4 Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” 6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.
Jesus now began to focus on His disciples by calling attention to their mission.
Now the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was near [approaching].
The Passover here was the second of three that John mentioned in his gospel. It may be that the people following Jesus had a high expectation of the coming of the Messiah because they were anticipating the Passover. The Passover was the strategic time when God would save His people from death. It was a reminder of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Jesus would come to save His people eternally. Jesus’ intention toward the multitude was to draw attention to Moses and the Exodus generation.
Jesus’ ministry lasted three years, so this must have been about one year before He was crucified.
The timing was the Passover season (spring). This feast foreshadowed the death of Christ for our sins. One year remained until Jesus would be crucified.
Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him,
After spending time with the disciples on the mountain, Jesus saw a vast crowd coming from the western side of the Sea of Galilee moving toward them. This crowd may have been 10,000 people or more if we include women and children.
He said to Philip,
Only John records this question to Philip among the gospels.
“Where shall we buy bread [flat and round pancake], that these may eat?”
This is the only occasion where Jesus asked advice from a disciple, but it was strictly to test His disciple. Jesus’ question to Philip was not so much for the location of finding bread but to instruct him in discipleship. Philip was from Bethsaida (1:44), the closest town to their current location, so he would know where to buy food.
Although the crowd followed Jesus for the wrong reason, nevertheless Jesus extended His grace to this mass of people.
But this He said to test him [Philip],
John years later thought about this incident and concluded that Jesus was testing Philip’s faith (Ja 1:2, 13–15; 1 Pe 1:7). “Test” does not mean tempt. The Lord posing this dilemma for Philip was to build his faith, which lacked the dynamic necessary to follow Jesus fully.
for He Himself knew [already] what He would do.
Jesus did not seek information, for He knew what Philip’s response would be. Jesus wanted to show Himself as the giver of bread. This prepares us for the genuine bread discourse in the later part of the chapter.
God tests us to prove whether our faith is genuine.
Jesus was never surprised at any turn of events, for He is always in command of every situation. He held no resentment for the crowd interrupting His time of relaxation with His disciples but was willing to disrupt His rest to minister to others.
The inadequacy of men is an opportunity for God to demonstrate His power. Evidently it did not occur to Philip that Jesus could meet the need of the 5,000 hungry men. He did his calculation but he did not factor in what Jesus would do. Jesus can and does supply the needs of men. What He offers vastly surpasses what man can provide.
God is in the business of testing our faith on a regular basis. If a situation were to arise where it puts stress on our soul, how will we handle it–by anxiety or by faith? To draw on God’s resources instinctively is to trust Him for our needs (Php 4:19). It is an issue of acting on what we believe.
Ps 43: 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.
God always uses dissonance or a disruption in our lives to test our faith (1 Pe 1:6-8).