Rev. Haak is pastor of Bethel Protestant Reformed Church in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
The time in which this great miracle of our Lord took place is important for us to note. From the other gospel narratives we gather that it happened during the third year of His ministry and at a time when many things were coming together. The twelve had just returned from their mission of preaching to the lost sheep of Israel (Mark 6:30). Herod had beheaded John the Baptist and was eager to see Jesus, believing that Christ was John risen from the dead (Luke 9:7-9). Jesus had been so busy in His work that He had not even had the time to eat (Mark 6:31).
This led Jesus to seek a time of seclusion and rest (Mark 6:31). He and His disciples travel by boat to a secluded spot (Bethsaida) on the northern shore of the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee). However, the enthusiastic crowds follow on foot, some even outrunning the ship, so that soon after His arrival the multitudes have again flocked to Him (Mark 6:33). The Lord spends the day teaching and healing.
But a real turning point has come in His ministry. The people have followed Him for the miracles He has performed (John 6:2). When they witness this miracle they will show plainly why they have followed Him. They are laboring for the meat which perishes, not for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life (John 6:27). They envision a savior who would supply them with the good things of this life, not a Savior from their spiritual bankruptcy and corrupted state. In this miracle and the subsequent sermon, Jesus will make plain that He is not the savior they had in mind. He gives a beautiful sign of who He is as the Bread of life sent down from above, able to sustain the spiritual life of His people by His crucified body and shed blood. He will resist every effort to crown Him an earthly king. The multitudes will witness and even taste of His power, but will to a large measure stumble over Him as the true heavenly bread.
The significance of this miracle is rich for us. It is a sign that points to Jesus Himself and to what He accomplishes in the realm of grace. He, as the true bread, is sufficient for all His people. No matter how great the multitude of the redeemed may be, all find in Him an abundance of life and grace that instead of diminishing continues to multiply itself, so that the need of all the members of His body is fully satisfied. And in Him is an abundance. The fragments, gathered after the multitude had eaten filled twelve baskets.
The events following the miracle are equally significant. We see Jesus dismissing the crowd and sending the disciples across the sea in order to prevent them from making Him their earthly king. And we see Jesus before His Father in prayer as His church is threatened and helpless before the onslaughts of the world, represented in the raging sea. The Lord reveals Himself as ruler of the waves and comes to His church, bringing them to a safe haven.
What a wonderful passage! “We see Jesus” (I Pet. 1:8) as the One possessing in Himself abundance of life for us! And we see Him as being the One who is able to keep us from falling and to present us without fault before the Father in glory (Jude 24, 25).
1. The setting for this miracle (vv. 1-4) – His popularity and His retreat for a time of seclusion and rest.
2. The feeding of the five thousand (vv. 5-14).
a. The testing of Philip vv. 5- 7).
b. Andrew finds five loaves and two fishes (vv. 8, 9).
c. The miracle itself (vv. 10-13).
d. The response of the people (v. 14).
3. Jesus prevents the attempt to make Him king (vv. 15, 16).
4. Jesus walks on the water (vv. 17- 21).
1. What can be said about the context for this miracle?
a. When in the Lord’s ministry did this miracle take place?
b. Why did Jesus retire at this time to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Sea of Tiberias)?
c. What had been happening in the Lord’s ministry at this time? (See Matthew 14:12ff.; Mark 6:30; Luke 9:7-9.)
d. Is there any significance to the fact that this miracle is recorded in all four of the gospel accounts?
e. Can we say that whereas chapter 5 showed His rejection in Judea, chapter 6 will show His rejection in Galilee?
2. Why does John give us the notice in verse 4 that the Passover was nigh?
3. Is there any reason why the Lord would choose Philip for the question He asks in verse 5? Is there anything suggestive of the character of Andrew in the fact that he finds this lad and responds much the same way as Philip to the possibility of being, able to feed this multitude? (John 14:8, 9; 1:41-45; 12:21, 22.)
4. What is a pennyworth?
5. Do we find here any directives for the practice of prayer before meals (v. 11)? . . . after meals? (Deut. 8:10).
6. What is the significance of this miracle?
a. Do you find a prefiguration of it in I Kings 17:16; II Kings 4:42; Numbers 11:15? b. What does it show to us of Jesus and His salvation?
c. What virtues of Christ are revealed, and how is Christ pictured in His relation to His people?
d. Is there any significance in the fact that in this miracle the multitudes are not only spectators but participants? (It is not a miracle performed upon a single man, but all are involved in it, I Cor. 10:4.)
7. How did the people respond to this miracle?
a. What prophet are they referring to in verse 14? (Deut. 18:15– 18; Acts 3:22).
b. Show that the people revealed that they wanted a Messiah who would be able to provide their physical needs and desires.
c. How does the fact that Jesus was able to give them bread lead them to conclude that He was the man who ought to be their king?
d. Would they actually have tied by force to make Him an earthly king?
e. Show that the Lord’s discourse: in chapter 6:22-58 is spoken exactly in response to the people’s attempt to make Him an earthly king.
f. How is this same thing done today?
g. How can we be guilty of this?
h. What kind of a king is Jesus? (John 18:36).
8. Show how the Lord’s actions prevented any attempt to make Him their king.
9. What do we learn of Him and of our need for prayer when we read that the Lord went up to a mountain alone to pray?
10. Discuss the significance of the prevented any attempt to make Him miracle of the Lord’s walking on the water. How is the church pictured in this? Christ? How does this apply to us in our daily fears?
11. Is there another divine wonder recorded in verse 21? (Psalm 107:23-32.)