David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
John 6:1-71 - THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN
A. Preparation for the miracle.
1. (John 6:1-4) A crowd gathers to Jesus near the Sea of Galilee.
After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near.
a. Then a great multitude followed Him: In this miracle, Jesus went out to a deserted place to be alone (Luke 9:10), yet the crowds followed Him there. In spite of this imposition, Jesus still ministered to the multitude with great compassion.
b. They saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased: Luke 9:11 tells us that Jesus also taught this multitude, something that John doesn’t specifically mention.
c. The Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near: John is the only one of the four gospel writers (all four describe this miracle) who tells us this took place near the time of the Passover. Perhaps this great multitude was made up of Galilean pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem.
i. Passover is associated with the Exodus and God’s sustenance of Israel in the wilderness. Jesus will sustain this multitude in their small “wilderness” with bread from heaven - both literally and spiritually.
2. (John 6:5-7) Jesus asks Philip a question.
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.”
a. Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat? Why did Jesus ask Philip this question? Maybe because he was from Bethsaida (John 1:44) and this is near where this miracle took place (Luke 9:10).
b. He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do: Jesus also lets His followers participate in the work of the Kingdom, even when He has things planned out.
c. Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient: Their problem is in two parts. First, they don’t have the resources to feed the multitude. Second, even if they did have the money it would be impossible to purchase enough bread to feed them all.
d. Philip’s knowledge of the situation was accurate and impressive (two hundred denarii is more than six month’s wages), but his knowledge was useless in getting the problem solved.
i. Philip thought in terms of money; and how much money it would take to carry out God’s work in a small way (every one of them may have a little). We often limit God the same way, looking for how God’s work can be done in the smallest way.
3. (John 6:8-9) Andrew’s help.
One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?”
a. Five barley loaves: Barley was always regarded as simple fare, more often fit for animals than for men. In the Talmud, there is a passage where one man says, “There is a fine crop of barley” and another man answers, “Tell it to the horses and donkeys.”
b. What are they among so many? There isn’t much to work with here, but God doesn’t need much. “Small things are not always contemptible. It all depends on the hands in which they are.” (Taylor)
i. In fact, God doesn’t need any help - but He often deliberately restrains His work until He has our participation.
B. The five thousand are fed.
1. (John 6:10) Jesus commands the group to sit down.
Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
a. Make the people sit down: Jesus here takes authority as the Lord; as a loving shepherd, He makes His “sheep” to lie down on green pastures. He fulfills Psalms 23:1-2 : The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
b. The men sat down, in number about five thousand: Jesus administered everything in an orderly way. Creation shows us that God is a God of order and organization.
2. (John 6:11) The five thousand are fed.
And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted.
a. Jesus took the loaves . . . He distributed them to the disciples: The miracle resided in the hands of Jesus, not in the distribution. Little is much in His hands.
b. Bread comes from grain, which has the power of multiplication and reproduction within itself. But when it is made into bread, the grain is crushed, making it “dead” - no one ever multiplied wheat by planting flour. But Jesus can bring life from death.
3. (John 6:12-13) Gathering up the fragments of the feast.
So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.
a. Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost: The disciples gathered the leftovers at the command of Jesus. Jesus is generous, but not wasteful.
b. Should the disciples have anticipated what Jesus could do, or should do in this situation? There was enough evidence both in the Old Testament and in what Jesus had already done to give them a confident expectation of what Jesus would do here.
i. Old Testament passages warn against doubting God’s provision: Yes, they spoke against God: They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?” (Psalms 78:19) 2 Kings 4:38-44 is an example of God multiplying barley loaves, though this is on a much greater scale.
ii. Yet, Jesus used His disciples even though they did not understand - they got to participate in the miracle.
iii. Jesus demonstrated to them the giving character of God - the same character God desires to build within us. Proverbs 11:24 says, There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. This bread was multiplied as it was “scattered.”
C. The reaction to the miracle.
1. (John 6:14) Jesus as the Prophet predicted by Moses.
Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
a. Truly this is the Prophet: The Prophet they expected was predicted by Moses: The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear. (Deuteronomy 18:15)
b. When they had seen the sign that Jesus did: The way Jesus provided bread in the wilderness reminded those men of Moses in the wilderness, and his promise of a coming Prophet. It is true that Moses provided bread in the wilderness; so does Jesus. But Jesus goes on to explain that He is far more than a new Moses.
2. (John 6:15) The people attempt to make Jesus their earthly king.
Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.
a. They were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king: This miracle really impressed the crowd and fueled their revolutionary hopes. But Jesus refused to further His kingdom this way. Instead, He departed again to a mountain by Himself alone. Jesus was more interested in being with His Father in heaven than in hearing the applause of the crowd.
b. They wanted to make Jesus king because they thought He was the Messiah they wanted. The Jews expected that when the Messiah came, He would renew the giving of manna. This crowd was willing to support Jesus so long as He gave them what they wanted - bread.
c. Make Him king: This was a political title. The crowd was willing to support Jesus because they wanted to use Him to throw off the yoke of Roman oppression.
D. Jesus walks on the water.
1. (John 6:16-17) The disciples go out on the Sea of Galilee.
Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.
a. His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat: Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus made His disciples get into the boat (Mark 6:45). He knew exactly what He was doing when He put them into this boat on the Sea of Galilee at this time.
b. It was already dark: Several of the disciples were fishermen, all accustomed to fishing on this very lake. It didn’t bother them at all that they would be rowing across the lake at night
2. (John 6:18) The wind disrupts their efforts to cross the Sea.
Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing.
a. Then the sea arose: The wind alone was bad enough, but the wind also whipped up the waters, making for troublesome seas.
b. In the first storm (Matthew 8:24), Jesus was present with them in the boat. But in this storm, He asks them to trust his unseen care and concern for them.
c. In Mark 6:48 we read that Jesus watched the disciples as they rowed across the lake. His eye was on them all the time.
3. (John 6:19) Jesus comes to His disciples, walking on the water.
So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid.
a. When they had rowed about three or four miles: We don’t sense the same fear in the disciples as with the first time Jesus calmed the seas. Here they seem simply frustrated, because they are doing what Jesus told them to do, but it is so hard, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
b. Their frustration is evident in their lack of progress. Matthew 14:25 tells us that this happened in the fourth watch of the night, sometime between three and six in the morning. So, they rowed hard for perhaps six to eight hours, and had only come a little more than half way across the lake (three or four miles).
i. We so often feel that when we are doing the work of Jesus, it should be easy. After all, isn’t God helping us? But sometimes, God tells us to do something and allows it to be hard as we do it.
c. They saw Jesus walking on the sea . . . and they were afraid: Mark 6:49-50 tells us the disciples were afraid because they thought Jesus, walking on the water, was a ghost or a spirit.
d. If anything, the disciples were not ready for any kind of supernatural help. The knew what Jesus commanded them to do, they set out to do it, but without any help from the Lord. So they are surprised, even afraid, to see supernatural help on the way.
i. This is a perfect picture of us when we try to do God’s will, but do it our way without seeking and relying on God’s help.
e. Jesus provided reminders for them of His supernatural help. Undoubtedly, they took with them at least some of the twelve baskets of leftover bread (John 6:13), yet they were still shocked when the supernatural help came.
4. (John 6:20) The calming words of Jesus.
But He said to them, “It is I do not be afraid.”
a. It is I do not be afraid: For Jesus, it was enough to announce His presence. He came to bring supernatural help and comfort to His people.
i. Jesus wouldn’t turn a stone into bread to satisfy His own hunger, but he would multiply loaves and fishes to feed a hungry multitude. Jesus wouldn’t cast Himself off the pinnacle of the temple to glorify Himself, but he would walk on the water to bring comfort to His disciples.
b. God’s presence is all that we need, and we should expect it, though not in a way that we would necessarily expect.
c. We know from Matthew that after this, Peter asked Jesus if he could come out and walk on the water.
5. (John 6:21) Jesus brings them to their destination.
Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.
a. Immediately the boat was at the land where they were going: Jesus, bringing His supernatural help, was able to miraculously overcome every obstacle that frustrated the disciples.
b. Jesus rescues the disciples from futility. Jesus wants us to work hard; but He never wants us to work in futility. On this occasion He came to rescue the disciples from futility, not from fear.
i. The disciples were in this uncomfortable place because Jesus told them to cross the lake. We will face trials when we set out to do what Jesus tells us to do. Jesus knows this. He understands it. We should never be deceived into thinking that if we were really right with God, everything in life would be easy.
ii. All the time the disciples struggled, Jesus watched over them. He watches over us at all times, and prays for us even when He seems distant. Jesus knew exactly what was going on, and He was monitoring their progress across the lake. He saw them straining at rowing, yet let them work at it for a good long time.
c. In this miracle, Jesus reassured us at the precise point where they needed to be reassured. The disciples had just seen Jesus turn down an offer to be king; they might have thought that this was why He came and why they were following Him!
i. Despite that disappointment, Jesus came to them full of majesty and power, reminding them that He is still quite in charge even though He won’t receive a king’s throne based on popular opinion.
E. Jesus, the bread of life.
1. (John 6:22-27) Jesus responds to their first question: Rabbi, when did You come here?
On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone; however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks; when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
a. You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled: They asked Jesus why He came, but Jesus didn’t answer that question. Instead, He tells them why they came - because they wanted more “wonder bread” from Jesus.
i. They admired Jesus only because of what He gave them materially. They were not moved by full hearts, but by full - or empty - stomachs.
b. God the Father has set His seal on Him: A seal was a mark of ownership and a guarantee of the contents. They should have confidence in Jesus because God the Father has “guaranteed” Him.
2. (John 6:28-29) Jesus answers their second question: What shall we do, that we may work the works of God.
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
a. What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Those who questioned Jesus seemed sure that if only Jesus told them what to do, they could please God by their works of God. For these people, as with many people today, salvation is found in the right formula for performing works that will please God.
b. This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent: Jesus first and foremost commands us not to do, but to trust. If we want to do the work of God, it begins with trusting Jesus.
i. How would you feel about a child that obeyed you perfectly but did not trust or love you? God wants our obedience to Him to grow out of a relationship of loving trust.
c. If the work God wants us to do is to believe in Him whom He sent, does it mean that God is unconcerned about what we do for Him? No, faith is not a substitute for works. Faith is the foundation for works that really please God.
3. (John 6:30-33) Jesus answers their third question: What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do?
Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
a. Our fathers ate the manna in the desert: Jesus’ questioners are trying to manipulate Him into providing daily bread for them, just as Israel had from God during the Exodus. They even know how to quote Scripture (“He gave them bread from heaven to eat”, Psalms 105:40).
b. My Father gives you the true bread from heaven: It is as if Jesus is saying, “What other work will I do? This is the work: to give you the word of God and salvation in and through Me. This is the spiritual bread you must feast on to have life.”
c. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven: Jesus is trying to lift their minds above earthly things on to heavenly realities - to an understanding that He is needed for spiritual sustenance, just as bread is necessary for physical survival.
4. (John 6:34-40) Jesus answers their fourth request: Lord, give us this bread always.
Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
a. Give us this bread always: When we are hungry, we feel as though food will answer all our problems. It’s the same way with almost all other practical difficulties we find ourselves in. Just as Jesus tried to lift their understanding above their material, physical needs, so we need to have our minds lifted.
b. I am the bread of life: In Jesus’ answer, He tries to lift up their eyes from bread and on to spiritual realities. They need to put their confidence in Jesus instead of in bread.
c. Jesus is worthy of their confidence, because:
o He perfectly satisfies our spiritual hunger (He who comes to Me shall never hunger)
o He receives all who come to Him (All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out)
o He isn’t interested in His own agenda, but His Father’s (not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me)
o He will keep those who come to Him safe (all He has given Me I should lose nothing)
o The destiny of those who believe in Him is eternal life (everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life)
5. (John 6:41-46) Jesus explains why they reject Him.
The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.”
a. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him: The Jews thought that they were all chosen by God by virtue of their old birth. Jesus makes it clear that God must draw them before they can come to God. Everyone who responds to the Father will respond to the Son.
b. We like to feel as though we are in charge and that we give ourselves to God. In truth, He calls and we come. This understanding of God’s initiative in salvation should makes us more confident in evangelism, knowing that God is drawing people, and we can expect to see those whom the Father draws come to Him.
6. (John 6:47-59) The true bread from heaven.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.
a. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever: Jesus spoke in a figure of speech. The metaphor of eating and drinking was common in Jesus’ day, and pointed to a taking within one’s innermost being.
i. Some have taken these words more literally, and applied them to communion. From this, the Eastern Orthodox practices the custom of infant communion. They believe infants will not be saved unless they partake in communion.
b. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead: The spiritual bread Jesus offers is even greater than the manna Israel ate in the wilderness, because “eating” the bread from heaven Jesus offers brings eternal life.
c. He who eats this bread will live forever: Jesus offers us heavenly bread for eternal life, but we must eat it. Faith in Jesus is not compared with tasting or admiring, but with eating. We must dig in! Jesus says that we must have Him within us, and we must partake of Him.
i. Seeing a loaf of bread on a plate will not satisfy our hunger. Knowing the ingredients in the bread will not satisfy our hunger. Taking pictures of the bread will not satisfy our hunger. Telling other people about the bread will not satisfy our hunger. Selling the bread will not satisfy our hunger. Playing catch with the bread will not satisfy our hunger. Nothing will satisfy our hunger and bring us life except actually eating the bread. He who eats this bread will live forever.
7. (John 6:60-66) Many disciples turn away.
Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
a. This is a hard saying: This refers to that which is hard to accept, not to what is hard to understand. No doubt, they did find Jesus’ words somewhat mysterious, but it was the parts they did understand that were really disturbing.
i. Jesus was demanding a complete allegiance to Him, and demanding that everything else - including literal bread - be put in second place.
b. Does this offend you? Jesus didn’t preach just to please His audience. If that was His concern, He would have instantly taken back what was just said, seeing His audience was offended. Jesus didn’t take it back. He challenged and confronted them even more.
c. What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? Jesus is saying, “If all this has offended you, what will you think when you see Me in glory, and have to answer to Me in judgment?” Better to be offended now and to get over it, than to be offended then.
d. It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing: This could well be the “theme statement” for this whole discourse of Jesus. He continually calls us to put our heart and focus, on spiritual realities, not fleshly things.
e. Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father: Jesus rebuked their own, carnal, fleshly motivation in following Him. If they do not seek Him by the Spirit instead of seeking Him as a walking bakery, then they have not come to Him at all.
i. Of those who come to God in the flesh, as these came to Jesus, it can be said that they do not come to God at all. Instead, they are coming to a false god, a “gimmie” god. They do not come as it has been granted to him by My Father.
f. From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more: Once Jesus effectively discouraged every fleshly motive for following Him, many stopped following.
i. If we could do the same thing - effectively discourage every fleshly motive for following Jesus - how many would stop following Him in our churches today?
ii. Instead, many churches encourage people to follow Jesus for fleshly motives, promoting Jesus as a “product” to “fix” our life - just like bread will fix your hunger. But those who come to Jesus under such a sales and marketing approach will either come to God in Spirit and in truth, or it will be revealed that it was never been granted to him by My Father to follow after Jesus.
8. (John 6:67-71) The disciples stand as examples of willingness to follow even if they don’t understand it all.
Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.
a. Do you also want to go away? What a scene! Scores of disciples after the flesh leave Jesus, and He asks the twelve if they will go also. He searches the motives of all that follow Him, including the twelve.
b. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life: Peter does much in the gospels to make us sigh; but here, as he speaks for the twelve, he shines brightly. His focus is where it should be - that Jesus has the words of eternal life, not “You have the bread that fills our stomachs.”
i. If we have not come to the place where we look to God and say, “Where else would I go?” even in hard or confusing times, then we have not come very far with Jesus.
ii. It also reminds us that following Jesus, though at times hard, is preferred above every alternative. Following Jesus is the hardest way to live - except for all the others.
c. He spoke of Judas: The simple, spiritual devotion of the disciples to Jesus makes Judas’ apostasy that much more horrible.
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