A number of Old Testament passages provide the subtext for the entire discussion between Jesus and His would-be followers. After Jesus already had fed the five thousand miraculously, the crowds reminded Jesus of how the LORD fed the Israelites in the wilderness, attempting to goad Him into continuing to provide them food.
Paraphrasing Psalm 78:24, they sought some semblance of scriptural authority for their position, saying, “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:31). Perhaps they even had Exodus 16:4 in mind and were offering to enter a type of testing period of discipleship where they listened to Him in exchange for His feeding them, for originally the LORD had said, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not” (Ex. 16:4). However, whatever the reasoning of the crowd may have been, Jesus most certainly had yet another passage in mind as His own words bear out.
Explaining why the LORD chose to care for Israel by giving them manna in the wilderness, Moses told Israel’s second generation,
So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord (Dt. 8:3).
Rather than accepting the premise that He had some obligation to provide food for the people daily, Jesus reminded them of the real reason why God had provided for them.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (Jn. 6:63–65).
They were thinking physically, looking for a physical kingdom, and hoping for physical provision. But this is not the nature of discipleship. Discipleship requires listening, following, and submitting to Jesus to the extent that the Master says—not according to some bargain we try to work out as hearers. Disciples have no right to judge the Master or what the Master says. To the contrary, what the Master says judges all of us. “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:48).
This is an excerpt from Kevin’s latest book, Follow Me: A Call to Authentic Discipleship, available through Hopkins Publishing, on Amazon.com, and in your favorite ebook format.