Teaching series from John

The Feeding of the 15,000-20,000

John 6:1-59

Teaching t05622


We come now to the fourth miracle recorded by John--the misnamed feeding of the 5000. Read vs 1-13. Although this is a well-known story, let us briefly note two things about it.

Actually, far more than 5000 people were fed. Vs 10 says there were about 5000 men. With women and children, the number is more like 15,000-20,000.

This was a bona fide miracle. Not a "miracle" because the boy shamed the rest into sharing (BARCLAY, pp. 114,115), but a real supernatural multiplication of bread and fish. This is why the people responded the way they did (read vs 14): "If he can feed us this way, he can defeat the Romans."

What is the meaning of this miracle? Remember, Jesus' miracles were "signs"--supernatural acts which illustrated and substantiated Jesus' teachings. In this case, the miracle contains two teachings--one for the disciples and one for the people. We'll look at the lesson for the disciples next week; today we'll learn it's lesson to the people he fed.

We pick up the story the next day (read vs 22-25). Jesus' response (vs 26) cuts through their small talk to the heart of the issue. They haven't tracked him down for more teaching, but because they want another free lunch. They don't view him as the REVEALER OF TRUTH, but rather as a MOBILE MCDONALD'S. So Jesus gives them a warning (vs 27a) . . . 

The Warning: "Don't spend your life on `perishable food.'"

As the following context makes clear, he is speaking figuratively rather than literally. He isn't warning them to be sure the bread they buy at Big Bear has preservatives so it doesn't mold quickly. Rather, he is warning them against the human tendency to try to satisfy spiritual hunger through non-spiritual means.

We have physical bodies, so we need physical food. But because we are spiritual creatures, made in God's image, we have need for a relationship with him--and no amount of physical "food" will ever satisfy the hunger we have for him. [1]

This is why things like SENSUAL EXPERIENCES, MATERIAL THINGS, HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS, and CAREER/HOBBY ACCOMPLISHMENT don't satisfy in a lasting way. They may give us a temporary rush, but the hunger returns and it takes more next time. In fact, they may distract us from the only One who can supply this "food."

The Offer: "I'll give you spiritual food that lasts forever."

Jesus is echoing an Old Testament passage with which they should have been familiar (read Isa. 55:1,2). Read vs 27b. He is saying, "I'll give you spiritual food that truly satisfies and last forever." This is the meaning of the "sign"--the lesson they should have learned from the miracle the day before--but they don't understand this. In the following verses, Jesus keeps trying to lift their eyes to this "food," while they keep trying to get him to give them physical food.

Read vs 28. This is the food he is offering as a gift, but they think they must earn this privilege. Read vs 29. Jesus repeats that it is a free gift. We'll come back to this later . . . 

Read vs 30. This is a pretty stupid request, since they had just witnessed a miracle so great that they wanted to make him King. What they really want is another free lunch (read vs 31): "Hey, Moses was the BREAD MAN every day (manna)--how about it?"

But Jesus refuses to do another miracle feeding, because this would only reinforce their wrong mind-set. This is why God often refuses to grant our requests for things like the LOTTERY, a NEW LOVER, that GREAT PAYING JOB, etc.--because this would only help us keep looking in the wrong places . . . 

Instead, he continues to correct their thinking (read vs 32,33). Moses only gave their ancestors manna, which perpetuated physical life. But God is offering them true spiritual ("life" is zoe) food--the very life of God itself.

Their request (vs 34) is probably still natural-minded, but it gives Jesus the opportunity to make a block-buster claim . . . 

The Claim: "I am the sole source of spiritual life."

Read vs 35. What a breath-taking claim! Notice he does not say: "I am a bread of life." He says: "I am the bread of life." Jesus claims that he himself is the sole source of spiritual life, that he alone fully satisfies our hunger and thirst. This claim forces us to deal with him differently than any other religious figure, because no one else has ever made such a claim as this. Notice the additional claims he makes in the verses that follow:

Vs 38: He is not an enlightened human who descends from Adam; he originates from heaven.

Vs 39,40: He won't merely be around at the end. He will raise and judge everyone at the end, and people's response to him will be the basis of their eternal destiny.

Vs 45: He is the One to whom the Father directs all who sincerely seek for him, because Jesus is the only One who has seen the Father (vs 46).

Vs 47-51a summarizes the above claims, and paves the way for another claim which explains why he is the only One who can give us spiritual life (read vs 51b). Jesus is the life of God made available to us as a free gift--and he is available to us as a free gift because he has voluntarily offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins.

The Old Testament animal sacrifices taught the holiness of God, the penalty for sin, and substitutionary atonement--that God in his love would provide a blameless substitute whose death would pay for our sins. This was symbolized by the high priest offering up the flesh of animals without physical defect.

Jesus claims that he is the fulfillment of those (symbolic) sacrifices (see also Isa. 53; Jn. 1:29; Mk. 10:45). His perfect life qualified him to die in our place, to pay for our sins against God--so that we can receive eternal life as a free gift.

Compare these claims to this conclusion from a recent magazine article: "Whether idea or man, Jesus is a model that encourages goodness, a mirror that reflects our hope. We see Jesus as many different people--dutiful son, ascetic, sage, martyr--depending on our personal needs. We see Jesus in our own image. It helps us to know him. To understand him. Whether he lived or not, died on the cross or not, ascended or not, Jesus is alive in our time. To believers and unbelievers alike, Jesus matters." [2] Can we square this with Jesus' claims? Wouldn't it be more honest just to admit that we reject his claims, instead of willfully denying and twisting them?

Read vs 52. Once again, they don't get it. "Great, we come out for another fish sandwich and the guy starts talking cannibalism." "Come on, Gladys. We're gonna find another church."

The Condition: "You must personally receive me and my death for your sins."

Although this spiritual life is available to everyone, there is a condition we must fulfill if we want to receive it. Read vs 53-58. What does it mean to eat his flesh and drink his blood?

Let's be clear first about what it doesn't mean:

It does not refer to animistic cannibalism (EAT HEART OF ENEMY). This wide-spread religious idea is foreign to the whole Bible. Furthermore, Jesus has been speaking figuratively throughout this whole passage.

It does not refer to transubstantiation (EXPLAIN). There is no mention of communion in the context. To import it into the passage is eisogesis, not exegesis. Furthermore, Jesus speaks of doing this once-for-all ("eat" and "drink" are aorists in vs 53), whereas communion is ongoing.

Rather, Jesus is explaining what it means to believe in him. He has already made it crystal clear that we must believe in him to receive eternal life (see vs 29,35,47). He now explains what kind of belief he is talking about. Compare vs 40 to vs 54.

He's saying it is not enough to merely assent intellectually that he is the Messiah. We must believe in him in the sense that we personally receive him and his death for our sins.

STARVING NUTRITIONIST AT A BANQUET TABLE: Would it be enough for you to calculate the calories, protein, fat, etc.--and conclude that this food could meet your nutritional needs? If you only has this kind of belief, you would starve to death! You would have to personally eat the food, you would have to receive it into yourself so that its life could be assimilated into your body.

In the same way, Jesus is saying it is not enough for you to merely conclude that he is God's Son, able to forgive you and give you spiritual life now and eternal life in the future. If your belief in him stops here, you will die! You must personally receive him and his death for your sins. Only in this way can the life of God be assimilated into your being.

Have you done this? This is not something we must do over and over again. We only need to do it once (vs 53 verb tense?). Yes, we need to keep on growing spiritually in our relationships with Christ, but don't get the cart before the horse! Before you can experience spiritual growth, you must first experience spiritual birth.

You may be thinking, "I'd like to do this--but I've done some really bad things in my life." Read vs 37--this applies to you! The issue is not what you've done--it is whether you're willing to come to Christ.


NEXT: The lesson of the "sign" to his disciples . . . 


[1] " . . . you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you." Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, p. 43. "What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself." (Pascal, Pensees, VII, 425.

[2] John Simon, "Who was Jesus?" Life, December 1994, p. 67.