When Jesus fed the 5,000, John says “they wanted him to be their king.” The key word is “their” king – they didn’t want to accept Jesus on his terms, but on their own. That’s the same deception Satan has been selling since the beginning! We come to God on his terms, not ours – and when we do, he welcomes us as his children.
2 Kings, chapter 22; 2 Chronicles, chapter 34; John, chapter 6
John 6:1-15 (NLT):
After this, Jesus crossed over to the far side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. A huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous signs as he healed the sick. Then Jesus climbed a hill and sat down with his disciples around him. (It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration.) Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do.
Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” “Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.). Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.
When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.
They Wanted Him to Be “Their” King
It’s a familiar story – Jesus feeds a multitude of people with five barley loaves and two fish. This is one of the few miracle accounts that are included in all four gospels (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17). It would be hard to find a Christian who hadn’t heard about Jesus feeding the five thousand! So what could we say about this passage that we haven’t heard or said before?
As Much As They Wanted
Two things stand out to me today. First, verse 11 tells us that they all ate as much as they wanted. As I read that phrase today, I thought, “There had to be at least one person there who ‘wanted’ to eat more than five small loaves and two fish!” I picture the “loaves” as being roughly the size of a dinner roll. Remember, this was a lunch carried by a young boy – he wasn’t carrying a big backpack stuffed with food. Surely at least one person in the crowd could have eaten all of that himself. (In fact, if you think about it, the boy’s mother probably didn’t intend to feed the whole crowd. She packed lunch for her son.). Yet they all ate as much as they wanted.
And there was still more left than they had started with! Some people, who don’t believe in miracles, suggest that others in the crowd had food, and they all started to share once the meal was being distributed. Two objections: first, does the Bible say that? No. Second, if you don’t accept any miracles, then how do you believe in the resurrection? If you don’t believe in the resurrection, then what is the basis for your “faith”? (“And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless” [1 Corinthians 15:14].)
Not What They Wanted
The second thing that stands out is in verse 15: When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself. Jesus came to reveal God to us, to show us how much God loves us. He did that most prominently by giving his life for us. But he also did it every day, by healing people, forgiving their sins, and pointing them toward God’s Kingdom. But he was not motivated to be “popular.” If his disciples had understood that the people wanted to make Jesus their king, they probably would have been clamoring for Jesus to do it. If Jesus is the Messiah – God’s anointed one, the forever King from the line of David – then this must be the time!
He slipped away into the hills by himself. Jesus didn’t even take the disciples with him. He recognized the danger of seeking popularity and approval. And when he came back, he made sure the people understood what it really means to follow him. By the end of chapter 6, we find that “Many of his disciples said, ‘This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?’” (6:60). And when Jesus pushed back, “many of his disciples turned away and deserted him” (6:66).
The Twelve remained with him. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God” (6:68-69). But even one of the Twelve would later “turn away and desert him.”
They Wanted Him to be “Their” King
The phrase “their king” stands out to me. They weren’t ready to accept him as the King of kings. The realities of God’s Kingdom, when Jesus started explaining it to them, were too much for them to accept. He was, and is, the King – but not “their” king. He is God’s chosen one.
Jesus calls us to minister to others, just as he did. But we cannot mistake popular approval for divine favor. Jesus wanted to lead people to God, but he would not do it “their” way. And neither can we. We cannot mistake giving people as much of Jesus as they want with giving them “some other Jesus.”
“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many…Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or, ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones…So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 24:4-5, 23-24, 26-27).
Father, Jesus warned us not to be deceived by those who present false messiahs. Guard our hearts, that we not be fooled by popularity or power. Help us to fix our eyes on Jesus, and to accept him as our king on his terms, rather than ours. The crowd ate “all they wanted,” but they still wanted more food; help us to want more of Jesus. Amen.