In John 6, Jesus feeds the 5,000. In the wilderness. What could this possibly mean?
The people seem to know: When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world” (John 6:14, CEB).
“The prophet,” the prophet promised in Deut 18:15: “God will raise up a prophet like me,” says Moses. And YHWH agrees: “I’ll raise up a prophet for them… just like you” (Deut 18:18, CEB).
And what else are we to think of one who fed so many in the wilderness? Well, Jesus has a surprise in store. The people begin:
“Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life…” (John 6:31-35, CEB)
Do you see what happens here? The people are pushing the notion that they are the desert people, and Jesus the new Moses who will feed them in the wilderness and even become their king. In fact, after they say, “This is truly the prophet!” Jesus has to withdraw to keep them from making him king.
Jesus is transforming their expectations. Yes, the Messiah, but no, not like that.
So if not the prophet like Moses, who? Or better, what?
Jesus reworks the story in two ways.
First: it wasn’t Moses who gave bread in the wilderness, but the Father. If you see food in the wilderness and think that you’re in the presence of the new Moses, you’ve mistaken the work of God for the work of a human.
God gave the bread in the wilderness.
But then, in another surprise move, tells them that the point of the bread was not that he was Moses, nor that he was even the sender in Heaven. Instead, Jesus is what the Sender has sent:
I am the bread of life.
Jesus is the bread sent by the Father into the wilderness. The feeding here does not say, “Behold, the prophet like Moses,” but, “Behold, the true bread of life that has come down into the world.”
Not the sending Father, not the leading Moses, not the sent mannah, but the Sent Son.”
Here is God’s provision for eternal life, the true bread that the Father has sent into the world. Not Moses, but the eternal Mannah.
“What is it?” the people asked in the OT, and so they called it “Mannah.” What is it? the people are asking in the wilderness, and Jesus tells them, “It is I, the bread of life, sent from heaven so that you might live.”