When therefore the people saw the sign which he did they said, This is of a truth the prophet that cometh into the world.
Nothing sheds any more light on the wonder recorded here than this deduction from it by the people who saw it. The prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15f) with whom they identified Jesus is the Christ. This perception of the multitude exposes the fraudulence of rationalistic “explanations” of this event. One device of the rationalistic commentators is to make the entire thing a psychological experience! Jesus, so they say, took a lad’s contribution, pointed out his willingness to share with others, and thus shamed them into sharing whatever they had with others. The good will spread like a contagion; and suddenly they all had a feast out of what they already had! Those unbelievers who offer such an “explanation” deny the sacred record.
TWO WAYS OF MEETING A DIFFICULTY
I. The difficulty analyzed.
An immense throng of five thousand men, besides women and children, had followed Christ to an uninhabited area on the northeastern shore of Galilee.
A. The situation was aggravated by the absence of markets and insufficient money.
B. The Saviour’s bold claim that he was indeed “that prophet like unto Moses” had provoked the memory of how God had fed Israel in the wilderness; and that memory turned all eyes upon Christ with the question, “Could he do it?”
C. Bitter enemies of the Lord hoped for his downfall; and they must have gloated that he had at last been trapped into a situation from which there could have been no recovery.
D. Added to all this was the wavering attitude of the apostles themselves who seemed to hold the solution impossible.
II. The human method of meeting the difficulty.
A. The first human proposal was made by Christ to try the apostles. Whence should they buy bread was his question. Whence indeed, if not from God? Whence cometh all things?
B. The next proposal was: “Send the multitude away” (Mark 14:15). That is the usual human proposal for solving difficulties. Send it away!
Thus America solved the Indian problem, the slave problem, and the Mormon problem; and now the Mormons are sending missionaries to us!
C. The next approach was to count the pennies and declare the project impossible (John 6:7). Where is the money coming from? was a cry that rang harshly enough on the ears of five thousand hungry men on the slopes of Butaiha, and time has not mellowed the cry. As Spurgeon said:
Some men are always ready at counting the pennies they do not have. Whenever there is a holy deed to be done, our mathematically minded unbelievers are prompt with their estimates of the cost and their prudent forecasting of grave deficiencies.
We are great at calculations when we are little at believing. How can the needful amount be raised? It is so much a head among so many members. But the heads do not yield the poll tax, and the money does not come, and confidence in man leaves us weeping by the broken cistern. Alas for these calculations about pennyworth!
Philip’s calculations resulted from his failure to believe that Jesus could handle the situation. Thus he failed the test the Lord gave him.
D. Belittling the known resources: “What are these among so many?” was the next approach (John 6:8,9). How long will it be before men learn that a little consecrated to the Lord is more than enough for all their needs? Christians need to remember the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil (1 Kings 17:16); and the lesson is reiterated in the wonder recorded here.
III. The divine way of meeting the difficulty.
A. First, the responsibility for meeting it was fixed: “Give ye them to eat!” (Matthew 14:16). “Go ye into all the world” (Mark 16:15).
B. Next, there was an inventory of resources. The disciples could think of nothing that could be done, but Jesus asked, “How many loaves have ye?” (Mark 6:38). God helps only when men have gone as far as they can themselves. Like the apostles of old, many have found that their resources were greater than they thought.
C. “Bring them hither to me …” (Matthew 14:18). A little with Jesus is always enough, provided only that it is given to him in absolute trust
D. Command the multitude to sit down, and go forward with the feast! It is always in doing that strength is increased; it is in giving that the wherewithal to give is multiplied.
Jesus therefore perceiving that they were about to come and take him by force, to make him king, withdrew again into the mountain himself alone.
No rationalistic explanation of this sign could account for such a reaction on the part of the multitude.
They were fully convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, and they proposed to make him king and move against the Romans! With the Messiah feeding them, as God had done so long ago, the problem of the quartermaster was solved!
It was time to throw off the yoke of Rome; and they would have violated the sacred wishes of Christ himself to further their own schemes. Israel never learned in the long pre-Christian ages, nor in the times of Christ, that an earthly kingdom was never in God’s plans from the very beginning, nor then, nor ever. Yes, they had been granted an earthly state with a king; but at the moment of its inception God had warned them:
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign (be king) over them (1 Samuel 8:7).
Throughout the ages, the earthly monarchy of the Hebrews was their project, not God’s; and, although God accommodated himself to it, it was never his will. Ironically, that same obsession for their earthly kingdom was what blinded their eyes to the Messiah when he came. The great sign just done before the people, instead of setting their hearts upon the Messiah’s teachings, only set on fire their earthly ambitions for the restoration of Solomon’s throne, a project that was never for one moment contained in the purpose of Christ.
Christ had been fully aware all that day of what was going on; and there is more than a possibility that the apostles themselves had been infected with the virus that had seized the crowd. The Lord counteracted it by compelling the disciples to get into the boat, despite threatening weather, and go back to the other side of the lake (Matthew 14:22). Jesus rejected the efforts to make him king, by sending the apostles away and then withdrawing up into the mountain, leaving the vain frenzy of the mob to frustrate itself in the gathering darkness.