Summary: Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men. In response, they tried to arrest Him and make him King.
Last week we heard Jesus’ claim of witnesses that He was God and equal to the Father, and sent by the Father. These witnesses includes the testimony of John the Baptist, the works which the Father sent Jesus to do, the internal witness of the Father Himself, and the Scripture. In His defense of His claims was a warning that the consequences of rejecting Jesus would be devastating to the Jews and that the very Moses whom they trusted would end up as their accusers in the Day of Judgment. Yet reject Him they did.
The theme of the Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah goes back to the very beginning of the Gospel of John where it is written, “He came unto his own things, but His own people rejected Him. The Pharisees rejected him. The Sadducees rejected Him. The people of Judea rejected Him. The people of His own hometown rejected Him. The rich rejected Him. The poor rejected Him. In the hour of crisis, His own disciples would flee and another betray Him. And in today’s text were the events which would lead to the Galileans rejecting Him. In the Gospel, only the hated Samaritans accepted Him.
Today’s text and the following one of walking on the water are the only miracles recorded in all four gospels. It is interesting to note that each account has details which helps to explain the text of another account.
Exposition of the Text
The other Gospels indicate that Jesus had crossed over the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile side of the lake which was known as the Sea of Tiberius to them for two reasons. The first was that Jesus and the disciples were weary because of the many healings and other works of ministry they had been performing. The second was the news of the beheading of John the Baptist. Some commentators make mention that Jesus withdrew to this solitary place for fear of Herod. However, it would be strange for Jesus to withdraw to an area which was close to the city of Tiberius which was right under the nose of Herod and where Herod had imprisoned John the Baptist. Soon afterward, Jesus would go to Caesarea Philippi to make a bold statement right in the very face of Herod. So instead of it being a strategic retreat, it seemed that Jesus was going on the offensive.
Whereas the disciples of Jesus were always being taken by surprise, the Gospel of John is especially clear that Jesus never is. The disciples were surprised, and being very tired, annoyed that a big crowd made its’ way to them. But Jesus knew they were coming. A huge crowd was assembling right within sight of Herod. The fact that there were 5,000 men mentioned and that women and children were not included in that number was not a put down of them. Instead, it was to bring out that there were 5,000 men who could bear arms in a revolt against the Roman government.
John mentions that the Passover was near. Passover was the Jewish equivalent of our 4th of July. It was their Day of Independence against oppression by a foreign power (Egypt). So there were a lot of expectations in the crowd. John the Baptist was dead. He couldn’t have been the promised Messiah, even though He constantly had to deny it. But John the Baptist had pointed out Jesus as being the Messiah. Was He the One? John mentions that they were attracted by all the people He had healed. In fact, John calls these a sign. We think of a sign as something which points the way. And these signs were telling the people “Messiah ahead.”
John specifically states that Jesus was aware of the situation and already knew what He was about to do. He puts Phillip to the test by asking Phillip who came from the area where they might go to buy bread for the people. Phillip’s answer indicates that Jesus and the disciples had only 200 denarii between them. This was about 8 months wages for a common laborer, a considerable sum, but nothing considering the size of the crowd. It would have provided a meal for 200 families, but there were 5000 there. You just can’t make enough bread with that kind of dough. It simply could not happen.
Andrew, the disciple who was always bringing people to Jesus, found a child who had five small barley cakes and two sardine-sized fish. If 200 denarii worth was too small for each to have a bite, what could this provide? Obviously, the problem was far bigger than any feat of human engineering could provide. And that is just the point.
The location in the isolated area hints back to the Children of Israel in the wilderness. There they were numbered in companies just like Jesus would have them sit down in fifties and hundreds. The reason for the original numbering was to count the men able to serve in the Israeli military for the conquest of Canaan. The numbering here in today’s text is significant.