"But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities. They arrived before them and came together to Him. And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things. When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, 'This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.' But He answered and said to them, 'You give them something to eat.' And they said to Him, 'Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?' But He said to them, 'How many loaves do you have? Go and see.' And when they found out they said, 'Five, and two fish.' Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and fifties. And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and fish. Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men."
There was a great multitude following Jesus and the apostles primarily because of the signs they had witnessed (John 6:2). Although Jesus and His apostles had departed by boat to a deserted place, the people ran ahead of them and gathered together. Even though the people had farther to go, they traveled faster than the boat and were evidently able to track it from the shore or accurately guess where it was going.
"And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them because they were like sheep not having a shepherd" (Mark 6:34). Jesus welcomed the crowd of people instead of being displeased that they had invaded his privacy and interrupted His time of rest. Instead of dismissing them, He chose to speak to them concerning the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 9:11). He did this because He felt compassion for them. The scribes and Pharisees were nothing more than misguided instructors, not capable of properly guiding the people. He considered the multitude to be scattered and wandering like sheep with no shepherd. In other words, they were aimless and helpless, but He could guide them with His teachings.
As the end of the day approached, Jesus' apostles realized that it was going to be a problem to feed these people since it was getting late and they were in a deserted place. These people had traveled quickly to this place and had come without food or other preparations. Their intense interest had held them thus far, but they would need food soon.
The apostles' compassion for the hungry multitude prompted them to ask Jesus to send the people away for food and lodging (cf. Luke 9:12). Jesus, instead of asking the people to depart, specifically asked Philip regarding where bread should be purchased to feed the great multitude (cf. John 6:5). It is likely that He asked Philip this because he was one of the apostles from Bethsaida (cf. John 1:44), a city in that region, and would therefore be familiar with the territory and its resources.
"But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do" (John. 6:6). Jesus tested Philip to see which way he would turn in this difficult situation. Would Philip react as most men would by pointing out the financial impossibility of buying food for this many people, or would he express confidence in Jesus as being able to miraculously provide for everyone's needs as He did at the wedding feast in Cana (cf. John 2:1ff)?
Philip replied in John 6:7 - "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little." Philip's answer wasn't surprising to Jesus, but certainly it wasn't what He had hoped for. The amount of money mentioned was the equivalent of a day's labor for 200 men. There were so many people that it wouldn't do much good to purchase even this amount of food.
We will continue studying this narrative in our next lesson.