In John's gospel, a thematic evangelistic discourse is often linked to a miraculous sign. Following the feeding of the five thousand, John presents his fourth discourse. Our passage for study includes a short setting of the scene followed by an introduction to the discourse - Jesus, the true bread of life.
v22-25. These verses serve as a transition to the Bread of Life discourse from the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus' walking on water. The scene details the crowd's realization that Jesus is no longer in the vicinity. On the day following the feeding, part of the crowd embarks on boats that have arrived from Tiberias, and on landing at Capernaum, they are joined by others. Both seek another Moses-like feeding of Manna. The crowd is still puzzled as to how Jesus has gotten from the Eastern shore of the lake to the North Western shore, given that the disciples had left in the last available boat. Their question "when" includes the "how". Interestingly, there is a range of textual variants for these verses, either additions, or alterations, all geographical fixes which would have bemused John.
v26. As in the Nicodemus discourse, Jesus ignores the question and launches into the real issue facing the crowd. Although the crowd has witnessed, or heard of the miraculous feeding, their response is to seek another full belly rather than discover the meaning of the sign.
v27. Jesus points out that instead of striving for food that does not last, it is far better to strive for eternal food, a food that lasts and enlivens. Jesus is divinely authorized to provide this food.
v28. The question from the crowd at least implies that some of them understand that Jesus is offering a spiritual food that lasts forever. They want to know what God requires of them to obtain this food, probably in the sense of law-obedience. They have no idea that Jesus is himself doing all that is required, and that they need only ask for the benefit.
v29. God's requirement of the crowd has nothing to do with law-obedience, rather, he requires only faith "in the one he has sent", faith in the Word of God.
v30-31. It is interesting how the crowd, having just witnessed the feeding of the 5,000, asks for a sign. Obviously, the feeding is not proof enough of Jesus' divine authority; they want a true Exodus sign, the sign of manna. In the eyes of the crowd the giving of manna authenticated Moses' authority and a similar sign would authenticate Jesus' authority. The quote is uncertain and may come from either Neh.9:15, or Ps.78:24.
v32. Jesus explains the quotation in typical Jewish fashion. He makes two points: i] Don't read "he" to mean Moses, but rather "my Father"; ii] Don't read "gave" as a past tense, but rather as a present tense, "gives." The true, or probably better, the "real" bread from heaven is available now for the eating.
v33. Jesus continues expounding the verse: i] The bread is "of God", in the sense of originating with God; it is his bread; ii] The bread is "he who" or "that which" comes down from heaven rather than is sent. The crowd thinks the bread is impersonal (v34), but in v35 Jesus says he is the bread. Of course, the bread is both, as Jesus is both person and Word; iii] The bread is life-possessing and life-giving.
v34. In much the same terms as the Samaritan woman, the crowd responds by asking for an endless supply of this spiritual life-giving bread.
I can remember as a young child going with my parents to stay up in the mountains. On one afternoon we all went to the local tea rooms and there I was introduced to the delicacy known as Devonshire Teas, or more commonly, "hot scones, jam and cream." I can remember the scones to this day; they were hot, round, gem scones. No scone, to this day, has ever tasted as good as those scones.
We get the impression that the crowd that got their free "plowman's lunch" beside lake Galilee, had the same feeling about the bread roles and pickled fishes. When they discovered that the Master Baker had left them, they were willing to hop a ferry and get across lake Galilee to get another taste. Of course, instead of another sit-down-lunch, all they received was some free advice. They were reminded that it is better to eat a bread that never goes stale and never runs out, a bread to eat for eternity, a bread just for the asking.
Nothing is free, or so it seems, and so the crowd asks Jesus what duty they have to perform for God to get this bread. Jesus' answer is actually too simple; the gospel is always too simple. Anyway, the crowd thinks that trusting Jesus for this amazing bread, and this for the asking, is stretching reality a bit. So they ask for a sign, something like the one Moses performed for the people of Israel when he fed them with manna. Jesus can't let this pass without making the point that it wasn't Moses who gave the bread, it was God, and the bread God gives he gives now, a bread that originates with God, comes down from God, and gives life eternal. "Well! "said the crowd, "from now on give us this bread."
John the evangelist reminds us again that life eternal is a gift of God for those who put their trust in Jesus. This gift of life is ours for the asking, ours when we ask Jesus.
Identify the key points of John's evangelistic presentation.