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I don't understand why the author is telling us why the people believed in Jesus in verse 14 only to later tell us that Jesus says that is wrong in verse 26. Why did John write it this way?

esv version

14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

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.

I'm specifically asking about the author's intent and how this can be understood from the perspective of understanding why he presented it this way.

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A lot happens between verses 14-26, so we need to understand that to see the context.

Jesus as the giver of bread

John 6:15

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Jesus was not on earth to be forced into being a political king (or rebel). This was not what Jesus or the Father wanted, it is what the people wanted (Luke 24:19-27).

After this Jesus sends the disciples across the Sea of Galilee ahead if him and then we have the famous Jesus walking on water incident where Jesus tells them "it is I; do not be afraid."

In the morning the people realize Jesus is gone, John 6:24-25

24 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.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

Here we see that Jesus in vs26 (AND 27) is answering their question:

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.”

Jesus is pointing out that their desire for him is not coming from a true desire for the things of God but for a desire from their own bellies.

Jesus As the bread

This can be taken literally, as he just fed then until they were full the day before, but also figuratively:

Philippians 3:19

Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

And oppositely, Matthew 5:6,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The people were focused on earthly things, on an earthly king and on earthly bread. They may have believed he was the one to come, but their view on who was to come was wrong.

And after this account in John 6 we see Jesus try to explain it to the Disciples:

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.

And

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The theme of John 6 is Jesus as the bread of life, the mana, the Passover bread and drink (we see in John 6:6 that this was actually the Passover meal).

Conclusion

There is no contradiction. The people believed, earnestly, he was the one to come and wanted him to give them what they wanted and do what they expected. But they were wrong about what he would do and what they needed.

Jesus knew that what they needed was not earthly bread or an earthly king, but bread and a king from heaven.

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Jesus had just fed 5000 men with five loaves and two fish. Verse 14 says that they believed "when they saw the sign". The fact that they believed a miracle did not mean they believed in Jesus as the Christ. In fact, they only called him "the Prophet", which isn't the same as "the Messiah".

A verse in James sheds a particularly clear light on this situation:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! [James 2:19]

Even being a solid monotheist isn't to have saving faith. Belief, even belief in Jesus, for the wrong reason, is no better than the belief of demons, who recognized Jesus and cowered before Him.

In this case, Jesus rebuked the people for their wrong belief based on a desire to have him as a political hero, and to eat more free meals. Then when He told them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” [v.29], what was their response? "OK, show us another sign to prove it and we'll believe; how about making manna for us?" By the end of the chapter, all had left Him but the Twelve.

John presents this story this way because it was the way it happened, at least that is what one can draw out from the text. His purpose is stated explicitly at the end of his Gospel, [20:30f]

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Your question about the writer's motive is clear, and I think I've answered what the author's intent is. "How can this be understood?" I understand, and would be glad to offer my interpretation of the reasons Jesus said what he said. I think there is no conflict between vv.14 and 26, given this explanation of the difference between real faith and faith based merely on seeing a miracle.

But the question you ask, "about the author's intent and how this can be understood from the perspective of understanding why he presented it this way", I'm afraid is beyond my level of epistemological ability.

So if I may, I'll restate the question in a way that I can grasp and offer an interpretation: "How can these two verses be understood best based on the author's stated intention?"

If the author's intent is to plant faith in Jesus as the Son of God and Christ, as he states, knowing this compels us to determine exactly what kind of belief Jesus demanded, and believe in Him in that way, and to not follow him because of signs and miracles or benefits; this passage and the rest of John behoove us to really come to Him for "the words of eternal life." [68]

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The passage in John 6:2-26 is loosely based on a version that forms part of a longer series of related pericopes in Mark 6:33-8:21. Ian D. Mackay (John's Relationship with Mark: An Analysis of John 6 in the Light of Mark 6-8, page 300) says there is plausible evidence of Markan influence. Not only is all the material between Mark's feeding of the 5000 and the confession (with the exception of three illustrative miracles) reflected somewhere in John 6, but at each stage, John develops, adapts, relocates or excises Markan elements in accordance with the Johannine agenda.

In Mark's original New Testament account, it was the disciples who were amazed when Jesus walked on water, for they considered not the miracle of the loaves (6:45-54). John transfers the amazement, rather awkwardly, to the crowd who had participated in the feast and who had believed. Whereas Mark is noted for portraying the disciples as obtuse and lacking in understanding, our author does not do so.

In verses 26-27, Jesus is suggesting that the people followed him, not because having fed them was a miracle in itself but because they were hoping for another feast, warning them that they should instead be seeking the meat that lasts eternally. The author uses this opportunity to have Jesus talk about everlasting life, after which Jesus tells the Jews, "I am the bread of life," at the same time berating them because they had seen, but believed not:

John 6:35-36: And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not.

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