John 6:1-71

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Jesus departed to the east side of the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Tiberias). Based on the accounts of Matthew and Mark, this departure by boat with his apostles occurred after he likely had made prior arrangements to first meet them in Capernaum after they had completed the mission on which he had sent them. (6:1)

Capernaum would have been the logical place for Jesus and the apostles to meet. Peter and Andrew had their home there, and most of the other apostles appear to have lived in the general vicinity. The availability of a boat also points to Capernaum as the probable location. An indication that Jesus and his apostles left from there by boat is their coming to the plain of Gennesaret (south of Capernaum) upon their return to the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. (Matthew 14:34; Mark 6:53)

The time for the return of the apostles from their mission was also appropriate. With the Passover being near, Jesus and his apostles needed to make the journey to Jerusalem. Like Peter, most, if not all, of the other apostles would have been married and likely had children. Families customarily made the trip together, and there is no reason to conclude that the apostles would not have done so. (Compare Mark 1:29, 30; Luke 2:41, 42; John 2:12, 13; 7:3, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 9:5)

Upon their return from the mission on which Jesus had sent the apostles, they related to him what they had done and taught. Possibly at this time, they first heard about the death of John. This would have greatly saddened them and appears to have been part of the reason for Jesus’ recommendation to depart for an isolated area to get some rest. Once it had become known that they had returned to the area, Jesus and his apostles had little privacy. They were unable even to eat a meal without interruption, because of the many people who were coming and going. (Matthew 14:12, 13; Mark 6:30, 31)

The number of people probably was greater than at other times, as the Passover was near. (6:4) Many families in Galilee would have started to travel to the major routes leading to Jerusalem and been staying in towns and villages along the way. This would have contributed to increased talk about Jesus activity, and more people would have witnessed his curing of the sick. (6:2)

Jesus’ departure with his apostles did not go unnoticed. Those who saw them leave by boat quickly spread the news. A large crowd of men, women, and children from different towns then hurried to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to meet them. The walking distance may have been less than 5 miles (c. 8 kilometers), as the isolated area was near Bethsaida. (Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:32, 33; Luke 9:10) A distance of a little over 3 miles (c. 5 kilometers) separates what are believed to have been the locations of ancient Capernaum and Bethsaida. From the shore, the people would have been able to see the progress of the boat in the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. (6:1, 2)

When Jesus and his apostles went ashore on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, a large crowd was already waiting for them. Although their presence interfered with his plan for the apostles to get some rest in an isolated area, Jesus was moved with compassion for the people. He considered them to be like helpless sheep without the concern and guidance of a caring shepherd. He then began to teach them about the kingdom of God and healed the sick among them. (Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34; Luke 9:11)

The biblical accounts do not contain specifics about what Jesus taught on this occasion and whether he spoke to the multitude or taught groups of people as they came to him and raised questions. According to John 6:3, Jesus and his disciples ascended a mountainside and there seated themselves in a grassy area. (6:10) Just as he and his disciples found a suitable location, the thousands who had come to the area would have done likewise. Men would have started talking with other men, and women with other women. Children would have engaged in play. Likely, at various times, groups of people would have approached Jesus and then left as others came. His teaching must have prompted many conversations.

Although considerable time passed, the crowd continued to remain in the isolated location. This prompted the disciples to suggest that Jesus dismiss the people so that they could buy food for themselves in the nearby villages. (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:35, 36; Luke 9:12)

Perhaps at this point, Jesus saw a large crowd coming to where he and his disciples had seated themselves. Knowing what he purposed to do, he tested Philip with the question, “Where are we going to buy bread for them to eat?” The question directed to Philip seems to have served to test his faith in Jesus’ ability to provide for the people. Although perceiving that the available resources were insufficient, Philip did not appear to make the connection that Jesus would be able to provide enough for everyone, just as centuries earlier the prophet Elisha had fed 100 men to satisfaction with a limited amount of bread. (2 Kings 4:42-44) Being from Bethsaida (probably the closest town), Philip would have known where bread could be purchased. (1:44) His response reveals that he knew about how much money the disciples had in their common fund and thought that the amount would be insufficient. He replied that 200 denarii (a denarius being a day’s wage) would not buy enough bread to provide even a small amount for everyone. Commenting on how little food he knew to be available, Peter’s brother Andrew remarked, “Here is a boy with five barley loaves and two fishes. But what do these [amount to] among so many?” In response to Jesus’ telling them to provide food for the multitude, the apostles questioned whether they should leave to purchase what they could for 200 denarii. (6:5-9; also see Matthew 14:16; Mark 6:37; Luke 9:13.)

In verse 9, the Greek term for “boy” is paidárion. Being a diminutive form of pais, paidárion (“boy”) is often translated “little boy.” This, however, is not necessarily the significance of the designation. In the Septuagint, the term is applied to 17-year-old Joseph (Genesis 37:30) and to his younger brother Benjamin when he was already a young man. (Genesis 43:8)

Andrew’s knowledge about the youth may be an indication that he was the son of one of the disciples. With their focus being on Jesus, the biblical accounts reveal very little about the apostles and their families. That family members accompanied them on various occasions is likely. Their not being mentioned does not preclude this possibility, especially since only Matthew’s account mentions women and children in connection with this incident. If the youth was the son of one of the apostles, he may have been entrusted with their food supply. The fish probably were dried and salted. According to Matthew 14:17 and Luke 9:13, the apostles referred to the five loaves and the two fishes as being all they had to give to the people, with no mention being made of the youth. This would seem to lend support to the conclusion that the youngster was a son of one of the apostles. Moreover, John’s account portrays him as already being with Jesus and the apostles when the crowd approached. (6:5, 9)

The abundant grass in the location made it convenient for the people to recline in order to eat. Jesus told the apostles to have the people do so in groups of a hundred and of fifty. He then took the five loaves and the two fishes, which had been brought to him, looked up to heaven, and said a blessing. After breaking the loaves, Jesus gave the bread to the disciples for distribution to the people. He did the same with the two fishes. The miraculous provision of bread and fish was sufficient for about 5,000 men, besides women and children. To prevent any waste, Jesus instructed the apostles to gather the leftovers in baskets. They filled twelve baskets, which seems to indicate that each of the apostles had taken a travel basket along. The Greek term for one of these baskets is kóphinos and appears to have been the designation for a basket smaller than the sphyrís. (6:10-13; see also Matthew 14:17-21; Mark 6:38-44; Luke 9:14-17.)

When the people saw the signs Jesus performed, especially the providing of food for the multitude, they concluded that he must surely be the prophet who was destined to come into the world. This prompted them to want to forcibly make Jesus their king. Becoming aware of their intent, he took steps to be alone, recognizing that their objective was contrary to his Father’s purpose and did not reflect genuine faith in him as the promised Messiah. When evening came, the disciples headed to the Sea of Galilee and boarded the boat and headed for Capernaum. According to the other gospel accounts, Jesus directed his disciples to board the boat, then dismissed the crowd, and headed up the mountainside. In Matthew 14:22 and Mark 6:45, Jesus’ directing his disciples to board the boat is expressed with a form of the Greek word anankázo, meaning “force,” “compel,” or “strongly urge.” This suggests that there may have been reluctance on their part to leave. Jesus may have insisted on their leaving because of knowing how easily they could have been drawn into supporting the aim to make him king. (6:14-17)

Mark 6:45 includes Jesus instructions for “his disciples to go on ahead to the other side, toward Bethsaida.” This may be understood to mean that the disciples were to go north toward Bethsaida and then navigate along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee to the western shore. Alone on the height, he had the needed privacy to pray to his Father. (6:14, 15; see also Matthew 14:22, 23; Mark 6:45, 46.)

According to John 6:17, Jesus had not yet come to the disciples even though it had already become dark. This could mean that he had prearranged to meet them before they would start crossing the Sea of Galilee for Capernaum. Perhaps the reference in Mark 6:45 to Bethsaida provides a possible clue about the place where Jesus planned to rejoin them. If this was the case, the disciples would have waited for a long time. When, however, it appeared that he was not coming, they decided to head for Capernaum according to the instructions he had given them.

Late at night Jesus finished praying and looked down on the Sea of Galilee. A considerable distance from the shore, he saw the boat in which the disciples were. With a strong, unfavorable wind creating a rough sea, the boat made little progress. (Matthew 14:23, 24; Mark 6:46-48) Jesus descended from the mountainside and began to walk on the water. (6:18, 19)

During the fourth night watch (between three and six in the morning), the boat was about 3 or 3.5 miles (about 5 or nearly 6 kilometers; literally, about 25 or 30 stadia, with a stadium being about 607 feet [c. 185 meters]) from the shore, and the disciples were struggling to row it against the wind. Fright seized them when they saw someone walking on the water in their direction and about to pass them by. Thinking that they were beholding a phantom, they cried out in fear. Then they heard Jesus’ reassuring words, “[It is] I. Fear not.” (6:19, 20; see also Matthew 14:25-27 and Mark 6:48-50.)

Mark 6:52 indicates that the disciples had not comprehended the significance of the miracle involving the loaves. Their “heart” or mental perception remained dull. It appears that the apostles saw each miracle as a separate event and did not draw conclusions about other areas in which Jesus would be able to manifest divine power. Although they had witnessed the miraculous feeding of thousands with just five loaves and two fishes, it did not occur to them that the sea could not prevent Jesus from joining them. Therefore, for them to see Jesus walking on water should not have been something completely unimaginable. (6:19)

After Jesus entered the boat, the storm ended. Amazed and deeply moved by what they had witnessed, the disciples fell to their knees, prostrated themselves before Jesus, and said, “Truly you are the Son of God.” From then onward, they no longer struggled with the oars while making little progress. (Matthew 14:24, 32-34; Mark 6:48, 51) In no time (literally, “immediately”), they reached the western shore. Because of viewing the term “immediately” in a very literal sense, numerous commentators have concluded that this was yet another miracle. It is more likely, however, that the term describes the progress of the trip in relation to the situation before Jesus joined the apostles. (6:21)

The people who had stayed for the night on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee looked for Jesus in the morning. Although there was a small boat at the location, the people knew that the disciples had left in a larger boat and that Jesus had not left with them. Unable to find Jesus or any of his disciples, they decided to head back to Capernaum. To make the trip, the people boarded some boats that had come from Tiberias (a city on the western shore of the sea). Upon later finding Jesus, they asked, “Rabbi, when did you arrive here?” (6:22-25)

He did not answer their question but pointed to the real reason for their effort to find him. Introducing his words with the repetition of a solemn “amen” (“truly”), Jesus said, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” His words revealed that the miracle did not engender genuine faith in them. Their earlier attempt to make him king was based on a carnal view and not spiritual perception. Therefore, Jesus urged them to work for the food that endures for eternal life, ceasing to make their prime concern the food that perishes upon being consumed and that cannot sustain life indefinitely. Speaking of himself as the “Son of Man,” he revealed that he could give them the essential food for eternal life (the real life of a permanent relationship with him and his Father). There should have been no question about Jesus’ ability to do so, for his Father had “sealed” him. The miracles the Father had empowered him to perform by means of his spirit, like an authenticating seal, undeniably established his identity as the unique Son of God. (John 6:26, 27)

In response to the people’s question about what they needed to do to carry out the “works of God,” Jesus told them to believe or have faith in the one whom God had sent. Although they had personally benefited from the miraculous provision of food, they were not satisfied with this sign, which should have led them to put faith in Jesus. They did not see in him the Messiah they wanted, for he had not cooperated with them in their attempt to forcibly make him their king. This appears to have been a factor in their seeking a heavenly sign that would have been more in line with their messianic expectations. The people challenged Jesus. “What sign are you performing, so that we might see [it] and believe you? What are you doing? In the wilderness, our ancestors ate the manna, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (6:28-31)

“Amen, amen” (“Truly, truly”), Jesus replied, “Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.” The “bread of God,” as Jesus explained, “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The people, however, did not understand that Jesus himself was the bread that had come down from heaven and that through him members of the world of mankind would be granted life (the eternal life of an enduring relationship with his Father and with him). Concluding that the bread to which he had referred was comparable to manna, they replied, “Lord, always give us this bread.” (6:32-34)

Possibly at this point or either earlier or later, Jesus finished speaking to the people. He later resumed his discussion about “bread” while in the synagogue at Capernaum. (6:59)

Knowing that the people had not identified him as being the “bread of God,” Jesus expressed the point in a more direct manner, saying, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never hunger, and the one who believes in me will never thirst.” Whereas food and drink are needed to sustain physical life, the real life or the eternal life depends upon coming to Jesus and putting faith in him as the Son of God. From him and him alone does the spiritual life derive the essential sustenance, never leaving the believer in a hungry or thirsty state. (6:35)

Those who heard Jesus words had seen him and witnessed deeds revealing extraordinary divine power. Yet, as he said, they did not believe. The visible evidence did not move them to put faith or unqualified trust in him. They were not among those whom the Father had given to his Son. (6:36, 37)

What distinguished those who had been given to Jesus was their coming to him in faith. They recognized him as God’s Son and their Lord, and he acknowledged them as belonging to him. To his Father, they were precious and beloved, for he had given them to his Son. Jesus likewise valued and loved them and so would never reject them or drive them away. He would treat them in harmony with his Father’s will, for he had come from heaven to do, not his own will, but the will of his Father, who had sent him. (6:37, 38)

God’s will respecting those whom he had given to his Son was that none of them would be lost but would enjoy a permanent relationship with him. This would necessitate their being raised from the dead “on the last day.” All of them would be persons who put faith in the Son. As Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life.” This life is more than never-ending existence. The expression “eternal life” primarily relates to its quality or nature rather than to its duration. According to John 17:3, eternal life is “knowing” the true God and the one whom he sent. This “knowing” means having a relationship with the heavenly Father and his Son. It is a family relationship, with those having faith in Jesus being recognized by the heavenly Father as his approved children. Once that relationship comes into being, children of God have “eternal life,” but its full enjoyment is yet future. Death does not sever the permanent family relationship and, therefore, does not mean the loss of the real life that came into the possession of believers. For all children of God who have died, resurrection is a certainty and will mean their continuing to enjoy the real life in the glorified state of their sinless resurrection bodies. The heavenly Father is eternal, and the life of all with whom he has a relationship is therefore also eternal. (6:39, 40)

Jesus referred to the resurrection as taking place on the “last day.” This is the climactic point in history, which the Scriptures associate with Jesus’ return in glory to render judgment upon the world of mankind. At that time, according to 1 Thessalonians 4:16, the dead in Christ will rise, to start enjoying the real life in the sinless state. It is likely that Jesus’ hearers associated the resurrection on the “last day” with the promise to Daniel (12:12, Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]), “You shall rest, and arise to your destiny at the end of the days.” (6:40)

Jesus’ words left no question in the minds of the hearers about the identity of the “bread from heaven,” and they objected. As far as they were concerned, he had no basis for claiming that he was the bread that had come down from heaven. They knew him to be the son of Joseph, and they knew his mother. In their view, he was the natural son of Joseph and Mary and so could not possibly be the “bread from heaven.” Becoming aware of their faultfinding talk among themselves, Jesus told them to quit murmuring and then added, “No one is able to come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And all will be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard from the Father and learned [from him] comes to me.” (John 6:41-45)

Through the life and activity of Jesus, the Father revealed himself. All who longed to have his favor were drawn to the Father’s self-disclosure and came to Jesus, recognizing him as the one whom the Father had sent. In the writings of the Hebrew prophets the proof could be found that the Father would draw individuals through his teaching. In Isaiah 54:13, it is written, “And all your sons [will be] taught by God.” (LXX, but “YHWH” in the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah and the Masoretic Text) The prophetic word and the miracles the Father had empowered his Son to perform served as teaching, revealing Jesus’ true identity as being more than a member of the family of Joseph and Mary. Therefore, all who heard this teaching with understanding and learned it, making it their own, came to Jesus. (6:44, 45)

Calling attention to the fact that the Father’s teaching had been made available through him, Jesus added that he alone, as the one from God, had seen the Father. “Amen, amen” (“Truly, truly”), Jesus continued in a solemn manner, “I say to you, Whoever believes has eternal life.” The response in faith resulted in an approved relationship with the Father and his Son, and the enduring nature of this relationship constitutes eternal life. Therefore, Jesus could speak of this life as coming into the possession of believers, although they would not enjoy it to the full until being granted their glorified sinless state. Emphasizing that eternal life could only be attained through him, Jesus repeated, “I am the bread of life.” Although it came from a heavenly source, the manna did not indefinitely sustain the life of the Israelites in the wilderness. As Jesus said, “They died.” The individual eating of the bread that had come down from heaven in the person of the Son, however, would not die. By putting faith in the Son and all that his life and ministry embraced, believers would become sharers in Christ and come to have eternal life. The relationship inherent in this life would not end at death but would continue upon the believer’s being resurrected in glory. Because death does not bring an end to eternal life, all who through faith share in Christ (the way persons can share a meal) do not die. (John 6:45-50)

Again Jesus made the unmistakable identification, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” He then expanded on this vital truth. “If anyone eats from this bread, he will live eternally, and my flesh is the bread that I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus thereby indicated that he would die sacrificially for the world of mankind and that all who would accept his sacrifice for them would be granted eternal life. (6:51)

Jesus’ words gave rise to controversy among his Jewish hearers. They objected, “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” He then replied in terms that were even more graphic. “Amen, amen [Truly, truly], I say to you, If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. The one who consumes my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever consumes my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, I also live because of the Father, and whoever consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like [the manna your] ancestors ate and died. The one who consumes this bread will live eternally.” (6:52-58; the bracketed words are found in numerous later manuscripts but are missing in the oldest extant manuscripts.)

Eternal life is only attainable by partaking of the benefits made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death (the surrender of his flesh and the pouring out of his blood). Apart from Jesus’ flesh and blood, individuals may exist but they do not have the real life as divinely approved persons. The eternal life that believers come to possess through their faith in the Son guarantees their resurrection. Jesus’ flesh and blood are true food and drink in that they have a direct bearing on eternal life, just as food and drink do on one’s physical life. (6:58)

In the quotation of Jesus’ words, the Greek term for “consume” is trógo and appears in ancient writings as a term used when speaking of animals as biting or chewing their food. Perhaps the thought conveyed is that of the kind of eating characteristic of hungry animals and, therefore, could suggest the eager response to Jesus as the one who surrendered his flesh for the life of the world. (6:54-58)

To abide in Jesus would signify to be at one with him, and Jesus would be united to the individual in continued fellowship. The Father lives and is the possessor of life-giving power. Therefore, Jesus described himself as living because of his Father, to whom he was united in an eternal relationship. Likewise, the one who would share in communion with Jesus through faith (as one would participate in fellowship when partaking of a meal) would live on account of him. Unlike the manna that could not keep the ancestors of the Israelites alive indefinitely, all who become sharers in Christ, “the bread that came down from heaven,” will live eternally. (6:56-58)

Even among those who had followed Jesus as his “disciples” or learners, many found this “word” or teaching “hard,” troublesome, or intolerable. They responded, “Who can listen to it?” The teaching proved to be unacceptable and offensive to them. (6:60)

Sensing that these disciples were murmuring about his teaching, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What, then, if you were to behold the Son of Man ascending to where he had been formerly?” Jesus’ question about the ascension served to show that they had no valid reason for being offended. If they were to see him ascending to the location he had been previously, this would prove that he had indeed come down from heaven. (6:61, 62)

Clarifying that he had not been speaking in literal terms, Jesus continued, “The spirit is what makes alive; the flesh is of no use at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” In the case of the fleshly organism, the “spirit” gives life to the body of flesh, animating it. Without the life force, the flesh is useless. Jesus’ words were of a spiritual nature. Responding to them in faith by accepting him as the “bread of life” would have led to coming into possession of the real life. His words had animating and life-giving power. (6:63)

Fully aware of the lack of faith among certain ones who had followed him, Jesus said, “Among you are some who do not believe.” The account then continues with an explanatory comment. From the “beginning,” Jesus knew those who did not believe and the one who would betray him. This indicates that Jesus discerned from the start when outward expressions did not reflect genuine faith in him. Real faith is an inward response to the Father — to his drawing of individuals through his self-disclosure. This is why Jesus said, “No one is able to come to me unless the Father has granted it to him.” (6:64, 65)

At this point, many who had followed Jesus stopped doing so and returned to their former routine of life. This prompted Jesus to ask the twelve apostles, “Do you also want to go away?” Peter replied, “Lord, to whom are we to go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and known that you are the Holy One of God.” Even among the apostles, however, not all shared this unqualified trust in and attachment to God’s beloved Son. Although he had chosen the twelve, Jesus identified one of them as a “devil” or “slanderer.” This was Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, who would later betray him. (6:66-71)

The later betrayal of Judas did not come as a surprise to Jesus. As God’s unique Son, he knew what none of the disciples could have known. The other apostles had no idea that Judas would betray their Lord, but Jesus discerned from the outset when Judas’ devotion to him was not what it should have been. Therefore, on this occasion, Jesus referred to him as a “devil” or “slanderer.” The other apostles, however, did not know whom he meant. (6:71)