-9)
Philip saw a crowd and a brick wall moment. But John moved the spotlight to a different disciple. This time its Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. Like Philip, if it wasn’t for John, we’d know little about Andrew. And yet, without him, there would be no Peter because it was Andrew who persuaded his brother to follow Jesus. Bethsaida is also Peter and Andrew's hometown. They also know this area well.
But unlike Philip, Andrew is a true believer. He’d seen Jesus work. He’d watched toilet water turn into fine merlot wine. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, he’d seen healings of the blind, lame, sick, paralytic. He’d seen demons exorcised. There’s something special about Jesus and it seems nothing was impossible for Him.
Andrew found a boy with bread and fish...and its possibly one of the travelers to Jerusalem. It's likely why the boy had a full lunch. Only John mentioned this boy, by the way. It's another detail the other gospel writers overlook. It’s why we can’t miss what’s going on here in John's version, as its packed with insights.
THE BOY (John 6:9)
John has a thing for kids. In John 1:12 he wrote: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” In his first letter, John will use “child” 15 times in five chapters. In Matthew’s account of this miracle, we’re told there were 5000 men, excluding women and children (Matthew 14:21).
Andrew pointed out the boy had a supply of five small barley loaves and two small fish. Only John gave this detail so we need to pay attention to it. From a purely earthly view, five small barley loaves and two sardines was hardly a meal for a one boy, let alone 5000 men and their families.
But don’t miss what else John communicated here.
Barley bread was the cheapest of all breads. It was also held in contempt. In the Mishnah (Jewish law), an adulterous woman was required to bring a “trespass offering.” A trespass offering was a “meat” offering, normally caked in wine, oil and wheat flour. However, with adultery, barley flour could be substituted because it was the “food of beasts” (since adultery was considered beastly).
Barley bread was also the bread of the desperately poor. This boy had five SMALL barley loaves. It’s likely this is his entire food supply. Perhaps he’s on the pilgrimage to Passover in Jerusalem, but a better possibility is he’s a local kid who’s selling food. This isn’t his “picnic” lunch. First because it’s evening and not noon. The day is almost over. Most day lunches were consumed at noon. The barley bread also suggests he’s very poor. The fact he’s got five small loaves and two fish, and that Jesus just asked for a way to BUY food, suggested the boy is a vendor...and he’s almost sold out.
The fish the boy was toting were also small, likely no bigger than sardines. They were not fresh fish (a delicacy reserved for the royal and rich), but pickled. In fact, Galilean pickled fish were like Idaho potatoes or Washington apples or Hawaiian pineapples. John intentionally used a unique Greek word here for the fish (opsarion) or literally “savory fish”. John is also from Galilee. He also grew up poor. It's possible this was his favorite meal. After all, when the juicy fish were sandwiched in the dry barley bread it became a tasty treat. The original McFish meal!
Historians tell us people traveled great distances to enjoy these pickled meats, unique to Galilee. It’s another reason to think this boy was selling them as a souvenir meal from the sea of Galilee. The disciples likely had the money to buy the boy's lot, but Jesus had a different idea in mind.
JESUS AND THE MIRACLE (John 6:10-15)
Jesus instructed the disciples to seat the people. We know there were 5000 men present, but women and children would’ve swelled that number easily to 15,000 people. Mark and Luke inform us that the great crowd was seated in numbers of 50s and 100s, or between 50-150 groups (Mark 6:40; Luke 9:14).
Jesus then blessed the barley loaves and fish, an act every father offered prior to eating any meal. The prayer was a common prayer: “Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, who causes bread to rise from the earth.” The people then ate and were filled. The Greek word for filled is “chortazesthai" and it meant the people ate until they could eat no more. They were stuffed. The little fish slider sandwiches fully satisfied.
When the meal was over, Jesus instructed his disciples to gather the leftovers. Why? It was a common Jewish tradition to not consume all the distributed food for a meal. Rather, the guests left a portion behind for for the servants. In this case, Jesus’ own disciples were those servants. We also learn that twelve baskets were picked up (John 6:13). How many disciples served the meal? Twelve. Keep in mind that every Jewish traveler carried a traveling basket (kophinos). In fact, the two things no Jewish pilgrim left home without were his basket and a “truss of hay” (or portable bed). In the pilgrim’s basket was his food supply for the journey.
The disciples had traveled across Galilee with no food. They were also hungry. The miracle of the loaves and fish was not just a hungry crowd of thousands was satisfied, but that Jesus’ own disciples were amply supplied for the next several days.
That's just way Jesus works. Sometimes God meets a need and sometimes He feeds with abundance.
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