The Feeding of the 5000, Discourse on The Bread of Life And On His Coming Death And Offering Of Himself To Us.
John’s descriptions of the first and second Signs at Cana had included within them the section John 2:12 to John 4:45 which was an exposition of the initial sign at Cana, the significance being that the old ritual and the old holy things were being replaced by the new living and vital reality. It was necessary for the Temple to be reformed, and indeed it was in the process of being replaced by Jesus. Men had to seek new life in the Spirit rather than looking to the old ritual. For those in the desert of life living water was available, but it meant turning away from the old ideas to the living God through the Spirit. And so on. The third Sign was the healing of the Disabled Man who had been disabled for thirty eight years, something which introduced the discourse on Jesus’ unique position in relation to the Father and God’s manifold witness about Him. It indicated that His people’s long-time disablement, their thirty eight years ‘wandering in the wilderness’, could now find healing in the One Who had come, for He had come to give them eternal life. Men could again walk with God as man had in the beginning. We now come to the fourth Sign through which Jesus is represented as the bread of life who can feed the hearts and deepest needs of man. Once again there is the thought that the old ‘bread’, the manna given in the wilderness, is being replaced by the new ‘bread’, Jesus as the bread of life.
Note that suddenly, without any preparation, we find ourselves in the midst of a powerful Galilean ministry. In the previous chapter Jesus was present at a feast in Jerusalem. Here in chapter 6 it is assumed that He was in Galilee and He leaves one part of Galilee for another. So whilst adhering closely to the facts in the detailed narrative, the author is not pretending to present a chronological ‘life of Jesus’. He is rather giving us different cameos about Jesus in order to bring out the truth about Him, and what He had come to do.
‘After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.’
‘After these things’ is a vague introductory phrase. The sea of Galilee was on the River Jordan well to the north of the Dead Sea. In the Old Testament it was called the Sea of Chinnereth (e.g. Numbers 34:11) or Chinneroth (e.g. Joshua 12:3). The city of Tiberias was built on its Western shore so that it was also known as the Sea of Tiberias. The River Jordan, coming from its sources in the Mount Hermon area, flowed through it maintaining its freshness so that it was abundantly supplied with fish. It was 211 metres (700 feet) below sea level in the Jordan rift valley, and was surrounded by hills, and was thus subject to violent storms as the winds tore through the ravines. The Jordan and the Jordan Rift Valley were below sea level having no outlet to the sea, and the Jordan flowed into the Dead Sea, whose waters were then dispersed by evaporation in the hot climate, leaving behind a heavy salt content.
On the shores of the Sea of Galilee were towns like Capernaum and Bethsaida (the house of fishing) and there was almost continual settlement along its shores. It is probable that there were two Bethsaidas, as the name ‘Bethsaida of Galilee’ (John 12:21) suggests a distinguishing identification from another of the same name. The other would be Bethsaida Julias, rebuilt by Philip the tetrarch on the Eastern shore, and named after Julia, the daughter of Augustus. This crossing was probably over the north east corner of the sea from Capernaum to Bethsaida Julias.
The Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6:1-15).
Up to the end of chapter 4 information given in John’s Gospel apparently precedes the Galilean ministry of Jesus. However, from that point on the connections are more vague. Chapter 5 begins with ‘some time later’ and chapter 6 with ‘some time after this’.
It is clear, therefore, that John is presenting his material in a loosely connected form and skirting around much of the information given in the tradition. Whether John 5, which took place in Jerusalem, took place before the commencement of the Galilean ministry, as a final attempt to win the leaders over before Jesus moved into His Galilean ministry, we do not know, but certainly in John 6 we find ourselves plum in the middle of the Galilean ministry without any indication of how Jesus came to be in Galilee.
For at the end of chapter 5 Jesus appears still to be in Jerusalem, while in John 6:1 He is portrayed as crossing the sea of Galilee in the North, sailing from the well populated west side to its more deserted northern end. This confirms that John is giving a deliberately selective version of Jesus’ ministry, and this is because his main interest is to stress the message that he wishes to get across, namely the uniqueness and purpose of Jesus, based on his own knowledge of events in the ministry of Jesus which have not previously been recorded. He thus presents us with totally new material as far as a comparison with the Synoptics is concerned, and while fully aware of the Galilean ministry, he mainly ignores it, only introducing it because a number of the ‘signs’ were performed there (turning water into wine, the high official’s son, and now the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on water). He is rather selecting his materials with a view to presenting dissertations of Jesus, which are usually connected with specific incidents which are illustrative of His words, many of which took place outside Galilee, but some of which occurred in Galilee. It is these which convey his message, and in the process he only connects them loosely.
John 6 is possibly one of the most misrepresented passages in the New Testament. It is often interpreted as being somehow an exposition of the Lord’s Supper before the event. This is, however, to misunderstand its main intent, for while it is true that the Lord’s Supper does wonderfully illustrate the truths proclaimed, and was almost certainly in John’s mind, its teaching had more in mind Jesus’ suffering and death. The incident that leads up to the exposition that follows is the feeding of the five thousand, an incident which is described in all four Gospels.
‘And a huge crowd were following him because they were seeing the signs which he was performing on those who were sick.’
This very description demonstrates that He had already performed many miracles of healing in Galilee which are not mentioned by John elsewhere, and that there must have been some considerable ministry (unmentioned in John) in order to build up His popularity. It assumes a wide Galilean ministry without mentioning it.
As he regularly does, John brings out that the crowds were following Jesus for the wrong reason. They were sign seekers, not believers. The more they saw the more they wanted. They were looking for a great spectacle. This is preparatory to what follows (their final response in John 6:15). Nevertheless their belief was strong enough to bring them to this lonely place away from civilisation.
‘And Jesus went up into the hill, and there he sat with his disciples.’
In order to have time away from the sign-seekers Jesus took His disciples up into a hill. It is clear that He had been engaged in an extensive preaching ministry and now felt that they all needed a rest. So they retired and had fellowship together. But it was only for a time and then He made Himself available again.
There may here be a hint here of how Moses went into Mount Sinai with the elders of Israel to gather before God (Exodus 24:9-11). Now the new Moses was here with the new leaders of the people of God.
‘Now the Passover, the Feast of the Jews, was at hand.’
This mention of the Passover connects with the line Jesus would take later (John 6:52-58), and was probably deliberately inserted here by John in order to connect Jesus’ present actions and teaching with the sacrifice of the Passover. He sees Jesus as the Passover lamb (compare John 1:29), Who is offering His life for our deliverance, a sacrifice of which we, and the crowd, are called upon to partake. We find later that this was very much in Jesus’ mind too, and should be borne in mind in interpreting the chapter. John constantly stresses the Passover. But this Passover was evidently not so close in time that Jesus felt it necessary to commence the journey to Jerusalem. That the incident was prior to the Passover is confirmed by the mention of ‘green grass’ (John 6:10 with Mark 6:39).
‘Jesus therefore, lifting up his eyes, and seeing that a huge crowd is coming to him, says to Philip, “How are we to buy bread that these may eat?” ’
The ‘coming’ must be seen as over a period of time. He had been with the crowds earlier (John 6:2), and now many of them were still following Him. But these were the more steadfast who had followed Him round the lake.
‘Lifting up his eyes.’ We can compare a similar expression in John 4:35 ‘Lift up your eyes and look --’. Here Jesus lifts up His eyes and looks. Was He seeing further fields white for harvest s he looked at this crowd? We can hardly doubt it.
It would appear that He has now come down from the hills (John 6:3) as John 6:15 says ‘He withdrew again into the hills’. John is not trying to give a full account, but to present only the essential elements. The other Gospels tell us that He now spent some time with the crowds, teaching them throughout the day with the numbers still continuing to grow.
‘Says to Philip, “How are we to buy bread that these may eat?” ‘How’ could mean either ‘with what resources’ or ‘from what place’. Reading the different accounts it is clear that different disciples expressed their concern at the growing problem in different ways, but all had one concern, how were the crowds to get food? They were beginning to appreciate their responsibility for others. No account gives us the full story, for each draws attention to different aspects of the situation. John selects a comment Jesus made to Philip. ‘How are we to buy bread that these people may eat?’.
‘And this he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.’
Jesus’ question to Philip was a test. He had been listening to what the disciples had been saying and thus sought to test Philip to see what he would say. This is a quite reasonable assumption. Jesus clearly had a purpose in what He was about to do, for it illustrates the purpose of His coming and reinforces His claim to have come from God. It is not really probable that He would do such a thing on the spur of the moment.
‘Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii of bread is not sufficient for them that every one may take a little”.’
Philip’s reply is to point out that it will cost a considerable sum to feed them (200 denarii - a denarius was a day’s pay. NIV translates ‘eight month’s wages’ for an individual). This brings out the size of the crowd. The emphasis is being laid on the fact that without God there could be no solution to the problem.
‘One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, says to him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fishes, but what are they among so many.”
This verse brings out that there were a number of the Apostles involved in the conversation, all no doubt bringing up the same problem. It was very hot. It was a deserted place. And the few villages around would simply not be able to provide sufficient food. Some of the crowd had probably already become concerned.
‘Five barley loaves, and two fishes.’ Possibly the lad had approached intending to offer them to Jesus as an indication of his love for Him, and Andrew’s remark, as he brought them up, connects with discussions taking place among the disciples. It may even be a remark of wry hopelessness - ‘look, this is all we have got’. But with this small repast, (the ‘loaves’ would be small rolls), Jesus could feed a great crowd. It is a parallel miracle with turning the water into wine, the act of the Creator towards His creation. Ample was provided and ample was left over, and the people were filled and satisfied.
‘Five barley loaves.’ This was the food of the poor. Only John brings out that they were barley loaves. He remembers the scene vividly. It is a comment by someone who knew the food of Palestine well.
‘Two fishes’, ‘duo opsaria’. ‘Opsaria’ refers specifically to cooked fish eaten with bread. No specific attention is drawn to the fish in the application of the incident.
John remembers that they were barley loaves and he partly mentions it because it will bring to mind the story of how Elisha fed one hundred men on twenty barley loaves with some remaining (2 Kings 4:42-44). Here then was a greater than Elisha. Barley loaves were the food of the poor, but Jesus was able to make of them into a Messianic feast.
It is interesting that suddenly we are hearing of some of the twelve again by name for the first time since John 1. It may well be that most of them have not participated in the Judean incidents. It is a mistake to assume that they all went about with Jesus from the first, as is clear from the fact that, apart from Philip, their call to ‘follow me’ came later rather than earlier (Luke 5:11). This was probably because Jesus refused to call those who were disciples of John until John himself was in prison.
‘Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down in number about five thousand.’
Jesus now commanded that the people be made to sit down, and as the disciples obeyed they must all have been asking, ‘what on earth is He going to do?’
‘There was much grass in the place’. This is noted less clearly by Matthew and Mark, although Mark mentions that the grass was green. The comment bears the stamp of an eyewitness who remembers it vividly. It is pathetic to suggest that such reminiscences are inventions intended to give a touch of authenticity to the narrative, for they are made so casually that this is unlikely, and indeed it would have been gross deceit. We may well ask, how could one who wrote about truth so sublimely be guilty of such deceit? Blindness is not only limited to the Judaisers.
‘Men --- in number about five thousand.’ Five is the number of the covenant. The mention of ‘five thousand’ was probably in order to symbolise a covenant meal. This was the number ofmen. There were also women and children (Matthew 14:21). We learn elsewhere that they sat them down in ‘fifties’ for better organisation. Thus they had a rough idea how many people there were.
‘Jesus therefore took the loaves, and having given thanks, he distributed to those who were set down, likewise also of the fishes as much as they would.’
As Jesus handed the bread and fishes to the disciples for distribution there was always more in His hands, until finally everyone was satisfied. The incident is mentioned in all four Gospels. The accounts reveal quite clearly that the disciples saw this as a remarkable miracle, as indeed it was.
It was normal for the head of the feast to give thanks and distribute some of the food to the guests. It was merely a commonplace, and there is no real need to see this as intending to depict the Last Supper. It gains its meaning from the One Who did it, and it rather therefore depicts Jesus’ dependence on and union with His Father. The Last Supper, although wider in meaning, simply helps to illustrate this.
‘As much as they would.’ It is expressly stated that there was enough to satisfy everyone with more to spare. Thus it is being emphasised that both bread and fish were amplified and that it was these that met the needs of the crowd. Any suggestion of a merely ‘symbolic meal’ goes against the narrative. The people were satisfactorily fed.
‘And when they were filled he says to his disciples, “Gather up the broken pieces which remain over, that nothing be lost.” So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves which remained over to them that had eaten.’
The people, well over five thousand, ate their fill and then twelve baskets full of remains were gathered up at Jesus’ command. Presumably each of the twelve had a basket. John specifically states that what remained was the remains of the five barley loaves, just as he had previously stated that they ate of them and the fish as much as they would. Thus he saw the ‘sign’ as a miracle of great magnitude. Nothing gatherable would have been left of the fishes except traces on the loaves, nor would they remain edible. They were better left for the birds. The gathering up of the remnants is a reminder of the poverty of those days. They would be available for the people to take way with them and must not be wasted. Once again we are aware of the memories of an eye-witness.
We may well be intended to see the mention of the numbers as significant. Five was the number of the covenant, and twelve the number of the tribes of Israel. Thus the feast is a covenant feast, offering a place in God’s covenant to all true believers (John 6:35), and there is sufficient to spare for all Israel. As with the wine at Cana we are to see that there was an abundance of provision.
‘And when evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, and they boarded a boat and were going across the sea to Capernaum. And it was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them.’
The other Gospels tell us that the boarding of the boat was at Jesus’ command (Matthew 14:22), which it quite clearly was. The disciples would hardly have taken this course otherwise. The author is not so much a consummate storyteller as a theologian, and he misses out what he does not consider important. This incidentally helps to exonerate him from the charge of putting in details simply to give the effect of an eyewitness. He mentions them when he remembers them.
‘And it was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them.’ Perhaps John intends us to see that without Jesus the Apostles were still in darkness.
Jesus Walks on the Sea of Galilee (John 6:16-25).
It is quite clear from the fact that this event follows immediately on the other that Jesus was now trying to bring home to His disciple His own uniqueness. He wanted it to come home to them as to Who He really was. First the creation of bread and fish. Now the revelation that He controls nature and can, like God, walk on the seas (Psalms 77:19). It is a revelation of sovereign power.
‘And the sea was rising by reason of a great wind that blew’.
None of the fishermen among them would have been surprised at a sudden storm brewing. The Sea of Galilee was noted for its sudden storms because of its geographical position, as winds blew through the hills and aroused the lake to reveal its fury.
‘When therefore they had rowed about twenty five or thirty stades they behold Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat.’
There was clearly a heavy sea, and rowing three or four miles must have been pretty arduous, taking a number of hours. However, they were a tough lot and some were experienced boatmen. But however tough they were they were not prepared for the sight of a figure walking across the heaving waves towards them. And when they saw it ‘they were afraid’. Matthew and Mark tell us that they thought that it was ‘a ghost’ (Matthew 14:26; Mark 6:49). Note the writer’s awareness of the distances likely on the Sea of Galilee.
‘But he says to them, “It is I. Don’t be afraid”. They were therefore willing to receive him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.’
To their relief and surprise the figure turned out to be Jesus, and, when He made Himself known to them they were highly relieved, and gladly brought Him into the boat. And it was not long after this that they made land safely.
‘It is I’ is literally ‘I am’. John may be intending to draw out that Jesus is the ‘I am’, as he certainly does later (John 8:58).
‘Immediately the boat was at the land where they were heading.’ The idea is probably not of a miraculous moving of the boat, but of John’s memory of the night. He remembers their overwhelming joy and relief so that in what seemed no time at all they arrived at land. This was because the wind dropped, as the other Gospels tell us, and Jesus was with them in the boat, making the remainder of the journey seem short and easy (Mark 6:51). ‘Immediately’ is a hurry word. It indicates a short period of time.
Some scholars have tried because of this to suggest that what they actually saw was Jesus walking on the seashore, and wished to, but could not, take Him into the boat, because they were already at the shore. In John such a translation is possible, but it is not the natural translation and would require another boat to take Jesus across and a bunch of hardy sailors who never afterwards told the truth, for the other Gospels are in no doubt on the matter .
But we must not forget in this regard that some of them were experienced sailors and knew the Sea of Galilee well, and seeing Jesus on the shore would not have frightened them, nor would it have misled them. They were used to discerning the shoreline and seeing people on it. Besides, the distance travelled indicates that they were well out at sea. There can really be no doubt that the author sees the walking on the water as another sign. The other Gospels make the situation quite plain. Indeed the crowds act as indirect witnesses to the reality (John 6:22-25).
The importance of the incident is found in the Old Testament where it is clear that the One Who can walk on water is the omnipotent God - ‘your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters’ (Psalms 77:19). This was thus a direct claim to deity. To Israel the sea had always appeared as an enemy and a symbol of tumult. In their eyes there was only One Who could control it and that was their God. It also, of course, taught the disciples a great lesson about the powers of Jesus. In future when they faced great difficulties they could look back on this incident and be aware that whatever their circumstances He was with them and could meet all their needs.
‘On the next day the great crowd who stood on the other side of the sea, saw that there was no other boat except the one, and that Jesus did not enter the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples went away alone. However boats came from Tiberias near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Therefore when the great crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.’
‘On the next day.’ The next day after the departure of the disciples, thus on the same day as they landed near Capernaum.
Some of the people from the crowds, most of whom had probably dispersed, had known that there was only one boat, for they had themselves looked for one, and they also knew that Jesus had not been in the boat with the disciples when they left. This is made very clear. So they were undoubtedly puzzled as to where Jesus had gone, and how.
Not being able to find Jesus, they decided to follow the disciples, no doubt hoping to find that He would join them where they had gone. The only reason why they were able to follow was because some boats arrived from Tiberias, and they accordingly set out for Capernaum seeking Jesus. ‘Came to’ may well mean ‘came on their way to’.
‘Boats came from Tiberias’ This was probably not by accident. News reached them that a great crowd were eager to cross the sea and they no doubt saw the opportunity to make a profit. It emphasises how it was that they knew that there was no boat available that Jesus could have used.
‘Near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks.’ This drawing of attention to the previous eating of the bread is to connect it up with the dissertation that follows. Note that Jesus is here called ‘the Lord’. The Greek word kurios was used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) to represent the Name above every Name, the Name of YHWH, and Paul specifically applied this Name to Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). John is here bringing out the divine nature of what was done. (‘After the Lord had given thanks’ is omitted in a few ancient manuscripts, but it has very strong support ).
‘And when they found him at the other side of the sea, they said to him ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’
The people were puzzled, but not aware of what had happened. They knew that no boat had been available and yet here Jesus was. They could think of no explanation. John, however, wishes it to be clear to his readers exactly what the position was.
‘They found him on the other side of the sea.’ Possibly before they actually reached Capernaum which was their final destination. However they may have found him in Capernaum itself. This re-emphasis of ‘the other side of the sea’ (compare v. 22) stresses the unusual nature of His arrival there, as does their question as to how He had come there.
‘Jesus answered them and said, “In very truth I tell you, you do not seek me because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”.’
Previously we have had emphasised the difference between those who truly believed and those who merely ‘believed’ because they saw signs (John 2:23-25). Now we have a third category, those who only wanted physical satisfaction, although this in itself was because of a sign which they had misinterpreted.
So Jesus immediately challenged them as to their true motives. ‘You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.’ He is bringing out that instead of seeing in the signs which He had done, evidence that He was from God and should be listened to because He could meet their innermost need, they were looking at them in terms of having their physical needs met. To respond to their desire would have been a guarantee of popularity, but it would have been the very opposite of what He had come to do. Those who only want physical satisfaction only have the short term in view. He was concerned for the long term. They lived only for bread. But however understandable that might be among poverty-stricken people, Jesus was ever conscious of the fact that ‘man must not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). They sought only bread, He wanted those who would seek and concentrate on the bread of life.
Words to The Crowds (John 6:26-40).
Jesus’ initial words were spoken to the crowds who had followed Him. These were the more simple folk whose thoughts were on more food, and miraculous provision. They wanted another Moses who could supply them with food. They were to learn that what Jesus had brought them was more important than food, Himself as the bread of life which they could partake of by coming to Him and believing on Him (John 6:35).
The Bread of Life, Eating His Flesh And Drinking His Blood (John 6:26-59).
The narrative that follows must be carefully divided up if it is to be properly understood. There are in fact three clearly differentiated phases:
· The first is to do with the crowd who have come seeking Him (John 6:26-40). In this there is only reference to partaking of the bread of life by coming to Him and believing on Him. The ideas that He promulgates are purely based on the parabolic idea of spiritual bread.
· The second is when some Judaisers (strongly religious and narrow-minded Jews) get involved and begin to take offence and mutter against Him. At this stage too He is dealing with the question of the bread that came down from Heaven (John 6:41-50 or John 6:51), and offering Himself as the bread of life to men. But it is still parabolic about bread in a similar way to the first except that, if we include John 6:51 (which is not certain as it may introduce the third section), Jesus now adds the idea of giving His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51).
· The third phase follows this as a result of the Judaisers thinking over what He has said to them. It takes place in the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:51 or John 6:52-59). But here we are faced with much more robust ideas, for His comment in John 6:51 leads on to ideas about ‘eating His flesh and drinking His blood’, emphasising the part these men will have in His death. At this stage there is a new atmosphere. This one alone contains the ideas about drinking His blood.
The three phases glide into each other in the narrative and we cannot therefore be sure at what point they reached the synagogue. It is possible that all three elements took place in the synagogue, with the bigoted Judaisers appearing towards the end, but it appears unlikely. What is more likely is that only the third phase took place in the synagogue. The first discourse took place where ‘they found Him on the other side of the sea’ (John 6:25), possibly, but not certainly, in Capernaum (they were aiming for Capernaum (John 6:24), but had they got there at this stage?). The second is in reply to the mutterings of Judaisers in the face of His return. They may have been with the crowds at least part of the time, or alternately they may have been informed of the content of the first discourse and have come up to raise the contentious questions. This may or may not have been in the synagogue. The final words are specifically remembered as having taken place in the synagogue (John 6:59).
“Do not work for food that perishes, but for food which continues unto eternal life which the Son of Man will give you, for him the Father, even God, has sealed.”
So He emphasises that they are not to put their efforts into obtaining food that can only go bad, but into obtaining the spiritual food which never goes rotten but goes on and on feeding the soul and resulting in eternal life (compare Matthew 6:19-21; 2 Corinthians 4:18; Colossians 3:1-3). This is the kind of food which the Son of Man has come to give them, and it is on Him that God the Father ‘has set His seal’ (John 6:26-27). Note the references to the Son of Man, and to the fact that God was His Father and had sealed Him. The whole atmosphere is Messianic, and more.
So He knew that they were not there because they had recognised from His signs Who He really was and what He had come to do, nor because they were seeking spiritual life, but merely because they wanted a leader who would constantly be able to supply them with their worldly needs. The miraculous feeding had been intended to show them that God could also feed their souls, and possibly also to stress that by coming to Him they were becoming part of the covenant community, but they were merely taking it to mean that He could look after their bodily cravings.
Thus He stressed that they must put their efforts into finding soul food, ‘the food which endures to eternal life’, food that would go on benefiting them for ever and give new life, the life of the new age. And He, as the Son of Man, Who was licensed by God the Father to give this food, is the One to Whom they should look for it.
‘Has set his seal.’ The setting of the seal provided the recipient with the right to act in the stead of the sealer, as His representative. That seal was set for Jesus at His baptism when the voice spoke from Heaven. It was confirmed by His miracles and the feeding of the great crowd and by all that He did.
‘The Son of Man.’ John only brings out this title when he has something very significant to say. So in John 1:51 the Son of Man was the one on whom the angels ascended and descended, indicating that God was with Him in the fulfilling of some special divine purpose. In John 3:13-14 He is the One Who has come down from Heaven and must be lifted up. In John 5:27 He is the One authorised to carry out judgment. In John 6:53 He is the One without Whose death there can be no eternal life. In John 6:62 He is the One Who will rise to where He was before. In John 8:28 He is to be lifted up. In John 12:23; John 13:31 He is destined to be glorified. Thus in John the title ‘Son of Man’ is far from simply indicating His humanity, or even Messiahship (although it does include that). Note its paralleling with the idea of ‘the Son’ in John 6:40; John 6:53. It is rather concentrating on the idea of the Son of Man as a figure connected with Heaven Who has come to earth with a divine purpose to fulfil, a purpose linked to His death, and which will result in final triumph. Here in particular He is seen as the giver of eternal life.
‘They said therefore to him, “What must we do that we might work the works of God?” ’
The minds of His listeners were momentarily diverted. “What shall we do to in order to carry out God’s works?”, they asked. They wanted this continuous supply of miraculous food, so they wanted to know what they had to do to earn it. Like so many they saw religion in terms of what they mustdo, and thought that by those ‘good deeds’ they would somehow merit favour.
In part the desire ‘to do the works of God’ is, of course, a good thing, for the doing is important, as both John the Baptiser and Jesus stressed. But just to consider doing good works in order to obtain benefit for oneself is not good at all. It is bribery. It actually means that the heart is not really right. They had to learn that there was a lot more to pleasing God than just doing good works, however important they might be. The account brings out that it is our attitude of heart towards God which is vital, and this was where they were almost totally lacking.
They needed to recognise that this was a crucial moment in history. Here there was One among them Who was like no other who had come before. And yet here they were, so taken up with getting more “bread” that they were failing to recognise the fact. They must therefore learn that it was necessary first to concentrate on Him and thus to receive ‘the life of the coming age’, eternal life. And that is what Jesus now pointed out.
‘Jesus answered and said to them, “This is God’s work, that you put your full trust in the One Whom He has sent”.
Jesus now came to the main issue. Let their minds concentrate on Him. Let them recognise that He was God’s ‘sent One’. Let them respond to His words and teaching. Let them open their hearts to the work of the Spirit. That was the ‘work’ which God desired of them then and there, that they hear and believe and respond. Concentration on Him was the work that God required until their faith was aroused and fixed on Him and His saving work. Belief itself is, of course, not a ‘work’. It is a response of heart on seeing and coming to know the truth. No one can make himself truly believe. As Jesus will point out, it has to be given them by the Father. But He is pointing out that without that true belief all else is meaningless.
‘They said therefore to him, “What then will you do for a sign that we may see and believe you? What work are you going to do? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written ‘He gave them bread from Heaven to eat’.”
They at last caught on, or so they thought. Like Moses what Jesus was demanding was full obedience to Himself. And they recognised what a stupendous claim it was. Well, so be it. They were quite happy with that idea. In fact that is what they had had in mind. Let Him just prove Himself by continually giving them miraculous food and they would do whatever He wanted. (They conveniently forget how faithless their ancestors had been to the Moses who provided the bread from Heaven).
‘He gave them bread (food) from Heaven to eat’. See Nehemiah 9:15 where the manna, and possibly the quails, are described in this way as ‘bread from Heaven’. Consider also Psalms 78:24; Psalms 105:40.
They had already seen what may be thought of as almost His greatest sign. They had witnessed a miracle of supply. But instead of being filled with wonder and concentrating on Who this showed Jesus to be, and on what He had come to teach them they thought only of what was in it for them. They wanted not spiritual fulfilment but physical satisfaction. So they were basically saying ‘prove Who you are by giving us a sign and feeding us miraculously at this difficult time, just as Moses fed the people of Israel on their journey to the Promised Land’ (John 6:30-31). Moses had given their ancestors bread from Heaven to eat. Let Jesus do the same. They overlooked the fact that their ancestors had taken it for granted and had continued in disobedience because they had not got their hearts right. Their minds were still on physical bread as a reward for obedience. But they had totally missed the point.
It is an interesting psychological study. The Pharisees saw Moses as supremely the Lawgiver, and that is what they taught the people. But the people saw Moses as the miraculous Provider. The laws were but a means to an end. In this the Pharisees were their superiors, for they primarily at least outwardly wanted to fulfil God’s requirements. Yet in the end all lacked the one essential element. They were all out for what they could get, and ignored the need for personal response to God Himself. (Consider the Pharisee who ‘prayed to himself’ (Luke 18:11)).
‘Jesus therefore said to them, “In very truth I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from Heaven. But my Father is giving you the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world”.’
Jesus’ reply appears to contain two elements. Firstly it informed them that it was God and not Moses who gave them the ‘bread from heaven’. And secondly it pointed out that what was given was not really bread from Heaven at all. While what was given did come from God, it was not heavenly bread, it was earthly nourishment. (Indeed, as He will remind them later, they ate of it and later died). But what He wanted them to recognise was that He had now brought something far, far better. God had now given them in Himself ‘true bread from Heaven’, for ‘the Bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world’. And those who partook of that would never die.
‘That which comes down’. Note the present tense. ‘That which is coming down’. Day by day He is among them as bread coming down from Heaven.
So they must take their minds off earthly food and satisfaction and concentrate on what God has now sent. They must remember that ‘man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3). They should recognise that He has sent Someone Who has come down from Heaven in His manhood, and is coming down from Heaven in His divine life, and is offering eternal life to the world. And as He has said before, He Himself was that One Who had come down from Heaven, so He was the true bread. But this is something that they were missing altogether.
We too need to stop and give ourselves the onceover. We too should ask, what is of most importance to us. Is our greatest desire to know Christ and to know God? Is our greatest longing food for our souls? Or do we see both as simply a means of advancing in this life, forgetting that our aim should be to ‘lay up treasure in Heaven’? (Matthew 6:19).
‘They said therefore to him, “Lord, evermore give us this bread continually”.’
They then simply asked Him to provide them with what He was talking about ‘for evermore’. This reply can be taken in two ways. Firstly as indicating their response in line with what they have thought all along, a desire for a continual supply of food from the Messiah. Or, secondly, as an indication that they recognise His meaning and are humbly responding to His words. There were in fact probably people present there who held each view, the God-seekers and the self-seekers. It is ever so.
‘Lord, give us this bread continually.’ John probably wants us to see the second meaning as true for the majority for from this point on the crowds will be forgotten and the concentration will be on the message. Note that here they are using ‘Lord’ to mean ‘sir’, but it cannot be doubted that John wants his readers to catch the higher meaning and see it as their submission to ‘the Lord’.
‘Jesus said to them, ‘I am the life-giving bread (bread of life), the one who comes to me will never hunger and the one who commits himself to me in faith will never thirst.”
Now the full meaning of what Jesus was saying is made clear. He was the One Who had come down from Heaven and was offering life to the world, and they must now ‘eat’ continually of Him by coming to Him in full commitment to Him and His teaching, and putting their trust in Him. As they do so their spiritual hunger will be satisfied, and their spiritual thirst will be quenched. The coming was to be a continual one, as was the believing. They were to come and go on coming. They were to believe and go on believing. The life-giving bread was like the living water offered to the Samaritan woman in chapter 4. It would satisfy the soul and give life. It was Spirit imparted spiritual bread bringing Jesus home to their hearts.
We should note here that coming to Him was the equivalent of eating, for it would satisfy their hunger, and believing was the equivalent of drinking, for it would satisfy their thirst. It is preparing the way for the more difficult illustration later on. One meaning of ‘eating and drinking’ is ‘coming and believing’.
It was a wonderful promise. He offers a full satisfying of the hunger and thirst of the soul. And the solution was available by response to Jesus Christ. And it was made available to those who continually came to Jesus Christ, and continually believed and trusted in Him. It was a wholly spiritual experience.
This is the first of the great ‘I am’ sayings. The Pharisees rightly pointed away from themselves to God and to Moses, (although were often not loath to take great credit on themselves), but Jesus could point to Himself because of Who He was. If they would have life it was to Him that men must look and nowhere else, for He had come from God and God was working through Him as His Son. This deliberate and continual pointing to Himself, and calling on people to believe in Him, is a further indication of deity.
‘ But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe’.
However, He recognised that they were not willing genuinely to respond to this message. He realised that their belief was in the earthly leader whom they had envisioned for themselves, a military champion who would introduce the good times. It was not in what Jesus had really come to be and do. It was true that outwardly they had seen Him and heard Him, they had ‘heard His voice and seen His form’, but inwardly it was far from the case. They had simply failed to recognise Him for what He was.
“All whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and him who comes to me I will in no way cast out.”
Happily, however, there would be those whowouldrespond and would recognise Him for what He was. ‘All whom the Father gives to me will come to me.’ It is impossible to avoid here the suggestion that in the end those who truly come do so because the Father chooses them out, for the ‘giving’ by the Father is before the ‘coming’. John continually quite clearly depicts the difference between those whose faith is temporary and based on the emotion of a moment, and those whose faith is permanent and lasting, and he sees Jesus as demonstrating that this second kind of faith results from the work of the Father. It is because they have been given to Him by the Father that they believe in Him so fully.
‘And the one who comes to me I will not reject for any reason whatsoever’. And Jesus indicates that once a man has been called by God and truly responds there is not the slightest chance of his ever being rejected again, for he is part of the Father’s gift to His Son. It does not matter how bad he may have been, or how weak he might be, God will do the necessary to ensure his perseverance and spiritual growth. This is a promise of hope providing underlying security for the believer. It is not, however, a grounds for assuming that from now on what we do does not matter. Someone who has that attitude is not a true believer. If we have truly believed, what we do will matter to us almost as much as it matters to God.
‘For I am come down from Heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me’.
He stresses once again that He has come down from Heaven, and that in order to do the Father’s will. It is important not to glide over this amazing fact. We can so take it for granted that we lose the wonder of it. For as we will discover in John 17:5 the point was that He had put aside the glory which He had had with the Father before the world was, for our sakes. He had left the splendour of heaven, and His exalted place within it, and had abased Himself by coming to earth. The verb is now in the aorist, indicating a specific once-for-all coming down as man. But He emphasises that He has not come down from Heaven simply to choose His own path and do whatever He wants. Rather He has come to do the Father’s work in the Father’s way. He has a divine task to fulfil. Father and Son are working in total cooperation. Thus those who feed on Him by hearing Him and trusting in Him, will in fact be those given to Him by the Father. Father and Son are working together in total unison.
‘Not to do my own will’. He was, of course, doing His own will as He was well aware, for His will aligned with His Father’s will. But His point was that His primary concern was to do the Father’s will. His was not a ‘one-man exercise’. The whole of the Triune God was involved.
We have here a reminder that the reason that Jesus is described as ‘the Son’ is partly because He is ‘the One sent’ to represent the Godhead, in the same way as a son might be sent by his father as representative of the whole family. The idea of ‘Sonship’ also indicates to us that He shares the same nature with the Father. He is the only true Son by nature. What it does not signify is that He was born at some point in time after the Father. For in eternity He is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father (‘in the beginning the Word was already in existence’ - John 1:1).
‘And this is the will of him who sent me, that of all that he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day’.
And this was the will of the Father Who sent Him, that He should lose none of those who have been given to Him. Those on whom God lays His hand are eternally secure. Once He has chosen them they are safely in Jesus’ keeping, and He will raise them up at the last day. For them the resurrection of the righteous is assured. This is not because of any intrinsic worth of their own but because they have been given to Him by the Father, and it is the Father’s will that He should not lose a single one of those given to Him. But how do we know who these are? They are the ones who ‘eat of the Bread of Life’, they are those who come in full faith and trust to Jesus, and reveal it by changed lives. Notice the use of the singular ‘that’ and ‘it’. Those whom He calls are seen as one.
‘This is the will of Him Who sent me’. What He is describing is the will and purpose of God, the One ‘Who works all things after the counsel of His own will’ (Ephesians 1:11). And His will is that of those whom He gives to Jesus none may be lost, but may rather share the resurrection to life. In the end therefore all is seen to be of God’s will and purpose. That is why Paul can boldly declare of Him, ‘For I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion, so then it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God Who shows mercy.’ (Romans 9:15-16).
‘I will raise him up at the last day.’ The idea is of ‘resurrection unto life’ (compare John 11:25). Note that it is Jesus Himself Who will raise men up in the final resurrection. He here claims power over life and death within the will of the Father. As He had said in chapter 5, ‘as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom He will, and ‘as the Father has life in Himself, so has He given to the Son to have life in Himself’ (John 5:21; John 5:26). For just as now ‘the dead will hear ‘the voice of the Son of God’, and those who hear will live’. Thus He has indicated both the reception of life from above now for those who believe (John 5:24), and the reception of life in the Last Day when ‘all who are in the graves will hear His voice, and will come forth’. Here we have a description of the first and second resurrections for the believer.
‘The last day.’ The final day of God’s reckoning. The impression given is that Jesus sees only one such final day, the day of rapture and resurrection.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him, should have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Jesus now repeats John 6:39 from a different point of view to emphasise its ideas. In John 6:39 these promises are made to ‘all whom He has given Me’. That is God’s side of the issue. Now we have the other side. The promises are made to ‘every one who sees the Son and believes on Him’. So the ones who see the Son and believe in Him are the ones given to Him by the Father. The Father’s gift is evidenced by the response of those who are given. And as a result of that gift they receive eternal life now, and the certainty of participation in the everlasting kingdom.
Notice the change to ‘My Father’ used in connection with ‘the Son’. The general ‘the Father’ has suddenly become personal. Now that He has made clear His own power and authority He can speak of God being ‘His own Father’ in contrast with the supreme title ‘the Father’ (compare John 5:17). The great supreme Father is uniquely ‘His own Father’. Using John’s terminology in John 20:31 He is ‘the Son of God’.
The Spirit was now at work (John 6:63) gathering in the ones whom the Father had marked out, causing them to see Jesus and believe in Him, and Jesus was charged with their final safety. Here the whole Godhead is at work in saving men, guaranteeing their final deliverance, and the test of whether men are of the chosen is revealed by their response to Jesus.
‘The Judaisers therefore murmured concerning him because he said, “I am the bread which came down from Heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say ‘I am come down from heaven’.” ’
These men had probably not been in the crowds when Jesus wrought His miracle with the bread, and they may even not have been present when the crowds requested bread from Heaven. They were therefore looking at what He had just said out of context. Yet they faced the nub of the matter, the claim of Jesus to have come down from Heaven. They discussed this among themselves and agreed that this was not possible because they knew His human parents. The idea of a heavenly figure becoming man was beyond their conception.
“Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph?” The writer wants us to contrast ‘is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph’ on their lips with the Son of the Father (‘the Son’ - John 6:40) and the Son of Man (John 6:27; John 6:53) on Jesus’ lips.
‘Whose father and mother we know’. This may simply mean, ‘have knowledge of’. They thought that they knew His forebears. It is not therefore decisive with regard to whether Joseph was alive or dead. The discerning reader, of course, knows that in fact Joseph was not his human father.
The Life-Giving Bread Is For Those Drawn by the Father And He Will Give His Flesh For The Life Of The World (John 6:41-50).
At this point there would appear to be an important change in the narrative. Up to this point it had been ‘the people’ who have been questioning Him. Now the scene moves on. “ The people” fade into the background and He finds Himself dealing with “the Judaisers”. This is John’s term regularly used for the Jewish authoritarians, and especially for a hard core of them who followed Jesus about, and were so fanatically tied up with their religion that they were filled with antagonism and blinded to the truth about Jesus. (It does not signify all Jews). They probably consisted mainly of some of the harsher Scribes and Pharisees and their followers together with the representatives of the Chief Priests and some of the other priests (not all Pharisees or priests opposed Jesus and were at loggerheads with him as we have seen in the case of Nicodemus). The Scribes were the Jewish teachers who were trained in the Law. The Pharisees were men dedicated to obedience to the Law (in their terms) who on the whole saw themselves as religiously superior to the common people. They very strictly observed certain cleansing rituals which Jesus appears to have gone along with, and were fanatical about the Sabbath. They also believed in the coming resurrection and in angels. They would thus have been very interested in what Jesus was talking about here.
These Judaisers were clearly not among those who would be drawn by the Father, for they were too bigoted to listen, and Jesus was saddened by the fact. Instead they muttered among themselves about Him, and had in their hearts thoughts of putting Him to death. Here He was claiming to be bread that had come down from Heaven when they all knew that He was just a local boy, whose parents were well known to them. Who did He think he was? How could He have come down from Heaven? But in His compassion Jesus wanted them to have their opportunity and again repeated His offer of the bread of life. A slight problem arises as to where we are to include John 6:51. If we see it as the final verse in the section from John 6:41, it adds a slight edge to what has previously been said, the idea of Him giving His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51). But in our view the probability is that it was said in the synagogue. Either way it was what caused the emphasis to change from His offering of Himself to them as the bread of life (through coming and believing) to the requirement that they eat His flesh and drink His blood (signifying that they would put Him to death). And it is clear from John 6:51 that this was Jesus’ deliberate intent as He sought to faced the Judaisers up with what they were doing.
‘Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No man can come to me except my Father who has sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Jesus now tried vainly to give them a chance. He reiterated what He had said to the people. He gently rebuked them for their attitude and contradicted their claim to know His father. He pointed out that it was God Who was His own Father (‘My Father’), the One Who is in Heaven. (There is possibly here a hint of the virgin birth. He has no human father. God is His father). Those whom His Father draws will come to Him and partake of the bread of life which has come down from Heaven, and this will mean that they will not die the final death but will live for ever. Those who refuse to respond merely indicate that His Father has not chosen them. They demonstrate that they have not been ‘drawn’ by the Father.
The verb to ‘draw’ is a powerful one. In John 21:6; John 21:11 the large fish are ‘drawn in’, unable to prevent it, . Paul and Silas are ‘dragged into’ the forum (Acts 16:19). Paul is ‘dragged out’ of the Temple (Acts 21:30). There is thus to it the sense of a necessary compulsion. God is at work calling men to Himself. Later it is Jesus Who will draw all men to Himself (John 12:32).
“It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God’. Every one who has heard from the Father and has learned, comes to me.”
He now called on Scripture to back up what He had said. He reminded them that the Scripture specifically promises, ‘and they shall all be taught by God’ (Isaiah 54:13). This was a promise made by Isaiah in respect of the coming age of blessing, and Jesus was saying that that time was now here. Those who hear and learn from the Father will come to Him and enjoy the blessing of the coming age.
All therefore who are God’s will be taught of God. They will hear the Father speaking to them, will learn from Him, and will recognise Jesus Himself as the fulfilment of the promises. Such teaching is effective teaching, for it is God Who teaches. It results not only in learning but in obeying. The Judaisers’ refusal to be taught by God about Him merely demonstrates that they are not of God’s genuine people.
‘The Prophets.’ This is the second collection of sacred writings after ‘the Law’, and includes the earlier ‘historical’ books and the major and minor prophets, possibly but not necessarily excluding Daniel. (We are not sure whether the Jews originally placed Daniel in the Prophets, or in the third section of Scripture which was called the Hagiographa, ‘the holy writings’. There is evidence both ways)
“Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the one who is from God, he has seen the Father.”
But even though such people have heard the Father they have not seen the Father, because no man has seen God at any time (John 1:18). Indeed no one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). But there is One, and only One, Who has uniquely seen the Father. He is the One Who is from God, and it is Jesus Himself. He alone is such that He can actually look on the Father’s glory, (a glory which had once been His and would be His again - John 17:5). Here is One Who is thus truly greater than Moses, for Moses was not allowed to see God face to face (Exodus 3:20); He is greater than Abraham, greater than all the prophets. He is One Who has a unique relationship with the Father, (‘the Word was face to face with God’ - John 1:1). Even the holy Seraphim had to hide their faces before God (Isaiah 6:2). Only Jesus out of all who existed could look on Him in all His fullness. It is a stupendous claim.
“In very truth I tell you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from Heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.”
The Pharisees believed that by reading and assiduously obeying the Law of Moses they would find eternal life by being established in the covenant. Jesus informed them that eternal life was rather to be found now by believing in Him. It was response to Him that would bring life, and that alone. So the message given previously is repeated. Jesus is ‘the bread of life’. Those who truly believe in Him as the bread of life, and receive Him, will have eternal life immediately. This was thus far superior to the manna from Heaven given in the wilderness. ‘Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died’. That food, which they claimed was ‘from Heaven’, could not give life. Those who ate of it died as all men die. It just gave temporary satisfaction, and they even got sick of that (Numbers 11:4-5). But He is the food that has come down from Heaven so that men may ‘eat’ of Him, by coming and believing (John 6:35), and thus not die.
“I am the living bread which came down from Heaven. If any man eats of this bread he will live for ever. Yes, and the bread which I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
In contrast to the ‘manna from Heaven’, Jesus points out that He is ‘the living bread which came down from Heaven’, heavenly food that gives life. Indeed if anyone eats of this bread (by coming to Him and believing on Him - John 6:35) he will live for ever. Thus the ‘eternal life’ is not only a present life with eternal qualities, but also a life which will go on for ever. Here is bread which can give true life, eternal life, and He is that bread. They must eat of Him, that is they must respond to Him and His teaching in full faith, and then they will live for ever.
But now a new theme is introduced into His teaching. ‘The bread which I will give is my flesh’. Up to this point the bread has been life-giving bread, offered to be ‘eaten’ by coming to Him and hearing His words, and responding in obedient trust (John 6:35). It has been composed of Himself and His teaching. Those were His words to the crowds, and he had repeated them to the Judaisers. It was an offer of life to all who would come to Him at that time and truly believe, although He was no doubt ever conscious of the way in which it would finally be brought about. Now He would deal with a new situation, the antagonism of the Judaisers, and it enabled Him to introduce a new and challenging form of teaching, with His coming Passover possibly in mind (John 6:4).
You will remember from John 5:18 that these latest hearers were the same men who were plotting to kill him. They were men of blood. They carried death in their hearts. This explains the change that now takes place in Jesus’ tone and the change in His illustration. Their presence had brought home to Him what lay before Him. From now on He would not talk of ‘the bread of life’, the life-giving bread, but would use the Old Testament simile of ‘eating flesh’ and ‘drinking blood’, which meant killing someone, or benefiting by their death. It would, however, still give life, for finally that life would be made available through His death. But it was a new perspective not introduced to the general people.
In order to fully appreciate what He was saying we need an awareness of vivid Jewish imagery. In the Old Testament the Psalmist spoke of those who ‘eat up my people like they eat bread’ (Psalms 14:4; Psalms 53:4), whilst Micah describes the unjust rulers of Israel as ‘those who hate the good and love the evil --- who eat the flesh of my people’ (Micah 3:3). Compare also Psalms 27:2, ‘evil-doers came on me to eat up my flesh’. Thus ‘eating flesh’ or ‘eating people’ signified killing them or doing them great harm.
Furthermore in Zechariah 9:15 the LXX speaks of the fact that the victorious people of God ‘will drink their blood like wine’ signifying a triumphant victory and the slaughter of their enemies, and David used a similar picture when three of his followers had risked their lives to fetch him water. He poured it out on the ground as an offering to God and said, ‘shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?’.
Isaiah brought both metaphors together when he said of the enemies of Israel that God would ‘make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine’ (Isaiah 49:26), signifying that they would destroy themselves. Thus in Hebrew thought drinking a person’s blood meant killing someone or benefiting by their death.
This can be paralleled elsewhere in the New Testament for in Matthew’s Gospel the people said of their 'fathers' that they were 'partakers in the blood of the prophets’ (Matthew 23:30), because they contributed to their deaths. Thus when Jesus spoke of ‘eating my flesh and drinking my blood’ He was using easily recognised metaphors.
Initially Jesus signalled the change in tone in His words by saying ‘The bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh’. This had more sinister overtones than what had gone before. He was indicating that His flesh must be given for the life of the world. Previously the eating had been by coming to Him and believing in Him, by responding to Him and His teaching. Now the thought is entering that they must be ‘eat Him’ by bringing about His death.
We could paraphrase what follows like this - ‘you are plotting to kill Me (to eat my flesh and drink My blood). Well, let Me tell you this. It is actually necessary for Me so to die so that this offer of life might be provided. Paradoxically, unless you do put Me to death (eat my flesh and drink my blood), the life will not be available. But as a result of the death you are plotting for Me, men will be able to partake of the benefit of My death by believing in Me and finding life through it.’ This is not a message He had been preaching to the crowds. They would not have understood. But now He has been forced into going public about it, for He is facing those who are after His blood, and He therefore intends to declare it. These men were planning to kill Him, to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Well, they will be permitted to do so, for His death was necessary in order that men might benefit from His life. But at least let them face up to what they were doing.
For the truth was that if life was indeed to be made available it was necessary for them to put Him to death, to “eat His flesh and drink His blood”. And paradoxically the result would be that they could then, if they came to believe, partake of the benefits of His death by receiving life. Indeed all who would come to Him must recognise that they were in some way responsible for His death and must partake in that death and the benefits that spring from it.
The innocent listeners would be puzzled, but the plotters would be fully aware of at least part of the import of His words. They knew what their own sinister intentions were. They knew what they were plotting. They knew that they were ‘after His blood’. And so did He. Yet still He was offering them life. He would not give up on them. Perhaps one day when they had killed Him, they would remember His words, and having eaten His flesh and drunk His blood in one way, they might also do it in another way by putting their trust in the crucified and risen Christ. If they did they would receive eternal life and be raised at the last day (John 6:54). (Paul was one such, and there were surely others). Again we have here a double entendre.
Except You Eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and Drink His Blood (John 6:51-59).
We are now gliding into the third phase of His teaching where He is teaching in the Synagogue, although the point at which the break comes is not fully apparent. Now He knows that He is talking to those who are seeking His life, and His message therefore alters to take that fact into account. This explains the change in emphasis. From now on He has His coming death in view.
‘The Judaisers thus strove the one with the other, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” ’
The Judaisers professed to be puzzled at His statement that the bread that they were being told to eat was His flesh which He would give for the life of the world, and they discussed it among themselves. ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ Regularly in John’s Gospel questions are asked so that the illuminating answer can be given.
‘Jesus therefore said to them, “In very truth I tell you, unless you do eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you do not have life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day”.’
Jesus now made plain that what was in mind was His death, and that all who would be saved must benefit through that death. As mentioned above His words are full of irony. You do not know it, He is saying, but in plotting to kill Me you are fulfilling God’s purposes. If you do not put Me to death (eat my flesh and drink my blood), life will not be available. He might well have added, ‘consider Isaiah 53. It is all laid out there’.
As we have seen above, ‘eating flesh’ and ‘drinking blood’ are Old Testament metaphors for putting someone to death. This comes out vividly in Isaiah 49:26. ‘I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh, and they will be drunk with their own blood as with wine’, referring to the oppressors turning on each other and killing each other. Such metaphors may be unusual to us, but they were an essential part of life then, as is demonstrated by the phrase ‘partakers in the blood of the prophets’ (Matthew 23:30).
He then goes on to say, ‘once you have done so you will be able to eat My flesh and drink My blood by coming to Me in true faith to share in My death and receive life, that is, to partake of the advantages of what I have done for you’. Compare for this idea 2 Samuel 23 17 where David refuses to ‘drink the blood of’ his associates i.e. benefit from the risk of death of his associates.
In the end all who would be His must ‘eat His flesh and drink His blood’ in both ways. We must all firstly recognise that it was we who crucified Christ. We must acknowledge that it was our sin that nailed Him there, and that caused the intense suffering through which He went. We have ‘eaten His flesh and drunk His blood’. Then we must come to Him in confident faith and receive Him and His words, drinking them in and letting them fill our whole being, dying to the world and all its claims by being ‘crucified with Christ’ and sharing His resurrection life (see Galatians 2:20, which could be seen as a commentary on Jesus’ words), thus eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood in accordance with John 6:35..
The idea of literally drinking blood was strictly prohibited in the Old Testament and would have been abhorrent to every Jew. It is clear therefore that Jesus would not have used this metaphor unless it meant something other than just drinking blood, even on the spiritual level, and equally clear that the Judaisers recognised the fact (they did not protest). So the Old Testament pictures of ‘killing people’ as ‘drinking blood’, and of ‘benefiting from the death of (or risk of death of)’ as ‘drinking blood’ gives us the only reasonable and satisfactory explanation. And indeed it does serve to explain why they did not react in horror at the suggestion. They knew what He meant, and that He knew their hearts. Furthermore the following chapter (chapter 7) will immediately begin with an emphasis on the fact that their aim was to put Jesus to death, and this is stressed continually throughout the chapter, which demonstrates that this was very much a thought which was on Jesus’ (and John’s) mind.
So in the end the Bread of Life would be available because of His future death which they would bring about, when He would be ‘given for the life of the world’. And all who come in faith to eat of Him and receive its benefits will have eternal life and be raised up at the last day.
‘For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him’.
Here He was again emphasising the importance of His death, for without it there was nothing on offer. Only the giving of His flesh could provide food for men’s souls. Only the drinking of His blood through benefiting in His death could provide salvation. But through it what men can receive is better far than they can ever be aware of. And those who consciously ‘die with Him’ and partake in the benefit of His death through coming to Him and believing in Him will abide in Him and He in them. They will share His resurrection life. The message is stark and clear. Those who would receive life must recognise that they can do so only through His death. Nothing short of that can make life possible.
It is customary among many to see these words as referring to partaking of the bread and the wine at the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) but that is in fact to take things the wrong way round. The Lord’s Supper certainly illustrates this truth, but here it is not simply a partaking of Communion that Jesus had in mind. His thoughts went far deeper. He was wanting them to enter fully into what was now in store for Him, recognising that it was through His death at their hands alone that they could they find life. And the aim was that men would then eat and drink (coming and believing - John 6:35) continually by a daily response to Him in His death and resurrection. It was a daily dying and rising again that was in mind (Luke 9:23; Romans 6:1-11), an experiencing of the power of His resurrection and of the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death (Philippians 3:10). Of course, that is also what should be in our minds as we partake of the Lord’s Supper.
“As the living Father has sent me and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.”
Here He was not only thinking of the fact that His human life had been given to Him, and was sustained, by ‘the living Father’, the very Fountain of Life Himself, but that His resurrection would also be the Father’s work. Both His present and future life would be sustained by ‘the living Father’ Who sent Him. He had ‘life’, and would continue to have life, ‘because of the Father’. In the same way, to those who ‘eat Him’, i.e. seek to benefit by His death by coming to Him in full commitment, He Himself will give eternal life, and will raise them at the last day. They will receive their life from Him, so that He Who receives life from the living Father will sustain that life in His own.
“This is the bread which came down from Heaven. Not as the fathers did eat and died. He who eats this bread will live for ever.”
Now that He has revealed His coming death and resurrection He can say with greater force, ‘This is the bread which came down from Heaven.’ He came down to be bread. It is as bread that He will be ground between the millstones, and undergo the heat of the oven, but then it is as the bread of life that He will meet the eternal needs of men.
‘Not such as the fathers ate and died. He who eats this bread will live for ever’. The contrast with Moses continues to the end. They must all recognise that what has come in Him is so much more than Moses could give, so much more than they could ever conceive, and so much better than they could ever have expected. It is the means of eternal life.
It is only when we recognise the supreme importance that Moses had for Israel as God’s Lawgiver and Covenant Mediator that we can appreciate how astounding these claims of Jesus were, for He is pointing out that what Moses could offer could only be secondary. It could only satisfy partially. Whilst what He had brought would have eternal efficacy. Those who partook of Him would live for ever.
‘These things he said in the synagogue as he taught at Capernaum’.
We now learn that the latter part of His teaching has been given officially in the synagogue, with the Judaisers who were seeking His death playing a prominent part and being seated in the chief places, in contrast with the earlier part which was given to the group who had come across the Sea of Galilee, seeking Him.
‘Many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying. Who can hear it?” ’
Some of the wider group of disciples, those who were following Him around to learn and to consider His teaching, now began to question (not the twelve as John 6:67-70 make clear). ‘This is a hard saying,’ they said. ‘Who can listen to it?’ They had been very happy with the idea of Jesus being ‘the bread of life’, and with Jesus as the coming king and prophet, but they were not happy with this talk of benefiting by, and participating in, His death. So Jesus was now deliberately facing all who followed Him with the realities involved. They must consider their inward hearts, and recognise that the way to God led through a cross. He was really saying again, that ‘if any man will come after me let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me’ (Luke 9:23). He would never deny that to follow Him was hard and could lead into danger and suffering. The question was, could they face the fact that He must die in order to triumph? That was what they found difficult.
The Disciples Must Now Face Up to Who He Is (John 6:60-71).
The discourse began with the challenge to the crowds. It then moved on to the challenge to the Judaisers. Now it becomes a challenge to the disciples themselves. They too must face up to what the future holds. Many did not like this talk of His coming death. That was not the kind of Messiah that they were looking for.
‘But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?” ’
Aware of their murmuring and the danger of their falling into disbelief Jesus answered them by pointing to His resurrection. ‘Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending where he was before?’ (John 6:62). Though His death must come, He told them, it would be followed by resurrection, and the receiving by Him of kingship and glory. He would be returning to the glory that was once His (John 17:5), ‘where He was before’, with the certainty that those who were His would follow Him. In the words of Isaiah 53:10, after being bruised by the Lord, ‘He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand’. Thus they need not be upset by His talk of death. Let them think on what He had said before about where He came from and where He was going (e.g. John 3:13). Let them recognise that His death would result not in tragedy but in victory. Death would be followed by resurrection.
“It is the Spirit who makes alive, the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life”.’
This now brought Him to the essence of the matter. “It is the Spirit who makes alive. The flesh is of no benefit’. Jesus in the flesh alone can do nothing for them, and when He has spoken of flesh He has not been talking about literally eating physical flesh, but about flesh being offered in sacrifice from which they must spiritually benefit (something well illustrated in the Old Testament sacrifices). What they need is a work of the Spirit through His words, life from Himself through the Spirit, a life that survives death so that the one who receives it never dies. Nothing else counts for anything. That alone is true life.
And it was because He would die and rise again that He could give them that life. They must not look at His earthly life, but at what He will be able to give them through His death and resurrection. That was why they need not worry about death, either His or theirs. For His words ‘are Spirit and are life’. Let them listen and the Spirit would work in their hearts, and they would then receive a life that never dies or ceases. That is why He had come. Through the Spirit at work, both through His ministry and directly in men’s hearts, and as a result of His coming sacrifice on the cross and His subsequent resurrection, they may partake of such benefits of His death. Then they would enjoy the promised ‘life of the age to come’ and know that they would be raised up at the last day.
‘But there are some of you who do not believe’ (for Jesus knew from the beginning which of them did not believe, and who it was who would betray him). And he said, “That is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is given to him by the Father”.’
But Jesus knew that among His wider group of disciples were some who did not truly believe. They had their own motives for following Him. So once again Jesus recognised the sovereign work of the Father in the salvation and destiny of men. All are given the opportunity, but not all will come. Judas especially was given the opportunity, but he turned it down to further his own ends. Yet, although this would be because of their own free choice, for men are free to reject Him if they will, in the final analysis it would be because it was not granted to them by the Father overriding their rejection. The truth is that without God’s work of grace no one would be saved.
‘On this many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him.’
Disillusioned by His words many of the disciples who were following Him about ‘drew back and no longer went about with him’. This is one theme of John’s Gospel, belief that is based on signs and wrong misconceptions, but is not real. Now that they had learned that He was not to be the all-conquering leader who would deliver them from the Romans and give them glory, but was rather talking about suffering and approaching violent death at the hands of His own people, they no longer wanted to know. But Jesus was already aware of what was in their minds and hearts. He knew those whose faith was false. He knew the nature of the heart that would betray Him.
‘Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “Would you also go away?”.’
Jesus then challenged ‘the twelve’. This is the first mention of the twelve and assumes knowledge of the traditions with respect to them. The challenge was specific. Would they also leave Him? This was one moment when they must commit themselves as to their thoughts about Jesus.
‘Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God”.’
Peter’s reply was forthright, typical of the man. ‘To whom shall we go?’ As a consequence of the teaching of Jesus they had recognised the inadequacy of other teachers and their message. Where else then could they turn? They accepted that eternal life could only be received through what He was and what He was teaching them.
While they did not yet fully understand everything, the faith of eleven of the twelve was real and was growing. They had recognised that Jesus was unique in His relationship with the Father, was the promised One (no matter what the title) and was able to offer them eternal life. That was enough for them.
‘The Holy One of God.’ The title here is ‘The Holy One of God’ in the most ancient manuscripts and is almost certainly correct. Later additions and changes were made in order to harmonise with the other Gospels. But ‘the Holy One of God’ says all that needs to be said. The idea was Messianic. In Psalms 16 God ‘Holy One’ is mentioned and that Psalm was seen by the Jews as connected with the Messiah (compare Acts 2:22), And this was a different incident from any mentioned in the other Gospels. Peter’s reply emphasises that they have recognised the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus no doubt challenged this belief a number of times, and there is no reason to suppose that this is the same incident as that at Caesarea Philippi.
‘Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Now he spoke of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he it was who would betray him, being one of the twelve.’
Yet even now Jesus knew that, although He had especially chosen them as his henchmen, there was one who was not true. ‘Have I not chosen you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ This latter phrase is not, of course, to be taken literally but means ‘is doing the work of the Devil’. The one whom He had in mind was, of course, Judas the Betrayer. Yet we should note that He would still give him the chance to repent if he would.
To be chosen by Jesus Christ for a unique privilege and yet to betray Him! It almost seems impossible. But we must recognise from this that Jesus already knew Judas’ heart and mind. Why then did He choose him? We must assume that Judas was at least partly sincere at this stage. He would after all perform miracles and cast out evil spirits as did the other Apostles. And every man must be given a chance. But his commitment was not full and true. He too believed for the wrong reasons, and the greed for money got the better of him. He was not following Jesus for the right reasons, he was gripped by ambition and hopes of power. We too must learn to root out anything within us that in the least hinders our obedience to Christ, or we too may find that our trust is not in the real thing. We must ask ourselves - Am I really committed to Him for Him to save, or is my Christianity just a social thing or a way of self advancement or in order to boost my self-esteem or for what I can get out of it? That is the crucial question.
‘Iscariot’. This probably means ‘man of Cherioth’, but other alternatives have been suggested. It was a way of distinguishing him from ‘the other Judas’ (John 14:22) among the twelve
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 6". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany