John 6:28-34 – What Must We Do?

Our Diving Deeper lesson title comes from the crowd’s words in verse 28 – “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?
• Just prior to their question, Jesus taught them that the kind of food worth laboring for is spiritual food not junk food (food that perishes).
• Their question today seems to indicate that they understand Jesus is trying to make an important distinction but we will see they misunderstand the distinction Jesus is making.
• Like the woman at the well, they can’t seem to get past either the literal sense of Jesus’ words and/or the cultural baggage they carry with regards to “works”.


John 6:28–29 (ESV) — 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

To really appreciate the exchange in these 2 verses, we need to do a brief word study.

We need to first look at the crowds question in John 6:28.
• The word the crowd used in John 6:28 translated as “doing” or “work” in “to be doing” or “that we may work” is the same word Jesus used in John 6:27 translated as “labor” or “work” in “Do not labor” or “Do not work”.
    o This is important to understand because it shows us that this is the word the crowd latches on to when they question Jesus.
• It is the Greek word “ergazomai” and literally means to accomplish, carry out – BDAG.
    o The crowd apparently took this word to carry with it a physical connotation only.
• The word the crowd used in John 6:28 translated as “works” in “the works of God” is the related word ergon.
• Ergon means deeds that God desires/requires, righteous deeds – BDAG.
      o Again, the crowd considered only the physical connotation here.
• And finally, the word the crowd used in John 6:28 translated as “do” in “What must we do” is the Greek word poieo.
• Poieo means to undertake or do something that brings about an event, state, or condition – BDAG.
    o In line with our context, the crowd continued to consider only the physical connotation here also.

The point of all this is that we see the crowd sought to gain some insight into what Jesus was telling them in John 6:27, but they clearly were only focused on the physical dimension of His words.
• Kostenberger says the crowd’s question “suggests a basic understanding that Jesus is urging them to look beyond their physical needs…[but] what Jesus had intended as a reference to people’s proper pursuit [in verse 27], the crowd took as an invitation to literally ‘work the works of God’ [in verse 28].”
• A paraphrase of the crowd’s question in John 6:28 might help us to understand this further.
• What must we bring about by our effort to be carrying out the righteous deeds or “food that endures” (vs. 27) that God desires?
• D.A. Carson says sarcastically of the crowd’s question, “They display no doubt about their intrinsic ability to meet any challenge God may set them.

The crowd’s notion of a works based, legalistic relationship with God is one that Jesus encountered often.
• Matthew 19:16 (ESV) — 16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
• Luke 10:25 (ESV) — 25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

Curiously, when perusing Exodus and Leviticus we can understand why a Jew’s relationship with God was mistakenly understood to be rooted in a physical, works based relationship.
• However, when we look at God’s words, the works he instituted were never intended to be the source of salvation.
• Leviticus 20:22–23 & 26 (ESV) — 22 You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23 And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them…26 You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.
• We have at least two reasons for God’s OT works and statutes (there are plenty more).
   (1) To be holy and separate from the other peoples
   (2) So the land “may not vomit you out”

What does it mean that the land “may not vomit you out”?
• Leviticus 26:3–5 (ESV) — 3 “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, 4 then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5 Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.

And if (a conditional covenant) they don’t walk in God’s statutes, among other things:
• Leviticus 26:26 (ESV) — 26 When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.

Moving on, we see that Jesus then answers the crowd in a way that makes plain His intention – working for the food that endures is not grounded in physical work.
• He says the “ergon of God” (deeds that God desires/requires) is to BELIEVE in Him, Jesus.
• So the “work” is a spiritual undertaking not a physical one.
• Kostenberger characterizes Jesus’ words as being radically contrasted, “with people’s apparent confidence that they are able to meet the demands of God.

Think about it, if it is not the things we physically do that supply us with confidence, there is a sense in which we are not in control.
• Most of us like to know that if we do “A” then “B” naturally follows.
• Jesus is telling the crowd that not only does “A” not lead to “B” but your “A” is not even the “ergon of God”.
• Romans 3:28 (ESV) — 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
    o “And even the faith that we must exercise is the fruit of God’s activity” – D.A. Carson.
• This is indeed a radical thing for anyone to hear, especially a Jew.

Seeking a Sign – More Evidence Required:
John 6:30–31 (ESV) — 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
• They respond to Jesus’ radical claim with another question that confirms their preoccupation with the wrong things Jesus addressed in John 6:27 and John 6:29 and confirms that they, like the disciples, had no grasp at all of the meaning behind the feeding of the 5,000 many of them benefited from.
• If the feeding wasn’t a sign, then what was it?
    o John 6:14 suggests that it may have been enough to suggest he was a prophet.
    o John 6:15 suggests that it may also have been enough for the crowd co-opt Jesus power for political reasons.
    o But, apparently, for them it wasn’t enough to demonstrate Jesus as Messiah.

Whatever else Jesus’ sign was, the crowd made their opinion known to Jesus that it did not compare to the works of Moses in the wilderness.
• They wanted more.

D.A. Carson provides insight that sheds further light on the crowd’s request for further signs.
• There is some evidence of a belief that the Messiah “would call down manna from heaven, as did the ‘first redeemer’, i.e. Moses.
• “If this is what the synagogue crowd means, it is a demand that Jesus prove his messianic status by duplicating or surpassing the miracle of the manna” – D.A. Carson.

This demand for additional evidence would follow Jesus all the way to the end of His life.
• Matthew 27:39–40 (ESV) — 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

In what way would Jesus supplying additional signs or evidence make a difference?
• It seems evident that one’s response to evidence depends solely on the state of one’s heart – ears to hear and eyes to see, etc.
• We have seen that the hard hearted crowd took the evidence, Jesus’ signs, and made of it what they wanted.
    o Jesus was a prophet (John 6:14).
    o Jesus was a political deliverer (John 6:15).
• They were unable to accept it for what it really was, yet because they couldn’t ignore it either, they spun it to suit their needs w/o challenging their beliefs.
• They had a mixture of truth and error.
• It is no surprise that this still goes on today.

Jesus Correction:
John 6:32–33 (ESV) — 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.

Jesus makes clear that like him, Moses worked under the authority and at the direction of the Father.
• It is the Father that is due the praise for the manna not Moses.
• Exodus 16:4 (ESV) — 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.
• Exodus 16:32 (ESV) — 32 Moses said, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, so that they may see the bread with which I [Father] fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ ”
• This is something they should know!
    o The fact that they mistakenly credit Moses as the source of the manna makes sense.
    o This mistake flows from the same hard hearts and blind eyes that have just mistakenly credited works for salvation and that are rejecting Jesus.

And then Jesus takes it up a notch, as usual.

John 6:33 (ESV) — 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
• D.A. Carson sums this up fantastically.
• “The true bread from heaven, the true Torah, is Jesus himself (vv. 35, 47ff.). This does not mean that the manna was not in any sense bread from heaven, or that the Torah was not truly given by God. But the manna from heaven was comparatively crude: it perished with time, and the people who ate it perished with time. One of its chief functions was to serve as a type of the true bread from heaven.
• We will see in the coming weeks how Jesus elaborates on His words here.

John 6:34 (ESV) — 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
• And finally, like the woman at the well, the crowd, naturally, says they want this bread that “comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
• However, in the coming verses, we will see that it is not possible for them to have it.

Lessons for Us:
Our verses today bring us to a very important discourse Jesus makes starting in John 6:35 on the bread of life.
• And yet, already some very profound questions are cropping up that concern Jesus and humanity.
Why does Jesus teach those that he knows will not believe?
For the unbeliever, is evidence the issue or is it something else all together?
Can man bring about his own belief in God?

Over the next week or two, we will try and open up this can of worms and examine the different answers to these questions.