Notes on John 6:16-29

John 6:16-29
BUT the Lord vouchsafes another sign to the very people who soon after ask for a sign that they might see and believe. (Ver. 30.) So blind is man even when grace is multiplying these helps for those who discern it! Submission to God was the true want, not more signs.
“But when evening was come, his disciples went down to the sea, and, having come on board ship,1 were crossing the sea to Capernaum. And darkness had already come on, and Jesus had not yet2 come to them, and the sea was rough as a strong wind was blowing. Having rowed then about twenty-five or thirty stadia they see Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the ship, and they were affrighted. But he saith to them, It is I: be not afraid. They were willing therefore to receive him into the ship, and immediately the ship was at the land whither they were going.” (Ver. 16-21.)
How striking the contrast with another storm on the same lake where the waves beat into the ship so that it was now full, and He was on board but asleep, and the disciples awoke Him with the selfish and unbelieving cry, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And He arose and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace, and both obeyed the Creator of all, whom man alone despised because His love made Him the Servant of all to God's glory.
Here it is the picture of the Lord's people while Himself is on high, exposed to the storms which the enemy knows how to excite, and after much toil making little progress. So it will be also for those who follow us at the end of the age. They will experience untold trials of the sharpest kind with scanty comfort or even intelligence, save as compared with “the wicked” who shall not understand, least of all (we may perhaps add) in that day. Darkness will have already set in; but in the midst of their increasing troubles Jesus will appear, though they will not even then be delivered from their fears, for the glorious light will rather augment them, till they hear His voice and know that He is indeed their Savior, long absent, now come back. Received into the ship He causes it to reach immediately the desired haven. So it will be with the righteous remnant by-and-by. Whether for them or for ourselves all turns on Christ; and this it is the peculiar office of our Gospel to illustrate.
Matthew, who alone specifically names the church as taking the place now of the disowned people after the rejection of the Messiah, alone shows us Peter quitting the ship to walk over the water towards Jesus, to walk where nothing but faith could sustain, and where therefore we see him soon sinking through unbelief, as the church has done still more deplorably: but the Lord, faithful in His care, keeps spite of all. It is only when the ship is entered (the Jewish position properly) that the wind ceases, and He is welcomed with all His beneficent power in the land whence once they had besought Him to depart out of their borders. (Matt. 14)
Our evangelist however does not trace these earthly blessings which await “that day,” but turns to the circumstances and questions which the Lord makes the occasion of the wonderful discourse that follows. He adheres to his task of unfolding the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.
“On the morrow the crowd that was standing on the other side of the sea having seen that there was no other boat but one,3 and that Jesus went not with his disciples into the ship,4 but that his disciples went off alone (yet5 other boats6 came from Tiberias near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks); when the crowd then saw that Jesus was not there nor his disciples, they went themselves on board the ships and came to Capernaum seeking for Jesus; and having found him on the other side of the sea they said to him, Rabbi, when cannot thou hither? Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, ye seek me, not because ye saw the signs, but because ye ate of the loaves and were filled. Work not for the food that perisheth but for the food7 that abideth unto life eternal which the Son of man shall give8 you; for him the Father sealed—God. They said therefore to him, What must we do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God that ye believe on him whom he sent.” (Ver. 22-29.)
The particulars related serve to show how the crowd was struck by the mysterious disappearance of the Lord. They knew that He had not accompanied the disciples in their ship, and that there was no other in which He could have crossed the lake when He must have left the mountain. They put forward their curiosity as to His, mode of passage as a cover for their desire to profit, as they had done already by His miraculous supply of their wants. The Lord in reply strips them of their disguise and confronts them with their selfishness. It was this which prompted their search after Him, not their interest in the signs which He had just wrought. He prefaces their exposure with the formula of unusual solemnity which He reserved for the enunciation of great truths. “Rabbi,” (said they), “Whence earnest thou hither?” They had sought after Jesus; they had taken trouble to find Him; when found, they address Him with honor; but they manifest by their inquiry that it was not Himself nor yet the signs which He had wrought which attracted them. God was not in their thoughts, but curiosity about the time and mode of His coming, and at the bottom a desire after present ease, through Him. Was the Son of God here to gratify all this?
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me not because ye saw the signs but because; ye ate and were filled.” Here the Lord searches those who had been in quest of Him and searches them throughly, for a single act that looks fair may prove a character hollow and base. And He looked on and listened and did not trust Himself to them because He knew all men, and needed none to testify of man, for Himself knew what was in man. To make Him a king in order to enjoy His promised earthly favors was nothing in His eyes, nay, called for His most grave detection of them to themselves. It was no question of the Messiah for Israel now, but of a Savior for sinners. He was rejected as the Christ by those who ought most to have hailed Him with joy, but did not because His coming as He did made nothing of them and their religiousness, that is, of all they valued: and if this poor hungry crowd seemed to feel quite differently and wished to give Him the honor that was due, it was needful to demonstrate that they were not a whit better and sought their own things, not. God's glory in Him. He was really come, into a world of death over which judgment hung, that the poorest of sinners might feed on Him and live forever: what did they think of or care for this? They thought only of themselves in their way, just as their rulers and teachers in theirs. God was in none of their thoughts. High or low, they had no sense of their sins or ruin, no knowledge of God or His grace. A Messiah for temporal good was what they wanted, not a Jesus to save His people from their sins. But the Messiah as a divine person could not but lay bare their alienation and distance from God and thus became increasingly odious till their hatred ended in His cross, which made plain the deep purpose of grace in sending Him into the world, not for Israel only, but now rejected by them that we might live by Him and He be a propitiation for our sins,
Hence He adds, “Work not for the food that perisheth, but for the food that abideth unto life eternal, which the Son of man shall give you; for him the Father sealed—God.” (Ver. 27.) It is no question of Messianic honor or blessing but of what the Son of man has to give; and as He gives the food that abides to life eternal, so man needs no less than this. It is as such that God the Father sealed Him. Toil will not suffice, nor any seeming sincerity. The humbled Messiah, the Son of man, is no less God's object in sealing with the Holy Ghost than He is the giver of the only food that abides to life everlasting; and nothing less can supply the need of lost man, be he Jew or Gentile.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Hence they misapply the Lord's exhortation “Work not for the food that perisheth but for the food that abideth unto life eternal” and infer their own capacity to do something acceptable to God; “They said therefore to him, What must we do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God that ye believe on him whom he sent.” (Vers. 28, 29.) Jesus is the object of faith. To believe on Him is the only work for a sinful man, if it is to be called a work. It is the work of God, for man trusts it not and refuses to confide in Him for eternal life. He would rather trust to his own wretched performance, or his own miserable experience—anything rather than to Jesus only. But God will not allow men to mix up self with Jesus, whether it be a fancied good self or a confessedly evil self. It is the Son of man whom the Father sealed, and Him only can He accept as the ground of the sinner's approach to God, Him only does He commend as the food that abides to life eternal. For this He sent Him, not for man to make Him a king over a people with their sins unremoved, but to be the true passover, and the only food that He warrants. Faith however is the only way in which one can feed on Him; not of works, else the must be by the law and thus be for Jews only. On the contrary; it is by faith that it might be according to grace, and thus be open to Gentile as freely as to Jew. Truly it is not the way of man but the work of God that we believe on Him whom He sent.