Narrow Escape

The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand inadvertently ignited revolutionary sentiments. The crowd tried to make him king by force.

This modern church was built over the remains of an octagonal Byzantine martyrium church, where Italian excavators found the ruins of a rather mundane dwelling dating to the first century, which may have actually been the remnants of the humble house of Peter that Jesus called home while in Capernaum (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

When the crowd of five thousand realized the scope of the miracle that they had just witnessed, they began to acclaim Yeshua as “The Prophet,” i.e. the Messiah. Yeshua neither confirmed nor denied the acclamations. Darkness had fallen on the lake shore. The Zealots in the crowd of five thousand began to stir up the multitude.

“Perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king,” Yeshua needed to act quickly to diffuse the situation (John 6:15). The crowd teetered toward declaring Him to be the Messiah with or without His permission. A violent insurrection seemed possible.

The sudden attempt to acclaim Yeshua as king made the situation politically dangerous. Tiberias, the city where Herod Antipas lived, was just a short distance down the shore of the lake. News of a crowd of five thousand gathering around this mysterious associate of John the Immerser would have certainly alarmed Herod Antipas. Not long ago, Herod Antipas arrested John the Immerser because he feared the large crowds drawn to him might take up an insurrection. What would Herod think of an assembly of five thousand people gathered around a colleague of John the Immerser—and only a week or so after Antipas had beheaded the Immerser?

Antipas’ paranoia had some merit. A crowd of five thousand rallying behind a messianic leader had explosive potential in the revolutionary Galilee.

The Galileans are conditioned for war from their infancy, and have been always very numerous; nor has the country ever been short on men of courage, or lacked a large number of them. (Josephus, Jewish War)

The revolutionary Galilean Zealot movement waited only for the arrival of a charismatic leader (preferably the messiah) who could rally the Jewish people together against Rome. Their movement marched under the slogan, “God alone reigns over Israel!”—a message dangerously similarly to the gospel message, “The reign of God is at hand!” People confused the two slogans, and the Zealots of the Galilee rallied behind Yeshua.

The Master knew that, somehow, He and the disciples had to escape the multitude. He wanted to get back to the privacy of Simon Peter’s home in Capernaum, but He did not want five thousand people following Him there. To get the disciples out of danger, He forced them back in the boat and sent them away while He stayed behind to disperse the crowd (Matthew 14:22). The disciples reluctantly boarded the boat in the darkness, carrying with them twelve baskets of bread.

“After getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum” (John 6:17). Yeshua led the crowd to believe that He stayed behind with them on that side of the lake. He actually planned on privately rejoining the disciples in Capernaum, far away from the crowd of five thousand.

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