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The New Testament Commentary Vol Iii John by B.W. Johnson

The Five Thousand Fed.

This miracle is the only one recorded by all the Evangelists, and as the details vary somewhat, a study of all the accounts (Matt.14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17) is needful to get the entire history. At Jerusalem, in the last chapter, Christ revealed himself as the Giver of life; here in Galilee he shows himself as the Support and Guide of life. (Joh 6:1)

1. After these things. If I am correct in regarding the feast at which the miracle of Bethesda was wrought, the passover, this incident is about a year after. We are aided in locating it by the account of Matthew. He declares that Christ had just heard that John the Baptist was put to death. It is agreed by the most judicious scholars that John was beheaded about the third year of Christ's ministry. This began some months before his first passover, when he cleansed the temple; the miracle of Bethesda was at his second passover and in the second year of his ministry; this passover season (see verse 4) was in the third year. The date of this miracle tends to confirm the view that the feast of John 5:1 was the passover. Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee. Matthew (14:13) says that he went because he heard that Herod had slain John. He wished to have a season of retirement, probably for reflection, and he went out of Herod's jurisdiction. Mark indicates (6:30) that he retired for rest. Luke adds a fact that helps us to understand the reason. He says, |Herod sought to see Jesus.| The news of the death of the Baptist, of the design of Herod to see him, the return of the Twelve from their mission (Luke 9:10), and the need of rest all co-operated to cause him to seek the wilderness over the sea. Sea of Tiberias. Another name of the Sea of Galilee at that time better known to Gentile readers. (Joh 6:2)

2. And a great multitude followed. When the death of the Baptist occurred the popularity of Jesus was at its height in Galilee. Great multitudes follow him wherever he goes, and so throng him that he has no leisure even to eat. From every part of the land they come to listen to his teachings and to be healed. Nor may we ascribe this concourse merely to curiosity and selfishness. (Joh 6:3)

3. And Jesus went up into a mountain. The mountains on the eastern shore of the sea rise to the height of nearly two thousand feet above the level of the water. The region was uninhabited, and therefore a quiet place for communing with his disciples, and rest. (Joh 6:4)

4. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. This statement gives us a note of time and shows that the country was green with the freshness of spring. It was not far from April 1st, and the trees were in full leaf. The proximity of the greatest of the festivals that were celebrated at Jerusalem (the passover, which began that year a.d.29, on April 17th), would give occasion for a large increase of visitors around Galilee, as the crowds gathered for the journey. The gathering at such a time of a crowd of 5,000 men, attracted by so famous a teacher, is not incredible. The mention of the passover is an aid to the chronology of the Lord's ministry. The feast named in John 5:1 could hardly be that of Purim, for then he would not have left Jerusalem before the passover, it following only about a month later. If that feast was a passover, we have now reached a period of two years from the passover at which he cleansed the temple (2:13). It is clear that the feast, now so near at hand, was not attended by the Savior, the only one that he seems to have omitted during his ministry. Perhaps the plots to kill him when last in Jerusalem explain his absence. |His hour was not yet come.| (Joh 6:5)

5. When Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw a great company. The other historians tell us that he was filled with compassion. They were destitute of teachers. They had no guides but the blind Scribes and Pharisees. They had no spiritual food but man-made traditions. Let us never forget that our Lord is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. He never changes. High in heaven at God's right hand he still pities the ignorant and them that are out of the way. Whence shall we buy bread? He had spent the greater part of the day in teaching and healing. As the evening came his disciples came to him asking him to dismiss the multitude that they might return to the villages and procure food, and probably as a result of their importunity he asked this question of Philip. (Joh 6:6)

6. He himself knew what he would do. He was in no perplexity as to what would be done, though he asked the question. He often asked questions for the sake of their moral effect upon others. (Joh 6:7)

7. Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them. This sum is mentioned mainly because it was an estimate of how much it would cost to give each one a little (John 6:7). Some have supposed that this is the amount of money they had in their common treasury, but it seems rather to be mentioned as a sum beyond their ability to pay. It was equal to [USD]30, or £6, 5s.; a large amount of money then, since a denarius, or |penny,| was the hire of a day's labor. The penny, or denarius, was about seventeen cents, and was equivalent to about one dollar now, so that the whole sum would reach [USD]200. (Joh 6:8)

8. One of his disciples, Andrew, . . . saith. The answer of Andrew is to the question of the Savior reported in Mark 6:38. He bade them to examine and report what food they have, and Andrew replies that a lad has five loaves and two fishes. (Joh 6:9)

9. Five barley loaves and two small fishes. The loaves here were of barley-meal made into small, thin cakes, baked hard on the side of the oven, so as to be broken. Probably this was the whole stock of provisions then at the command of the disciples -- no more than enough for one meal to them. The fishes were salt and dried, and used for a relish, according to a common custom of the country. Plain common food. Barley was the food only of the lower classes. It was a very small amount, as is shown by the fact that a |lad,| a |little boy| in the Greek, carried them. What were they among so many? (Joh 6:10)

10. Make the men sit down. We learn from Mark that they sat down in companies. Our word parties, in its convivial acceptation, is, as nearly as possible, a reproduction of the original term. The multitude was to be arranged in a suite of parties, no doubt semicircularly adjusted, after the form of Roman triclinia, or Grecian symposia. Such a semicircular or three-sided style of parties had become common among the Jews, being adopted from the Greeks and Romans; and hence the frequent reference, in the New Testament, to reclining at meals. There was much grass there. It was in Nisan, |the month of flowers,| and the slopes were rich with the soft green of the spring grass. About five thousand. Thus there was one loaf to every thousand men. Matthew adds, |besides women and children,| of whom there were doubtless many. It was customary then, as now, in the East, for men to eat alone, reclining, and the women and children by themselves, sitting. It was easy to number the men, who were arranged in companies of hundreds and fifties; but not the women and children, who perhaps sat around promiscuously. (Joh 6:11)

11. When he had given thanks. It was held by the Jews, that |he who partakes of anything without giving thank acts as if he were stealing it from God.| The prayer of thanks was always pronounced by the father of the family; and Jesus never neglects it, nor ought any Christian. (Joh 6:12)

12. Gather up the fragments that remain. God does not allow wastefulness. Nature wastes nothing, not an ounce of matter. It is the waste of man that causes want. There is food enough for all. The waste of our nation is appalling; -- [USD]800,000,000 per year on liquor; [USD]50,000,000 on tobacco, besides all the extravagance of life. Christ bids us save; save the fragments. It is by wasting the fragments that the great wastes occur. (Joh 6:13)

13. Filled twelve baskets with the fragments. Only one basket in the beginning, but twelve after all were fed. Baskets were taken by Jews on journeying, to carry their provisions, etc., that they might not have to depend on Gentiles, and so incur the risk of ceremonial pollution. (Joh 6:14)

14. Of a truth this is that prophet. The long expected prophet, foretold Deut.18:15, 16, and referred to by the delegation sent to visit John the Baptist (John 1:21). This expected prophet was to be the king of Israel, the head of the kingdom of God on the earth. In other words they said: |This is the Christ.| (Joh 6:15)

15. Perceived that they would come and take him by force, and make him a king. Convinced that he was Christ, they sought to proclaim him king, to raise his standard, and establish his government. This miracle worked up to the highest pitch their enthusiasm in behalf of the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Might not this, indeed, be taken as the commencement of his reign? Hitherto his acts had been those of individual beneficence. But here was a public act, performed in the sight of thousands, and of which thousands had shared the benefit. Who so fit to be their king as he who could banish want and labor from their borders, and revive the good old times when their fathers were fed by bread from heaven? To escape their well meant efforts Jesus retired to a mountain alone. We learn from Mark that he went to pray. (Joh 6:16)

16. When even was come his disciples went down to the sea. They were sent down. See Matthew and Mark. The disciples were probably ready to join the people in an enterprise which would fulfil their remaining carnal expectations regarding the Messiahship of their Master. Hence our Lord dismissed them, sending them where they would feel the need of his presence. (Joh 6:17)

17. Entered a ship. A fishing boat large enough to carry a dozen persons, but not too large to be propelled by oars. To Capernaum. Mark says to Bethsaida, but this was on the way to Capernaum. Mark names the first landing place, but John the end of the journey. (Joh 6:18)

18. The sea rose by reason of a great wind. Sudden gusts are common on the Sea of Galilee. Prof. McGarvey reports one that caught his party on the same sea. The winds rush down from the mountains of Lebanon or up the Jordan Valley. Thompson says he encountered one of such fury that no rowers could row a boat across the lake. (Joh 6:19)

19. Rowed five and twenty or thirty furlongs. About three or three and a half miles. The lake is here about six miles wide. They were about the middle of the lake. It was about three o'clock in the morning. They had toiled nearly through the night, but could make no headway against the wind and waves. Walking upon the sea. The words, |walking on the sea,| are common to the Evangelists, and can have no other meaning here than that the Lord walked bodily on the surface of the water. -- Alford. We may see in it something like an anticipation (not unconnected, it may be, with the intensity of that crisis in his life) of that spiritual body of which we see another manifestation in the transfiguration, and which became normal after the resurrection, reaching its completeness in the wonder of the ascension. -- Ellicott. They were afraid. Mark says, They cried out in fright. They regarded the appearance seen through the darkness an apparition and thought it a harbinger of evil. (Joh 6:20)

20. It is I; be not afraid. This is the gospel message of peace, on the ground -- the simple ground -- |It is I.| Christ's presence is peace to the soul. -- Jacobus. How often has he to speak this word of encouragement, even to his own! almost always when they are brought suddenly, or in an unusual way, face to face with him! It is I. Literally, I am. The same language used by Jesus in Jerusalem (John 8:58), for which the Pharisees would have stoned him, and in the Old Testament to designate Jehovah (Exodus 3:14). Here I should prefer to give it this meaning: Christ says not merely, |It is I, your Friend and Master;| he says, at least implies, it is the |I AM,| who is coming to you, the Almighty One who rules wind and waves, who made them, and whom they obey. -- Abbott. (Joh 6:21)

21. He went up . . . into the ship. John says, |they willingly received him;| and, on account of the wind abating, they came at once to port. Christ's getting in the ship was their salvation. He can both calm the tempest round us, and carry us safe to heaven. Immediately the ship was at the land. Unless the word |immediately| has more latitude than is common with us, this implies another miracle.

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