The Saddest Passage in the Bible to Me (John 666)

In this series on the feeding of the 5000, we have discussed the historicity of the event, how it backfired and led to a serious crisis, and how it is connected to the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the desert. I would now like to focus on what I consider the saddest moment in the story of the feeding of the 5000—in fact, potentially the saddest moment in the entire Bible.

Many of Jesus’ Disciples Stop Following Him

John chapter 6 is a loooong chapter! And there is a lot going on—serious life-changing stuff. Jesus saw the hungry crowd following him and decided to do something practical for them. He took a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish and fed them all. I don’t know how he expanded those paltry resources into enough to feed 5000 people—but it worked. The crowd was no longer hungry and there were more leftovers than what he began with.

I wish that had been the end of it, but people in the crowd were mesmerized by the idea of easy, plentiful food. In fact, they wanted to make Jesus king on the spot so he could lead them in a fight against Rome. This, however, was not Jesus’ mission; the Father was leading him to initiate the spiritual kingdom of God—God’s benevolent rule, you might say.

Jesus had to explain that his significance was not in his ability to create bread but that it was he, himself, who was the bread of life from heaven. He used graphic language to make his point clear, but many of his followers were not happy with it.

John 6:66 records the sad result:

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

How sad indeed. But the worst moment is not yet.

The Scene that Frightened Me and Almost Took My Breath Away

Some years ago, when I was a District Manager for Family Christian Stores, I was asked to deliver a short devotional at the annual managers’ conference. I knew at once what I would talk about because this scenario had occupied me for a while, and it had to do with the feeding of the 5000 in the book of John but is not an issue I have yet mentioned in the series.

Family Christian Stores managers, buyers, and other staff tended to be somewhat conservative in their religious beliefs, though they were not fundamentalist by any means. I was among the most theologically moderate persons in the group.

Some of the employees were what I would call a bit ‘superstitious’ of the number ‘666’ because of its use in the book of Revelation. At the devotion, I mentioned to them that I was not concerned with the number ‘666’; in fact I had used it for years as my code into our company communications system. But the ‘666’ that really affected me was John 6:66,

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

But an even worse moment followed. It was a scene that frightened me and almost took my breath away. Jesus asked his remaining disciples a pointed and startling question. Tears still come to my eyes when I read it; I am crying right now as I write this:

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

campfire - wikipedia commons

Lagerfeuer – Wikipedia Commons

I imagine the momentous and tumultuous day is over and Jesus and the twelve are sitting around the open fire at night eating some of the leftovers from earlier in the day. We are all very quiet and just nibbling on our food and listening to the crackling of the flames when suddenly, out of the dark silence, Jesus says:

“You do not want to leave too, do you?”

I am caught off guard; I don’t know what to say. My breath is restricted, my heart tightens, and I begin to sweat. In horror, I realize that I could easily have walked away with the crowd. I also was confused by Jesus’ odd talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Why didn’t I go with them? Why did I stay? The very thought of it shot horror throughout my being.

There was nothing but silence. No one said a word as the flames crackled. Only a big pop from a piece of the burning wood disturbed the heavy silence. Then Peter said softly in the stillness:

Lord, to whom shall we go?

Yes! That was the answer—where would I go? How easily, thoughtlessly, I could have walked away from Jesus today with his other former followers. But, even though I do not yet understand everything about Jesus, I am compelled to agree with Peter:

You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.

Today was a crisis for Jesus, but he made the right decision. It could have been my crisis event as well, and I could easily have made the wrong decision.

Crises Still Continue for Many

Similar crises still occur even now in 2017; there is much we do not understand, and many of us contemplate whether we should continue following Jesus. But I hope that we all can finally agree with Peter:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Where would you go?

One More Thing

Before we leave the series, there is just one more thing: what is the significance to us of John’s account of feeding of the 5000? There are definitely important lessons for followers of Jesus in his response to the crowd about the bread of life. We will talk about them next time.

In this series: Insights into the Feeding of the 5000


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20 Responses to The Saddest Passage in the Bible to Me (John 666)

  1. sheila0405 says:

    Speaking as one who left more than a year ago, life is better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TimP says:

      I’m currently having a “sabbatical” from church and am thoroughly enjoying having more time, more relaxed week-ends, less stress and not having to go through the motions of worship on Sundays. So your comment really speaks to me Sheila.

      But For me, I don’t want to let go of Jesus though. I’m not really sure why but “to whom would I go” about sums up where I am. If he asked me if I wanted to leave I would have to say no, but I don’t want to carry on with church and all the baggage that brings right now. I want to find out what is left !

      Liked by 2 people

      • sheila0405 says:

        Good luck! Enjoy your sabbatical.

        Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        TimP, I spent most of my life all super-involved in the church; I was always attending services, teaching classes, leading evangelism programs and all that. In the last number of years I have slowed way down on churchiness. I am not opposed to church, and I enjoy church; but I am not driven to attend all the time as I used to. And like you, I am “thoroughly enjoying having more time, more relaxed week-ends, less stress and not having to go through the motions of worship on Sundays.”

        I think church was much more important when believers were a small minority and it was the primary way that believers could learn, interact, and fellowship (as in Paul’s churches). But today there are many ways believers can be connected besides the weekly (or more frequent) attendance of a church.

        Sometimes getting out of the routine is quite helpful!


        • TimP says:

          In many ways, sites like this are my “church”. I find I get much more out of them, I can pop by when I like (which is more often and for a longer time than I would spend per week in church) and there is a community where I can be honest, question, search, agree or disagree but in a relaxed, constructive environment. What you have created here fulfils a need for more than just me I suspect!

          Liked by 1 person

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

  3. Pingback: The Temptation of Jesus in the Book of John–without Satan | Jesus Without Baggage

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

  5. newtonfinn says:

    “The simple and humble way is to love God because one needs him. …The person who most profoundly recognizes his need of God loves him most truly. You are not to presume to love God for God’s sake. You are humbly to understand that your own welfare eternally depends on this need, and therefore you are to love him.” Soren Kierkegaard, “Christian Discourses”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: 4 Views on the Significance of the Feeding of the 5000 | Jesus Without Baggage

  7. Bill Ectric says:

    And look – we are still here – the many of us who’ve had doubts and questions about our faith, but see where we are, still talking and reading about Jesus. We keep returning to Jesus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Yes, Bill, I continue to return to Jesus, and it is because of Jesus–and not because of doctrinal ‘certainties’ many believers embrace.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Bill Ectric says:

    Exactly. Me, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Samuel Alder says:

    I think the reason church gets boring and people don’t want to go is because it’s too much of the same… the audience should also preach, everyone should find their own responsibilities and be allowed to carry them out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Samuel, ain’t it the truth! I want to be involved in church as part of the group–not as part of an audience being addressed, entertained, and bored. I think Paul is right that we all have gifts to contribute to the group.


  10. Samuel Alder says:

    also to reply to the actual article: thanks for writing it “to whom else would i go” indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

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