The Feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1–13)

John: Life in Christ’s Name  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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At some point, you may have heard of Jesus miraculously feeding the five thousand. Yet, there's more to this account: Jesus is the true Passover. Let's see how He is the better Moses and He has the better bread. Watch/listen here:

Series: “John: Life in Christ’s Name”Text: John 6:1–13
By: Shaun Marksbury Date: April 23, 2023
Venue: Living Water Baptist ChurchOccasion: AM Service


At one time in the decades gone by, there was a concern that the population boom would be a bomb, creating too many mouths to feed with unsustainable food supplies. However, according to the United Nations, global food production has more than doubled since 1960, and per capita food availability has increased by 25% during the same period. It also reports that the proportion of undernourished people in the world has decreased from 30.1% in 2000 to 8.9% in 2019.
A number of factors have contributed to this, but the most politically incorrect one to note is that much of the credit goes to the rise of capitalism. If we just consider the history of the United States, we’ve seen it contribute to the rise in life expectancy; it was only 47.3 years in 1900, but as of 2020, it is 76.1 years. We haven’t eradicated world hunger, but we must admit that, despite everything else going on, the Lord has providentially blessed this era with some good ideas.
Of course, the problem with satisfied hunger is that it always returns, highlighting the far more pressing hunger within our souls. Consider that as we begin this new chapter of John. As we go through this chapter together, you’ll notice some similarities with the previous chapter, such as the miracle and the response of the people, and the long discourse Jesus gives in response to them. There are differences, as well — the events here take place in the north rather than the south and two miracles now demonstrate Jesus’s power. While the people initially seem receptive to Jesus, there’s more back and forth discussion, and they eventually reject His offer for spiritual sustenance, just as the religious leaders in Jerusalem had.
Still, we note some important themes in His conversation with them in the latter half of this chapter. Jesus highlights the sovereignty of God, which is an interesting mirror to the authority He wields over nature by feeding the thousands and then walking on the water. More to the point, we’ll see Him call Himself the Bread of Life, offering them spiritual food.
That thought is vital as we consider the feeding here. It’s a remarkable miracle, the only one (other than the resurrection) in all four Gospel accounts. John, aware of the other Gospels, somewhat abbreviates it, and we can see the entire account by referencing Matthew 14:13–21; Mark 6:32–44; and Luke 9:10–17. Yet, there’s more here than just the simple fact that Jesus miraculously feeds the five thousand.
There is a subtle yet strong message about Jesus underlying this account: Jesus is the true Passover. We’ve already seen John the Baptist’s testimony in John 1:29 about Jesus, that He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Now, we see that He fulfills more of the Passover image: He is the better Moses and He has the better bread. Next time, we’ll see that He has the better mission. Let’s consider the first of these:

Jesus is the Better Moses (vv. 1–4)

After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.
John opens here by saying, “After these things,” meaning after the events of chapter five (again, the healing by Bethesda and the long sermon of Christ). If we were reading this Gospel account alone, we might therefore assume that Jesus immediately traveled northward from Jerusalem to this location. However, the language here doesn’t demand that interpretation, and the mention of the Passover in v. 4 is a clear hint that much more time has passed. As we compare this with the other three Gospels, we see that as much as six months elapsed from the end of chapter fiver to the beginning of this verse, and perhaps as much as a year, depending on what feast John 5:1 references.
Assuming that the feast of the previous chapter was the Feast of Tabernacles, then chapter five would have been October and this chapter would be April by our reckoning. Much would have occurred within that six-month window. Notably, Herod Antipas would have executed John the Baptist. Jesus would have also called and selected the rest of His disciples, commissioned them, and sent them out preaching throughout Galilee. This would help explain why there is such a large crowd curious about Jesus at this point.
Jesus is now taking the twelve disciples “to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias).” Don’t confuse this with the salty Dead Sea in the south. As one study explains, this freshwater northern lake is “13 miles long by 8 miles wide and up to 150 feet deep.” They traveled from the western shore to the eastern one.
John notes that there’s another name the sea is known as — Tiberias. The locals referred to the sea by the region, the Galilee of the Nations. A few years before this, in ad 20, Herod founded a city on the western shore in honor of Emperor Tiberius. By the time John writes, the sea had taken on the new name Tiberias, so he uses the name that the widest audience would know.
With all this naming, we might think that this is a populated area. However, as another commentary notes, the area is a “ ‘solitary’ (cf. Matt. 14:13; Mark 6:32) and [a] ‘remote place’ (Matt. 14:15).” This doesn’t stop the curious from traveling to see the one who had been working miracles throughout the region for the past several months. In fact, as one commentary notes, John “omits what the other three relate, that Christ employed a part of the day in teaching and in healing the sick,” meaning that Jesus was showing signs that day by healing the sick as the crowd grows.
Yet, as v. 3 notes, Jesus then “went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples.” Perhaps He intended to spend some time alone with them. As a rabbi, sitting with one’s disciples or “learners” was a typical teaching position. He won’t spend long there, however, because v. 5 says He noticed a large crowd coming to Him.
Before we get there, though, we have that parenthetical statement in v. 4 that it was the Passover. This verse doesn’t give us a simple factoid; it’s a key component to understanding the underlying component of this account. As the Reformation Study Bible notes, among other passages read in the synagogue at this time may have been Exodus 11–16, the story of the Passover, the Exodus, and the provision of Manna in the wilderness.
That’s a fascinating bit of providence, then. Here, the people are gathering at the foot of a mountain, waiting for Jesus to come down to them. This chapter later compares and contrasts Jesus to Moses, particularly in vv. 30–35 where Jesus announces that He is the Bread of Life. As Hebrews 3:3 says, Jesus “has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses;” He’s greater than Moses.
Indeed, there are parallels here both to Moses and to the entire Exodus account. Jesus takes His disciples through the sea to the other side. We already know that He is going to provide food in the wilderness place. As the better Moses, the food He provides is better, too, which brings us to the next point.

Jesus Has the Better Bread (vv. 5–13)

The Apostle John so far limits us to only three signs that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God — the converting the water into wine in chapter two, the healing of the royal official’s son at the end of chapter four, and the healing of the lame man at the beginning of chapter five. That means this is only the fourth miracle John gives us explicitly, and again, it ties into what Jesus says later in this chapter. For now, let’s consider what traits John highlights about Jesus’s provision of bread in this miracle.

He Provides Bread No One Else Can (vv. 5–9)

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 He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” 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?”
Jesus sees the crowd coming, and v. 6 tells us that He already had a plan. Jesus knows the people are hungry, most without adequate provision to return home from this wilderness area (which speaks of a greater commitment on their part to hear Jesus than many people have today!). He also intentionally creates the parallel between Him and Moses in places like Exodus 16 and Numbers 11, intending to provide the congregation food in the wilderness.
Yet, still alone on the mountain with His disciples for the moment, He chooses to ask them a question. He says to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” Philip, as we’ve already seen in this Gospel, is from Bethsaida (John 1:44), and apparently could quickly calculate larger sums in his head, so he was a logical choice for the question.
Yet, Jesus had other reasons for asking him. First, this question harkens back to what Moses asked in Numbers 11:13 — “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people?” Second, as John 6:6 here says, “This He was saying to test him.” Jesus wasn’t seeking information (“for He Himself knew what He was intending to do”); He was edifying Philip’s faith with the question, though Philip didn’t yet know it.
In addition to all, Christ’s disciples should care about the needs of others, especially those who claim to be in the faith. James 2:15–16: “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” We should likewise work so that we might have something to give to our families and to others, as we’ll note in Ephesians 4:28 this evening.
However, neither Philip nor any of the other disciples were able to support this great need. He replies to Jesus by saying, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” As the NASB footnote says here, “The denarius was equivalent to a day’s wages,” so 200 denarii would roughly be eight-months wages. He says that even that would be an insufficient sum to feed everyone but a little. They’re not able to cover this cost.
Jesus wants them to confirm the impossibility of the task. One command John doesn’t record here is in Mark 6:38, where Jesus then says, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” In Mark, we’re not told specifically which disciple reported on the situation, but v. 8 here records it was Peter’s brother Simon. In v. 9, he says, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”
The search only turned up a lad or “little boy” with a lunch fitting his size. Perhaps at least one mother was thinking ahead for her son, but they probably weren’t wealthy. Loaves made from barley were kneaded round and flat like those made from wheat, perhaps small in this case, but they were considered “an inferior sort of bread,” an “inexpensive food of the common people and the poor.” Moreover, the fish were also small. Still, five loaves and two fish may sound like much for a boy’s lunch, but this meal was normally enough for only “one or two people.” In other words, the lad was little and so was his meal!
Andrew voices what all the disciples may have been thinking — it is unfeasible for them to feed so many. Obviously, one meal couldn’t stretch for all of them, let alone the crowd which the next verse notes is 5,000 men. That would only be the men, which were typically counted as the heads of households; as Matthew 14:21 notes, this didn’t include women and children, which might have “brought the total up to 20,000.” In other words, this was an impossible feat.
Yet, as Jesus said concerning salvation in Mark 10:27, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” Jesus knew He could provide, but the disciples needed to know that it would be impossible for them alone to accomplish the task. And just as salvation can come through Christ alone, so can such a supernatural provision, bringing us to the next point:

He Provides Bread Supernaturally (vv. 10–11)

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. 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 instructs the disciples to have the people sit or, literally, “recline.” We would normally sit to eat today, but they ate their meals in a reclined position. As we consider some of the soil in our wilderness areas around here, we might imagine that they might have been uncomfortable, but the Gospels state there was “much grass,” “green grass” even (Mark 6:39), as it was spring. One commentary notes, “As the Good Shepherd, Jesus made the ‘sheep’ (Mark 6:34) sit down in green pastures (cf. Ps. 23:2).”
Reclining might have felt foolish for all involved, as they have nothing in front of them to eat. Yet, the disciples obey, and the people comply. As Mark 6:40 notes, the disciples even divided the crowd into “groups of hundreds and of fifties.” We read that “Jesus then took the loaves” and gave thanks. If Jesus used the common verbiage, He might have said something like, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.” What a scene! He’s thanking God for the food they are about to receive!
Incidentally, the church fathers had thoughts here regarding communion. The term for “given thanks” is from εὐχαριστέω; in short, it’s where we get the term “Eucharist,” another name for communion or the Lord’s Supper. As one modern study notes, “Interestingly, both creative miracles of Jesus, the water into wine (2:1–10) and the multiplying of bread (vv. 1–14) speak of the main elements in the Lord’s supper or communion (v. 53).” While this is not exactly communion that they have that day, there is a reminder in the eucharist or Lord’s Supper of God’s provision for us, and we are certainly all giving thanks to the Lord!
We also see another subtle parallel to the Passover in Jesus’s blessing. During the Passover Seders or meals, there would be the breaking of the matza as well as the recitation of the Exodus account. In addition to this, there would also be a word of blessing. We don’t want to strain the parallels here too much, as it was practice to hold the food and bless God in any meal, but it is interesting that, while Jesus obviously distributed all the food, John only mentions Jesus taking the loaves and giving thanks.
What’s more obvious with the text is Jesus’s power over nature and His abundant blessing. He can create, just as He could convert the water into wine. To be clear, He didn’t need the bread as a kind of sourdough starter to His miracle; He can create ex nihilo, from nothing. He proves He has divine power, and He can give far more than we need.
So, we read that “He distributed to those who were seated” (through His disciples) and they all ate “as much as they wanted.” By the way, since Jesus is miraculously multiplying the food, creating more of it in the moment, the new creation of this bread (and fish) means that the it did not come from the cursed earth; while it was only barley, inferior to the wheat bread many likely enjoyed, this was the best barley bread they would ever enjoy! And they didn’t only get the little that Philip was failing to project with his numbers. The next verse says “they were filled,” and v. 13 says that there were twelve baskets full of leftovers. Jesus gave more than they needed, which brings us to the final subpoint:

He Provides Bread in Abundance (vv. 12–13)

When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” 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.
The people had more than they needed. There was plenty to eat — there is a word repeated here that only somewhat comes out in English, translated “leftover” in v. 12 and “left over” in v. 13. There was so much, in other words, that there were “abundant fragments” remaining. No one walked away hungry; they were all “filled,” as in had eaten plenty of food.
So, Jesus commands them to gather up all which remained. That wouldn’t ordinarily be a strange command, as the Jews typically gathered leftovers or gave them to servants, and here, to leave the results of the miracle on the ground would be shameful. We should similarly still seek to be frugal in our resources. When we are not wise, our needs become greater, as does our temptation to cut corners morally and steal. We should be thoughtful and wise with what the Lord grants to us. Proverbs 21:20 — “There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” When the Lord does abundantly provide, that is no excuse to become wasteful.
We’re glad they gathered them, because we get to see just how abundant the Lord’s provision was. We read that there were twelve baskets remaining. Now, if they were Baptists, they may have needed dozens of Tupperware or, in the South, everyone’s old Country Crock butter tubs! In this case, they used what were possibly normal carrying baskets. They had abundant or copious amounts of leftovers.
Why is there twelve baskets? Some have seen connection to the Lord’s promised provision for the twelve tribes of Israel, which is still on the future horizon. Still, the more basic interpretation is that each of the disciples now have their own lunches for the next day. The Lord provided so much that the disciples now have their meals packed for tomorrow!
It’s sad that some doubters have tried to strip the supernatural here by making this a story about sharing; the boy shares his lunch, encouraging everyone else to do the same, and they find they have plenty to eat. However, that denies the clear language here about them eating as much as they wanted. It also reads with a modern lens; we’re blessed with more than we need today, but that wasn’t the case for most of the people living at this time. In any event, such interpretations twist the miraculous into a simple moral lesson about sharing and our capacity to provide for our own needs!


I was originally going to go through v. 15 today, but it became obvious that this would be too much material, especially with the Lord’s Supper coming up soon. Still, we should briefly note that this miracle was incredibly convincing. As we will see in the next verses, they are convinced that Jesus is the prophet Moses predicted and want to crown Him as their king. While that would seem encouraging, Jesus has yet another connection to the Passover He must fulfill before coming as king, and that is becoming the sacrificial lamb to take away the sins of His people.
As He makes clear in the rest of this chapter, He didn’t come to feed us with physical bread but spiritual bread. He came to provide His flesh as the bread and His blood as the wine. He came to be the sacrifice on behalf of the people, and only in that way could He be the bread that provides life. If you trust in Him for salvation, you can find your spiritual hunger satisfied and know that you have abundant provision for eternal life. If you don’t know Christ as your Passover, though, call upon Him today in faith, and you’ll find your soul delivered from sin and filled by His life and peace.
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