The context of this rather lengthy passage is Jesus miraculously feeding the 5000 from 5 loaves of bread and two fish. Not surprisingly, the crowd of people recognizes Jesus as a prophet of God and they seek to find him the next day. Jesus however, challenges their motives for following him.

He says they seek him because they want their temporal needs met (verse 26). He directs them to a greater need; their need of eternal life (verse 27). They want to see another sign, and point to the provision of manna to their forefathers. Jesus replies that the provision of manna was not sufficient for true life, but God has sent bread from heaven to meet this need (verses 32-33).

When the crowd asks to be given this bread, Jesus responds with this monumental declaration: “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Throughout the rest of this discourse in John 6 Jesus makes 8 references to those believing in him having eternal life and/or will be raised from the dead. Nevertheless, most of the crowd departs from Jesus.

Our passage gives us two main reasons why they leave despite hearing the promise of eternal life. The first is the desire to have creaturely-comforts over fellowship with God. Jesus says people who ate the manna in the desert died (verse 49). Manna or bread was given to Israel to stay alive in the desert. It however could not give life that endures.

Elsewhere Jesus says “What good does it do a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul.” It is the same principle we see here. The crowd wants God’s help, but not fellowship with him. The “manna” we desire doesn’t refer simply to our physical needs. It is whatever in our spirits we think we need to be content, secure, or happy.

Many people say they are content and happy without God. The Bible says that isn’t possible; and says no matter what a man makes his riches or earthly interests they cannot deliver him out of death. Many have had trials change their circumstances suddenly and taught what miserable comforters temporal things are. The body is broken, a relationship changes, or other hardships arise. There is more mercy in God than there is sin in us, but we must know our need.

The fallen nature of the world we are in, evidenced by death and suffering, point us to a greater need than just moving pieces around to make ends meet. We need fellowship with God, and Christ came to give us that. There is infinite fullness in Christ. He is suited to all the ends of fallen creatures. No man ever had such power, such wisdom, and such grace.

Such is our folly we will always choose temporal things above Christ, unless God enables us to come to him (verses 36, 37, 44, 65). It is a poor trade to turn away from eternal life and happiness with the Lord in pursuit of perishing contentments. We have need to call on the Lord for grace and not leave us to the folly of our sinful desires. If you have come to Christ, then bless God for it. The crowd did not.

The second reason the crowd leaves Jesus is they do not know their need of an atoning sacrifice for their sins. In verse 53 Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

This language was confusing to the crowd and can be for us. They ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus is pointing to his crucifixion. It is the need for his death we must swallow. He comes to us with blood flowing out of his side.  We can’t be made right with God any other way but his death to pay the debt of our sin. You can’t boast of your goodness and embrace a bloody Savior.

It is a terrible thing to love sin over grace, and darkness more than light. It is the ruin of the soul and bonds of bitterness. Nevertheless, the crowd is emblematic of the world. Men walk away. The proud are never content. Here is wisdom: remember Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners.