And when they had found Him on the other side of the sea, they said unto Him, Rabbi, when camest Thou hither?
¶Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for Him hath God the Father sealed.
First, notice that Jesus did not answer their question. He could have, but because He knew their hearts and motives, He chose instead to use this opportunity to drive home an important truth.
Years ago, I heard a message that described this conversation as a “teachable moment,” and we were encouraged to use similar situations as openings to teach our children truths about God. You know, kids are always asking questions. We give them age-appropriate answers, and the reward for patience with them when they’re small is that when they hit the teen years and then adulthood, we can enjoy deep, meaningful talk with them around the things of the Lord.
But back to the story.
In v. 59 of this same chapter, we learn that this conversation took place in the synagogue in Capernaum, at a Sabbath service. Also, in Matthew 15, we learn that Jewish leaders from Jerusalem had traveled to Capernaum to question Jesus, always intent on their determination to shut Him down.
Instead of answering their question as to when He arrived in Capernaum, He told them why they had come. They were looking for more of that miraculous bread and fish. They were seeking food that eventually spoils, and is no longer useful.
They wanted another miracle. Also, they were still looking for a sign that this Man was the valiant leader who would free them from Rome’s tyranny.
The incredible miracle they had already witnessed was not enough. They were looking for deliverance, not a relationship with Jesus. They had a crusade against Rome in mind, and Jesus was not there for that purpose. They wanted full bellies and freedom from Rome, and that is all for which they followed Him.
They were looking for meat (food) that is temporary and subject to spoiling; power against an enemy that is a passing thing.
I can’t help but compare the attitude of those people so long ago with what is happening worldwide today, and especially in America during the campaign season. Promises of free stuff will always attract followers. Free education, free medical care, free food, free phones, free, free, FREE! And yet, nothing is free. Someone, somewhere, is paying for all the free stuff and doing so in hope of buying the loyalty of the people. The irony, of course, is that it is the people who pay for all that free stuff, through the taxes that grow more burdensome as time marches on. This is not a new thing. Think of the history of Rome, whose fall was, in part, due to giving the people free lunch and free entertainment at the Colosseum. Bloody, horrifying entertainment. When people don’t have to work for their food, they have way too much free time on their hands. The most depraved side of human nature surfaces, demanding more and more thrills and chills.
There is nothing new under the sun.
Notice also that Jesus never, in this conversation, referred to Himself as the Messiah. Rather, He was “the Son of Man,” a term which was not in common usage then, and one that would stir their interest. Jesus was far more interested in bringing them everlasting spiritual food through the miracle of His birth, death, and resurrection than He was in providing perishable food that would satisfy only temporarily.
Finally, referring to Himself as the Son of Man, He said that the Father had sealed Him. What does that mean?
A seal was a mark of ownership, and a promise of good quality. The clear seal of the Father had come at Jesus’ baptism, when the voice of God said, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
Jesus is eternal life and satisfaction. We ought to seek Him for a relationship with Him, not just as a source of free stuff.