By J.R. Miller
It was the day after the multitude had been fed so marvelously on the five loaves and the two fishes. So great was the impression made by the miracle, that the people were about to take Jesus by force and make Him king. He first sent the disciples away, constraining them to enter the boat and go before Him, unto the other side. Then He sent the multitudes away--and when they were gone He went quietly, unobserved, unto the mountain to pray.
The people had been foiled of their purpose to make Jesus king, and were disappointed. They sought Him--but could not find Him. It is a sad thing to lose Jesus. There is an incident in the days of our Lord's boyhood which tells of His mother losing Him. The family had been to Jerusalem, on the occasion of the boy's first Passover, and when they started homeward, Jesus was unawares left behind, and they had gone a whole day's journey before they missed Him. Great was the anxiety and the distress. Not until they had retraced their steps and sought painfully, did they find Him. Many people lose Jesus, some in play, some in pleasure, some in business, some in sorrow, and some in sin.
These men, who had lost Jesus in the desert, after vainly searching for Him far and near, crossed the sea and found Him on the other side. Then, when they found Him, they seemed almost to blame Him for disappearing, asking Him, "When did you get here?" Jesus answered, revealing to them their real motive in seeking Him, "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." That is, they sought Jesus, not to honor Him--but only for what they thought He would do for them. We are in danger of thinking of religion only or chiefly from the side of its earthly benefits, for it has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. But the higher blessings should be dearer to us than the lower. We should seek Christ for His own sake, and for the sake of the honor we may do to Him.
The lesson which Jesus taught the people that day, we should consider well for ourselves. He said, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." We live in a materialistic age, when the quest of the world is for money, for power, for things of the earth, and not for the things that are spiritual and enduring. Men are toiling and wearing out their life in gathering rubbish out of the dust, not thinking of the heavenly treasures, the spiritual things that are in Christ, and which they might have with half the toil and care. We ought not to spend our life in picking up things which we cannot carry through the grave. If we are wise, we will seek rather to gather treasures which we can take with us into eternity. Really, all we can carry out of this world, is whatever we may have of character when we are through with living. The Beatitudes tell us what are the things that will abide. The fruits of the Spirit, of which Paul tells us, are the only qualities which will endure to eternal life.
The people seem to have caught at last from the words of Jesus a glimmering of the truth that there were better things to live for than they were yet striving after, and they asked Him, "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Jesus had said He would "give" them eternal life--but they wanted to "work" for it. People are always making this mistake--instead of accepting eternal life as God's gift--they want to earn it. Jesus corrected their mistaken notion in His answer, "This is the work of God--that you believe on him whom he has sent." There is abundant opportunity for working for Christ--but working does not come first. Having received eternal life through Christ as a gift--we are then to work, presenting our body as a living sacrifice unto God. The first thing in the true life, is to believe on Christ, to receive Him as the revealing of God to us, to commit ourselves to Him, and to let Him live in us. Then Christ becomes the inspiration of our life. He lives in us, and our life is just the working out of His life in us.
The people had another question. Jesus had claimed to be the Messiah. What proof could He give? "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?" They remembered that Moses had given their fathers manna, which proved that He was God's prophet, and they wanted Jesus to do something great, which would prove that He was one sent of God. They were thinking all the time--of common food, daily bread, for they were poor and life was hard for them. It is not uncommon in our own times to hear practically the same demand for a sign. People want prosperity as a mark of divine favor. They want to find some reward for following Christ. If their religion does not bring them bread and earthly comforts, they think it is not measuring up to its promises. Yet it is not in this way that Christ is to reward those who follow Him. He gives spiritual life, with inward joy and peace--and not ease and luxury and wealth.
Jesus answered their demand, by telling them that He was doing for them a far greater work than Moses had done. Moses gave only bread for the body. It was not the true, the real bread--bread which answered life's deepest needs. Now God was giving them through Him--true bread from heaven. It was not manna--but a person, a life, "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Nothing that grows out of the soil of earth--will feed a human soul. We were made for God and for heaven, and must feed our immortal nature upon heavenly bread. Nothing but bread will satisfy hunger; nothing but Christ will meet the cravings of a life.
The people begin now to have a true thought of Christ's meaning, although it is still only a glimmering. Instead of asking further questions, however, they make a prayer, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." It was a good prayer--but when they made it--they did not know what they were asking. They wanted the bread that had in it the power to bless, and yet they did not know what that bread was. It is often so in our praying--we have a dim vision of something very beautiful, very good but it is only a shadowy vision to us. It is well that we have an Intercessor to take our poor, ignorant, mistaken prayers and interpret them aright for us, securing for us not what we thought we would get, nor what we would like to receive--but something better, richer, and more divine.
Jesus then told them what the bread is, which gives life--and how they could get it. "I am the bread of life! He who comes to me shall never hunger." Christ will satisfy all our desires. Some people imagine that the desires of the heart are sinful things, which must be torn out and destroyed. But that is not what Christ purposes to do. He says that our thirsts shall all be satisfied. He does not mean our sinful and selfish desires, the things of our lusts which we think would satisfy us--but our desires purified, such as Christ meant when He said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."
Jesus reminded the people that they had not received Him as the one sent from God. "You also have seen Me, and believe not." That is, they had not eaten the bread of God of which He had been speaking to them. The assurance that follows is one of the most precious words of all the Bible, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." No penitent who ever really comes to Christ, shall be turned away.
The closing words of the passage are rich in their revealing of the purpose of Christ's coming into the world. He came to do His Father's will. His will was that of all whom the Father had given the Son, the Son should lose none. Our part in His great purpose is also made very clear, "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him--shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."