One of the few miracles that Jesus performed which all four accounts of His life record is the feeding of the five thousand. There are only two of His miracles recorded in all four gospels: The miracle of Jesus feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, and His resurrection. While all four record the miracle of the five thousand, John alone reveals the sequence to it. Jesus then preached a sermon on “the bread of life” in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:59). The height of Jesus’ popularity likely reached its pinnacle at this point, for at the conclusion of His discourse John records that “many turned and walked with him no more.” So many forsook Him that Jesus turned to His disciples and asked, “Will ye go away, also?” (John 6:67).
The miraculous feeding of perhaps over ten thousand (in Matthew 14:21, he very specifically said, “And they that did eat were about 5,000 men, besides women and children”) greatly affected the multitude for “when the people saw the sign which he did, they said, This is of a truth the prophet that cometh into the world. Jesus therefore perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force, to make him a king, withdraw again into the mountain himself alone” (John 6:14-15). Because His hour was not yet come and because He had not come to be an earthly king, Jesus sent His disciples across the sea to Capernaum and departed Himself into the mountain (John 6:24). Jesus later crossed the sea by walking on water (John 6:19). John did not add the information of Peter’s brief attempt to walk on water, but then lose his faith, begin to sink, and cry for Jesus to save him. Only Matthew supplies those details (Matthew 14:28-31).
When the multitude saw that the disciples had departed without Jesus, they crossed the sea the next day in search of Him. When they found Him they asked, “Rabbi, whence camest thou hither?” (John 6:25). The Master minced no words: “Verily, verily I say unto you, ye seek me, not because ye saw signs but because ye ate of the loaves and were filled. Work not for the food which perisheth but for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give you, for him the Father even God hath sealed” (John 6:26-27). Jesus knew His people well. He knew that the real motive for which they had sought Him was physical blessings. Through the years, from the world’s formation, He had seen such an attitude demonstrated again and again. His answer to their question, “Whence cometh thou?” was with two illustrations of a favorite Jewish saying. Two truths were compared, with one truth denied in order to emphasize a second greater truth. They did seek Him because they saw the sign and they were to work for the food which perisheth, but the overriding motive for which they sought Him was that He had filled their bellies. They should have been acutely interested in seeking food that “abideth unto eternal life” (John 6:27).
The response of the multitude was, “What must we do that we may work the works of God?” (John 6:28). Jesus’ response was, “This is the work of God that ye believe in him who he hath sent” (John 6:29). It was at this point that the multitude betrayed their motive in seeking Him. “What then dost thou for a sign that we may see, and believe thee? What workest thou? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written He gave them bread out of heaven to eat” (John 6:30). Two thousand years have passed since this exchange and the motives of this world have changed very little. And religious leaders, hungry for crowds to fill their massive sanctuaries, give the crowds what they want: kitchens, gyms, etc. Glaringly absent is the food “which abideth unto eternal life”.
Jesus was right, they were seeking Him for the loaves and fishes. The multitude reminded Jesus of the manna in the wilderness which Moses (God) had given them: A miracle repeated thousands of time over the course of forty years. These Jews who ate of the loaves and fishes had witnessed a miracle which proved Him to be “God-sent”. Their problem was they wanted Him to prove Himself everyday He was “God-sent”. Did the repeated miracle of finding manna from heaven daily make the faith of those in the wilderness any stronger? If Jesus had complied with the request that He work another miracle to prove “God had sent Him” would that have satisfied the multitude? Certainly not.
And if history proves anything, were He to have worked the same miracle day by day, it would not have been long until they wanted something more, just as their fathers wanted meat to eat (Numbers 11:4). And then Israel grew weary with manna completely saying, “Our souls loatheth this white bread” (Numbers 21:5). What ingratitude! What blasphemy! The Hebrew writer spoke of Moses’ decision when he broke his ties with Egypt: “By faith Moses … refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). Remember, the pleasures of sin are “for a season”. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that had she asked Him, He would have given her “living water”, which would have satisfied her completely (John 4:10, 24). In John 6 the figure is “living bread”, while in John 4 the figure is “living water”. The “living bread” and “living water” is forever.
Israel’s problem was that they remembered the wrong things. They remembered the melons, leeks, cucumbers, garlic, and onions (Numbers 11:5). But they forgot something more grievous than the loss of such food. They forgot the grievous, crushing slavery they were under in Egypt. Which was more important: A larger variety of food and being in slavery, or being temporarily deprived of some of the food they had eaten, but free from Egypt’s cruel taskmasters?
Remember, the world passes away with its pleasures, but he that does the will of the Father abides forever. It is better to do without a few of this world’s pleasures and have Jesus, than to have all worldly pleasure that can be had and be without Him.