Jesus As Second Moses (john 6.1-15)

1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.

Jesus as second and greater mosesIf we read this gospel account carefully, we would be somewhat bewildered to discover a conversation that was started in John 5.17 in Jerusalem  ends on one of the shores of lake Kinneret – a third name for the Sea of Galilee or Sea Tiberias (see also John 5.1).

It has long been thought that John was either inaccurate or unconcerned about issues of chronology, geography and details in general; but was rather concerned with the larger theological view of Christ-related events. Since we have already walked together through first five chapters of the Gospel, we see that it is not the case. John is accurate. He writes knowing the nuanced geography and paying careful attention to details even if at times he provides a different chronological rendering to that of the synoptic gospels. This quality is characteristic of eyewitness accounts and it points away from a long held theory that the Gospels were written only 30 years after the events.

It is not clear why John tells us nothing about Jesus’ travel from Jerusalem to Galilee. A number of suggestions to solve this problem have been raised to answer it. However, all the suggestions seem to raise more questions than those they set out to answer. Rather than being a case of neglect, it is possible that this was the author’s intention and was part of his careful design that we saw earlier (Was the Gospel of John “simply” written or carefully designed?). One possibility is that John intentionally wanted us to know that conversations that began in Jerusalem always spread to other areas. Or, did this have a symbolic meaning ? (In the next section we will explore this possibility further and you may be surprised what you will see). But what is clear is that John expected it to be noticed. We know this because in the first centuries of the Common Era, the expectation (due to the absence of copy machines and printing press) was that his gospel would be read in communal settings and would be read out loud. Most probably the gospel would have been read completely or at lease read in large sections. Whatever the reason we give or allow for John’s omission it is to be likely found in his original design for this Gospel.

2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

CrowdVery soon in vs. 10 we will read that the “large crowd” was a crowd numbering approximately 5,000 people. Taking into consideration that in ancient times only men were counted, the number may been even higher. The point here is not whether there were 3000, 5000, or 7000 people. A large crowd of people followed Jesus and witnessed his miracles. At the time when the village of Nazareth had a population of no more than 200 people (according to reliable archeological data) one can rightfully see that 5000 was a very large number of people indeed. Therefore, it can be safely assumed that Jesus’ following transitioned from local to regional. We can also imagine the concern the crowds numbering in thousands following one charismatic leader would cause to the Jerusalem authorities who struggled to expand and secure their influence in Jewish Galilee. This would have been especially true if the Jesus movement was not losing, but gaining in momentum. Even more of a concern was that Jesus purposely recast himself as the Moses-like figure. In this case, like Moses, he gives his teachings from a mountain (vs.3) and provides his followers with food. We will look at this in a future blog post.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

12 eteacherSince this commentary concentrates on some aspects of the text that usually are not addressed in other commentaries, there are few other things  worth mentioning. John is once again paying attention to details when he states that the place where the people gathered had a lot of grass. He was either highlighting the imagery of the shepherd pastoring his sheep, or simply mentioning this as an otherwise unconnected fact. This may then point to the fact that the memories were still fresh and vivid when he wrote the Gospel.

In vs.13 we see that Jesus has provided so much food that there were 12 large baskets of bread left when all the people had finished eating. The number 12 is significant and should not be overlooked or considered coincidental. Given the great importance of the number twelve in Israelite history – twelve tribes of Israel – the number of baskets is, therefore, a significant symbolic number. It indicates that Jesus’ provision is enough, not only for Galilean Jews plus those residing in Judea, but also for all Israel – for all twelve tribes. If I am correct that the Gospel of John understands the Israelite Samaritans as one of the major Jewish people groups to which it was addressed – this this reference to all the tribes of Israel would also make sense. In the mind of the author, they were part of the “people of Israel.”

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

The mountain was a place away from people. It is a place where one could be together with God to commune with him in a personal way. All the activity, all the hustle and bustle of the nearby town was now silenced. The mountains were also often used by people for hiding. Perhaps, Jesus’ early statement, addressed in the previous section, is connected with this verse (Jn. 5.41I do not accept praise from people). Not only did Jesus not submit to the power-hungry authority of Jerusalem’s hoi Ioudaioi, but he also did not submit to the blind, but often misguided excitement of the Am Ha’Aretz (People of the Land), who in opposition to the hoi Ioudaioi wanted to make him king of Israel.

Both, hoi Ioudaioi and Galilean Jewish Am Ha’Aretz, failed to see who Jesus really was and what it was that he had come to do. If those who should have known, the hoi Ioudaioi and also Jewish Galileans although in different ways, missed the point entirely;  was it not also possible that Israelite Samaritan leaders and ancient Israelite lay people among others, would also miss it? That was the indirect question that John sought to put into the minds of Israelite Samaritans who were, as he was hoping, among those who would either read or listen to his Gospel when it was  read out loud.

To receive more information about learning Biblical Languages with Hebrew University of Jerusalem/eTeacher Biblical program online at affordable cost, please, click here.

© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

To sign up for weekly posts by Dr. Eli, please, click here. It is recommend by Dr. Eli that you read everything from the begining in his study of John. You can do so by clicking here “Samaritan-Jewish Commentary”.

About the author

Dr. Eli Lizorkin-EyzenbergTo secure your spot in our new course “The Jewish Background of New Testament” - CLICK HERE NOW

You might also be interested in:

Join the conversation (33 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Drs, Charles van den Berg

    In your command on 5, 19-30 you proved through a chiasm that John ‘s Gospel was carefully prepared. Personal I think we have to do with a chiasm here too.
    (A)(1-3) Following (the crowd) Jesus (went up to the mountain).
    (B) (4-9) (The crowd) (is hungry)
    (C) (10) (The crowd) (is seated)
    (B) (11-13) (The crowd) (is filled)
    (A) (14-) Misinterpeted by ( the crowd) Jesus (went again to the mountain)

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Charles as always. I am failing to see why C is key thought in this case?

      1. Shari Freeland

        (B) specifies how many loaves and fish were available
        (C) specifies how many people were there
        (B’) specifies how many baskets of leftovers were taken up

        I think C is important because later (Matthew 16:9 and Mark 6:51) Jesus rebukes the disciples for not comprehending the significance of the the numbers

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Thanks, Shari for your comment here.

      2. Drs. Charles van den Berg

        I saw this in C:
        There was seated a crowd who was hungry and was filled. But perhaps I saw to much and so maybe I am wrong.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          This where I get skeptical 🙂 But is it possible? Of course.

  2. Drs, Charles van den Berg

    John speaks of ’12 baskets’ . You rightly say that the bread and the fish and the numbers has also a symbolic value and meaning. But wehen the 12 in the ’12 baskets ‘has a symbolic meaning can it be that ‘the basket’ here also has a symbolic value? ?? And where did John than thought? It Is possible that he has thought to Jer. 24 ???????????

  3. RamonAntonio

    Psalm 110:
    Assurance of Victory for God’s Priest-King

    110 1 The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.”
    2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes!
    3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host upon the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning like dew your youth will come to you.
    4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”
    5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
    6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
    7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.
    John 5: 43-47
    43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.
    44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
    45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.
    47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
    In the Psalm Jesus explained that David was referring to Him as Lord.
    In John 5: 47- Jesus Himself says that Moses wrote of Him and then adds that people believe his writing speaking of God but do not believe in Jesus acting under God.
    I do not see Jesus presenting Himself as a greater Moses but as Him of whom Moses spoke. For me, this is a clear evidence of His claim to Him being Yahwe Himself, thus the One who spoke to Moses and the One who Moses and Elijah spoke directly to. That’s why they were present in the Transfiguration, they were the previous personal witnesses of Him (those who actually saw and spoke to Him before Incarnation) as the apostles and disciples and those after them would be henceforth because we would see Him Incarnate as Jesus. He is the binding of the Bible.

  4. Shari Freeland

    I think that John specifically references the grass to make the allusion to the 23rd Psalm:
    He makes me lie down in green pastures = Have the people sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. (John 6:10)
    He leads me beside quiet waters = They were on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 6:1)
    He restores my soul = He … cured those who had need of healing (Luke 9:11)
    He guides me in the paths of righteousness = He began to teach them many things (Mark 6)
    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death = day was ending … in a desolate place (Luke 9:12)
    You prepare a table before me = He distributed loaves and fish, as much as they wanted (John 6:11)

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Very interesting and certainly possible. I tend to think that what happened was so vivid in John’s/author’s (if it was not John who wrote it) memory that he actually remembers a thick grass in the place where people set down. I guess it depends if we read what he write more symbolic or not… well… not necessarily symbolic. It could also be a little of both. Let’s keep thinking together. Dr. Eli

  5. Peter Michael Thornber

    Charmaine says that Jesus was not and never will be a mere prophet, and yet He is Prophet, Priest and King from Whom all earthly prophets, priests and kings “are named” and derive their prophethood, priesthood, kingship. [Where o where, please is that text about “the Father, from Whom all earthly fatherhood “is named”?]

    I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images/Is. xxxxij. 8, reiterated at Is. xxxx. 11/
    I will not give my glory to another.
    & 12/
    Hearken unto me, o Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last.

    The Quicunque Vult says it all:
    we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance….
    The Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost God
    And yet they are not three Gods but one God.
    Maybe there are some hints towards this Trinitarianism in the OT/TANAK?

    Certainly, as you say, Dr Eli, the Shema is in no wise contradicted, rather upheld. Thanks for your sharing and teaching.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Peter, hi. If you read me a lot you will find a lot of “prophet priest and king” idea in what I am writing :-).

      Is there a hint at Trinity, I don’t know. This is huge disputed question. Question what is Trinity and what it is not.

      For example, if you ask me if apostles believed in Trinity I would say that well…. neeyyyaaaaaaaa, they did.. what I mean is that I do not believe that they thought of these concepts systematically as we do today (like the creed you quoted). I think that after long hours and days of heated Middle Eastern debate and fighting with each other most of them would have agreed 🙂 🙂 :-). I do. There are some things such Trinity and Sunday worship that developed later, not because they necessarily contradict the prior (I don’t think they do), but because later began to think not Biblical theologically, but systematically. Methodology, determines conclusions. Something to keep in mind. Let’s keep on thinking together. There people that don’t believe in Trinity because they do not think systematically. THen there are people that reject Trinity because they think systematically. I think its wise to make a difference between them. Dr. Eli

    2. Charmaine

      Hi Peter, sorry I took so long to respond. when I used the word “mere” in front of prophet, I meant to say HE is NOT ONLY a prophet. HE is so much more… like you rightfully said “and yet He is Prophet, Priest and King”. English is not my first language. I am sorry if I used the term incorrectly, and caused you any anguish.

      1. Peter Michael Thornber

        Dear Charmaine,

        Thank you very much for your kind note; you have nothing to be sorry for. You used the word “mere” correctly and you write well in English, if I may say so; I felt your point was a good one and worth endorsing and developing.

  6. Sonia Willats

    Whilst it is difficult to reconcile the authority of Jesus with HaShema: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one,” found in Deuteronomy 6:4 we find both in the Old and New Testament that G-d crowned a King and lifted him up to be above all others. Thank you, Eli, as always. A wonderful and enlightening commentary. I enjoyed the “12” and the “much grass.” I have read, but never SEEN it. Not one was left out, and possibly also alluding to the good shepherd.

    Eph. 1:18: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thanks, Sonia. Somewhere in the good book 🙂 it says that YHWH will not give his glory to another, yet in Dan.7 He does just that! To my mind there is only one conclusion – Pre-Christian Jewish Logos Theology –

      So, Jesus as the Logos of God has not contradiction with the Shema what so ever. The issue was not that Jesus theology did not fit the theologies acceptable to Hoi Ioudaioi at the time, but rather that they did not accept him into those categories. You can revisit this –

      Once again and as always thanks for your participation in our study group.

      Dr. Eli

  7. Charmaine

    Thank you! Definitely food for thought. (Interesting comments you received; Jesus remained sinless. Moses did not measure up here. For starters Moses had an earthly father. How many blind and lame did Moses heal? Was Moses raised from the dead? To name a few. Jesus was and still is far greater than Moses could have dreamed of being. Moses was a type / shadow of the Christ that was to come. Jesus was not and will never be a mere prophet. )

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      agree 🙂

  8. Stephen Lockwood

    Too often, we read the Bible chapter by chapter, not as a tretise in of itself. When we read it by chapter, we miss out on the complete story. Thank you Dr. Eli for pointing this out, that the story here is a continuation, and exposation of the previous chapter. Here I see Yeshua puting a point on his claim to the “Judeans” that even though they read the TANAK, they didn’t even recognize the prophet that Moses spoke of; even when He was standing in front of them.

    Thank you for bringing out the point of the 12 baskets on the mountain. The juxtapositian of Yeshua and Moshe is so exquisit. Again, thank you.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Stephen,

      as always I am grateful to all study group participants. Thank you so much for your comments. Keep them coming! Blessings and peace, Dr. Eli

  9. Charlotte Mecklenburg

    Your Title “Jesus Second and Greater Moses” seems to be saying Jesus is Greater than Moses. However, in Deut. 18:17 The LORD said to me: . . . 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.

    “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”
    (Deuteronomy 34:10–12 NIV)

    The idea that Jesus is greater than Moses somehow does not fit with God saying he would be like Moses, not greater.

    When Peter, James, and John were on the mountain top, did they see Jesus as greater than Elijah and Moses. What was Jesus doing up there? Was he not discussing his up-coming death? He was acting either their equal or less by getting advise from them. When God speaks from the cloud saying, “This is my son you must listen to him.” It is certainly reflecting what he said to Moses in Deut. 18:18.

    That Jesus became greater must have had to do more with the immediate circumstances they were living in and so he was more relevant to them and in that way became greater.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes, indeed. The Gospel of John as all Gospels for that matter present Jesus as someone greater (perhaps infinitely greater) than Moses. There is no arguement that the Gospels have with both of the verses you quote. They just interpret it very different from you. To my mind the ideas fits very well, because like unto Moses does not mean that he could not be greater then Moses, it simply means that he will also be great like Moses and like Moses will have unique relationship with Israel’s God.

      What Moses and Elijah – two greatest Old Testament figures discussed with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration is stated in the text. They discussed the Exodus of God’s people, but this time not from Egypt to Canaan, but form kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. I (respectfully) disagree with you about your conclusions that Jesus was getting advice from them. Following your logic, Jesus was lesser then Moses and not his equal :-). When God spoke from the cloud it was connected to Deut. 18 no doubt but also to Jesus’ kingship as is described in Ps.2.

      I think it is the meter of what John’ says (we can reject it or accept it). How is it possible for someone who was God and then took upon himself humanity (Jesus) – according to John’s Gospel – be equal with Moses who was one of the best human beings ever lived?!

      1. Jose Cesareo

        I really enjoyed reading both comments and views you guys gave on these accounts. Thank you very much for your well-absorbed inputs. God bless you and yours! In Jesus’ Name!

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Thanks, Jose for your kind comments. Dr. Eli

      2. phillip

        Yes Dr. Eli

        I see so many problems with ever comparing Jesus with the man Moses. I rather think that Moses himself was speaking only in the terms of a 2nd Exodus, for this was not only the typology, but also the great context on the boulevard of the desert upon which he was speaking of some future prophet and leader like unto himself would come…at the endtimes, in order to lead the 12 tribes of Israel, or the 144,000 families back to the promise Land in the 2nd Exodus.

        For the Israelites having just escaped from one captivity under Pharaoh, and now they were getting rebellious when we was absent a mere 40 days, and now we see Him giving them this warning that in future, if they continue, then they will go into a future capativity from which another Moses will be sent to deliver them again.

        I therefore think that we should be fully expectant of seeing another, antitype Moses and even another Aaron, as well as another group of the original 70 elders who shall be on the earth and this leadership shall bring the Lost tribes of the House of Israel scattered for 2700 years back to the land in these last days.

    2. David Gibbons

      Charlotte, I would disagree with your conclusion that Jesus cannot be greater than Moses. It seems your argument is based almost entirely on the second quote (Deut. 34) but surely that must be read from the writers perspective, i.e. at the time Deuteronomy was written there had been no greater prophet (I admit, I do not believe it to have been written by Moses, but much later). What would happen in their future they could not have known and did not address.

    3. Drs, Charles van den Berg

      Charlotte I disagree. I think that we have to understood whole the Gospel of John John from the opening idea of Joh.1,2;18; Proverb “He was with God in the beginning’ ‘No one has ever seen God, but the God the only Son, who is at the Father site, has made Him known ‘ ‘Then I was the crafstman at His site’. So even Moses did not see Him and so Jesus as Son of the Father was the active source of the large things that Moses had to do. Jesus was equal to Moses , but He was also more. You never can say God (Jesus) is in everything equal to man (Moses). But I appreciate you are thinking on.

      1. Drs, Charles van den Berg

        supplement: Proverbs 8, 30

  10. Peter Michael Thornber

    I have long thought not only are they designed to be read in communal settings, as you say; those communal settings are liturgical: the Supper and the Prayer Meetings, what we’d think of as the Breviary Hours.

    And in that, isn’t the Church following Jewish Temple and] synagogal practice as shewn in Jesus, reading in
    the synagogue? His Apostles see themselves in grateful loyalty and following, not opposition, to, and in harmony with their, and therefore our, Jewish forebears in the Faith.
    I’m sure the Galilean aspect is important as Dr Edersheim also points out. [Maybe I’m helped in that as a proud Yorkshire Dalesman I can see the the Judaea specifically Jerusalem/ Galilee dichotomy as analogous to that between London and the the remote hill country of the Yorkshire Dales. Jesus and his closely-knit, and in many cases inter-related, entourage would be looked down upon as yokels and, if we follow Edersheim in his characterizatio of ”galilee of the Gentiles”, as not quite . . .proper, as rather prone to the taint of assimilation. The irony is that it was the Jerusalem ”establishment” that was tainted. Also in berating the Jews, Jesus, and His Apostle John on His behalf are berating His audience. Now we, by which I mean mainly Christians who are His audience in succession and addition to His kinsfolk the Jew, it is we who are His audience and therefore we who are being berated. the Gospel contains menace and it is we [= His audience]that are in danger of being menaced To see it as anti-Jewish is, surely buck passing – like, for example Adam and Pilate!
    Thanks for this eirenic and wonderful course.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Peter,

      I think your are so right. Thank you for bringing this up for others to relate to. I signed you up to get updates from me weekly. If you like the idea, make sure to confirm it (look for Jewish Studies for Christians in the subject lines). Edersheim is amazing, but he wrote long time ago. So much of relevant research has been done since. If you decide to stay with our study group, I think your insights and observations will be valuable.

      Dr. Eli