Jesus was a Jew. He was born into the nation of Israel to Jewish parents. He was raised in the belief and traditions of Judaism. When Jesus taught about God and His Kingdom to come, he addressed, almost exclusively, the nation of Israel. Jesus brought His message of salvation to the chosen people of God first.
When John the Baptist began his ministry, he announced the arrival of their king. When Jesus began working miracles and teaching the people amazing things, they knew He was someone special, and they followed him around in droves.
All four gospels recount the incident where Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men (some of those had wives and children with them as well) who had come to hear Him speak. He fed this multitude with the lunch of a lad: five barley loaves and two small fish. Jesus gave thanks for the food and broke it to distribute it to His disciples, who then distributed it to the crowd. The throng of people did not get just a bite each, but were filled … and the leftovers filled 12 baskets! All from a young boy’s “sack lunch”.
This was particularly impressive because only God can create.
This also reminded those in attendance of Moses and the manna that fell from Heaven for the Israelites while they wandered in the desert. Moses led Israel out of bondage to the Egyptians and fed them in the desert (Moses did not create the manna, but he asked God for food), perhaps Jesus was another mighty prophet, like Moses, who could free them from Roman bondage.
They also saw him heal many of their sick, cast out demons from the possessed, and even raise the dead back to life. They were ready to declare Him their King and follow him into battle.
But that’s not why Jesus came.
Just after the feeding of the 5,000, the multitude was seeking Jesus and He had this interaction with their leaders:
26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
28 Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
30 Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? (John 6, NKJV)
Jesus tells these leaders to pursue Heavenly blessings: eternal life, not earthly blessings. They misunderstand Him and ask what “work” they will do to earn the favor of God? Jesus corrects them by saying the only “work” required is to believe in the One sent to them by God.
This requirement to “believe” was a major issue for Israelites. In a recent lesson I taught how this concept translated as the word “believe” is more than a rational acknowledgment, but a joining with: becoming part of. That’s a hard concept for us, even harder for them – made all the harder because he was also asking them to lay aside a core belief of Judaism.
What made Israel unique in the world since its inception was their monotheism. They held to the belief that there was ONE true God in a world populated by people who believed in many gods. But from the very beginning, God insisted they they worship only Him.
And here we have this Jesus fellow, who is convincing because of the miracles He performs, bringing hope of freedom from subjugation … but He asks them to believe in Him just as they believe in God. He wants them to accept the idea of having two Gods.
In the end it was this concept (along with His frequent accusations that the Pharisees did not love God so much as they loved the power and wealth they acquired though their positions of leadership) that drove the Pharisees to the decision to silence this rebel by having the Romans kill Him.
Little did they know that in doing so, they fulfilled the final prophesies and were the instruments of God as He ushered in His kingdom on Earth. The new covenant of Salvation for all who accept Jesus as Lord.
The lesson here is that, as we read our Bibles, do not get hung up on religious traditions. Be open to the Word of God, let it speak to you directly, not through the filter of what some denomination tells you. Don’t worship your religion, as the Pharisees did, but worship Jesus: who was God incarnate, sent to save the world.