In these verses we have,
I. The careful enquiry which the people made after Christ, John 6:23, 24. They saw the disciples go to sea; they saw Christ retire to the mountain, probably with an intimation that he desired to be private for some time; but, their hearts being set upon making him a king, they way-laid his return, and the day following, the hot fit of their zeal still continuing,
1. They were much at a loss for him. He was gone, and they knew not what was become of him. They saw there was no boat there but that in which the disciples went off, Providence so ordering it for the confirming of the miracle of his walking on the sea, for there was no boat for him to go in. They observed also that Jesus did not go with his disciples, but that they went off alone, and left him among them on their side of the water. Note, Those that would find Christ must diligently observe all his motions, and learn to understand the tokens of his presence and absence, that they may steer accordingly.
2. They were very industrious in seeking him. They searched the places thereabouts, and when they saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples (neither he nor any one that could give tidings of him), they resolved to search elsewhere. Note, Those that would find Christ must accomplish a diligent search, must seek till they find, must go from sea to sea, to seek the word of God, rather than live without it; and those whom Christ has feasted with the bread of life should have their souls carried out in earnest desires towards him. Much would have more, in communion with Christ. Now, (1.) They resolved to go to Capernaum in quest of him. There were his head-quarters, where he usually resided. Thither his disciples were gone; and they knew he would not be long absent from them. Those that would find Christ must go forth by the footsteps of the flock. (2.) Providence favoured them with an opportunity of going thither by sea, which was the speediest way; for there came other boats from Tiberias, which lay further off upon the same shore, nigh, though not so nigh to the place where they did eat bread, in which they might soon make a trip to Capernaum, and probably the boats were bound for that port. Note, Those that in sincerity seek Christ, and seek opportunities of converse with him, are commonly owned and assisted by Providence in those pursuits. The evangelist, having occasion to mention their eating the multiplied bread, adds, After that the Lord had given thanks, John 6:11. So much were the disciples affected with their Master’s giving thanks that they could never forget the impressions made upon them by it, but took a pleasure in remembering the gracious words that then proceeded out of his mouth. This was the grace and beauty of that meal, and made it remarkable; their hearts burned within them.
3. They laid hold of the opportunity that offered itself, and they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus. They did not defer, in hopes to see him again on this side the water; but their convictions being strong, and their desires warm, they followed him presently. Good motions are often crushed, and come to nothing, for want of being prosecuted in time. They came to Capernaum, and, for aught that appears, these unsound hypocritical followers of Christ had a calm and pleasant passage, while his sincere disciples had a rough and stormy one. It is not strange if it fare worst with the best men in this evil world. They came, seeking Jesus. Note, Those that would find Christ, and find comfort in him, must be willing to take pains, and, as here, to compass sea and land to seek and serve him who came from heaven to earth to seek and save us.
II. The success of this enquiry: They found him on the other side of the sea, John 6:25. Note, Christ will be found of those that seek him, first or last; and it is worth while to cross a sea, nay, to go from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth, to seek Christ, if we may but find him at last. These people appeared afterwards to be unsound, and not actuated by any good principle, and yet were thus zealous. Note, Hypocrites may be very forward in their attendance on God’s ordinances. If men have no more to show for their love to Christ than their running after sermons and prayers, and their pangs of affection to good preaching, they have reason to suspect themselves no better than this eager crowd. But though these people were no better principled, and Christ knew it, yet he was willing to be found of them, and admitted them into fellowship with him. If we could know the hearts of hypocrites, yet, while their profession is plausible, we must not exclude them from our communion, much less when we do not know their hearts.
III. The question they put to him when they found him: Rabbi, when camest thou hither? It should seem by John 6:59 that they found him in the synagogue. They knew this was the likeliest place to seek Christ in, for it was his custom to attend public assemblies for religious worship, Luke 4:16. Note, Christ must be sought, and will be found, in the congregations of his people and in the administration of his ordinances; public worship is what Christ chooses to own and grace with his presence and the manifestations of himself. There they found him, and all they had to say to him was, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? They saw he would not be made a king, and therefore say no more of this, but call him Rabbi, their teacher. Their enquiry refers not only to the time, but to the manner, of his conveying himself thither; not only When, but, “How, camest thou thither?” for there was no boat for him to come in. They were curious in asking concerning Christ’s motions, but not solicitous to observe their own.
IV. The answer Christ gave them, not direct to their question (what was it to them when and how he came thither?) but such an answer as their case required.
1. He discovers the corrupt principle they acted from in following him (John 6:26): “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I that search the heart, and know what is in man, I the Amen, the faithful witness, Rev. 3:14, 15. You seek me; that is well, but it is not from a good principle.” Christ knows not only what we do, but why we do it. These followed Christ, (1.) Not for his doctrine’s sake: Not because you saw the miracles. The miracles were the great confirmation of his doctrine; Nicodemus sought for him for the sake of them (John 3:2), and argued from the power of his works to the truth of his word; but these were so stupid and mindless that they never considered this. But, (2.) It was for their own bellies’ sake: Because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled; not because he taught them, but because he fed them. He had given them, [1.] A full meal’s meat: They did eat, and were filled; and some of them perhaps were so poor that they had not known of a long time before now what it was to have enough, to eat and leave. [2.] A dainty meal’s meat; it is probable that, as the miraculous wine was the best wine, so was the miraculous food more than usually pleasant. [3.] A cheap meal’s meat, that cost them nothing; no reckoning was brought in. Note, Many follow Christ for loaves, and not for love. Thus those do who aim at secular advantage in their profession of religion, and follow it because by this craft they get their preferments. Quantis profuit nobis haec fabula de Christo—This fable respecting Christ, what a gainful concern we have made of it! said one of the popes. These people complimented Christ with Rabbi, and showed him great respect, yet he told them thus faithfully of their hypocrisy; his ministers must hence learn not to flatter those that flatter them, nor to be bribed by fair words to cry peace to all that cry rabbi to them, but to give faithful reproofs where there is cause for them.
2. He directs them to better principles (John 6:27): Labour for that meat which endures to everlasting life. With the woman of Samaria he had discoursed of spiritual things under the similitude of water; here he speaks of them under the similitude of meat, taking occasion from the loaves they had eaten. His design is,
(1.) To moderate our worldly pursuits: Labour not for the meat that perishes. This does not forbid honest labour for food convenient, 2 Thess. 3:12. But we must not make the things of this world our chief care and concern. Note, [1.] The things of the world are meat that perishes. Worldly wealth, honour, and pleasure, are meat; they feed the fancy (and many times this is all) and fill the belly. These are things which mean hunger after as meat, and glut themselves with, and which a carnal heart, as long as they last, may make a shift to live upon; but they perish, are of a perishing nature, wither of themselves, and are exposed to a thousand accidents; those that have the largest share of them are not sure to have them while they live, but are sure to leave them and lose them when they die. [2.] It is therefore folly for us inordinately to labour after them. First, We must not labour in religion, nor work the works thereof, for this perishing meat, with an eye to this; we must not make our religion subservient to a worldly interest, nor aim at secular advantages in sacred exercises. Secondly, We must not at all labour for this meat; that is, we must not make these perishing things our chief good, nor make our care and pains about them our chief business; not seek those things first and most, Prov. 23:4, 5.
(2.) To quicken and excite our gracious pursuits: “Bestow your pains to better purpose, and labour for that meat which belongs to the soul,” of which he shows,
[1.] That it is unspeakably desirable: It is meat which endures to everlasting life; it is a happiness which will last as long as we must, which not only itself endures eternally, but will nourish us up to everlasting life. The blessings of the new covenant are our preparative for eternal life, our preservative to it, and the pledge and earnest of it.
[2.] It is undoubtedly attainable. Shall all the treasures of the world be ransacked, and all the fruits of the earth gathered together, to furnish us with provisions that will last to eternity? No, The sea saith, It is not in me, among all the treasures hidden in the sand. It cannot be gotten for gold; but it is that which the Son of man shall give; hen dosei, either which meat, or which life, the Son of man shall give. Observe here, First, Who gives this meat: the Son of man, the great householder and master of the stores, who is entrusted with the administration of the kingdom of God among men, and the dispensation of the gifts, graces, and comforts of that kingdom, and has power to give eternal life, with all the means of it and preparatives for it. We are told to labour for it, as if it were to be got by our own industry, and sold upon that valuable consideration, as the heathen said, Dii laboribus omnia vendunt—The gods sell all advantages to the industrious. But when we have laboured ever so much for it, we have not merited it as our hire, but the Son of man gives it. And what more free than gift? It is an encouragement that he who has the giving of it is the Son of man, for then we may hope the sons of men that seek it, and labour for it, shall not fail to have it. Secondly, What authority he has to give it; for him has God the Father sealed, touton gar ho Pater esphragisen, ho Theos—for him the Father has sealed (proved and evidenced) to be God; so some read it; he has declared him to be the Son of God with power. He has sealed him, that is, has given him full authority to deal between God and man, as God’s ambassador to man and man’s intercessor with God, and has proved his commission by miracles. Having given him authority, he has given us assurance of it; having entrusted him with unlimited powers, he has satisfied us with undoubted proofs of them; so that as he might go on with confidence in his undertaking for us, so may we in our resignations to him. God the Father scaled him with the Spirit that rested on him, by the voice from heaven, by the testimony he bore to him in signs and wonders. Divine revelation is perfected in him, in him the vision and prophecy is sealed up (Dan. 9:24), to him all believers seal that he is true (John 3:33), and in him they are all sealed, 2 Cor. 1:22.