Amazingly, the author of this Gospel presents the people as having already forgotten about the bread that was in fact provided, though it has just been referenced by Jesus. Interestingly enough, if one was to examine Jesus’ statement closely, which was “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted” (John 6:26), there might be an inclination to think that Jesus draws a distinction between the performance of miraculous signs and the provision of bread. However, taking that step might be drawing the distinction a bit too sharply. Surely the multiplication of the loaves must be taken as a miraculous sign---as much as was the provision of manna in the wilderness.
So it seems as if Jesus is indicating that it was not the miraculous sign of the bread being multiplied that has caused the people to continue to come to Him, but rather the filling of their bellies. This appears to function as a reflection upon Israel in the wilderness, in that even though daily bread was miraculously provided to the people of the covenant God, the story of their time in the wilderness is underlined by a startling lack of belief in their God’s ability to fulfill His promises.
Even though the people were faithful to go out to gather the manna each and every day (excluding the Sabbath), they did not follow through on the deeds that their God required, which was a faithful belief in His ability to perform on behalf of His people, according to His covenant promises, as He worked out His intention to bring them into the promised land and set them on high as a kingdom of people to represent His glory (making Israel a new Adam in a new garden of Eden, as a microcosm of the Creator God’s intentions for the entirety of His created order).
It might be the case that Jesus is here making the same type of point, while the author also shows Him reflecting back to the people’s desire to acclaim Him as their king, so that He might take on, overthrow, and drive out the Romans. If Jesus would have acceded to the people’s demands, such would be yet another instance of Israel not following through on the deeds that their God requires, rather than operating on a faithful belief that their God will enter into history on His own terms and timing, to perform on behalf of His people according to what was understood to be His covenant promises to them. The taking of actions against the Romans could be akin to the instances of Israel’s wilderness experience in which the people took it upon themselves to act to bring themselves into their God’s purposed kingdom, with these instances never turning out well.
While all of these things are being considered, while also considering the fact that the author is making a presentation to a community that is hearing this in a single sitting, that is ensconced within a controlled oral tradition, and is well-versed in the history of Israel, it would not at all be a mis-step to consider the provision of bread, prima facie, as an act of love to which disciples of Jesus should aspire. Even though it was not met with a proper response, or at least with the response that Jesus may have desired, Jesus still met a physical need. He did so, as far as this Gospel is concerned, as an action of the incarnate God of Israel. As a loving and compassionate God revealed Himself to His people on a continual basis through the provision of manna, and did so for His people in spite of what are reported to be consistent failings, so Jesus acted out of love and compassion to reveal His God in much the same way.