Earlier in this chapter, Jesus fed the five thousand and then slipped away and sailed across the lake to Capernaum. When the crowd realized it, they went to find him.
“When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’
Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’
Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’
Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ – John 6:25-29
Unfortunately, this crowd doesn’t really get it. They wanted to make Jesus an earthly king by force (John 6:15), they were mainly interested in the earthly blessings He could provide (food), and when they asked what work God required, they did not accept His answer.
“So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’
Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’
Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” – John 6:30-42
They were willing to work, to do something, for food, but Jesus was offering them something far greater–eternal life–just by believing. Despite the miracle he had just worked on the other side of the lake, the people ask Jesus for another sign. They are completely focused on their earthly needs and miss out on the Bread of Life.
It’s not like Jesus was going to disregard their earthly needs.
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:31-33
It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t want to meet their earthly needs, He just worked a miracle so that they could all eat! But He also knew what was more valuable and what was truly their greatest need.
Mark’s account of the feeding of the five thousand points out that when Jesus saw the crowd he “had compassion on them”.
“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.” – Mark 6:34
After teaching them spiritual truth–that which is of far greater worth than food–he then met their physical need as well.
Put simply: Jesus wants to give them more than they could ever comprehend and all the “work that God requires” is to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.
We often fall into the same kid of thinking as this crowd. We are more concerned about temporary things and needs–that God cares about and will provide for–than we are the heavenly and eternal blessings that are available to us. We also want to “do more/work” to “earn” those lower goals and desires that we have rather than simply believing in Christ.
We focus on little things and try to work for and deserve them.
God is offering incredible things–with all of the little ones thrown in–for simply accepting Christ for who He is and what He has done.
In the hands of man, two small fish and five small loaves of bread would have been a mediocre–probably insufficient–meal for at least 13 men and the boy who brought it. In the hands of God, that which wasn’t really enough for a small group, became more than enough for thousands.
The feeding of the five thousand is an incredible miracle. But the difference in magnitude between that and the miracle of the Bread of Life, eternal, everlasting life with God, that Jesus offered to the crowd and offers to us now, is immeasurably greater than the difference between those five loaves and two fish and that great crowd. As amazing as feeding the five thousand was, it doesn’t hold a candle to the salvation that Jesus gave Himself up for to give us. The only thing we do to receive it is believe.
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”