John 6:1-71 | A New Moses
by Lindsay Kennedy
Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand is one of the most familiar stories about Jesus. In fact, it is one of the few stories recorded in all four Gospels. Interestingly, Jesus’ walking on water follows each account. This tells us that each Gospel writer wants us to read these stories together. However, only in John’s version does Jesus get so controversial.
The Feeding of the 5,000
It is significant that Jesus’ feeding of the multitude took place near the Passover (John 6:4). This reference connects the story to the events of the Exodus, where Israel was redeemed from slavery to Egypt. The Exodus is the foundation story for Israel. While God had called Abraham and the twelve tribes came from Jacob, it wasn’t until the Exodus that Israel the nation was born. In that story, God delivered Israel through a series of judgments on Egypt, culminating in the Passover, where every firstborn was killed except for those whose household was covered with the blood of a lamb. When Pharaoh released and then pursued Israel, God split the waters and led them to the other side. The same waters that saved Israel crashed down on Egypt’s army and destroyed them. On the other side, Israel encounters God on a mountain (Sinai) where they receive his instruction for how to live. As Israel traveled through the wilderness to the promised land, the LORD miraculously provided them manna to eat. Before Israel enters the promised land, Moses promises another “prophet like me” will come (see Deut 18). Though Israel would have many prophets, and many of them shared similarities with Moses, no one prophet lived up to his name.
Many of these elements lie behind the story of John 6. As all minds were on the Passover, Jesus is followed by a crowd to a mountain, provides a miraculous supply of food, and shows mastery over the sea. It is no surprise that when people recognize Jesus’ miracle, they exclaim “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14). “The Prophet” is a reference to Deuteronomy 18, the very prediction that Moses made that another prophet of his stature would come.
This suggests that these miracles of Jesus are again “signs.” They communicate more than simply his power over nature (though they do prove that also!). They are symbolic actions, intending for us to recognize that Jesus is re-forming a people of God-worshippers, that can deliver from God’s wrath, and that Jesus is the true source of life.
Unlike the other Gospels that record the feeding and the walking on water and then move on to other stories, John—in his characteristic way—dwells on this story and records a series of interactions that result. John probes deep into this miracle and its implications.
As with the metaphors of wine at a wedding, being born (again), and water from a well, Jesus even says that the manna in the wilderness was a metaphor that he has come to transcend and fulfill (John 6:27). Just as the people of Israel were to trust God in eating the manna, the people of God are called to partake of Jesus. In this discussion with the crowd, Jesus says provocative things such as eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He does this to divide the true disciples from the false. Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the crowd resulted in them wanting to make him king, but his words to the crowd resulted in “many” leaving him (John 6:66). None of this surprises Jesus, who recognizes that only those whom the Father draws will hear his words and believe (John 6:65).
The story ends with him asking the Twelve if even they will leave.
As with the other stories in John, this is recorded so that we may believe. We are called to trust not in miraculous bread or manna, but in Jesus alone.