Chapter 6 is loaded. Two first class signs. A big clue into what is really going on with the mob chasing Jesus cross-country. One of his longest discourses. The first “I am” saying. And a pivotal moment in discipleship. I’ll split it into 6a and 6b.
Only a few stories are attested in all four Gospels, but the feeding of the 5000 is one of them. No doubt it made quite an impression. From a theological standpoint, there is nothing that associates Jesus more strongly with the creational capacity of the Father as this sign. From a messianic standpoint, it was the deciding factor for Jesus’s immense following. “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.'”
There are similar expectations driving the characters in each of the Gospels, as some of the historical-cultural realities are inescapable no matter how an author might tint the story. The mob’s reaction in John, though, is among the clearest indications of the religio-political waters that Jesus was navigating—they were about to make him king by force. Having decided that he must be the awaited Messiah, they were ready to put him on the kind of throne that they envisioned for their prophet-king-savior. Jesus’s reaction is equally a glimpse into his position regarding that expectation.
Having escaped his would-be coronators, Jesus comes walking on the water, treading blithely over chaos. There is some dispute as to whether Jesus’s announcement “It is I” should be counted among his “I am” sayings. The difficulty is that, while John clearly uses the Greek phrase ἐγώ εἰμι (transliterated: egō eimi = I am) in other places to conjure up the proper name of God (YHWH), there is no other way for Jesus to have said “It’s me.” So in Matthew and Mark, who otherwise make no use of the “I am” word play, Jesus also says (ἐγώ εἰμι). On the other hand, it is hardly a stretch to think that John’s version intends to do more with the phrase given the rest of the book, and he does not make the point that Matthew and Mark do about fear and faith, which tends to shift more emphasis to the little that he does say. Either way, it is difficult not to look at Jesus in the astonishment due the only person who has ever controlled the elements as though he himself were their maker and master.