Chapter 21.1 Bread of Life
Passover A.D. 29 to near Tabernacles 29 (six months from spring to autumn)
Bread of Life, composite digital image by L. Lovett, 2006
Bread of Life, composite digital image by L. Lovett, 2006 (CLICK on the image above for a LARGER version)

Withdrawal to Bethsaida Julius

Jesus and the Twelve left Capernaum for needful rest, for there were so many crowds constantly following them that they had almost no time to eat or sleep. Also Herod’s murder of the Baptist and his wanting to see Christ made it wise to leave Antipas’ territory. Bethsaida Julias on Galilee’s northeastern border where the Jordan River enters the lake was just within the territory of Tetrarch Philip. Originally a small village, Philip had converted Julias into a beautiful city and named it after Caesar’s daughter.

The district was only a few hours’ sail from Capernaum, and an even shorter distance by land around the head of the lake. Christ, wishing to avoid public attention, went by boat. As they left shore and started across, Peter looked off the port (left) side and exclaimed, “Master, the people are following us around the lake and some are keeping up with us!”

Their boat continued towards the east shore and the big man watched the crowd become larger every time it passed through neighboring villages. “No rest for the Teacher or us now,” he said wearily, and knew what would happen the moment they arrived.

Some of those who ran ahead reached the place before Jesus and his apostles touched shore. Stepping from the boat, the Master took the Twelve and those who had arrived by land to the top of a hill for a brief respite until the rest of the crowd caught up. Passover was near and many more people on their journey to Jerusalem were coming toward them.

As the great multitude gathered below, the Son of God was moved with compassion. There could be no retirement or rest in view of this. Surely it was the opportunity which God had given, a call from his Father. Every occasion to gather the lost under his wings was unspeakably precious to him. He must work while it was day; work with unending patience and intense compassion that made him weep when he could no longer work. It was this depth of longing and intenseness of pity which now brought him down to the multitude on the plain.

What a sight met his gaze, an immense number of about five thousand men, besides women and children. Many were John’s disciples with no earthly teacher, nor guide or help left. Truly they were as sheep having no shepherd. The Savior moved among them as he taught many things and healed those in need. Yet, as he moved and thought of it all, he knew he would soon gather those scattered sheep into one flock.

Miracle of Loaves and Fish

In the afternoon, his disciples came to him concerned about the people, “This is a desolate place, and it is getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy food.”

Jesus asked Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing him, for he already knew what he was going to do.

Philip exclaimed, “It would cost a small fortune to feed them!” He had an absence of faith, ignoring any higher possibility; but had a kind heart and was willing to give all they had.

Philip told Andrew, and the disciples discussed it among themselves. They knew their Master sufficiently to judge that it implied some purpose on his part. Did he intend to provide for all that multitude? They counted them roughly—going along the edge and through the crowd—and reckoned them by thousands, besides women and children. They thought of all the means for feeding such a multitude and how much food they actually had.

Then Andrew had an idea, “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish.” He almost had faith, but then turned his eyes back to the hopeless situation. “But what good is that to such a large crowd?”

“Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus instructed. So the disciples made the great crowd sit down in groups of fifty or a hundred on the soft grass. Peace descended upon them with a deep silence. All the tired men, women, little children, and the sick who were healed looked up with awed expectancy at the tall Rabbi standing above them on the hillside, the light shining on his face.

As was custom at meals on the part of the head of the household, Christ took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and asked God’s blessing on the food. Breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread and fish to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the people. Somehow, as the bread and fish came from the Savior’s hands, there was that miracle, a reminder of Elisha’s oil which didn’t cease until all the vessels were filled. The food flowed to the people until they were filled.

“Now gather up the leftovers,” Jesus told his disciples, “so that nothing is wasted.” From only five barley loaves and two fish, twelve baskets were filled with the pieces the people did not eat!

It was not just by bread and fish that they had been made new. Like the changing seasons renew the face of the old earth with miraculous beauty, the love of God swept over them like wind over tall grass, bowing them down into wonder and worship. They knew that this was not a mere man teaching, healing, feeding, and loving them. Passover was at hand, and anything connected with the Messiah was to happen at that time. They said to each other, “Surely this must be the Prophet who should come into the world.” When the moment of their awe and wonder passed, they cried out that he must be their king.

One by one they rose to their feet and came running up the hill to him; and if he allowed it, the whole five thousand would have taken him by force to make him king. But he withstood them, for he knew their motives behind it and his time had not yet come. Immediately Christ made his disciples get into a boat and go across ahead of him to Bethsaida (Galilee) on west side, while he sent the multitudes away. Then he went to a secluded place on top of a hill to pray.

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