Calvary Road Baptist Church

“FEEDING FIVE THOUSAND MEN”

John 6.1-14 

Please make your way to the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, where we will read and then reflect in a somewhat devotional way on the occasion of the Lord Jesus Christ feeding five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes.

As you make your way to that portion of the New Testament, allow me to rehearse with few details some of the features of our Lord Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry that the Apostle John highlighted as being important enough to call specific attention to for his readers after laying the important foundation of John 1.1-4: 

1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2  The same was in the beginning with God.

3  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

4  In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 

Throughout the rest of John’s Gospel, he provides verification and authentication and illustration of what he claims to be true in these first four verses.

Of course, John chapter one records the two times John the Baptist declared the Lord Jesus Christ to be “the Lamb of God.” However, as remarkable as John’s pronouncements were, they are not records of the Lord Jesus Christ’s miraculous deeds. For an account of His first sign, as being a witnessed miracle that would have a pronounced effect on those who saw it, we must turn to John chapter two. After His baptism by His cousin John the Baptist, and His temptation in the wilderness for forty days, and the pronouncements by the Baptist upon Christ’s return that He is “the Lamb of God,” the Lord Jesus Christ returned to Galilee with some of the Baptist’s disciples who had become His disciples, James and John and Peter and Andrew. In the village of Cana, the Lord Jesus Christ performed what the Gospel account records as 

“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee.”[1] 

Turning the water into wine at the marriage feast is taken to be the first sign and also the first miracle our Lord worked. Some commentators regard the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem in John 2.13-22 as the second of the signs recorded by the Apostle.[2] That shook things up among the people and the religious establishment. Interesting to note, though our Lord worked numerous miracles in Jerusalem that are referred to in John 2.23, no details about those miracles are presented for our consideration by the apostle. It is later, in John 4.46-54, where we are told the Savior had returned to Cana from Jerusalem and while there healed a nobleman’s son, that the apostle made special mention of that miracle, in John 4.54: 

“This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.” 

This is not the second miracle our Lord performed, since John pointed out that He worked miracles in Jerusalem in John 2.23. However, this is the second occasion in which a miracle had some special significance that the apostle found useful, and we will number it as the third of the signs.

In John 5.1-18 is recorded for us the fourth sign, the healing of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. If you have had time to locate John 6.1, I invite you to stand for the reading of God’s Word, as we consider the fifth sign recorded by the apostle in John’s Gospel:[3] 

1  After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.

2  And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.

3  And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.

4  And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.

5  When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

6  And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.

7  Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.

8  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,

9  There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?

10  And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.

11  And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.

12  When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.

13  Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

14  Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. 

The passage naturally falls into three divisions: 

First, The GREAT MULTITUDE FOLLOWED 

Verse 1: 

“After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias.” 

The phrase “After these things” is one the Apostle John liked to use, meta tauta.[4] The phrase is found in John 5.1, translated “After this,” and in Revelation 4.1, there too translated “After this.” How much time has elapsed from John 5.47 to John 6.1? Perhaps as long as six months.[5] To go over suggests that the Lord and His disciples had been on the West side and traveled over to the East side. This feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle apart from the resurrection that is recorded in all four Gospel accounts, with considerably more detail preserved in the other accounts than is found here in John’s Gospel. Why the two names for the one body of water? Historically known as the Sea of Galilee, the Romans built a resort town on the Southwest coast and named it after one of their emperors, Tiberias. Hence, the two names. Tiberias is there to this day and is a very nice place to visit. 

Verse 2: 

“And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.” 

That the Lord Jesus Christ performed miracles cannot be disputed by the intellectually honest. Too many people actually saw His miracles. Too many people who had been diseased were miraculously cured by Him to be disputed. Not even His avowed enemies denied His miracle-working power.[6] The result, of course, was that He acquired a significant following. However, take note with me that the Greek words translated “followed,” “saw,” and “did” are imperfect tense verbs, meaning the multitudes kept following Him, while continually observing His miracles that He habitually performed.[7] Therefore, these are not one-off events. 

Verse 3: 

“And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.” 

This could be a reference to a specific mountain, a particular hill, a region of hill country, or even part way up the Golan Heights.[8] There are a great many natural amphitheaters in that region. 

Verse 4: 

“And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.” 

Because of the way the Apostle John writes, there are likely two things being accomplished with this statement: First, the apostle provides a time frame for his readers, so we will know when this miracle took place. Second, remembering that this Gospel was written about 50 years after these events occurred, and almost certainly after the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jewish people, John’s mention of the Passover here served as a reminder to his mostly Gentile Christian readers that Christ is our Passover, with Him being a wonderful fulfillment of the typology of the Passover.[9],[10] 

Verse 5: 

“When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” 

May I recommend a study for you to pursue? Look up those places throughout the Bible where reference is made to lifting up one’s eyes, and then to lifting up one’s hands, lifting up one’s heart, and lifting up one’s voice. I think it will be a blessing to your soul to spend several devotional sessions finding and reading those many verses and reflecting on them. The Lord and His men settled down, and then He lifted up His eyes and observed the great company approaching. He then turned to Philip with a question. Why did He turn to Philip? Were they near the village Philip had grown up in? As Judas was the treasurer of the group who kept the money, could it be that Philip was the one designated by the Lord to secure provisions? Speculation at this point. 

Verse 6: 

“And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.” 

Recognize two things about the Savior’s dealings with His men: First, He never asked for advice. He never did not know what to do. He always knew what to do and what He was doing to do. However, second, He did frequently ask questions as a teaching tool and as a means of testing the progress of His disciples. Such is the case here. 

Verse 7:

“Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.” 

Notice what Philip does at this point. He performs a calculation to determine the amount of money it would take to feed the enormous crowd. Let me hasten to say that there was nothing wrong with Philip calculating how much money would be required to buy food to feed so many people. I am reminded of a parable in which the Lord dealt with this matter of counting the cost.[11] I am also reminded of the occasion in which Moses sent twelve men to spy out the Promised Land, with ten of them coming back with a bad report and two of them coming back with a good report.[12] However, you do not count the cost to decide whether or not to begin a venture for God, but to be realistic about the time, the money, the effort, and the faith that will be involved to get the job done. So here. 

Verses: 8-9:

8  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,

9  There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? 

Isn’t it just like Andrew to once more bring someone to the Savior? We first see Andrew bringing an individual to the Lord Jesus Christ in John 1.42. He brought his brother, Simon Peter. Then, in John 12.20-22, we are informed that Greeks who wanted an audience with the Savior approached Philip in Jerusalem, who took them to Andrew, who then took them to the Lord. What a life’s testimony Andrew had of simply bringing folks to the Savior. The lad Andrew brought was likely rather young, and almost certainly poor since barley was the typical food of poor people. But the kid is willing. And Lord willing, my message next Sunday morning will be focused on this youngster and the Savior. There you have it, both the generalities and some of the specifics related to the multitudes who followed the Savior. Is it not interesting that no mention is made of the qualifications of the multitudes, of what type of people they were, of what kinds of past histories they’d had. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be because none of what is important to most people is at all important to God? The Savior made no mention of these people’s particulars because it didn’t matter to Him. Every one of them needed what only He could provide . . . Himself. 

Then, The LORD JESUS CHRIST FED THEM 

Verse 10:

“And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.” 

Who do you suppose He was talking to when He said, “Make the men sit down”? He was speaking to His disciples, was He not? And notice that He was pointed in His directive. The multitude decided to follow Him, and it is now His decision to take charge, so He tells His men what to do with the assembled multitudes. Matthew 14.19 informs us that He commanded the multitude to sit down. Let me read how Mark 6.39-40 describes it: 

39 And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass.

40 And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties. 

What I want you to observe is that the decision to follow implies the decision to comply. In deciding to follow, the multitude had already decided to comply with directions concerning the directives that would subsequently be issued. Sit rather than stand, and sit here rather than sit there. 

Verse 11:

“And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.” 

The Lord Jesus took the loaves and fishes from the lad after issuing His directive. Then He gave thanks, presumably to the Father. Then He distributed the loaves and fishes to His men. And His men distributed to them that were set down. And they who were seated took as much food as they wanted. That was a miracle. Five thousand men, plus women and children, taking as much of what was originally five loaves and two fishes as they wanted. But notice that the text indicates the disciples gave “to them that were set down.” Does that suggest some present didn’t want to comply with what they were told to do? I don’t know. Perhaps. “I will follow, but I will not do what I am directed to do, even when the directions are reasonable and indicate my humility and willingness to submit.” Do what you want to do, but if you don’t sit down, you will not be given food. Does this suggest blessings are given to those who are compliant? “But I don’t want to sit down.” Fine, then stand. “I don’t want to sit there.” Fine, do whatever you want to do. There is no coercion implied here. None whatsoever. But the text does read, 

“he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down.” 

Any idea how illegal feeding five thousand men would be in our day without a permit from the city? And no permit would be issued unless the food was ‘properly’ prepared and packaged in a sanitary fashion. Never mind that it was a miracle. Can’t do it without a permit or the Service Employees International Union will make sure the city is all over you. That is why kids can’t operate lemonade stands anymore without getting cited. 

Finally, The RESULT WAS THEY WERE FILLED 

Verse 12:

“When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” 

Is this not astonishing? With five loaves and two fishes from one lad, five thousand men were filled, not counting women and children, with a bunch of food left over. So, the Lord told His disciples to collect what was left over. No reason to waste good food. But it should also be pointed out that the Lord who provided the food made sure the provision was more than was immediately necessary. Do you think this would provoke their thoughts about God providing manna for the children of Israel in the wilderness? Would this later have significance when the Lord Jesus Christ identified Himself as the Bread of Life? I think so. 

Verse 13:

“Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.” 

Twelve baskets of food left over from the five loaves of barley. Is that one basket for each of the twelve tribes of Israel? Or is that one basket of food for each of the twelve disciples? And this is after everyone had eaten his fill. Nothing is said about any leftover fish. As well, there is no indication that anyone hoarded any of the food. So, in the end, though the food was plentiful, it was not necessarily high-class fare. It wasn’t loaves of wheat, after all, or croissants. But the Lord made excellent use of what the lad had and was willing to give up. That is certainly an important point to make, the willingness of the lad who had no idea what would become of his meal. 

Verse 14:

“Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.” 

The multitudes were filled. There were fragments left over to fill twelve baskets. So, what exactly did the multitudes see? What did they observe as they beheld the miracle? Keeping in mind that everything was unfolding before their eyes, they heard no loud noises. Neither did they see flashing or dazzling lights. There was no rumbling. Neither is there any indication the Lord Jesus Christ put on any display of exertion or showmanship. A large multitude gathered around Him. He chatted with Philip. Then Andrew approached with a kid who had some food. Then the Lord told His men what to do, and they told everyone to sit down in groups of fifty and hundreds. Then He gave the boy’s food to His disciples and directed them to give as much food to those seated as they wanted. And when everyone had eaten his fill there were twelve baskets of food left over. What did the multitudes, who saw everything, actually see? They saw five loaves and two fishes, one small meal for a boy, feed multiplied thousands of men, women, and children, with a bunch of food left over. The miracle was not spectacular. The miracle was the supernatural increase of what the disciples were freely giving until everyone was full. And everyone saw what was happening. Nothing was hidden. How do you explain a physical impossibility? How do you explain a biological impossibility? How do you explain a nutritional impossibility? The proper word for describing a phenomenon that defies natural explanation is this word miracle. Though the word is typically overused and frequently misused, the Lord Jesus Christ did work a miracle. And He did so without magical incantations, without incense, without exertion, without flourish, and without actually touching anything once He had placed the food into the hands of the twelve. 

How does one explain what happened when one man used five loaves and two fishes to use twelve men to then feed five thousand men with big appetites who were hungry, along with an unknown number of women and children?

You might observe it, but you cannot explain it. You might benefit from it, but that does not mean you can explain it. Thousands of formerly hungry people had been filled, who could testify that it happened, who saw it happen but could not explain it.

Are applications to be drawn from this miracle? Obviously. That is why He worked the miracle. That is why John recorded the miracle. That is why the other Gospels also recorded the miracle.

What does this miracle tell us about the Lord Jesus Christ? A number of things: His compassion, His power, His fulfillment of Old Testament types such as being the One Who supplied the manna in the wilderness, such as being the Bread of Life, and perhaps a number of other things.

What does this entire episode from our Lord’s earthly ministry suggest to you and me? How about the benefit of following Him? How about the benefit of His miracles worked on our behalf? How about complying with His directives, making spiritual application in our lives concerning whether to stand or sit and where to sit? Where to sit, such as making sure you sit at His feet.

Unless you are spiritually cold and profane, you will want to spend some time pondering this passage, the miracle that it has recorded, and the One who worked the miracle without fanfare or any semblance of showmanship. And while you are pondering things, and Him, you might want to consider your relationship to Him, if a relationship with Him exists.

_____

[1] John 2.11

[2] Andreas J. Kostenberger, John - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), page 102.

[3] The fourth sign as reckoned by Leon Morris, The Gospel According To John - Revised Edition, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 299.

[4] John 3.22; 5.1, 14; 6.1; 7.1; 13.7; 21.1; Revelation 1.19; 4.1; 7.1, 9; 9.12; 15.5; 18.1; 19.1; 20.3

[5] Kostenberger, page 199.

[6] John 3.2; 11.47; 12.37

[7] Ibid., page 200.

[8] Ibid.

[9] John 11.55; 12.1; 13.1; 1 Corinthians 5.7

[10] John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1569.

[11] Luke 14.25-33

[12] Numbers 13

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org