Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone. . . .
Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? . . . . From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. John 6:15, 15, 60, 66.
From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with Him!
Hosanna! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!
But why the change from one extreme to the other in the popular sentiment concerning Jesus of Nazareth? The transition from one state into the other was made quickly enough: in Capernaum it was made overnight; in Jerusalem it required but a few days!
Had Jesus changed?
Indeed not! He is the same yesterday, today, forever!
But the conception of the multitude, of many of them, had been altered.
Crown Him! This was addressed to a Jesus of their own illusions and carnal desires, a great man, but earthy, capable of fulfilling their earthly needs and satisfying their carnal desires. Crucify Him! That concerned the real Jesus, that had come down out of heaven, and intended to return thither, Who said: “The flesh profiteth nothing, it is the Spirit that quickeneth!”
The bread question!
Forevermore the bread question!
This is indeed that prophet! Give us bread!
This is a hard saying: the flesh profiteth nothing!
The flesh and the Spirit!
So they shouted,—and they were about to realize their enthusiastic purpose by making Jesus king by force,—when they had witnessed what may be considered the greatest miracle they had even seen!
It was approximately one year before Jesus’ suffering and death, for “the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh”, the one next to the last.
A long time Jesus had sojourned and labored in Galilee, making Capernaum the center of His activities. He had preached the kingdom of heaven, and instructed the people in its mysteries. And, though He had not directly proclaimed Himself as the Messiah that was to come, His works had abundantly testified to that fact. Many miracles He had performed; many mighty works had been done in Capernaum, in Beth- saida and Chorazin. And He had become popular because of these glorious works. For “a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.” Yes, indeed, He had healed the sick, He had cleansed the lepers, He had caused the lame to leap with joy; He had made the deaf to hear, and the eyes of the blind He had opened. And He had raised the dead!
And the people saw it and rejoiced.
And they followed Him!
But just now, towards evening of the day when their enthusiasm reached the highest pitch, they had been witnesses of the mightiest miracle they had ever beheld. Five loaves and two fishes had proved sufficient in His mighty hands to feed the whole multitude of five thousand!
Indeed, this was sufficient to arouse them to action! After all, the other miracles, wonderful and mighty though they were, had concerned only a few, the weak and lame and leprous, the less fortunate of society; but this last wonder concerned them all. Jesus could provide bread for all, and bread in abundance, for they had seen how the disciples had collected no less than twelve baskets of the fragments that remained!
He is indeed that prophet! Crown Him!
They thought that they bad seen Jesus. . . .though they had not, and what was worse, though they had formed an utterly erroneous conception of Him!
How can this be explained?
Let us remember that there was an earthly aspect to all Jesus’ works, an aspect that was meant to be no more than a sign of their real character and purpose, but that could, nevertheless, be witnessed by the earthly eye, perceived by carnal men. When Jesus cleansed the lepers their visible and tangible flesh became sound and healthy; when He opened the eyes of the blind, their earthly eyes beheld once more, or for the first time, the light of the sun; when He cured the lame and paralyzed, they very really could be seen walking and running in the streets of Capernaum; and the dead that were raised returned to their earthly life! Earthly and physical pains and ills and defects and death were overcome by this prophet of Nazareth by’ the word of His power!
And now He had given them real bread to eat, bread that could fill their stomachs and satisfy their physical hunger!
That earthly side of Jesus’ work these men had seen and touched and tasted!
No, indeed, all this was not the essence of Jesus’ miracles. In and through them He meant to preach to them the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and reveal Himself as its mighty King. When He opened the eyes of the blind, He proclaimed Himself as the One that would deliver them from the darkness of sin and give them everlasting light; when He cleansed the lepers He preached and signified spiritual cleansing from the pollution of corruption; when He caused the deaf to hear, He promised them ears to hear the things of the kingdom of God; and when He raised the dead He loudly proclaimed that He is the resurrection and the life, and that one that believeth in Him would live though he were dead. . . .
And so on that day, in the country that lay on the other side of the Sea of Galilee from Capernaum, He had given them bread, to let them know that He is the Bread of life that came down from heaven!
But the earthly side was there, and it was very real!
And the earthly aspect appealed to the crowd!
And it aroused their enthusiasm!
King they would make Him!
Here was, indeed, a man, that could solve all their problems, social, economical and political. Him they wanted for their leader and king. He would deliver them from the oppression of the Roman yoke, and create prosperity and freedom in the land!
A carnal zeal.
And a purely earthly conception of Jesus!
Two years before this the Tempter had approached the Savior with virtually the same proposition as these Galileans are now about to offer, yea, to impose upon the Christ.
All these kingdoms will I give thee!
This is the prophet!
He departed again. . . .into a mountain. . . .himself alone!
Such was His reaction to their zeal, and His reply to their apparent request to become their king!
Such was, at least, part of His answer, the negative part: I will not become your king; I will not supply you with earthly bread; I will not solve your economic or social problems; I will not bring you freedom in this world! The positive answer would be given on the morrow. . . .
And always the Lord gives the same answer still.
For these Galileans perpetuate themselves in history. Ever again they appear, though in many different forms. Some make Him their King to cure them of physical diseases and defects; and they claim that He evidently gave His consent: they tell you of wonders of healing, they show you their exhibits of crutches and canes and braces, that became unnecessary when they crowned Jesus king! Others crown Him king in times of depression, and call upon Him to set the wheels of industry a spinning. Still others crown Him their king in their battle for social justice. And often, very often, He was crowned king in times of war, that He might bring victory to the nation. . . .
Always the bread question!
Always they offer to the Christ of God the kingdoms of this world.
And always the Lord returns the same answer: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
And He returns, departs to a mountain Himself alone!
There to be with the Father!
And to prepare for the battle!
For battle He must, He, the King of God, anointed by the Father to establish His kingdom in the way of righteousness, the righteousness of God. And that way was the way of the cross, the way of death, the way of bearing the wrath of God against sin!
To that cross He must go, voluntarily!
And these thousands, of Galileans now obstruct the way thither. They would fain keep Him in the flesh, crown Him king in the flesh, prevent Him from ever reaching the cross. . . .
Through them He must fight His way!
On the morrow!
Lord, always give us this bread!
Such was still the cry of the multitude at the end of the first stage of the battle that was waged by God’s Anointed with the carnal multitude that would bar His way to the cross, and through the cross into His kingdom.
It was a battle that probably was begun on the streets of Capernaum, and that was finished in the synagogue.
The multitude had been in search of Jesus on the preceding evening and in the region across the Sea of Tiberias. But the Lord had mysteriously disappeared. And when they had not found Him, and discovered that also His disciples had gone, they had taken shipping and returned to Capernaum. The Lord, however, had joined His disciples, walking on the tempestuous waves of the sea, and with them had come to Capernaum. There the multitude found Him the following morning, and they expressed their surprise about His presence in the city: “Rabbi, when earnest thou hither?” But the Lord, refusing to waste precious words about matters of no significance, at once begins the battle that must needs be fought, in the words: “Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labor not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life. . . .”
The bread question!
Around that question the battle is waged. And the battle is fought in three rather distinct stages.
The first stage is characterized by the fact, that the multitude still fails to understand that the Savior is not speaking about earthly and physical, but about spiritual bread. And they seem to express a desire for the true bread of life in the prayer: “Lord, evermore give us this bread.”
But gradually the misunderstanding is removed. It dawns upon them that He must speak about a totally different bread from what they desire and seek, when the Savior announces that He Himself is the Bread of Life that came down from heaven. They are disappointed. They do not want it so. They are looking for earthly bread. And this prophet, they thought, was able to give them this bread. But how could He be the bread? And they at once convince themselves that this cannot be true: “Is not this Jesus, the Son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? how is it then that he saith, I came down from heaven?” Such is the end of the second stage. The mists of misunderstanding are being lifted.
And the battle is finished, when the Lord rather clearly announces that He can be and will be the bread of life to His own, only through His death on the cross. For they must eat His flesh, and they must drink His blood, thus He instructs them, in order to have eternal life! For His flesh is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed!
This is a hard saying!
O, whether or not it is true, does not concern them now. The saying is hard! It blasts all their hopes for an earthly kingdom. Hence, the flesh cannot hear it!
This is indeed that prophet!
Yes, but who can hear Him?
Only the spiritual ear!
Yes, indeed, God’s Anointed has the victory in the battle of Capernaum!
It may not appear so. According to the standard of all worldly battles He seems to suffer utter and decisive defeat.
For the multitude of the Jews murmured at Him.
And the disciples went back, and refused to walk anymore with Him. This had happened especially when the Lord had clearly announced that the flesh profiteth nothing, that only the Spirit quickeneth; that, therefore, even His own flesh would be of no benefit to them whatever: He would have to die in the flesh, in order that He might rise in the Spirit, and ascend up to His Father, in order that Be might be the quickening Spirit, and as such feed His own with Himself as the bread of life!
Then they went back. . . .His disciples!
The multitude would henceforth be opposed to Him, so that He would find no longer a field of labor in the city. The larger group of His disciples, outside of the twelve, they that were wont to walk with Him, to follow Him, to listen to His preaching, to be witnesses of His works, His own “congregation,” forsook Him!
The suffering King, despised and rejected of men!
Yet, He bad the victory!
For henceforth the way to the cross was open, and thither He would make His way!
To establish His kingdom forever!