The meaning of the feeding
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35, NIV)
Starting with just five small loaves and two small fish, Jesus fed five thousand. It was a miracle of creation on a grand scale, carefully recorded in all four gospels.
But what does it mean for us?
This is the part we find harder. We cast about with suggestions, such as that it’s a model of generosity. The trouble is that none of us has the power to be generous like that!
But John’s Gospel has the answer, because most of chapter 6 is taken up with teaching which clearly explains the significance of what He’s just done.
1. It is a pointer to Who Jesus is. “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world”, says the crowd (verse 14). Quite naturally, having seen something so astonishing, they find themselves discussing who this person is who has done this. Centuries before, God had promised to raise up another prophet like Moses - and now, here He is! But of course John’s gospel takes us further, as John presents a case (using law-court words like witness, testimony and evidence) that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (20:31). Here is part of the case for Christ.
2. This particular miracle is about the new life that Jesus brings. “I am the bread of life”, He says (verse 35). He promises eternal life: a covenant relationship with God that meets our very deepest needs. Just as Moses had given food (manna) which sustained life, He gives food that sustains life - but this time, not just for a while, but for ever (verses 48-51). He claims to be able to give us everlasting life. This would sound far-fetched, but for what He’s just done. The miraculous feeding of the five thousand means that we must take seriously His claim to be able to give us eternal life.
3. His giving of the bread also points to the way Jesus brings us this new life. "This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (verse 51). At the time, this must have puzzled His hearers greatly. Looking back, though, we know that He was anticipating His self-giving death on the cross, where He bore the penalty for our sins, that all who trust in Him might be freely forgiven. The giving of the bread on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee in that Passover season anticipated the self-giving of the Son of God Himself on the first Good Friday, the bread that came down from heaven.
4. The feeding of the five thousand also points to how we can have all this for ourselves. Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (verse 53). These startling words pick up the point of food: it is to be eaten! In just the same way, we are to receive Jesus into our lives. Many people admire Him from a distance, but what He calls for is this personal response of receiving Him as Saviour and Lord. He makes this point very emphatically, with considerable repetition (verses 54-57), presumably because He wants us to be in no doubt about what we are to do! The Christian life is one of continued feeding on Christ, depending on Him.
So here’s the meaning of the feeding. Like the other miracles in John, here is a “sign”, a pointer to His identity. The miraculous provision of the bread supports Jesus’ claim to be able to be to us the bread of life. The giving out of the bread points ahead to His giving of Himself. The eating of the bread points to our need to receive Him.
Now we are in no doubt what this miracle means. Will we receive Him? And continue to depend on Him?
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