Yesterday I read a quote that said: “God is not Who you think He is. He is Who He says He is.” It is a powerful and true saying. During His ministry, Jesus had a turning point moment where He lost a great many followers because He challenged their conceptions of Messiah on that very point.
In John 6, after having fed the multitudes, Jesus and His disciples moved on, and “when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus” (John 6:24). When the people finally caught up with Him, they asked “Rabbi, when camest Thou hither” (John 6:25b)? Perhaps they did not mean it this way, but the question made Jesus sound as though He was accountable to them. That kind of thinking happens when we try to make God conformable to our image of Him. Typical of most of His responses to questions like this, Jesus addressed the real problem rather than the surface one:
“Jesus answered them and said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled’” (John 6:26).
It’s understandable why the people were so eager to follow Jesus. He’d just fed 5,000 of them (plus women and children) and they were fed to the point that they were turning food away. For the average citizen of that day, eating that heartily was a luxury only the rich could enjoy. For most, if you did not work that day, you did not eat that day. To have a Rabbi who could pray and supply so many so quickly was truly a miracle! But Jesus did not come to satisfy appetites. He came to reconcile sinners to His Father. Instead of seeing the miracles and recognizing that this Jesus was Messiah, the people saw Him instead as Someone who could satisfy their current, temporal needs. Jesus challenged their preconceptions by urging them to faith in Him as Messiah, to see Him as God intended them to see Him (vv. 27-29). In response, they asked for a sign when they had just seen one in the feeding of the 5,000. In asking, they referenced the manna from heaven in Moses’ day, a miracle which they also misinterpreted. They saw it as God feeding the masses rather than God alluding to His Son as the Bread of Life. So, Jesus used their reference to the manna in the wilderness and told them plainly: “I am the Bread of Life” (John 6:35, 48).
“The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven’” (John 6:41).
To their credit, they did not take up stones to stone Him for blasphemy, but they also did not believe on Him. “So…you’re not going to feed us today, and you’re saying that you are the bread of life? No way!” To pull them away from their unbelief, Jesus used graphic images to help them to understand:
(55) For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
(56) He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
(57) As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.
But the people’s unbelief only hardened their hearts and they interpreted Jesus’ words in a very concrete way. They still could only think of their stomachs: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat” (John 6:52)? Even those who called themselves His disciples could not bring themselves to see that Jesus was the Manna from Heaven, their Messiah, and “from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66).
This prompted Jesus’ question to the twelve, His hand-picked disciples: “Will ye also go away” (John 6:67)? This was not a question of desperation. This was Jesus testing His disciples’ resolve (v. 70).
(68) Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to Whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.
(69) And we believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
What was the difference between the twelve (minus Judas Iscariot) and the disciples who chose to leave Jesus? The disciples believed on Jesus for Who He said He was, not on what they wanted Him to be.
Do modern-day disciples struggle with this idea of “Jesus as I want Him” vs. “Jesus as He is?” Yes. How many former “disciples” of Christ have turned on Him because Jesus did not meet their expectations? How often have we been frustrated with God because He didn’t make things work out the way we thought they should? Whenever we waiver, whenever we question, we have to ask ourselves: “Am I worshipping God as I want Him, or God as He is?”