Jesus had fed the five thousand men plus their families and had retreated to the other side of the Sea of Galilee when many of those he had fed through the miracle multiplying the fish and loaves caught up to Him. Jesus knew that they had come looking for Him because they wanted more handouts and not because they wished to become disciples.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life which the son of man will give to you; for on Him has God the Father set His seal.” John 6:26, 27
We live in a world where many Christians see Jesus as nothing more than a giant Santa Clause dispensing goodies from a big bag of tricks. They see Jesus as someone to use when they are in trouble or in need, but the rest of the time He is only a memory in their conscience. We are, in so many ways, no different from this horde of people who followed Jesus in order to receive benefits. For the people who had experienced the blessings of being fed on the hillside the day before, the thought that this could become a permanent reality was the chief motivating factor for seeking Jesus. After all, how wonderful would it be if every day of life food just materialized out of thin air and they no longer had to put in long hours of hauling nets or tilling the soil?
Jesus, however, explains to them that His Kingdom isn’t about making sure the people have three meals a day without working. Instead His teachings are about the salvation and the gift of eternal life. This is the gift that He offers them and He is able to offer the free gift of salvation because the Father has set His seal upon Him. (See Ephesians 1:13, 14 for the meaning of the seal.)
The crowd then responds to Jesus’ statement by asking, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” John 6:28 Later, on the day of Pentecost when the people who heard Peter fell under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, they asked a similar question. “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘brethren, what shall we do?’” Acts 2:37
It is a sad commentary on us that whenever we are offered the gift of salvation we somehow think that there is something we must do to merit that gift. It seems that our arrogance and pride refuse to allow us to accept the reality that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 How do we ignore a verse such as John 3:18? “He who believes in Him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Also in the third chapter of John we read, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” v. 14, 15
In fact the very first chapter of John makes it clear that we become children of God by believing in His name. “But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man but of God.” v. 12, 13 Notice we believe in His name, we become children of God, by the will of God. There are no works in these verses but only pure grace poured out by the will of God.
John the Baptist, when speaking of Jesus, makes it clear what the ministry of Jesus was all about. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.” John 3:36 So what is it that we are to obey according to John? It is that we accept Jesus as the Son of God who has come to this earth to save fallen mankind and give eternal life to all who receive Him. The NIV keeps the text in context; by translating the verb obey as rejects. Carson comments on the text, “If faith in the Son is the only way to inherit eternal life, and is commanded by God Himself, then failure to trust Him is as much disobedience as unbelief.” The Gospel of John, p. 214
In light of the verses we have just looked at in John, how will Jesus respond to the crowds wishing to know what it is they must do to do the works of God? He answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” This is no idle statement of Jesus and He reinforces His teaching in His sermon to the people concerning the bread of life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” John 6:47, 48 “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.” John 6:50 “He who believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35b “All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.” John 6:37 I saved my favorite verse in John 6 till last, “For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” v. 40
The crowd who wanted to do the works of God in order to receive His gifts needed only to believe in Christ, according to Jesus’ response in verse 29. It is not works that somehow bring us into relationship with God. It is the love of God that brings all who believe into relationship with Him. For any of the Jews who still didn’t get the point that salvation is based upon belief in the Son of man as their substitute, He introduces them to the language of the Lord’s Supper. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:50
When we come to the communion table we come understanding Jesus, the bread of life, was broken for us on Calvary’s cross and His blood spilled by greedy, jealous, and cowardly men would cleanse us from our sins. There is nothing we can do to add to the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn merit with God. There is nothing we can do to earn eternal life. We just come humbly and with repentant hearts (God even gives us these gifts) before the cross and say, “Lord, I believe.” God’s grace transforms us and the fruit of the Spirit takes hold of our hearts and we walk in the newness of life because we walk hand in hand with God who accepts all who believe in His name.