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25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
Please, make sure to read prior section “Jesus and his strange movements around the Sea of Galilee” (Click, here). Jesus puts off the excitement and zeal of the crowds once again, strongly letting them know they are not “getting” him. Contrary to how the situation appears, Jesus does not accuse the people here of simply having their physical needs met (food) rather than being interested in spiritual content (salvation). In my opinion, such interpretive dichotomy is simply incorrect. It is definitely foreign to the Jewish context in which the Gospel was originally authored. There is, however, a true dichotomy present. It is not the dichotomy between physical and spiritual, but rather the dichotomy between miracles and signs.
Surprisingly, Jesus says that the people were only able to see his miracles, which was not enough. They needed to see the signs. A sign always points away from itself to the thing or person that is signified – in this case, Jesus (the Son of Man in vs. 27). A sign can also be a miracle but its primary function is to point to something other than itself. In this passage, the sign showed and sealed the Father’s approval.
27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
In ancient times, people were not only paid for their work with coin; they also used the fair-value exchange system. Sometimes workers were paid in goods; and at other times they were paid by a combination of goods and money. Jesus is using the familiar to imply something similar to, “Imagine yourself working, but only getting paid with perishable goods? Would your work be worth your while? Would you even be able to save anything, or put something aside?”
The answer is implicit in this question – it is a simple no. Jesus calls the workers not to settle for less. He wants them to receive fair wages, not with something that perishes, but with something that lasts. In this case, he intends something that lasts forever. It is in this context that rejecting Jesus’ authority can only be compared to “working for the food that perishes,” while believing him equals working for the kind of pay that endures to eternal life.
It is an interpretive error to read this passage in the context of a religious polemic of a “Christian Jesus” (Christianity) and “Jewish Jews” (Judaism), instead of in the original context of an inter-Israelite polemic. An inaccurate assessment, made by many Christian theologians regarding Judaism, has held for many centuries. This assessment concerned itself with so-called “Jewish literalism” as well as with “Jewish deficient understanding” – seeking the material things at the expense of the ultimate, spiritual revelation of God.
Perhaps now you can see my point. Our almost automatic interpretation of vs. 26-27 is along these lines and shows how conditioned we are by the long history of such interpretation. It seems so obvious that we have a hard time seeing it as simply “imposed later theology” on the ancient original line of thinking – the text itself.
I wish to be clear that the type of interpretation that associates Judaism with the literal/corporal and Christianity with the spiritual/ultimate is not necessarily anti-Semitic in nature. This, however, does not make it accurate.
It is important that we critically question our patterns of thinking and also the thinking that led to our current patterns of thought. Surprising discoveries may emerge when we become conscious of blind spots like this one.
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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.
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Join the conversation (25 comments)
[…] from heaven! Earlier in this chapter, the Hoi Ioudaioi were proudly saying that Moses gave them manna from heaven. Jesus said that he was not manna, but bread, which was much better, and he was coming down from […]
Dear Dr.: I think it is not important how many times the words “signs” or “miracles” are mentioned in the gospels; the very important is the signs and miracles are performed, yesterday and today, for believers, in first place, and for not believers, in the second;For believers to reassure their faith, for not believers for they come to believe;or I am wrong?
Well in few posts ahead we will see that in John 6 the unbelief (even though they saw the miracles) is contrasted to the John 4 the belief of Samaritans (even though they only heard Jesus’ words). So, I think there is a lesson there.
The word sEmeion (sign) in the sense of ‘doing a miracle) occurs 42 x in N.T. The word terasin
(miracle) (always together with the word sign) occurs 14 x. 17 x it is related to Jesus.
Remarkable is that the word ‘sign’ occurs 15 x in the Gospel of John ( that is great part of it ) and only once the word ‘miracle ‘. I think the word ‘miracle; refers to the fact and the word ‘sign to the purpose . So, in John the statement is the purpose .
I think important key verses in John for interpretation of the word ‘sign ‘in John is
John 1,18; John 5, 38; John 10, 37-38 to prove Jesus is the appointed (Mat. 2,22) Son of God who is on right hand of the Father , to reveal Him.
I think the ultimate ‘sign ‘, only mentioned in John is ‘the sign of Jona’ , rebuilding the temple of His own body, His resurrection ( Mat . 16:4, John 2, 18-19).
The word sEmeion (sign) in the sense of ‘doing a miracle) occurs 42 x in N.T. The word terasin
(miracle) (always together with the word sign) occurs 14 x. It is 17 x related to Jesus (15 x in John ‘s Gospel !) , 13 x related to the believers (10 x in Act ! in special the apostles, 1 x to Jesus , 1 x to Moses) , 5x to a wrong desire for signs and wonders, 7 x to sign and wonders from satanic origin.
There is a promise in Marc . 16, 17-20 that sign shall follow the true believers.. as a confirmation of the Word they are preaching. The word ‘sign’ and the word ‘miracle’ points to the same thing. I think the word ‘miracle’ points to the thing in fact. The word ‘sign’ to his purpose is here : to produce believe. In Marc. 16-17-20 in only the mention of ‘sign’. So I think there is an important lesson in it: When we have a desire to experience or to do sign and wonders , we can be involved in the satanic. When we desire to preach the Word, people who hear arte wonders are confronted with sign and wonders in order to believe. The one who preaching don ‘t need it. He already believes.
So what is our desire? To do miracles or to preach the Word to give a sign of the great God?
Thanks for clearing that, I will pass it on so all can know the truth.
Dear Sidney, thank you for your comment! Blessings and peace, Dr. Eli
Signs is a new perspective for me to see Jesus working in my life. This study helped me to confirm the “when did You come into my life?”. The answer …prior to me becoming a believer. Thanks
Thanks. There is no doubt the “food that perishes” was reference to the miracle, which they were, it seems, seeking more of (as anyone would)! I am wary of ‘physical’ vs ‘spirtual’ as it sounds like Greek philosophy .. doubly wary as Thomas put his hands on the body of Y’shua who walked though walls… there is another physical type of body for the angels, as Yacov also found when he wrestled with one, who are akin to those of the resurrection (For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. (Matt 22:30)
If the most ‘spiritual’ thing to do (‘pure religion’) is to visit the fatherless and widow (James 1:27), then that is rather ‘concrete’ (to use a modern metaphor).
The characteristic of much ‘theology’ of the past has with it men or women who sit in comfort (funding from others not requiring their own backbreaking labour which would have precluded such efforts) and make critical judgments with the benefit of 20/20 vision.. in hindsight. No one, not one “got it”, not John (who was a brilliant mind!), not Peter, not anyone. It might be suspected we would have done no better, and might not fully understand even today. Simplifications in my experience lead to less understanding rather than more in any field of study.
He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8)
You are right to point it out too, as we might rather extend mercy to the people of the past, as they might reveal aspects of ourself. Not ‘Jews’ but people like us.
Thanks, Janet. Good and thoughtful comments. Dr. Eli
I agree Dr. Eli..thanks Janet, I needed that:)
OK… there is one point that I would take an exception to. I think John (assuming that John son of Zebedee is the same person who authored the Gospel of John) really did get Jesus :-).
Two points: John didn’t speak up at the trial and
the second is what seems an admission: “Then went in also that other disciple (John himself), which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew (eido – understood/see) not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.” (John 20:8-9)
The ‘they’ seems to be speaking of himself also. By his own account he had heard of rising from the dead from the scripture, but he hadn’t ‘understood’ or – “got it” – to believe it until he saw the evidence at that point. Like learning Biblical Hebrew I can be told something, but I don’t know it until I meet it in a passage and “get it”. For John, I have the sense of a great mind that has to ‘see’ it to believe it, and so he didn’t ‘see’ or “get it” until after the events. It makes him a good witness as he is honest in what he didn’t understand at the time and what was hindsight.
“When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said. (John 2:22) Again “they” believed after he was risen, which implies John did this. I can’t see any reason why John isn’t stating a generalization that included himself. Again,
Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him.(John 12:15-16)
Again I can’t see any reason to not include John in his own generalization. In ordinary contexts I would suspect he is more likely to be speaking of himself than others, and generalising that others had also felt it- just as I sensed in this mornings Hebrew lesson when the teacher asked why the silence, “we feel a bit overwhelemed there is so much more to learn” and others agreed.. So yes he did in the end “get” him, but he admitted not at the time. It gels with John’s observation of the trial which is curiously neutral. Peter revealed himself as a Galiean by talking and when he realised he was in danger denied, despite protestations. But how John didn’t – he mustn’t have said a thing..? John is a good witness as he speaks the truth also about his own actions, not just other’s actions.
Janet, your points are “but of course” points. I meant it only in the case of “after resurrection and ascension”. How quick after these events? I don’t think anyone knows.
I agree that none of the disciples “got” Jesus during his ministry. It was only after his death and resurrection that the disciples began to truly appreciate the profound and divine significance of the man that they had spent years of their lives with.
It is also true for us today. The only way it is possible for us to come to any understanding of Jesus is through the lens of the cross and the empty tomb. Even then, our limited human intellect struggles with faith.
I think Luther nailed it in his explanation of the 3rd Article of the Apostle’s Creed when he said that
“I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith…”
In other words, even faith is a gift from God! A gift that God gave to the apostles, including John, so that the world may come to know the saving power of the gospel through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Andrew, thank you for your thoughtful comment. Since you a Lutheran lay-minister, I think my commentary on the next session may be one of challenge for you :-), so when it arrives, please, make sure to comment. It should come in the next 3-4 days.
Beautiful reminder and insight. I believe it is as applicable to both Christians and Jews today as it was in Jesus’ day: how easy indeed it is to look at the blessing, rather than towards the Blesser. Consider the example of the 10 lepers, where only one sought out the Healer rather than focusing entirely upon the healing. Very good.
Thanks, Deborah. Let’s keep thinking together. Dr. Eli
I love this..thanks again Dr. Eli.
You are most welcome. Wait till you read the next section!
The interpretation of the (infant) Christian tradition as being purely “spiritual” was one of the reasons that gnosticism became so popular and almost led the early church in an entirely different and heretical direction! Unfortunately this tendency to create an artificial and incorrect polemic has played itself out through the centuries and continues even today.
I agree such tendency is not Christian in textual sense of the word.
Replacement theology is in error . The other side is sometimes deification of Judaism. I think that both Jews and Christians should be aware of their own original roots.