“After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” – John 6:14-15
There had already been a stir in Judea that it may finally be happening, that the Prophet was among them. The first hint came by a camel-hair clad, honey eating man, who preached the coming of the Messiah and the need for repentance. They asked him if he was the “Prophet”, a claim he unequivocally denied. What he did not deny was that such a Prophet was among them (John 1:19-28). The next hint came at a well in Samaria where a woman was told “everything she ever did.” She knew the one who spoke to her was “a prophet” and wondered if he was the Christ. The Samaritans only believed in the first five books of the Old Testament (Pentateuch), where did they get the notion of the Christ? Finally, we have the story of feeding the 5000 in John 6, the only miracle of Jesus’ ministry recorded in all four gospels. What would cause the crowd to come to the conclusion that Jesus was “The Prophet?”
Who is this “Prophet”?
In Deuteronomy 18 God warns the people of Israel about following after witchcraft, sorcery, and divination. God says he will send another voice to give them guidance – the prophet who they are to listen to.
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. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. – Deuteronomy 18:18-22
This passage is of key importance in understanding the Gospel of John. This is John’s bone to pick with the religious leaders and authorities who he typically calls, “the Jews.” John, himself a Jew, is not being “anti-Semitic.” Instead, he is saying that a true Jew should have understood these things. The Jewish leaders evaluated Jesus’ claims against their pride and arrogance instead of evaluating his claims against scripture. It is evident that they used the second half of this scripture in critiquing Jesus but not the first. They liked the part that said, “But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” because that fit their agenda of wanting Jesus dead. How could they work that out? They credited Jesus’ miracles to demons, which would have qualified him for death. They also said that Jesus was speaking in the name of God without being commanded by God to do so – that would qualify Jesus for death. What they ignored was the second part of this scripture – that if he indeed does speak in the name of the Lord he is to be listened to and those who ignore him will be called into account. They did not evaluate Jesus based on all of the criteria laid out in Deut 18 – that his words come true. If they had they would have realized that he was The Prophet.
Back to the feeding of the 5000. There are a number of parallels between this story and the context of the Prophet like Moses in Deuteronomy.
Notice what time of year it is – Passover (6:4). hat did Moses do at this time of year? He lead them out from Egyptian bondage. What did the 1st century Jews expect the Prophet like Moses would do? Release them from the Romans.
In reality there was a more significant bondage that Jesus was trying to deliver them from than the Romans. Jesus is with these people in the wilderness where there were no stores to buy food. So like mana in the wilderness Jesus provides them food. There are 12 baskets of leftovers – one for each disciple or one for each tribe. In doing all of this Jesus parallels the wilderness experience.
What happens next in John 6? Jesus walks on the water – paralleled to parting the Red Sea to deliver God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. As many people have noted the sea represented chaos and upheaval in their world. The sea was a place where friends and family who had left on ships never returned. That is significant in the creation story that God’s word had power over the sea. With a word God separated the waters and in doing so showed his power of chaos. Jesus walking on water is doing more than a neat party trick – he is showing that he also has power over creation and over the powers of chaos and darkness. In doing so he parallels the exodus experience.
Jesus is indeed the Prophet like Moses and because of that God tells us we are to listen to him (Deut 18:15).