The Great Compassion of Jesus.

John writes more than thirty years after the other gospel writers with the purpose of revealing Jesus Christ as the Son of God so that all would believe in Him and have life through His name. The feeding of the 5000 is considered the last miracle of Jesus’s Galilean ministry. About a year has passed between John chapters 5 and 6, and Jesus is about a year from His death on the cross at the beginning of chapter 6. Jesus has already been rejected in Judea, while others plot to take His life. The religious unbelief of Jerusalem has formally rejected the very purpose for which Jesus has come. With great compassion, Jesus continues to perform miracles so that people will believe that He is God and have life through His name. By the end of chapter 6, He is fully rejected by Galilee.

The miracle described in John 6:1-14 is one of the most famous of all of Jesus’s miracles and is the only miracle explained in all four gospels. This miracle was performed among the most people, an estimated 25,000. At this point in time, Jesus is at the zenith of His public ministry. Different kinds of miracles were performed by Jesus: transformative (the nobleman’s son), reconstructive (the lame man of 38 years), and creative (water to wine, and the feeding of the 5,000). The miracle described in John 6 helps us understand what kind of God and Messiah Jesus is, one truly concerned about the physical needs of His people. Even knowing these people were going to soon scorn and reject Him, Jesus recognized them for what they were, sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34), and He demonstrated His goodness to them.

Jesus, the Passover Lamb

John 6:1-2 tells of Jesus going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while being followed by many people desiring to be healed or see His miracles. After having been given the news that John the Baptist had been beheaded, Jesus went up into a mountain with His disciples (John 6:3) to mourn, rest, and recover. John 6:4 mentions the Passover being close, indicating it is the spring of the year. This is the second of three times which John mentions the Passover, the final time being the week of Jesus’s death.

Celebrating the Passover reminds the Jews of their freedom from slavery and the miraculous exodus from Egypt granted by God. The Passover celebration always included the slaughter of a lamb. John writes that Jesus is the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). At the first mention of the Passover in John 2:13-25, Jesus refers to Himself as the temple which would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days. This second reference to the Passover, coupled with the feeding of the 5,000, is a precursor to the Bread of Life discourse. Jesus is the sufficient spiritual bread mankind needs for the salvation of our souls. Now Jesus has come to be the Passover Lamb, to lead them out of the bondage of their sin and to be spiritual nourishment for their souls that they might know true life, more abundant and free.

Jesus, the Provider

Jesus sees the crowds (John 6:5) and has compassion on them (Matt. 14:14). It is evening, and the people are hungry. Jesus asks Philip and the other disciples how the people are going to be fed, already knowing how it would be accomplished. The names of the disciples mentioned in John’s account are not mentioned by the other gospel writers' accounts of this miracle. These names mentioned were among the first of Jesus’s disciples who would have been present with Him at His first creative miracle at the wedding in Cana. Perhaps He wanted them to be prepared to lead the other disciples in seeing Jesus do another creative act that only the omnipotent Creator could do.

In his humanity, Philip fails to see Jesus as Provider or to remember the water turned to wine. He responds to Jesus with numbers (John 6:7). The disciples want Jesus to send the people away because they do not have the money or food. However, Andrew finds a boy with five loaves and two fish (John 6:9). After seating the people in groups, Jesus gives thanks for the food (John 6:10-11). This reminds all of us to be thankful for what we have even if it does not seem like enough. The disciples did not believe they had enough to meet the needs of that crowd, yet Jesus still gives thanks to the Father for what He would do. When the last pinch of bread and fish had been broken off, more continued to form in the hands of Jesus out of nothing. This crowd of people is overwhelmed with His omnipotence, enraptured by what He is doing, experiencing this miracle with all their senses.

Jesus, Compassion, and Goodness

It is the goodness of the Lord that brings people to repentance. All that we have is given to direct our eyes and ears to the good news of Jesus, the Son of God, so that we might believe. We see in John 6:12 how Jesus in His goodness gave more than what was needed. The dispersing crowd was stuffed. The grammar of the text says the people leaving were full to overflowing, so much so that they did not even want the leftovers. Jesus had His disciples gather what remains, and all four gospels tell us there were twelve baskets full.

Good and compassionate, Jesus spent Himself teaching these people the gospel. If they would believe in Him, the bread of life, there would be plenty of Him to go around to save each one, full to overflowing. Jesus gave to them the greatest of His creative miracles to demonstrate again that He is the Giver of every good thing, and often, the Giver of much more than we need. Jesus is more than enough to care for us spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

The feeding of the 5,000 is an influential, seismic miracle. By God’s mercy, all the people admitted intellectually that Jesus was the divine Messiah (John 6:14-15). The people recognized Him as Messiah God because He was providing for the needs of His people. However, they failed to see Him as Savior God. They wanted Him to be Messiah God, the King who would deliver them from foreign bondage. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus withdrew from the crowds quickly, for His time had not yet come (John 6:15).

In this passage of John, Jesus asks His disciples to feed the people. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus says to be perfect as He is perfect. He asks us to do the impossible because we cannot. He asks us to do the impossible so we will realize that it takes the grace of God to enable us to fully trust in Him. Only He can save. Only He can provide. Jesus often asks the impossible of us to demonstrate what is only possible through Him. God provides so that we would believe.

Application Points

  • Has the goodness of God brought you to the place where you need Him? The goodness of God is designed to point you to your need for Jesus Christ.
  • Do you pray with the assurance that God will meet your needs?
  • Do you trust God for your emotional strength and stability?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • Psalm 42, 43 – Emotional Strength in God
  • Matthew 4:12-15:20, Mark 1:14-7:23, Luke 4:14-9:17 – Jesus’s Galilean Ministry