John's Gospel-a new look, number 7: The feeding of the 5000 and the Bread of Life
The feeding of the 5000, the only miracle recorded in all four Gospels
John's Gospel -A New Look. Number 7: Chapter 6
While John continues to choose events in the life of Jesus to fulfil his stated aim and method ; "these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and by believing this you may have life...." (John 20:31), this miracle of the feeding of the 5000 men is the only one recorded in all four Gospels.
This shows how important it was. There are several reasons why it possibly was so important then, and still is today. Here Jesus is testing the reaction of his disciples, He is reaching the height of his popularity, it is spectacular in its scope, and it is followed by very important teaching. This teaching was so radical and controversial that many decided to leave him as them believed his language was so difficult and outrageous. They complained, "how can anyone accept it?" (6:60)
This then led to Jesus asking his 12 disciples; "Will you leave me also?" to which Simon Peter replied; "Who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe...." This is vitally important as John develops his theme and purpose.
The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 men, and possibly many more as the custom was to count only the men is such a situation, is dramatic and important. Firstly it shows the obvious power of Jesus to provide much out of little. It also shows that people are easily impressed by what they receive and their reaction is to immediately make him their king. Imagine someone who could so easily give them the food that they often battled to get themselves. He had already promised the woman at the well a source of living water and now he showed dramatically that bread was also a possibility. The end of hunger and hard work. It sounded too good to be true. But Jesus quickly dispensed with their false hopes.
The teaching about Jesus as the bread of life is indeed radical and controversial. It has its roots back in the Old Testament where God provided his people with manna as Jesus says when he introduces the topic. (vs.31) Jesus then claims to be the true bread that comes from heaven. Here is another of the "I am" claims that drove the religious leaders crazy. They, after all, believed that they had the words of life as they taught the Old Testament and their often perverted view of it. Now this man with his obvious superior powers claimed to not only have the bread of life, but to be it. "For this is the will of the Father that everyone who sees the Son and believes on him will have eternal life" (vs.40) "I am" was the name for God and so Jesus, in claiming that name, was also clearly and unequivocally claiming to be divine.(vs.51)
Then to cap all this Jesus speaks about the need to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man. (vs.53) This will bring life to those who will then "abide in him and he in them" (vs.56) It is later as he speaks to his disciples at the Last Supper that they perhaps begin to understand what he means when he says after passing the bread out, "Take eat, this is my body" and after doing the same with the wine he says "Drink it all of you, for this is my blood which seals God's new covenant, my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sin...." (Matthew 26:26-29).
To the people in that time life was in the blood just as we understand it today. Also to fully participate in the sacrifices made in the temple in Jerusalem every year the worshippers ate the animals that they brought, but only after the blood had been poured out on the altar by the priests. To the people on the grass banks next to the Lake of Galilee these were indeed strange words and impossible to comprehend at this time, so many left. To the twelve the realization was dawning, even if they did not at this stage understand everything, that Jesus indeed had the words of life.(vs.68) This would only to be fully understood after the death on the cross, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Then they would realize that Jesus was the "Lamb of God" who died for our sins and gives us life. This is the central theme of the "Good News" that they would take out to a lost world and that we also have to share today.