22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” – John 6:22-34 ESV
After having blown the minds of His disciples by walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm, Jesus returned with His astonished followers to Capernaum. What happened next is only recorded by John. Matthew and Mark both describe Jesus as traveling to a place called Gennesaret where He performed additional miracles. But only John provides the details concerning Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life. As has been stated before, John is less interested in providing an accurate moment-by-moment timeline than he is in linking together those key events in the life of Jesus that demonstrate His deity.
As we will see, John’s inclusion of this particular event provides a unifying link for all that John as described in the last five chapters. In chapter two, John recounted the story of Jesus turning ordinary water into extraordinary wine. He went on to describe Jesus cleansing the temple and referring to His own body as the temple that will be destroyed and raised up three days later. In chapter three, John provided a first-hand account of Jesus’ late-night conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. The theme was the need for belief in the one “who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13, but who would also “be lifted up be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV).
In that same chapter, John provided the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus. He too described Jesus as “He who comes from heaven” and “is above all” (John 3:31 ESV). John the Baptist assured his disciples that Jesus was the one whom God and who “utters the words of God” (John 3:34 ESV).
In chapter four, John told the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. In that story, Jesus offered to give His unlikely conversation partner the gift of “living water,” assuring her that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14 ESV). He went on to describe this water as the source of eternal life.
“The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life…” – John 4:14 ESV
John went on to record the exchange between Jesus and His disciples when they returned to the well with food and were surprised to see their teacher talking to a Samaritan woman. When the offered Jesus food, He responded, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). And Jesus went on to clarify what He had said. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV).
In chapter five, Jesus continued to assert that He was working in conjunction with and under the full authority of His Heavenly Father.
“My Father is working until now, and I am working.” – John 5:17 ESV
Everything Jesus did was a demonstration of His divine mandate as the Son of God. But He wasn’t just a man sent by God, He was God in human flesh, and He shared the same power and authority over life and death as His Heavenly Father.
“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:21 ESV
And Jesus boldly proclaimed to the religious leaders, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24 ESV).
Of course, chapter six contains the story of Jesus feeding the multitude with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. And it had all begun with an innocent but revealing question from Philip: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5 ESV). Like the other disciples, Philip saw a physical need that was beyond their capacity to meet. But Jesus saw an opportunity to demonstrate His power over the physical realm so that they might believe in His authority to offer spiritual sustenance to all those in need.
Which brings us to today’s passage. Jesus had returned to Capernaum, but before long, He found Himself surrounded by a crowd of people who have traveled all the way from Bethsaida just to find Him. These were the very same people who had benefited from His miracle the day before by having eaten their fill of the loaves and fishes He had multiplied in their sight. Now, they had come seeking to find the one who had met their needs so dramatically and completely.
But Jesus saw through their motives and accused them of having purely selfish and physical motives.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” – John 6:26 ESV
They saw Jesus as little more than an unlimited source of food. They had traveled all the way from Bethsaida to Capernaum in hopes of finding Jesus and receiving a second free meal. But Jesus revealed that they had expended a lot of effort in search of the wrong thing.
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV
They were driven by temporal desires that were purely physical in nature. They were hoping to get a free meal but failed to understand that Jesus had come to provide freedom from sin. When Jesus had offered the Samaritan woman a source of water that would allow her to never thirst again, she had responded, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (John 4:15 ESV). Like the crowd from Bethsaida, she had missed the point. Her mind was fixed on the physical world.
When Jesus told His eager audience, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life,” they misunderstood His meaning. He was speaking in spiritual terms, but their growling stomachs made it impossible for them focus. They wanted to know what they needed to do to get their hands on bread that never would never get stale or grow moldy.
“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” – John 6:28 ESV
All they wanted to know was what they needed to do to get their needs met. What was God going to require of them? What rules or regulations would they have to keep in order to get what they wanted from Him? And Jesus took advantage of their eager desire to do something by outlining the only “work” God required of them.
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29 ESV
And this is where John provides a less-than-flattering glimpse into their hearts. Jesus has told them that they must believe in Him. So, they demand that He provide Him with a sign worthy of their belief. And, just in case Jesus might not have something in mind, they give Him a suggestion.
“Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” – John 6:3-31 NLT
They had already seen Jesus perform a sign worthy of their belief. In fact, after Jesus had fed them the day before, they had exclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14 ESV). But now, they were demanding more of the same. And they weren’t interested in a miracle to encourage their belief. They were looking for a miracle to fill their stomachs. Moses had provided the Israelites an endless supply of manna, so couldn’t Jesus do the same?
These people had seen Jesus feed more than 10,000 people with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fishes. So, it should be no problem for Him to conjure up a daily supply of endless bread to meet their physical needs. And, should He be willing to do so, that will guarantee their belief in Him.
But Jesus pointed out the flaw in their thinking. First of all, Moses had not been the one to provide the Israelites with manna. It had been God. And now, God was offering them a completely different kind of bread that would result in eternal life.
“I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven.” – John 6:32 NLT
The manna, while divinely provided, was temporary in nature. It was meant to meet the needs of that day. They were forbidden to hoard it or to store it. If they did, it would rot (Exodus 16:19-20). And each day, when their hunger returned, they were required to gather more to meet their need. But Jesus reveals that He came to offer them something far more satisfying than earthly bread to meet physical needs.
“The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – John 6:33 NLT
These very same people had eaten their fill the day before. They had been fed by the hand of the Son of God, but the food they received was temporary in nature. It could only satisfy for the moment. When they woke the next morning, their hunger had returned. Their previously filled stomachs were once again empty. And they had gone in search of more. And when Jesus offered them true bread from heaven, they had quickly begged, “Sir…give us that bread every day” (John 6:34 NLT).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.