JOHN, Part 17

LOOKING FOR A FREE MEAL

John 6:22—70

The incident of Jesus walking on the water (verses 16—21) is a kind of pause in the major theme of chapter 6—Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life.  Why would John break the flow of such a major theme?   There are likely three main reasons for recounting the fascinating walking-on-water story:

  • It accounts for the change in scenery from Bethsaida, where the large crowd was fed, to Capernaum, where Jesus would give His monumental teaching on the Bread of Life.
  • It shows man’s total inadequacy in the face of adversity when left to his own resources.
  • The disciples learned a valuable lesson during the storm:  God’s presence comes to man, not only when he is engaged in worship, but sometimes at the most unexpected time and at the moment of his greatest need.

1.  Looking for Jesus, verses 22—24

The great crowd of people who had been following Jesus around and who been fed miraculously by our Lord, did not easily give up; they were determined not to lose contact with Jesus, the amazing Miracle Worker.   Since it was the next day, they were likely hungry for food again.  The people made it appear like they had followed Jesus across the lake because of who He was, but it will become apparent in the next few verses that they hoped they would get something from Him.

2.  Three questions, verses 25—34

(a)  First question:

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”  (verse 25)

It seems like the people were genuinely surprised to find Jesus on the other side of the lake, which suggests they knew nothing of the miracle of Jesus walking on the water.  This special, very private miracle was probably just for the disciple’s benefit.

Jesus’ answer to their first question was really a non-answer—

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  (verse 26)

Jesus was not being rude by side-stepping their question; He could see into their hearts and knew what they really wanted.  If this brief exchange teaches us one thing it is that regardless of what we say with our mouths, the Lord knows what we really mean!   We might as well be totally honest before the Lord when we pray since He knows our real motives anyway.  Jesus knew the motive for their search for Him was completely wrong and He would have no part of it.  This is interesting because many times in the past, in both Testaments, we see God literally condescending to meet man even when doing so was not what God originally intended.  For example, God allowed Israel to have a king, even though that was not what He wanted for them.

This time, however, Jesus’ answer is really a sharp reprimand for their worldly attitude and for completely missing the purpose of His miracle.  They were materialistic and Jesus confronted that attitude unapologetically.  The word translated “loaves” really means “fodder.”  These people had stuffed themselves yesterday and today they want to be fed again.

Verse 27 is really a brief mashal—

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

This verse has four meanings essential for living a healthy spiritual life:

  • “Do not work for food that spoils” = Stop desiring food (bread cakes) as if physical food will meet your every need.  Food satisfies only temporarily.
  • “Work for food that endures to eternal life” = Strive for spiritual food, which is found in the Words of the Son of God.
  • “This food comes from the Son of Man” = Literally, Jesus is hinting that He will give His life for those who would believe in Him.
  • “God has set His seal of approval on the Him” = By means of the signs and wonders, the testimony of John the Baptist, the Scriptures,  and the testimony of God Himself from Heaven, Jehovah has literally “certified” that Jesus Christ really is the long-sought after Messiah.

(b)  Second question

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”  (verse 28)

This question is not as innocent as it appears on the surface, for lurking beneath their words the people were clearly asserting an attitude of self-sufficiency, as if human beings had the capability to do anything God desires!   In this context, the “works God requires” seems to mean doing what pleases God.   To Jews, gaining eternal life consisted of find the right “formula” for performing the works—good deeds and obeying the Law—in order to make God happy.

Jesus’ very enigmatic reply was simply—

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  (verse 29)

In other words, the only way to please God is to have faith in the One He had sent.  The present tense of the verb “believe” is important because Jesus is telling His questioners that they must have faith continually; they must live a life of faith.

(c)  Third question

So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.]”  (verses 30, 31)

These verses surely reveal the hardness of the human heart in all its glory!  This is the same crowd that had been stuffed the day before when our Lord graciously fed them; today, though they have no interest in “believing” in Jesus as the Messiah, they wanted a sign.  Specifically, they want yet another sign in the form of more free food!  How many signs—how much free food do people need before they will believe and have faith in Jesus as the Son of God?  Wasn’t one big meal enough?  Will it take another?  And another?  At what point does Jesus stop giving out free food and performing signs?

His answer strikes at the heart of their problem—

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  (verses 32, 33)

The people had not only been materialistic, but also arrogant and insulting to Jesus.  They had wanted another free meal and actually compared Jesus to Moses, a man they greatly esteemed, and they concluded that Moses did a lot more than Jesus did because Moses provided free food every day, while Jesus just gave them one free meal.  At this point, Jesus set the record straight.  The so-called bread that Moses gave the Israelites did not come from Moses at all but from God.

And even that free gift of manna—bread from heaven—like the Law, was intended to foreshadow the true Bread which was to come.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  (Hebrews 10:1)

Reading this exchange, we are reminded of the Samaritan’s woman’s exchange with Jesus back in chapter 4.  She needed water because she was thirsty and Jesus told her about the “living water” only He could provide.  To that, the woman said this—

“Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”  (John 4:15)

Upon hearing about this bread from heaven, like the woman at the well, the response of the people in crowd showed they were totally deaf to what Jesus had said.

“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”  (verse 34)

3.  An explanation, verses 35—40

Since His audience was clueless as to what Jesus meant, He goes on to explain His mysterious saying.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (verse 35)

Continuing to use the bread metaphor, Jesus told His audience that He was the Bread to which He was referring; just as manna came down from Heaven, so also did He.  Just as manna was God’s special gift to the Israelites, so also was He.  It is noteworthy that it was God who gave the Israelites the “bread of life” and it is God who has given the same people His Son.  Those to whom the Father gave Jesus should, just as their forefathers gathered the manna, come to Jesus in faith.

The people must have been startled.  Jesus had just told the people that it wasn’t Moses who fed the Israelites in the wilderness it was God, and now He told them that He was the Bread from Heaven.  The power of this verse should not be glossed over:  only Jesus can satisfy all the needs of every human being.  “Hunger” and “thirst” are the most basic, most intrinsic of all human needs.  If Jesus can meet and satisfy those needs, are there needs He cannot meet?  Of course not!

In the Greek, Jesus’ assertion looks like this:  “I am the bread of the life.”  The definite article, missing in our English translations, is restrictive:  the life is eternal life; it is the only life that really counts.

Human beings haven’t really changed much in the last 2,000 years.  We place such a premium on this life; our temporal lives.  Most of us are very concerned about out temporal needs (and often wants) being met, rarely giving much thought to our spiritual lives.  Yet here Jesus makes it abundantly clear that His main concern is for the spiritual health of people.  Of course, He is able to meet our temporal needs and does meet them, but unlike human beings, His priority is on our eternal lives.  Perhaps if we adjusted our priorities to match His, we’d find our prayers being answered with much more regularity.

Another important feature of this verse is the present tense of the verbs “comes” and “believes,” which indicates a continued and persistent action.  The implication of this is often missed:  if we stop coming to Jesus or stop having faith in Him then our sense of need and dissatisfaction with our lives will re-surface.

There are two main themes in verses 37—40.  First, salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is available to all people, even those who may refuse to believe at the moment.   The crowd was stubbornly refusing to believe in what Jesus was saying, but He makes it clear that if they changed their minds and came to Him, He would accept them.  Second, eternal life is the gift of God to man and it is God’s will for men to come to Him.  This does not mean that all men will be saved; there is a strong caveat—

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.  (verse 40)

4.  Further explanation, verses 41—51

The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking had a problem reconciling the fact that obviously this man was human—they knew His parents!— yet at the same time He had claimed to be Bread from Heaven!  This they could not wrap their minds around.

How could our Lord meet such an objection?  First, He pointed out that it was God, not them, who took the initiative to save sinners—

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.  (verse 44)

Second, while God does the drawing, it is the responsibility of the one being drawn to look in faith on Jesus Christ, believing in His claims.  God cannot make anybody believe!  It takes an act of the will on the part of a sinner to do that.  But the reward of stepping out in faith and believing in the “impossible” is eternal life—

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”  (verse 51)

The Jews must have been appalled at that.  Jesus was not advocating cannibalism, He was simply carrying on the bread/manna metaphor.   We may wonder why Jesus was speaking in metaphors like this, for how could He expect these people to understand?  The fact is, they should have seen that Jesus was God’s full revelation to them—

It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.  (verse 45)

What was Jesus doing if not teaching them?

5.  The inadequacy of faith apart from Jesus, verses 53—59

Jesus made Himself perfectly clear, repeating the phrase “I tell you the truth.”  Having made a statement that sounded like cannibalism, He further repulsed the Jews by telling them they would have to “drink His blood” in order to gain eternal life (verses 53—56).   This sounds more than repulsive on the surface, but to the Jews who knew the Law of Moses, Jesus’ teaching had degenerated into heresy!  The Law specifically forbade the drinking of blood on penalty of being ostracized from the community (Leviticus 17:10—14).    Three times during His conversation with the crowd Jesus referred to eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  He was certainly not making having faith in Him easy for His listeners!  His teachings, which sounded so beautiful up till now, suddenly took a decidedly bizarre turn, forcing these Jews to confront their old religious beliefs and prejudices.  Had there been any Saducees in the group, as there could well have been, they would have accused Jesus of being an absolute lunatic, since He was now teaching on the resurrection of the body, something they staunchly denied.

Jesus’ progression of thought is noteworthy.  He had come into the world of human beings from the Father above to meet their spiritual needs just as the manna of the Old Testament met their physical needs.  As the people partook of the manna literally, their hunger was satisfied.  As the Bread from Heaven, Jesus could meet man’s spiritual needs only if man figuratively partook of His body.  But, here is the big difference:  the people needed the manna every day; it satisfied them only temporarily.  By partaking of Jesus’ Body, a person’s deepest and truest needs would be satisfied forever.

6.  Too much to take, verse 60—70

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Indeed, from this point onward, the crowds the followed Jesus thinned out considerably.  It wasn’t that Jesus’ teaching was hard to understand, it was that it demanded so much of those who heard it; it carried the demands of the Cross.  Westcott observed,

It made claims on the complete submission, self-devotion, self-surrender of the disciples.

When His teachings began to demand something from His listeners many, went back—

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  (verse 66)

As was stated earlier, human beings haven’t changed a bit in 2,000 years.  When a person is confronted with the true teachings of Christ, they are forced to make a choice, just like many in the crowd were:

  • Clearly, some of Jesus’ followers were more interested in material gain—free food—than in turning control of their lives over to Jesus (verses 26, 27);
  • Some were totally happy and content with a “comfortable” religion that demanded little of them (verses 30, 31);
  • Some, namely Judas, saw the real cost of discipleship and holiness (verses 53, 70, 71).

The demands of Jesus are the same today as they were in the days He made them.  Following Jesus is not meant to be easy; it is the hardest thing a human being can do because it means surrendering our wills to His will for us; it means being uncomfortable as we learn to exercise our faith in Him.  A lot of people flirt with Jesus; they love the free food and the fellowship they experience with God’s people, but few make it past those things into the inner chambers of true consecration, devotion, and eternal life.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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