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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, KJV)

When Jesus says "but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled" is he referring to the time that he multiplied the bread and the people ate, and that is why they are following him; or does he mean because they accepted what he said as the word of God and him as the bread of life?

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Jesus is referring to when he multiplied the bread and fish in John 6:1-14. He is making commentary on the fact that people are seeking him in order to receive more food rather than observing the signs that confirm his being the Messiah, the latter being that which they ought to be doing.

Let's take a look at the context of John 6:26.

[25] When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” [26] 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. [27] 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.” [28] Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” [29] Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” [30] So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? [31] Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” [32] Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. [33] For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” [34] They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

[35] Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:25-35 ESV)

John 6:27 explains what Jesus means by his response. He tells the crowds not to work for food that perishes, which assumes that they had been seeking him to receive more physical food. Instead, he tells them to work for food that endures to eternal life. In John 6:26, Jesus mentions that they had sought him for food instead of something else: signs.

In verse 28, the audience asks what they must do to be doing the works of God, ie. the works leading to eternal life. Jesus responds in verse 29 that the work they ought to be doing is believing in the Christ, the one whom God has sent. Then in verse 30, the audience asks what signs he does so they they may believe him. This leads to Jesus going back to the idea of working for food that endures to eternal life by saying that he is the bread of life and that anyone who comes to him will never hunger or thirst.

So what Jesus is saying in verse 26 is that the audience ought not seek him to fill their bellies with physical food, but instead to observe his signs and believe in him as their Messiah and Savior.

3

While frowned upon today by scholars (which is a Greek word meaning "guys with time on their hands") there is a scriptural hermeneutic that involves expounding a single sentence from the scriptures with little or no regard for context and extracting messianic or perhaps ethical teaching from it. A classic example is "I summoned my son out of Egypt" which in its original context referred to

New American Standard Bible Hosea 11: 1When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. 2The more they called them, The more they went from them; They kept sacrificing to the Baals And burning incense to idols.…

But is in the hands of Matthew a passage that tells the gospel of Jesus Christ:

NASB Matthew 2:15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my Son."

Don't try this at home!

The passage that drives John 6 in this way seems to be this:

NASB Psalm 105:40 They asked, and He brought quail, And satisfied them with the bread of heaven.

Jesus is so bold in his use of the passage that he claims that God didn't give them manna from the sky and that passage is not about what Moses gave but what about God is giving. And it is not about manna bread but rather about the messiah's flesh and only finds its fulfillment in his own flesh:

BSB John 6: 30 So they asked Him, “What sign then will You perform, so that we may see it and believe You? What will You do? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven

Paul likewise sees the water from the rock in the same verse in the same light:

NASB Psalm 105:41 He opened the rock and water flowed out; It ran in the dry places like a river.

BSB 1 Cor 10: 3They all ate the same spiritual [πνευματικὸν] food 4and drank the same spiritual [πνευματικὸν] drink; for they drank from the spiritual [πνευματικὸν] rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ [ie: the messiah].

This passage of bread from the sky is juxtaposed against the crude "free food" interpretation of the crowds:

NIV John 6: 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus claims that his flesh is the food that God is giving to the crowds to eat. Again the crowds take this in the most pedantic way possible:

NIV John 6:52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus explains that as food, his flesh has no benefit BUT his words give life:

ERV John 6: 63It is the spirit [breath] that quickeneth ["makes alive" (not "makes things faster")]; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I have spoken unto you are spirit [breath], and are life.

Jesus/John is alluding to the Torah's teaching that it is the entrance of the breath (aka "spirit") that God breathed into Adam that makes alive:

New International Version Gen 2:7 Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

See also:

NIV Ezek 37: 14I will put my Spirit [breath] in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’ ”

BSB Romans 8: 1Therefore there is now no condemnation [death sentence] for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life ["the principle of the breath of life"] has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Finally, Jesus says that his flesh, in combination with the breath of life gives life by being the object of faith. They must believe that his flesh is raised from the dead in order to be justified and gain everlasting life:

John 6 47Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

This theme is prominent in John's gospel:

BSB John 3: 13No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

1

This is an interesting point, because in other instances Jesus reprimands Jews for asking for miracles ("wicked and adulterous generation looks for miracles" - Mark 16:4), but here in John 6:26 He seems to approve the looking for miracles on the part of the people and disapprove only the looking for the earthly bread. How can this discrepancy be solved?

I think, the John 6:26 does not contradict the mentioned passage from Mark. Yes, miracle in a way is an oppression and compulsion: the one acting miracles shows his superior power and thus makes you follow/obey Him out of compulsion, rather than follow Him out of free love and desire. Thus, Jesus performing a miracle is in fact doing something that He rather would not do, because he would rather like people follow Him without any outward compulsion. But He still does it for the reason of a) feebleness of the people providing to their limping consciences miracles as crutches and b) to edify them with a teaching that He, as the creator of natural order and laws, Himself is not subject to them but beyond them (unlike the teaching of the Greek philosophers who did not consider a Creator beyond the natural order, which for them was eternal and divine by itself).

Thus, in this particular instance the miracle was given with the reason of edification: if you follow the Truth, if you put the search for the Kingdom of God and His imperishable gifts, then even the earthly will be superadded to you, for the Father knows that you have the latter's need as well (Matt. 6:33); thus, even if the search for the Truth will take you to a desert, there will not be a problem of earthly bread even there, God providing all to His children, that is to say, those who search Him above all. Thus, this particular miracle in John 6:26 was for this very lesson.

However, unfortunately this lesson was not understood, or worse than that, understood upside down: the miracle was to lead them to understanding the preference and superiority of the eternal/supra-material reality over perishable/ material realities, but having their hearts coarsened by love of material things, they focused on the pleasure of obtaining the earthly bread and getting their stomachs filled, which they preferred to the search of the Truth. Thus, had they grasped the meaning of the miracle correctly, they would have seen in it an impulse for following the path of searching for Truth: the miracle as their bridge to something even greater than any miracle - the infinite Truth and Love of God and His immaterial, imperishable gifts; but they took the miracle as a bridge to earthly, perishable pleasures and satisfactions, thus disrespecting the miracle and its true significance.

And exactly this is the essence of Jesus' saying: "I see your hearts, I know that you came to Me not for the miracle you have seen, so that you may have understood that if you will put love towards God and search of Him above all, nothing will be lacking to you, not even the earthly bread; but you have come here just for the earthly bread, which you have put above all, and even the miracle (which must have breathed to your coarsened hearts some freshening air of understanding that not everything is reducible to the earthly concerns) you have reduced to your fallen, coarsened and sinful consciences". Thus, had those people be given a choice of a) miracle that leads to transformation of their natures towards searching divine things over the earthly things and b) full enjoyment of earthly things without any miracles and heavenly things they would have chosen the b) without any hesitations. Consequently, they simply did not want to heal their sin-infected nature, but retain it and follow its logic, a sinister logic as a matter of fact, for this logic led them eventually to the murder of Jesus.

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ἀπεκρίθη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν· Ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ζητεῖτέ με οὐχ ὅτι εἴδετε σημεῖα, ἀλλʼ ὅτι ἐφάγετε ἐκ τῶν ἄρτων καὶ ἐχορτάσθητε. (John 6:26, NA27)

Key to understanding the answers below is the word translated signs, meaning they were to understand the significance of Jesus' miracle. Thus, you see various ways of translating this.

For the Gospel of John, however, a σημεῖον is not simply a miraculous event but something which points to a reality with even greater significance. A strictly literal translation of σημεῖον as ‘sign’ might mean nothing more than a road sign or a sign on a building, and therefore in some languages σημεῖον in a context such as Jn 2:23 may be rendered as ‘a miracle with great meaning.’

Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, pp. 442–443). New York: United Bible Societies.

To put this in concise terms, Jesus was saying that they did not seek him because they say the sign the miracle pointed to, but they sought him because they wanted the result of his miracle. Thus, Jesus explains with the miracle meant; what it pointed to.

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