Short Meditations in John 6: 59. Location Significance
Jn 6:59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum
Now this verse comes as a surprise. So far in this particular story, we were with Jesus on the other side of the lake, then back across the lake at Capernaum, and there a long discussion ensues with no mention of location. Back in verse 25 we read, “When they found him on the other side of the lake….” but at that point there had been no mention of where it was they found Jesus and started off this conversation with him. It is only now, at the end of the conversation that we are told where this happened and what Jesus had been doing.
So, it happens in the local synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus had been teaching before they arrived. We might say his teaching changed (because we don’t know what he had been teaching before they arrived) to accommodate the things that had been uppermost in their minds – more food! Bread! Which is why he has been teaching throughout the middle part of this chapter about the distinction between bread that leaves you hungry a few hours later, and the bread (himself) that will truly satisfy and bring you eternal life.
The crowd who have poured into the synagogue, having heard he was there, pursing their own agenda, to make him their king, to get the benefit of his provision, have had a bit of a problem changing from thinking about natural bread baked by a local baker, to spiritual bread that will do more than satisfy only temporarily. The even bigger leap that they were struggling with was that that ‘spiritual bread’ was he, Jesus himself, and somehow they needed to ‘eat’ or take him into their lives.
But it is appropriate that this teaching had been carried on in the synagogue because that was the place that was the traditional place of teaching. It may not have been the Saturday main meeting because it is said they also met there on a Tuesday and a Thursday. It is always possible that if the local rabbi was friendly, he could have opened the building for Jesus to use, but it is more probable that Jesus, as a good Jew, naturally attended synagogue and clearly was often given the opportunity to speak, which is what he had been doing before the crowd arrived, still full of the things that had happened on the other side of the lake, a day before.
It shows us that there is indeed an overlap between traditional Judaism and the new teacher, the fact that he was allowed to speak in the synagogue, on what seems fairly regular occasions. In Jerusalem he was opposed by the hierarchy in the Temple but here, in the north in Galilee, there was no such hostility, or of there was, it tended to come from those who had come up from the south to see what was going on.