Bethesda, in Jerusalem, was the setting for Jesus’ healing of the lame man and our Lord’s subsequent claims of equality with God and His presentation of witnesses testifying to those claims (John 5). Afterward, Jesus headed north to Galilee, where He went to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias (6:1). The famous sea was known by that second name because Herod Antipas built a city on the west coast of the Sea of Galilee in honor of Tiberius Caesar, naming it Tiberias. Over time, locals applied the name of the city to the sea as well.
By this point, Jesus had become quite well known, and a large crowd was following Him because they had seen His healings and wanted to see Him do more (v. 2). John reports that this crowd included five thousand men (v. 10), but the parallel account in Matthew 14:13–21 notes that the throngs of people also included women and children, probably the relatives of the five thousand men. So the crowd was actually much larger than five thousand people.
Seeing the people, Jesus was concerned that they were hungry, so He inquired about where food could be procured for them (John 6:4–5). He directed His question to Philip, who was from nearby Bethsaida (1:44) and thus would have best known the area and where food could be found. Yet John tells us also that He asked Philip as a test (6:6). Would Philip, having seen Jesus’ miracles, look to the Savior to meet the people’s needs, or would he think in earthly terms and, seeing no “natural” solution, conclude that the people could not be fed? We know the answer. Seeing the number of hungry people, Philip said that “two hundred denarii”—eight months’ wages—would not meet the need (v. 7). Another disciple, Andrew, did no better, noting that the five loaves and two fishes he found were insufficient (vv. 8–9). But limited resources were no problem for Jesus, who multiplied the meager supplies into enough food for everyone, with some left over (vv. 10–14).
This miracle provided a starting point for Jesus’ famous Bread of Life Discourse, which we will study in the coming days. For now, we note, as John Calvin comments, how Jesus’ willingness to provide for the needs of a crowd consisting of those who were not His dedicated disciples proves how much we can trust Him to provide for us. “If he took care of those who were led to him only by a sudden impulse, how would he desert us, if we seek him with a firm and steady purpose?”