Theis small group John 6:1-21 Bible study contains outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

John 6:1-21 Bible Study Commentary And Discussion Questions


I. Jesus traveled to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (1-3)
II. He feeds the five thousand (4-15)
    A. Jesus tested Phillip (5-7)
    B. Andrew tells Jesus about the boy with the little bit of food (8-9)
    C. Jesus ordered the people to sit (10)
    D. He fed everyone until they were full (11)
    E. There were twelve baskets of leftovers (12-13)
    F. The people reached an emotional high and wanted to crown Jesus as king (14-15)
III. Jesus walks on water(16-21)
    A. They were crossing without Jesus (16-17)
    B. They encountered a strong storm (18)
    C. They see Jesus walking on water (19)
    D. He gives them words of comfort (20)
    E. They miraculously arrive at their destination (21)

Discussion Questions

  • Why were the people following Jesus?
  • What does this show about them?
  • Why did Jesus want to feed the people? Why not just let them prepare their own food?
  • How can those of us doing ministry follow this/these principles?
  • What is the point of Jesus testing Phillip (or anyone)?
  • Didn’t Jesus already know how Phillip would respond?
  • Why would Andrew tell Jesus about the five bread and two fish when he knew that was so little?
  • In giving his bread to them, what qualities did the lad show?
  • What can we learn from his involvement and from Christ used him?
  • What is the significance that people ate “as much as they wanted”?
  • Since Jesus could just create more food at any time why did they need to pick up and save the leftovers?
  • Is there any significance that there were twelve baskets left? If so, what can we learn from this?
  • Why did the people think Jesus was the Prophet? What is the problem with this?
  • Why should we be careful to believe just because of signs or emotional high events?
  • In what way is it ironic that they believed Jesus was the Prophet yet planned to do something to Him by force? What does this show about their understanding of what the Prophet/Messiah was?
  • Why didn’t Jesus let them make Him king? Why did the people want to make Jesus king?
  • Are signs bad?
  • Why were they frightened when they saw Jesus?
  • What miracle occurred in verse 21?
  • What do this miracles show us about Jesus’ character?
  • What do the people’s responses to these miracles show about their character?

Cross References

Luke 5:15 – Many were coming to be healed by Jesus.

John 7:31 – Many believed because Jesus performed many signs.

Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12-13 – Two of five specific places I saw where Jesus goes off by himself to pray and spend time with God.

Mark 6:33-44 – This same story in Mark.

Matthew 14:14-15, Mark 6:34-35 – Jesus had compassion on the crowds.

Luke 24:30 – He took bread, blessed it and ate. It was a regular practice to thank God for the food.

1 Timothy 4:4-5 – Nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude.

Luke 1:53 – One of the prophecies in the Magnificat is that Jesus would fill the hungry with good things.

Luke 15:13, Luke 16:1 – Both of these people were shown in a negative light because they weren’t a good steward of what God had given. Whether we are a steward of one dollar or one million dollars, we need to take care of it well.

Proverbs 11:24-25 – One scatters and increases even more. Another withholds and still doesn’t have enough.

2 Corinthians 9:8-9, Php 4:19 – God provides abundantly for us even more than we need. He isn’t stingy.

Acts 3:22-24 – The Prophet and the Messiah were pretty much synonyms.

Hebrews 4:13 – Everything is laid bare to Jesus’ eyes.

Verse by Verse Commentary

I. Jesus travels to the other side of the sea of Galilee. (1-3)

Verse 1 – Tiberias (named after the Roman emperor) was a small city on the Western shore of the sea of Galilee. It was founded by Herod Antipas. He combined the idols of Rome, the arts of Greece, etc. there. In the time of Jesus it was heathen and a relatively small and unimportant city. It didn’t become important until after the fall of Jerusalem. The three other gospel accounts call that sea the sea of Galilee. However, John wrote this gospel after the fall of Jerusalem. At this time Tiberias had become an important city and therefore its name had been given to the sea.

Verse 2 – Many people were following Jesus everywhere He went. Why? They didn’t follow Jesus primarily for the lesson He was teaching or to be spiritually fed. They didn’t follow Him primarily because they had a good relationship with Him or wanted to be near Him. Primarily they were following Him for the things they could out of it, namely being healed of their diseases or at least seeing a show of other people being healed. Most were shallow and concerned with temporal things.

Nothing has changed since that time. Still many people who profess to believe attend studies and go to church for the entertainment factor. Others attend because it makes them feel good. Others attend because they think God will do good things for them. These people were following Jesus, which was good, but they were following Him for the wrong reasons.

Verse 3 – Even though there were lots of people following Jesus around He always made time to spend teaching His disciples. This was the major part of His ministry, training up these men who would take the gospel to the world and He wasn’t going to be distracted from it to spend all His time doing the more popular healings. Healings were good and there was nothing at all the matter with them. They served their purpose. But if that was all that Jesus did a more important aspect would have been left out.

A lot of churches seem focused on drawing lots of followers. To do this they put on spectacular shows, play drums, or have exciting things to do. There is probably a place for these things. We need to reach out to new people. But it is easy to be caught up in this to such an extent that there is little time left for the most important ministry of simply teaching the Word. For us it is good to work at orphanages or do other charitable things. But remember teaching the Word is most important. From the other side, it is easy to be distracted doing lots of good things and not take time to STUDY the Word. We need to take time to spend at Jesus’ feet and simply learn.

II. Jesus feeds the five thousand (4-15)

1. Jesus knew that many were coming to Him just because of signs. Their motives weren’t very good (think English here), but did He turn them away? What was His first reaction? Why did Jesus want to feed them? One cannot separate the physical and spiritual. Jesus ministered to both aspects. Certainly the spiritual is more important, but helping people physically is often a path to witnessing. Robert for example. Imagine trying to teach a crowd of thousands of hungry people. They would probably be restless, talking to each other about where to go get food. At least they would be distracted by the continual hunger gnawing at their stomachs. Maybe if we were really spiritual we might say, “Come on guys. Suck it up! Learning about God is much more important. We don’t to eat. Spiritual food is much better than physical food!” In the process many we are teaching may think that God is not a practical God, and that aesthetic practices are too difficult. Others may think we lack compassion. Many would leave to find food.

But Jesus showed compassion.

Matthew 14:14 – When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Mark 6:34-35 – When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late.

Hospitality is a virtue. Feeding the hungry is a virtue. Feeding people is a great avenue of ministry (it is not the end, but a means. Luke 1:53). It shows we care for them and are willing to be friends with them, not just want to teach them our thoughts. It shows we care for their practical needs.

Another thing, many come because they want to learn English. Sure this is not a good motive. Neither is coming to see a sign or coming to get fed. Yet it is still an opportunity. We have a chance to plant a seed and who knows what God will do with the seed! Don’t turn people away because they have the wrong motivation. Rather, use it as an opportunity to share and encourage them to come for the right reasons.

Why did Jesus ask Philip this question? Didn’t He already know what Philip would say and what He would do? This is an easy question because the answer is in verse 6. He did it to prove or test Philip. It’s nice to see the answer so clearly here. Sometimes people wonder why God asks or does certain things since He knows the answer. Here we know clearly why He often does it. It is not for His benefit, but for ours. In English there is an idiom, “What we don’t know can’t hurt us.” The opposite is just as or even more true, “What we don’t know can’t help us.” Knowing our weaknesses and strengths and how we will respond in different situations is a great help for our continued growth. If you take an examine and know you only got a 50, but don’t know what mistakes you made it is not helpful.

Philip answered in the physical dimension, like all of us probably would have done. This lesson should have helped him learn to consider the miraculous power of Jesus and have more faith in God, relying on God’s power rather than His own.

Verses 8-9 – For some reason Andrew spoke up that a lad had five bread and two fish. Maybe the boy had felt touched by God and so came up and volunteered the food, or maybe Andrew had done inventory to see how much food there was and how much they would need and then found out the boy had a little bit of food. It seems also that Andrew is approaching it from a “human logic” standpoint. “Well, if we don’t have enough money maybe we can combine what everybody has and try to make it stretch. But even doing that there is not even close to enough.”

The lad was just one small boy out of a crowd of thousands. He only had a very little bit to offer. But whether he volunteered or was approached he was willing to give what he had for Jesus to use. This attitude is greatly to be commended. Most people would have selfishly said that it was their food which they brought and others should have thought of that ahead of time. This boy had an unselfish attitude. Others would have thought, “Who am I among so many?” “What can I do when the need is so great, and I am so small?” But this is not an excuse. God is great and can use even weak creatures like us to accomplish great things. Look how God used the lad! He used him to feed thousands of people! How excited that boy must have been that he was unselfish and gave his food to be used by God. Do not think you are too small to be used of God. He used the lad and He can use you too. The key for us is to have a willing heart.

Verses 10-11

Jesus did a miracle, but went about it in an orderly fashion. He was completely in control. Often when there are large amounts of people and groups start offering free food or other things there tends to me mass chaos. Not here. The one who ordered the universe could certainly handle the logistics of this! There were five thousand men. This doesn’t count women and children.

Luke 24:30 – When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.

1 Timothy 4:4-5 – For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

People often ask me why Christians pray before they eat. This is why. It is to give thanks. Jesus is our example. We should foster a thankful heart towards God for everything, not only food.

Once again I notice that Jesus’ miracle was complete. It didn’t lack anything. He didn’t feed four thousand of them and then run out. Sometimes a woman is complimented because she can “stretch” the food to feed a lot of people. Maybe she waters it down or has people just eat a little, kind of making a lot out of not much. But here everyone was full! You can bet they ate until they were well full. 2 Cor 9:8-9, Php 4:19. After all, it was free. No one was lacking. Jesus’ miracle was complete and not lacking in anyway. He showed His common grace even to those who didn’t belong to Him and to those who would support His crucifixion later.

Verse 12 – Why gather up all the leftovers? Jesus could just create more anytime, right? Luke 15:13, Luke 16:1. We are supposed to be good stewards of what God has given to us. This is not dependant on how much we make or how much we have. We don’t have an excuse to waste just because we have a lot. On the other hand, “to whom much is given much will be required.” We shouldn’t love the things we have in the world, but neither should we treat them with abuse and destroy things. Take care of what God has given to us.

Verse 13 – There were twelve baskets left. Perhaps one basket per disciple. Jesus didn’t forget those who were closest to them, but made sure their needs were taken care of as well.

Verses 14-15

Why did the people think Jesus was the Prophet? What is the problem with this?

Why should we be careful to believe just because of signs or emotional high events?

In what way is it ironic that they believed Jesus was the Prophet yet planned to do something to Him by force? What does this show about their understanding of what the Prophet/Messiah was?

Their view of who the Prophet was going to be was very wrong. They thought He would be a leader to save them from Rome. If He is from God and with the power of God how could they hope to force Him to do anything? A fundamental problem was that they wanted to mold the Messiah into what they wanted Him to be rather than to accept who He was and give their lives to Him.

Jesus wasn’t going to have any of that. He had no interest in any earthly kingdom. He knew that they would respond like this, the wrong way, yet still fed them. We can expect people will respond the wrong way and still do what is right.

Jesus routinely went off by himself to pray. It is vital that we have a private, personal relationship between God and us as individuals. Ministry is not enough. If we don’t have that vital link between us and God we can accomplish nothing.

III. Jesus walks on water (16-21)

While Jesus was presumably praying by Himself the disciples started on their journey. A storm had begun to come up and when they were partway across the sea they saw a figure walking across the top of the water. They were scared to death as most of us would be. When Jesus saw them He calmed them down and told them it was Him. Once again Jesus showed His power over this world by defying gravity. Also, when He got in the boat it immediately arrived at their destination. Jesus doesn’t even need the transport beams like on Star Trek! Really, it’s amazing that Jesus did so many shocking and incredible miracles we almost start to take them for granted and expect to read them. But imagine for a minute that you were there and could see and experience those miracles taking place. Even one would be a life-changing experience, much less scores! The great news is that Christ hasn’t lost His power. He can do those same things today. Have faith in Him. Praise Him for His great work.

Main Points

This time have class come up with main points and applications. Here would be some of my suggestions:

  1. We should reach out to physical needs.

  2. We shouldn’t get up in emotional things and ignore the more important teaching and studying of God’s Word.

  3. We should be good stewards of what God has given to us.

  4. Jesus did all His miracles completely.

  5. We should not consider we are too small or weak to make a difference. God can use us just as He used the small boy.

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