“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!” (John 6:10-14)
A large crowd of people are following Jesus. The reason John gives is because of the signs they saw Jesus doing on behalf of the sick. The crowd’s motivation was crass and self-centered but Jesus would continue to have compassion upon these people.
Jesus, in observing the innumerable amount of people who are coming toward Him, poses a question to Phillip, one of His disciples. “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” As usual, the Apostle John contributes an editorial insertion when he writes, “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.” Jesus is going to perform one of His greatest miracles and in so doing preach one of His greatest sermons on being the bread of life.
Phillip’s response is sincere but man-centered. He replies, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” Another disciple, Andrew says, ““There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Maybe Phillip was referring to the disciples own resources, but Andrew certainly referred to another’s resources: a boy who has two fish and give barley loaves.
As previously noted, “Philip’s response to Jesus’ request shows a natural but purely human sense of the occasion. He was intensely practical in his calculations. Andrew was little better in informing Jesus of the hopelessly inadequate supplies available. He also took a literalistic approach. But none of the disciples was to know what was in the mind of Jesus.”
To begin with, Jesus organizes the crowd by having them sit down. John records there were approximately 5,000 men in attendance. Please note that this calculation does not include the many women and children in attendance. The number of people could easily have been many more.
One commentator explains, “As the Good Shepherd, Jesus made the “sheep” (Mark 6:34) sit down in green pastures (cf. Ps. 23:2). According to Mark 6:40, the people were seated in groups of 50 and 100. This made the crowd easy to count and the food easy to distribute. Five thousand men were there, plus women and children (Matt. 14:21). Thus probably more than 10,000 people were fed.”
Additionally, “Since the area was desolate and the time was Passover, Jesus was like Moses with the people in the wilderness who needed a miraculous feeding. The miracle itself was not described by John. Jesus … gave thanks, but no eucharistic implications are obvious as many argue in this chapter. Among devout Jews the giving of thanks was the norm before and after meals. As Jesus distributed the food (with the aid of the disciples [Mark 6:41]), the miraculous multiplication took place.”
A friend of mine once challenged me that this particular miracle could be explained by the people receiving just a little portion of food from the two fish and five loaves of bread. But this is not what the text states. John records that (1) Jesus distributed the fish and bread to the people; (2) the people had as much as they wanted; (3) they ate until they were full; and (4) twelve full baskets contained the leftover fragments of the barely loaves.
The conclusion by the people in attendance was that Jesus was the Prophet mentioned by Moses in Deuteronomy 18. While this may appear to be a confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, it reveals the crowd’s confused comprehension of what Jesus truly came to accomplish.
Dr. John MacArthur states, “The crowd referred to “the Prophet” of Deut. 18:15. Sadly, these comments, coming right after Jesus healed and fed them, indicate that the people desired a Messiah who met their physical, rather than spiritual, needs. Apparently, no recognition existed for the need of spiritual repentance and preparation for the kingdom (Matt. 4:17). They wanted an earthly, political Messiah to meet all their needs and to deliver them from Roman oppression. Their reaction typifies many who want a “Christ” who makes no demands of them (cf. Matt. 10:34–39; 16:24–26), but of whom they can make their selfish personal requests.”
Unfortunately, Dr. MacArthur’s explanation sounds very much like our world and churches today. How typical of sinners who want a Savior on their own terms for their own wants while ignoring what they really need: a Savior from their sins.
Repent of any notion you may have that Jesus Christ is here to meet your wants. Rather, receive Him as the Lord and Savior you really need.
Soli deo Gloria!