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Bible: What Does John 6:1-40 Teach Us About Miracles, Divine Sovereignty, and Human Responsibility?

Updated on June 2, 2016

The Apostle John


Feeding Thousands


John 6

Jesus healed the impotent man and disputed with Jerusalem Jews in chapter five; in chapter six, He feeds five thousand men (plus unnumbered women and children) in Galilee by the Sea of Tiberias (vv. 1-14).

A great multitude has assembled on “the mountain” to see the great Miracle Worker with His disciples (vv. 2-3); again, in his gospel, the Apostle John purposed to present Jesus’ “signs,” of which this wondrous provision is the third.

[The commentary about this miracle in the Synoptic Gospels contains the same details, so this section in John will be brief. (See Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17).]

None of the other gospel writers indicates that another Passover approached (v. 4).

[During which year of His ministry did this work take place?

He had just attended a Passover in chapter five, and John records another one in chapter two.]

Of the four gospels, only John mentions that the five loaves and two fish came from a lad’s lunch (v. 9).

Finally, John alone includes the apostles’ testimony after seeing this sign; nowhere else do they (or anyone else) refer to Jesus as “the Prophet who is to come into the world” (v. 14; cf. Deut. 18:15ff).

The Samaritans had earlier called Him “the Christ, the Savior of the world” (4:42).

No apparent supernatural knowledge tells Him that the people are planning to force Him to lead a violent overthrow of Rome; an acute sense of the tendencies of human nature to take the expeditious way is enough for Him to know that He must get away alone to the mountain (v. 15).

Walking on the Water


Apparently the disciples decide not to go across the Sea toward Capernaum until evening, even though both Matthew and Mark record that Jesus had strongly urged them to leave earlier (vv. 16-17; cf. Mt. 14:22, 23b-24; Mk. 6:45-47).

Verse 21 adds an angle that Matthew and Mark omit. The disciples “willingly receive” Him into the boat; as soon as He enters their vessel, they arrive at their destination, having completed the test.

John returns to an earlier pattern of recording the events of successive days (v. 22; cf. 1:29, 35, 43).

The “people” who lived near Tiberias find that Jesus and His disciples are not “there”; thus, they sail across the lake to find the Lord (v. 24).

When they locate Him, they are at a loss to explain “when” (not how) Jesus came to be in Capernaum (for He did not leave with His disciples in the only boat on their shore) [vv. 22, 25].

[John’s explanation may indicate why the people did not wonder how Christ got across the water.

They may have surmised that He “hitched a ride” on one of the boats from Tiberias (v. 23).]

Christ does not waste time answering an irrelevant question—one that might have invited more doubt if He had told them the truth.

Instead, He expounds upon their reason for seeking Him: He can fill their stomachs.

Despite having seen His “signs,” they still have no spiritual understanding (v. 26).

God, Moses and Manna


Jesus: The True Bread From Heaven

Jesus instructs them not to be materialistic. Yes, they should work, but not just to put food on the table (v. 27a).

They should serve the Son of Man (on whose behalf the Father has testified and certified as authentic) who will give them "food which will endure to everlasting life” (v. 27).

In response to their question about what deed they must do to “work the works of God,” Jesus states clearly that the only thing that they need to do in order to do God’s work is to believe (that is, put their faith) in the Father (God) through the Son (Christ) (vv. 28-29).

At this point, they ask Him to perform a sign or a work that would make them believe; in other words, they expect a miracle similar to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness for the nation Israel (vv. 30-31).

Jesus first corrects their belief that Moses gave their fathers bread from heaven; they did not say “Moses” but must have implied as much, or He would not have made this point.

God gave manna to the Israelites, but “My Father” gives the Jews “the true bread from heaven” (v. 32).

Christ identifies Himself as this “bread of God” who gives life not only to the Jews, but also to the world of men (v. 33).

Earlier, He promised to give the Samaritan woman “living water” (4:10, 15); now, upon the “disciples’ ” request, He offers Himself to them as “the bread of life” (vv. 34-35a).

He combines both metaphors at the end of verse 35, claiming to be Someone who will satisfy forever mankind’s spiritual hunger and thirst, and links their “coming” and “believing” as "synonymously parallel" terms.

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

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Unbelief and Belief

His audience, however, is comprised of people who remain in unbelief despite having “seen” the Son in person (v. 36).

[Later in this gospel, Jesus tells Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (14:9; cf. 5:37).]

Verse 37 links the Father’s sovereign choice of a certain number who will certainly come to Christ with the elect’s responsibility to go to Him for salvation; Jesus will not reject someone who truly believes in Him.

The chart below shows the "economic" relationship between the Father and the Son in the salvation of people (vv. 37-40, 44).

The Father
The Son
The Father gives the Son the souls of people (37).
Individuals who come to the Son He will not reject.
The Father has sent the Son from heaven to do His will (38).
The Son has come down from heaven, not to do His own will.
The Father wills that the Son loses no one (39).
The Son will lose none; He will resurrect them all at the last day.
The Father wills that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life (40).
The Son will resurrect them all at the last day.
The Father “draws” people to the Son (44).
The Son will resurrect them all at the last day.

© 2014 glynch1


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    • glynch1 profile image

      glynch1 3 years ago

      Thanks for your encouragement.

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 3 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Another good explanation - liked the table.