3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 6

Contents

Chapter 6: Feeding the 5000, Bread from Heaven, Words of Life

Loaves-and-fishes

This is part 6 of a 21-part series which traces “seeing” and “hearing”, and looks at how they relate to “believing”, through the Gospel of John.

Chapter 6 begins with Jesus using bread to feed 5000 people, and then the question of “bread” becomes a spiritual one. Jesus tells the people that their regular work only buys regular bread, but if they want spiritual bread, they need to do other work. What kind of work? “Believe” (6:28-29)!

Through the whole chapter we can also see the consistent emphasis on hearing, rather than believing because of what is seen.


Reviewing the Text – Chapter 6

Feeding the Five Thousand

Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. – John 6:47

Jesus’ seeing something opens this sequence in verse 5. Remember that he is one who can “see”, as can all who believe, whereas others cannot:

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him…

– John 6:5

Just as we found in chapter 4, the people see the miraculous sign and start to “believe”:

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’

– John 6:14

… but also just as in chapter 4, immediately we see that they had got the wrong idea:

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

– John 6:15

I am the bread of life.

This is exactly the same lesson as in chapter 4 – those who believe because of what they see, will get the wrong idea, and will be believing the wrong thing.

The next day when they were looking at worldly things, what the people saw was accurate enough. They can only see what is worldly, not the spiritual truths:

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the lake saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone.

– John 6:22

Bread from Heaven

Much can be said about Jesus’ words concerning the bread from heaven. It is a marvellous passage of scripture. But for our purposes we will focus on the “see”, “hear”, “believe” themes that we are particularly interested in.

Firstly, Jesus rebukes the people. He says that they are following him for completely unspiritual reasons – essentially because he fed them! He tells them to focus instead of spiritual food. They ask how, and he responds, “believe”:

Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’

– John 6:26-29

But the people are being obtuse. Immediately they ask for a sign, “so that we may see it and believe you” (6:30). Is this the right way to approach belief? Not at all.

Jesus talks about the appropriate approach to faith this way:

Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

– John 6:45

So then, how does Jesus get his revelation? Does he also rely on hearing? No. Remember from Chapter 1, Jesus has seen the Father:

Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.

– John 6:46

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

They ask about the manna that Moses was dealing with, and Jesus picks up on that, saying that in fact, he is the “bread of life”, but the people won’t “eat”, which means, “believe”, in the context of this comment. Seeing is not enough, because, “you have seen me and yet do not believe” (6:35).

From verse 60 onwards, Jesus makes the challenge clear. He is speaking about impossibilities. Who will believe? His disciples complain, “This teaching is difficult; who can abide it?” (6:60). Jesus responds sardonically, pondering how they might respond differently to an impossibility that they could see:

Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

– John 6:61-62

He is pointing out that people seek visual confirmation of what seems impossible, in order to believe, but they reject audible ones. It is the audible ones that are the authentic source of faith, because as Jesus now points out, the eyes perceive via “flesh”, not “spirit”:

It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

– John 6:63

Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see…?

Next, we find that “among you there are some who do not believe”, and Jesus already knew whom (6:64). Immediately we see that he was right, because “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (6:66).
But the Twelve stay. Why?

Because of what they have seen?

No, not at all!

Peter gives the reason:

Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

– John 6:68-69


Questions to Ponder from Chapter 6

If you see something, are you more likely to believe it than if you hear about it?
What if you trust the person you are listening too?
How would you have responded to Jesus’ words about eating flesh and drinking blood?

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