So they ate and were filled.
This verse ties together several themes and passages together.
It once again brings up the connection between bread and satisfaction, or being filled. At first glance, this would seem an obvious point: Eat and get filled. On this level, we can look at verses like these from Proverbs: “Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread.” And, “He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, But he who follows frivolity is devoid of understanding.”
But if we turn Jesus into a teacher of practical wisdom – and there is no lack of evidence of those who try to do this – we miss the point. Accordingly, say someone wanted to teach that it’s important to work hard, so he gives a sermon on working hard. He finds all the passages in the Bible, like those above, that say you have to work hard or you will not eat. When he gets to the feeding of the 4,000 or 5,000, which seems to show people eating without having done anything but sitting in the green grass, he’ll point out how they had to walk long distances to hear Jesus preach, so there was their work. Not a bad point – and not a bad way of rounding out the “don’t work; don’t eat” formula of Scripture – but not the point of the Gospel.
Rather, clearly, Jesus’ feeding of the 4,000 is intended not to make a comment about the relationship between work and reward, or about charitable giving, but about something more spiritual. We’ve mentioned Isaiah 55 before. It serves as an excellent background to this Gospel. It has these words, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live.”
There is a bread that is not bread, a bread that appears to satisfy but doesn’t really. Rather, as the Lord told Jesus in the wilderness, man does not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding from the mouth of God. Or as the above Isaiah passage says, “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live.” The eating here is of God’s Word.
Well, Jesus is God’s Word made flesh, and this brings us to John 6, another passage tied together by the concluding words we’re meditating on today, “So they ate and were filled.” After the feeding in John 6, the crowds followed Jesus, and Jesus rightly recognizes what’s going on. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
Following Jesus because He can fill you with food is the wrong motive. Following Jesus because He makes your life better in this world is the wrong motive. Yet how often to people turn the Gospel into this sort of message? The Sunday sermon becomes valuable for the valuable life lessons it teaches, not for the Person it proclaims.
Rather, Jesus says, they should have noticed “the sign.” And this ties in the Gospel for this week with what comes immediately after it in the Gospel of Mark. Here: “Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.’ ”
He had just given the most obvious of His signs. He basically commandeered half the Torah – the wilderness wandering period which comprises mid-Exodus to the end of Deuteronomy – and applied it to Himself. Clearly this was the “prophet like me” Moses promised, no? Everyone could see that. Yet, the Pharisees missed it, and so did the bulk of the people there. They were satisfied, but missed out on the greater satisfaction, the sign Jesus was showing.
There is a “being filled” that comes from a bread you can’t buy from a bread that’s not bread. We know what that is, but again, it’s nice to line up all the textual data and see it clearly:
From Isaiah: “Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live.”
From the Gospels: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
From the beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled.”
From Jesus: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
From Jesus in John 6: “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. …I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, …I am the bread which came down from heaven. …I am the bread of life. …This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. …I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world. …This is the bread which came down from heaven – not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
So, there is a bread that truly satisfies, that money cannot buy, that satisfies our hunger for righteousness. It’s God’s Word; it’s mercy centered on Jesus Christ; it’s Jesus; it’s His flesh. To add more elements from Isaiah 55, it’s a bread that draws in Gentiles, and it’s a bread centered on an eternal covenant. Well, as to that last point, here from Jeremiah: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. …No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
So we can throw the forgiveness of sins into the mix of things attained by the bread that truly satisfies. Anyone clue as to what this could be? A bread that is the flesh of Christ, rooted in the new covenant, given for the forgiveness of sins, in which the Word of God is proclaimed?
Jesus fed the 4,000 to give a sign. That sign is His Supper. His Supper truly satisfies. He didn’t leave behind His disciples to feed masses of people with few loaves. But He did leave behind His Supper to be administered at least weekly if not more, for we ask for our daily bread, and if the bread that truly satisfies is not the bread we buy, that petition has to mean some thing more than just regular bread.