What happened between chapters 5 and 6?

John’s gospel is not one of the synoptic gospels. That simply means it does not “look like the other” three. That doesn’t mean that the others were somehow derived from a common previously existing “original text” that is now lost whereas John’s followed a different tradition. There is no proof of that that could stand up in court. Remember, Scholars have to make a living too. And beyond the objective detective work they engage in when examining ancient witnesses, they also can have their own subjective opinions. But since not one of us can hop into a time machine and go back and see the original compilation of the gospels, all we can do is take the gospels we have at face value.

This is an important point: If the original manuscripts can be shown to be trustworthy, and they do not contradict each other, or the rest of the Word of God, then we can believe them. It is important because there were other documents written, well after the time of Jesus, that purported to be other gospels. But some of the stories they tell are unique to them and clearly contradict the character and the teachings of Jesus as witnessed by the other gospels. In that case we know those writings are spurious. (If Dan Brown can use them to make a living, good for him.)

Now, since the four gospels we have have been shown to be trustworthy accounts, it turns out it is a good thing that John’s does not look like the others… or that, in fact, the others are not identical to each other.

Each evangelist focused on the storyline that the Holy Spirit guided him on; each for its own purpose: Maybe one, to give a narrative that could be best understood by Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries. Maybe another, to show the growing number of Gentile believers how the whole cosmos was, all along, under the control of God’s plan. Certainly, each one must reflect the difference in personality of the author and the difference in point of view of the people they interviewed to gather the facts. Still: all true, all trustworthy.

So, today, if we want, we can be our own detectives and take all four narratives and try to figure out the chronological order in which the events given to us took place. Such a narrative is called a Combined Gospel. There have been a few written over the centuries.

I am not talking about a “Parallel Gospel” where someone puts in four columns, side by side, the passages that seem to be the same. Rather it is a woven narrative that must respect the veracity of each individual narrative. You cannot tell a witness in court that he is remembering wrong: What he says he saw, that you have to take as the testimony. Therefore, for instance, the sinful woman that anointed Jesus’ feet and washed them with her hair at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, is clearly not the same as Mary of Bethany who did almost the same thing at the home of Simon the leper, barely a week before Jesus went to the cross. Those are different events. And we have no reason to assume that either of those women is the same as Mary Magdalene.

I mention a Combined Gospel because such is very useful as we go through John’s gospel. It helps us put what happens there in the context of the (unmentioned) events that we know took place, through the other gospels. Thus, as John proceeds from what we call Chapter 5 to Chapter 6, we can see the theme of the escalating revelation of Jesus’ person and mission continue to unfold… but Chapter 6 does not follow immediately, chronologically, after Chapter 5. We know this because Chapter 6 will tell us about the miraculous feeding of the 5,000: an event that appears in the other gospels too.

(What follows is taken from my own version of a Combined Gospel. I use Darby’s translation throughout since it is in the public domain, it is fairly easy to read, and I like it.)

What happened before chapter 5?

Before Chapter 5 of John’s gospel, Jesus had already, formally called the 12 to be His apostles…

(Matthew 9:37-38) Then saith he to his disciples, The harvest [is] great and the workmen [are] few; supplicate therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth workmen unto his harvest. (Mark 3:13-15) And he goes up into the mountain, and calls whom he himself would, and they went to him. And he appointed twelve that they might be with him, and that he might send them to preach, and to have power [to heal diseases, and] to cast out demons.

(Mark 3:16-19) And he gave to Simon the surname of Peter; and James the [son] of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, and he gave them the surname of Boanerges, that is, Sons of thunder; and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the [son] of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus [(Matthew 10:3) Lebbaeus], and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariote, who also delivered him up.

And they come to [the] house. (Matthew 10:5-7) These twelve Jesus sent out when he had charged them, saying, Go not off into [the] way of [the] nations, and into a city of Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of the heavens has drawn nigh. (Matthew 10:8-13) Heal [the] infirm, [raise the dead], cleanse lepers, cast out demons: ye have received gratuitously, give gratuitously.

Do not provide yourselves with gold, or silver, or brass, for your belts, nor scrip for the way, nor two body coats, nor sandals, nor a staff: for the workman is worthy of his nourishment. But into whatsoever city or village ye enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and there remain till ye go forth. And as ye enter into a house salute it. And if the house indeed be worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.

This background is important because we see that Jesus not only gave them authority to preach the good news, He also gave them the power to perform the same kinds of signs and wonders that He did: casting out demons and healing, even to the raising of the dead. And we know, from the time later, when He sends the 70 with similar instructions, that indeed the power of God went with them, confirming by such signs the word of the gospel. They were performing miracles, like the prophets of long ago.

There is another reason this background is important. Their mission came with the warning that embarking on it would place them at enmity with the kingdom of this world:

(Matthew 10:14-15) And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, as ye go forth out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in judgment-day than for that city. (Matthew 10:16-20) Behold, *I* send you as sheep in the midst of wolves; be therefore prudent as the serpents, and guileless as the doves. But beware of men; for they will deliver you up to sanhedrims…

I will not copy here the whole passage as it continues, since the reader can find it in their own Bible. (Although, if a reader is interested in getting a copy of this Combined Gospel, that could be arranged.) The point is, Jesus warns them about the consequences and specifically how the religious leaders will react:

(Luke 12:1-3) [Rather] beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy; [for] there is nothing covered up which shall not be revealed, nor secret that shall not be known; therefore whatever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light, and what ye have spoken in the ear in chambers shall be proclaimed upon the housetops

…(Matthew 10:40-42) He that receives you receives me, and he that receives me receives him that sent me. He that receives a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold [water] only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.

(Matthew 11:1) And it came to pass when Jesus had finished commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and preach in their cities.

And now, this last verse is critical.

Part of the reason Jesus sent them away to the other towns of Israel was because He was about to begin the escalation. It should be evident from reading the gospels, and Kierkegaard makes it clear, that Jesus Himself precipitated His own “downfall”.

Think about it: With the power to heal any disease and cast out demons at will, He could have endeared Himself to all the people. I mean, what wouldn’t you do for Him, if He had saved the life of your child? If He had wiped away that life sentence called leprosy?

There had been others in recent memory who claimed to be the Messiah, and they were able to gather a large enough following that the Romans had to react and confront them. Can you imagine the size of the army Jesus could have raised? Here was an obvious common enemy: Rome. Wouldn’t the people have united behind Him against that enemy?

But as soon as He sent His disciples away from Him…

(Matthew 11:1) And it came to pass when Jesus had finished commanding his twelve disciples, he departed thence to teach and preach in their cities.

Now this is happening at the same time that John is in prison; when his disciples come to Jesus with John’s questions. And Jesus speaks to them in the presence of the crowds. After He answers them, He praises John…

(Luke 7:29-30) And all the people who heard [it], and the tax-gatherers, justified God, having been baptised with the baptism of John; but the Pharisees and the lawyers rendered null as to themselves the counsel of God, not having been baptised by him.)

And then He continues talking to the people:

(Matthew 11:12-15) But from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of the heavens is taken by violence, and [the] violent seize on it. For all the prophets and the law have prophesied unto John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, who is to come. He that has ears to hear, let him hear.

This is a puzzling statement. People still debate today what Jesus meant by saying “violent people were seizing the Kingdom of Heaven by violence”. I invite you to read commentaries on this passage. Is Jesus saying this is a good thing or a bad thing?

It seems to me that if we continue reading, and take into account the mixed reactions in that crowd that was there when John’s disciples came, (and take into account John 2:23-25 And when he was in Jerusalem, at the passover, at the feast, many believed on his name, beholding his signs which he wrought. But Jesus himself did not trust himself to them, because he knew all [men], and that he had not need that any should testify of man, for himself knew what was in man) that this is not such a good thing.

Yes, tons of people were excited about the Kingdom of Heaven… but did they understand what it took to enter? Certainly, salvation is nothing that we can seize by violence. On the contrary, choosing the way of the Kingdom of Heaven, marks us out for violence. Thus, Jesus starts to make it plain to the people that they are double minded…

(Matthew 11:16-19) But to whom shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the markets, which, calling to their companions, say, We have piped to you, and ye have not danced: we have mourned to you, and ye have not wailed. For John has come neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He has a demon. The Son of man has come eating and drinking, and they say, Behold, a man [that is] eating and wine-drinking, a friend of tax-gatherers, and of sinners: — and wisdom has been justified by her children.

It is at this point that Simon the Pharisee invites Him to dinner, and we have the encounter with the sinful woman… (Luke 7:36-38) But one of the Pharisees begged him that he would eat with him…

That dinner ends with Jesus saying: (Luke 7:43-48)… Her many sins are forgiven; for she loved much; but he to whom little is forgiven loves little. And he said to her, Thy sins are forgiven. (Luke 7:49-50) And they that were with [them] at table began to say within themselves, Who is this who forgives also sins? And he said to the woman, Thy faith has saved thee; go in peace.

And so we see Jesus not shying away from controversy. On the contrary, He is now inviting it. This is why He sent His disciples away, so He could go to their cities without them getting blamed for what He was about to say:

(Matthew 11:20-22) Then began he to reproach the cities in which most of his works of power had taken place, because they had not repented. Woe to thee, Chorazin! woe to thee Bethsaida! for if the works of power which have taken place in you, had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they had long ago repented in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, that it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in judgment-day than for you. (Matthew 11:23-24) And *thou*, Capernaum, who hast been raised up to heaven, shalt be brought down even to hades. For if the works of power which have taken place in thee, had taken place in Sodom, it had remained until this day. But I say to you, that it shall be more tolerable for [the] land of Sodom in judgment-day than for thee.

How would you have liked it to hear your hometown compared to Sodom and Gomorrah?

It is after this that the healing at the pool of Bethesda takes place (John 5.)

What happened after Chapter 5?

Immediately after the end of John 5, the story continues in Luke’s gospel:

(Luke 9:7-8) And Herod the tetrarch heard of all the things which were done [by Jesus], and was in perplexity, because it was said by some that John was risen from among [the] dead, and by some that Elias had appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets had risen again. (Matthew 14:2-4) And [Herod] said to his servants, This is John the baptist: *he* is risen from the dead, and because of this these works of power display their force in him.

For Herod had seized John, and had bound him and put him in prison on account of Herodias the wife of Philip his brother. For John said to him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. (Mark 6:19-20) But Herodias kept it [in her mind] against him, and wished to kill him, and could not: for Herod feared John knowing that he was a just and holy man, and kept him safe; and having heard him, did many things, and heard him gladly.

(Mark 6:21-23) And a holiday being come, when Herod, on his birthday, made a supper to his grandees, and to the chiliarchs, and the chief [men] of Galilee; and the daughter of the same Herodias having come in, and danced, pleased Herod and those that were with [him] at table; and the king said to the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt and I will give it thee. And he swore to her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask me I will give thee, to half of my kingdom. (Mark 6:24-25) And she went out, and said to her mother, What should I ask? And she said, The head of John the baptist. And immediately going in with haste to the king, she asked saying, I desire that thou give me directly upon a dish the head of John the baptist.

(Mark 6:26-28) And the king, [while] made very sorry, on account of the oaths and those lying at table with [him] would not break his word with her. And immediately the king, having sent one of the guard, ordered his head to be brought. And he went out and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head upon a dish, and gave it to the damsel, and the damsel gave it to her mother.

(Mark 6:29) And John’s disciples having heard [it], came and took up his body, and laid it in a tomb.  

Now we come full circle.

As we pick it up again in Luke, we find out that all these events happened while Jesus’ twelve disciples were gone, preaching the gospel. And now they are finally back:

(Luke 9:10) And the apostles having returned related to him [Jesus] whatever they had done and taught. (Matthew 14:13) And Jesus, having heard [that John had been killed] (Mark 6:31) he said to them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place and rest a little. For those coming and those going were many, and they had not leisure even to eat.

(Mark 6:32) And they went away apart into a desert place by ship [(Luke 9:10) to a desert place of] a city called Bethsaida. [(John 6:1) beyond the sea of Galilee, [or] of Tiberias] (Mark 6:33-34) And many saw them going, and recognised them, and ran together there on foot, out of all the cities, and got [there] before them.

And on leaving [the ship] [Jesus] saw a great crowd, and he was moved with compassion for them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd. (John 6:3) And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there sat with his disciples: (Mark 6:34) And he began to teach them many things.

Which brings us to John chapter 6:

John 6:1-5 After these things Jesus went away beyond the sea of Galilee, [or] of Tiberias, and a great crowd followed him, because they saw the signs which he wrought upon the sick. And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there sat with his disciples: but the passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.

Jesus then, lifting up his eyes and seeing that a great crowd is coming to him, says to Philip, Whence shall we buy loaves that these may eat?

I hope that now, the question Jesus asks Philip makes sense. Especially the comment John makes about it:

John 6:6 But this he said trying him, for he knew what he was going to do.

Why is Jesus “testing” Philip? Testing him about what?

Well, remember, Philip and the rest of the apostles just returned from their tour around the towns of Israel, where they preached the Gospel and confirmed it with signs and wonders. They had first hand experience that the miracles of the prophets of old were here to be had, right now…

But even so, they are not sure enough.

Philip answers with the logic of the world: John 6:7 Philip answered him, Loaves for two hundred denarii are not sufficient for them, that each may have some little [portion].

But Andrew goes a little bit out on the limb:

John 6:8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, says to him, There is a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two small fishes; but this, what is it for so many?

I hope you get the same feeling that I get as you listen to these two disciples. They are sort of hemming and hawing… They know of the miracles of multiplication of food that both Elijah and Elisha did. They know that they themselves worked miracles while preaching he gospel. But the scale needed here staggers their minds (and their hearts). These were 5,000 men plus their families. You are talking feeding over 10,000 maybe 15,000 people.

Is that possible?

“Yes, Jesus, we healed some sick people, we cast out demons here and there… yes, even that guy who had just died, we raised him from the dead… But do you really expect us to do this? Feed 15,000 people?”

Is that too much?

Have you ever experienced a miracle of God in your life? I know I have. Doesn’t that prove that nothing is impossible with God? And yet, when time passes and He asks us to step out on a limb, to where only a miracle could carry us, don’t we all hesitate? Why do we do that?

Are we somehow subconsciously, or even consciously, measuring the miracle? Are we comparing the one that already happened with the one He is asking us to believe in now, and saying, “it’s not the same”? Why? Does that even make sense?

It is as if we thought there were scales of impossibility… “A is more impossible than B.” But impossible, is precisely that: impossible. And if it takes a miracle for Jesus’ plan to unfold, then it is that miracle that we need… no more, no less. It makes no sense to measure it.

To Him, feeding 15,000 is neither easier nor harder than feeding just one…

Do you know why?

Because to Him, each one of those 15,000 is His beloved child. He loves each one of us individually, with His whole heart.

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