In our introduction to this Gospel of Grace I noted how one of the most significant differences between this last Gospel and the Synoptics is that while Matthew, Mark, and Luke set out to provide a written record, John writes with a particular intent.
In his conclusion (John 20:30) our author even provides the purpose for his narrative writing, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Unique to his Gospel is that John intends to provoke a decision from the reader by presenting a particular narrative of Jesus’ life aimed at compelling you to “believe” or place your complete faith and confidence that “Jesus is the Christ” as well as “the Son of God!”
Honestly, John 6 is a perfect illustration of this reality. Though every single Gospel writer records the amazing miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000 and all but Luke documents Jesus’ walking on the water that very night on the Sea of Galilee, it is only John who records the sermon Jesus gave the next day in Capernaum - a sermon that was specifically designed to accompany the miracle itself. We call it “The Bread of Life Discourse.”
Since it’s been a few weeks since we’ve last been in John 6, I want to quickly recap the flow of the chapter… Following the feeding of the 5000 we read in John 6:15 that because “Jesus perceived” that this incredible multitude of people “were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king” Jesus immediately does three things to defuse the situation.
First, He literally forces the 12 disciples (equally excited to see Jesus made King) into a boat with the command they to go to the other side. Then, once the disciples have been removed from this volatile scene, Jesus swiftly disperses the crowd before “departing to the mountain by Himself” to pray. It’s safe to reason Jesus is praying for His disciples on the Sea.
I say this because, later that night, the story shifts to these 12 men struggling against a “contrary wind” deterring their progress. For 9 hours these men rowed tirelessly before Jesus comes to them walking on the water. He enters the boat, the wind instantly ceases, and we’re told in John 6:21 that “immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.”
John 6:22-25, “On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone - however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks - when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You come here?’”
John explains that, while Jesus had dispersed this large multitude of folks the night before, knowing they wanted to crown Him King, the very next morning they returned looking for Him. Seeing that Jesus was gone without a trance… A search immediately ensues.
According to John, because word gets back that the boat used by the disciples the night before had turned up at a dock in Capernaum (which was known to be Jesus’ Galilean headquarters), even knowing Jesus hadn’t boarded the boat with them, this town was a logical place to look. Therefore “they got into boats and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.”
While in verse 25 we’re told “they found Jesus,” John 6:59 provides us with a more complete picture of what’s actually happening and more specifically where they locate Him. Not only was Jesus in Capernaum as they assumed, but they ultimately find Him “in the synagogue.”
Because this is the first mention of the “synagogue” in the Gospel of John, I want to take a few minutes to address what the synagogue was in the first-century Jewish context.
First, the synagogue was a building in which the Jewish people would congregate, worship, and read from the Scriptures on the Sabbath. Throughout the rest of the week the building doubled as an educational center for youths who demonstrated an intellectual prowess.
It’s interesting to note that the Old Testament never mentions nor commissions the formation or operation of the Synagogue. Instead, the Jewish place of worship was always wherever the presence of God rested (first the Tabernacle and then later the Temple).
Most Jewish scholars believe the origin of the synagogue may have occurred during the Babylonian captivity. Not only had the Temple been destroyed, but the Jews had been exiled across the Empire. Therefore, in order to maintain their national and religious heritage, these small pockets of Jewish populations gathered together on the Sabbath to worship.
The term “synagogue” literally means “a bringing together” or “a meeting of people” and referred to these unique Jewish gatherings. The term “synagogue” would later evolve to describe the building or assembly they gathered in. Note: This is very similar to the general linguistic evolution of the term “church” - the church meeting together in a building.
Even after the Persians finally allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple, many of the Hebrews who decided to remain in exile chose to use the synagogue as their place of worship rather than the new Temple. It was simply easier.
In actuality, the Talmud stipulated that if a town had a Jewish community containing more than ten Hebrew males it was required for a synagogue to exist. It’s interesting to note the Apostle Paul in Acts would mention visiting synagogues located in the cities of Damascus, Salamis, Antioch, Iconium, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus.
While most every town that surrounded the Sea of Galilee possessed a local synagogue, we’re told in Luke’s Gospel the synagogue in Capernaum was one of the most elaborate in the entire region because it had been built by a wealthy Roman centurion. Today, archeological digs have uncovered the original foundation of this very synagogue and they estimate it could have held in upwards of 200 people - a huge structure in that day in age!
Keep in mind, during Jesus’ time, the local synagogue didn’t possess what we might refer to as a local pastor or Rabbi, but instead had a “ruler of the synagogue” who’s job it was to lock and unlock the building, tend the grounds, prepare the facility, and lead the service.
As such the majority of the synagogue service was traditional, ritualistic, and even automated. When the time came for the Scriptures to be read, one of the elders would be given the opportunity. This ritual would only be placated if a Rabbi happened to be in town.
If this were the dynamic the Rabbi would read and then expound upon a text of his choosing. The case can be made that with Capernaum being His headquarters in a region Jesus spent the most time in, as a respected Rabbi, He likely taught often at this particular synagogue.
Obviously, this initial question, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” was relevant all things considered. I’m even sure the disciples wanted to jump in and tell the people about the events of that following evening (Jesus walked on water and then the boat teleported across the Sea). And yet, what’s interesting is that Jesus never answers their question. Instead, He uses the opportunity to teach a sermon illustrated by His Feeding of the 5000.
Before we begin our examination of this sermon (which will take two Sundays), I want to begin by having you imagine the scene itself. Here you have this majestic, local synagogue built right on the Sea of Galilee. The place is likely packed to capacity with Jesus behind the pulpit. That particular day the vibe was lit because the audience was abnormally inflated.
Aside from the local crowd that called that synagogue home and the 12 disciples who are undoubtedly tired from being up all night, according to Matthew 15, you also have a delegation of Scribes and Pharisees sent from Jerusalem to interrogate Jesus sitting in the front pews. These men are deeply skeptical of Jesus and are looking for any way to discredit His ministry and minimize His standing and popularity.
In contrast, we know the crowd has swelled because of this large group who’d just been miraculously fed by Jesus the day before and who desperately wanted to make Him their King. These men are so convinced Jesus is the Messiah they’d just navigated the Sea of Galilee that morning to be in attendance. The audience hushes as Jesus begins…
“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father 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.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven - not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
John 6:26, “Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.’”
Jesus begins His sermon by diagnosing a problem within the audience. Though the act of “seeking Jesus” was to be commended (in His Sermon on the Mount Jesus gloriously declared, “Seek and you shall find”), He begins by undressing their true motivations.
Jesus says, “You seek Me, not because you saw the sign, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” Admittedly, Greek to English can be frustrating and this is a great illustration of this reality. In this statement Jesus is telling the crowd that their core problem was the fact they were seeking after Him “because they ate of the loaves and were filled” and “not because they saw the sign.” In a sense Jesus is telling them that there was a right and a wrong motivation for seeking after Him. Sadly, they were guilty of the later.
It would appear the issue wasn’t that the multitudes failed to see the miracle of the Feeding of the 5000 (most of them had been there). Instead, the problem centered on a failure to understand the purpose behind the miracle itself. This is what Jesus means when he rebukes them for not “seeing the sign.” This word “saw” implies perception.
Instead of seeking after Jesus because they recognized the deeper spiritual lesson He was illustrating by blessing and breaking the loaves in order to feed the multitude, this crowd was pursuing Jesus for no other reason than “they ate of the loaves and were filled.”
You see the fundamental problem was that they were seeking after Jesus hoping He’d address their physical needs. They were seeking desiring a better life in the hear and now. Some wanted Him to be a political leader and liberate them from Roman oppression. Other’s wanted Him to be a social-justice warrior and institute a more equitable society. Everyone present that day had “eaten of the loaves and were filled” because they were hungry!
Now before we rag to much on this crowd, we should keep in mind that we’re all guilty of the exact same approach. After the world chewed us up and spit us out, we eventually come to Jesus why? If we’re honest, like this multitude, we were also desperate for a better life. We wanted Jesus to take care of our physical needs and make everything immediately better.
If you’re broke, you come to Jesus hoping He will make you wealthy. If you’re sick, you seek wanting to be healed. If you’re lonely, you come to Jesus desiring a spouse or friends. If you’re unemployed, how about a job? If you’re oppressed, you pray He’ll right those wrongs. If you think about it this explains the marketing strategy of many of today’s churches.
And yet, here’s the problem with this perspective… It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want to take care of your physical, material, emotional, or practical needs - for He does (Matthew 6:25-26, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?”), but (and this is the pressing point) seeking Jesus for those specific concerns tragically robs you of the fundamental reason you should be seeking Him in the first place.
This is Jesus’ point. This crowd of people were seeking Him because they wanted Him to address needs X, Y, and Z when they should have been seeking Him concerning their more pressing needs of A, B, and C. I mean who cares if Jesus helps you gain the whole world, but you never seek Him as a Savior and loose your soul in the process!
With all of this in mind Jesus continues… John 6:27, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
Following His diagnosis of their core problem (they were seeking Him to address the wrong need in the moment), Jesus continues by issuing a stark command followed by a particular admonishment. And He does so by presenting an interesting contrast using the phrase “do not labor” and the repeating line “for the food” as being His pivot point.
Before we get to the contrast and fundamental point Jesus hammers home, let me define a few terms which will help in your understanding. First, it should also be pointed out the Greek structure should read, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but labor for the food which endures to everlasting life.” What’s fascinating to me is this word “labor” simply describes the act of acquiring something. In this context and in light of Jesus’ statement the idea of “labor” should not be perceived as a negative. Think of it as seeking.
Second, this phrase “the food” is interesting. In the King James Version of this verse this Greek word “brōsis” is translated as “the meat.” The word describes the act of eating or consuming something such as “food” and not so much the object of that consumption.
Based upon this understanding we see that Jesus is contrasting two things you pursue to consume: You can either pursue “the food which perishes” or “the food which endures to everlasting life!” As it pertains to “the food which perishes” we can extrapolate it as consuming something that has an expiration date, that is temporal, that in the end will be put to ruin. It should be no surprise Jesus commands you “not” to seek after these things.
In contrast, “the food which endures to everlasting life” is something you consume that knows no end, is eternal, never-ending, that “endures” or remains forever. While one pursuit “perishes” the other “endures to everlasting life.” Because such a thing seems unattainable on this earth, Jesus adds that this “food the Son of Man sealed by the Father gives you!” In this pursuit you seek from Jesus a gift - something that originates only from Him.
Keep in mind, Jesus is not saying the pursuit in and of itself is wrong. He isn’t saying, “Do not labor,” but to instead consider what you’re laboring after. You see the reality is that this human experience yielded by sin has left all men wanting. Every person who’s ever lived senses deep within themselves an intrinsic incompleteness and recognizes a lack of real satisfaction. As Mick Jagger so aptly sang, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
Years before Jesus addressed this audience in Capernaum, King Solomon established as his opening thesis for a grand sermon recorded as the book of Ecclesiastes, “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity … I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.’”
Understand, in His opening to the Bread of Life discourse, Jesus is in many ways replying to Solomon’s premiss by exhorting us all to seek after something that transcends the temporal and our momentary needs (“works done under the sun”) and to instead seek after that which is enduring, eternal, and yields everlasting life. It’s as though Jesus is telling this crowd, “Why are you coming to Me to address these needs which really don’t matter in the long run, especially when I’ve been sent by God to give you something of an eternal consequence?”
Again, in the context of our physical wants, Jesus is encouraging you and I and everyone present that day in this synagogue to seek from Him a remedy to an eternal need that can only be satisfied by God. He’s offering “everlasting life” in place of a “food which perishes.”
John 6:28-29, “Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’”
As mentioned, in the Greek construct, Jesus has just exhorted this crowd to “labor for” or seek after “the food which endures to everlasting life.” And yet, the very notion that this “food the Son of Man would give” to them would not be something they were required to earn was completely foreign. This is why their immediate reaction is to ask, “What shall we do?”
Again, while it’s clear the audience understood some of what Jesus was articulating, it’s equally obvious their religious framework was an impediment to a complete enlightenment. “Ok Jesus. We get what you’re saying and honestly what you’re offering to give sounds pretty amazing. So what do we need to do so that this work of God can happen in our lives?”
Look at Jesus’ response… “Believe in Him whom God sent!” “You want to know the one things you must do for God to give you this food which endures to everlasting life… Believe in Me!” Please realize this word “believe” is so much more than an intellectual agreement. Instead it describes a total trust, the act of complete reliance, a full clinging too.
Think of belief this way… True belief only exists in the dynamic that should the object of that belief fail your entire life subsequently falls apart and is hardly worth living.
Let me translate this statement the way it would have resonated to Jesus’ audience, “You want to know what you need to do to receive everlasting life - how you can be eternally satisfied - how that deep hunger you’ve never been able to fill can be remedied… First, stop pursuing the things this world offers. And secondly, forget about your religious works, laws to obey, and the traditions of your fathers… Instead, throw your weight so completely upon Me that should I fail your life would be revealed to be a complete and total sham!”
John 6:30, “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do?’”
In light of this understanding as to what it meant to “believe in Jesus” you can see why they’d make such a request. “Jesus, if you expect us to really do what you’re describing, give us a sign or preform a miracle. Give us a little something to make such an act more reasonable.” What’s more… They’re even audacious enough to suggest a miracle to Jesus…
John 6:31, “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written (they quote from Psalms 105:40), ‘He (Moses) gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
In an attempt to get Jesus to do something to justify their belief (and keep in mind Jesus has just taken 5 loaves of bread and fed a multitude), they point back to the supernatural feeding of God’s people in the wilderness during the Exodus when Moses called down manna from heaven as an example of what they were looking for Jesus to do.
I mentioned this in our previous study in John, but one of the traditional Messianic expectations was that the Messiah would preform such a miracle just like their hero Moses.
John 6:32-34, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father 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.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’”
In trying to get His audience to expand their perspective Jesus responds by correcting two of their misconceptions… First, “Moses did not give you bread from heaven, but My Father!” God gave it. You received it. Moses was nothing more than a participant, not the catalyst.
Secondly, and you can sense it, but Jesus is over the bread thing! It’s as though He says, “Can we stop talking about physical bread, because ‘the true bread… the bread from God is Me!’ Just like God sent down bread to care for your physical needs during the Exodus, He’s sent Me ‘from heaven’ to ‘give life to the world!’”
Again, their response reveals the fact they’re simply struggling to follow… “Lord, give us this bread always!” They still want physical bread when Jesus is promising so much more!
John 6:35, “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’”
“I am the bread of life.” Next Sunday we’re going to pick up this statement and dig into all of the incredible implications of what Jesus is actually saying, but I want to close our time together coming back to this fundamental question… Why are you seeking Jesus?
Honestly, I think this question is just as relevant for the Christian as it is the seeker and your answer equally revealing. Though there are many ways I could illustrate this larger point, God took care of this when I went out to my mailbox in the middle of my sermon prep and found a church invite to attend a 4 part series on marriage at a local church.
On the flyer the pastor writes, “Hollywood sure makes marriage seem simple. You meet the perfect person, fall in love, say ‘I do’ and then live happily ever after. But we all know the truth. Marriage isn’t that simple. A strong marriage takes a tremendous amount of hard work, selflessness, communication, and grace. Please join us on Sunday, September 9, as we begin a 4 part message series, Married Life, and learn how to love each other for a lifetime.”
Ok. That sounds nice, but please know why this church is marketing this series to the community… Every marriage struggles and they want couples to come to church for help. A mailer saying, “You’re totally screwed up and apart from Jesus you’re going to hell” simply doesn’t market test as well. The attraction is come to Jesus so that He can fix your marriage.
Sadly, because of the very nature of the marketing strategy and the fact Jesus is never mentioned once on the brochure, my guess is this series will end up centering on answering the logical question anyone who comes to Jesus for the wrong reason will ultimately ask - “what shall we do?” I hope I’m wrong, but it’s likely these four studies will be nothing more than a whole bunch of practical steps (works) you do to learn to love your spouse.
Now don’t get me wrong… If your marriage is struggling Jesus is very interested in being part of the remedy, but in a much different way. The focus shouldn’t be coming to church so that you can “learn how to love each other for a lifetime,” but coming to Jesus so that He can fill your heart with an eternal love for your spouse that will last because it comes from Him.
If I were rewriting this ad to be Gospel-centric this is how it’d read, “Hollywood sure makes marriage seem simple. You meet the perfect person, fall in love, say ‘I do’ and then live happily ever after. But we all know the truth. Marriage isn’t that simple. A strong marriage requires two people die to themselves and constantly rely on Jesus. Join us on Sunday, September 9, as we begin a 4 part message series, Married Life, where we discuss how your only hope for martial success is Jesus and the reciprocal nature of His grace!”
Friend, it’s not that Jesus doesn’t want to work in the practical areas of your life, it’s just that this work naturally flows from the much larger work Jesus died to accomplish! This is why the attractional church model is so flawed… It intentionally appeals to your lesser needs as opposed to being bold enough to call out your true problem - sin!
If you and your spouse are struggling, the remedy isn’t 4 weeks of things to do, but instead a Savior you both need to return to! The only way my wife can love me for a lifetime is for that love to originate and flow from the cross where she first experienced His love for her. Apart from that no “amount of hard work, selflessness, and communication” will ever suffice.
So again I ask in the context of wherever you are or whatever it is you’re presently facing… Are you seeking Jesus? And if you are… Why? Friend, there is a significant difference between seeking Jesus to fix your problems as opposed to seeking Him to save your soul.
May I repeat the exhortation of Jesus “not to labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
As we close, if any of these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself to, please in the depths of your soul pray…
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe You are the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for my sins. I place my complete faith in that work as the only basis for my forgiveness, restoration, and righteousness before You. I confess that on the 3rd day You rose from the dead providing me a relationship with You today. Right now, Jesus I choose to repent of my sins and ask that by Your grace You fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Take my broken life and make it whole. Transform who I am from the inside out. Jesus, I confess You as both my God, my personal Lord, and my eternal Savior. Amen.”
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