Feeding the Five Thousand

In John 6, we find the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  It is actually one of seven miracles of Jesus that John recorded.  Each one of these miracles were spectacular displays of God’s power that proved Jesus to be the Son of God.  

Feeding the five thousand is no less remarkable.  In this account of John 6.1-14, we find that Jesus took the lunch of a little boy and used it to feed five thousand people.  As this text unfold, you will find that the number is much greater than five thousand.  However, when people were numbered in those days, only the men were counted.  Let’s delve into the text and notice this amazing miracle.

Setting the Scene of Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand

Before we get to the actual miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand, consider the events that led to this miracle taking place. 

Jesus Went to be Alone with His Disciples

John 6.1:  “After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.”  

The Sea of Galilee would be in the northern section of Palestine.  In our passage it is also known as the Sea of Tiberius.  Jesus is traveling across this sea.  

If you read Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s account, you will learn that Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee to get to the city of Bethsaida where He would go to an isolated place and be alone with His disciples  (Luke 9.10).

He had just heard that John the Baptist was beheaded, and He wanted to go to a secluded location to pray.  There were a large number of people who found out that Jesus was there, and they brought their sick and went to this private, secluded place where Jesus and His disciples had gone.  In fact, Mark’s account says that they knew where He was going and got there before He did.  (Mark 6.33)

A Crowd Followed Jesus to this Place

John 6.2:  “Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.”  

Why did these people follow Jesus?  This verse tells me that they followed Him because they saw that He was able to help those who were sick.  So here is a large group of people who traveled several miles from their cities to where Jesus was in Bethsaida because they knew that Jesus could take their sick and make them well.  Jesus had a reputation of healing the sick.  

John 6.3,4:  “And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples.  Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.”

Jesus and His disciples went to this northwest area, and this verse indicates that this area was very mountainous.  Notice also that John explained that the Passover was a feast of the Jews.  This is explained because John addressed this letter to the Jews and Gentiles.  As you read the book of John, you find things like this where John is explaining things in a way that the Gentiles can also understand.  

The setting of the miracle of feeding the five thousand is set before us.

  • Jesus and His disciples cross the Sea of Galilee to go to a mountainous area near Bethsaida to pray.
  • Multitudes followed Him because they wanted to be healed of whatever diseases and sicknesses that afflicted them.
  • This happened near the time of the Passover Feast.

The Miracle of Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand

As you study this miracle of feeding the five thousand, you will find that, beside Jesus, there are three individuals involved.  The first one involved is Philip.

Philip's involvement in feeding the five thousand

The first individual that is mentioned in Philip.  Philip was one of the twelve apostles.  He is described earlier in the book of John as the one who ran to Nathaniel saying, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote”  (John 1.43).  

Jesus saw the crowds of people approaching Him, and He asked Philip a question.

John 6.5,6:  Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?"  But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.”

The word that is translated as “knew” is a word that means, to know completely.  There is nothing more to know than what is known.  We know that 2+2=4.  There isn’t any more to discern in that equation.  Jesus knew what He was going to do.  He knew how this was going to play out.

But He asked Philip this question to test him.  Why did Jesus ask Philip this question to test him?  All that we read about in reference to Philip portrays him as the logical one.  He is the one who thinks about things in a very logical way.  Everything has to make sense.  Everything has to add up.  We see this in the answer that Philip offered.

John 6.7:  “Philip answered Him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.’”  

It seems that Philip had already done the math in his head.  If you turn to Matthew 20.2, you will learn that a denarius  is a day’s wage.  If an individual works all day, he will receive one denarius as his salary.  Philip is saying that eight months’ worth of salary could not feed the multitudes who are here.

Did Philip forget?  Who turned water to wine?  Who spit into the dirt to make mud and put it on the eyes of a blind man and gave him his sight?  Who calmed the sea by saying three words, “Peace be still”?  Jesus did those things, and it was this same Jesus who asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread that these may eat?”

Why didn’t Philip respond by saying, Lord, I know You can do it?  Philip, a man of logic, said that eight months words of salary would not be able to feed all these people. 

You are then introduced to the second individual who is mentioned in this account.  His name is Andrew.

Andrew's involvement in feeding the five thousand

John 6.8:  “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to Him.”

It is interesting that Andrew is usually described in relation to Peter as it is in this verse.  Andrew is described as being Simon Peter’s brother.  Yet Andrew is a leader among the disciples because when he is mentioned in the Bible, he is usually leading someone to Jesus.

  • He brings Peter to Jesus.  (John 1.40-42)
  • He brings the Greeks to Jesus.  (John 12)  

Here we have Philip who is the logical one, and he’s trying to do the math and figure out how much money is needed in feeding the five thousand.  Now Andrew steps up, and watch what Andrew has to say.

John 6.9:  “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”

Andrew had a suggestion, a possible solution of how to feed the five thousand, but knew that this lad only had very little and wouldn't be enough feed so many.  But in this verse we learn of a third individual involved in this miracle, but we only know him as the lad.

The lad's involvement in feeding the five thousand

First Philip comes into the forefront.  Then Andrew steps up.  And now we have reference to this lad.   What was the name of this lad?  How old was this lad?  Where was he from?  Why was he there?  

We don’t know anything about this lad. He is completely anonymous.  If you read Matthew, Mark or Luke, you won’t find him mentioned at all.  He is only mentioned in John’s account, and nothing is said about him.  When you read the text, you have two apostles mentioned by name.  Two of the individual involved were apostles known by name:  Philip and Andrew.  Yet here is this unknown lad.  We know nothing about him except that he was a young boy.  

Why was the young lad there?  Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that people came to see Jesus because they were sick, and they knew that Jesus could make them well again.  John tells us that people came to see Jesus because they wanted to be make well from their diseases  (John 6.2).  

That little boy was there because someone needed to be made well from a disease or sickness. Was it his father?  Was it his mother?  Was it a sibling?  Was it he, himself?  Whoever it was, he was there because of a disease or sickness.  

Was it something to do with their senses?  Blindness?  Deafness?  Was it a blood disorder?  Was there something wrong with a limb?  Was an arm withered or was a legs lame?  He was there because of someone’s faith, either the person or people he was with or his own faith.

It says that he had five barley loaves.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that he came with five loaves of bread.  John tells us that they were five loaves of barley bread.  Barley bread was the cheap bread, the bread of the poor.  It would be similar to pita bread about the size of a saltine but with rounded edges.

It also says that he had two fish.  That would have been picked fish, and the fish would have been the size of today’s sardines.   So here is this boy who comes with five crackers and two sardines, and that is the lunch of a poor lad.

Jesus tells us in Luke 11.5 that three loaves is what would feed one person for a meal.  So here is a boy who comes with a sack lunch containing enough for two meals either for himself and someone he came with or for himself for now and some for later.  This is all the boy had. This is all anybody had.  

What did this young boy do with his lunch?  He gives it to Jesus.  This young boy came because either he or someone he was with needed to be healed.  All he had was the lunch of a poor boy, and he gives it away. 

John 6.10:  “Then Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.”

If I’m reading Luke’s account, they were sat down in groups of fifty.  This is the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  However, Luke tells us that the number was five thousand men.  This is not a reference to mankind.  This is the word for the male gender.  Only the men were counted.  That makes this more interesting.  If you start factoring in the women and children, some scholars estimate that this is probably upwards to 20,000.

Philip said that if we spent eight months of salary to buy food, it would not be enough to give each one a little bit.  But Jesus took a little bit, and fed 20,000 men, women and children.  He even gave them enough so that they could have all they wanted.  It says that they ate till they were full.   When they were full, there was enough left over to fill twelve baskets.  

John 6.11:  And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.

Did the boy go hungry that day?  He came with only five crackers and two sardines, but along with twenty thousand others, according to verse 11, they had as much has he wanted. 

John 6.12:  “So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, "Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost."

Verse 12 says that they were filled.  The word means that you are so full that you just can’t eat another bite.  

John 6.13,14:  “Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.  Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." 

And so you have the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  

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