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This brief transition section provides important information about the crowd. John also uses this transition to emphasize the two miracles that he has just depicted.
We learn at the beginning of this section that this crowd is well aware that something very strange has happened. They realize that Jesus is no longer present at the scene of the feeding but also that he did not leave in the one boat that had been present (v. 22). Thus, while the crowd did not witness Jesus walking on the water, they come to realize that the feeding miracle was not the only unusual event that had taken place.
Once they realize the situation and boats arrive from Tiberias (v. 23), they set out for Capernaum in search of Jesus (v. 24). It is not clear why they knew to search for Jesus in Capernaum. They may have heard the disciples talking as they departed (v. 17) or assumed the destination from the direction they took. But it is also possible that they realized Capernaum was Jesus' base of operations (cf. Mt 4:13; Mk 1:21; 9:33) and the residence of Andrew, Peter, James and John. In any case, in doing so they repeat the pattern of the first disciples, who took the initiative and sought out Jesus as he went on ahead of them (1:35-39). But others, like Nicodemus, also sought Jesus out yet failed to have the openness and trust to receive his teachings. This transition passage shows us that, like Nicodemus, this crowd has seen miraculous signs and has come to Jesus. In what follows we will discover whether or not they have the inner disposition to be Jesus' disciples in truth.As verse 22 draws our attention to the fact that Jesus' departure the night before had been unusual, so verse 23 helps focus our understanding of the feeding miracle. Boats from Tiberias arrive near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. The additional phrase after the Lord had given thanks seems unnecessary and is, indeed, omitted in some manuscripts (for example, D, 091). But its presence puts Jesus at the center of attention. The people had eaten, but the Lord's gracious activity had preceded this miracle. And the specific action John focuses us on, Jesus' giving thanks, speaks of the relationship between the Son and the Father and of the Son's dependency. It also shows Jesus acting in the family role of a father at meal. So this brief clause touches on the deepest revelation about Jesus in this Gospel, the relation between the Father and the Son, and it also speaks of Jesus as the agent of God's gracious provision.
Do we miss the important point in the events of our lives? Behind all blessings and all sorrows, the Son of God is present and interceding for us with the Father. In all circumstances God the Spirit is present with us. Do we get caught up in the melodrama, whether pleasant and exciting as in this story or painful and confusing as we will see in the story of Lazarus (chap. 11)? We need to have eyes to see the gracious God active in our midst in both the joyful and the painful, in both the spectacular and the mundane.