The crowd finally catches up with Him. Jesus is discovered in the synagogue at Capernaum. These astonished seekers (numbering several thousand, John has not indicated otherwise) are more concerned to discover how Jesus got there than to continue to learn from his teaching. Jesus ignores their shallow question and criticizes them for their lack of perception. They should not seek a free lunch but concentrate on the spiritual food that endures to eternal life (v. 27). The fact that this saying is introduced with the solemn wording ‘I tell you the truth’ suggests that it be taken seriously. It should not be imagined that anything in John is not serious in intention, but some sayings are meant to have greater impact than others, and this is a case in point. Jesus is warning the Galilean masses of the spiritual dimension to life that they seem to overlook. Again John is alluding to the synoptic tradition in which Jesus warns that we cannot live by bread alone and that our prayer should be for daily bread of a spiritual nature.
Up until now Jesus has been elusive with the crowd. He now enters a dialogue with them which, it has to be admitted, is equally elusive. Interaction and understanding are possible, but only if his hearers will allow their imaginations to include the spiritual dimension that Jesus prefers to work with. From now on Jesus will talk of spiritual realities in the language of heaven. Like the dialogue with the woman of Samaria, it is possible for the hearers to understand but only if they accept the heavenly origin of the words they hear. For instance it was not Moses that gave the bread in the desert but God (v. 32). As Matthew and Luke emphasize in the story of the temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–14), it is ‘not by bread alone’ that they should live ‘but by the word of God’. That word is now addressing them in a language they can understand, if and only if they recognize its origin and authority. All that is required is that they, who have come on a quest seeking Jesus, come to him with their spiritual hunger which he claims he will satisfy. Like the woman at the well who heard Jesus talk of heavenly water, the crowd ask for a constant supply of ‘bread from heaven’ (v. 34).
The only way to earn this bread from heaven is for them to believe in Jesus as the very ‘bread of life’ (v. 35). ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he shall not thirst.’ Sadly, it seems that some of the crowd cannot accept this (v. 36). Here we have yet another development of the theme, ‘he came to his own and his own received him not’ (1:12). But those who do receive this message will be sustained to eternal life (v. 40).