Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in the April 2020 issue of Christian Standard + The Lookout. (Subscribe to our print edition.)
Lesson Aim: Let Jesus provide for your personal and spiritual needs.
By Mark Scott
All four Gospels record the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. It was Passover time when Jesus performed it. This was one Passover when Jesus did not go to Jerusalem; he had his own Passover meal in the wilderness with at least 5,000 of his “closest friends.” He sustained them with a wonderful fish dinner. What a contrast in the literary context to Herod’s drunken birthday party (Mark 6:14-29).
In his writings, John often mixed the physical and the spiritual. Fred Craddock called it “double talk.” There is physical water, and then there is symbolic water that refers to salvation (John 4:10). There is an earthly father, and then there is our heavenly Father (John 10:31-39). There is physical bread, and then there is bread from Heaven (John 6:35-40).
Food that Satisfies | John 6:1-15
People in the ancient near east knew little about three square meals in one day. If they had two meals in a day and were not hungry afterwards that would have been regarded as a good day. “Stuffed” was something only the rich knew.
Jesus had learned his cousin John the Baptist had been killed. It no doubt caused him to think of his own upcoming passion experience now only one year away. He desired to get away, so he and his disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee along the northern shore. His efforts to seclude himself failed. The people saw him leaving, forded the waters that fed the Sea of Galilee on the north shore, and were waiting for him when he disembarked from the boat. The selfless Savior set his desire for rest aside and taught and healed through the day.
When the crowd began to press their way to Christ toward day’s end, Jesus tested Philip by asking where they could get enough food (bread) to feed the thousands. John made it clear that Jesus knew what he was going to do. It must have stunned Philip and the other disciples when Jesus said, “You give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37). Andrew found a boy (in fact, Andrew customarily found people and brought them to Jesus—John 1:41) with a small lunch (five small pancake-like pieces of pan bread and two pickled fish). Andrew learned what all the disciples learned that day—that when they were at the end of their capacity, Christ was at the beginning of his sufficiency.
The Christ was not chaotic. This was a huge feeding, so it had to be organized. Jesus had the people sit down on the green grass in groups of hundreds and fifties (Mark 6:39, 40). In language that echoes the Lord’s Supper (though no one would have thought of such a thing that day), Jesus gave thanks and began to multiply the bread and fish. It is unclear precisely how this miracle took place. But everyone had enough to eat. Twelve small baskets of leftovers were picked up—one for each of the disciples and, maybe symbolically, one for each tribe of Israel.
The people were blown away. They had followed Jesus because of his signs. But this sign was over-the-top good—and nourishing. It made them wonder if Jesus were a prophet (1 Kings 17:14; 2 Kings 4:1-7; 38-44). In fact, they were so impressed that they wanted to make Jesus king by force. No wonder Jesus withdrew again to pray. This temptation for Jesus was every bit as challenging as the temptations in the wilderness and Gethsemane.
Food that Endures | John 6:25-29
Jesus sent the disciples across the lake and sent the crowds away. The disciples encountered a storm while some of the crowd bedded down for the night. After Jesus prayed, he came to the disciples walking on the water—yet another sign. The next day the crowds had returned to Capernaum and Jesus worked his way back up to the synagogue there. Supper from the night before was followed the next morning by one of his most famous discourses, the Sermon on the Bread of Life. Jesus acknowledged in a solemn way (“truly, truly,” v. 32) that the crowd was following him with impure motives. They were thinking only of the physical. Jesus wanted them to think on a higher plain. He told them to work for food that endures (continues to abide) to eternal life.
Some food leaves you empty after eating it (e.g., cotton candy). But the bread of Jesus lasts. The crowd was not willing to work for that food. But Jesus said that the main work to please God would be to believe in the one he has sent. Eat Jesus. Drink Jesus. That food will sustain.
Lesson study ©2019, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2019 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.