John 6:1-15


Between John 5 and 6 there is a gap of at least six months, if not a whole year. In chapter 5 the collapse of Jesus' Judean ministry is described. Its counterpart in Galilee is found in chapter 6. If John 5:1 is speaking of a Passover we have an interval of one year between John 5 and 6. Except for 4:43-54 and 6:1-71 John has nothing about the great Galilean Ministry of Jesus found in Matthew 4:12-15:20; Mark 1:14-15:20 and Luke 4:14-9:17. The feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus described by all four evangelists. But John has a special purpose in recounting this miracle which he calls a sign.

John alone speaks of "signs", verses 2 and 14. It is a special theme of his Gospel. From 2:11 to 11:47 he notes six great miracles, signs, which reveal Jesus' glory. The signs strengthen the faith of believers but harden unbelievers in their rejection. The six great signs are found at 2:1-11; 4:46-54; 5:1-18; 6:1-15; 9:1-41; and, 11:1-44. The signs reveal who Jesus is, 2:11. Their final goal is the eternal salvation of the believer, 20:30-31. But, in many instances people reacted in unbelief and rejection of Christ and the Gospel. Compare especially 11:46-54. The raising of Lazarus was one of the immediate causes of Jesus' death. Look at 6:66-70. Many of the 5,000 left Jesus. But the disciples, though weak in faith on this day, made a marvelous confession.

One cannot preach this text correctly without looking at the parallel accounts, Mark 6:34-44; Matt. 14:14-21; Luke 9:11-17.

  1. The Synoptics tell us that before this miracle Jesus taught them, spoke of the Kingdom of God and healed their sick.

  2. The Synoptics tell us about the end of the day when the worried disciples ask Jesus to dismiss the 5,000.

John evidently also includes what happened earlier in the day. John says that as the people were approaching, He, knowing already then what He was going to do, asked Philip a question simply to test his faith. Philip's answer, involving two hundred denarii, is reiterated later (Mark 6:37) by all the disciples. John also includes an observation by Andrew. Later in the day, when all the disciples suggest that the people be sent away to find food, Jesus says that dismissal is not necessary and tells the disciples (Matt., Mark, Luke) to feed them. Thus again He tests their faith. Everything that Jesus says, in all four Gospels, to the disciples, tests their faith to make them look to Him as the Provider, but they fail. The only test they "passed" was obedience to the command to have the people sit down. This is recorded in all four accounts.

Some commentators try to find psychological reasons for which Jesus spoke specifically to Philip and Andrew. There is no proof here or elsewhere in the Gospel for such observations. John, an eyewitness, is simply recording what happened and, furthermore, informs us that it was Jesus, not the disciples, who took the initiative. It is evident, however, from all four accounts, that the disciples were leaning on their own reason and strength and finally, in desperation, failed when they asked Jesus to send the people away.

John 6:1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), (Buls: Some time later Jesus went away across the Sea of Galilee [also called] of Tiberias.)

"Some time" as mentioned above denotes a period of six months to a year. John 5:47 has Jerusalem as its locale. This verse describes the incident noted in Mark 6:32; Matt. 14:13; Luke 9:10b. Luke informs us that they went to Bethsaida, which is on the east shore of the sea of Galilee.

John 6:2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. (Buls: And a large crowd was following Him because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on the sick.)

John alone of the four Gospels gives the motive which prompted the crowd to run around the northern shore of the sea of Galilee to reach Him. They were fascinated by His signs. At this point Luke informs us that Jesus spoke to them about the Kingdom of God. Both Matthew and Luke inform us that He healed their sick.

John 6:3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. (Buls: And Jesus went up on a mountain and sat there with His disciples.)

Only John gives us the information found in this verse. We noted in the previous pericope that perhaps Mark 6:32 informs us as to when the disciples found their needed rest. Another possibility is that they found their needed rest on the mountain noted here in John 6:3.

John 6:4 The Jewish Passover Feast was near. (Buls: [Now the Passover, the Festival of the Jews, was near]).

Phillips and TEV consider this verse parenthetical. But it is an important item. It informs us that this happened just one year before Jesus' crucifixion and death. Furthermore, it might indicate that this crowd was a group of pilgrims who were on their way to Jerusalem and that verse 15 implies that they wanted to crown Him king in Jerusalem.

The Passovers in John's Gospel (2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 11:55) are very important for determining the length of Jesus' public ministry. (John 5:1 is debated).

At this point (John 6) Jesus is at the zenith of His Galilean Ministry but from this point on rejection of Him becomes more intense.

John 6:5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" (Buls: Therefore, when Jesus had lifted up His eyes and had seen that a large crowd was coming to Him, He said to Philip: "Where shall we purchase bread in order that these people might eat?")

If verse 4 is parenthetical, the "when" of this verse is returning to what was said before the parentheses.

He is not asking for information, but is making Philip think.

John 6:6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (Buls: [He was saying this to test him; you see, He Himself knew what He was going to do.])

The LB, Phillips and TEV make this verse parenthetical.

Bengel: While the people were coming, Jesus already provided the food for them.
Ylvisaker: The Synoptists call attention to the fact that Jesus first provides for the spiritual needs; but He is not unaware of their bodily requirements as well. . . . In John it appears that the initiative is taken by Jesus Himself, according to the Synoptists by the disciples. The fact is that the point of view is altogether different. John would make his Gospel serve as a testimony of Jesus as the personified Word of God. As such Word He must be the active agent. John would stress this truth at this point also, therefore, he is brief and to the point, and present Jesus as making the beginning. And, as a matter of fact, Jesus has considered His course of actions long before the disciples suggest any plan.
Lenski: Jesus selects Philip merely as being one of the entire number of the twelve . . . the test was intended for all of them. The fact that they passes this test no better than Philip we see from Mark 6:37 . . . None of them rose higher than Philip's low level.

John 6:7 Philip answered him, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!" (Buls: Philip answered Jesus: "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them so that each one gets a little.")

One "denar" amounted to a day's wage. It is translated by some as "eight months' wages." Fahling was of the opinion that this amount of money was approximately what their treasury contained at the time.

Hendriksen: It seems not to have occurred to Philip that the Lord who at Cana had manifested his ability to supply wine when it failed would be just as able at Bethsaida to furnish bread.
Lenski: Philip mentions the lowest possible amount, one that would give only a 'little something' to each person, not by any means enough to satisfy the appetite. Contrast this with verse 13 'they were filled' with 'as much as they would.'

John 6:8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up, (Buls: One of His disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to Him)

Bengel: Peter, therefore, at that time and place in which John wrote, had been better known than Andrew, either because he was older, or because he survived Andrew.
Hendriksen: The author of the Fourth Gospel, himself an eye-witness, adds certain interesting details.

John 6:9 "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" (Buls: There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two small fish; but what do these amount to for so many people?")

Fahling: Andrew volunteered the information about a little boy with five barley-loaves and two fishes. But this he said in a despairing way, and as it were, to show the utter helplessness of the suggestion which occurred to him.
Hendriksen: The light is focused on the Lord, not on the lad. Suffice it to know that Jesus was willing to make use of this boy.
Lenski: Both times Jesus is told that his suggestions are hopeless.

That is a good observation. Jesus had asked a question in verse 5. Philip's reply in verse 7 and Andrew's reply in verse 9 amount to hopeless responses to Jesus' question.

Luther: The great need of the disciples on this occasion was that, though they could think and figure, they did not believe or realize what kind of Lord they had in Christ. And that is the universal need even today, not only when we need food but also when we realize all sorts of necessities. We know how to figure and calculate carefully so that our needs might be filled. But when help does not come immediately as we would like it, we get nothing out of our careful figuring and calculating except sorrow and loss of spirit. It would be much better for us to commend the whole matter to God and not think so much about our needs.

John 6:10 Jesus said, "Have the people sit down." There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. (Buls: Jesus said: "Make the people recline." [There was much grass at the place]. And so the men, in number about five thousand, reclined.)

The ancients reclined when they ate.

Bengel: The faith of the disciples and of the people is put on trial.
Lenski: In the command to make the "men" sit down is included the women and children, but only the men are counted. . . . Matthew, too, mentions the grass, but John states that the place was covered with grass, both as eyewitnesses in distinction from Mark and Luke who were not present.

But Mark does mention the grass. It is remarkable that Mark and Luke, who were evidently not eye-witnesses, inform us of the orderly fashion in which the people reclined. This was obviously done so that distributions would be orderly and rapid. Jesus was the one Who commanded them to sit down in an orderly fashion. He supplies everything, down to the last detail.

John 6:11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. (Buls: Then Jesus took the loaves and after He had given thanks He distributed [the loaves] to those who had reclined, likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.)

"Then" means "next." "Loaves" were not bread in our sense, but flat, round cakes.

Note that Jesus gave thanks before He distributed the bread. As a true human being, our Substitute, He did everything in our place and also as we ought do it.

When Jesus distributed He gave and gave and gave.

Ylvisaker: This thanksgiving is referred to by all the evangelists. In it was concealed the divine power of the blessing.
Hendriksen: Did the bread multiply in the hands of the Savior? Just at what point did the miracle occur? All we know is that a great miracle took place, a sign which was transformative in character . . . . Here he does not just create bread, but changes bread into more bread.

John 6:12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, "Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted." (Buls: When they were filled, He told His disciples: "Gather the remaining fragments so that nothing is lost.")

All four evangelist note that the people were filled. And all four mention that the disciples gathered twelve baskets of fragments. But John alone mentions that they gathered the fragments because Jesus commanded it.

Lenski: Jesus purposely let the need develop until toward evening it became acute, because from the beginning he intended to work this sign.

John 6:13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. (Buls: And so they gathered [them] and filled twelve baskets of fragments from five barley loaves which were left by those who had eaten.)

The word in Greek for basket means a traveling basket. Our English word "coffin" comes from it.

It is clear that more remained than was available at the beginning. John does not mention that fragments of fish remained, but Mark mentions this. John mentions twice that the loaves were barley loaves, verse 9 and 2. Each disciples came back with a basket filled with fragments. Very likely they had their meal from these fragments. And, very likely, Jesus Himself ate from what remained.

John 6:14 After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world." (Buls: Therefore, when the people had seen the sign which Jesus had performed they began saying: "This man is truly the Prophet who is coming into the world.")

Note the gap between verses 13 and 14. This is a subparagraph. Now the people draw a conclusion on the basis of what they had experienced.

The sign did not have its intended affect. This is clear from verse 26.

Though they used the correct terms (the Prophet, the One Who is Coming) their interpretation was carnal.

Fahling: They began to whisper to one another that this must undoubtedly be 'that Prophet that should come into the world' (Deuteronomy. 18:15) and the beginning of that reign of earthly abundance which in their carnal desire and in a false interpretation of Messianic promises they thought the prophets had foretold . . . Thus the effect of the miracle just performed was to confirm them in their false Messianic hope.

John 6:15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (Buls: Therefore when Jesus realized that they were coming to take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to a mountain, alone by Himself.)

Jesus was very much alone. This event must have been a great source of temptation, and therefore He needed to pray. He needed to pray also for His disciples.

Fahling: In due time He would present Himself to the nation as Israel's true promised King. But this present attempt was an acclaim which He had to refuse.
Bengel: To make Him a king, was the prerogative of the Father, not of the people.
Ylvisaker: We will take Him with us to Jerusalem and forthwith declare Him king; thus did they exclaim in their ecstasy. And if He proved unwilling, they already had a plan, they would seize Him with force. But their enthusiasm had no ethical value.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B Mark-John, Sundays after Pentecost, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 32-35

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