Teaching on the Gospel of John by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“The Work is to Believe”

John Chapter Six

This chapter is filled with power-packed miracles of feeding the five thousand, Jesus’ walking on water while the disciples were in a windstorm, and the difficult teaching of what it means to follow Jesus, eat his body, and drink his blood as gifts of eternal life. 

As Jesus went to the other side of Tiberias, a large crowd followed him. They followed Jesus because they “saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.”[i] As the Passover drew near, Jesus saw the large crowd and wondered how they would feed them. He knew how he would do it, but he questioned the disciples anyway. “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”  Andrew suggested a young boy’s meal, which included two fish and five barley loaves. The story unfolds as Jesus asks the disciples to seat everyone on the ground. He took the fish and bread, gave thanks, (the Greek word for thanks is Eucharizo, from which Eucharist is derived) then distributed to all, as much as they wanted.

 After the feeding, they filled twelve leftover baskets so that nothing would be lost. “The manna of Exodus 16 and Numbers 11 could not be preserved. The next day it bred worms and stank,”[ii] which can symbolize Jesus’ purpose and ministry to preserve life eternally. When the people saw this, they said, “this is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were coming to take him by force and make him King, he withdrew to a mountain by himself.

Later that evening, the disciples got into a boat after Jesus did not come to them. After rowing for a couple of miles, they saw Jesus’ walking on water. They were terrified. Jesus said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” The next day when the crowd saw that Jesus and his disciples had left, they found some boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. It was a miracle that the five thousand could get into boats to follow Jesus to Capernaum! Do you suppose that there were that many boats available?

The Jews began a discourse with Jesus asking, “what must we do to perform the works of God?”  Jesus replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The same people who witnessed the miracle of the fish and the loaves, who ate of the elements, were the same ones asking Jesus to show them more signs so that they would believe. “The signs are intended to point to the saving act of God, in the Christ event. Believing in a particular miracle means that one has not really seen the sign, even if one’s stomach is full of miraculous bread.”[iii] How many miracles does Jesus have to perform for us to believe that he is whom he says he is?

When Jesus explained to them that they must be willing to drink his blood and eat his flesh, those listening took it literally and asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” “Whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry and will never be thirsty.”  Jesus vows to lose nothing the Father has given him but raise it up on the last day. Eating the bread and drinking the blood of Jesus are symbols of “human responsibility and divine gifts expressed. We cannot afford to be passive and wait for God to act.[iv]  We have something to do as well while we wait.

Many of these conversations happened in the synagogue in Capernaum. When many of the disciples heard Jesus’ teaching, they recognized that it was a difficult teaching. Jesus asked if his saying offended them. The teaching is “a hard saying, in a sense, that it is offensive and off-putting…centered in the crucified Christ, which is always a shock to our conventional way of thinking, an offense that must not be adjusted to make it more palatable.”[v] He reminded them that the spirit gives life, and the words he shared are spirit and life. Jesus saw that some of them still did not believe. When he first started his ministry and chose the disciples, Jesus knew who did not believe and who would betray him. “For this reason, I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the father.” Now we get into predestination and election, those who have been pre-destined to be with God (Romans 8:28-29) and those who will be excluded, if you believe this theology.

After the harsh conversation of what it would be required to follow Jesus, many turned back and no longer followed him. Jesus asked the twelve disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter confessed that they did not have anywhere else to go. Because Jesus was the word for eternal life, they finally came to believe that he was “the holy one of God,” a synonym for “the Messiah, the Savior, the Christ.”[vi]  Jesus re-affirmed their calling and suggested that one of them would betray him. “Yet one of you is a devil” he shared, speaking of Judas Iscariot. The commentary cautions all of us to consider “satan” (in the Greek and Hebrew also means “slanderer”), and how every believer must not look at Judas with a sense of superiority, but with the confession, “There but for the grace of God go I.”[vii]

I want to encourage us to spend some time reading this chapter as it reveals Jesus’ purpose, mission, and ministry through the writer John’s account. I want us to consider why some of the disciples followed Jesus but did not believe in his Christological identity? Consider all the miracles Jesus performed only to be questioned on his authority, because he said he came from above and that he was going back to the Father. Can we follow Jesus and not believe in Jesus?


[i] All scripture references are taken from the NRSV.  I did not put quotes on all scriptures that are referenced as they are paraphrased.

[ii] Boring, Eugene M., and Fred Craddock, The People’s New Testament Commentary, Westminster John Knox Press, pg., 308.

[iii] Ibid., pg. 309.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid., pg. 311.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.