Chapter six records the only miracle (except the resurrection itself) that appears in all four gospels – the feeding of five thousand men – yet it was only John who gave us the great follow-up teaching. The miracle itself adds no detail not found elsewhere: a multitude of probably 10,000 – 20,000 people stayed with Jesus all day, being healed and listening to his message; Jesus multiplied “five barley loaves and two fish” to feed them all to satisfaction; and there were twelve full baskets of leftovers (John 6:1-15). After the meal the people attempted to make Jesus their king by force. John also recorded the follow-up miracle (John 6:16-24). Having sent the people away and the disciples back across the lake, Jesus prayed for a while, then walked across the violent sea, met the disciples, calmed the storm, and miraculously transported the boat to the other side. 1
It is at this point that John’s record alone includes a major discourse (John 6:25-58), including his first of seven “I am” declarations – “I am the bread of life.” Jesus’ teaching was his direct response to the crowd’s question when they found him: “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” Jesus’ simple response was, “Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29). Rather than responding in belief, they immediately asked for more signs (it was breakfast time, after all), which Jesus refused. Instead, as with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, he changed the topic from physical bread to spiritual nourishment, which was available only through himself.
Their first negative reaction came from their own experience; they knew his family and background (John 6:41-42). Although the previous day they had wondered if he was “the Prophet” (John 6:14), now they demonstrated they were not interested in his word from God; they just wanted to be fed. Their second negative reaction came from their unbelief; they could not differentiate the spiritual from the physical, so Jesus’ requirement to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” (John 6:53) was nonsensical and abhorrent to them. Jesus clarified that what he had said was spiritual, but they would not believe (John 6:63). In what is probably the worst verse in the entire Bible, “Many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer” (John 6:66).
The chapter ends with Jesus challenging the twelve apostles directly on whether or not they would leave as well. Peter’s response should be the believer’s mantra, no matter what we face in this life: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
- John did not record Peter walking on the water, but neither Matthew nor Mark mentioned that the boat “immediately…came to the land where they had been heading” (John 6:21), only that they got there. ↩