When people use the term “come to Jesus” they are often describing that moment when the “light bulb” goes on and something suddenly becomes clear. It also refers to a moment in time where a crucial decision must be made.
In John chapter 6:25, we join the narrative with a crowd getting out of some boats, having arrived on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. They are heading to the lakeside village of Capernaum where they continue their search for Jesus. When they find Him they also find themselves in a literal “come to Jesus” moment.
This crowd had been taught by Jesus the day before. When they got up in the morning the crowd started to look for Jesus. They were sure that He must still be in the surrounding area, after all they had watched His disciples leave during the evening in the only boat available. And Jesus was not in the boat with them. After what must have been a frustrating and confusing hunt, the crowd expanded their search boarding some boats that had recently arrived.
When this persistent crowd finally finds Jesus in Capernaum the first thing they ask is, ‘How did you get here?’. Jesus is not impressed by their determination to find Him and calls them out on their improper motive (6:26 NET).
“I tell you the solemn truth,you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted”
This crowd that left the mountainside and crossed the Sea of Galilee are the same people who have witnessed the event we call the Feeding of the 5000. When they woke up that morning to find Jesus it was not to ask about the significance of the miracle they had seen. They were hungry and wanted another free meal. And not just a free sample or a daily ration that would be barely enough to quench hunger pains. They were here for the “all you can eat” buffet that they had enjoyed the day before.
In addition to witnessing the multiplication of the 5 loaves and 2 fish (6:9-12) the people have also witnessed miraculous healings (6:2). The combination of these signs have allowed many to conclude that Jesus might be the Prophet that Moses announced (Deut 18:15). The crowd is very close to making the important connection that Jesus is the promised Messiah. But unfortunately they let the desire for a quick meal distract them from making this important connection.
Jesus does not answer their question regarding His mode of transportation. Instead He challenges them to stop working so hard to get some food that is temporary in nature. After all, He reminds them,the food you are seeking will be eaten today and you will still be hungry again tomorrow. Instead, Jesus tells them that they should put the same effort into trying to get food that remains and results in eternal life. The food that will be given to them by the Son of Man.
The crowd, misunderstanding Jesus, ask how they might work to get this bread? Jesus answers them plainly (6:29).
“This is the deed God requires – to believe in the one whom he sent”.
At this point, Jesus has told them what they need to know. But the crowd is still after only one thing – another free meal. Spiritual matters are far from their hearts and minds . Thinking they can finally get what they are after, the crowd asks for a sign, suggesting that Jesus feed them with some manna-like bread from heaven. I imagine Jesus is both frustrated and distraught as He rebukes them for seeing all the signs and still failing to believe. As Isaiah foretold – the crowd has heard but did not understand, and has seen but did not perceive (Isaiah 6:9-10; Matt 13:13-17).
Jesus then tries to make the spiritual point as clear as possible uttering the first of the seven I AM statements in the Gospel of John (6:35).
I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
The crowd understands enough of what Jesus is saying to grasp that He is claiming to have come down from heaven. But they reject this claim. Jesus does not give up continuing to explain that the crowd must come to Him in order to have eternal life. At this point in the narrative, Jesus begins to transition from using the expression “believe in Me” and “come to Me” and switches over to the analogy of eating bread (6:47-51):
I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day …
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever.
When they hear that they must eat the living bread, having understood that Jesus has claimed to be this bread, the crowd recoils in horror. Taking Jesus too literally, they assume He is now asking them to act like zombies and eat human flesh. At this point, Jesus sees their hearts hardening and continues to obscure the call to believe. He reiterates that anyone who wishes to have eternal life must eat His flesh (6:54):
“The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus has used the crowd’s interest in bread to guide them to the truth that they need “bread that gives eternal life”. This bread is Jesus the Messiah, who has come down from heaven and promises to raise all who believe in Him on the last day. The crowd misses the bread analogy and walks away from Jesus grumbling.
It should be clear that as the narrative unfolds Jesus moves from being explicitly clear (believe in Me) to more obscure (eat My flesh) as He talks to the crowd. In the earlier part of the conversation (verses 29, 35, 40, 47) Jesus makes it clear that all who believe in the Son have eternal life and will be raised on the last day. As the conversation progresses Jesus says that all who eat the bread/flesh will have eternal life and will be raised on the last day (50-53, 54-59).
The narrative in John 6 is an illustration of the principle explained in Matthew 13:13-17. Jesus uses parables to obscure spiritual truth from those who have been given the opportunity to see and hear Him. Despite the signs and Jesus’ explanations the crowd hardens their heart and refuses to accept Jesus’ call to come and believe in Him.
The crowd fails to take hold of their come to Jesus moment.