Following Michael Card's urging in his podcast called 'In the Studio' to engage the Biblical texts at the level of imagination, I have been reading the gospel of John. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 offer an interesting perspective of who Jesus claimed He was and who He did not want to be.
In chapter 6 he preaches to a crowd of people, 5000-strong, on the far shore of the sea of Galilee. They are hungry and he feeds them miraculously with just 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. They are filled and happy and want to make him king by force. They feel that this is the moment for a miracle-working, generous, provider-king who will throw off the Roman yoke and restore Israel to its rightful place as God's chosen nation. The bread he distributed was proof enough; they voted with their bellies. But Jesus slips away- he would not be their king, not in that sense.
For some reason, the disciples take their boat and leave to the near side of the sea, Capernaum on the North Western tip. Presumably this was because they did not want the crowd to think Jesus was going away too. The people noted that Jesus was not in the boat, but in the mountains. But as night fell, Jesus walked on the water and came to the boat, much to the disciples' amazement and fear. They proceeded to Capernaum. In the morning the people who wanted to make Jesus king were baffled to see no trace of Jesus. They traveled by the morning boats that came to town and went to Capernaum. Jesus was in the synagogue, teaching.
Jesus deftly turned their attention to their motivations for following him around. "You are looking for me, not because of the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill." He then explains, "Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." (John 6:26, 27).
The people are a little confused. Jesus talks in metaphors. What could be the food that does not spoil? His words? What he says they must do? Repentance from their sins like John the Baptist preached? So they ask him what they need to do.
Jesus simply says" the work of God is this: to believe in the One he has sent." (verse 29).
The people realize that they are being called to do something more. They are being asked to put their faith in Him as God, the Messiah. Perhaps they already thought of Him as a promised messiah who would meet their earthly needs and would give them freedom from oppression. But he was now claiming allegiance as to God.
Incredibly they ask again for a sign to prove that He was indeed who He claimed to be. The multiplication of the barley loaves and fish were apparently not enough. So much like us who demand more signs from God, dissatisfied with the many we have already seen, especially our conversion experience.
Jesus tells them that Moses gave them bread from heaven, but the Father will give them bread unto eternal life. The people ask him then to give them that bread. Jesus then tells them He was the Bread of life and those who come to Him will never thirst. Besides, only those the Father draws can come to Him." When the people grumble about themselves and express surprise that the one who they know as the son of Joseph and May could claim such things, Jesus tells them again that whoever comes to Him must be drawn by the Father; and that each person who listens to the Father will learn from Him and come to Jesus. He further upsets them by saying that in order to have eternal life they must feed on His flesh and blood, indicating His coming death on the cross.
This must have been offensive to Jewish ears and many left Him, even many of his erstwhile disciples. The twelve closest disciples do not leave and profess faith in Him, even as Jesus lets them know that one of the twelve is a devil (referring to Judas Iscariot).
The crowd who wanted to make him king went away despising Him. Is this the mark of a great leader, to turn away and offend people? Yet we see that Jesus keeps doing this in the subsequent chapters. Some believe in Him, some claim that he is demon-possessed. In chapter 5, He healed a disabled man who would not give Him glory but let the Jewish leaders know that it was all Jesus' fault that He healed on the Sabbath. In chapter 9 he heals a man born blind, who becomes an outspoken believer in Christ, and even stands up to Pharisaic interrogation, supporting Him.
In Chapter 8, verses 31 through 58, Jesus addresses those Jews who believed in Him, once again challenging their 'belief', questioning their deeply help assumptions about whose side they are on. They insist that their are Abraham's descendants, God's people and so on, which Jesus continually challenges, because they do not believe Him. He asks them to prove Him guilty of sin. They retort that He must be demon-possessed. But Jesus tells them that if that were the case He would glorify Himself. Yet He only brings glory to the Father and that their father Abraham rejoiced to see His day. The crowd is agitated. They cry out, "You are not yet 50 years old, and you have seen Abraham?" (v 57). Jesus then tells them, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this the crowd picks up stones to throw at Him but he slips away once again. Once again he turns his followers into his enemies.
In a prior passage, John 8, verses 12-27, Jesus has an interesting conversation with the Pharisees. He begins the conversation with the statement, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." Clearly this must have rung so many bells in Jewish minds, recalling the Messianic prophecies, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who lived in the land of the shadow of death, on them the light has shined" (Isaiah 9:2).
The Pharisees ask Him for verification. They need another witness to validate this statement. Jesus challenges them further. He lets them know that He brings them news of a world they have never seen. Indeed, He is coming from the Father and going back to the Father. If they have never seen the Father how could they even comprehend these things? He then tells them that they judge according to human standards, but he passes judgment on noone, and not because he is not worthy to judge. Indeed, he tells them, if he judged, his judgment would be true, because he stands with the Father who sent Him. Then he tells them that he had two witnesses: himself and his Father. Clearly Jesus has John the Baptist, the Messianic prophecies and His own words and works, including the sings and wonders, testifying on His behalf. Perhaps He is pointing to these when He tells them to listen to the Father as His witness.
A constant challenge to our notions of Him. A reminder that we do not know the Father as the Son does. A nudge to put our trust in Him, not as a provider of Bread alone, but he wants our life, our surrender so that we could be set free from slavery to sin. Jesus does intent to rule over us, but our notions of His rule are petty. How his words lift us up from our self-aggrandizement and pride. The King who would not be King doesn't need our acknowledgement. He is already King. He wants our allegiance and trust.