“On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but that His disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set His seal.” Then they said to Him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”” (John 6:22–29, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns referring to Christ and the Father)
And so morning came. The crowd, still on the other side of the sea went down to the shore where the boats would be moored to see that Jesus was not there. Knowing that He did not leave with His disciples they wondered where He was. As they were wondering other boats from Tiberias came near, and realizing that Jesus was not there they boarded those boats and set off for Capernaum where Jesus’ disciples had gone possibly thinking that they might know where He was or that He might somehow be with them. And sure enough, when they arrived on the other side they found Him.
Amazed that He was there they asked, “Rabbi [Teacher], when did You come here?” His being there did not make any sense to them, and so they were moved to ask that question. Myself, I would have likely asked “HOW?” John does not tell us if Jesus answered their question. Rather, Jesus responds to their effort to find Him and redirects the focus of their search in verses 26. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” For them their search was more than just one of curiosity having observed Jesus performing signs and miracles. They actually benefitted from what He had done. They were there when He prayed giving thanks, broke the bread, and everyone was fed—eating until they were satisfied. And they were there when 12 baskets of bread fragments were gathered up afterward. He took care of them, and I’m sure they were hopeful that He might do so again.
Jesus’ next words were, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” They had gone through a lot of effort to find this man who had fed them. But Jesus told them that all of their effort in order to get things that are temporary was missing the real mark. They should be seeking after that which lasts resulting in eternal life, adding in the third person that this was something that the “Son of Man” would give to them.
Daniel wrote in the vision given him of the end times, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13–14, ESV) This was understood to refer to the Messiah (Christ), and this is a title which Jesus used to speak of Himself. Similarly the term “Ancient of Days” used by Daniel refers to the Father. What Daniel had visions about is in part what Jesus was speaking to them about. The Son of Man (Jesus) was sent by the father to give eternal life, and what these people were to seek after was not after someone who would feed them daily, but who would provide for them up and into eternity. Next He added, “For on Him God the Father has set His seal.” Daniel wrote that the Ancient of Days was to give dominion and glory and an everlasting kingdom to the Son of Man. Jesus affirms the words of Daniel here with His statement. Indeed this was the plan of God the Father to set His seal on God the Son—the Son of Man.
Having received these words from Jesus the people asked what they should do in order to be doing the works of God that resulted in the food that endures to eternal life that Jesus had spoken about. He had their attention and they were pursuing how they might shift their effort to deserve this greater benefit. What must they do? This is what they wanted to know. What kind of works would qualify them to receive this special blessing?
In response Jesus told them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” I’m sure this was not the answer that they had expected. It is not the answer that most people expect. We all like to think that we do something special or that we are special in some way such that we deserve or earn what we get. Jesus removed all of the works that possibly could be done off of the table. There was no physical work they could do. There was not even any “spiritual” work that they could do. He told them that the work that leads to eternal life is belief in Him who the Father had sent (the One that already had been identified by Jesus as the Son of Man). Simply put, they could only receive this life by faith.
We’ve already read about the tension that existed between Jesus and the religious Jews. They were after Him because He broke the rules they built their lives upon and because He claimed God to be His Father. There existed among them a concept that works is where things rested, and Jesus was telling them something radically different. Their receiving eternal life was not based upon their own works, but their belief. Recognizing this they would then have nothing in themselves of which to boast. The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:27–28, ESV) To the Corinthians believers he added, “so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”” (1 Corinthians 1:31, ESV) Paul understood the heart of the Jewish elite. He was once one of them, and his credentials were exhaustive. But in Christ He found out just how empty all of them were. Writing to Titus, who Paul referred to as his “true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4) he wrote, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5–7, ESV)
One of the earliest verses I learned concerning being saved by faith and not works is Ephesians 2:8-9, which reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NASB95)
These people had gone to great lengths to find further blessing from this man who had fed them and satisfied their temporary need in a miraculous way. They were willing to continue that work in order to receive continued benefit. Jesus turned the table and told them that there was a greater gift, one that was not a result of works but came from believing in the One that God the Father had sent. Things have not changed since those words. Salvation today comes in the same way by believing in the One sent by God who is Jesus the Christ, who laid down His own life for our sins and took it back up again to give us eternal life.