This post is part of an ongoing series in the study of John we are doing during January. Subscribe to the blog for daily updates in the Bible Study posts. Subscribe to the podcasts to hear our discussion of the book of John throughout this month. Join us in your daily devotions as we travel through this fascinating account of the life of Christ.
Up to this point in the gospel of John, when Jesus confronted anyone, it was usually the religious leaders that He encountered. That shifts in chapter 6. Here, he calls out the wrong motives, desires, and focuses of the people themselves. They are seeking miraculous signs. They are seeking to have their needs and desires fulfilled. But they are not interested in who He really is. The words Jesus spoke to the religious leaders in chapter 5 now applies to the people themselves:
You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One he sent. And you are not willing to come to me that you may have life. John 5:38,40
The mass of people witnessed a mighty sign in the feeding of the 5,000. That sign triggered a wrong response in their hearts. They wanted to take Jesus by force to make Him king (John 6:15). So Jesus withdrew to a mountain by Himself. Outside of their sight, Jesus performed another miraculous sign only for the eyes of His true disciples when He walked on water. The people knew something was up when they realized He was on the other side of the sea but did not go by boat with the disciples: “Rabbi, when did You come here?” John 6:25
This is not a crowd of truth seekers. They are a crowd of people seeking the personal and material benefits they believe Jesus can bring to them. Jesus knows what is in their hearts and says as much to them.
Whenever Jesus presents a uniquely insightful statement throughout the gospels, He preceded it with the prefatory remark, “Most assuredly.” In some translations, it may state “Truly, truly,” or “Verily, verily.” He means, listen to this! As Jesus confronts this crowd, we find one of those prefatory statements:
“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.” John 6:26-27
I came of age in a segment of Christianity that many call the Word of Faith movement. There are some variations on the beliefs of the Word of Faith movement but at its root is the application of faith to our daily life. Through the application of faith in the Word of God, we can change the way we think, the way we speak, and the way we live.
These basic tenets are good things, and in the early days of the Word of Faith movement, they went a long way to elevate believers’ mentalities so that the Word of God was the defining voice of authority in their lives.
At some point, things shifted. The focus of faith became the gifts that faith could gain for believers rather than upon the Giver of Life Himself. Many famous ministers associated with ideas of the “prosperity gospel” today represent those standards now. In the name of faith, immensely shallow, materialistic, and worldly Christians use mantras and verses from the Bible to claim earthly blessings for their lives.
Obviously, God wants to bless His people, but the physical blessings are not the real point. That is the correction that Jesus brings to the people in this passage from John 6. They seek after Him, not because of who He is but because of the physical benefit He can bring to them. They have set their sights on the wrong objectives. They want more blessings, signs, and benefits for their lives. They challenge Jesus to show them more, not so they can understand who He is, but so they can be excited by the signs He performs and blessed by the physical benefits He brings to them.
They go so far, in verse 34, to make demands of Jesus:
“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.” John 6:34 (NLT)
The Coming Challenge
In the next two passages, which we will look at this week, Jesus continues to challenge the people. He exposes their selfish motives with a requirement that repulses them and forces many to turn away.
Selfishness is not a character trait of citizens of the Kingdom of God. The sad fact is that Jesus wanted to do good things for these people all along. He repeatedly healed them, fed them, and delivered them from all sorts of personal bondage. But when the focus of our faith becomes personal and selfish gain, we have missed the point of the gospel and the person of Christ. That is a dangerous place to stand. It is a place where selfish desires can blind us to the truth of Christ standing in our midst.