Setting

Following John’s death, the narrative cuts back to the excited apostles returning from their mission. However, they still had much to learn. In this passage, Jesus performed two great miracles, but they still did not understand His purpose.

Key Verse

(6:51-52)

Did You Know...?

1. “Sheep not having a shepherd” (6:34): Domesticated sheep suffer from a lack of initiative, and so are easily lost and injured. Without a shepherd, they are helpless. [ref]

2. Two hundred denarii/eight months wages (6:37): Not even that amount of money would buy enough bread for all to eat. [ref]

3. Loaves, fish (6:41): Staples in Galilee, especially for the poor. Jn 6:9,13 specifies barley loaves—the cheaper, coarser bread. [ref]

4. Baskets (6:43): A two-gallon basket (kophinos), different from the ones in Mk 8:8. It has a cord for a handle, used for carrying provisions on the back. [ref]

5. Five thousand (6:44): This does not include women and children, who were grouped separately for the meal, according to Jewish customs. [ref] The size of the crowd is amazing in light of the fact that the neighboring towns of Capernaum and Bethsaida had a population of only 2,000 to 3,000 each. [ref]

6. Bethsaida (6:45): Literally, “House of Fishing.” A city on the north coast of Galilee. Like Capernaum, it was a fishing town. [ref]

7. Fourth watch (6:48): 3:00 to 6:00 A.M.

8. Ghost (6:49): Jewish superstition held that the appearance of spirits during the night brought disaster. The disciples were terrified because they thought they were seeing a water spirit. [ref]

9. Gennesaret (6:53): Literally, “Garden of Riches.” [ref] A fertile plain, about four miles long and less than two miles wide, on the northwest side of Galilee. [ref]

Outline

  • Feeding Five Thousand
    (6:30-45)
  • After the disciples return, Jesus goes to a solitary place with them
    (6:30-32)
  • A crowd is waiting for them; Jesus teaches the crowd
    (6:33-34)
  • The crowd needs to eat
    (6:35-37)
  • Jesus feeds the crowd with five loaves and two fish
    (6:38-45)
  • Walking on Water
    (6:46-52)
  • Jesus alone on land
    (6:46-47)
  • Jesus walks past the disciples’ boat, which frightens them
    (6:48-49)
  • Jesus gets into the boat
    (6:50-52)
  • In Gennesaret, People Come to Be Healed
    (6:53-56)

Segment Analysis

  • 6:30-45

    1.

    Describe the apostles’ mood when they reported to Jesus. What had they done and taught?

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    They must have been excited over how much they could do (12-13). The more miracles they performed, the more confident they were in preaching that people should repent. The many people coming and going proved that people needed Jesus’ teaching and power. However, they still did not understand Jesus’ entire message; Mark tells us “their heart was hardened” (52).

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  • 2.

    Verse 31 says, “For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” How does this explain why Jesus said, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while”?

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    If verse 31 refers to while the apostles were out preaching, this shows how Jesus cared a lot about their wellbeing. Jesus acted like a loving father, taking them to get some rest after they had worked long and hard.

    If it refers to after the disciples had returned to Jesus, it implies that many people were following the apostles. This was the fruit of their labor, to bring many people to the Lord. However, it meant that once again Jesus did not have time to eat (cf. 3:20). He was just like His disciples. He also needed rest.

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  • 3a.

    Suppose you tried to get some rest, but people still come to you for help, how would you feel?

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  • 3b.

    What did the Lord do when the multitudes disrupted His rest? What can we learn from Him?

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    The Lord loved the people so much that He set aside His own needs to care for them. He was moved with compassion when He saw their desperation. He began to “teach them many things” (This takes much time and effort). Even after teaching the multitudes, He did not send them away (although that was what the disciples wanted Him to do). Instead, He made sure that they were also filled physically.

    It can be quite annoying when our rest is interrupted by others’ requests. But we can learn from the Lord’s selfless compassion and great patience. In Him we see an example of genuine and sacrificial love. We ought to also learn to place the needs of others above our own needs.

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  • 4a.

    On Chart B below, paraphrase the dialog between the disciples and Jesus (35-38).

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    What the Disciples Said:

    What Jesus Said:

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  • 4b.

    When you pray to God for help, do you suggest a solution to Him? Why or why not?

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  • 4c.

    The disciples thought Jesus was asking for the impossible when He said, “You give them something to eat” (37). Do you sometimes feel like God makes unreasonable demands of you?

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  • 4d.

    Jesus asked the disciples to count the number of loaves. Why did they also come back with two fish (38)?

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    They did what Jesus commanded (counting the loaves), but they also put in a little more effort and ingenuity. They did not insist that Jesus use the fish. They only showed Jesus what else they found, and let the Lord decide.

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  • 5.

    What does this miracle teach us about what to do when we ask for God’s help?

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    When we pray to God for help, often we have our own ideas on how to solve the problem. Sometimes God’s reply is unexpected, even unreasonable. His solution does not seem to help us at all. But Jesus tells us to “go and see” (38) what and how much we have. That’s how we show our faith. We put in everything we have, however little. Jesus puts in the rest. His power is made perfect in our weakness (2Cor 12:9). This principle is true for solving our earthly problems and for working out our salvation (Php 2:12).

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  • 6.

    Mark writes that the crowd was “like sheep not having a shepherd” (34), and that they sat down on the “green grass” (39). Compare this scene to Ps 23 and Jn 10:11-14.

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    Mark compares the crowd to sheep resting on green grass (Ps 23:2). Jesus taught them many things (34) to guide them in paths of righteousness (Ps 23:3). He fed them when they were hungry. Jesus the good shepherd took care of their every need, and they were content. Little did they know that Jesus would give up His life for them.

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  • 7.

    What did Jesus do after He fed the people? What does this teach us about our responsibilities?

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    Jesus stayed behind to dismiss the crowd. Before sending them away, He made sure they got what they needed (the people were satisfied and did not chase after Him again). Follow-up is important. The church must satisfy a person’s spiritual needs first and physical needs second. We can not ignore a person after he or she is baptized. At some point, everyone needs some words of concern and encouragement, no matter how long we have believed in Jesus Christ.

    A servant stays behind after everyone has left. There are many testimonies of church members who stay after service or come during off-hours to clean up the church premise.

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  • 8a.

    Notice how Jesus “immediately” “made” the disciples get into the boat and sent the multitude away Himself (45). Why such haste, and why did the disciples seem reluctant? (cf. Jn 6:15)

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    From the account in John, we understand that the crowd, having witnessed such a great miracle, intended to make Jesus king by force. This was a temptation for Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was able to discern the spiritual danger, but the disciples, who lusted for power and greatness, would easily fall for such a trap. In fact, the fact that Jesus had to “make” them get into the boat suggests that they were already basking in the crowd’s adulation.

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  • 8b.

    What is the lesson for us today?

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    As soon as we have completed some works of service, we need to withdraw from people’s admiration and praises. This is especially necessary when God has just manifested His great power through us. Resist the temptation of enjoying popularity as a result of our service and quickly find time to be with God alone to prepare for the next task that God has in store for you.

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  • 6:46-52

    9.

    How long had the disciples been in the boat before Jesus went out to them?

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    After supper, Jesus had sent the disciples to Bethsaida. “When evening came” (47), He saw them straining at rowing (it’s amazing that Jesus saw them in the middle of the lake while He was still on land). Jesus waited a while longer, until at least 3:00 A.M. (cf. Did You Know 8), before going out to them. It was quite a few hours, depending on how long Jesus had been praying on the mountainside.

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  • 10.

    When the disciples were terrified, Jesus immediately revealed Himself (50). How does Jesus make Himself known to you when you are afraid?

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  • 11.

    How is this incident different from what happened in Mk 4:35-41?

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    Jesus calmly walked on water through the strong wind. Also, the wind died down without Jesus’ rebuke. If the storm was again the devil’s work, it seems to have weakened compared to the last time. Although the disciples were straining against the wind, they were no longer terrified of the storm. However, their superstition overshadowed their faith in Jesus; they were terrified when they mistook Jesus for a ghost.

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  • 12.

    Explain verse 52. What do the loaves have to do with the disciples’ amazement? How is “their hearts were hardened” an explanation to their amazement?

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    The disciples did not recognize that the miracle of the loaves was unlike any of the previous miracles. Jesus repeatedly confirmed his divine nature through His teachings and miracles, but their hearts were hardened. They had not “considered” (KJV) nor “understood” (NKJV). They were surprised that Jesus could walk on water, as if it was the first time Jesus did something beyond their imagination. Their fear and amazement is similar to that of the women who could not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead (cf. 16:5, 8).

    To be “awed” and to be “surprised” are quite different reactions. We limited human beings will never cease to be awed by what God can do. However, if we are ever surprised, that means we have underestimated His power. Nothing is too difficult or marvelous for the Almighty God (Gen 18:13-14; Jer 32:27; Zech 8:6).

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  • 6:53-56

    13.

    Compare the people’s reaction when they recognized Jesus (54) to the Nazarenes’ reaction (6:3).

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    The people of Gennesaret recognized that Jesus was their Savior. They “ran” (55) and “begged” (56) Jesus to help them. They followed Jesus wherever He went. Because of their faith, “as many as touched him were made well” (56). In contrast, the Nazarenes treated Jesus with contempt and even tried to throw Him down a cliff (cf. Lk 4:29).

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  • 14.

    Compare 2:3-4 and 5:27-29 to 6:55-56. What does the similarity of these events teach us?

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    Like the men who carried a paralytic on a mat (2:3), the people of Gennesaret also overcame physical inconveniences and carried the sick on mats to Jesus (6:55). Like the woman who suffered from bleeding (5:28), they also believed that they would be healed just by touching Jesus’ cloak (6:56).

    The people of Gennesaret might have been following the examples of others who have been healed by Jesus. Whether from testimonies or from Bible stories, we learn from other people’s experience and teachings (Heb 6:12; 13:7). We see how they received God’s grace and follow their examples. And when we experience God’s grace (Jn 4:42), we will have our own experience to share with others.

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