Anyone who even perused John’s Gospel will realize how different it is from the other three that precede it. The first three Gospels view Jesus’ life and ministry from a similar perspective. For that reason, they are often referred to as ‘Synoptic’ Gospels; a word derived from two Greek words meaning ‘to view’ and ‘together.’ They view the life of Jesus from a similar storyline, all beginning the story of Jesus’s ministry from about a year after it started. They (the Synoptics) tell us nothing about the first year of ministry. Only John gives us information regarding that first year.
Another critical difference between John and the Synoptics is that John never refers to Jesus’ miracles as simply miracles or notable deeds or works of power, but signs. In fact, he selected seven from the thousands Jesus performed, arranging his material around them. It is important to grasp what John conveys when he refers to these works as signs. The significance of a sign is that it points to something else, telling you how far you have to go to arrive at the point the sign designated. If I am traveling to Nashville and I see a sign saying, “Nashville: 100 Miles”, I don’t get out at the sign and say, “I’ve arrived.” No; it is telling me how far I have to go until I arrive.
What does this have to do with Jesus and his signs? The significance of the actual work of power is not in the physical manifestation, but in the fact, it points away to something spiritually significant about the Lord Jesus. For example, in the sixth chapter of John, Jesus performs the sign of feeding five thousand with five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:1-15). Afterwards, in the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus tells the crowd, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). In other words, the real significance of the miracle is not in the fact that Jesus could feed the physical hunger of men and women, but in the fact that He and He alone was true bread for men’s souls.
In the course of his dialogue, he exposed the fact that they had sought after him, not because they saw the sign, but because they ate and were filled (6:26). In fact, earlier they attempted to seize him by force and make him king; Jesus was aware of it and went up on a mountain by himself to pray (6:15). What does that mean? Jesus steadfastly refuses to be the King of things but always and ever King of kings. He knows the corrupt tendency of men and women to want a God who takes care of them physically while coming to Him to have their real needs satisfied by Him.
Today, people come to Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes, evangelists tell people that if they come to Jesus, he will bless them financially or heal their bodies or do some other thing. Of course, he may, but then again he may not. I remember many years ago coming to a small town where I was to have a series of meetings at a church. When I arrived, the believers in that church asked if I would meet with a man who owned an expensive restaurant in town. The restaurant had fallen on hard times, and the owner was about to lose it. Some well-meaning believers preached the Gospel to him and told him that, if he put his faith in Jesus, his restaurant would be saved. So this man accepted Jesus in the hope of saving his restaurant. But sadly, even after making a profession of faith, his restaurant worsened, and he was in danger of losing it. Needless to say, the man’s faith was rattled.
I consented to meet with him, and after only a short time visiting him, I could tell that this man had a problem with money. It was the mercy of God that he was losing his business so that he could be delivered from his covetousness. He had come to the King of things, but now he had an opportunity to repent and come to the King of kings! I never heard afterward what happened to him.
The end result of Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue at Capernaum in John 6 is that many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him (John 6:66). They never understood the significance of the sign; that Jesus must be partaken of as the true bread of life who alone satisfies the real need of human beings. They followed when he was providing the bread for their bodies. However, when he began to insist they must actually partake of his flesh and blood to have life, they were offended.
Why are we really following Him? Are we ever offended that Jesus doesn’t always give us all of our physical needs? These are questions we need to ask continually. Without knowing it, we might want him to be King of things more than King of kings. That is not to say that He doesn’t bless us physically; he does, and I have been the recipient of rich blessings. But that can’t be my motive for following. I must follow because He alone meets my real need; to have a real relationship with his Father.