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John 6:1-13 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:54 mins

Feeding the Five Thousand, Spiritual Priorities
John 6:1–13
John Lesson #046
April 25, 1999

One of the dominant themes in this Gospel is one of judgment. In chapter three we have a foreshadowing of the events in the editorial comments of the apostle. John 3:17 NASB "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. [18] He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [19] This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." Even though Jesus did not come into the world to judge man His very presence announced judgment. When Jesus spoke He evoked an immediate response of acceptance or rejection by His hearers, as does every act of God. [20] "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." The Light is the revelation of God, specifically through the incarnation of the Logos, the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, and secondly through the exposition and teaching of the written Word of God. [21] "But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

What we see in this is that the very presence of Jesus Christ calls men to judgment, to evaluation, to make a statement, their lives were a reaction to Him. This is what we see developed in the sixth chapter of John. What happens here is phenomenal. It begins when Jesus is at the high point, the apex of His popularity; the high point of His ministry when He had the greatest number of followers. What has happened in the intervening period from John 5 to John 6 is that John the Baptist is executed, so all of John's followers have now shifted their full attention to Jesus and are following Him, and there are a number of other factors which we will see as we go through the chapter. There is a vast multitude, thousands upon thousands, who now are following Jesus. We see at the beginning of chapter 6 that this multitude is following Jesus everywhere He goes. At the end He is at the low point. By the end of this chapter only twelve remain; everyone else deserts Him. Why does this happen? What takes place between the beginning of chapter six and the end of chapter six to drive off the crowd? What destroys His popularity with the masses?

Another thing we are going to see and seek some answers to in this chapter is that this chapter, along with 1 Samuel 8, has some great implications for political theory. The Bible addresses every subject known to man and gives us insight into everything, and what we see here is the tremendous condemnation of the entire concept that the majority is right. The majority among the masses want Jesus to be a political figure to free them from the tyranny of Rome. Yet Jesus completely rejects their power move and that is one reason they reject Him. What is shown in this chapter is not only that the majority is not always right but often the majority is completely wrong, because they are operating on human viewpoint concepts and not the absolutes of Scripture.

A quick review of where we have come from in studying the life of Christ. From chapter two through the end of chapter three we saw Jesus' first trip to Jerusalem where He went to the temple where He came into consultation and conflict with the authorities, threw the money changers out of the temple, and announced that if they tore down this temple He would rebuild it in three days; the very statement that was brought up against Him at His trial and was part of the charge which led to His crucifixion. In the fourth chapter we see the response to Jesus by the people in Samaria. They flock to Him. His ministry expands, there are no signs and wonders there, no healing ministry in Samaria, yet hundreds come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He healed the nobleman's son and there we see the second great sign of Messiahship. In the fifth chapter of John we see Jesus' second trip to Jerusalem. In between John chapters one, when He came out of the wilderness and was recognised by John the Baptist, up to the point of John chapter six, two years have gone by. John does not cover much of what took place in that time, that is left to the Synoptic Gospels, he just hits the high points. In Jesus' second trip to Jerusalem he heals the cripple at Bethesda and then there is the confrontation with the Pharisees where He claims to be God. He makes clear that he claims to be God. He claims that every work He performs is the work of the Father, every thought He thinks is the thought of the Father, every word he speaks is the word of the Father, and he claims to be one with God, equal with God and totally subordinate to God.  

Then we come to the sixth chapter. Between the end of chapter five and the beginning of chapter six about six months have transpired. The scene shifts from Jerusalem to the countryside in Galilee. Another thing to notice is the thematic shift that John weaves into his narration. In chapter three the focus is on the officials as illustrated in one official, Nicodemus. John chapter four looks at the people and their response to Jesus. In John chapter five the shift goes back to the leadership. In John six it is back on the people. By doing this, shifting back and forth, putting focus first on the leadership, then on the people, John is going to indict both the leadership and the people for their negative volition and their rejection of Jesus Christ.

Chapter six is a lengthy chapter (71 verses) and here we are going to see the fourth sign related to Jesus' Messiahship. The first sign was changing water into wine. We saw that wine is a symbol of man's joy, and the purpose for changing the water into wine was to symbolise the fact that only through the Messiah can man have the joy and happiness that he hungers for in his soul. The second sign in chapter four where Jesus healed the nobleman's sin, we see His identification with human anguish and illness. We see that Jesus the Messiah supplies the need for man and solves man's problems. In chapter five again we see His identification with human helplessness in the healing of the cripple, and there again we see that the Messiah alone is able to solve the problems of mankind. Now in chapter six we are going to see His identification with human hunger and that only the Messiah can satisfy the real hunger of man's heart, which is a spiritual hunger. So ultimately all of these signs point us to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah and He alone has the ability to provide for and to resolve the problems of human experience.

John 6:1 NASB "After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias)." "After these things" is simply a way of saying that time had gone by and many months later Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. One of the reasons for the crowds here is that verse 4 tells us that the Passover is at hand, though not quite yet but almost. The crowds are on their way down to Jerusalem and are following Jesus as well, and the two elements of the Passover, the bread and the cup, provides the background for what is called the bread of life discourse in chapter six. The people are thinking in terms of Passover, so this is an important element in understanding what is taking place here.

If we look at the parallel passage in Mark chapter six we learn something that is helpful and particularly insightful in understanding the dynamics of this passage. It was time for Jesus to get alone with His disciples. What has taken place in the interim is that the events of Matthew 12 where the Pharisees rejected Jesus miraculous powers and claimed that He did it by the power of Satan, that being the official rejection. From that point on Jesus begins to minister more and teach more specifically to His disciples and has less of a public ministry. We know from chronological indications that this particular Passover is the second that John mentions but it is the third Passover of four in the life of Christ. A year from now Jesus will be crucified, so this is the last year of His ministry. Now He is with the disciples and He is beginning to teach them more specifically in preparation for their future ministry as apostles. So He takes them into an isolated area in order to teach them some doctrine. Mark 6:32-34 NASB "They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves. [33] {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. [34] When Jesus 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."

So what Mark tells us about this episode is that as Jesus is away in this isolated area with His disciples He looks out and see the great multitude. John just tells us that a great multitude was following Him because they were seeing the signs He was performing on those who were sick. They are more interested in the miracles and special effects, they are not really interested in doctrine, in spiritual truth, they are there for the healing. But Jesus looks out and see what their need is and Mark tells us He was moved with compassion. We live in an emotional era when most people don't understand what true compassion really is, and this tells us a little bit about what true compassion is. True compassion is giving people what they need, not what they want. Jesus is going to give them doctrine. The issue is what you are thinking, not what you are feeling. The issue is not how rough life has been, the issue is how you are going to handle the hardships and difficulties of life with the principles that God has given you.

So the Scripture says: "He began to teach them many things." The verb here in the Greek is from poimaino [poimainw]. 1 Peter 5:2 relates to this and uses the term poimaino, where Peter says "Shepherd the flock of God among you." So by comparing Mark 6:34 which pictures Jesus as the great Shepherd shepherding the sheep and combining that with 1 Peter 5:2 we realise that the act of shepherding is related to teaching. The role of the Shepherd is to "teach them many things." Peter says that the pastor is to shepherd the flock of God and he uses this word poimaino. The term "shepherd" is a figure of speech and it relates to the physical act of a human being who is in charge of a flock of sheep, but it is used in the Scriptures metaphorically to represent the role of a man who leads his congregation of believers.

A basic figure of speech is called simile, i.e. a stated comparison. A stated comparison would be: You are like a shepherd." It is clear what the comparison is. In a metaphor it is an unstated comparison: You are a shepherd. So on the one hand there is the role and function of the literal shepherd and on the other hand there is the role of a pastor. There are many things that a shepherd does to sheep that are not part of the analogy. A shepherd is going to be very invasive in terms of the privacy of sheep, but we don't expect the pastor of a church to be that closely involved in people's lives so we have to determine what is the area of comparison between a shepherd and a pastor. The Scripture clearly tells us what the point of analogy is between sheep and a shepherd and we learn this in John 21:15;17 when the Lord is talking to Peter after the resurrection NASB "So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, {son} of John, do you love Me more than these?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Tend My lambs.' He said to him again a second time, 'Simon, {son} of John, do you love Me?' He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.' He said to him, 'Shepherd My sheep.' He said to him the third time, 'Simon, {son} of John, do you love Me?' Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, 'Do you love Me?' And he said to Him, 'Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.' Jesus said to him, 'Tend My sheep.'

In verse 16 we have: "Shepherd My sheep." There we have the present active imperative of the verb poimaino. What does that mean? If we look at the context of John 21:16 we see that it is sandwiched between two other questions Jesus had of Peter. In v. 15 Jesus said: "Tend my lambs," present active imperative of the Greek verb bosko [boskw] which means to pasture animals or to herd animals in such a way as to take care of their nutritional needs, to lead them to food and water. So the word basically means to feed animals, not just tending them. There is a parallelism going on here, so when Jesus says in v. 16, "Shepherd My sheep," this is a more general term and we learn what it means by looking at the parallel which is bosko, "feed my sheep." Then in v. 17 Jesus says to Peter a third time "Tend…" So it is bracketed: feed, shepherd, feed. What does it mean to shepherd? Shepherd specifically means in Scripture to provide for the spiritual nutrition of the flock of God. It doesn't mean to commiserate with people, to socialise with people, to always be putting your arm around people, going out and visiting them every week, going to the hospital, etc. That is not what pasturing is. Pastoring in the Scriptures is very simple. It is doing what Jesus did; it is teaching doctrine.

When Jesus steps in to shepherd the sheep in John chapter six He is illustrating for His disciples their primary responsibility. Four observations: a) He is teaching the disciples that their primary responsibility, and by implication and application the primary responsibility of the pastor, is to feed those who are starving spiritually; b) From this we are going to see in this episode of feeding the 5000 that the apostles and the pastor-teacher does not feed them with what they have. Their resources are not the source of the feeding. They feed what the Lord gives them and it is the Lord who will take and multiply what He feeds; c) It is the Lord and the Holy Spirit who make the application; d) Spiritual food is without cost. It is free; it is grace; it is God's free provision for the spiritual nourishment of believer's.

The principle that we are going to see in this chapter is that between 6:1 when there is a great multitude of many thousands (there may have been anywhere between 12 and 20,000) and Jesus begins to teach them doctrine and the end of the chapter, verse 66, NASB "As a result of this many of His disciples [students] withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore." What happened? He taught doctrine! Doctrine doesn't attract people, doctrine drives people away. Why? Because most of us in our arrogance think that we have a pretty good angle on what life is all about. We have our own agendas, our own plans, and as soon as anybody starts getting very detailed in Scripture that starts challenging how we think and how we look at life to the very core of our existence, it makes us uncomfortable. Most people want to go to church and get some warm fuzzy feel-good sermon so that they can go home and talk about how wonderful it was to be "in the presence of God this morning." They don't want to go and be challenged by how to think, be forced to concentrate, to have to evaluate how they look at life and how they evaluate life, and most of all they don't want to be told that ninety-nine per cent of their opinions are false and that they need to renovate their thinking from the ground floor up. What we see in this passage is that truth divides; and truth is the issue. So we are going to see that doctrinal teaching always has a way of revealing who is truly positive to doctrine and who is just along for the ride.

What we are going to learn from John chapter six is that what Jesus is saying is that if we are at all interested in our spiritual life then that will demand that we completely reorganise everything else in our lives so that learning the Word of God becomes the central issue in our life. What happens when everybody leaves Jesus is that Jesus turns to the twelve and says: "You do not want to go away also, do you?" And notice Peter's response: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life." Peter is getting the point.

John 6:2 NASB "A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick." The crowds were following Him because of His miracles. All the verbs here are in the imperfect tense, which is continuous action in past time. So we could translate that: "And a great multitude was continually following Him because they were continually seeing the signs which He was continually performing. Jesus is at the height of His popularity. This verse gives us the setting and the situation, but verse 27 is going to give us the theological or doctrinal interpretation of these events: "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal." What Jesus is saying is just the opposite of what you learn from modern human viewpoint thinking. If we go all the way back to the episode with Cain and Abel and to Esau's rejection of his birthright in favour of the lentil soup, and we see that the problem of one of these failures after the other is that they put the spiritual needs second to the physical needs. The challenge throughout the Scriptures and on John six is doctrine being the number one priority in our life, because when it is all said and done the only thing that we take with us when we are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord is the doctrine in our soul that has transformed our soul into the image of Jesus Christ. What are you going to look like when you are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord. The whole emphasis here in this chapter is the importance of spiritual sustenance which is more important than the food which perishes. Deuteronomy 8:3 NASB "…man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD." If we want to have real life, it starts by having our thinking renovated by doctrine. That is what gives us capacity for life. Without doctrine it is all a sham.

So the multitude is following Him like the multitude does because they feel better. They are getting healed, they are seeing the miracles. But Jesus is going to go to another level with them. John 6:3 NASB "Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples." He is in a quiet place and is ready for a teaching moment and John inserts the fact that now the Passover is at hand: John 6:4 NASB "Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near." John makes a real issue throughout this Gospel of the Jewish feast days. Why? Because Jesus is the fulfilment of all the feast days. He shows that Jesus is the fulfilment of the Passover, the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But Passover speaks of the exodus, and the spiritual truth of the exodus was that redemption from slavery is the result of judgment. And so we see this scene throughout the Gospel of judgment-salvation, and that only as a result of judgment-salvation does man have true freedom and spiritual life. This is a major theme throughout the Scripture. There is the judgment of the flood, the judgment of Exodus. Sin needs to be dealt with and the result is redemption. Also in the Passover there are the elements of the lamb and the element of the bread. The bread speaks of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ in hypostatic union, but bread also speaks of spiritual sustenance. This is something that is going to be on the minds of everyone in this episode and so it underlines the imagery of the Passover and the Passover bread and God's provision to the Jews of the exodus generation when they left Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, went into the desert and were provided with manna. The God who provided them with the physical sustenance in the desert is the God who provides everything we need for spiritual sustenance in life.

What does manna mean? Manna comes from a Hebrew word which means "what?" The Jews of the exodus generation were complaining, they had no capacity for their freedom. One thing we learn here is that we have to take in doctrine before we can have capacity for freedom. They had no doctrine and therefore they had no capacity for freedom. When God provided for them they had the same attitude the Jews in this chapter had. When the Jews looked out of their tents in the morning and saw the manna, they said: "What's that?" God said they were going to call it manna because for the rest of their generation they were going to be constantly reminded of the grace of God with "What's that?" They tended to reject God's gracious provision and treat it lightly. It is remarkable how John pulls all of these themes underlying all of this in this passage together—just little words here and there. You can't understand the New Testament without a good understanding of the Old Testament. The Passover of the Jews being at hand reminds us of God's provision of manna and bread in the wilderness. God's grace always provides everything that we need.

John 6:5 NASB "Therefore Jesus, 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?'" This is a loaded question. He looks out there and He sees these thousands of people coming through the valleys and the hills, coming to Him, and He already understands the logistical problem. So He is going to test the disciples to see where their focus is and whether they have learned anything yet. He is going to teach them some things about faith. The faith-rest drill is fundamental to all spiritual growth. This is the first thing that God began to teach Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter four. He taught the faith-rest drill to Noah and to Abraham. This is fundamental to all spiritual growth. They are out in the country on rhe hill side and there is no store nearby, so when He says "Where are we to buy bread," it is almost like He is giving a little false clue here to Philip, and Philip takes the bait. Philip, like most of us, is thinking on a purely physical level.

Remember the backdrop to this is our understanding of what faith is. Faith means that the Word of God, the promise of God, the provision of God is more real to us than any human experience. The experience there is that there are 15,000 people coming and they are going to be hungry and there is no place nearby to get food. Now, is experience more real to you or is the provision of God more real to you?

John 6:7 NASB "Philip answered Him, 'Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little'." One denarius was about equal to a day's wage. So this is, say, eight thousand dollars. Philip is saying that this is an impossible scenario. He is just wrapped up in terms of the physical realities and he hasn't learned yet that if you are a believer and your are trusting the promises of God you have to think outside the box of human empiricism and human rationalism. You have to focus on life and life's experiences on the basis of who God is and what he can do, and not on the basis of your limited experiences or your human reason. So Philip fails the test, he is operating on empiricism.

John 6:8, 9 NASB "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?'" In their culture the barley loaf was the food of the poor. It was the lowest price, lowest nutrition bread available. The word used for fish here is not a large fish, it is a particular kind of fish that is unique to the Sea of Galilee. Who is writing this Gospel? It's John. What is John's background? He's a fisherman. Where did he fish? The Sea of Galilee. This is further evidence that the person who writes this Gospel is familiar with the fish in the Sea of Galilee, because a general word for fish is used in the other Gospels, but John uses a Greek word that speaks about a particular kind of fish that is about the size of a sardine.

John 6:10 NASB "Jesus said, 'Have the people sit down.' Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand." That means there was probably between twelve and fifteen thousand people in all. Before going further we must understand the significance of eating in the Scripture. What is the significance of eating? An aspect of eating is found in Exodus 24:11 NASB "Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel; and they saw God, and they ate and drank." This is a picture of a covenant feast, a celebration, a fellowship with God. Psalm 22:26 mirrors the same idea that eating pictures fellowship with God. NASB "The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever!" But it goes beyond simply the fellowship aspect with God to the provision of God for spiritual nourishment, the blessing of God's provision for man's need. And it is a picture in Psalm 22 of the blessing in the messianic kingdom. Isaiah 55:1 NASB "Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost." There is a reference to God's grace provision of Hos Word, that it is without cost, without charge. God has freely provided us with all that we need in order to take care of our needs, our spiritual sustenance.

John 6:11 NASB "Jesus 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." Jesus has the loaves and He distributes it to the disciples first, and then it is the disciples who then go out and distribute. The disciples are hungry too, and they are looking at all this food and are wondering where all of it is coming from, and they keep coming back and filling up their basket again and going out and distributing it. And to feed about 12-15,000 people when you only have twelve ushers is going to take some time. And the more food they distribute the hungrier they become. They want to know if their needs are going to be taken care of as well. "…as much as they wanted." This is the sufficiency of Scripture; it is more than we need; it is all that we need. God supplies everything.

John 6:12 NASB "When they were filled, He said to His disciples, 'Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost'." When they had all they wanted and everybody's appetite was satiated, then Jesus ordered the disciples to gather up the leftover fragments. [13] "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." This is not one of those small little picnic baskets. The word that is used here is of a particular kind of basket that the Jews would use to haul produce to market. It was a large basket that would be close to a bushel in size. The gather up twelve baskets full: twelve baskets; twelve disciples. There is not only enough to feed the 5000 plus, there is enough to feed them and there is still food left over. The grace of God is super-abundant, it gives us more than we can ask or think and it supplies our every need. We can think of nothing that God's provision does not supply.