John 6:1-14 — Feeding the 5,000 — LeGrand Baker

There is a clear pattern in John’s gospel. It begins with the testimony that Jesus is Jehovah; then teaches about John the Baptist’s premortal call and Jesus’s calling of the Twelve based on his foreknowledge of who they were (Nathanael: “in whom there is no guile” – John 1:47 – is an example).

Then, in this world, John’s message is that Jesus is still God. He controls the elements turning the water to wine. He teaches Nicodemus that he is the eternal and present author of the gospel. By teaching the woman at the well and her Samaritan neighbors he shows his authority to save everyone who will be saved. By feeding the 5,000 he shows he is the creator who can bring things into being. By walking on the water he shows that his power is greater than the forces of nature. Then, at the end of chapter 6, he announces his Messiahship and explains that his body and blood are as the fruit of the tree of life and the waters of life.

This story of feeding the 5,000 comes early in John’s account, thereby setting an immediate comparison between those who look to Jesus as a Messiah who is a potential military leader and, in contrast, those who look to him as the Anointed Savior. Both are well represented in this story.

Notwithstanding the boast with which the Jews challenged Jesus [“We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man (John 8:33)”], the Jews had not had their own king for 600 years. In fact, they were in bondage. They were an occupied Roman territory that was ruled by a hated, non-Jewish king.

Jesus was “son of David,” and would have been the heir to the now defunct Jewish throne. There was a strong belief among the Jews that a descendent of David would come as a military leader who would free them from Roman rule and reestablish the kingdom of David. If Jesus were that general, what a general he would be! Just think what Jesus’s army could accomplish if he would heal their wounded and feed them without concern for food supplied by ambling supply wagons.

During the events surrounding his feeding the 5,000, Jesus identified himself as the Messiah – but not as a military Messiah. Still, some were more eager to eat than to listen.

This is one of the stories about Jesus that is told in detail in all four gospels. My original intent was to combine them as my own study tool to glean information for this short essay. As I worked to that end, it became apparent that I had the wrong goal. There would not be much value in my presenting you with a recreated and abridged account when the primary sources are so readily available. So here are the interlocked accounts.

As you read them, do not think of them as simply repetitious. There are details in some that are not in others. It takes all of them together to make a complete whole. One of those interesting details is the relationship between Jesus and Philip as Jesus teaches his apostle the power of priesthood authority.

Another is the special relationship between Jesus and John. When writing about the Last Supper, John identified himself as “one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). When Jesus was on the cross John again identified himself as the disciple “whom he loved.” He did so again when he was at the tomb after Jesus resurrection; and in Galilee when John was the first to recognize the resurrected Lord. All of those are at the end of Jesus life or after his resurrection. But in this story of Jesus’s feeding the 5000 we get an early glance of their special relationship. As a sidenote to Jesus’s conversation with Philip, John writes, “And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.” There is only one way John could have known Jesus’s intent, and that is if Jesus told him.

Another insight comes from Matthew. Normally in that culture only men were usually considered and therefore only men were counted. So it was typical that John reported, “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.” Luke tells us the same thing. “For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company.” However, Matthew adds an important bit of information. “And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children (Matthew 14). {1}

If men, their wives, and an average of just two children per family, were all there, then Jesus did not feed only 5,000 men, but as many as 20,000 people. That is an enormous croud, and what happened there most certainly would have caught the attention of the Jewish and Roman rulers.

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In the following, John’s words are in bold, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s are indented. The scriptures cited are Matthew 14:14-21, Mark 6:33-44, Luke 9:11-17, and John 6:10-14

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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,

14 And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick (Matthew 14).

34 And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things (Mark 6).

11 And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spake unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing (Luke 9).

15 And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals.
16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat (Matthew 14).

12 And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place (Luke 9).

36 Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat (Mark 6).

he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?

37 He answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat?(Mark 6)

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?

17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.
18 He said, Bring them hither to me (Matthew 14).

38 He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes (Mark 6).

13 But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they said, We have no more but five loaves and two fishes; except we should go and buy meat for all this people (Luke 9).

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.

19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude (Matthew 14).

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.
41 And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all (Mark 6).

14 For they were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, Make them sit down by fifties in a company.
15 And they did so, and made them all sit down.
16 Then he took the five loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed them, and brake, and gave to the disciples to set before the multitude.
17 And they did eat, and were all filled: and there was taken up of fragments that remained to them twelve baskets (Luke 9:14 – 17).

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.

42 And they did all eat, and were filled.
43 And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes.
44 And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men.
45 And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people (Mark 6:42-44).

20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full.
21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children (Matthew 14:20-21).

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FOOTNOTE

{1} As an interesting contrast, men, women, and children were counted in 3 Nephi.

23 And he spake unto the multitude, and said unto them: Behold your little ones.
24 And as they looked to behold they cast their eyes towards heaven, and they saw the heavens open, and they saw angels descending out of heaven as it were in the midst of fire; and they came down and encircled those little ones about, and they were encircled about with fire; and the angels did minister unto them.
25 And the multitude did see and hear and bear record; and they know that their record is true for they all of them did see and hear, every man for himself; and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children (3 Nephi 17:23-25).

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