The Temptation of Jesus in the Book of John–without Satan

All four gospels tell the story of the feeding of the 5000. Matthew and Luke follow Mark’s account, but John includes more detail–as though from a separate memory of the event. And John also adds the critical aftermath of the event that the other writers do not. The Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) portray the feeding as a great success (and it was). John 6 does not really disagree; like the others his story ends in wondrous success:

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

But John goes on to tell us what happened immediately afterward. As it turns out, John reveals that the feeding of the 5000 created a crisis in Jesus’ growing movement; and not only was it a crisis for Jesus’ movement, but it seems to be a personal crisis moment for Jesus himself–as we shall see.

The Trouble Begins

John 6 continues by telling the rest of the story:

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

What a boost this would be to Jesus’ movement and his message! It must have been tempting for him to short-cut the hard work involved in establishing the kingdom of God by accepting this instant recognition and becoming king by acclamation.

But the crowd had a different plan for Jesus. Experiencing his great power in providing miraculous food in great quantities, it seems that many in the crowd concluded Jesus was the very hero they had been expecting to come and lead them to freedom from the Roman Empire, as Judas Maccabeus had done a couple centuries earlier in regard to the Greek Empire.

A number of such leaders had appeared over recent years, developed mass followings, and contested Rome; but they all were defeated. In the minds of his followers, Jesus was certainly–finally–the ONE! However, Jesus’ purpose was not political so he escaped the crowd and its immediate temptation of kingship.

Jesus Confronts the Crowd

The crowd searched for him and soon found him in Capernaum, but Jesus was straight with them:

You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

The crowd responded:

“What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

They wanted more bread. If King Jesus could supply food like this at will—he could feed an army! And they would willingly BE that army following Jesus and driving out the Romans.

Jesus continued:

[I]t is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

In other words, Jesus’ significance was not his ability to provide unlimited bread; his significance was in who he was—the initiator of the kingdom of God (and not the political kingdom of Israel). But the crowd did not understand this; they were excited by his ability to perform this miracle of bread and wanted more.

Jesus was frustrated with the shallowness of his followers and declared:

I am the bread of life…I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me…For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

What weird talk was this? They were looking for something much more practical, but Jesus continued:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them…the one who feeds on me will live because of me…Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

This was even more weird.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”…From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

And, just like that, Jesus’ mass movement collapsed. The feeding of the 5000 backfired—and it backfired badly.

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Does This Remind You of Another Story in the Gospels?

The book of John does not contain the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, but the aftermath of the feeding of the 5000 involves all three temptations: to succeed by providing miracle bread, by drawing attention to himself with great signs (like jumping from the temple wall), or by accepting the kingdom from the hands of others rather than from the Father.

We will explore these things more fully next time.

In this series: Insights into the Feeding of the 5000

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12 Responses to The Temptation of Jesus in the Book of John–without Satan

  1. Bill Ectric says:

    Wow, I never noticed the similarity between the feeding of the 5,000 and the three temptations of Jesus in the desert!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Yes, Jesus Fed the 5000—But it Backfired Badly! | Jesus Without Baggage

  3. fiddlrts says:

    I had not thought of it like that. Thanks for a great article.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. newtonfinn says:

    I’m still grappling with the blocking of internet posting and commentary notices on my email (thought I had solved it…but alas), so I missed the former post and will put in my two cents on this following one about the same subject. I suspect that my view of the Kingdom of God/Heaven, as I believe Jesus conceived of it and taught about it, differs somewhat from Tim’s and that of many others–indeed, the majority of those who strive to to follow Jesus.

    I have come to believe that this Kingdom is indeed political in the fullest sense of seeking embodiment in social/economic/political policy and practice. I believe that this conclusion follows, in part, from the pressing concern, repeatedly expressed by Jesus, that this Kingdom come on earth as in heaven, which to me means that the followers of Jesus are to devote their lives to making actual and temporal what is ideal and eternal, even if God has the final say as to when and where the Kingdom will fully unfold. Democratic government, in which the people have control (albeit only theoretically, at this point) would then be by far the most effective tool for accomplishing this goal: feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, etc. According to Jesus’ parable of the final judgment, those merciful actions, even if taken without religious motives, are what distinguish his genuine followers from the false ones who pay him only lip service.

    For those who might like to get a feeling about what a Kingdom-centered society would look like in concrete form, in its panoply of social/economic/political manifestations, I have found no clearer or more moving vision than that of Edward Bellamy in “Looking Backward” and “Equality.” Reading these late 19th Century works while doing one’s own 21st Century updating (emphasizing ecological issues, etc.), one can vividly imagine what living on earth might look like after the Kingdom had dawned in our midst in anticipation of its heavenly consummation.

    Maybe one of the reasons that, as Schweitzer noted, the teachings of Jesus have never found deep roots in most human hearts and minds–have never been able to restrain abominations such as war and eliminate obscenities such as poverty–is that we remain satisfied with a hazy, ethereal version of the Kingdom of God/Heaven, consigned to eternity for not only full but even substantial flowering, and in which we may participate down here only by individual or small group action. Long story short, maybe the Two Kingdom folks got it wrong, and the Social Gospel folks got it right.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Newton, I certainly agree with you that many believers hold a hazy, ethereal vision of the Kingdom of God/Heaven that is set in eternity instead of being a growing presence and influence on Earth today. I believe the kingdom is a present and growing entity.

    I also agree that the kingdom of God is political in nature in that its intent is to change the way things are–to oppose power, greed, and domination in government and society. However, I don’t think the kingdom of God is meant to achieve these objectives in political ways (power, force, and domination) but by transforming individuals. I do believe, as you say, that we of the kingdom can influence government to meet social needs in those places where we can vote or have a say, but I think we should do so in the name of doing right by other people and not by imposing ‘Christian’ values on the country.

    So I am not sure how far apart we actually are on the issue. I really appreciate your comment (and feel free to follow up). And, by the way, I hope you are able to fix the notifications problem.

    Like

  6. newtonfinn says:

    A blessed Easter to you, Tim, and to all the readers of your enlightening, uplifting blog. It seems we are not that far apart about the political implications of the Kingdom. If we ever are able to rescue genuine democracy and again use it as a tool of, by, and for the people, then we must vote for Kingdom-congruent policies and programs. But, as you wisely point out, we must also do so with the express purpose of improving society, meeting essential human needs and fulfilling worthy desires, and NOT in the name of any particular religious tradition. Bellamy, along with Schweitzer (my two gurus, these days) are clear that only when a majority of individuals are on board with such a political agenda, for religious or humanist reasons, can democracy become an avenue for advancing the Kingdom. All the more reason, however, for Christians to make loud and relentless noise about this political aspect of their faith. Let me close with a comment I put on another Christian blog in response to a post about the insufficiency of private charity in eliminating poverty:

    “Eliminating poverty is enshrined as a principal governmental duty in the prologue to the Declaration of Independence. If government exists to facilitate life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it must establish the preconditions for those unalienable rights, and poverty–the lack of adequate food, shelter, and employment–is a fundamental barrier to the exercise of those rights. It is therefore patriotic to support governmental action to eliminate poverty…and unpatriotic to oppose such action. The flag belongs to the left. Period.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Agreed! One can advocate social issues without imposing religious beliefs on others. And I like your closing paragraph; I think it is the duty of the country to protect its population, and this includes protecting them against hunger and abject poverty as well as against foreign invaders.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Did Satan Really Tempt Jesus in the Desert or is there Another Explanation? | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Pingback: The Saddest Passage in the Bible to Me (John 666) | Jesus Without Baggage

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