top of page

Loaves and Fish

Updated: Nov 8, 2021


As John 6 begins, we follow Jesus to a mountain. Here, Jesus feeds a large multitude of people with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. John records these as signs and not miracles. I believe he intends these signs, as N. T. Wright describes, somewhat like a signpost. Signs pointing to the identity of who Jesus is leading others to come and meet Jesus.

John 6:1-14 (NKJV)

6 After these things Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased.3 And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. 4 Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” 6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. 7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” 10 Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world."

The Passover was a significant remembrance for the children of Israel. It's a time where they remembered how God had delivered them from Egyptian bondage. We read about this story in Exodus and the ten plagues God brought on Egypt (ref. Ex. 7). The tenth and final plague was the death of the firstborn. However, God spared or "passed over" the children of Israel whose doorpost was covered with the blood of a lamb as God had instructed (ref. Ex. 11; 12).

Because it is the time of the Passover, we would expect Jesus to be going to Jerusalem as the custom of His day. Jesus, though, is not in Jerusalem but by the Sea of Galilee on a mountain. Jesus, as Dr. Mackie references, is a prophet out in the "wilderness." 

John gives us this detail as He recounts the crowd's response, "Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." (Jn. 6:14). As John pushes the story of Jesus forward, he is constantly connecting us back to the Old Testament. In this scene, Jesus is the Prophet speaking from a mountain in the wilderness. This is a clear picture of another prophet who spoke from a mountain declaring the promise of God, Moses.

Deuteronomy 18:15 (NKJV)

The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear

Later, in (Jn. 6: 41), the Bible records the “Jews then complained” about Jesus because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” In the wilderness, the children of Israel had complained about the bread from heaven as well. They complained about eating manna (ref. Num. 11). John provides a background for the bread of life discourse that follows in (Jn. 6). The environment is the Exodus, and the Passover, something John intends for us to see. Jesus is one like Moses. However, Jesus is more significant than Moses. Jesus is the true bread from heaven (ref. 6:32).


The Scriptures record that Jesus asked Phillip “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” He said this to test Phillip. Like the woman at the well (Jn. 4) and the man healed by the pool (Jn. 5), Phillip only sees the problem, “Two hundred denarii is not enough money to buy food for all of these people.” A denarii was about a day's wage for a laborer. Phillip is speaking about a large sum of money. Jesus is not trying to get Phillip to solve the problem. He is trying to have Phillip and the other disciples look to Him. Problems can consume us. In our minds, the problems can often become greater than Jesus. When problems consume us, we tend to take our eyes off of Jesus.

Andrew speaks up, “there is a boy here with five barley loaves and two small fish” (Jn. 6:8-9). Phillip and Andrew don’t know what to do. All they know to do is tell Jesus what they have. Sometimes when problems are facing us, all we can do is tell Jesus what we have. Be ready, though, because Jesus often does the unexpected.


Some misunderstand what Jesus is doing. They are focused on their stomachs. When they had eaten and were full, they come to take Jesus and make Him their king (Jn. 6:15). They understand and make the connection that Jesus is the Prophet, a prophet like Moses who has come into the world (ref. Jn. 6:14). However, they are only looking to have their physical needs met. Jesus is the Provider. He has come to give life, as seen in the other signs John records. Jesus has come to be a fountain of living water and the true bread of life. Jesus though, is doing more. He is doing the unexpected.

John 6:12–13 (NKJV)

So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” 13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.

We need to pause and ask “why.” Why does John record the detail of twelve baskets of fragments left over? Going back to the Exodus story and the history of Israel, there were twelve tribes of Israel. However, what Jesus does here, gathering up the leftovers, reverses the Exodus account. In (Exodus 16), the children of Israel are complaining about their lack of food in the wilderness. They recall how they ate until they were full in Egypt. Hearing this, the Lord promises to bring “bread from heaven” for them (ref. Ex. 16:4). However, the Lord instructed them only to take what they needed for the day.

Exodus 16:16–21 (NKJV)

16 This is the thing which the Lord has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’ ” 17 Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. 18 So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. 19 And Moses said, “Let no one leave any of it till morning.” 20 Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted.

In the wilderness, Israel was instructed not to keep the leftovers. Jesus is doing something new. He is doing something unexpected. He is bringing a new covenant, a new promise, and a new kingdom. In this new kingdom, none are to be left or lost.

John 6:38–40 (NKJV)

For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.


Jesus has come to Israel, and He has come to you and me today. He desires to lose nothing. Everyone who believes in Him may have everlasting life. Jesus wants each of us to put our trust, our confidence in Him. He is our Provider and He will raise us up.


Unless otherwise noted, Scripture taken from; The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Music for The SimplyRevised Podcast provided by Eric Gwin

More in this series from the Gospel of John

Download this article

Loaves and Fish
Download PDF • 207KB


bottom of page