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After an undesignated lapse of time (cf. John 5:1), Jesus traveled to the east side of the Sea of Galilee. That was the more sparsely populated side where fewer Jews and more Gentiles lived. It was particularly to the northeast coast that He went (cf. Matthew 14:13; Mark 6:32; Luke 9:10). Evidently John’s readers knew this lake as the Sea of Tiberias. Tiberias was the chief city on its western coast. Herod Antipas had founded it in A.D. 20 and had named it in honor of the current Roman emperor who ruled from A.D. 15 to 35.
G. Jesus’ later Galilean ministry 6:1-7:9
This section of the text records the high point of Jesus’ popularity. His following continued to build, and antagonism continued to increase. This is the only section in John that narrates Jesus’ later Galilean ministry, which occupies so much of the Synoptic Gospels.
1. The fourth sign: feeding the 5,000 6:1-15 (cf. Matthew 14:13-23; Mark 6:30-46; Luke 9:10-17)
The importance of this sign is clear in that all four Gospels contain an account of it. Apparently John was familiar with the other evangelists’ versions of this miracle as well as being an eyewitness of the event. His story compliments the others (cf. John 6:5; John 6:15). This miracle demonstrated Jesus’ authority over quantity. [Note: Tenney, John: The Gospel . . ., p. 312.] It constitutes further proof that Jesus was the Son of God.
Multitudes followed Jesus because they wanted to profit from His miraculous powers as well as hear Him teach (cf. John 2:23-25).
"Like the vast majority of men and women, they [these Galileans] supposed that their needs as human beings were limited to their physical requirements. They were, in consequence, very ready to accept Jesus as a political Christ, who would be a purveyor of cheap food and establish an economic Utopia, for that would render the task of satisfying these physical needs less laborious." [Note: Tasker, pp. 92-93.]
Jesus went up on the mountainside to be alone with His disciples who had just returned from their mission throughout the towns of Galilee (Mark 6:30-32; Luke 9:10). He had just heard that Herod Antipas had beheaded John the Baptist (Matthew 14:12-13). The crowd soon found Him, and He healed many of the people and taught them (Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:33-34; Luke 9:11). Only John mentioned that this happened on a mountainside. Perhaps he did this so his readers would see a parallel with what happened on Mt. Sinai (John 6:31-32; cf. Exodus 16:21). Possibly it is just a detail that he as an eyewitness observed.
Evidently John identified the nearness of the Passover because of Jesus’ later references to Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:33; John 6:35; John 6:51), the fulfillment of what the Passover bread typified.
"The people were thinking in terms of blood, flesh, lambs, and unleavened bread. They longed for a new Moses who would deliver them from Roman bondage." [Note: Blum, p. 293.]
This was John’s second reference to a Passover feast during Jesus’ ministry (cf. John 2:13; John 2:23; John 11:55; John 13:1). Evidently this event happened two years after Jesus’ first cleansing of the temple and one year before He died on the cross. It would have taken place in April of A.D. 32. [Note: See Hoehner, pp. 55-59, 61, 143.]
"The movement from the miracle to the discourse, from Moses to Jesus (John 6:32-35, cf. John 1:17), and, above all, from bread to flesh, is almost unintelligible unless the reference in John 6:4 to the Passover picks up i. 29, 36, anticipates xix. 36 (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12), and governs the whole narrative." [Note: Hoskyns, p. 281.]
The Passover was an intensely nationalistic celebration in Israel. This accounts for the extreme zeal that many of the Jews demonstrated when they sought to draft Jesus as their political deliverer (John 6:15).
John telescoped the events of the day. He omitted mention of Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry (Matthew 14:14; Mark 6:34; Luke 9:11) as well as the disciples’ concern for food (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:35-36; Luke 9:12). Instead he focused on the miracle. His account also shows Jesus’ initiative in solving the food problem. Only John recorded that Jesus approached Philip about the need. This would have been normal since Philip was from Bethsaida, the nearest sizable town (John 1:44). John also explained that Jesus’ question was a test in Philip’s discipleship training, not an indication that Jesus wondered what to do initially.
Philip, too, as Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, was thinking only on the physical level. Two hundred denarii represented about eight month’s wages for a workingman. Such a large sum might be the minimum they could scrape by with, but it would not provide enough bread to satisfy the people. Philip, as an accountant, put his mental calculator to work and concluded that the situation was hopeless.
Andrew had discovered a young lad (Gr. paidarion, a double diminutive) who had five small barley biscuits and two small fish (Gr. opsaria). Probably the fish would have served as a relish to eat with the bread. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 270.] Barley bread was the food of the poor. One writer called the boy’s food mere "hors d’oeuvres." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 72.] Andrew seems to have felt embarrassed that he had even suggested such an inadequate solution to the problem.
John may have intended his unique inclusion of the details of this boy and his lunch to remind his readers of Elisha’s similar miracle (2 Kings 4:42-44). The same Greek word for "boy" occurs in the Septuagint translation of that story (2 Kings 4:38; 2 Kings 4:41). The main point, however, was the lack of adequate food and Jesus’ ability to feed a multitude with such meager resources.
When the disciples had confessed their own inadequacy Jesus proceeded to demonstrate His adequacy. He instructed the disciples to seat the multitude on the comfortable grass. Perhaps we should view Jesus as the Good Shepherd making His sheep lie down in green pastures (cf. Psalms 23:2). Perhaps Jesus did this also to discourage the people from rushing madly for the food once they realized what was happening. All four evangelists recorded the size of the crowd in terms of the males present. This was customary since these people lived in a predominantly paternalistic culture. The scene also recalls Moses feeding the Israelites in the wilderness with bread from heaven.
Jesus first thanked God for the food in prayer, as pious Jews normally did (cf. John 6:23). In this He set a good example. We should give thanks for what we have, and God will make it go farther. Jesus multiplied the food evidently as he broke it apart and distributed it to the people. John stressed the lavishness of Jesus’ supply. The Son of God has always been the perfectly sufficient provider of people’s needs.
John probably did not intend that we make connections with the Lord’s Supper. He omitted references that would have obviously connected the two meals such as the breaking of the bread and the distribution of the pieces. And there is no mention of drink. John omitted referring to the disciples’ role in assisting Jesus by serving the people, probably to keep Jesus central in the narrative. Obviously there is nothing in the text to support the popular liberal interpretation that the miracle consisted of Jesus making the people willing to share their food.
Everyone had enough to eat. Jesus satisfied everyone’s appetite. There was even quite a bit of food left over that Jesus instructed His disciples to collect to avoid waste. All four evangelists noted that there were 12 large Jewish baskets (Gr. kophinos) of bread fragments left over. Commentators have suggested that they represent food for the disciples or food for Israel’s 12 tribes. At least this detail proves the abundance of Jesus’ provision for the people who were present. Each of the Twelve had his own evidence of Jesus’ supernatural power and His adequacy.
The Jews who enjoyed Jesus’ provision concluded that He must be the prophet whom Moses had predicted (Deuteronomy 18:15-19; cf. John 1:21; John 7:40; John 7:52). Jesus had fed the Israelites in a wilderness area (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:35) as Moses had with bread that came from heaven.
Moses had also provided military leadership for the Israelites and had liberated them from the oppression of the Egyptians. These Jews concluded that Jesus could do the same for them and sought to secure His political leadership forcefully. This decision marks the apogee of Jesus’ popularity. Jesus realized their intention and withdrew from the crowd by ascending the mountainside farther by Himself to pray (Matthew 14:23; Mark 6:46). The time was not right for Him to establish His kingdom on earth.
This sign demonstrated Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and it prepared for Jesus’ revelation of Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:22-59). [Note: See Stephen S. Kim, "The Christological and Eschatological Significance of Jesus’ Passover Signs in John 6," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:655 (July-September 2007):307-22.]
". . . the feeding miracle is understood as falling within the fulfillment of the hope of a second Exodus. This flows together with the thought of the event as a celebration of the feast of the kingdom of God, promised in the Scriptures (Isaiah 25:6-9)." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 88.]
Notice that this sign illustrates three solutions to problems that people typically try. First, Philip suggested that money was the solution to the problem (John 6:7). Second, Andrew looked to people for the solution (John 6:9). Third, Jesus proved to be the true solution (John 6:11). A fourth solution appears in the other Gospel accounts of the miracle (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:36; Luke 9:12): get rid of the problem. The disciples told Jesus to send the people away, to let them fend for themselves (cf. Matthew 15:23).
In satisfying the need of the people, Jesus used what someone made available to Him. In this case, as in most others, He used a very insignificant person, in the sight of other people, with very insignificant resources. Jesus did not create food out of thin air.
"The practical lesson is clear: whenever there is a need, give all that you have to Jesus and let Him do the rest. Begin with what you have, but be sure you give it all to Him." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:309.]
"Evening" could refer to anytime in the late afternoon before sunset. The feeding of the 5,000 evidently happened on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee south of Bethsaida Julius. This town stood immediately east of the place where the Jordan River empties into the lake on its northern coast. Some of the town may have been on the western side of the Jordan. [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, Mark: A Portrait of the Servant, p. 164.]
2. The fifth sign: walking on the water 6:16-21 (cf. Matthew 14:24-33; Mark 6:47-52)
John probably included this incident for a number of reasons. It accounts for the return of Jesus and His disciples to the western shore of Galilee where Jesus gave the discourse on the Bread of Life. Perhaps he did so to continue the Exodus theme (cf. John 6:14-15). It is primarily further proof that Jesus was the Son of God as He claimed. The disciples went from the thrill of great success to the agony of great danger. The feeding of the 5,000 was a lesson, and Jesus’ walking on the water was the test following the lesson.
The disciples’ ultimate destination was Capernaum, which Mark called Bethsaida (Mark 6:45). Evidently this western Bethsaida ("Fishtown") was very close to, or even part of, Capernaum. [Note: Edersheim, 2:3-4.] When Jesus did not appear by nightfall, they decided to travel on to Capernaum without Him.
In John’s Gospel darkness often has symbolic significance implying a bad situation (cf. John 3:2; John 13:30). Jesus’ absence cast another foreboding cloud over the disciples. To make the occasion even worse a strong wind came up and created a storm on the lake. The wind normally came from the west, the direction in which the disciples headed. Mark described the disciples as straining at the oars (Mark 6:48).
The distance the disciples had rowed in the Greek text is 25 or 30 stadia, which is between two and three-quarters miles and three and one-half miles. Matthew and Mark wrote that the disciples were in the middle of the lake probably meaning that they were well out into it (Matthew 14:24; Mark 6:47). Some scholars wishing to depreciate this miracle have translated the Greek preposition epi as "by" rather than "on." [Note: E.g., Bernard, 1:186.] However, the context and the Synoptics clearly present Jesus as walking on the water, not on the shore beside the water.
Mark reported that the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost (Mark 6:49). John simply described them as frightened. This emphasis has the effect of stressing Jesus’ alleviation of their fear. The fear of the disciples and Jesus’ ability to calm their fear is the point of John’s record of this miracle. Jesus met the disciples between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m. (Matthew 14:25; Mark 6:48).
"Sometimes we are caught in a storm because we have disobeyed the Lord. Jonah is a good example. But sometimes the storm comes because we have obeyed the Lord. When that happens, we can be sure that our Saviour will pray for us, come to us, and deliver us. . . . Jesus had led His people into the green pastures (John 6:10), and now He brought them into the still waters (Psalms 23:2). What a wonderful Shepherd He is!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:310.]
Jesus identified Himself by saying literally "I am" (Gr. ego eimi). This is sometimes a way Jesus described Himself as God, as John recorded Jesus’ words (e.g., John 8:24). However the clause does not always mean that since it is the normal way of identifying oneself (cf. John 9:9). In those instances the translation, "It is I," gives the intended meaning. Here Jesus was just identifying Himself to the disciples, though obviously someone who could walk on water was more than a mere man.
When the disciples realized that it was Jesus, they willingly received Him into the boat. Perhaps Jesus met the disciples fairly close to their destination and so it did not take them long to arrive there. Perhaps with Jesus in the boat the remaining trip appeared to them to be a short one, or with the wind subdued it did not take them long to reach land. Any of these explanations could account for John’s description. Many commentators believed that John referred to a second miracle and that the boat supernaturally reached Capernaum swiftly. There seems little point to such a miracle, however, and there is nothing in the text that explains it.
The feeding of the 5,000 presents Jesus as the provider of people’s needs. His walking on the water pictures Him as the protector of those who trust and obey Him. The second of these two signs taught the disciples that Jesus had authority over nature (cf. Job 38:8-11; Psalms 29:3-4; Psalms 29:10-11; Psalms 65:5-7; Psalms 89:9; Psalms 107:29). [Note: Tenney, John: The Gospel . . ., p. 132.] John undoubtedly recorded the incident to teach his readers the same lesson. Both miracles demonstrated Jesus’ equality with the Father, whom Old Testament writers described as doing these things.
The people’s search for Jesus 6:22-25
The multitude on the "other side" must have been near the northeast shore where Jesus had fed the 5,000 south of Bethsaida. They were across the lake from the northwestern shore where Jesus and the disciples now were, in Capernaum. They could not figure out where Jesus could have gone. The disciples had left in one boat without Jesus. There was only one other boat still there. Jesus had not used it to leave the area. While they waited for Jesus to appear, other boats with people from Tiberias, on the western shore, arrived. Eventually the crowd realized that Jesus was not in that region, so they boarded the boats that had come from Tiberias and set out for Capernaum. They probably thought they could find Jesus there because Capernaum was His headquarters. When they did find Him, they wanted to know how He got there.
Why did John bother to relate this seemingly unimportant information? Apparently he did so to document the fact that Jesus really had crossed the lake by walking on the water. Another reason could be that his description supports Jesus’ statement that the people sought Him (John 6:26). In view of what these people proceeded to demand of Jesus (John 6:30-31) it was important that John show that they were the very people who had witnessed the sign of the miraculous feeding.
3. The bread of life discourse 6:22-59
Jesus proceeded to clarify His identity by teaching the crowds and His disciples. He did so by developing the figure of the Bread of Life, which He claimed to be. Jesus used the feeding of the 5,000 as a basis for explaining His identity to the multitudes. He compared Himself to bread.
"Again, it was a ministry of ’grace and truth’ (John 1:17). In grace, our Lord fed the hungry people; but in truth, He gave them the Word of God." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:310.]
Jesus’ introductory words identified another very important statement (cf. John 6:32; John 6:47; John 6:53). He did not answer their question (John 6:25) and tell them that He had walked across the surface of the lake. He did not want them to follow Him primarily because He could do miracles. He understood that their interest in Him was mainly because of His ability to provide for them physically. They were not interested in Him because they identified Him as the God-man but because Jesus could fill their stomachs. Many people today are only interested in Jesus because of the benefits He may give them. Jesus proceeded to explain what the miracle they had witnessed signified.
Jesus’ creating desire for the bread 6:26-34
This section of the text contains Jesus’ enigmatic and attractive description of the Bread of Life. Jesus was whetting His hearers’ appetites for it (cf. John 4:10). The pericope ends with them asking Him to give them the Bread (John 6:34).
Jesus had previously spoken to the Samaritan woman about living water (John 4:10; John 4:14), and now He spoke to these Galileans about food that endures. He was, as previously, contrasting physical and spiritual nourishment. Consequently the descriptions that follow contain a mixture of literal and metaphorical language. Jesus wanted His hearers to view the spiritual aspects of His mission as more important than its physical aspects.
The people apparently understood His reference to bread that endures to eternal life as meaning physical bread that does not become stale and moldy. As the Son of Man, Jesus claimed to be able to give this food because God the Father had set His seal of approval on Jesus. The Father had authorized the Son to act for Him (cf. John 5:32-47). This was one of the functions of a seal in Jesus’ culture, and God setting His seal on something or someone was a common expression for it being true. [Note: Edersheim, 2:28-29.] Jesus was speaking of Himself as the food (John 6:35; John 6:53). The Son would give this food and eternal life, but the people had a responsibility to work for it too.
The works of God are the works that God requires to obtain the food that remains, even eternal life. The people were still thinking on the physical level. They thought Jesus was talking about some physical work that would yield eternal life. Moreover they assumed that they could do it and that by doing it they could earn eternal life. They ignored Jesus’ statement that He would give them eternal life (cf. Romans 10:2-4). There is something within the fallen nature of human beings that makes working for eternal life more attractive than receiving it as a gift.
The only work that God requires of people for salvation is faith in His Son (cf. John 3:11-17). The work that Jesus specified was not something physical at all. It was what God requires, namely, trust in Jesus (cf. Romans 3:28). Jesus’ reply was a flat contradiction of the idea that people can earn salvation with their good deeds. This is another of the many great evangelistic verses in John’s Gospel (John 1:12; John 3:16; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47; et al.).
Jesus had told the people what work they needed to do to obtain eternal life. Now they asked Him what work He would do to prove that He was God’s authorized representative as He claimed to be (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:22). They suggested that producing bread from heaven as Moses did might convince them. Their unwillingness to believe the sign that Jesus had given them the previous day shows the hardness of their hearts. No matter what Jesus did the unbelievers always demanded more.
Probably Jesus’ provision of bread for thousands of people the previous day led them to ask for this greater miracle. Some of them had concluded that Jesus might be the Prophet that Moses had predicted (John 6:14). If He was, He ought to be able to do greater miracles than Moses did. The manna that Moses produced spoiled if left uneaten overnight, but Jesus seemed to be promising bread that would not spoil.
The source of the people’s loose quotation is probably Psalms 78:24. However there are also similarities to Nehemiah 9:15; Exodus 16:4; Exodus 16:15; and Psalms 105:40.
"This section of the discourse is to be understood against the background of a Jewish expectation that, when the Messiah came, he would renew the miracle of the manna." [Note: Morris, p. 320.]
The people were viewing Moses as the source of their blessing in the past. They believed that the manna was given through his merits, and ended with his death. [Note: Edersheim, 2:30.] There is also some evidence that they believed Moses was interceding for them in the present as well. [Note: See Beasley-Murray, p. 79.] Jesus pointed them beyond Moses to the true source, namely, God. He wanted them to look to God for their needs, not to a human channel of God’s blessing.
Jesus also turned the conversation away from the request for a physical sign back to the subject of the bread that satisfies. God had given manna in the past, but He was giving a new type of bread now. Jesus described it as coming down from heaven and providing life for the entire world, not just Israel. With this response Jesus effectively took Moses and his sign, which the people had put in a superior place over Himself, and placed them in an inferior position under Himself. The true (Gr. alethinos, genuine or original, cf. John 1:9) bread is the bread that satisfies ultimately. In this discourse Jesus mentioned seven times that He had come down out of heaven, stressing the fact that He was God’s divine gift (John 6:33; John 6:38; John 6:41-42; John 6:50-51; John 6:58).
Jesus had glorified the new bread sufficiently now for the people to request it of Him, as he had glorified the living water for the Samaritan woman. He had set them up for the revelation that He was that bread. If they were sincere in their desire for it, they would accept Him. Yet the people did not realize what they were requesting, as the woman at the well did not (cf. John 4:15). They were still thinking of physical bread. They wanted this new type of physical bread from then on.
Jesus now identified Himself as the bread about which He had been speaking (cf. John 6:47; Isaiah 55:1-2). The Jews regarded the real bread from heaven as the Law. [Note: Edersheim, 2:30.] Jesus did not say He had the bread of life but that He was that bread. He claimed to be able to satisfy completely as bread and water satisfy physically. His hearers did not need to return to Him repeatedly as they had assumed (John 6:34) since He would also satisfy permanently (cf. John 13:9-10). The "nevers" are emphatic in the Greek text. Coming to Jesus and believing are synonymous concepts just as bread and water together represent total human need. Jesus did not mean that continual dependence on Him was unimportant (cf. John 15:4-5). He meant that believing on Him would satisfy the basic human need and desire for life. Again Jesus linked life with Himself. He is what sustains and nourishes spiritual life. It is by feeding on Him that we obtain life initially and continue to flourish spiritually.
Jesus’ claim to be the Bread of Life, three times in this discourse (John 6:35; John 6:48; John 6:51), is the first of seven such claims that John recorded Jesus making in his Gospel. Jesus used the same expression (Gr. ego eimi, "I am," plus a predicate) in each case. Two other instances of ego eimi and a predicate occur (John 8:18; John 8:23), but they are slightly different in meaning. Ego eimi without the predicate appears in John 6:20; John 8:24; John 8:28; John 8:58; and John 18:6. Each of these seven "I am" claims expresses Jesus’ relationship to humankind’s basic spiritual needs metaphorically.
|Jesus’ "I am" Claims|
|The Bread of Life||Satisfier and sustainer of life||John 6:35; John 6:48|
|The Light of the World||Dispeller of sin’s darkness||John 8:12|
|The Gate||Entrance into security and fellowship||John 10:7; John 10:9|
|The Good Shepherd||Protector and guide in life||John 10:11; John 10:14|
|The Resurrection and the Life||Hope in death||John 11:25|
|The Way, the Truth, and the Life||Certainty in perplexity||John 14:6|
|The True Vine||Source of vitality and productivity||John 15:1; John 15:5|
"Jesus is the one who bears the divine name (cf. Exodus 3:14). For John, this story takes on the character of a theophany, not unlike the Transfiguration recorded by the Synoptics." [Note: Harris, p. 177.]
Jesus’ identification of the bread 6:35-40
Jesus charged these Galileans with unbelief as He had formerly charged the Judean residents of Jerusalem with it (John 5:36-38). They had seen Him physically, and on the physical level they had concluded that He might be the predicted Prophet. However, they had not seen who He was spiritually. They did not believe that He was the divine Messiah. Physical sight and spiritual insight are two different things.
These people’s lack of faith did not indicate that Jesus or God’s plan had failed, however. The ability to believe on Jesus requires divine enablement. It is only those whom the Father enables to believe that come to Jesus in faith. These are the people whom the Father has given to the Son as gifts. Jesus viewed the ultimate cause of faith as God’s electing grace, not man’s choice.
Jesus promised not to turn away anyone who came to Him in faith. He used a figure of speech (litotes) to stress strongly the positive fact that all who believe in Him find acceptance and security. In litotes the speaker or writer affirms a positive truth by negating its opposite. For example, "This is no small matter," is a litotes meaning, "This is a very significant matter." In the first part of this verse Jesus spoke of the elect as a group, and in the second part He referred to every individual in the group. Jesus had confidence in the Father drawing the elect to Him, and the believer may have confidence too in the Son receiving and retaining him or her. How can a person know if he or she is one of the elect? Let him or her come to Jesus in faith.
Jesus next explained why He would accept all who come to Him and will preserve them. The purpose of the Incarnation was that the Son would fulfill the Father’s will. The Father’s will was that the Son should lose no individual of all whom the Father gave Him. Preserving them includes raising them from the dead to eternal life. The distant purpose of the Father is the eternal life of those whom He gives to the Son, namely, those who believe on the Son. Jesus Himself will raise believers. This is an added proof of our security.
"This thought is of the greatest comfort to believers. Their assurance is based not on their feeble hold on Christ, but on his sure grip on them (cf. John 10:28 f.)." [Note: Morris, p. 326.]
Beholding the Son equals believing in Him here. Jesus meant beholding with the eyes of faith. The last day is the day of the resurrection of believers, whenever it may occur. It is last in the sense that it will be the last day that we experience mortality.
"John 6:37-40 contains Jesus’ explanation of the process of personal salvation. These are among the most profound words He ever spoke, and we cannot hope to plumb their depths completely. He explained that salvation involves both divine sovereignty and human responsibility." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:312.]
The fact of divine election did not embarrass Jesus or John. Even though God has chosen the elect for salvation, they must believe on Jesus. Jesus balanced these truths beautifully in this discourse (cf. John 17:1; John 17:6; John 17:9; John 17:24). He likewise affirmed the eternal security of the believer (cf. John 17:11-12). If one believer failed to reach heaven, it would be a disgrace for the Son since it would indicate His inability or unwillingness to fulfill the Father’s will. Judas Iscariot may appear at first to be an exception, but God did not choose Him for salvation (John 6:70-71; John 17:12) even though Jesus chose him as one of the Twelve.
Some of Jesus’ hearers had known Him all His life. More of them had known Him and His family since they had moved to Capernaum where Jesus gave this discourse (John 6:59). His claim to have come down from heaven seemed to them to contradict what they knew about His human origins. Again they were thinking only in physical terms. It is interesting that the Israelites in the wilderness who received the manna from heaven also grumbled (Exodus 15:24; Exodus 17:3; Numbers 11:4-6). Mankind’s dissatisfaction with God’s good gifts shows the perversity of the human heart. It was Jesus’ claim to a heavenly origin that offended these people, as it had offended the people of Jerusalem (John 5:18).
"The Incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus was and remains the great stumbling block in Christianity for the Jews." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 93.]
In his Gospel John often used the term "the Jews" to represent the Jews who opposed Jesus during His ministry (cf. John 2:18; John 2:20; John 5:16). It became something of a technical term as he used it. It often means more than just a racial group in this Gospel.
The New Testament reveals nothing about Joseph after Jesus’ childhood. He passed off the scene then, but statements such as this one suggest that he had lived in Nazareth as Jesus was growing up. Probably Joseph died sometime before Jesus began His public ministry.
Jesus’ identity as the Bread of Life 6:41-51
Jesus’ claim to be the Bread of Life that had come down from heaven was something His hearers found hard to accept. Consequently Jesus clarified what He meant further.
Jesus did not allow the people’s confusion about His origin to distress Him. He rebuked their grumbling dissatisfaction with what God had given them. However, He explained that those whom the Father had chosen for salvation among them would believe in Him regardless of their inability to reconcile His earthly and heavenly origins. The important thing for them to do was believe Him, not first harmonize all the apparent contradictions they observed.
"The thought of the divine initiative in salvation is one of the great doctrines of this Gospel, and indeed of the Christian faith." [Note: Morris, p. 328.]
Jesus clarified also that the Father’s drawing (Gr. helkyo) is selective (cf. John 6:37). He does not just draw everyone in the general sense of extending the gospel invitation to them. He selects some from the mass of humanity and brings them to Himself. It is that minority that Jesus will raise up to eternal life on the last day (cf. John 6:40). This truth does not contradict John 12:32 where Jesus said that He would draw (Gr. helkyo) all men to Himself. There He was speaking of all people without distinction, not just Jews but also Gentiles. He did not mean all people without exception.
Jesus clarified what God’s drawing involves. He cited recognized authority for His statement that all whom the Father had chosen would come to Him. Old Testament prophets had revealed that God would teach His people (Isaiah 54:13; cf. Jeremiah 31:34). Those whom God enlightened about Jesus’ identity would believe in Him. That enlightenment comes primarily through the Scriptures, God’s principle tool.
"When he compels belief, it is not by the savage constraint of a rapist, but by the wonderful wooing of a lover." [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 293.]
Jesus further clarified how God draws people to Himself by explaining how He does not do it. It is not by giving a mystical revelation of Himself in His unveiled splendor to people. Jesus is the only One who has seen God fully (cf. John 1:18). He is the only mediator of that knowledge of God without which no one can know God. God teaches people about Himself through Jesus. Listening to Jesus then becomes essential for learning from God. God draws the elect to Himself by revealing Himself through Jesus. The Scriptures bear witness to that revelation.
Jesus introduced His repetition and summary of the essential truth He was teaching with another strong affirmation. This summary continues through John 6:51. He repeated what He had told Nicodemus more concisely (John 3:15). In spite of the truth of the Father’s drawing the elect to Himself it is still imperative that they believe in Jesus. This is the human responsibility. However belief in Jesus is not anything meritorious. It is simply the proper response to God’s working. The result is eternal or everlasting life that the believer begins to enjoy the moment he or she believes in Jesus. All of this is part of what Jesus meant when He claimed to be the Bread of Life. Eternal life was at stake, not just physical life.
Jesus had been speaking of everlasting life and had claimed that He as the Bread of Life could provide it. Now he clarified the distinction between the physical bread that God provided in the wilderness and the spiritual Bread that He provided in Jesus. The result of eating the manna was temporary satisfaction but ultimately death, but the result of believing in Jesus was permanent satisfaction and no death.
"When God gave the manna, He gave only a gift; but when Jesus came, He gave Himself. There was no cost to God in sending the manna each day, but He gave His Son at great cost. The Jews had to eat the manna every day, but the sinner who trusts Christ once is given eternal life.
"It is not difficult to see in the manna a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ. The manna was a mysterious thing to the Jews; in fact, the word manna means ’What is it?’ (see Exodus 16:15) Jesus was a mystery to those who saw Him. The manna came at night from heaven, and Jesus came to this earth when sinners were in moral and spiritual darkness. The manna was small (His humility), round (His eternality), and white (His purity). It was sweet to the taste (Psalms 34:8) and it met the needs of the people adequately." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:313.]
This verse contains a final summary of the main ideas in this section. Jesus is living Bread, not manna, but He came down from God as it did. Those who believe on Him will experience eternal life. The terms coming to Jesus (John 6:35), listening to Him (John 6:45), and seeing Him (John 6:40) all mean believing on Him (John 6:35). Jesus would give His body as bread so the world could live spiritually. He referred to His coming sacrificial death. Not only had the Father given the Bread, but the Bread would now give Himself. John characteristically emphasized Jesus’ death as being for life rather than for sin. [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 94.]
As Jesus’ hearers had objected to what He had said about His identity (John 6:41-42), so they now expressed confusion about what He meant by eating flesh. An intense argument (Gr. emachonto) erupted among them. They were struggling to understand His meaning. In what sense would Jesus give His flesh as food? [Note: See Paul M. Hoskins, "Deliverance from Death by the True Passover Lamb: A Significant Aspect of the Fulfillment of the Passover in the Gospel of John," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52:2 (June 2009):285-99.]
The meaning of believing 6:52-59
Jesus introduced a new metaphor for believing on Him, namely, eating His flesh. The following pericope is highly metaphorical.
This is the fourth and last of Jesus’ strong prefaces in this discourse (cf. John 6:26; John 6:32; John 6:47). It should be obvious to any reader of this discourse by now that Jesus was speaking metaphorically and not literally. By referring to His flesh and blood He was figuratively referring to His whole person. This is a figure of speech called synecdoche in which one part stands for the whole. Jesus was illustrating belief, what it means to appropriate Him by faith (John 6:40). He expressed the same truth negatively (John 6:53) and then positively (John 6:54 a). He referred again to resurrection because it is the inauguration of immortal eternal life (cf. John 6:39-40; John 6:44).
Jesus was again stressing His identity as the revealer of God with the title "Son of Man." Blood in the Old Testament represented violent death primarily. Thus Jesus was hinting that He would die violently. He connected the importance of belief in Him with His atoning death. The idea of eating blood was repulsive to the Jews (cf. Leviticus 3:17; Leviticus 17:10-14). Jesus’ hearers should have understood that He was speaking metaphorically, but this reference offended many of them (John 6:60-61).
Many interpreters of these verses have seen allusions to the Lord’s Supper in what Jesus said. Sacramentalists among them find support here for their belief that participation in the Eucharist is essential for salvation. However, Jesus had not yet said anything about the Christian communion service. Moreover He was clearly speaking of belief metaphorically, not the communion elements. Most important, the New Testament presents the Lord’s Supper as a commemoration of Jesus’ death, not a vehicle for obtaining eternal life. Nevertheless these verses help us appreciate the symbolism of the Eucharist.
"In short, John 6 does not directly speak of the eucharist; it does expose the true meaning of the Lord’s supper as clearly as any passage in Scripture." [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 298.]
This verse explains why Jesus’ statements in John 6:53-54 are true. Jesus’ person is what truly satisfies and sustains life. This is the true function of food and drink.
Because Jesus’ person is what truly satisfies and sustains life those who believe in Him remain (Gr. meno, abide) in Him. This is a new term in the discussion, but it is synonymous with having eternal life. Jesus was saying that believers continue to possess eternal life; they will never lose it. Believers remain in Christ, and He remains in them. Jesus was not speaking here to His disciples about the importance of believers abiding in fellowship with God as He did in chapter 15. Here He was speaking to unbelievers about entering into a saving relationship with God.
Jesus traced the eternal life that the believer receives when he or she trusts in Jesus back through the Son to the living God (cf. John 5:21; John 5:24-27). This helps us see that eternal life is essentially God’s life that He imparts to believers. It also clarifies Jesus’ central role as the mediator of eternal life from the Father to humankind.
In conclusion, Jesus returned to His initial claim that He had come from the Father (John 6:29). The Jews often substituted the term "heaven" for "God" out of respect for God’s name, and Jesus did that here. This is a figure of speech called metonymy in which the speaker or writer uses the name of one thing for that of another associated with or suggested by it. The Israelites who ate the physical bread that came down from God died in the wilderness (John 6:30-31), but those who believe in the spiritual Bread that came down from Him will live forever.
John now identified the historical context in which Jesus gave this teaching. Jesus gave this discourse in the synagogue in the town that He had adopted as the headquarters of His ministry (cf. John 2:12). This verse evidently marks the conclusion of the discussion that took place within the synagogue.
Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe may be the foundations of this synagogue. Visitors to the site of Capernaum may now view a reconstructed edifice that dates from three or four hundred years later.
The Apostle Paul went to the Jewish synagogues in the towns that he evangelized because they were the places where pious Jews normally congregated to listen to God’s Word. We should probably view Jesus’ teaching ministry here as similar to Paul’s later practice. Both men announced God’s revelations to lost religious Jews and appealed to them to believe the gospel.
4. The responses to the bread of life discourse 6:60-7:9
Considerable discussion followed Jesus presentation of Himself as the Bread of Life. John noted the responses of many people who were following Jesus around, then the response of the Twelve, and finally the response of most of the Jews. What followed probably happened in the adjoining courtyard, or outside the synagogue, or perhaps inside after Jesus had concluded His discourse.
Not only "the Jews" (John 6:52) but many of Jesus’ followers found His teaching about the Bread of Life offensive (Gr. skleros, difficult or hard). The term "disciple" is not synonymous with "believer," as should be patently clear in the Gospels. In John 6:64 Jesus said that some of these "disciples" did not believe. Some of Jesus’ disciples were believers, but many of them were following Him to learn from Him and to decide if He was the Messiah or not. This teaching persuaded many in this seeker category to abandon this Rabbi. Some of them undoubtedly wanted the physical benefits of Jesus’ messianism but had little interest in spiritual matters (cf. John 6:14-15; John 6:26; John 6:30-31). Others could not see beyond Jesus’ humanity to His true identity (John 6:41-46). Others probably could not accept Jesus’ claim to be greater than Moses (John 6:32-33; John 6:58). Still others may have found Jesus’ language offensive, particularly His references to eating flesh and drinking blood (John 6:53-54).
The response of many disciples 6:60-65
Evidently Jesus spoke these words to a large group of His followers that included the Twelve. He suggested that He would yet reveal things to them that would be harder for them to accept than what they had heard so far. He had told them that He had come down from heaven (John 6:38), and this had scandalized (Gr. skandalizei) them. What would they think if they saw Him ascend into heaven?
Jesus may have been referring to His bodily ascension, but perhaps He was speaking of His crucifixion (cf. John 3:14). This explanation is in harmony with Jesus’ metaphorical language that He had been using throughout the previous discourse. Jesus’ crucifixion was in a sense the first step in His ascending back to the Father since it permitted Him to do so. Certainly Jesus’ crucifixion was the most humanly offensive aspect of His entire ministry (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23 where the same Greek word occurs).
Some of Jesus’ disciples turned from Him because they preferred the material realm to the spiritual realm, for which Jesus had an obvious preference. He warned them that the Spirit gives real life (cf. Genesis 1:2; Ezekiel 37:14; John 3:6) whereas the flesh provides nothing of comparable importance. The words that Jesus had spoken to them dealt with spiritual realities and resulted in spiritual life. Furthermore they were words that came from God’s Spirit. Therefore they were extremely important.
In spite of the importance of spiritual life, Jesus said He recognized that some of His disciples did not believe on Him. This was a tragic irony. They had followed Jesus and had listened to Him, but they did not believe Him.
John added that Jesus knew who did not believe on Him, even who of His disciples would betray Him (John 6:70-71), to show that human unbelief did not take Jesus by surprise.
"Jesus had given ample opportunity for faith to all those who followed him; yet from the beginning his spiritual discernment made him aware of those whose faith was genuine and those whose attachment was only superficial." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 79.]
"The beginning" may be a reference to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, but it is probably another reference to Jesus’ preincarnate existence (cf. John 1:1).
Again Jesus expressed His belief that the human decision to believe or not believe rested ultimately in God’s elective purpose (John 6:37; John 6:44). Thus He did not view the unbelief of His disciples as an indication that He had failed. Notwithstanding, He did not present the importance of belief on Himself as something His hearers could take or leave either. It meant the difference between life and death to them, and He urged them to believe.
Jesus lost many of His followers because of the Bread of Life discourse (cf. John 6:60). His explanation to them following the discourse did not change their minds. He had made no concessions. They had understood Him correctly the first time. The Greek phrase ek toutou can mean "from this time" or "for this reason." Both meanings fit here.
In this passage we see four responses to Jesus: seeking (John 6:22-40), murmuring (John 6:41-51), striving (John 6:52-59), and departing (John 6:60-71). [Note: Wiersbe, p. 311.]
The response of the Twelve 6:66-71
Jesus’ question assumed a negative answer, as is clear from the Greek construction. He undoubtedly asked it not because He had questions about the Twelve’s perseverance (John 6:64) but because they needed to reaffirm their commitment. It would have been easy for them to agree with the crowd. The question also implied that very many of His disciples had abandoned Jesus, perhaps the majority.
Typically, Peter spoke for the Twelve. "Lord" (Gr. kurios) can mean simply "sir," but here it probably has a deeper meaning. These disciples were reaffirming their allegiance to the One whom Peter now identified as the Holy One of God (cf. Psalms 16:10; Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 47:4; Isaiah 48:17; Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). Peter probably did not mean that they viewed Jesus as their last resort but that Jesus was their only hope. They believed that Jesus’ teachings resulted in eternal life for those who believed (John 6:63), and they had believed in Him as the holy Messiah whom God had sent.
Peter’s confession of faith here is not the same as the one He made later at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20). The content is different as is the chronology. Probably Peter’s confession of Jesus’ full deity occurred first at Caesarea Philippi. Here he evidently meant that the Twelve believed that Jesus was who He had claimed to be in the preceding discourse, namely, the Messiah who had come with divine revelation from God. Peter referred to Jesus as the Holy One later in his preaching, but that was after receiving much more insight, particularly from Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 2:27; Acts 3:14).
It might appear that the Twelve had chosen Jesus as their rabbi, but really the choice had been His (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16). He had chosen them and they had then believed on Him even as the Father chose the elect who then believed on Jesus. Reflecting His knowledge of those who believed in Him and those who did not (John 6:64), Jesus revealed that even among the Twelve there was one unbeliever. Jesus had chosen him to be one of the Twelve, but God had not chosen Him for salvation.
The Greek word translated "devil" (Gr. diabolos) does not have an article with it in many reliable ancient Greek manuscripts. This usually indicates an emphasis on the quality of the noun. Here it probably means that one of the Twelve was devil-like (cf. Mark 8:33). The Greek word is the equivalent of the Hebrew satan, meaning adversary or accuser. It means slanderer or false accuser, but when it occurs as a substantive it means Satan (e.g., John 8:44; John 13:2; cf. John 13:27). Jesus probably meant that one of the Twelve was going to behave as Satan because Satan would direct him.
John, not Jesus, identified the devil among the Twelve as Judas. His devilish act was to be the betrayal of Jesus into His enemies’ hands. "Iscariot" is probably a transliteration of the Hebrew is qeriyot, meaning "man of Kerioth," a village in southern Judah (Joshua 15:25).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 6". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent