King Jesus probably felt like a square peg being forced through a round hole one spring day in Galilee. He had just fed five thousand people who turned out to be hungry for more than bread and fish. They longed for a messiah. The Jewish messiah was expected to fulfill Moses’ prediction about a prophet like himself. Moses had a track record for answered prayers when it came to food and water. When Jesus multiplied a boy’s lunch, the crowd jumped to the conclusion that Jesus was that prophetic messiah.1
The messiah was not limited to the role of prophet. The crowning role was that of king. In fact, most threads of messianic expectation involved a king. The messianic king would lead Israel into glory days like those she had enjoyed under King David.
“Down with corrupt religious leaders! Down with the Roman occupiers! Down with taxes!” yelled the crowds.
Israel had been without a proper king for five hundred years, it was time to fill the vacancy. Many other candidates had caught the attention of the popular recruiters in recent years, but they had failed to deliver. A miraculous free meal for five thousand was an impressive sign. The crowd was ready to crown King Jesus. However, Jesus surprised them—He slipped away.2
Ever perceptive, Jesus saw two huge problems with the flattering job offer. Next day, after the crowd had tracked Jesus down, He began to correct their mistaken thinking:
Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work 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 the Father, God, has set His seal.” Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:26-29)
Every crowd contains a mixture of motives. Rallying behind Jesus when He does miracles to provide for our practical needs and answer our prayers is one thing. Making Him king is another. Jesus was quick to highlight the distinction. Many in the crowd were not interested in the significance of the messianic sign, they hoped for another meal.
Jesus urged the people to look beyond the exciting practical miracles that He gladly performed. Spiritual food is more important. Everlasting food has to do with believing in Him—really believing. Belief (or faith) begins with listening carefully to His claims and then responding to those claims wholeheartedly.
Make way for the real King Jesus!
The second problem that Jesus alluded to was that real kings make the rules. They don’t respond to “wanted . . .” advertisements. The true King Jesus needs no coronation; He has always been king and always will be. Jesus’ kingship is radically different from other monarchies.
Jesus’ ministry and message is full of the tension between popular expectations of the messianic king and what He actually came to do. Many people want a king to meet their practical needs; Jesus puts an emphasis on the spiritual and eternal. In an occupied nation, a leader who sounds confident of victory makes the most appealing king. Jesus, however, spoke of serving, and even hinted at His death when He taught about His proclamation, “I am the living bread.”3 A king who was prepared to die! The crowd that had been following Jesus thinned significantly that day.
What about you, are you only interested in what your Jesus can do for you? Do you have a set of expectations that He must fulfill? Or are you getting to know the real King Jesus and listening to His claims and commands?
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