Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
John 6:1-13. Five thousand miraculously fed.
(See on Mark 6:31-44).
a mountain — somewhere in that hilly range which skirts the east side of the lake.
was nigh — but for the reason mentioned (John 7:1), Jesus kept away from it, remaining in Galilee.
John 6:14-21. Jesus walks on the sea.
(Also see on Mark 6:45-56).
that prophet — (See on John 1:21).
to a mountain himself alone — (1) to rest, which He came to this “desert place” on purpose to do before the miracle of the loaves, but could not for the multitude that followed Him (see Mark 6:31); and (2) “to pray” (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46). But from His mountain-top He kept watching the ship (see on John 6:18), and doubtless prayed both for them, and with a view to the new manifestation which He was to give them of His glory.
when even was come — (See on Mark 6:35).
entered into a ship — “constrained” to do so by their Master (Matthew 14:22; Mark 6:45), in order to put an end to the misdirected excitement in His favor (John 6:15), into which the disciples themselves may have been somewhat drawn. The word “constrained” implies reluctance on their part, perhaps from unwillingness to part with their Master and embark at night, leaving Him alone on the mountain.
went — rather, “were proceeding.”
toward Capernaum — Mark says (Mark 6:45), “unto Bethsaida,” meaning “Bethsaida of Galilee” (John 12:21), on the west side of the lake. The place they left was of the same name (see on Mark 6:32).
Jesus was not come to them — They probably lingered in hopes of His still joining them, and so let the darkness come on.
sea arose, etc. — and they were “now in the midst of it” (Matthew 14:24). Mark adds the graphic and touching particular, “He saw them toiling in rowing” (Mark 6:48), putting forth all their strength to buffet the waves and bear on against a head wind, but to little effect. He saw this from His mountain-top, and through the darkness of the night, for His heart was all with them; yet would He not go to their relief till His own time came.
they see Jesus — “about the fourth watch of the night” (Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48), or between three and six in the morning.
walking on the sea — What Job (Job 9:8) celebrates as the distinguishing prerogative of God, “WHO ALONE spreadeth out the heavens, and TREADETH UPON THE WAVES OF THE SEA” - What AGUR challenges as God‘s unapproachable prerogative, to “GATHER THE WIND IN HIS FISTS, and BIND THE WATERS IN A GARMENT” (Proverbs 30:4) - lo! this is here done in flesh, by “THE SON OF MAN.”
drawing nigh to the ship — yet as though He “would have passed by them,” Mark 6:48 (compare Luke 24:28; Genesis 18:3, Genesis 18:5; Genesis 32:24-26).
they were afraid — “cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:26), “supposing it had been a spirit” (Mark 6:49). He would appear to them at first like a dark moving speck upon the waters; then as a human figure, but - in the dark tempestuous sky, and not dreaming that it could be their Lord - they take it for a spirit. (How often thus we miscall our chiefest mercies - not only thinking them distant when they are near, but thinking the best the worst!)
It is I; be not afraid — Matthew (Matthew 14:27) and Mark (Mark 6:50) give before these exhilarating words, that to them well-known one, “Be of good cheer!”
willingly received him into the ship — their first fears being now converted into wonder and delight.
and immediately the ship was at the land — This additional miracle, for as such it is manifestly related, is recorded here alone. Yet all that is meant seems to be that as the storm was suddenly calmed, so the little bark - propelled by the secret power of the Lord of Nature now sailing in it - glided through the now unruffled waters, and while they were wrapt in wonder at what had happened, not heeding their rapid motion, was found at port, to their still further surprise.
John 6:22-71. Jesus followed by the multitudes to Capernaum, discourses to them in the synagogue of the bread of life - Effect of this on two classes of the disciples.
These verses are a little involved, from the Evangelist‘s desire to mention every circumstance, however minute, that might call up the scene as vividly to the reader as it stood before his own view.
The day following — the miracle of the loaves, and the stormy night; the day on which they landed at Capernaum.
the people which stood on the other side of the sea — not the whole multitude that had been fed, but only such of them as remained over night about the shore, that is, on the east side of the lake; for we are supposed to have come, with Jesus and His disciples in the ship, to the west side, to Capernaum.
saw that there was none other boat there, etc. — The meaning is, the people had observed that there had been only one boat on the east side where they were; namely, the one in which the disciples had crossed at night to the other, the west side, and they had also observed that Jesus had not gone on board that boat, but His disciples had put off without Him:
Howbeit, etc. — “Howbeit,” adds the Evangelist, in a lively parenthesis, “there came other boats from Tiberias” (which lay near the southwest coast of the lake), whose passengers were part of the multitude that had followed Jesus to the east side, and been miraculously fed; these boats were fastened somewhere (says the Evangelist)
nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks — thus he refers to the glorious “miracle of the loaves” - and now they were put in requisition to convey the people back again to the west side. For when “the people saw that Jesus was not there, neither His disciples, they also took shipping [in these boats] and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.”
when they had found him on the other side — at Capernaum.
they said, etc. — astonished at His being there, and wondering how He could have accomplished it, whether by land or water, and when He came; for being quite unaware of His having walked upon the sea and landed with the disciples in the ship, they could not see how, unless He had traveled all night round the head of the lake alone, He could have reached Capernaum, and even then, how He could have arrived before themselves.
Ye seek me, etc. — Jesus does not put them through their difficulty, says nothing of His treading on the waves of the sea, nor even notices their question, but takes advantage of the favorable moment for pointing out to them how forward, flippant, and superficial were their views, and how low their desires. “Ye seek Me not because ye saw the miracles” - literally, “the signs,” that is, supernatural tokens of a higher presence, and a divine commission, “but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled.” From this He proceeds at once to that other Bread, just as, with the woman of Samaria, to that other Water (John 4:9-15). We should have supposed all that follows to have been delivered by the wayside, or wherever they happened first to meet. But from John 6:59 we gather that they had probably met about the door of the synagogue - “for that was the day in which they assembled in their synagogues” [Lightfoot] - and that on being asked, at the close of the service, if He had any word of exhortation to the people, He had taken the two breads, the perishing and the living bread, for the subject of His profound and extraordinary discourse.
which the Son of man — taking that title of Himself which denoted His incarnate life.
shall give unto you — in the sense of John 6:51.
him hath God the Father sealed — marked out and authenticated for that transcendent office, to impart to the world the bread of an everlasting life, and this in the character of “the Son of man.”
the works of God — such works as God will approve. Different answers may be given to such a question, according to the spirit which prompts the inquiry. (See Hosea 6:6-8; Luke 3:12-14). Here our Lord, knowing whom He had to deal with, shapes His reply accordingly.
This is the work of God — That lies at the threshold of all acceptable obedience, being not only the prerequisite to it, but the proper spring of it - in that sense, the work of works, emphatically “the work of God.”
What sign showest thou, etc. — But how could they ask “a sign,” when many of them scarce a day before had witnessed such a “sign” as had never till then been vouchsafed to men; when after witnessing it, they could hardly be restrained from making Him a king; when they followed Him from the one side of the lake to the other; and when, in the opening words of this very discourse, He had chided them for seeking Him, “not because they saw the signs,” but for the loaves? The truth seems to be that they were confounded by the novel claims which our Lord had just advanced. In proposing to make Him a king, it was for far other purposes than dispensing to the world the bread of an everlasting life; and when He seemed to raise His claims even higher still, by representing it as the grand “work of God,” that they should believe on Himself as His Sent One, they saw very clearly that He was making a demand upon them beyond anything they were prepared to accord to Him, and beyond all that man had ever before made. Hence their question, “What dost Thou work?”
Our fathers did eat manna, etc. — insinuating the inferiority of Christ‘s miracle of the loaves to those of Moses: “When Moses claimed the confidence of the fathers, ‹he gave them bread from heaven to eat‘ - not for a few thousands, but for millions, and not once only, but daily throughout their wilderness journey.”
Moses gave you not, etc. — “It was not Moses that gave you the manna, and even it was but from the lower heavens; ‹but My Father giveth you the true bread,‘ and that ‹from heaven.‘”
For the bread of God is he, etc. — This verse is perhaps best left in its own transparent grandeur - holding up the Bread Itself as divine, spiritual, and eternal; its ordained Fountain and essential Substance, “Him who came down from heaven to give it” (that Eternal Life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us, 1 John 1:2); and its designed objects, “the world.”
Lord, evermore give us this bread — speaking now with a certain reverence (as at John 6:25), the perpetuity of the manna floating perhaps in their minds, and much like the Samaritan woman, when her eyes were but half opened, “Sir, give Me this water,” etc. (John 4:15).
I am the bread of life — Henceforth the discourse is all in the first person, “I,” “Me,” which occur in one form or other, as Stier reckons, thirty-five times.
he that cometh to me — to obtain what the soul craves, and as the only all-sufficient and ordained source of supply.
hunger thirst — shall have conscious and abiding satisfaction.
But ye have seen me, and believe not — seen Him not in His mere bodily presence, but in all the majesty of His life, His teaching, His works.
All that, etc. — This comprehensive and very grand passage is expressed with a peculiar artistic precision. The opening general statement (John 6:37) consists of two members: (1) “ALL THAT THE FATHER GIVETH ME SHALL COME TO ME” - that is, “Though ye, as I told you, have no faith in Me, My errand into the world shall in no wise be defeated; for all that the Father giveth Me shall infallibly come to Me.” Observe, what is given Him by the Father is expressed in the singular number and neuter gender - literally, “everything”; while those who come to Him are put in the masculine gender and singular number - “every one.” The whole mass, so to speak, is gifted by the Father to the Son as a unity, which the Son evolves, one by one, in the execution of His trust. So John 17:2, “that He should give eternal life to all that which Thou hast given Him” [Bengel]. This “shall” expresses the glorious certainty of it, the Father being pledged to see to it that the gift be no empty mockery. (2) “AND HIM THAT COMETH TO ME I WILL IN NO WISE CAST OUT.” As the former was the divine, this is just the human side of the same thing. True, the “coming” ones of the second clause are just the “given” ones of the first. But had our Lord merely said, “When those that have been given Me of My Father shall come to Me, I will receive them” - besides being very flat, the impression conveyed would have been quite different, sounding as if there were no other laws in operation, in the movement of sinners to Christ, but such as are wholly divine and inscrutable to us; whereas, though He does speak of it as a sublime certainty which men‘s refusals cannot frustrate, He speaks of that certainty as taking effect only by men‘s voluntary advances to Him and acceptance of Him - “Him that cometh to Me,” “whosoever will,” throwing the door wide open. Only it is not the simply willing, but the actually coming, whom He will not cast out; for the word here employed usually denotes arrival, as distinguished from the ordinary word, which rather expresses the act of coming (see John 8:42, Greek), [Webster and Wilkinson]. “In no wise” is an emphatic negative, to meet the fears of the timid (as in Revelation 21:27, to meet the presumption of the hardened). These, then, being the two members of the general opening statement, what follows is meant to take in both,
For I came down from heaven not to do Mine own will — to play an independent part.
but — in respect to both the foregoing things, the divine and the human side of salvation.
the will of Him that sent Me — What this twofold will of Him that sent Him is, we are next sublimely told (John 6:39, John 6:40):
And this — in the first place.
is the will of Him that sent me, that of all — everything.
which He hath given Me — (taking up the identical words of John 6:37).
I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day — The meaning is not, of course, that He is charged to keep the objects entrusted to Him as He received them, so as they should merely suffer nothing in His hands. For as they were just “perishing” sinners of Adam‘s family, to let “nothing” of such “be lost,” but “raise them up at the last day,” must involve, first, giving His flesh for them (John 6:51), that they “might not perish, but have everlasting life”; and then, after “keeping them from falling,” raising their sleeping dust in incorruption and glory, and presenting them, body and soul, perfect and entire, wanting nothing, to Him who gave them to Him, saying, “Behold I and the children which God hath given Me.” So much for the first will of Him that sent Him, the divine side of man‘s salvation, whose every stage and movement is inscrutable to us, but infallibly certain.
And this — in the second place.
is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth the Son and believeth on Him — seeing the Son believeth on Him.
may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day — This is the human side of the same thing as in the foregoing verse, and answering to “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out”; that is, I have it expressly in charge that everyone that so “beholdeth” (so vieweth) the Son as to believe on Him shall have everlasting life; and, that none of Him be lost, “I will raise him up at the last day.” (See on John 6:54).
Jews murmured — muttered, not in our Lord‘s hearing, but He knew it (John 6:43; John 2:25).
he said, I am the bread, etc. — Missing the sense and glory of this, and having no relish for such sublimities, they harp upon the “Bread from heaven.” “What can this mean? Do we not know all about Him - where, when, and of whom He was born? And yet He says He came down from heaven!”
Murmur not No man — that is, Be not either startled or stumbled at these sayings; for it needs divine teaching to understand them, divine drawing to submit to them.
can come to me — in the sense of John 6:35.
except the Father which hath sent me — that is, the Father as the Sender of Me and to carry out the design of My mission.
draw him — by an internal and efficacious operation; though by all the means of rational conviction, and in a way altogether consonant to their moral nature (Song of Solomon 1:4; Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:3, Hosea 11:4).
raise him up, etc. — (See on John 6:54).
written in the prophets — in Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 31:33, Jeremiah 31:34; other similar passages may also have been in view. Our Lord thus falls back upon Scripture authority for this seemingly hard saying.
all taught of God — not by external revelation merely, but by internal illumination, corresponding to the “drawing” of John 6:44.
Every man therefore, etc. — that is, who hath been thus efficaciously taught of Him.
cometh unto me — with absolute certainty, yet in the sense above given of “drawing”; that is, “As none can come to Me but as divinely drawn, so none thus drawn shall fail to come.”
Not that any man hath seen, etc. — Lest they should confound that “hearing and learning of the Father,” to which believers are admitted by divine teaching, with His own immediate access to Him, He here throws in a parenthetical explanation; stating, as explicitly as words could do it, how totally different the two cases were, and that only He who is “from God” hath this naked, immediate access to the Father. (See John 1:18).
He that believeth, etc. — (See on John 3:36; see on John 5:24).
I am the bread of life — “As he that believeth in Me hath everlasting life, so I am Myself the everlasting Sustenance of that life.” (Repeated from John 6:35).
Your fathers — of whom ye spake (John 6:31); not “ours,” by which He would hint that He had a higher descent, of which they dreamt not [Bengel].
did eat manna and are dead — recurring to their own point about the manna, as one of the noblest of the ordained preparatory illustrations of His own office: “Your fathers, ye say, ate manna in the wilderness; and ye say well, for so they did, but they are dead - even they whose carcasses fell in the wilderness did eat of that bread; the Bread whereof I speak cometh down from heaven, which the manna never did, that men, eating of it, may live for ever.”
I am, etc. — Understand, it is of MYSELF I now speak as the Bread from heaven; of ME if a man eat he shall live for ever; and “THE BREAD WHICH I WILL GIVE IS MY FLESH, WHICH I WILL GIVE FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD.” Here, for the first time in this high discourse, our Lord explicitly introduces His sacrificial death - for only rationalists can doubt this not only as that which constitutes Him the Bread of life to men, but as THAT very element IN HIM WHICH POSSESSES THE LIFE-GIVING VIRTUE. - “From this time we hear no more (in this discourse) of “Bread”; this figure is dropped, and the reality takes its place” [Stier]. The words “I will give” may be compared with the words of institution at the Supper, “This is My body which is given for you” (Luke 22:19), or in Paul‘s report of it, “broken for you” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
Jews strove among themselves — arguing the point together.
How can, etc. — that is, Give us His flesh to eat? Absurd.
and drink the blood no life, etc. — The harshest word He had yet uttered in their ears. They asked how it was possible to eat His flesh. He answers, with great solemnity, “It is indispensable.” Yet even here a thoughtful hearer might find something to temper the harshness. He says they must not only “eat His flesh” but “drink His blood,” which could not but suggest the idea of His death - implied in the separation of one‘s flesh from his blood. And as He had already hinted that it was to be something very different from a natural death, saying, “My flesh I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51), it must have been pretty plain to candid hearers that He meant something above the gross idea which the bare terms expressed. And farther, when He added that they “had no life in them unless they thus ate and drank,” it was impossible they should think He meant that the temporal life they were then living was dependent on their eating and drinking, in this gross sense, His flesh and blood. Yet the whole statement was certainly confounding, and beyond doubt was meant to be so. Our Lord had told them that in spite of all they had “seen” in Him, they “did not believe” (John 6:36). For their conviction therefore he does not here lay Himself out; but having the ear not only of them but of the more candid and thoughtful in the crowded synagogue, and the miracle of the loaves having led up to the most exalted of all views of His Person and Office, He takes advantage of their very difficulties and objections to announce, for all time, those most profound truths which are here expressed, regardless of the disgust of the unteachable, and the prejudices even of the most sincere, which His language would seem only designed to deepen. The truth really conveyed here is no other than that expressed in John 6:51, though in more emphatic terms - that He Himself, in the virtue of His sacrificial death, is the spiritual and eternal life of men; and that unless men voluntarily appropriate to themselves this death, in its sacrificial virtue, so as to become the very life and nourishment of their inner man, they have no spiritual and eternal life at all. Not as if His death were the only thing of value, but it is what gives all else in Christ‘s Incarnate Person, Life, and Office, their whole value to us sinners.
hath, etc. — The former verse said that unless they partook of Him they had no life; this adds, that whoever does so “hath eternal life.”
and I will raise him up at the last day — For the fourth time this is repeated (see John 6:39, John 6:40, John 6:44) - showing most clearly that the “eternal life” which such a man “hath” cannot be the same with the future resurrection life from which it is carefully distinguished each time, but a life communicated here below immediately on believing (John 3:36; John 5:24, John 5:25); and giving to the resurrection of the body as that which consummates the redemption of the entire man, a prominence which in the current theology, it is to be feared, it has seldom had. (See Romans 8:23; 1 Corinthians 15:1-58, throughout).
He that eateth dwelleth in me and I in him — As our food becomes incorporated with ourselves, so Christ and those who eat His flesh and drink His blood become spiritually one life, though personally distinct.
As the living Father hath sent me — to communicate His own life.
and I live by the Father — literally, “because of the Father”; My life and His being one, but Mine that of a Son, whose it is to be “of the Father.” (See John 1:18; John 5:26).
he that eateth me, shall live by me — literally, “because of Me.” So that though one spiritual life with Him, “the Head of every man is Christ, as the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 3:23).
This is that bread, etc. — a sort of summing up of the whole discourse, on which let this one further remark suffice - that as our Lord, instead of softening down His figurative sublimities, or even putting them in naked phraseology, leaves the great truths of His Person and Office, and our participation of Him and it, enshrined for all time in those glorious forms of speech, so when we attempt to strip the truth of these figures, figures though they be, it goes away from us, like water when the vessel is broken, and our wisdom lies in raising our own spirit, and attuning our own ear, to our Lord‘s chosen modes of expression. (It should be added that although this discourse has nothing to do with the Sacrament of the Supper, the Sacrament has everything to do with it, as the visible embodiment of these figures, and, to the believing partaker, a real, yea, and the most lively and affecting participation of His flesh and blood, and nourishment thereby of the spiritual and eternal life, here below).
These things said he in the synagogue — which seems to imply that what follows took place after the congregation had broken up.
Many of his disciples — His pretty constant followers, though an outer circle of them.
hard saying — not merely harsh, but insufferable, as the word often means in the Old Testament.
who can hear — submit to listen to it.
Doth this offend What and if, etc. — that is, “If ye are stumbled at what I have said, how will ye bear what I now say?” Not that His ascension itself would stumble them more than His death, but that after recoiling from the mention of the one, they would not be in a state of mind to take in the other.
the flesh profiteth nothing — Much of His discourse was about “flesh”; but flesh as such, mere flesh, could profit nothing, much less impart that life which the Holy Spirit alone communicates to the soul.
the words that I speak are spirit and life — The whole burden of the discourse is “spirit,” not mere flesh, and “life” in its highest, not its lowest sense, and the words I have employed are to be interpreted solely in that sense.
But there are some, etc. — that is, “But it matters little to some of you in what sense I speak, for ye believe not.” This was said, adds the Evangelist, not merely of the outer but of the inner circle of His disciples; for He knew the traitor, though it was not yet time to expose him.
Therefore said I, etc. — that is, “That was why I spoke to you of the necessity of divine teaching which some of you are strangers to.”
except it were given him — plainly showing that by the Father‘s “drawing” (John 6:44) was meant an internal and efficacious operation, for in recalling the statement here He says, it must be “given to a man to come” to Christ.
From that time, etc. — or, in consequence of this. Those last words of our Lord seemed to have given them the finishing stroke - they could not stand it any longer.
walked no more — Many a journey, it may be, they had taken with Him, but now they gave Him up finally!
the twelve — the first time they are thus mentioned in this Gospel.
Will ye also go away? — Affecting appeal! Evidently Christ felt the desertion of Him even by those miserable men who could not abide His statements; and seeing a disturbance even of the wheat by the violence of the wind which blew away the chaff (not yet visibly showing itself, but open to His eyes of fire), He would nip it in the bud by this home question.
Then Simon Peter — whose forwardness in this case was noble, and to the wounded spirit of His Lord doubtless very grateful.
Lord, to whom, etc. — that is, “We cannot deny that we have been staggered as well as they, and seeing so many go away who, as we thought, might have been retained by teaching a little less hard to take in, our own endurance has been severely tried, nor have we been able to stop short of the question, Shall we follow the rest, and give it up? But when it came to this, our light returned, and our hearts were reassured. For as soon as we thought of going away, there arose upon us that awful question, ‹TO WHOM shall we go?‘ To the lifeless formalism and wretched traditions of the elders? to the gods many and lords many of the heathen around us? or to blank unbelief? Nay, Lord, we are shut up. They have none of that ‹ETERNAL LIFE‘ to offer us whereof Thou hast been discoursing, in words rich and ravishing as well as in words staggering to human wisdom. That life we cannot want; that life we have learnt to crave as a necessity of the deeper nature which Thou hast awakened: ‹the words of that eternal life‘ (the authority to reveal it and the power to confer it). Thou hast: Therefore will we stay with Thee - we must.”
And we believe, — (See on Matthew 16:16). Peter seems to have added this not merely - probably not so much - as an assurance to his Lord of his heart‘s belief in Him, as for the purpose of fortifying himself and his faithful brethren against that recoil from his Lord‘s harsh statements which he was probably struggling against with difficulty at that moment. Note. - There are seasons when one‘s faith is tried to the utmost, particularly by speculative difficulties; the spiritual eye then swims, and all truth seems ready to depart from us. At such seasons, a clear perception that to abandon the faith of Christ is to face black desolation, ruin and death; and on recoiling from this, to be able to fall back, not merely on first principles and immovable foundations, but on personal experience of a Living Lord in whom all truth is wrapt up and made flesh for our very benefit - this is a relief unspeakable. Under that blessed Wing taking shelter, until we are again fit to grapple with the questions that have staggered us, we at length either find our way through them, or attain to a calm satisfaction in the discovery that they lie beyond the limits of present apprehension.
Have not I chosen and one of you is a devil: — “Well said, Simon-Barjonas, but that ‹we‘ embraces not so wide a circle as in the simplicity of thine heart thou thinkest; for though I have chosen you but twelve, one even of these is a ‹devil‘” (the temple, the tool of that wicked one).
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