Why did multitudes follow Christ during His earthly ministry?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Matthew 4:25 reports: “And there followed him [the Lord Jesus] great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan.” Why did “great multitudes” follow Christ?

Recently, a commentator argued that preachers and Bible teachers who attract large crowds are not necessarily false. After all, did not the Lord Jesus have massive groups coming to listen to Him? Doubtless, over 5,000 people heard Him preach (Matthew 14:14-21). Then, a group of more than 4,000 attended another one of His Bible classes (15:29-38). These were His two famous miracles of feeding the multitudes with few fishes and bread loaves. While we certainly do not desire to be cynical, we must be honest: Scripture indicates that most of these people did not really seek the truth.

Consider John chapter 2, the very beginning of Christ’s ministry: “[23] Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. [24] But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, [25] And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” Why did Jesus “not commit himself unto them?” It would seem there was no genuine faith on their part here, just a superficial awe in response to His miracles.

Upon first glance, we would think Jesus had tens of thousands of followers throughout His earthly ministry. However, that is not an accurate portrayal. As time passed, the number of true believers dwindled. We see that in the opening chapter of the Book of Acts. In Acts 1:15, after three years of earthly ministry, there are approximately 120 followers of Christ in Jerusalem! What had become of the multitudes from the two miraculous multiplications of food? What about the “many” who believed in His name in John chapter 2? It was nothing but shallow faith—nothing genuine or lasting.

Again, we should be direct here. Our (human) nature loves to be impressed. This is not necessarily wrong, although it oftentimes is more harmful than beneficial. For example, some “faith healer” can hold tent meetings today and people flock to them by the hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands. Wanting to be amused and fascinated, they come from afar to experience “gifted worship leaders,” stirring “anointed” music, emotional highs, “signs and wonders.” Maybe they too will receive a “blessing from God” (“miracle money,” a healing, a word of knowledge, a feeling, et cetera). However, is there genuine faith in God’s Word? Are they really seeking the truth? Human nature has not changed since John chapter 2. “But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.”

Turn to John 6:26-28: “Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” Based on these verses, the crowds were interested in having a free meal. They labored for the meat that perishes (physical food is nothing in light of eternity—spiritual food, God’s Word, lasts forever).

They enjoyed seeing Jesus heal the sick of (deliver them from) all sorts of dismal medical and spiritual difficulties. To witness the blind seeing once again, to discover the deaf could now hear, to see the lame and paralytic moving about normally, and to observe the dead now alive and well, those were unforgettable sights! These were not the works of a charlatan: they were healed, instantaneously and fully. Jesus Christ completely recovered them all from whatever ailed them. That is downright spectacular, dear friends! But, when it came time to embrace the truth, the hard facts, the crowds turned away. Carefully read all of John chapter 6. John 6:66 is the climax: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.”

When persecution came, when Jesus was finally arrested, the remaining disciples fled in fear (Matthew 26:56; Mark 14:50-52). Even the Apostle Peter thrice denied knowing Him (Matthew 26:69-75). To side with Christ was to become Rome’s enemy. Pontius Pilate would take their lives. King Herod would kill them. It was too costly. John the Baptist had already been put to death.

Friends, large crowds at Bible meetings are not necessarily bad—but they are not necessarily good either. Multitudes followed the Lord Jesus, but most were not genuine believers. It was “head knowledge,” “free lunches,” and “entertainment-seeking,” but not God-honoring faith. Hence, they fell away when the offensives doctrines were preached. Never should we side with the majority concerning spiritual matters. Our goal is not to get large crowds: we “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2) “rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15) to whomever comes, no matter how few. As more sound Bible doctrine is preached, we should expect the crowds to diminish. Multitudes upon multitudes continuing to attend services are problematic. Any preacher or Bible teacher attracting the majority is someone to be watched with great suspicion—doctrine is being sacrificed for “unity” and popularity!

Also see:
» If dispensational Bible study is true, why do so few believe it?
» Has God’s Word failed?
» What are “instant” Christians?