Jesus Feeding the Five Thousand - John 6:1-21

Expositions by H. A. Wilson

Taken from Grace and Truth Magazine 1923


Memory Verse — Romans 8:28

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand contains three vital lessons. The first is the lesson of surrender, seen in the willingness of the little lad to give his store of food into the hands of Jesus. The second is the lesson of grace, taught in the attitude of Jesus toward the multitude and in the spiritual meaning of the numbers and symbols evident in the performance of this miracle. The third is the lesson of trust, taught in the disciples' experience when Jesus came walking upon the water. These three lessons are much needed today, and in learning them there is rich and vital blessing for every child of God.


John 6:1-11.

The lad had only a little that he could (live to the Lord. Only five barley loaves and two small fishes. Indeed it seemed a small amount of food in the face of so great a need. Humanly, it is no wonder the disciples asked, ''What are they among so many?'' So, in the face of the spiritually starving multitudes of today we may be tempted to ask, "What can the little ability I have amount to among so many?" Hungry souls are reaching out and crying to us from every land. Our own country is full of folk who are spiritually starving. The untouched millions of heathenism cry to us from every quarter of the world. Truly there is a great need. And we do seem weak and helpless. Our talents are very limited. Our physical strength does not seem sufficient. Our knowledge seems barely enough for our own needs. Our means, perhaps, will not carry us beyond the confines of our own city, should we decide to go to carry the message to foreign lands, or perhaps they would barely suffice to pay for a few^ gospel tracts to carry the message of life. Most of us have so little we could give to the Lord. And even the little that the more well-to-do feel able to do seems very insignificant when we consider the magnitude of the need. But notice:

The little which the lad had was willingly surrendered into the hands of the Lord. He did not say, "Ah, Master! If I only had a large store I would willingly divide with Thee!" He did not say. "When I get a little more I will gladly give it to Thee." He offered what he had. That is exactly what God wants His children to do. He says, "I beseech you. therefore, brethren, by' the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." (Rom. 12:1.) No child of God is so poor as to be unable to give what God asks. We may not have clothing sufficient to clothe the body. We may not have sufficient food to nourish it. The body itself may be poor and diseased and maimed. But this is what God asks of us. He asks for us to present ourselves. He wants us willingly to surrender what we have. Rom. 12:1-2; Rom. 6:13 ; I Cor. 6 :t9-20.

The little in the Saviour's hands was blessed to satisfying the need of the multitude. What seems so small and insignificant to us may in His hands be used beyond our brightest imaginings. Moody surrendered his little, and though he had a stammering tongue, God used it to shake whole continents with His power. Mary Slessor surrendered the little she had, and though naturally she was so timid she would not cross a pasture when there was a cow in it, God so mightily used and blessed her that she preached the Gospel in danger from wild animals and in the face of wild men with such power that she swayed hundreds and thousands for Him. God has chosen the weak and insignificant things to accomplish great and mighty works for Himself. Let us learn from the little lad who willingly surrendered his few barley loaves and fishes, and let us ourselves surrender the little we have, that God may use it to His glory. I Cor. 1:23-29; II Cor. 12:9-10.


John 6:5, 11-14.

Jesus owed these people nothing on the ground of their natural merit. Their attitude was one of materialism and self-seeking. They really had nothing good to commend them to God. But Jesus' heart went out to them and He purposed in His heart to feed them. Because He did this out of pure love for them and in no wise on account of their merit, we see that it was an act of pure grace. So God must ever deal with unbelievers. They can have no dealing with Him save on the ground of grace. But as an act of grace Jesus has provided life and sustenance for them through His death on the cross. If they will but receive from His hand in faith, as the multitude did that day, they may have eternal life and happiness though utterly without merit. "The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 6:23.) Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 11:6.

In the numbers we see God's grace manifested. The number fed was about five thousand. There were five barley loaves and two fishes. The fragments which remained were twelve baskets full. The number "five" is the number of grace. The number "two" is the number of redemption. The number "twelve" is the number which speaks of "God manifest in human affairs." The message here is this: "God is now manifest in human affairs. He comes in grace, procuring and offering redemption to all." Jesus was God manifest in human affairs. He came to provide redemption for all men through the death of the cross. He is offering this redemption as a sovereign act of grace. The significance of the numbers was doubtless in the mind of God when He numbered the men and failed to number the women and children. The number of the men was such as would teach this spiritual message, but the number of the women and children doubtless had no such message, so it is omitted. Jno. 3:16; Heb. 2:9; Col. 1:14.

God's grace is seen in the symbols. The bread speaks of Jesus' Deity, for a little later He says that He is the Bread of God, sent down from heaven (vss. 48, 50, 58). The fish speaks of Jesus' humanity, for He Himself made fish symbolical of humanity when He said to the disciples, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men." (Matt. 4:19.) There were five loaves and two fishes; so the significance of the numbers combines with the significance of the symbols and gives a rich passage of grace. It is this. "Jesus, the One Who was God, manifested His grace by becoming man, in order that He might bring redemption to men." The fish and the bread became food for the multitude when they were broken; so Jesus provide I spiritual food and life for men when His body was broken on the cross. Heb. 2:14-17 ; Phil. 2:6-11.


John 6:15-21.

The multitude betrayed a pitiful lack of trust. Jesus had come to offer Himself as King of the Jews. Here we see the people apparently accepting Him, but notice their failure. They wanted to make Him a King by force. This is not God's method of establishing His Kingdom. Truly, when Jesus is manifested as King He will be manifested in judgment, taking vengeance oh unbelievers, but there is a vast difference between this and the purpose which was in the hearts of the multitude. They wished to make Jesus their servant and to enthrone Him by merely human force. But God purposes that men shall become the servants of Jesus, and they shall when the Kingdom is established. The establishment of the Kingdom will be accomplished not by human force, but by the power of God. How happy it would have been had the multitude rightfully recognized Jesus as King. Then they would not have planned to take Him by force and make Him King, but would have bowed before Him in lowliness, confessing that the One Who was so solicitous for their welfare and so abundantly able to provide for it, as Jesus had shown Himself to be through this miracle, was worthy to be trusted to do it in all matters. They would have acknowledged Him as King and trusted Him to establish the Kingdom as He saw fit. But they did not. They failed to trust and sought to coerce. May God help us ta learn to trust, and not to try to force Him to accommodate Himself to our desires. Surely He is worthy to be trusted. Heb. 11:6; Rev. 19:11-19; Rev. 20:1-4; Isa. 55:8-9.

The disciples learned the lesson of trust. When Jesus came unto them, walking on the waters, they were afraid. But He assured them, saying, "It is I. Be not afraid." Then they trusted Him and willingly received Him into the ship. Their trust was vindicated by the happy result, for though previously they had labored to reach the shore, now after they had trusted Him, "immediately the ship was at the land whither they went." (Vss. 19-21.) It is a happy day for the believer when he learns that in every emergency of life he can fully trust the Lord. His Word assures us that "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to to His purpose." (Rom. 8:28.) We need to learn and to remember that our lives are in His hands. He permits nothing to come to His children, save in His purpose it can work together with all other things to accomplish good for that child. We may not always understand how it is to be. We may not always discern the divine purpose in the things He permits us to endure. But in His grace we may trust and believe, for He has promised and we have His guarantee that He will not permit anything to come to us which will not be the instrument in His hand for blessing. Let us learn to see the Lord in the tempests which assail us. Let us learn that the troubled seas through which He permits us to pass are but the footpaths by which He seeks to draw closer and nearer to us. Let us learn to laugh joyously in the face of these things, because we have full assurance that they simply being greater opportunity for the manifestation of His presence and watch-care and blessing. Let us learn to say with another who has learned the secret,

"Disappointment, His-appointment,
     Change one letter, then I see
That God's thwarting of my purpose
     Was His better choice for me."

I Cor. 10:13; John 14:1.