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JOHN CHAPTER 6
John 6:1-14 Christ feedeth five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes.
John 6:15-21 He withdraweth himself from the people, who would have made him a king, and walketh on the sea.
John 6:22-29 The multitude flocking to him, he reproveth their carnal views, and requireth their faith in him whom God hath sent.
John 6:30-59 They ask a sign like that of the manna in the wilderness; he declareth himself to be the bread of life from heaven, and that none can live but by eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
John 6:60-65 Many of his disciples taking offence thereat, he showeth his meaning to be spiritual.
John 6:66-71 Many leaving him, Peter in the name of the twelve professes stedfast faith in him: Jesus pronounces one of them to be a devil.
Some good time (some think near a year) after the passages in the former chapter Christ went over the lake of Galilee (for the Jews called all great collections of waters seas); it is also called the lake of Tiberias, and the lake of Gennesaret, Luke 5:1. These waters received their name from the whole province whose coast they washed, so they were called
the sea of Galilee; or the particular shore or cities they washed, so they are sometimes called
the sea of Tiberias, sometimes the lake of Gennesaret. It appeareth by Mark 6:31, that he went upon the apostles coming to give him an account of what they had done and taught.
Our Saviour (as appeareth by Mark 6:31) only spake to his apostles to withdraw into a desert place, and to rest a while; but, Mark 6:33, though our Saviour went by ship, yet the people ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. That which induced them was their knowledge of the miracles which he had wrought.
That is, the third passover after our Saviour had entered upon his public ministry; by which we may observe, that John omitted many things spoken and done by our Saviour in the year immediately following the second passover, for he giveth us no further account than what we have in the former chapter, and in this. The other evangelists give us a more full account of them. The place whither our Saviour went seemeth to have been toward the end of the lake, so as the people could go on foot, and turn at the point of the lake, and be there before the ship could cross the water.
This is apparently the same history which we have met with in all the former three evangelists. Matthew 14:15-21; Mark 6:35-44; Luke 9:10-17. See the differing circumstances considered in our annotations on those chapters. The other evangelists observe, that Christ had first been preaching to them, until it was near night; and then bring in the disciples first moving him (because they had eaten nothing) to send them away to provide themselves food. This evangelist begins with some words Christ should speak to Philip.
Now this he said to try what Philip would say, for he was himself resolved what to do.
This discourse between our Saviour and Philip is reported by none of the other evangelists, and probably was after that which they report of the other disciples’ motion to Christ to dismiss the people, because it was now towards evening. The number (as we shall find afterward) was five thousand, besides women and children; amongst whom five hundred pennyworth of bread was very little to be divided.
The story is the same, in all substantial parts, with the relations of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in the before mentioned places. See the annotations on those chapters.
When they had seen the miracle of Christ’s multiplying five loaves and two fishes, to the feeding of five thousand persons, besides women and children; a miracle of that nature, that never any such was wrought either by Moses or any prophet, and to the working of which a creating power was necessary; this brought them to a strong persuasion that this was the Messias; for he is signified by that phrase,
that prophet that should come into the world, as appeareth from Luke 7:19.
This motion of Christ into a mountain alone, after he had sent away the multitude, (thus miraculously fed), and after that his disciples had taken ship again, is mentioned by two other of the evangelists; by Matthew 14:23 by Mark 6:45,Mark 6:46. But this occasion of it is expressed by neither of them; who both say, that he went thither to pray? And indeed John (who rarely mentions any thing set down by the others) is judged to have recorded this history, as for the excellent discourse of our Saviour’s following this miracle; so for some particular circumstances in and about the miracle, not mentioned by the other evangelists; of which, as the discourse he had with Philip was one, so this about their going about to make him a king was another. The Jews were a people exceedingly jealous of and zealous for their liberties, the Galilaeans especially, amongst whom our Saviour was at that time; so as they never wanted any thing but a leader for a sedition or rebellion. The Scriptures mention two, Acts 5:36,Acts 5:37, under the conduct of one Theudas, and Judas of Galilee. Ecclesiastical history mentions more. Their error as to the Messias (whom they dreamed of as a temporal prince) gave them a colour for these insurrections, whenever they could get any to take upon him that pretence. These men seeing these great miracles wrought by Christ, particularly that of the loaves multiplied to feed five thousand, thought Christ had been such a Messias as they expected; not understanding that the kingdom of the true Messias was not to be of this world, John 18:36, but within men here, and more evident in the day of judgment, Matthew 25:34. But our Saviour, who never came into the world to disturb the civil order and government in it, constantly avoided the giving the least occasion for such a suspicion: when he therefore knew, either by his insight into the hearts of men, or by hearing their discourses, that they had such seditious thoughts, he withdrew himself into a mountain. How he withdrew himself, so as they did not follow him, no, not his disciples, is a matter which hath exercised the thoughts of many. The papists say, that he had a power, by virtue of the personal union of the Divine and human nature in his person, to make his body invisible, and so passed from them, not discerned by them. The Lutherans are not so confident in this, yet seem to incline it might be thus. Indeed both of them are concerned to maintain the possibility of such a thing; for without such a possibility, neither can the papists maintain their doctrine of transubstantiation, where they hold, that the bread in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper is turned into the very body of Christ, and the wine into his blood (though no such thing be obvious to our senses); nor the Lutherans their doctrine of consubstantiation, who hold, that the very body and blood of Christ is really present in, with, or under the elements, though the elements be not changed into it. But the Greek words are no more than ανεχωρησεν palin, which signify no more than that he again changed his place, which he might easily do through a multitude in a disorder, without their notice of him; and if his disciples did see him, it is not probable that they, knowing his aversion to any seditious practices, as also his custom to withdraw to places of privacy for devotion, would take any notice at all of him.
This piece of history is related much more fully by the other evangelists, Matthew 14:23-33 Mark 6:46-52. See Poole on "Matthew 14:23", and following verses to Matthew 14:33. See Poole on "Mark 6:46", and following verses to Mark 6:52.
By the sea is here meant the sea of Galilee, or lake of Tiberias, or of Gennesaret. There our Saviour and his disciples had left the multitude; the disciples having taken a boat, and passing over on the other side, and Christ having followed them, the multitude, probably having gone in the night to rest themselves at their several houses, came again in the morning, expecting to have found Christ, and have seen more miracles; being disappointed, understanding that both Christ and his disciples were gone over.
They also took shipping, made use of some other boats that were come over the water, and went over to seek Jesus; not out of any love to his person or doctrine, (as we shall anon hear), but out of a curiosity to see some further miracles wrought by him. Our Lord disappoints them, but preacheth a most admirable sermon to them.
They asked him, When camest thou hither? A curious and impertinent question, to which he doth not think fit to give an apposite answer, but at first letteth them know, that he knew their hearts, and what designs they had in following him; which was not to see the miraculous effects of the Divine power, the credentials of his commission from heaven, and to receive him as the true Messiah, and believe his doctrine; but they came upon so low an account as to be fed by him.
By the bread which perisheth, is not strictly to be understood bread, but whatsoever is necessary or accommodating to us in this life; all things of this nature are perishing, and perish with the using: nor is all labour as to them forbidden us; for we are to the contrary commanded, In the sweat of our face to eat our bread; and the apostle commandeth, that those that will not labour should not eat; and, Proverbs 31:27, the good woman is commended for not eating the bread of idleness: but excessive labour for these things is forbidden. So also is a first and greater labour for and seeking after them, than after
that meat which endureth to everlasting life; under which notion also unquestionably cometh whatsoever is necessary by God’s revealed will, that we may have in us the hopes of glory here, and may enter into the actual possession of that glory hereafter. Such as are, first, the knowledge of the gospel; then the believing of it, and the acceptance of that Saviour, and way of salvation, which God hath revealed in it for lost sinners; and that holiness of life which God hath made necessary to it. All which (saith he) I, who am the Son of man, (a name he ordinarily giveth to himself), will give unto you freely. Not that you are to do nothing; no, labour for it; though it be a gift, yet it is a gift upon labour, for all your labour will not procure it; there will be a great deal of free grace seen when you have given all diligence. And Christ must give it; for the Father, in whose hand this life is, hath (as men by their seals use to confirm the commissions they give out to any persons to do any thing for them, and in their name) confirmed Christ as his commissioner, to give out this eternal life to whomsoever he pleaseth.
They easily understood that our Saviour did not speak of any worldly food, by his opposing the labour he mentions, and persuadeth for, to a labour for the world; but still they did not understand what labour he spake of, but dreamed of the works of the law; knowing of no other work which God commanded, but which was prescribed in the law; and they (probably) being some, or many of them, strict observers, especially of the law contained in ordinances, and probably many of them of the moral law also, according to the sense of it given by their teachers; in which sense the young man, Matthew 19:20, being bid by our Saviour to keep the law, and naming most of the precepts of the second table, told him, All these things have I kept from my youth: what lack I yet? They wondered what works our Saviour meant; what labour, when he said, Labour for that bread, or that meat which endureth to everlasting life; thinking that those who kept the law (in the sense before expressed) had no more to do.
Our Lord calleth them to a work they never thought of, the owning and acknowledgment of him to be the true Messiah; the embracing and receiving him as such, and trusting him with all the concerns of their souls; which was necessary, notwithstanding all their acts of obedience to the law, though most certainly productive also of that obedience, and inseparable from it. This our Saviour calleth
the work of God, in answer to what they had said about working the works of God. Yet this will not prove that we are justified by works, because we are justified by faith; for here is no discourse concerning the causation of faith in the justification of a soul, but only concerning what is the will of God, as to all those that shall be saved.
They thought it reasonable, that he who brought forth a new doctrine into the world (such as faith in him was, they having never heard any such thing from their doctors the Pharisees) should confirm his mission by some miraculous operation. But this was a strange stupidity, considering the sign he had so lately showed them, of feeding five thousand with five loaves and two fishes. So it was manifest they sought for a sign, not to promote or confirm their faith, but merely to feed their curiosity; and what our Saviour said, Matthew 12:39, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, was truly applicable to them; and those words,
believe thee, eminently confirm it; for the aforesaid miracle speaking in him a creative power, and being such as was never wrought by any creature, they were obliged to believe him, without any further sign. God ought to be believed upon his bare word.
Here they magnify Moses; he did not bring them a law only, but confirmed it by signs from heaven to be the will of God, by obtaining for them bread to be mined from heaven to satisfy their hunger, Exodus 16:15; Numbers 11:7; which is also confirmed by the psalmist, Psalms 78:25. This Moses did for the whole congregation of Israel forty years together. From hence they would seem to conclude, that they had more ground to believe Moses than Christ, who, though he had indeed lately fed five thousand with five loaves, yet had done no such thing. Not considering that Moses, in what he did, was but an instrument to obtain of God by prayer such a miracle, for supporting his people in the wilderness; and that what he had done, was done by a creating power inherent in himself, by which he multiplied that little proportion of bread which they had, to make it sufficient to feed such a quantity as five thousand, besides women and children; to which effect it bare no proportion.
You are mistaken in your opinion of that manna, which indeed was bread from heaven, spiritual meat, ( as the apostle calleth it, 1 Corinthians 10:3), but it was not given you by any power or virtue in or from Moses. Moses said otherwise; when it was first rained down, he told them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat, Exodus 16:15. It was the Lord, not Moses, that gave you that bread. Nor was that true spiritual bread; it was only spiritual (as the apostle calleth it) because it was typical, and prefigurative of me.
My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven; it was he that gave your fathers manna, not Moses; and it is he who giveth you me, who am the true bread of which that bread was but typical, a shadow, and a figure.
Moses gave you spiritual, heavenly bread; but that was only spiritual as it was typical and prefigured me; heavenly, as it came from the lower heavens, was mined down from thence, not made upon the earth by the art of man; and was therefore called the bread of angels; but I am the true bread of God, signified by that type, who came not down from the lower, but from the highest heavens; and who do not only maintain and uphold life in men, (as that did), but give life to men; and that not a mere natural life, but a spiritual and eternal life; and that not to the Jews only, for whose use alone manna was, but to the world.
Most interpreters agree that they spake this seriously, that is, that they were willing enough to have such bread (if any such were to be had); but yet not conceiving aright the nature and excellency of the bread our Saviour mentioned; and this occasioned his clear explication of it in the following verse.
I am the bread of life; the bread that giveth spiritual and eternal life, and the bread that upholdeth and maintains spiritual life; the Messiah, whom God hath sent into the world, to quicken those that are dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1; and to give eternal life to as many as the Father hath given me. But those that have this life, must come unto me; which he interprets in the next phrase by believing in him. Thus he taketh them off all gross and carnal conceptions of eating and drinking in a carnal manner; and minds them to think of getting and maintaining another kind of life than they dreamed of. By believing in him, we have formerly showed is to be understood a receiving of him as the Mediator and Saviour of men, and closing with him, and committing their souls in all their spiritual concerns unto him; and he that doth so (saith he) shall never hunger nor thirst; that is, shall never want any thing necessary for him for life and eternal happiness. And for things of this life, he shall have food convenient for him; he shall be fed, Psalms 37:3. See such a promise, Isaiah 49:10.
You have seen me in the flesh, you have heard my doctrine, you have seen the miracles which I have wrought, confirming that doctrine, and me to be the true Messias; for I have done amongst you those works which never any man did: but you are of the generation of those of whom it was prophesied: That in seeing you should not see, nor yet perceive; for though you have seen me with your bodily eyes, and could not but conclude by what works I have done that I am the true Messiah; yet you do not own and acknowledge me as such, nor will by faith close with me, and come unto me for life and happiness.
Here ariseth a great question amongst interpreters of various persuasions, what giving of the Father is here meant; whether an eternal designation of persons to eternal life, in order to the obtaining of which the persons so predestinated are given to Christ, as he who was to be the Messiah, Saviour, and Redeemer of the world; or the infusing the habits of special, saving grace, by which persons are enabled actually to believe. If the former, the words do not only infer an infallible connexion betwixt faith and eternal life and salvation; but also betwixt the decree of election and the collation of special grace, by which men are enabled to believe, and, believing, are saved. That which seemeth to favour the latter opinion is, that the verb is in the present tense; it is not, all that the Father hath given, but
all that the Father giveth; which would incline us to think, that though in other texts the Father’s giving of souls to Christ may signify his eternal election, yet in this text it rather signifieth the donation or giving the habits of special grace. But there are very learned and pious interpreters of another mind, who think by the Father’s giving, is meant the Father’s choosing souls in him, Ephesians 1:4. Certain it is, that there are some chosen to life, and the certain means by which that life is to be obtained, Ephesians 1:4,Ephesians 1:5. And as certain it is, that persons so chosen in him, shall neither miss of that life, nor yet of that effectual means by which it shall be obtained. Whether that eternal election, or donation, be here intended or no, is not so momentous to determine. For the Jesuits’ argument, that if we understand it of such an eternal gift, our Saviour rather excuses than accuseth them for their unbelief, by telling them they could not believe, because they were not given unto him; it holdeth as strong against special grace as against particular election; so as if that were true, it could be interpreted in neither of those senses: but by their leaves it doth not at all excuse them, unless they did what in them lay to come to Christ: but this question belongs rather to polemical writers than interpreters. Certain it is, that it is such a giving here mentioned, as shall be followed by a coming to Christ; that is, believing in him, and by a true faith receiving of him.
And those that do so, our Lord saith, he
will in no wise cast out. Out of heaven, say some; others understand it of perseverance; but certainly the phrase denotes no more than the freeness and readiness of Christ to receive every one who truly believeth in him, and to preserve him to eternal life and salvation. Who they are that are given to Christ, and that will or shall believe in him, is a secret that is known unto God alone: but this may be known to all, that Christ will not throw off any soul that is willing to receive him as its Saviour, and that no such soul shall perish for ever.
Our Lord confirmeth what he had before said concerning his gracious reception of believers, and preserving them by his grace in their state of grace, so that they shall not be cast out with reprobates in the day of judgment, from this, that he came not to execute any particular will of his own, but what was also the will of his Father, who sent him into the world.
For this he revealeth to be his Father’s will, that of all his Father had given him, he should lose none; where by the Father’s giving must be meant, either his eternal act (having chosen some to eternal life) in giving them to his Son, for the work of their redemption; or, which is but the effect and product of that, the working, preserving, and upholding in them those habits and exercises of grace, by which that eternal life is to be obtained. Our Lord declareth it to be the will of his Father, that he should not suffer any of these to miscarry; but though their bodies die and turn into dust, yet Christ at the last day should come to raise the dead, and, in particular, raise them up: not that they only shall rise, (for how then shall all appear before the judgment seat of God, to receive according to what they have done in the flesh?) but they are those alone who shall receive any benefit by the resurrection; and therefore they are called the children of the resurrection; and the resurrection is sometimes spoken of in Scripture as if it were to be peculiar to them, Philippians 3:2. By this the certainty of the resurrection is established; it being asserted as the effect of the will of God, which none hath resisted at any time.
Our Lord having asserted the will of God, as to the final issue and happiness of believers, goes on to assert the means by which, in this life using, they must obtain this life: those are, seeing the Son, and believing in him; seeing him, not with the eyes of their bodies, or seeing his miraculous operations, both which these Capernaites did, and yet did not believe, (as he told them, John 6:36), but a seeing them with the eye of their minds, discerning him as the Messiah, and Saviour of the world; so seeing him, as to believe on him. As to these, he confirmeth it again to be the will of his Father, that they should live eternally, and that they should be raised again at the last day; and that by him, whom God had enabled to be the Judge both of the quick and the dead, Acts 10:42, which agreeth with what he had before said, John 5:28.
The Jews were exceedingly prone to this sin of murmuring, which is a complaining either through indignation, or impatience of what men hear spoken, or see done: the thing which offended, seemeth not to be his calling himself the true bread, and the bread of life; but because he said, that he came down from heaven.
For Capernaum, where our Saviour now was, was not far from Nazareth, where he had been educated, and lived near thirty years with Joseph his reputed father. Understanding therefore nothing of our Saviour’s miraculous conception by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the virgin, they were much offended at his discourse of his coming down from heaven.
By this our Saviour gives them another proof of his Divine nature, viz. in his knowing of their hearts and thoughts; for though they were inwardly angry, and in a rage, yet we read not of any words spoken by them; but our Saviour needed not their words to tell him what was in the secret of their hearts. Our Saviour bids them not murmur at this, for he had much more than this to tell them, as followeth.
That by drawing here is not to be understood any coaction, or force upon the will, is a thing on all hands out of question; but whether by it be only to be understood a rational drawing by arguments, (used in the ministry of the gospel), or a further powerful influence upon the soul, inclining it to be willing and obedient, that is the question. The patrons of a power in man’s will to do what is spiritually good and necessary in order to eternal life and salvation, understand it of the former only (of which the compelling, mentioned Luke 14:23, is to be understood, for the ministers of the gospel have no other power to compel); but in regard the drawing here mentioned is the act not of the servants, but of the Master; not of the ministers, but of the Father; it is more reasonably concluded that it here signifies a Divine power put forth upon the soul of man, by which it is made obedient to the heavenly call, and willing to close with the offer of Christ in the gospel; for though no such thing can necessarily be concluded from the word draw, yet it is easily concluded from the nature of the motion, in coming to Christ, which is the soul’s motion to a sublime, spiritual object, to which no soul hath any power of itself; such is the darkness of the human mind, the obstinacy of the will, the depravation of the affections, unless it be illuminated and drawn by the Spirit of God. No soul is able of itself to discern spiritual things, so as to see that goodness and excellency that is in them, much less to move towards the participation of them.
It is written in the prophets; either in Isaiah 54:13, or in the book of the prophets; for though the words be to be found only in Isaiah, yet words of the same import are also to be found in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, and Micah. All they whom the Lord hath chosen shall be taught of God.
Therefore (saith he) said I to you,
Every man that hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me. Our Saviour proveth the doctrine which he had delivered to them, from the prophets, not because their authority was greater than his, or in any degree equal with his; but because the prophets and their writings were in greater authority and reputation with them.
None must dream that the Father should visibly appear in the world to teach men; for the essence of God is invisible, none hath seen it at any time, saving he alone who is the only begotten Son of the Father; he hath seen the essence of the Father, he knoweth his will, and most secret counsels.
See Poole on "John 3:18". See Poole on "John 3:36". See Poole on "John 6:35".
Your fathers by nature, or in respect of unbelief, did eat manna in the wilderness, and they are naturally dead; (manna would not always preserve their natural life); and those of them who were unbelievers, are also dead eternally; their eating of manna, which was a type of me, without believing in me, would not save them.
But I am that bread of life, who came out of the highest heavens, from the bosom of my Father; that bread, which if a man eateth thereof, he shall never die eternally. Eating Christ in this text signifieth no more than believing in him, so often before mentioned under the notion of coming to him, believing in him, &c. And believing is fitly expressed by this notion of eating; because as eating is the application of meat to our stomachs, for the sustenance of our bodily life; so believing is the application of Christ to the soul, for the beginning and increase of spiritual life, and at last obtaining life eternal.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven: See Poole on "John 6:33". See Poole on "John 6:35". Our Saviour’s so often inculcating this, and what follows, lets us see both how necessary this is to be known, and also how difficult the work of believing is.
he shall live for ever, expound those that went before in the John 6:50, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. His saying that the bread which he giveth is his flesh, expounds what he said before, viz. how he is the bread of life, viz. by giving his flesh, that is, his life, for the life of the world, that many might be saved; hereby showing us, that the object of our faith is a Christ crucified, 1 Corinthians 2:2.
They will still understand spiritual things in a carnal sense; yet it is hard to conceive how they could imagine that Christ spake of giving them his flesh to eat, as men eat the flesh of oxen or sheep; but which way soever they did understand it indeed, their captious temper inclined them to conceal any other sense they had of it, and to represent what our Saviour said as exceedingly absurd.
The short and true sense of these words is, that without a true believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, as he who died for our sins, no man hath any thing in him of true spiritual life, nor shall ever come to eternal life. Here are two questions arise from this verse and what follows.
1. Whether the flesh of Christ, that is, his human nature, giveth life, or all our life floweth from the Divine nature? That is a question between the Lutherans and the Calvinists; the former affirming, that there is a quickening virtue in the human nature of Christ by virtue of its personal union with the Divine nature. It is a curious question, serving to up great edification; those who have a mind to be satisfied in it, and to read what is said on either side, may read Tarnovius on this text, and Zanchy, in his book Deu Incarnatione, p. 540.
2. The other is a question between the papists and us, Whether this and the following verses spake any thing about the eating of the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ in the sacrament. All protestants deny it, both Lutherans and Calvinists. The papists most absurdly affirm it, to maintain their most absurd doctrine of transubstantiation.
The vanity of their assertion, as to this text, appears:
1. Because it was a year and upwards after this before the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was instituted; and it is very absurd to think that our Saviour should speak of an institution not in being, his doctrine about it being what it was impossible people should understand. Nor:
2. Is the proposition true, of sacramental eating; for many may have never sacramentally eaten the flesh and drank the blood of Christ, and yet be spiritually alive, and be saved eternally. Besides that mere sacramental eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ will not give life; but the eating here spoken of giveth life, eternal life, John 6:56,John 6:58.
3. Besides, it is plain from John 6:29, that the eating here spoken of is believing; but it is plain, that eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ in the sacrament is not believing. By all which, it is apparent, that our Saviour saith nothing in this text of a sacramental eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ.
Hath eternal life; he hath it in a sure and just right title, and he shall have it in a certain actual possession: and in order to it, he shall have a joyful resurrection unto it at the last day. This is no more than what our Saviour had often said, particularly John 3:18,John 3:36, admitting what was before said, that by eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, is to be meant believing in him; only here is a clearer discovery than was there, of the true object of that faith which justifieth, viz. a Christ crucified, for that is signified by the flesh and blood mentioned.
I, as a Christ crucified, not merely considered as to my Divine nature, but as to both natures united in one person, and particularly with respect to my death and suffering, am indeed the food of souls; not a typical food, as manna was, but a true and real food, which nourisheth them to eternal life, and the most excellent food for them. In which sense Christ is called the true light, John 1:9, and the true vine, John 15:1.
He that acknowledgeth and receiveth me, though he seeth me as a man, consisting of flesh and blood, and that particularly applies himself to me as dying for the sins of the world, and committeth his soul in all its concerns for life and salvation to me, is united to me, and I to him: he is united to me by faith and love, Ephesians 3:17; 1 John 3:23,1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:16; and I am united to him by a mutual love, John 14:23, and by my Holy Spirit. As our bread and meat, which we are nourished by, doth not dwell in us, and nourish, unless we eat it; so neither doth Christ do good to any soul, unless such a soul as by faith receiveth him, and believeth in him. What is said in this verse maketh it evident that these verses cannot be understood of any sacramental eating, for it is not true that Christ dwelleth in every soul, or that every soul dwelleth and abideth in Christ, who doth sacramentally eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ. All unions are either natural or political unions. The strictest natural union is that of the head and members, the vine and the branches. The strictest political union is that of the husband and wife, Genesis 2:24. The union betwixt Christ and a believing soul is set out by all these, John 15:1; Ephesians 5:30,Ephesians 5:31; Colossians 1:18. For the nature of this union, see divines who have wrote on this argument.
God is often in holy writ called the living God, not only because he hath life in himself, but because he is the fountain of life to all his creatures. Christ here declareth his Father to be the living Father upon the latter account, as he is the author and fountain of all life.
And I live by the Father, saith he. Some translate it for the Father; as indeed the preposition δια, joined with an accusative case, (as it is here), doth most ordinarily signify; but not always, either in profane authors, or in the dialect of Scripture, as Mark 2:4; Mark 12:24; John 4:41,John 4:42. It seemeth here (as in those texts) to denote not so much the final as the efficient cause; and so better translated by, than for the Father: for Christ in this text seems to be giving his hearers an account how he came to be living bread; and to be in a capacity of giving life to the world. Saith he, I live by the Father, who by an eternal generation hath communicated to me all that life which is in him; and hath also communicated to me a quickening power, as I am Mediator, and sent by the Father into the world, to give life unto the world. Now look, as I have life in myself from him who is the fountain of life, so, according to the Father’s ordination, he that eateth me, that is, by a true faith receives and closes with me, as Mediator, he shall live by me both spiritually and eternally.
There is no more said in this verse than John 6:49-51; See Poole on "John 6:49", and following verses to John 6:51. From this whole discourse it is as evident as the light, that the justification of the soul depends upon believing; and the spiritual life of the soul floweth not from love or obedience to the works of the law, but from faith in Jesus Christ: though it be true, that true faith cannot be without works, and no man without obedience in sincerity (though not in perfection) to the will of God, shall ever obtain eternal life and salvation; but this obedience is not faith, nor doth it enter into the justification of the soul, but is the certain and necessary product of that faith which justifieth, which cannot be justified as true and saving without obedience. In all this discourse here is no mention of love, or obedience, as that to which the promises of life everlasting and a joyful resurrection are so often made; but only of eating Christ; eating his flesh and drinking his blood; eating him as the bread which came down from heaven, &c.; which are phrases no way expressive of obedience to the works of the law, but of believing, John 6:47-49. The other texts of Scripture make it plain enough, that there can be no believing without obeying, nor any eternal life and salvation obtained without both.
Though the state of the Jewish church at this time was corrupt enough, both as to matters of doctrine, worship, and discipline; yet it being constituted by his Father, he did not decline their assemblies either in the temple at Jerusalem, or in the places of the public worship, which were called synagogues, and were both in their cities and villages; for he had a liberty to teach in them, as appeareth both from this and many other texts; which he accordingly used, and usually spent the sabbath, or a great part of it, in those places and assemblies: yet by his presence he no way owned or declared his approbation of their corruptions, but frequently and freely reproved them; only because of those superstitious impertinencies (there being at this time no idolatry practised amongst them) he would not disown what was of God his Father among them. The same practice we shall observe amongst the apostles, till the Jews declared themselves hardened, drove them out from their synagogues, and spake evil of the way of the gospel before the multitude, Acts 19:9. Then indeed, and not before, Paul separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. This also is further to be observed in the practice of our Saviour, that although he went to the temple and the synagogues, and there joined with the Jewish worship instituted by his Father, and reproved (as he had occasion) the corruptions they had introduced and superadded; yet he did not forbear himself teaching the gospel in other places besides the temple and the synagogues. The evangelist also notes, that the synagogue where he taught these things was in Capernaum, a city of Galilee, which in this was exalted to heaven, that it had not only the gospel preached in it, but by Christ himself; but for the contempt of the gospel is since brought down to hell, as much debased as it was before exalted, being long since reduced to a poor inconsiderable place, and at this day under the tyranny of the Mahometan prince.
His disciples; his followers, not those that were his disciples indeed, but in name; for many followed him that did not believe in him; and many (in a sense) believed, to whom he did not commit himself, John 2:23,John 2:24. Now, many of these disciples, having heard these sayings, and being no way able to comprehend so great mysteries, nor having their eyes opened by the Spirit of illumination, said within themselves, These are sayings hard, or impossible, to be understood; who is able to hear or to understand them? or who is able to bear them?
Christ, though clothed with our flesh, yet being also the eternal Son of God, knew by virtue of his Divine nature, personally united to the human nature, what was in the heart of man; hence is this phrase,
knew in himself; which is opposed to a knowledge from the hearing of his own ears, as man heareth, whether more immediately from the sound of their words, (for we read of nothing they spake audibly), or from the relation of others, as what they had heard: he knew in himself their thoughts by his Divine prerogative and property of searching the hearts, and trying the reins, and discerning the thoughts of men afar off. Knowing their thoughts, he saith, Doth this give you occasion of stumbling?
Our Saviour by these words may seem rather to increase than to abate their offence. That which stumbled them was, his calling himself the bread of life; his affirming that he came down from heaven; that he gave life to the world; that the way to obtain this life was eating his flesh and drinking his blood. How doth what he now tells them any way tend to satisfy them? He now speaks of ascending up to heaven, and asserts that he was there before.
Answer. The former assertions were no way to be justified but upon this foundation, that though he appeared now in the form and shape of a man, and was indeed the Son of man, yet he was also God, the eternal Son of God: he therefore here plainly asserts, that he was in heaven before he appeared as the Son of man upon the earth; and descending from thence, did assume the form of a servant; and for a further proof of this, he refers them to what they were to see or hear (to know) within some few months after this discourse, (for this was after his third passover, which was to be the last year of his life), viz. that he should ascend up to heaven; which it is very probable that some of them did see with their bodily eyes; for he was in Galilee when he ascended, and Capernaum was a city of that province; and when he ascended, the men of Galilee stood gazing up to heaven after him, as appears from Acts 1:11, and had a revelation, that they should see him so come again, and descend from heaven, as they had seen him go up.
As it is not the bread or flesh that a man eateth for the sustenance of his animal or natural life, that doth the main work, but the soul of a man within him, which putteth forth its virtues and powers in causing the digestion, concoction, and alteration of it, without which it nourisheth not the body; so the flesh of Christ eaten carnally can be of no profit for the nourishment of the soul: nor can the flesh of Christ considered alone, or by any virtue in it, profit; it only profiteth by virtue of the Divine nature, which being personally united to the human nature, addeth all the virtue and merit to the sufferings and actions of the human nature; so as the human nature of Christ hath all its quickening virtue from the Divine nature. It is not therefore the carnal eating of my flesh that I intended, that is a very gross conception of yours; nor can any such thing as that do you good: but the words that I speak to you, they are spiritual, and such by the belief of which you may obtain a spiritual and eternal life; for by believing those words, and obeying them, you shall come to believe in me, which is that eating my flesh and drinking my blood which I intended, not any corporeal or carnal eating.
I may say what I will to you; the Spirit quickeneth, but it doth not quicken all; it only quickeneth whomsoever it pleaseth. You understand not these things, but have most gross conceptions of sublime spiritual things; the reason is, because you believe not: though some of them, questionless, did truly believe, yet the most did not; for we read, John 6:66, that many of them went back, and walked no more with him. And though faith be an inward, secret act of the soul, yet Christ knew, and from the beginning, who were believers, and who were not; nay, he had a particular knowledge of that disciple who was to betray him.
He said this in John 6:44, See Poole on "John 6:44".
His disciples at large, so called because they followed him, partly to hear what he would say, partly to see his miracles, followed him no more. Many professors and seeming disciples of Christ may draw back and fall from their profession, though none that truly receive Christ shall fall away, but be by the power of God preserved through faith unto salvation.
It is probable that some stayed besides the twelve, for it is said only that many of his disciples turned back. Nor was our Saviour (who knew the hearts of all) ignorant what they would do; but he had a mind both to try them by this question, and also to convince them that there was a false brother amongst them, whose wickedness (though it lay hid from them) would in a short time discover itself.
Peter, who is observed in the whole history of the gospel to have discovered the hottest and quickest spirit, and to have been first in answering questions propounded to the twelve, as Matthew 16:16, &c., replies,
Lord, to whom shall we go? &c., thereby teaching us under temptations to apostasy, first, to consider what we shall get by it, as the following words teach us, that an abiding with Christ in a steady adherence to the truths of his gospel, is the best choice that we can make.
We believe (saith Peter) and are sure, both from what we have heard from time, and from the miracles which we have seen wrought by thee,
that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. The very words by which St. Matthew (Matthew 16:16) expresses that noble confession of his, which our Saviour calleth the rock, upon which he would build his church. But notwithstanding this acknowledgment, which speaks the seeds of this faith now sown in the heart of Peter, and the hearts of the rest; yet whoso considereth the passages of the other evangelists after this, will see reason to believe, that their persuasion as to this was but faint, till Christ by his resurrection declared himself the Son of God with power.
Chosen, not to eternal life, but to the great office of an apostle. I chose but twelve amongst you, Matthew 10:1-4, and of those twelve one is διαβολος, an accuser, or informer; a name by which the devil (who is the grand accuser of the brethren) is ordinarily expressed in holy writ.
This he spake of Judas Iscariot, ( so called, as most think, from the name of the city where he lived), and to distinguish him from the other Judas, the brother of James, who wrote the Epistle that goeth by his name, and is a part of holy writ: for he
being one of the twelve, chosen and sent out with the rest to preach the gospel, and empowered by miraculous operations to confirm the truth of it; yet it was he that was to betray Christ, as we largely read in all the evangelists’ relation of the passion: to teach us, that no office to which God calleth us, no gifts (except those of special grace) with which God blesseth any man, can secure him of an eternal happy state; nothing can do that but a true saving faith in Jesus Christ, with the obedience of a holy life becoming the gospel of Christ.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on John 6". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany