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The verse of interest reads as follows (see this link for the full context):

(John 6:15, ESV) "Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself."

My main concern is that in John 6:3, we are told already that "Jesus went up onto the mountain", but nowhere from then until verse 15 is it mentioned that Jesus had moved away from this location. How could Jesus have returned to a place which he had never left? Some of my theories are as follows:

  1. The "Secret Movement" of Jesus. In context of the other Synoptics, we know that the sequence of events involved with this sign was (i) conducting the feeding, (ii) sending the twelves disciples across the sea (to Bethsaida/Gennesaret), (iii) Jesus dismisses the crowd, and then (iv) Jesus withdraws to pray. With all these actions -- especially the one in which Jesus dismisses the Twelve (presumably they must have been near the coast) -- it can be assumed that Jesus had in fact left the mountain since having climbing on it initially.

  2. For the Sake of Clarification. Calling back to my previous theory (1.), we know that Jesus had sent off the disciples to travel across the sea. It is possible John's intention in stating that "Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself" was simply just to emphasize that he had not left with the disciples in their travels. The only problem I find with this interpretation is John's omission of the fact that Jesus had sent off the disciples prior to withdrawing, hence what would he need be clarifying? The assumption here is that John knew -- while writing -- that Jesus had sent off the disciples and then went away...but forgot that the reader may not be completely aware.

  3. Callback to Moses. Alluding to the practice by Moses to climb onto a mountain in prayer, John's inclusion of the "mountain" term may serve to emphasize or implicitly state that Jesus went away to speak with the Father.

Does anything here sound rational? Or does anybody have some other ideas they'd be willing to share?

I appreciate all your time! Thank you, and I pray that the Holy Spirit guide you in your response.

(Edit: Also, why does John state that Jesus' intention in withdrawing came as a consequence of perceiving that "they (the disciples/masses) were about to come and take him by force"? This is a detail which no other Synoptic includes, though I suspect it relates to the intention of stating that these people worshipped because "they saw [Jesus'] signs" (verse 2).)

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I suggest that the question in your edit is part of the answer to your other questions.

Physical evasion is a natural response to their attempt to seize him by force.

It also helps to explain why the disciples had been sent away. In Mark ch6 v45, he "made the disciples get in the boat and go before him while he dismissed the crowd". Mattthew and Mark do not explain why this was necessary. We learn from John, by implication, that the presence of the disciples would have made his evasion more difficult. They would have been more obvious as a moving group, and if he disappeared from sight the disciples could have been "held hostage".

Putting the two accounts together, there seems to be an interval between the disciples being sent away (before he tried to dismiss the crowd) and the disciples reaching the shore (apparently when he had already evaded the crowd). This implies a little distance between the gathering place and the actual shore. We ought to remind ourselves here that "up the mountain" does not necessarily mean "to the top". If the first journey "up the mountain" was from the shore to a medium height, and the further journey was from the medium height to the top, we don't actually have to assume that he left the mountain between the two journeys. .

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The answer to this question is informed by the record in the gospel of Luke:

Luke 5:16 - But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

thus, the fact that Jesus withdrew to lonely places frequently, means that john simply records another instance where this occurred.

The instance in John 6:3 is not really a lonely place because Jesus was surrounded by a huge crowd and His disciples. However, the record in John 6:15 means that Jesus withdrew to a lonely place to pray, rest, recuperate and be alone.

Jesus achieved this by sending the disciples across the lake, and sending the recently fed crowd away and possibly climbing the mountain to a more isolated place. There is nothing strange, or "secret" about these actions.

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  • Sorry for not being clear, my question is this: How could Jesus withdraw back to the mountain…if he never left the mountain/mountainous region? It’s never explicitly stated that Jesus left. Why does John not just write “Jesus withdrew from the crowd”, as did the other three disciples? (p.s. “The answer to this question is almost trivially simple” comes a little mean…I’d imagine that wasn’t the intent, so thought I’d point it out.)
    – JAG131
    Commented May 25 at 23:28
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    @JAG131 - my apologies for being a little mean. I will update to fix this. Jesus simply went further up the same mountain.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 26 at 1:23
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    Thank you for updating that. :) And okay...admittedly, this isn't the most enlightening answer. Though I do appreciate the input nonetheless.
    – JAG131
    Commented May 26 at 1:50
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I'll address the second question, which I find more interesting than the first:

why does John state that Jesus' intention in withdrawing came as a consequence of perceiving that "they (the disciples/masses) were about to come and take him by force"? This is a detail which no other Synoptic includes, though I suspect it relates to the intention of stating that these people worshipped because "they saw [Jesus'] signs" (verse 2).)

Whether force would be involved is unclear, as some translators render this as "carry him off" or "take hold of him." Either way, the point is that Jesus did not want to be made king. This is an important point for John, though not in the synoptics. Some related facts:

  • In John alone does Jesus directly deny that he would be king of the Jews in the traditional sense of the messianic role, because "my kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:35)

  • John never uses the royal "Son of David" title for Jesus, while the synoptics all use it several times.

  • John does not even mention Jesus' Davidic inheritance through Joseph, while Luke and Matthew provide long genealogies to prove this.

  • In Luke and Acts, the disciples seemed to expect that Jesus was going to "redeem Israel" or "restore the kingdom to Israel" in his lifetime. (Luke 24:21, Acts 1:6)

Conclusion: The OP suggests that the reason for Jesus withdrawing again to the mountain has to do with their being impressed by his signs rather than by true faith. I would say no, not primarily. The main reason John tells this part of the story is to emphasize that Jesus did not want to be king of the Jews in the traditional sense. This is because it was important in John's theology to draw a contrast between the Jewish understanding of the messiah's role and John's own understanding of it. Jesus did not come to be King of the Jews but to provide eucharistic food - his flesh (v. 51), the "bread of life." In the synoptics there is a sense that Jesus was indeed the Jewish "Son of David," but John portrays the Jews as fundamentally mistaken about what the messiah was supposed to be: not the Son of David so much as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world - another concept not directly found in the synoptics.

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