“As the former redeemer caused manna to descend … so will the latter Redeemer cause manna to descend”—Rabbi Isaac, 3rd Century AD
When we come to incidents like Christ’s feeding of the 5000ish in Galilee, unless we think like a first century Jew [which was Christ’s audience], we are going to miss a lot of the significance of what happens in the story.
The Jews were looking for a Messiah to come. They thought he would be a sort of super-Moses—that he would be like Moses, only greater. This fact helps us understand why the crowd wants to make him king by force in vv. 14-15. Moses brought the Israelites out of slavery to the hated Egyptians. The Jews were under the thumb—in every metaphorical way—of the hated Romans. Surely, Messiah would come and deliver them from Roman tyranny, right?
Notice in the details and events surrounding this passage, it’s close connection to the events and details surrounding the Exodus. In the Exodus, God delivers his people by controlling water (passing through the Red Sea, miraculous deliverance of water in the desert) and food (manna). In the context of this story, not only does Christ control bread, but he also controls water (vv.16-21). The event takes place near the Passover, the time when the Jews celebrated God’s deliverance, not only from Egypt, but through means of controlling water and food. God provided supernatural manna in the desert for his people; here Christ provides supernatural bread for hungry people—because as we shall immediately find, he is “The Bread of Life.”
Gerald Borchert comments: “For Christians who do not usually live with the experience of the Passover Seder, it is crucial to recognize that the celebration of Passover focuses not merely on the lamb but on the entire exodus rescue experience. Passover epitomizes God’s claiming and releasing of his people as well as his preservation of the people by supplying them with food and rescuing them from the threatening sea. Passover is a multifaceted identifying celebration, and the evangelist knew it well.”
It is not coincidence that John closely connects this story with the story of the Exodus. Jesus was greater than Moses—the Jewish expectation got that correct—however, he was not what they expected at all, and so they mostly missed him.