The usual approach to chapter 6 is pretty straightforward.
* Jesus feeds 5,000, showing his awesome, God-like powers.
* Jesus walks on the water, showing his awesome, God-like powers.
* Jesus teaches a lesson on the Lord’s Supper, which the Jews totally miss.
But that overlooks the real drama going on here. This is a recapitulation of the Exodus. The text is filled with references — some obvious, some subtle, all important.
* Jesus feeds the Israelites with fish and loaves, just as God fed the Israelites with manna and quail.
* Jesus feeds the people because they preferred to hear Jesus’ words to being fed. They briefly lived the lesson: Man does not live by bread alone.
* Jesus demonstrates his power to cross a Sea that can only be passed by a miracle, just as God allowed the Israelites to cross the Red Sea by a miracle.
* The people grumble/murmur against Jesus just as they grumbled against Moses.
* Both events occur at the time of the Passover.
* The Exodus begins with the slaying of a lamb. John 6 predicts the slaying of Jesus as the Lamb of God.
* The 12 baskets are symbolic of the 12 tribes.
* Jesus spoke from a mountain, just as God spoke from a mountain on Sinai.
* Jesus is declared to be the “Prophet” like Moses.
* God told the Israelites “Do not be afraid” just as Jesus said to the apostles in the boat (Deu 1:29). Of course, in both contexts, they’d just seen God/Jesus work incredible miracles, even controlling the weather. Why be afraid if you have such a God on your side?
* Jesus taught in the synagogue (where he would have sat on the Moses Seat, the chair reserved for the speaker).
* Despite having just seen powerful signs from God/Jesus, those present demand another sign that they might believe (Num 14:11). And in the face of repeated signs, many refused to believe.
* Redemption and forgiveness of sins was offered to each by the sacrifice of flesh — some of which was to be eaten.
* God is drawing Israel toward God and the Promised Land by his lovingkindness.
Now, if John wants us to see Exodus, then what is the role that Jesus plays?
* He is the Passover lamb.
* He is Moses.
* He is the lamb sacrificed at the tabernacle for forgiveness.
* He is God.
* He is Israel. It was Israel that crossed the Red Sea. It was Israel that had 12 tribes (apostles). It was Israel that died in the wilderness for its sins. Except now, Jesus will choose to die for Israel.
If this is right, what is going on in Jesus’ mind? What is it about the Exodus that concerns Jesus at this moment?
Well, all but two of those Israelites who left Egypt died in the desert for lack faith. They were all God’s chosen people. They were all God’s elect. They were all the beneficiaries of incredible miracles, miracles that should have brought faith and trust and obedience.
But just as happened 1,500 years earlier, the vast majority of the Israelites did not come to faith. They may have briefly believed, but when it came time to turn faith into mission, they demanded more signs and grumbled. They couldn’t bring themselves to trust their futures to God/Jesus — and so they died in the desert. They left slavery only to find futility in the sand.
And so Jesus’ words are all the more poignant and sad, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67). This was not the first time Jesus had felt this way. He surely felt the very same way when the 12 spies returned from Palestine and 10 declared that God’s people could not take the land, even with the help of Almighty God. He surely felt the same way when nearly all the Northern Kingdom turned to idols and when nearly all the Southern Kingdom turned to idols.
And now here he is again. He’s given up heaven itself to walk the paths of Galilee and Judea to be with his people, to share his lovingkindness, to offer them salvation through faith, to do miracles great and small, only to have the overwhelming majority reject him — to his face.
Imagine the passion: “Do you want to go away as well?” He was surely discouraged — almost to the point of giving up. What more could he say? What more could he do?
He’d offered himself as a sacrifice of flesh, to be eaten just like a lamb or a bull. He would give everything that he could for these people given him by his Father, and yet few would listen and fewer would believe.
And then, on top of all that, he knew that one who pretended to believe was a devil — would soon betray him.
And as down as he surely felt, read what comes next in Chapter 7.