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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
John 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-71


The Bread of Life

John 6:1 to John 7:1. Feeding the five thousand. Walking upon the sea. Discourse upon the bread of life. Defection of many disciples. The Apostles stand firm.

Returning from Jerusalem, our Lord met the Apostles somewhere on the W. of the lake (perhaps at Capernaum), and heard their report of their mission (Luke 9:10). He then spent about a fortnight preaching and healing the sick (John 6:2), and afterwards, seeking retirement, sailed with them to a desert place on the NE. coast belonging to a city called Bethsaida (Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10 cp. John 6:1). The multitudes followed on foot, and Jesus took compassion on them and fed them (John 6:2.). The time was just before the Passover, 28 a.d. (John 6:4), and immediately after the death of the Baptist (Matthew 14:13). For a full commentary on this miracle, which alone is recorded by all the evangelists (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:35; Luke 9:12), see on Matthew 14:15.

1. Tiberias] a Gentile city on the lake, built by Herod Antipas during our Lord's lifetime, and named after the emperor Tiberius.

3. A mountain] RV 'the mountain.'

4. The passover] the second of the ministry. The nearness of the Passover accounts for the crowds seen approaching (John 6:5). They were Galileans going up to Jerusalem to keep the Passover. Probably our Lord did not go up to Jerusalem for this feast, as there were plots against His life (John 7:1).

10. Make the men] RV 'the people.'

So the men] i.e. the males.

11. Given thanks] The other Gospels say, 'blessed.' The usual benediction was, 'Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our God, King of the world, who causest bread to come forth from the earth.'

14, 15. This miracle marks a crisis in our Lord's ministry. His popularity was at its height. The people were convinced that He was the Messiah. They demanded that He should be crowned king of Israel, and should lead them against their enemies. By rejecting their overtures, and by showing, in His subsequent address at Capernaum, that His aims were of an entirely different character, He forfeited His popularity, and never regained it (see John 6:66).

Although this miracle had been recorded by the three synoptists, St. John (contrary to his usual practice) relates it again, because it forms a suitable introduction to the important discourse upon the bread of life which follows (John 6:26.), and which, in St. John's view, is an unfolding of its symbolical meaning. 'The miracle illustrates the mode of Christ's working in all ages; both in temporal and in spiritual things, the spirit that proceeds from Him makes the greatest results possible to the smallest means; that which appears, as to quantity, most trifling, multiplies itself, by His divine power, so as to supply the wants of thousands. The physical miracle is for us a type of the spiritual one which the power of His words works in the life of mankind in all time' (Neander).

16-21. The miracle of walking on the sea is recorded also by Mt (Matthew 14:22) and Mk (Mark 6:45): see on Mt. St. John records it, perhaps because of its close connexion with the miracle of feeding; more probably because of the mystical signification which he discerns in it, for which see on Mt.

18, 19. The disciples were not to cross the lake, but to coast along it, and to take Jesus on board at an appointed place (see John 6:17). A violent wind blew them out into the middle of the lake, so that Jesus was obliged to walk upon the water to reach them.

22-25. The multitudes which had been fed remained on the spot all night. In the morning they were surprised to find Jesus gone. They knew that He had not embarked with the disciples, who had taken away the only boat. How then had He departed? Soon a fleet of boats arrived (perhaps to sell provisions), and they made use of these to cross the lake in search of Jesus.

26-59. Discourse on the Bread of Life. As in John 4 Jesus is the giver of 'living water,' so here He is the 'living bread' or 'manna' of the soul. Such language had been to some extent prepared for by OT. references to the spiritual feast to which 'Wisdom' invites her children, 'Come eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled' (Proverbs 9:5, etc.); and by the current view that the 'manna' of the OT. is to be spiritually interpreted (Philo identifies it with the 'Logos' or 'Word' of God; St. Paul calls it 'spiritual meat,' 1 Corinthians 10:3 the Psalmist calls it 'angels' food,' Psalms 78:25). There are also OT. references to the banquet of the Messiah (Isaiah 25:6, etc.), which are frequently echoed in the NT. (Matthew 8:11; Matthew 22:2.; Matthew 25:10; Matthew 26:29; Luke 14:15; Revelation 19:9). But such passages do not lead up to, or explain our Lord's language about eating His flesh, and drinking His blood. The nearest parallel to this is the Passover. Our Lord's hearers were about to go up to Jerusalem to eat the Passover (John 6:4). Some of them, perhaps, had heard the Baptist call Him 'the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world' (John 1:29, John 1:36). Our Lord, accordingly, set before them His Person as the sacred reality of which the Passover lamb was a type. As the blood of the Paschal lamb had protected the Israelites of old from the sword of the destroying angel, so the death of the Lamb of God would give spiritual life to the whole world (John 6:51). As in the Paschal meal the Israelites ate the flesh of a literal lamb, so in the feast which He came to prepare, they would spiritually eat the flesh and drink the blood of the True Lamb. By the 'flesh' of Christ is to be understood His human nature (see John 1:14), and by His blood, His atoning blood, shed for the sins of the world. There is reference, therefore, both to the Incarnation, and to the Atonement. The eating and drinking of Christ's flesh and blood is spiritual (John 6:63), and can only take place through the medium of faith (John 6:35, John 6:40, John 6:47). It is not, however, identical with faith, but rather is the reward of faith. Those who have lively faith in Christ as the Son of God and the Redeemer of the world, are so incorporated with Him, that they dwell in Him and He in them (John 6:56); He is in them a principle of spiritual life (John 6:57), and of resurrection (John 6:54); and He strengthens and refreshes their souls, so that they neither hunger nor thirst (John 6:35, John 6:55), until they attain everlasting life (John 6:50-51, John 6:54, John 6:58). This vital union between Christ and the believer is elsewhere illustrated by the parable of the True Vine (John 15:1.), and by St. Paul's metaphor of the body and the members (1 Corinthians 12:12.).

This discourse is regarded by nearly all commentators as intended to prepare the way for the institution of the Lord's Supper, by explaining the fundamental idea and principle of that holy rite, viz. the union of the believer with Christ's human nature through faith. The Supper was ordained (see on Matthew 26:26-30) as the ordinary and covenanted means of feeding upon Christ—of 'eating his flesh and drinking his blood,' i.e. of appropriating spiritually and by faith His glorified humanity and sharing in the benefits of His passion. This, the original apostolic doctrine, which guarded both the reality of the reception by the believing soul of Christ's true humanity, in this ordinance, and also the absolute need of a lively faith if this blessed result was to be achieved, was endangered in St. John's time by two opposite tendencies, that of Gnosticism, which, while confessing Christ's Godhead, denied His Incarnation and Atonement, and that of a false ecclesiasticism, which, while confessing both, imagined that union with the Incarnate Redeemer could be attained mechanically through the sacraments, without a living faith. As against the former the evangelist emphasises the reality of Christ's 'flesh,' or human nature, and of His 'blood' or atoning sacrifice; and as against the latter the need of a living faith, as the only means through which Christ's flesh and blood can be savingly appropriated, and become the food of the soul. The 'flesh' of Christ, which is received by faith, is, of course, His glorified humanity, as it now is at the right hand of God, and as it is communicated to believers through the Spirit (John 6:62-63). At the institution of the Supper, however, our Lord spoke not of His 'flesh,' but of His 'body,' and for this there was a reason. Both words denote Christ's human nature, but whereas to eat Christ's 'flesh' indicates only the union of the individual believer with his Saviour, to eat Christ's 'body' indicates also his union with other believers, a fundamental idea of the sacrament of love, which was intended to be the centre of Christian unity (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

27. 'Do not earnestly strive to obtain food and raiment and luxuries for your bodies, but spiritual food for your souls. I am indeed the Messiah, but the Messiah's work is not to give temporal prosperity as you imagine, but everlasting life.' Sealed] 'By this miracle God the Father has “sealed” (i.e. publicly proclaimed) Me, not as the giver of temporal prosperity, as you carnally suppose, but as the giver of immortality.'

28. The works of God] i.e. works well-pleasing to God.

29. For the plural 'works,' i.e. a multitude of supposed meritorious acts, Jesus substitutes one single work, faith in Himself. Faith in Jesus is called a 'work,' because it is a definite act of the will. It is the one work required, because it is the solemn dedication of the whole life to God, and virtually includes in itself all other works, and renders them acceptable.

30, 31. Jesus having practically (in John 6:29) claimed to be the Messiah, the people now require Him to repeat Moses' miracle of the manna. This was regarded as the greatest of the OT. miracles, and it was expected that the Messiah would repeat it.

32. Moses' manna, though it came from heaven, was not heavenly bread, and could not sustain spiritual life.

33. He which cometh] RV 'that which cometh.'

35. What bread and water are to the body; that Christ is to the soul. Every aspiration after God and holiness He is able to satisfy.

36. The idea is contained in John 6:26, but perhaps Christ is referring to some unrecorded words.

37. Those whom the Father 'gives' to Christ, are those who actually come. The Father desires the salvation of every man, and draws all men to Christ (John 3:16; John 12:32), but some refuse to come (John 5:40). The Father foresees what men will come, and, as a result of His foreknowledge, 'gives' them to Christ.

39. Raise it up] Jesus shows that He has come to abolish not natural, but spiritual death. Believers will die, but their death will be followed by a glorious resurrection. Here, as usually in the NT., 'resurrection' means the resurrection of the righteous, not also of the wicked.

42. The Jews argue that since Jesus has a human parentage, He cannot have existed before His birth, and so have come down from heaven. Joseph] see John 1:45.

44. 'Your murmuring and unbelief are caused by your resistance to the “drawing” of the Father, who bids you believe on Me. You have hardened your heart, and closed your ears to His teaching, so that now you cannot believe.'

45. A free quotation from Isaiah 54:13 : cp. also Joel 2:28.

46. Only our Lord is 'taught of God' in the fullest sense.

48. 'I am the reality typified by the manna.'

51. Which I will give] an allusion to our Lord's atoning death, as is made evident by the mention of His blood in John 6:53. The world] Salvation is offered to all mankind.

53. Eating and drinking Christ's flesh and blood is not the same thing as faith, though faith is the means of it. It is an actual and vital union with Christ's human nature, whereby the believer dwells in Christ and Christ in him, and all the benefits of Christ's passion are communicated to him: see above.

55. Meat indeed] lit. 'true meat.. true drink,' i.e. true nourishment for the soul.

57. The life-imparting union between the Father and the Son, is a figure of the life-imparting union between Christ and the believer.

59. If Tell Hum is the ancient Capernaum, its synagogue has been excavated. We can still trace its dimensions, observe its fallen pillars, and discover over the lintel of its entrance the device of a pot of manna ornamented with vine-leaves and bunches of grapes.

62. 'After My Ascension, when I shall no longer possess a natural body, you will understand that My words about eating My flesh and drinking My blood, which now offend you, are to be spiritually interpreted.'

63. 'What imparts the power of everlasting life to those who feed upon My flesh, is not the flesh as such, but the Spirit which pervades it. The flesh without the Spirit profits nothing: the flesh with the Spirit profits much. In heaven I shall be a quickening Spirit, and My body will be spiritual. After the Ascension the Holy Spirit will make you partakers of My flesh, and you will receive it spiritually by faith.' The words that I speak (RV 'have spoken')] 'These words of Mine about eating and drinking My flesh and blood, about My Ascension, and about the gift of the Spirit, contain the very essence of the gospel. Those who believe them and obey them, will be made partakers of My Spirit, and of eternal life.'

65. See John 6:44, John 6:45.

66-71. Effects of the discourse. Many disciples forsake Jesus, but the Twelve stand firm, and their faith is strengthened.

69. That.. Christ, the Son of the living God] RV 'the Holy One of God,' which emphasises Christ's sinlessness. Not till later does St. Peter confess that He is the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).

71. Judas] RV 'Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.' 'Iscariot' means an inhabitant of Kerioth, a town in Judæa. Judas was thus the only Judæan apostle.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on John 6:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/john-6.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, August 24th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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