John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 includes one small but significant detail that the others don’t.
When Jesus saw the massive crowd, He turned to Philip (one of His 12 apostles) and asked, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”
If I were Philip, terrified at the prospect of feeding the oncoming horde, I’d reply, “Man, you were the one who just healed the legs of a man who hadn’t walked in 38 years (John 5:5-9) and revealed that you are the Son of God (John 5:17-30). Shouldn’t you figure out where this bread is coming from?!”
But the next sentence reveals Jesus’ intentions: “He asked this only to test him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do.”
But why? If Jesus already had the game plan in His head, what was the point of giving Philip this moment of anxiety?
Jesus wasn’t looking for an answer from Philip. He just wanted to know how Philip would respond.
Despite having seen Jesus perform many miracles, Philip’s first thought was to gawk at how much money this meal would cost. He may not have fully understood Jesus’ mission yet, but he’d seen enough at this point to know Jesus could pull off some stuff far more complicated than finding bread. In the moment, he allowed his fear of this task to supersede his faith in Jesus’ abilities.
I don’t think Jesus asked Philip this rhetorical question to embarrass him, though. Rather, He used it as a teaching situation. By amplifying the pressure Philip felt in that moment, Jesus increased the likelihood that Philip would remember it, along with the main takeaway – that He was capable of anything.
I also love how Jesus constantly looked for ways to teach and challenge the disciples. Rather than focus solely on the task of feeding the enormous crowd, Jesus specifically identified and chose Philip as one who would receive an extra touch of knowledge. Most of us read that passage and marvel at the miraculous feeding. But among all the people there, Jesus singled out Philip for a special blessing.
I think Jesus does this in our lives, too. He asks us questions not because He’s looking for an answer – He already knows the solution. But He wants to challenge us to think, test our faith, and grow from the experience.
Next time you feel tested, take a moment to consider what God might really be asking you. How is He using this circumstance to grow you, to make you think deeper than you would have otherwise?
And if you just can’t understand why God is asking you this question, return to James 1:3:
“You know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”