The Crowd Puller
The Crowd that Jesus Really Pulls!
The Gospel of John presents Jesus as a loner in the opening chapters of the book. The statement in John 1:11 is rather startling: "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." And then we see Jesus walking (alone?) in John 1:29 when John the Baptist introduces him saying, "Look, the Lamb of God!" Then the following day Jesus gets two disciples of John the Baptist to follow him (John 1:35-42). In the second chapter, we see a small crowd around Jesus but they had come for the wedding in Cana and not because of Jesus. Then until chapter 6, he mostly ministers to solitary individuals: Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, etc.
However, by the time we reach the sixth chapter he has become so popular that there were 5000 adult males in the crowd when he multiplied the fish and loaves by Lake Galilee. Rest of the sixth chapter is about the type of people who came to Jesus in large numbers. In these days of mega churches and large crusades, where success and blessings are a matter of numbers, a closer look at this passage is useful.
The first large crowd that came to Jesus because they had seen "the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick (John 6:2). It is this large crowd (numbering 5000 adult men and children and women not counted) that stayed late into evening so that Jesus had to feed them. Miracle workers are still great crowd pullers. Healing miracles, whether it is Christian or non-Christian does draw large crowds even now.
Then in 6:23 we see another group from the city of Tiberias arriving the following day in the place where Jesus had fed the people. They had come evidently seeking free food. They were disappointed because Jesus had moved from that place (probably Bethsaida) to Capernaum. However, the crowd, having not found Jesus there follows him to Capernaum. Looking at them Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill" (John 6:26). Looking for the Jesus who feeds and meets the physical and material needs explains why large crowds gather into meetings and churches where the promises of material blessings are offered.
Large gatherings of people are one thing, but what matters is those who stick! Towards the end of the same chapter, we have people leaving Jesus out frustration! Verse 60 records the disciples grumbling at Jesus' teaching that they found distasteful. Verse 66 says, "from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." It is not just the people on the periphery but some disciples (who belong to the inner circles) also left Jesus. This is what happens when miracles stop and people are asked to make moral commitments. There is always a demand for material blessings without any moral or spiritual commitments. This explains why the crowd around teachers of the Word and the churches where teaching the Word get priority is thin!
However, 12 definitely stayed back (see verse 70). The Christian Church has a history of 2000 years and growth and spread that surpass any other spiritual movement in history because these twelve decided to stick to Jesus even when there was no loaves being multiplied or no sick was being healed. They stayed with Jesus because they found that, as Peter put it, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). These are the twelve who became witnesses of his death and resurrection and later the pillars of the Christian Church.
Real loyalty to Jesus is a commitment to his Word. This is a commitment to believe what he says, and obey he speaks through his Word. The number of this group who follow Jesus because they have found eternal life in him is not that big!
Union Biblical Seminary, PB NO. 1455, Bibvewadi, Pune, India.
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