free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
2. Christ declares himself to be the Sustainer and Protector of the life of which he is the Source.
(1) The supply of human wants illustrated by a well known "sign" of power.
Chronological difficulties beset our treatment of this miraculous narrative with its varied consequences and results. Many curious and even violent measures have been resorted to with a view to solve them. Some have supposed that John 5:1-43.5.47. and 6. have been inverted in order, and that thus the presence of our Lord in Galilee, mentioned in John 4:1-43.4.54., would account for the statement of John 6:1 and the journey to Jerusalem of John 5:1, be brought into closer relation with John 7:1-43.7.53. We cannot see the faintest indication or evidence whatever of any such treatment of the Gospel by the authors of the manuscripts or the quotations or versions. The evangelist has just completed his record of the conflict between Jesus and the recognized leaders of the people in Jerusalem. He had introduced our Lord's own vindication (based on the highest grounds) of his own right to deal with the rabbinical restrictions upon sabbath duty. These grounds were the eternal relations of his own inner nature and consciousness with the Father's. On no occasion had Christ made the uniqueness of his personal claims and powers more explicit. He called for entire obedience to his word as the condition of eternal life, and as the key to the Scriptures of God. If we had no synoptic tradition to give a closer historical setting of the narrative which here follows, we might take Meyer's view, and say that the "after these things" (μετὰ ταῦτα) of John 7:1 referred to the discourse of the previous chapter, and that the "departed" (ἀπῆλθε) referred to Jerusalem as its starting point; and, notwithstanding the extreme awkwardness of the expression, we might have supposed that "the other side" of the sea was the other side of it from Jerusalem (cf. John 10:40; John 18:1). Some commentators appear to have a morbid fear of reducing a difficulty, or seeing a harmony, between these four narratives. One thing is dear, that they are independent of one another, are not derived from each other, do each involve side views of the event distinct from the rest, and yet concur in the same general representation. The synoptists, however, place the "feeding of the multitudes" in the midst of a group of most remarkable and varied events. It is for them one page out of many descriptive of the Galilaean ministry, and which ultimately led to grievous departure from and diminution of the temporary popularity of the great Prophet. It would seem that bitter hostility, as well as excited enthusiasm, was checkering his early ministry. The synoptics take pains to show the combined effect of his self-revelations
(1) on his own fellow townsmen;
(2) upon his own family;
(3) upon the populace (Matthew 15:31);
(4) upon Herod Antipas (Mark 6:14-41.6.16);
(5) upon the twelve disciples (Matthew 16:13-40.16.28);
(6) upon John the Baptist (Matthew 11:3); and
(7) upon the Father in heaven (Matthew 17:1-40.17.13 and parallel passages).
The canvas is crowded with scenes, the signs and wonders of healing and teaching are abundant. The blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the daemons are exorcised. The twelve apostles are chosen the sermon on the mount is delivered, the twelve are sent forth in every direction with the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom and with the call to repentance, and an excitement produced by the mission of the twelve had proved to be extensive. The crowds throng him; they have no time even to eat bread. And we judge from Luke 9:10 that this very excitement, amounting to feverish self-glorification on their part, appears to have been one at least of our Lord's motives for the temporary withdrawal of his disciples from the multitudes. Another event of singular significance contributed to the same result. Matthew (Matthew 14:12) takes the opportunity of describing the tragic close of John's imprisonment, and relates how John's "disciples came to tell Jesus" of the bloody deed. A sudden panic was felt by the multitude. A crisis had arrived. The great Prophet must avenge his forerunner's death or lose his hold upon the affections of the fickle mass. The people appeared to the eyes of Jesus (Mark 6:34) "as sheep without a shepherd." He had compassion on them, but he must make them understand the nature of the royalty as well as of the realm of the Messianic King.
The true grounds for Christ's retirement are not incompatible, but mutually explanatory. The death of the renowned forerunner, of the idol of the multitude brought vividly to the mind of the Lord his own death—the foreseen sacrifice of himself. The conviction that he must give himself to a violent death—give his flesh to the hungry and starving multitude, made the decadence of his popularity in Galilee a certain consequence of any right apprehension of his mission or claims. This mastery over the powers of nature which his compassion for others prevailed on him to manifest would be misunderstood. The moral and mystic meaning of it was far more important than the superficial inferences drawn by the Galilaeans. The real lesson of the miracle would grievously offend them. But it sank deeply into the apostolic mind, and hence the various aspects which it presents in the fourfold narrative. John selects this one specimen of the Galilaean ministry on account of its typical character, and records the high and wonderful results which the Lord educed from this high and striking manifestation of his power. There is, moreover, remarkable correspondence between the fifth and sixth chapters in this respect, that Galilee, like Jerusalem, recoils from the highest claims of Jesus, and developed an antagonism or an indifference as deadly if not as malignant as that which has displayed itself in the metropolis. "He came to his own, and his own received him not."
After these things (see note on John 5:1; not μετὰ τοῦτο, which would mean after this particular scene in Jerusalem)—i.e. after a group of events, one of which may have been this visit to the metropolis, but which included also the early Galilaean ministry as presented in the synoptic narrative, and with which John and his readers were familiar—Jesus departed from the side of the sea on which he was, and as we may judge (verse 24) from Capernaum, now known to be his chief resting place, most probably the home of his mother, brothers, and nearest friends, to the other side of the sea of Galilee, of Tiberias; or, of the Galilaean sea of Tiberias. It does not follow that the evangelist had the southernmost portion of the lake in his mind (as Meyer suggests). Tiberius was the showy city built by Herod Antipas on the western shore of the lake. Herod called the place after the name of Tiberius Caesar, and conferred upon it many Gentile characteristics. From the time of Antipas to that of Agrippa it was the chief town of the tetrarchy. After the destruction of Jerusalem it became for centuries the site era celebrated school of Hebrew learning, and one of the sacred cities of the Jews. Jewish tradition makes it the scene of the last judgment and the resurrection of the dead. It was a modern city, which may account for the omission of its name in the synoptic narrative. Christ never visited it that we know of. He preferred the fishing village of Bethsaida, or the more thoroughly Hebrew aspect of Capernaum. Nevertheless, "Tiberias" gave to Gentile cars the best and least dubious designation of the lake. So Pausanias (5, 7, 3) calls it the λίμνη Τιβερίς ("the lake Tiber"). Luke (Luke 5:1) calls it the "Lake Gennesaret," and Matthew and Mark "the Sea of Galilee" without any other epithet. John (John 21:1) calls it "the Sea of Tiberias." This multiplicity of lake names, due in the first instance to some peculiarity of the including shores, finds easy parallels in Derwentwater and Keswick Lake, and in the "Lake of the Four Cantons," called also" Lake of Luzern," etc. Christ sought retirement from the surging crowd, and for himself and his excited disciples a time of rest and communion with the Father, who had accepted, as part of his Divine plan, the awful sacrifice of the life of John the Baptist. He went "by ship," says Matthew (Matthew 14:13) to a desert place. In Luke's account this solitary place was towards or near (εἰς) a city called "Bethsaida." It is difficult to believe that this is the familiar Bethsaida or "fishing town," situated a little south of Capernaum, because we are met in the account of Mark (Mark 6:45) with the statement that, after the miracle, the disciples were urged to go to the other side of the lake (πρὸς Βηθσαΐδάν) towards Bethsaida. This, compared with verse 17, is obviously in the same direction as Capernaum. Indeed, the term, "Bethsaida of Galilee," referred to in Mark 12:21 (as the Apostle Philip's residence), seems used with the view of distinguishing it from some other place of the same name. Now, Josephus ('Ant.,' 18:2, 1) mentions a Bethsaida Julias situated on the northeastern extremity of the lake. The "ruins of this city may be still seen on the rising hilly ground which here retires somewhat from the river and the lake. It was situated in Gaulonitis, in the tetrarchy of Philip, and therefore beyond the jurisdiction of Herod, yet not far from the road into Peraea by which the Galilaean pilgrims to the metropolis might be expected to travel. The silence of these hills provided the opportunity of retirement. But it was frustrated by the eager excitement of the multitude.
There was following him a vast crowd, because they were spectators of £ the signs he was working on those that were sick. The imperfect tenses here reveal a period of time that had elapsed; a group and series of healings which had touched the heart of the people. Their "following" had not been by ship, but round the head of the lake, and across the ford of the Jordan, which is still situated about two miles from the point where the river flows into the Sea of Galilee. The multitudes would easily learn the direction of the well known boat with its solitary sail, and would be, some of them, ready at the landing place, to greet the Lord on his arrival. Many hours might elapse before the crowd had reached such vast proportions as we subsequently find. It may easily have been swollen by curious and inquisitive pilgrims, or by the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, intent on a sight of the Prophet who had preached the sermon, who had spoken in wondrous parables, who had given such striking proof that "God was with him."
And Jesus went up into the mountain; i.e. the high ground which everywhere surrounded the lake. The same expression, εἰς τὸ ὄρος, occurs very frequently in the synoptist Gospels (Mark 3:13; Matthew 5:1; Matthew 14:23). This last passage is an interesting confirmation of our text. The usage implies on the part of the four evangelists familiar acquaintance with the scenery. And there he sat down £ with his disciples. From this elevation they would see the gathering multitudes streaming from different points and meeting on the pebbly beach, asking each ether where was the Master? and whither had the Prophet, the Healer, fled? Women and little children are in the crowd (Matthew 14:21). Weiss, who argues that the main features of the narrative are deeply imbedded in all the traditions, summarily disposes of the later accounts of the similar event recited by Mark (Mark 8:1-41.8.11) and Matthew (Matthew 15:32-40.15.38).
Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. The ordinary meaning of ἐγγύς need not be departed from (cf. John 2:13; John 7:2; John 11:55). This valuable note of time is confirmed by another hint incidentally dropped. A month later than the Passover it could not be said that "much grass" was in the place. In the late spring such a phrase would most inadequately represent the scene that was indelibly impressed on the fourfold tradition. Whatever the unnamed feast was (John 5:1), whether Trumpets, Purim, or Passover, we have reached the month Abib, when the crowds of pilgrims were gathering for their southern journey. If the Purim were the unnamed feast, then the suggestion arises that Christ's reception at Jerusalem had prevented his remaining until the Passover of that year. If the Passover be meant (John 5:1), then a year has passed between John 5:1-43.5.47. and 6. Nor is this a day too long for the crowd of events and teachings recorded by the synoptists as having taken place before the death of John. The note of time may be recorded as implying the dominant sentiment in the minds of the people. The great deliverance from Egyptian bondage was burned into the national conscience, and the fanatic desire for a second Moses to lead them out of Roman servitude was at such seasons fanned into a flame. The Lord had his own thought about the Paschal lamb, and knew that God was preparing a Lamb for sacrifice. In mystic, parabolic sense he foreknew that men would and must consume the flesh of this sacrifice. He was ready, moreover, to show them that he could supply all their need. The great Prophet who had said of himself, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" had just fallen beneath the executioner's axe. The people were bereft of a great prophet and leader, and to Christ's eye they were "as sheep without a shepherd." Verily he was preparing to lay down his life as a good Shepherd for these sheep—to provide for them in the future a feast of living bread. All this may rationally be admitted, without for a moment conceding that second-century ideas like these were the formative causes of the narrative. The miracle that follows stands on an entirely distinct basis, and is more powerfully attested than any ether miracle, except the resurrection of Christ. If it stood in John's record alone, there might be some colour for the supposition that we have merely a parable of great beauty. But the threefold tradition long anterior to John's Gospel deprives even the pseudo-John of the possibility of inventing it. On the other hand, the appearance of the narrative in John's Gospel deprives it of the mythical character which some have attributed to the authors of the synoptic Gospels. Thoma, in the spirit of Strauss, here imagines that the synoptists were busy in fashioning a miracle of sustenance and a portent upon the waters—a sign on land and sea—to correspond with the manna and Red Sea marvels of the Book of Exodus. "The mountain" (τὸ ὄρος) is, as he thinks, a similitude of the Mount Sinai, and, as the latter represented the giving of the Law, this was associated with the mountain of Beatitudes. He goes further, and sees in the Johannine narrative the Christian (agapē) feasts, and the deliverance of the Apostle Paul from shipwreck! He is even more ingenious still, and suggests that the "five thousand" fed at the first miraculous meal, with twelve baskets of fragments, correspond with the results of the first preaching of the twelve apostles, and that the seven loaves among the four thousand reflect "the many hundreds"" who were benefited by the seven evangelists. He endeavours by a most elaborate process to make it appear that John has here combined into one tableau minute traces derived from the five several accounts of the two miracles. The old rationalistic theory was that the miracle was only an exaggerated poetical statement of the fact; that a good example of charity on the part of the apostles was followed by others, and so food was found for the entire multitude. This hypothesis breaks on the rock that the authors of these Gospels intended to convey a perfectly different idea. The effect of such cheap philanthropy and pragmatic travesty of a royal act would not have been that the multitudes would have rushed to the conclusion that he had done a kingly deed, or one in the least way calculated to suggest the notion that he could feed armies at his will. All efforts to extirpate by such theories the supernatural character of the occurrence fail, and force the reader back upon the plain statements of the fourfold narrative.
Jesus therefore, seated with his disciples on the rising ground in full view of the lake with its shipping and its fringe of villages, and of the gathering crowds of pilgrims to the Passover, having lifted up his eyes, and having beheld that a great multitude cometh (was coming) unto him, saith. Matthew 14:14, Mark 6:34, and Luke 9:11 show that the miracle which they all, with John, prepare to describe was preceded by a day in which the Lord instructed the multitudes, "had compassion upon them," "taught them many things," "spake to them concerning the kingdom of God," "healed their sick." The first approach of the multitude was the occasion of a suggestion which Jesus made to Philip. The other evangelists record the reopening of the conversation on the same theme, stimulated by the question already put to Philip in the forenoon, and on this occasion originated by the disciples. The company arrived by the head of the lake; and the first compassionate thought is attributed by John to the Lord himself: Whence are we to buy £ (bread) loaves, that these multitudes may eat? This very question shows the intimate relations between our Lord and his disciples—the touch of nature. The identification of his interests with theirs is in the "we." Why should Philip be selected for the questioning or suggestion? Luthardt argues that it was a part of the needed education of that apostle that he should have been submitted to the searching anxiety. It is indeed added—
This he said to test him; but it is doubtful whether more is involved than an endeavour to entice from Philip the answer of faith, such e.g. as "Lord, all things are possible to thee." Philip of Bethsaida was, moreover, in all probability, present at the wedding feast at Cans, and might have anticipated some such sign of the resources of his Lord. The other hints of Philip's character are severally consistent with this. Philip had said in the first instance to Nathanael, "Come and see." "Seeing is believing;" and Philip, on the night of the Passion, after much hearing and seeing of Jesus, said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us;" for he had even then not risen to the loftiness of the perception that the Father had been and was being revealed in Christ's own life (John 14:1-43.14.31.). Philip's personal acquaintance with the immediate vicinity is more likely to be the reason of his being put to this proof; while the tact of the inquiry as addressed to him is an undesigned note of the identity of the Johannine Christ with that portrayed by the synoptists. Bengel's suggestion, that Philip was entrusted with the commissariat of the twelve, is hardly consistent with the fact that Judas kept the common purse. We are expressly told that Jesus did not put the question in consequence of any deficiency of knowledge or resources on his own part, but to test the character and tone of Philip's mind. He himself knew what he was about to do. Thus, by a slight touch, we see the blending of the distinctly human with the consciously Divine elements of that unique personality of his. There were to his Divine consciousness no gaps of reality, but he so threw himself into human conditions that he could ask the question and pass through the experience of a man. The whole kenotic controversy is, of course, involved in the solution of the problem offered by this verse. Perhaps no greater difficulty is involved in imagining the union of the Divine and human in one personality, in which at times the Ego is the Son of God and at other times purely the Son of man, than there is in the blending of the flesh and spirit in the Divine life of our own experience. John saw this, felt this, when the question was addressed to Philip. He saw by intuitive glance, as on so many other occasions, what Christ "knew" absolutely (ἤδει) or came to know by experience and observation (John 4:1; John 16:19). The "trial," not the "temptation," of Philip was obvious in the form and tone of the question. The use of the word πειράζων shows that it frequently means "test," "prove," as well as "tempt." If God tempts, it is with the beneficent intention of encouraging the tempted one to succeed, to resist the allurement, to show and prove his power to bear a more serious assault. If the devil tempts (πειράζει), it is with the hope of inducing the sufferer to yield and fail.
Philip took a calculating method of meeting the difficulty, and looked at the question as one which their entire resources were unable to solve. He did not so much as think of the "whence," or from what quarter the loaves could be procured, as how much money would be required to meet the ease. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of loaves are not sufficient for them, that each one £ may take a little. The denarius was equal to about eightpence halfpenny of our money; so that the sum spoken of, probably representing the entire contents of their common purse, was only six pounds fifteen shillings, and was utterly insufficient for the purpose. The conversation preserved by Mark (Mark 6:35-41.6.37) cannot well be made part of this language of Philip, but rather follows when the short afternoon was coming on, and the long shadows indicated the near approach of darkness. Philip had told the other disciples of the Lord's question, and they had discussed the possible perils of the case and the intentions of the Lord. It is interesting to see, in Mark, that the same sum was mentioned as being insufficient for the needs of the great multitudes. John has not only abridged the narrative of the synoptists, but added a feature which is of interest, and shows how for some hours the disciples had meditated on what they fancied would be necessary, and had come to the somewhat unwelcome conclusion that they must sacrifice their entire stock of funds. The Lord had first of all made the suggestion. They now go to him, to beseech his influence to send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves something to eat. When the enigmatic words burst from his lips, "Give ye them to eat," the two hundred pennyworth of bread is once more referred to by the disciples as insufficient (Luke 9:12, Luke 9:13; Matthew 14:15-40.14.17).
John 6:8, John 6:9
Then saith one of his disciples to him, viz. Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. The spokesman is here specially indicated. On other occasions Andrew is singled out as the brother of Simon and friend of Philip (John 1:44; John 12:22). This repeated reference to the illustrious brother of Simon is a refutation of the ill-natured charge against the author of the Gospel, that he aimed at the depreciation of the character of the great apostle. Moreover, it is interesting to remember that in the Muratorian fragment on the Canon, "Andrew" is specially mentioned as being one of those present with John in Ephesus, who urged him to write his Gospel (see Introduction, IV. 2 (3)). There is a £ lad here (possibly a lad who was brought with themselves, or who had attached himself to the twelve) who has five barley loaves, the bread of the poorest classes. Of this there is ample proof ('Sotah,' John 2:1, quoted by Edersheim, vol. 1:681): "While all other meat offerings were of wheat, that brought by the woman accused of adultery was to be of barley, because, as her deed is that of the animals, so her offering is of the food of animals." If this lad was conveying the food stock of the Lord and his apostles, it is an impressive but accidental hint that "for our sakes he became poor," and classed himself socially with the humblest. And two fishes. The use of this word is peculiar to our Gospel. This opsarion mostly consisted of small fishes caught in the lake, which were dried, salted as "sardines" or "anchovies" are with ourselves for a similar purpose. This habit belonged locally to the neighbourhood of the lake, and reveals the Galilman origin or associations of the writer. The Aramaic word, ophsonim, is derived from the Greek opson, and that of aphjain, or aphiz, is the name for a small fish caught in the lake, the drying of which was a lucrative source of industry. Edersheim reminds us that the fish laid on the charcoal fire (John 21:9, John 21:10, John 21:13) was "opsarion," and that of this the risen Lord, on the shore of this very lake, gave to his disciples to eat, though he guided them at that time to a shoal of great fishes, ἰχθύων μεγάλων, and bade them add some of these to the ὀψάρια, which he was content to use still. The use of this word on these two occasions shows that, at the last, our Lord reminds his disciples of the miraculous feeding by the shore of the lake; and both narratives breathe the air of the northern parts of Galilee. But what are these among so many? The same lesson of the insufficiency of human resources to meet great human needs is suggested by Numbers 11:21-4.11.23. Our resources at the very best are quite exhausted. Our best, our all, avails little—an expression which would apply to the numberless offers of our poor humanity and of our limited faculties to meet the moral starvation of the world. Take the Old Testament: how can the dispensation of all its provision satisfy per se the need of mankind as a whole? Greek philosophy, even if it satisfy the few, the leisurely, the cynical, the learned, the wise men of the West, what will it do for the poor, the broken hearted, the consciously guilty? The good things of this life are equally powerless, and the proposals of even truth itself, apart from the gracious operations of the Spirit, would fail to meet the wants or necessities of the unbelieving.
£ Jesus said, Make the people (ἀνθρώπους here. contrasted with the ἄνδρες of the next clause) recline. Now there was much grass in the place. As already said, this is in harmony with the note of time conveyed in John 6:4. The other evangelist (Mark 6:39) speaks of the people sitting down "upon the green grass"—a vivid touch this of an eyewitness; Matthew (Matthew 14:19) also speaks of the grass; and Mark and Luke add another rememberable feature which John omits. The men, who in no great numbers probably formed, according to Eastern custom, a company by themselves). The men sat down (reclined), in number—the matter of the "number" is here put into the "accusative of closer definition" (Meyer)—about five thousand.£Luke says, "in groups of fifty." Mark first declares that Jesus ordered them to sit down (συμπόσια συμπόσια) in parties, and describes the result as having the appearance of garden beds (πρασιαί πρασιαί), of fifty or of a hundred each. The πρασιά is area, forus (Gartenbett; Homer, "Od.," 7.127; 24.247). "Πρασιαί," says Theophylact, "are the different divisions in gardens, in which different herbs are often planted." The image of the garden plots, with different divisions between them, forced itself on the eyewitness.
Jesus then took the loaves; and having given thanks he distributed £ to them who were set down. This is not incompatible with the language of the synoptists, that he gave to the disciples, they to the multitude, an undoubted allegory of the method in which all his greatest gifts have been diffused over the world; but John calls special attention to the part, the supreme part, taken in this proceeding by the Lord himself. Advantage has been taken of this to show that the narrative is a glorification of the Eucharistial meal, at which Jesus gave to his disciples the bread which he brake. Likewise also of the fishes (ὀψαρίων) as much as they wished. This is, doubtless, the place or moment when the mighty miracle occurred.
"'Twas seed-time when he blessed the bread,
'Twas harvest when he brake."
This pretty couplet, with Augmstine's and Olshausen's remarks that the processes of nature were hastened by the great organ of the Divine Creator, does not throw any light upon the phenomenon.£ It makes it more inexplicable, for ground corn and baked barley loaves afford no parallel with living seeds, and dead and salted fish create even greater difficulties. "Frugality exaggerated into a miracle" (Renan) is far more thinkable, though it leaves the sequel unexplained. We must either reject the narrative, notwithstanding its wonderful confirmation by two or three separate eyewitnesses, or we must accept it. If we do the latter, we see in this (and the following) miracle an assertion that the creative will of Christ is the sole cause of the additional food that was provided for the sustenance of this multitude. The Son of God added to the sum of things, to the quantity of matter, or called together from surrounding air the elements needed for the purpose, just as in hushing the storm he met force by that will of his which is the ultimate source and ground of all force. He spake in the power of Heaven, and it was done. He gave thanks, and he distributed.
Then when they were filled, he said to his disciples. Gather together the broken pieces—not the crumbs left on the ground by the satisfied thousands, but the pieces broken from the original loaves (see each of the synoptists, who refer to the breaking, by Jesus, of the loaves)—that remain over—not eaten by the multitudes; the superabundance of the provision is a witness to the affluence of the Giver and the reality of the gift—that nothing be lost. This sacred economy of Jesus is in harmony with and illustrative of the ways of the Creator with his universe, and of the wisdom recommended to his disciples. The other evangelists describe the facts, but do not attribute the order to the wise words of the Lord himself. Paulus, in the endeavour to make this statement confirm his rationalistic interpretation, makes sad havoc of the grammar, and, instead of translating—
Therefore they gathered together, and filled twelve baskets with the broken pieces of the five barley loaves which remained over to them that had eaten, says, "For (οὖν) they gathered together, and had filled [ἐγέμισαν, first aorist, not pluperfect] twelve baskets with the fragments [the more than enough food that had been gathered and prepared for eating] of the five loaves;" and he makes John here speak, not of remnants left after the meal, but of bread broken before the meal. Such a treatment of the text cannot be justified on any pretext. The twelve baskets full (δώδεκα κοφίνους) are interesting in two ways. The number "twelve" naturally suggests that each one of the twelve apostles had been employed in the collection of the fragments. There is no need, with Luthardt, to imagine an unconscious reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, further than that the twelve apostles themselves were at first chosen with that reference. The number twelve points to the fact that the apostles had already been selected, though this Gospel is silent about that fact. Again, the word used for "basket" is that which is used in the three synoptic narratives, and contrasts with the σπύριδες, the word used in the later account of the feeding of the four thousand. It means the ordinary wallet, or corbis, in which Jews, on the march, were accustomed to carry their food. In Matthew 16:8-40.16.12, where the two miracles are compared with each other, the two words are again used. The "fragments," the superabundance of provision of love for all mankind, was an idea specially conveyed by our Lord as antithetic to the monopolizing doctrine of the scribes and Pharisees. It is unsatisfactory to suppose that the author of this Gospel manipulated the story as given in Mark, adapting it to his own purpose. John's narrative is full of fresh life, though not so pictorial as that of the Second Gospel. The incident of Philip and Andrew is calculated to throw much light upon the event without conflicting with the synoptists. The mythical hypothesis suggests that we have here a Messianic reproduction of the story of Elijah and the cruse of oil (1 Kings 17:16), or the augmentation of the oil by Elisha (2 Kings 4:1-12.4.7), and still more the feeding by Elisha of a hundred men with twenty loaves of bread and fresh ears of corn (2 Kings 4:42-12.4.44). The suggestion simply shows that there were anticipations in the prophetic career of the great prophets of the northern kingdom of that which the greater than Elijah. accomplished in vindication of his own mission.
The people (ἄνθρωποι) therefore, when they saw the sign which he £ wrought—when they witnessed the marvel, admitted that it was a testimony to what was special and authoritative in the great Healer and Life-giver, a "sign" of his higher nature—said, This is verily the Prophet that is coming into the world. This was probably in reference to the great prediction (Deuteronomy 18:18) to which such frequent and solemn reference was made. From John 1:21, John 1:25, we learn that the Sanhedrists distinguished between "the Christ," "the Elijah," and "that Prophet;" but these verses show how the two ideas were blended in the minds of the people. As Jesus fulfilled one or more of the predictions of the Old Testament, and embodied the foreshadowings of his entire career which were given in the temple and the sabbath, in the ritual and the priest, in the prophet and the king, it was gradually revealed to the world that in him all fulness dwelt. At all events, just as in the ease of Nathanael, the prophetic gifts of Jesus suggested to the guileless man that he was King of Israel, so here we find a similar connection of ideas.
Jesus therefore knowing (having found, perceived (γνούς), by ominous movements in the crowd, or in any other way still more explicit) that they were about to come and by violence, or force, seize him in order that they might make him King. This movement was not an unnatural one. They were on the way to Jerusalem, and they were thirsting to throw off the yoke of Rome and of Herod, and probably indignant to the extreme with the "deep damnation" of John the Baptist's death. In such a frame, the display of power and resources which they had just witnessed pointed Jesus out as their popular idol, and encouraged the belief, which did not die out till it was quenched in blood. The bald suggestion would clash absolutely with the Lord's own plan, with the Father's design concerning him. It would seem that the disciples manifested great reluctance to leave Christ or the crowd; for both Matthew (Matthew 14:22) and Mark (Mark 6:45) imply that Jesus had to use special means to induce them to depart (ἠνὰγκασεν). He compelled them to do so. If we had nothing but the synoptic narrative to guide us, we might suppose that Jesus had difficulty in resisting the desire of the disciples to remain always at his side; or that the intensity of their affection was interfering too much with the need in which he felt of retirement and solitude. John's statement here illumines the language of the other Gospels. The disciples themselves were strongly moved by the passions of the thousands; they were sharing in the general enthusiasm. To quench such an unholy or unspiritual view of the true Prophet and King, the disciples must be separated from the crowd, and Christ had to overcome by some special utterance of his authority the reluctance of the twelve to embark in their ship. Having done this, and without their help, he sent the multitudes away. He withdrew,£ for the second time, to the mountain (cf. verse 3), and this time himself alone. These occasional separations from the apostles were undoubtedly part of the discipline to which they were subjected. They were taught that, when he was no longer visible to them, he might still be spiritually present and able to succour them.
(2) The mastery of the forces of nature—a "sign" of love.
John 6:16, John 6:17
Now when it became evening. This must have been the "second evening;" for the miracle itself was said to he wrought when the day began to decline (Matthew 14:15; Luke 9:12). The first evening (ὀψία) lasted from three to six p.m., the "second evening" stretched from sundown to darkness (σκοτία). The night was drawing on. His disciples went down from the higher ground or grassy slopes to the sea (ἐπὶ τὴν θάλασσαν), and having embarked in a ship, they were making for the other side of the sea to Capernaum; or as Mark (Mark 6:45) says, "towards Bethsaida." This occasions no difficulty to those who remember that there were two Bethsaidas—one, "Bethsaida Julias," on the northeastern end of the lake; and the other near to Capernaum, called "Bethsaida of Galilee."" The two towns were so near that the latter Bethsaida might reasonably he regarded as the port of Capernaum.
John 6:17, John 6:18
And darkness had already come on,£ and Jesus had not yet come to them. This thrilling touch in John's narrative makes it more than evident that the beloved disciple was on board. He had been expecting the Master to make his appearance in some form. He had looked long and eagerly to that point on the mountainside whither he knew that Jesus had retired. The dreary and disappointed expectation, the long and weary waiting, left an indelible impression. Their natural course towards Capernaum would have been almost parallel with the shore of the lake; but it was dark and tempestuous, they could not steer. And the sea was being roused from its slumber by reason of a high wind which was blowing. If the wind came from the north, it would drift them out into the darkness and the middle of the lake, which is there, at its widest, about five miles broad, i.e. forty stadia, or furlongs. The statement of the next verse comes then into undesigned coincidence with Mark 6:47, which shows that they were "in the midst of the sea," i.e. halfway from shore to shore. This would exactly correspond with the following statement.
When they had rowed £ about twenty-five or thirty stadia; or, furlongs. When they had rowed with a northwest wind, one "contrary to them," about three miles and a half, they would be in the midst of the broadest portion of the lake, and exposed to the force of those gales which often sweep down with astonishing fury upon lakes similarly guarded on all sides by high hills. While the wind was tossing the little lake into angry waves, it was not silent on the mountain side or summit, and Jesus "saw them toiling in rowing." He loved them to the uttermost. Now, Jesus never went out of his way to work a miracle, but he never went out of his way to avoid one. It seems as natural to him to make his will the cause of events as to submit to the arbitrament of circumstances. The miracle, however, was always for the benefit of others, not for his own advantage and comfort. They beheld Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing near to the ship. Paulus, Gfrorer, and Baumgarten-Crusius suppose that Jesus was walking "along the shore", and that they had miscalculated their distance, and that there was no manifestation of special power on the occasion, nothing less than one of the most ordinary of all coincidences. The three narrators, each in his own manner, convey a profoundly different impression. The discovery of their Lord thus in near proximity would not have made them "cry out for fear," and say, "It is a phantasm," an apparition, a herald of immediate destruction. The loud cry (ἀνέκραξαν) is the especial note of Mark. John simply says, They were affrighted (ἐφοβήθησαν). They might have eagerly longed for his presence, remembering his recent display of power when "the winds and sea obeyed him." But when the deliverance came, the manner of it was unexpected, and the symbolism ineffably sublime. They could not have been ignorant of the Psalms which spoke of Jehovah walking on the sea, and mightier than its waves (see also Job 9:8, "He alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth on the heights of the sea"). This visible nearness to them of the mighty power of God is enough to have startled them into cries of fear; but it is quite incompatible with the rationalistic interpretation of the event. Matthew and Mark both relate that the Lord came to them at or about the fourth watch (i.e. between three and six a.m.), when the first gleams of light were breaking over the eastern hills. Consequently, their peril had been prolonged and perplexing. The whole of the narrative lends itself to symbol, and suggests the impressive analogy of the calamities to which the ship of God's Church has been exposed in its long history. Often has the Church been chastised for its secular tastes and worldly passions, buffeted with the storms of the world and tormented by the waves; but in the direst extremity it has seen the deliverer approach, and at first cried out for fear, trembling at his nearness. Individual believers have often seen, in this picture of the storm and the Saviour, an image of the sore travail and victory of their faith. The disposition on the part of numerous expositors to press these analogies has strengthened the hands of the critical and rationalistic expositors. We can grant that the idea which is so fertile is more important than the narrative per se, but apart from the historic fact itself, who can say that the idea would ever have dawned on human minds? We make no further attempt to think out the modus operandi of the miracle, nor can we with that view accept the docetic conception of the body of Christ, which some have attributed most unfairly to John's Gospel. It is enough that the will of Christ thus faced the forces of nature, and prophesied the ultimate victory which the will of glorified humanity will likewise win. The great ἔργα of Christ include his power over nature, in its physical elements and forces, in the regions of both animal and vegetable life, over human nature, diseased, crippled, devil ridden, and dead. The highest realm over which he reigned was his own Divine-human Person, as recorded
(1) in this event,
(2) in his transfiguration,
(3) in his resurrection and ascension.
But he saith to them, It is I (literally, I am); be not afraid. These Divine words, in a voice which reminded them of his entire personality, of all his previous beneficence, of all his knowledge of their weakness and fear, are sacredly symbolic. The Church has ever since regarded them as veritably sacramental. In the darkest hour of men and Churches, in the throes of persecution in the furnace of temptation, on a million death-beds, the same voice has been heard. tits Divine Personality, his infinite power and perfect sympathy, the conviction of his specialized regard and veritable nearness (as we count nearness), have scattered doubt and fear.
Then they were willing to receive him into the ship: and straightway the ship was at the land whither they were going. Some expositors, who find discrepancy between this statement and that of the synoptists, say, "they were willing, but did not do it," because the vessel is said by some remarkable process to have been miraculously propelled to the shore (so Lucke, Meyer). There are many passages, however, where a similar expression is used, and where no doubt arises that that which the actors were willing to do they actually did. Chrysostom felt this difficulty, and actually proposed to read ἦλθον instead of ἤθελον, which would remove the difficulty; and א veritably contains this reading, but it has every appearance of an unauthorized correction. The imperfect tense implies a lengthened willingness supervening on fear and outcry—a willingness or wish increased by the sound of his voice, following his first action, his apparent resolve to pass by them; and, still more, by the incident described in Matthew's Gospel, of Peter's desire to display the strength of his faith and the eminence of his position among the twelve. This occupied time, during which the wind may have been bearing them briskly in their true direction. They willed, wished, to take him into the ship, and did so, and the calm supervened as described in Matthew and Mark. Their wish is not frustrated by the fact now mentioned, but accompanied by it. "Straightway," etc. Most expositors confess this to be an additional miracle, that the twenty furlongs or thereabouts (two miles and a half) were suddenly traversed and miraculously abolished. There would be a greater miracle in this than in the two events which preceded. The annihilation of space and time is the obliteration of the very categories of thought, and would, if conveyed by the statement, suggest a stupendous and, so far as we can see, a useless portent. It would strongly tempt us to accept the rationalistic interpretation. Εὐθέως does not always mean "instantaneously," but simply that the next thing to notice or observe was the fact described. Take Mark 1:21, Mark 1:29. It does not mean that any miraculous rapidity characterized the movement of Christ to the house of Simon and Andrew (Mark 4:17; Gal 1:16; 3 John 1:14; John 13:32; and many other passages). The author of the "Christian Year" has consecrated in sweet lines the supposed addition to the miracle—
"Thou Framer of the light and dark,
Steer through the tempest thine own ark;
Amid the howling wintry sea,
We are in port, if we have thee."
But there are so many ways in which this "straightway" may be reconciled with an ordinary disembarkation, that there is no necessity to regard it as implied in John's narrative. John so often leaves gaps unfilled in his chronology and horology that no peat emphasis need be laid upon the annihilation (save in his adoring thought) of the hour before the dawn.
(3) The sequel of the signs.
The discussion which follows is closely linked with these two great miracles of power and love. It naturally arises out of them, and refers with great explicitness to the former of them and to its true meaning. The discussion does unquestionably alter its scope as it proceeds, and at John 6:41 and John 6:52 "the Jews" take up a controversy which had previously been conducted by a portion of the crowd who witnessed his mighty works. Jesus declared
(1) that he is himself the Bread of God—the Bread of life for a starving world; then
(2) that his "flesh," i.e. his wondrous humanity—the veritable abode of the Word of God—will constitute the food of man;
(3) that the death of the Divine humanity, the separation of his blood and flesh, must be appropriated by men;
(4) that only by this acceptance and entire assimilation—not only of his mission, but of his incarnation; not only of his incarnation, but of his sacrificial death—will men receive him, or live because he lives.
Before the evangelist proceeds to relate this great discourse, he portrays the historical platform, the audience to which it is addressed, and this in a sentence which is unusually involved and perplexed in its construction. The first clause with its verb, εἶδον,, is not completed until two or three parenthetical ideas are introduced; and then in John 6:24 the sentence is taken up or recom-menced, after which the main affirmation follows, viz. ἐνέβησαν, etc. The whole sentence is intended to explain the regathering of the crowd on the seashore at Capernaum, and that excited state of baulked curiosity with which they encountered the Lord.
The next day, the crowd which stood on the other side of the sea, near the site of the great miracle, amazed at the departure of the disciples and the separation between them and Jesus, and saw that there was only one little boat there £—or "none other little boat there save one," and this was too small for it to be the boat which brought Jesus and his disciples thither or took the latter away—and saw that Jesus did not enter with his disciples into the boat in which they were accustomed to move about the lake, but that his disciples departed alone. He does not say that Tiberias was near to the place where, etc., but that the boats from Tiberias came near to the place, etc. This parenthesis makes it clear that this one little boat was the only one belonging to the desert place, and could not have conveyed Jesus away. When then the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples—the latter had gone and not returned, and Jesus could not be found on the mountain side or summit or hollows (not until we reach this statement does the writer give the principal verb of the sentence)—they themselves embarked in the little boats, and came to Capernaum seeking for Jesus. This does not mean that the entire multitude took shipping. Such an exaggeration, contrary to the nature of even the most extravagant legend, some (Strauss) have tried to foist into the story for the sake of discrediting it. The geographical relation of the two places shows that there were other ways of passing from one spot to the other than by ship. That some should return by the head of the lake, and others should cross its northern are by boat to Capernaum, reveals a simple and interesting fact, which is incidentally conveyed by the synoptists, viz. that Capernaum was the customary dwelling place of our Lord during his Galilaean ministry (cf. John 2:12; Matthew 4:13; Matthew 8:5; and see also Matthew 9:1; Luke 4:24).
When they had found him on the other side of the sea (other side than that on which the miracle took place, and yet near Capernaum. This contradicts the exposition which would make the site of the feeding to be on the Western side), they said unto him, Rabbi, when earnest thou? and how happens it that thou art here? The πότε ὦδε γέγονας; is difficult to translate. The when? practically includes the how? also. The difficulty lay in the time. They were sure that Jesus had not started before the disciples, and they knew that there was no method by which the lake itself would have been available, and they want explanation. The news of his crossing the water after some fashion that would ally him to Moses, Joshua, Elijah, may easily have got disseminated, one report or another being rapidly circulated.
(a) An offer of himself as veritable bread.
Jesus answered them; i.e. he met by response their question, but not after the fashion their curiosity might dictate, omitting any reply to their unnecessary inquiry, and even refusing to answer it. The method and time were of no real moment to his questioners. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs—in the sense I am desirous you should see those miracles of healing (John 6:2) or other wonders of yesterday, viz. as "signs," "symbols," of my higher nature or of my Divine commission. The first group of healings drew some of you to my side, not for my word, but for more healing; and though some others of you who ate off the bread said (John 6:14), "This is the promised Prophet that is coming into the world," you did not get beyond the outward seeming, the superficial phenomenon, you revealed by thus rushing to the couclusion that I was your Prophet and King, that you did not really discern the sign I gave, and ye are seeking me now, not because you have really seen "signs"—but because ye ate of the (those) loaves, and were filled up by this temporary supply of your daily want, expecting today some new, some more impressive, characteristic of the Messianic kingdom than yesterday. You are fastening on the outward, acting on the mere physical resources which you suppose me to possess. These are not the claims I make on your loyalty or obedience.
Labour not for the food that is perishable, which soon loses its effect and must be renewed, which is corruptible and worthless if not partaken of at once, which, like manna, may breed worms, or vanish in the sun; labour not for the merely outward and vanishing and perishable elements in my work. Christ did not mean that these multitudes were not to toil for their daily bread, which could only be secured for them by labour and the sweat of the brow; but to labour for the food which endureth (or, abideth) unto eternal life. The bread that abideth unto eternal life, however, corresponds very closely with the water of life (John 4:14), which, when once appropriated, flows and springs up with perennial energy within the soul, conferring the consciousness and the beginning of eternal life. There is a food which is imperishable and incorruptible, feeding the heavenly life within the soul, and which, if once assimilated, becomes Divine life itself. Labour for that life which the Son of man will give to you. This grand idea, viz. the gift of eternal life in and by Christ himself, was one of the main themes of the Gospel of John. Christ knew himself to be the Giver of eternal life—a life of perfect blessedness, irrespective of time, and sense, and flesh, and the world, and death. The Lord here calls himself "Son of man," rather than "Son of God." The whole of the subsequent discourse expands and rests upon this gift of the perfect and blessed life in and by his humanity. In the previous chapter attention was called to the Divine Sonship and the Divine activity. Here equal emphasis was laid upon the human sonship and on the acceptance and assimilation by man of this supreme gift. The power or function of the Son of man to bestow this life is sustained by the assertion, For him (this very one) the Father, even God, hath sealed. Σφραγίζειν £ (see John 3:33)means here to ratify and accredit as worthy and competent to discharge such duties, to render indubitable, to confirm by outward visible sign. or seal, as one empowered to do so Divine a thing. The Father has made "the Son of man" the steward of his bounty. The Son of man has the key to this boundless treasure, this eternal blessing. Men, however, must labour to receive so great a gift. It will prove to be a gift, even if they put forth the most strenuous energy to receive it. This first dialogue contrasts the carnal and spiritual reasons for seeking Jesus, and brings into sharp relief the Galilaean conception of the Christ, as Miracle worker, temporal Potentate, prophetic Leader of some vast host of triumphant enthusiasts, and contrasts with it the Lord's own conception. of himself as the Giver, the Medium, the divinely appointed Almoner of a spiritual blessing, for which, while the Father-God freely and lavishly gives it, the sons of men must eagerly toil. The next question and answer bring out the moral condition on which alone the gift can be dispensed.
They say unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? The works of God might be, either works like those which are wrought by God the Father, but this would be a very improbable demand; or "the works of God" may be those which God has assigned to man as the conditions of his favour. There is a breadth about the question that may cover the ground involved in Christ's declaration, but it reveals, at the same time, the self-complacency, the carnal conception on the part of these Galilaeans of their being able, competent, to fulfil along certain lines to be specified, all the required conditions. But we must not be too hard on these Galilaeans, brought up as they were to believe in the efficacy of certain rounds of specific and arbitrary duties, methods of purification, forms of service and of abstinence, pilgrimages and fastings and feastings, as well as obedience to a specific moral code. They ask quite rationally, "What must we do?" and in various forms the same question bursts from the heart of all who have, starting from utter indifference, made any progress towards, or in the direction of, holy living or of Divine pleasing.£
Christ's reply really solves the great problem which had long perplexed the schools of Palestine, and often, and even to the present hour, is dividing into two hostile camps the Christian Church. Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God. Observe, not "works," but "work"—the one work which is the germ and the consummation of all the partial workings which are often made substitutes for it. There is "one work" which God would have man do. Jesus admits that there is something to do (ποιεῖν)—there is a labour, an effort of the will needed to do what God requires; and this is evident enough as soon as this great work is described, viz. That ye believe on him whom he (the Father) sent; or, hath sent. Ἵνα πιστεύητε,£ here preferred by the R.T. to πιστεύσητε (see John 13:19), marks the simple fact and continuous act of believing with the effort tending to such result; while the aorist would have pointed to one definite act of faith (see Westcott).. To "believe on him," to habitually entrust one's self to the power and grace of Christ, to make a full moral surrender of the soul to the Lord, includes in itself all other work, and is in itself the great work of God. "It is the Christian answer to the Jewish question" (Thoma). "Faith is the life of works, works the necessity of faith" (Westcott). "Faith is the highest kind of work, for by it man gives himself to God, and a free being can do nothing greater than give himself: St. James opposes work to a faith which would be nothing but intellectual belief. St. Paul opposes faith, active faith, to works of mere observance. The 'faith' of St. Paul is really the 'work' of St. James, according to this sovereign formula of Jesus, 'This is the work of God, that ye believe'" (Godet). Luther says, "To depend on God's Word, so that the heart is not terrified by sin and death, but trusts and believes in God, is a much severer and more difficult thing than the Carthusians or all orders of monks demand." Schleiermachcr says, "This is the most significant declaration, that all eternal life proceeds from nothing else than faith in Christ."
They said therefore to him, What then doest thou as a sign that we may see and believe thee? There is a kind of irony in the inquiry, "What doest thou?" There is at least some ironical mystification of the words of Jesus, "If we have not seen, as thou sayest, the sign, which we thought sufficient to induce us to hail thee as our Prophet-King, what sign wilt thou give us now? If we are to believe on thee, what sign art thou ready to show now that we may see it, and believe thee, i.e. take thy word as trustworthy, and so begin to consider whether it will be safe to believe in, to entrust ourselves to, thee?" It has been the peculiarity of the Jewish mind in all ages to seek after a sign, to desire some irresistible reason for invincible faith. In certain stages of immaturity and states of unrest we passionately ask for signs even now—for something more than silent words, for more than past memories, for some voice out of heaven, some gleams of glory, that "we may see and believe." These frames of mind are no whit more reprehensible than the Greek demand for unanswerable argument, for logical harmony, or for sure demonstration. They said to him, What dost thou work? How wilt thou vindicate thy demand for such implicit trust? This very question has been made into a reason for breaking all historic connection between the miracle of the feeding and the dialogue and discourse before us (Grotius, Kuinoel, B. Bauer, Weisse, and Schenkel). It is, however, clear that they were still revolving the work of the past day, which Jesus had depreciated per se, and which, apart from the higher lesson it might have conveyed to them, and apart from the wrong conclusion they had been drawing from it, grievously perplexed them, and seemed insufficient to establish the new claim of Jesus. They, too, begin to depreciate it in comparison with a corresponding sign which Moses had wrought for their fathers. Verily if Moses had been the mediator of the portentous sign of the manna, if Moses had been its real anther, it was a much greater sign than what they witnessed at Bethsaida. For forty years the miraculous bread had been lavished upon them. Daily and weekly it proved its supernatural character. In quantity, quality, prolongation, and renewal day by day, and in its cessation when they ate the fresh corn of Canaan, they not unnaturally saw something immeasurably more vast and imposing than the offer of a single meal to a little company of five thousand men. Christ had wrought a τέρας, an ἔργον, but they had not seen the real σημεῖον involved in it. He himself suggested that something entirely different from that meal, and different from their conclusions concerning it was the true "sign." Let him work the same adequate sign. They are not repudiating all knowledge of the feeding of the five thousand, nor revealing their ignorance of it. They are thrown back on their ingrained passion for supernatural proof, not as yet satisfied by what Christ had done.
Our fathers, they continued, ate the manna in the wilderness; even as it has been written, He gave them bread out of heaven to eat. If Moses did this, the Christ should do more, seeing he makes this exhaustive claim upon our faith. The manna (see Exodus 16:1-2.16.36.; Numbers 11:1-4.11.35.) appeared like the hoar frost out of heaven. It was gifted with numerous qualities—perishable if not immediately used, respecting in mysterious way the sabbath sanctity, attending the Israelites through their forty years" wandering, terminating when no longer wanted, utterly unlike, in quantity and quality, to what is the Oriental manna of commerce (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' art. "Manna"). The psalmists spoke of it (Psalms 78:24; Psalms 105:40) as virtually coming down out of heaven, as "corn of heaven," as "angels' food." The Targum of Jonathan, Deuteronomy 34:6, says, "God caused bread to descend from heaven upon the sons of Israel," and a rabbinical commentary on Ecclesiastes, quoted by Lightfoot and Wettestein: "Redemptor prior descendere fecit pro iis manna; sic et Redemptor posterior descendere faciet manna." Consequently, they make the challenge, not as though Jesus had done no sign, but as though he had not done enough to put himself on an equality with Moses.
Jesus therefore said to them, with the tones of special emphasis, Verily, verily, I say unto you, It was not Moses, of whom you are reasonably thinking with due reverence, who gave £ you the bread out of heaven. There are two assertions here. There is also an implication, which the hearers of Jesus were called on to make.
(1) It was not Moses who gave to your fathers the bread out of heaven, such as the historians, psalmists, and expositors speak of; for such as it was,—a needed food for the body rained on you out of heaven,—it was the gift of God, not of Moses.
(2) Moreover, the manna was not the veritable "bread of heaven." There is a richer and more nourishing food than that, which alone deserves to be called Bread from heaven. The "corn of heaven," though God's gift, was not that of which I speak, nay, it was only the shadow and type of that. But my Father is giving you, even now, the veritable bread out of heaven (ἀληθινόν); that which fully answers the description of the term—food for your spiritual sustenance, bread which will save your souls alive, which, if assimilated by you, will convey the consciousness and reality of eternal blessedness. The kind of strength which will arise within you when once appropriated, is an eternal possession, an abiding advantage; the satisfaction is not exhausted by a short interval, it remains forever. The Son of man is entrusted with power to bestow it. He is sealed and sanctified and sent into the world for this purpose. This bread is veritably from heaven. Moses did not even give, nor was he the almoner even of, the manna. All the giving then was God's work, but he whom God has sent, on whom you have to believe, is a veritable Giver of this true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life to the world. It is debated whether the ὁ καταβαίνων is "he who cometh down," or "that (bread) which cometh," etc.—whether in this verse the Lord passes at once to the identification of himself with the bread, or for a moment longer is delaying the announcement, and broadly asserting the qualities of that "bread of God," viz. that whoever and whatever it is, IT comes from heaven, and gives life, not merely to the theocratic people, but to the whole world. (The latter is the view of Hengstenberg, Lange, Meyer, Westcott, Moulton; the former translation is partially urged by Godet, who thinks our Lord here spoke amphibologically, meaning both ideas, but by the form of the expression reserving the solution of the problem.) It certainly does not follow that, if he was speaking of himself, the expression ὁ καταβάς would have been used, because, in John 6:50, after he has removed all ambiguity, he still uses the present tense, ὁ καταβαίνων. The present tense is that of quality rather than of time. These characteristics of the veritable bread of God must hold good. It must have a heavenly origin, life-giving power, and universality of application to human need. John 3:16 is here repeated. The whole world is the object of the Divine grace and love. The bread of God must be a Divine gift, mysterious and heavenly in its origin, and must at once demonstrate its vitality, its Source, and its Giver.
They said therefore to him, Lord! His hearers have clearly been more impressed than ever with the extraordinary claims of the speaker. They have risen from the "Rabbi" of John 6:26 to "Kyrie," which implies, as the "Kyrie," or "Sir," or "Lord" of John 4:15, some advance in their tone of deference. The request that follows is neither ironical nor sarcastic, nor need it be as carnal in its spirit as the similar language of the woman of Samaria (John 4:15). They have some dim notion of "doing the works of God," and of some heavenly satisfaction given to their earthly wants. It may be that they imagine some material thing coming down out of heaven, more potent and lasting than the historic manna. Lord, evermore—"at all times," "continuously"—give us this bread, of which you speak, and which as Son of man you are able to bestow, which will not be limited in quantity, which will prove to be the elixir of life, the food of the eternal life, and which will satisfy all our hunger, abolish our poverty, make us indifferent to death. A great prayer this, which Christ showed himself not unwilling to answer in his own way.
[But, or then £] Jesus said to them, now dropping all disguise, and gathering up into one burning word all the previous teaching, which they might have fathomed, but did not. I am the Bread of life; or "that which cometh down out of heaven, the veritable life-eternal-giving Bread, which I, as the steward of the Divine bounty, am giving, is my very self, my Divine humanity." On other occasions the Lord said, "I am the Light of the world" (John 8:12), "I am the good Shepherd" (John 10:14), "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11:25), "I am the veritable vine" (John 15:1). He claims here to be giving himself to the world, as the Source of its true life. The mode in which any human being can so assimilate this Bread that it should accomplish its purposes and transform itself into life, is by "coming"" or "believing." The two terms are parallel, though in "craning" there is more emphasis laid on the distinct act of the will than in "believing." The process is very impressively conveyed. He who has started to come, he that is coming to me, shall by no means hunger; he that is believing on me—endeavouring to effect such inward approval and surrender—shall never thirst (the πώποτε responds here to the πάντοτε). There is no special significance in the two-foldness of the parallel. "Coming" does not stand in any more immediate relation to "eating" than to "drinking," to the satisfaction of hunger than to that of thirst, nor does "believing" connote exclusively either the one or the other. The parallelism is a strengthening of the same idea. Approach to himself, believing surrender to the reality of his word, will satisfy the most pressing spiritual need, and do it in such a way that the hunger and thirst shall not, shall never, return. There is an invincible and unalterable assent produced by a real apprehension of Christ, which cannot be shaken out of the soul. Satisfaction of hunger may possibly (as Godet suggests) point to the supply of strength, and the appeasing of thirst to the supply of peace. The deeper idea is that the desire of the soul is satisfied, and it is not a recurrent desire. There are certain realities which, if once perceived, can never be unknown afterwards. There are consolations which, if once supplied, absolutely stanch and heal the wounds of the soul. Christ, in "coming down from heaven," by revealing the Divine Sonship in a Son of man. brings all heaven with him, opens all the Father's heart. To come to him and to believe on him is to feed on the corn of heaven and drink of that river of life, clear as crystal, which is ever issuing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
But I told you—I said unto you—that you have both seen me, and believe me not; or "that you have seen me, and yet believe not." Some difficulty has arisen from our not being able to find, in the previous dialogue, the exact words here quoted. Some have supposed it to refer to an unrecorded conversation (Alford, Westcott), or even to some written sentence which is now a lost fragment of the discourse. Meyer says (without answering the suggestions of Olshausen, Hengstenberg, Godet, and others), that there is no such statement in the context, and proposes to translate εἶπον (as he says it is not unfrequently found in Greek tragedians, as if it were equivalent to dictum velim) "I would have you told;" but there is no such usage in the New Testament, and John 11:42 does not seem a parallel ease. It is not at all probable that Jesus was referring to the language of John 5:37, words which were addressed to a different audience—to "Jews" at Jerusalem, and uttered many months before (Lucke and De Wette). But John 5:26 shows that Galilaeans had come to see him, and had come without belief in the great sign of his spiritual nature and claims which he had already granted. They had seen him and his great miracles, it is true; but they simply longed in consequence for "more bread" and "more healing," not for himself. In John 5:30 he draws from them a confession that they had not seen enough to believe him. This thought recurs not infrequently. "Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?" "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed" (John 20:29). The setting forth of himself ought to have induced belief apart even from works. He is so intensely conscious of the Divine reality himself, that he marvels at the unbelief of his hearers. Let them think as he does, and immediately the lifelong hunger and thirst of their souls would be satisfied. Seeing, however, is not believing in their ease; and he has already urged them to consider this lamentable spiritual blindness of theirs. The exclamation of this verse recites the obvious inference of the verses we have referred to, condenses into a sentence the spirit of what he had said, εἶπε (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:8).
(b) Episode or, the blessedness of those who "come" to Christ.
Many suppose a time of stillness, a break in the conversation, "a significant asyndeton," from the absence of all connection between this and the previous verse. John 6:39, John 6:40 would seem to have been addressed more directly to the disciples, the less susceptible hearers retiring from him or engaging in eager conversation (cf. John 6:41). Nevertheless, the Lord takes up the continuous line of his self-revelation, and John 6:37 clearly refers the "non-coming" and "non-believing" in their case to their moral obliquity, and to the apparent inadequacy of sufficient proof to induce the faith which will satisfy spiritual hunger. This spiritual dulness on the part of all suggests some internal and necessary condition, which is, though yet absent, not said to be inaccessible. Seeing ought to issue in believing, but it does not; therefore there is something more than the manifestation of the Christ absolutely necessary. To that Jesus now reverts. All (πᾶν, the neuter is also used of persons in John 3:6 and John 17:2, used concerning the whole body of real believers, the whole mass of those who, when they see, do come—the entire company of believers regarded as a grand unity, and stretching out into the future) all that which the Father giveth me. The subsequent descriptions of the Father's grace (John 6:44, John 6:45) throw light on this. The "drawing of the Father," the "hearing and learning from the Father," are there declared to be conditions of "coming to Christ." All those influences on the soul, all the new-creating and spirit-quickening energies of the Holy Ghost, the new heart and tender conscience, the honest, serious desire for holy things, are broadly described in this passage as God's method and act of giving to the Son of his love. There is no necessity to suppose that our Lord refers to an absolute predestinating decree. For if God has not yet given these particular men to him, it does not say that he will not and may nut do so yet. The Father's giving to the Son may indeed assume many forms. It may take the character of original constitution, of predisposition and temperamerit, or of special "providential education and training, or of tenderness of conscience, or of a truthful and sincere and unquenched desire. The Father is the Divine Cause. "The giving" implies a present activity of grace, not a foregone conclusion. All that which the Father giveth me shall reach me—all souls touched by the Father in a thousand ways to the point of making a moral surrender to my claims, will reach me £—and him that is coming to me—i.e. is on the way to me, is drawing near to me—I for my part will not cast out.
Thus authority to refuse is claimed by Christ, and power to exclude from his fellowship and friendship, from his kingdom and glory. (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13). Admission is not the working of some impersonal law, but the individual response of him who has come down to give life. As far as man is concerned, it turns on his voluntary coming, on his bare willingness to be fed with heavenly food. It is impossible, so far as responsibility is concerned, to get back of personal wish and individual will. The process of genuine coming to Christ does show that the Father is therein giving such soul to his Son. Archdeacon Watkins says, "Men have now seized one and now the other of these truths, and have built upon them in separation logical systems of doctrine which are but half truths. He (Jesus) states them in union. Their reconciliation transcends human reason, but is within the experience of human life." The greatness of the self-consciousness of Christ appears in the further proof that he proceeds to supply of this relation to the Father.
Because I came down from heaven (cf. John 3:13), not that I might do my own will, but the will of him that sent me (see John 5:19, John 5:30, notes). The practical, ethical force of this statement is to shape and defend the previous assurance. Christ's gracious reception and benediction is in willing harmony with, and not in opposition to, the Father's heart. There is no schism between the Father and Son. A separate will in and of itself assigned to the Son is not inconceivable, nay, it is imperatively necessary to posit, or we should lose all distinctions whatever between the Father and Son, between God and Christ. But the very separateness of the wills gives the greater significance to their moral oneness. "Not my will, but thine be done," "Not as I will, but as thou wilt," involve submission, voluntary surrender, to the Father's will; but here the Lord insists on absolute harmony and free cooperation. The bare idea of the Incarnation suggests the conditions of freedom which might conceivably issue in divarication of interest and aim. Christ declares that the Divine commission of his humanity is the spontaneous and free, but perfect, coincidence of his will with the Father's. Christ's embodiment of the Father's will, and coordination with it, make all his attractiveness to the human soul. His healing, feeding, and satisfying powers become a revelation of the Father's heart. If he will not cast out the coming ones, it is because he came down out of £ heaven to fulfil the Father's will (see further, John 6:44, John 6:45), to explain the world wide hunger, to meet and execute the will of the Father. The frequent assertions by our Lord in this discourse (and in John 3:13) of his descent from heaven as One charged with a full knowledge of the Divine will, implies that the Lord was conscious of pre-existence in the very bosom of God. This was language which, with more of the same import, led St. Jn to the overwhelming conclusion that the Jesus whom he knew in the flesh was the Only Begotten of the Father—was the Logos made flesh.
And this is the will of him £ (the Father) that sent me, that (with reference to) all that he hath given me £ I should not lose (sc. τὶ) anything, any fragment of it; i.e. from the entire mass of humanity thus given to me as the guerdon of my sacrificial work, given by the inward working of Divine grace which issues in their coming and reaching me, no solitary soul should be plucked out of my hand—should be let slip away into perdition or destruction. The claim of a Divine authority and absolute power could not be put more strongly. The care with which the Divine hand can protect every fragment of his universe, and hold it by its everlasting laws and keep it in the career assigned to it from the beginning, illumines this passage. Should the speaker not sustain this stupendous assumption, it is only too certain that he was giving utterance to the most reckless raving. These words cannot be honestly watered down to the language of the influence of an ethical reformer or prophetic messenger. Jesus proceeds to clinch his argument and reassert his claims as follows. But in proof of the very opposite of the supposition that I can drop one atom of this great charge, I will raise it up at the last day. Reuss applies this to the resurrection of each believer on the "last day" of each life, for he seems unwilling to find in the Fourth Gospel any such idea as that of the general resurrection. But cf. John 5:29, and observe the repetition as in a wondrous refrain, John 5:40, John 5:44, 54, in which he again speaks of the "last day"—the final consummation of his redemptive work. The next verse shows that the Lord did discriminate between eternal life already bestowed here and now, and the great consequence of such possession in the complete restoration of body as well as life. It is in the continuity and perpetuity of the eternal life that we find the condition of the resurrection life. The "when" of this "last day" is not positively asserted here.
For £ this is the will of my Father £ (or, of him that sent me), that every one (πᾶς, instead of the πᾶν of John 6:37, John 6:39), treated separately and individually, who beholdeth—i.e. steadily and continuously contemplates—the Son (here he identifies himself with the revelation of the sonship in his own Person) and believeth on him—i.e. entrusts himself in a full moral surrender to the Son (the εἰς αὐτόν must be here especially noticed) as thus revealed—should have eternal life. This is the sublime law of Divine arrangement, and the fullest expression of the will of the Father. "Behold and trust." These are the conditions. The steady gaze, the full perception of the Divine Son-ship that is adequately expressed in the Son of man, issues by a Divine arrangement in life eternal. The blessedness of the life of faith, its elevation above the conditions of corruption and decay, are not all which he promises, for he added, And, that I should raise him (not "it;" cf. John 6:39) at the last day.
It is not improbable, as we have seen, that our Lord uttered these verses (37-40) to the innermost circle of his followers. The first discourse closes with John 6:36. The disciples looked with eager and inquisitive glances at each other and at their Lord, and received these teachings of the Lord concerning the relation he was sustaining to the Father, and the claim he made to be the Almoner of the mercy and minister of the judgment of him that sent him. This great utterance corresponds with the celebrated synoptic recital (Matthew 11:26, Matthew 11:27).
(c) The murmur of the Jews met by additional claim that his "flesh" is the "living bread." The passage here following resumes the narrative of the impression produced by the extraordinary discourse that had preceded. The question of "the Jews" does not turn at all upon the explanation he had just given to his disciples in John 6:36-43.6.40, but goes back to the theme of John 6:29-43.6.36. "The Jews" need not be restricted to the Jewish or the aristocratic or bigoted portion of the Galilaean ὅχλος, but rather to the Jewish authorities of the towns of Bethsaida and Capernaum, who had been stirred up into active opposition by the report of the miracles and of the explanation which the Lord had put upon them.
The Jews therefore murmured concerning him. Perhaps in John 7:32 γογγύζειν means simply "whisper;" but throughout the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10:10; Luke 5:30, with πρός; Matthew 20:11, with κατὰ; cf. Acts 6:1; Philippians 2:14; 1 Peter 4:9; Wis. 1:10) it has the malevolent meaning conveyed in the LXX. It is used to denote very rebellious feelings against God (Exodus 16:7-2.16.9; Numbers 11:1; Numbers 14:27). The Attic writers used τονθορίζω. Because he said, I am the Bread which cometh down from heaven. This was a reasonable putting together of the three assertions: "I am the Bread of life" (John 7:35); "I have come down from heaven" (John 7:38); and "The bread of God is that which cometh down from heaven" (John 7:33). "The Jews" did not misunderstand his meaning. They understood it perfectly, and rebelled against it.
They were saying (ἔλεγον)—the one to the other, murmuring in critical and angry mood, and not necessarily in his hearing; for he did not reply to their express assertion, and proceeded rather to enlarge and reiterate the great theme which he had already deduced in the hearing of his disciples. Weiss (vol. John 3:6) thinks that John has here introduced an amplification which belongs to a totally different connection. Is not this Jesus, the Son of Joseph—(cf. John 1:46; Luke 4:22). We cannot argue from this passage whether Joseph was living still or had died. The murmuring is explicable on either hypothesis. The traditionary impression is that "Joseph" had fallen asleep. Either hypothesis is compatible with the language—whose father and mother we know? They may have merely meant "whose reputed parentage is well understood," without implying that either one or other no longer lived. The fact of his parentage was admitted. This is an apparent point blank contradiction to the descent of his humanity from heaven. The supposition of the truth of the immaculate and supernatural birth of Jesus is perfectly compatible with the ignorance of the "Jews" about it. This deep mystery of love could not be made matter of public discourse, nor do our narratives suggest that the fact itself was promulgated until after the Resurrection. Whatever was apprehended by the sacred society of the hill country of Judaea, or laid up in the breasts of Joseph and Mary and of the few who pondered these strange things in their holy circle at Nazareth, we know not. The synoptic narratives, though they assert the mystery, do not give the smallest indication that it was ever referred to. or made an article of faith, by Jesus himself The difficulty that besets this passage is rather the silence of John, both here and elsewhere, concerning the manner of the Lord's birth. He, who knew the mother of Jesus, and must have been acquainted with the language of Matthew and Luke, says nothing in vindication of the words of the Lord. Here was an opportunity for putting the "Jews" in the wrong, by endorsing the synoptic account which he did not embrace. We have already seen (cf. notes, John 1:14; John 3:1-43.3.6) that the underlying presupposition of the miraculous birth is the best explanation of his own words. Still his silence is remarkable. It is best accounted for by the fact that he was evermore looking to the moral, spiritual significance of all the miracles he records, as well as of those to which he vaguely refers. He is content with the words of Jesus. They are the surest explanation of the synoptic narrative. The Jews, on the basis of their general knowledge, are struck with consternation. How (now) therefore £ doth he say, I have come down out of heaven? This was not an irrational nor a malignant criticism. This question must have been asked by those who heard for the first time the stupendous claim. It would not seem that these interrogations were put in the heating of our Lord. His "answer" goes back to the "question" as it shaped itself in the hearts of the disciples, and involves some of the deepest truths which he had previously communicated to Nicodemus. He demands and must have a new humanity, a regenerated audience, subjects for his kingdom who are born anew or from above. He who came down from heaven insists that his true disciples must become what he is—heaven born, must have a life out of heaven. They must be "of God," they must "hear" and "learn of the Father," must be drawn by Divine hands, if they would or should come to him. No lip-homage, no fickle desire for the Messianic kingdom, would satisfy him.
John 6:43, John 6:44
Jesus answered £ and said to them, Murmur not among yourselves; or, with one another. He had searched out a deeper reason for their murmuring than their probable involuntary ignorance of certain miraculous facts. No man can come (is able to come) to me except the Father, who hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. In the previous utterance "all" which the Father "gives" to the Son "comes" to him, reaches him, enters into close relationship with him. Here "no one is able" by the nature of the case "to come" except this process and method of a Divine giving is realized. The Father's "giving" to him is described in new terms, as "the drawing" by the Father who hath sent him. The word ἐλκύειν almost always implies resistless or at least successful force, in the stretching of a sail, the dragging of a net, the force applied to a prisoner, the drawing of a sword (John 18:10; John 21:6, John 21:11; Acts 16:19; James 2:6). It is used also in Attic writers for the internal drawing of desire towards pleasure. Our Lord also uses the word for his own attractive force, for the Divine magnetism of his cross, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me;" I will counteract all the power of the prince of this world (see John 12:32, note). This drawing of the Father to the Son by an internal operation on the heart must be interpreted by the attractive force of the love and sacrifice of the Father which is seen in Christ's being lifted up; and still further explained by his own subsequent assertion in John 14:1-43.14.31., "No man cometh unto the Father but by me." So that, while the whole action centres in Christ, the process begins and ends in the Father's heart. The Father loves the world; the Father would have all men come to him, have access to himself. To secure this Divine result he sends forth his Son with all the attractive force of love and death. This Divine humanity is a sufficient revelation of the perfect will and infinite love of God. The drawing of Christ to himself is nothing less than the drawing of the Father to Himself; for Christ came to do the will of him that sent him. Nor is this all, for all the "internal pressing" and revelation of need and peril, the conviction of sin and righteousness and judgment by the Comforter, is at once the Father's drawing and also the attraction of the Son, and the veritable "coming" of a soul through Christ to the Father. The Father "gives" to the Son by this double process:
(1) he manifests his own fatherly heart in Christ;
(2) he opens men's eyes to see the Father in the Son.
"No man can come to me except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. I," says Christ, "will complete and consummate his life at my great day of coronation and triumph." The several thoughts must be taken together, and they explain one another. The coming of men to the Father, access to God himself in the glory of the resurrection life, is the sublime consummation. Christ is sent, the Only Begotten is given, he is lifted up to draw men by the revelation of the Father's heart to himself, and thus in seeing and knowing that Christ is in the Father and the Father in him, the soul is drawn by the Father to the Son—is drawn by the Son to the Father. Yet the subjective work of the Father in the mind, moving it even to see the full meaning of the Christ and to yield to his attractive force, is strongly suggested. The direct contact of God himself with each soul that seeks, finds, and comes to him through Christ is made evident. There is, as Reuss says, "la base mystique de la theologic Chretienne," rather than the announcement of a predestinating decree. Even Calvin says, "As to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful influence of the Holy Spirit which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling."
It is written in the prophets; either in the division of Scripture called "the prophets," or because the substance of the statement is found to pervade the prophets, and to receive express, if not literal, utterance in Isaiah 54:13. The prophet, on describing the glorious triumphs of the Servant of the Lord in his new kingdom, added (LXX.), Καὶ πάντας τοὺς υἰοὺς σου διδακτοὺς Θεοῦ καὶ ἐν πολλῇ εἰρήνη τὰ τέκνα σου, "And all thy sons [I will make] to be taught of God, and in much [great] peace thy children" (cf. also Jeremiah 31:1-24.31.40. [LXX., 38.] 34, for the same thought in other words). Godet suggests that the former passage was in the haphtora, from the prophets—the lesson for the day. If the discourse was uttered in the synagogue of Capernaum, this is not impossible. At all events, the "and" (καὶ) which here follows suggests that the quotation is taken from Isaiah. And they shall all be taught of God; i.e. direct teaching by God is the prime requisite of any spiritual apprehension, even of the mysteries of Christ the Revealer. This solemn truth is affirmed by the entire history of Christ. The vision of his majesty, even contact with his ineffable love, the sight of his humiliation and of the shedding of his precious blood, did not, by any necessarily acting law of mind, induce faith. Divine teaching by the Spirit of the Father and Son is the preliminary (see notes on John 16:5-43.16.8, on the mission of the Comforter) to believing on Christ. "Taught of God" (διδακτοὶ Θεοῦ), translated in vulgate, docibiles Dei (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:9), means more than the reception of one lesson in the school of God, and suggests a prolonged experience and a rich communion between the Teacher and the taught. Every one (therefore) £ [πᾶς, referring to the πάντες of verse 45a, and to the quotation, is not so much every human being, as the "all" of the Messianic kingdom—the "all" of God's "sons" and "children "] that hath heard £ from the Father, and hath learned (of him), cometh unto me. Hearing may end in heedlessness, even when the Lord God Almighty speaks with us. His revelations at great epochs, his inner voice at special moments in our religious history, may be disregarded. The voice of God may be heard, yet not obeyed; the voice of conscience and revelation and inspiration, the sacred monitions and warnings of the heart, may all be slighted. But every one that hath heard the Father, and has also accepted the lesson—has felt the Divine drawing; being willing to do the will of the Father, he knows of the doctrine, whether it be of God, and he comes to Christ. Later on, Christ said, "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice." It is one thing to "hear," another to "learn," another to "come." These three stages still further illumine the "drawing" of the Father, and the method which the Father has adopted of so giving men to Christ that he may ultimately fold them in his arms and press them to his heart. Lest, however, the hearers of Jesus, then or now, should conclude that the kind of direct teaching of which the prophets spake, and which he endorsed, was of that immediate kind which himself enjoyed, and which alone justifies this language, he continued—
Not that any one hath seen the Father, save he who is from God, he hath seen the Father. "Hearing" and "learning"" do not amount to the beatific vision. "No one [as Jn said, John 1:18] hath seen God at any time, the only begotten [Son] who is in the bosom of the Father [πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, John 1:1; εἰς τὸν κόλπον, John 1:18], he hath declared him" (cf. Matthew 11:27). The full revelation of the Father is alone possible to one who is (παρὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ) "forth from God," yet evermore standing in close association with God. Cyril and Erasmus here suggest the fact that Christ distinguishes himself from Moses, and some suggest that Christ protests against the supposition which would make the spiritual "inner Christ" of modern speculation of more value than the historical personality. But παρὰ in association with ὢν indicates more than mission from God, and obviously stands in indissoluble relation with the teaching of the prologue, viz. the eternal pre-existence of the personal Logos—the identity of the Person who was made flesh with the Christ of this discourse. These words bring our Lord's teaching back to a full justification or reassertion of the statement that he had come down from heaven.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth [on £ me] hath eternal life. He has here given a new turn to the conversation, and repeated what had been the substance of several discourses (John 3:16, John 3:18, John 3:36; John 5:24), and formed, indeed, the starting place of this (John 6:27, John 6:35, John 6:36). The full acceptance of Christ provides "living water" for the thirsty, "living bread," "bread from heaven," for the hungry—an inward refreshment, a Divine nourishment, an inexhaustible supply. "He that believeth on me" (whether the εἰς ἐμὲ were in the original text or not, they are involved in the sense)has entered on the possession of an eternal blessedness of being, superior to death, transcending time and sense—he "hath eternal life."
repeats once more the statement of John 6:32, John 6:35 (see notes): I am the Bread of life. Not only do I give you more than Moses gave your fathers, but I am the Father's Gift. I myself am the Gift—I am the Bread of which, if you partake, you will hunger no more, you will need no more, you will die no more: the life then thrilling through you will be eternal. "The invisible God is the Source of eternal life; the human nature of the Son of God is the visible form which contains and imparts this to the souls of men" (Archdeacon Watkins).
John 6:49, John 6:50
Your fathers did eat the manna in the wilderness, and they died. The Lord went back to the very words of the Jews in John 6:31. The Heaven-given manna by which Jehovah sustained the temporal life of the fathers in the wilderness did not convey the antidote to death. "The carcases [of these fathers] fell in the wilderness." He does not say, "perished out of God's sight forever," or were condemned, but that there was nothing in the eating of manna which arrested, or averted, or triumphed, over death; yet he added: This (Bread of life) is the Bread which cometh down from heaven, in order that any one (τὶς) may eat thereof, and may not die. The eating of the Bread of life (the life-giving Bread), which I myself am, the thorough assimilation, the entire acceptance of me as God's Gift of life to the world, confers the very principle of life; and, though a partaker may seem to perish, he does not die (cf. John 8:51-43.11.26, notes)—he will not "taste of death," "he will never die." The life will be stronger than death; it will survive apparent extinction. Meyer says that here Christ reserves to John 6:51 the positive offer "of his own concrete Personality, and is exhibiting the true Bread, according to its real nature." Still he has said, "I am the life-giving Bread," and is undoubtedly preparing for the following announcement, which adds a new and startling thought, calculated to sustain the former one.
I am (not only the "Bread of God," the "Bread of life," the life-giving Personality, but) the living Bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this £ Bread, he will live £ forever. With this verse We see, instead of monotony, a threefold advance.
(1) In place of the life-giving Bread, he declares himself to be as Bread, yet a living Person, possessing therefore in himself the essential principle and energy of life.
(2) Instead of coming down, used characteristically or universally, he points to a definite, concrete, historic fact—"that has come down out of heaven."
(3) Instead of saying, "he may not die," we find the glorious assertion, "he will live forever." The kind of eating of which he speaks becomes clearer; the kind of food, the kind of death, the kind of life, all burst into light which points back to the first great word of this discourse, viz. "Labour tot that food which endureth unto eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you, for this one the Father, even God, hath scaled." "The miraculous feeding of yesterday was but the metaphor by which I was conveying this thought, that I was providing an inexhaustible supply for the eternal life of that humanity which I have assumed." In the last clause of the verse he made a yet further advance: Yea, and the bread which I shall give is my flesh (which I shall give) £ for the life of the world. The καὶ... δὲ of the commencement of the clause show a continuation of the thought with a new departure, coordination, and progress, "Yea, and the bread which I shall give is my flesh." Though the word "flesh" is often described by some of its frequent characteristics and qualities, and might be and has been regarded as the bodily and sensuous nature, and also as the seat of sin, it is, both by Paul and John, used for the nature of man as a creature—its totality regarded on its earthly side, the entire "humanity" which Christ assumed, the common antithesis to "spirit" viewed as the Divine supernatural gift to man. He was (1 Timothy 3:16) "manifest in the flesh," in "the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3)—in a flesh free from all sin. He came "in the flesh" (1 John 2:16; 1 John 4:2). This humanity of his he gives, or rather, when he spake these words, he would give, to be eaten, to be assimilated by faith; and, having reached this point, he added (i.e. if we retain the questioned clause, which, with Meyer and Godet, we see no sufficient reason for discarding), which flesh,which humanity of his, he will further give to be slain and sacrificed for the sake of, or on behalf of, the world. This clause, which the vatican Codex, etc., reject, proceeds clearly on the supposition that Christ advances here to the prediction and promise of his death. It is so worded as all the more to justify the emphasis he subsequently lays upon the death itself as essential to a full participation in himself. In this verse and closing utterance he prepares for further disclosures, and the flesh of Christ receives explanation from the rich and varied reference to it in the final words of the discourse, where the flesh is the great metaphor of his Divine humanity, and the blood is the expressive description of his awful sacrifice. He, the Life-giver, the Living One, the Bread of life, the living Bread, will give himself to what men call death, that they, apprehending fully, adequately accepting the greatness of the Divine gift, may, like himself, transform death (so called death) into the portal of eternal life. These words are the new starting point for this great disclosure. The very inner thought of Jesus seems to shape itself as we read. The Paschal sacrifice, eaten at that season as the sign that the theocratic nation had been chosen to covenant and eternal relation with Jehovah, must have been present to his mind. His own approaching death and sacrifice, by which he would bind those who receive him into an eternal covenant with himself, his relation to the whole world, the gift of the Father to him, the gift of himself to the world by the Father,—all are presented to him, and the movements of his great heart reveal themselves as he proceeds.
(d) The conflict among the Jews leads Christ to insist further on separate participation of his flesh and blood as the condition of life.
The Jews therefore strove one with another (ἐμάχοντο represents more vigorous demonstration of their difficulties than the ἐγόγγυζον of John 6:41). They were not unanimous in their judgment. Some said one thing, and others said another. The "Jews" had not yet come to a unanimous opinion that this wonderful Being was talking sheer heresy or incomprehensible mystery. They knew his habit of metaphoric speech, and that underneath common imagery he was in the habit of conveying doctrines the full purport of which was not at once apparent. Some denounced him as uttering an intolerable riddle. Some saw, in a measure, through it, and hated the doctrine that was thereby conveyed. How could he be so essential to the life of the world? and how, said the pure materialist, "how can he give us his flesh to eat?" A question of great interest arises. He has already identified, in John 6:35, "coming to him," "reaching him" under the drawing of the Father, with the transcendent blessing of life eternal, of victory, over death, and resurrection. In John 6:40 "beholding" and "believing" are cognate or equivalent conditions of life and resurrection. In John 6:47, again, "believing," per se, is the essential and all-comprehensive condition. Now, has Christ added, in this verse, anything fresh to the fundamental ideas? Let it be pondered that he has already equated "believing" with eating a bread that endureth to everlasting life (John 6:27-43.6.29). He has declared himself to be the "Bread of life," and to be appropriated by "coming" and "believing." He has spoken of himself as "living Bread," which, coming for the life of the world from heaven itself, is offered as food. Now, what more than this has he said when he declared that he will offer his "flesh" as heavenly food? The Jews undoubtedly show, by their mutual contest, that he had put some part of the previous oracle in a still more enigmatical, if not offensive, form. So far the imagery was not altogether beyond them. Here it takes on a form which excites angry controversy. If they understood him to mean "doctrine," "truth," "cause," even "office," as Head of a spiritual school—as one providing by his gracious will ample nutriment for all who would eat of the rich banquet of his words—they would, to some extent, follow him. The eating of the tree of life was a well known figure in Hebrew Scripture (Proverbs 4:17; Proverbs 9:5); cf. the language of Isaiah (Isaiah 55:2), the action of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:1-26.3.3), and the imagery of Hosea (Hosea 10:13). In the "Midrash on Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 8:15," "eating and drinking" is said always to refer to the Law (Edersheim and Wunsche). But when he spoke of giving his "flesh" for the life of the world, he passed beyond the limits of their interpreting power. They did not see through his imagery; nor did Jesus exactly answer the angry query which they were putting one to another.
John 6:53, John 6:51
Jesus said to them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye have eaten the flesh of the Son of man, and have drunk his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. He that eateth (τρώγων, "eateth with pleasure, eagerness," is repeated four times, as perhaps a stronger expression than φάγων) my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. This result, it should be seen, is identical with the promises made to "beholding," "coming," "believing." Life and resurrection will really follow these acts and conditions; but then it is obvious that "beholding," "coming," "believing," must veritably cover what is contained in this last statement. There is no mere tautology. These words express more fully the original condition. They are not new conditions, but a further imaginative exposition of the former ones. The believing involves an assimilation into the very substance of the believer's nature of that which he here specifies as "flesh and blood." Reuss and Luthardt, and to some extent Moulton, admit that by "flesh and blood" he means no more than "flesh;" that under "flesh" is included "blood;" that by both he simply means "himself." Lunge urges that by "flesh" is meant "human nature"—his "manhood;" but by "flesh and blood" (see Matthew 16:17; Galatians 1:16), "inherited nature"—the humanity of Christ in "historical manifestation." But he passes on to say that this manifestation culminates, is completed, in death, and, thus completed, the life of Christ is the nourishment of the real life of man. Tholuck: "The addition of αἷμα to σὸρξ only expresses, by its main constituents, the sensible human nature." The great bulk of interpreters take the additional mention of drinking of his blood to connote an entire acceptance of the atoning sacrifice, of the Paschal blood shedding, to be effected for the deliverance of the world. "Eating of the flesh," then, would mean acceptance of his humanity, of the manifestation of the eternal love in the Son of man; and "drinking his blood" would mean entire mental assimilation also of the terrible culmination of his mission in violent, sacrificial death. This momentous condition of life eternal is stated both negatively and positively. Without the participation in this twofold aspect of the Lord and his work, there is no life. Unless "coming to him," "believing on him," means an acceptance of his humanity, an apprehension of that Personality in whom the Word was incarnate, and an utter surrender of the soul to the rending of that flesh and shedding of the blood which is the life, i.e. to the death of the Son of man, it is not the coming to him and believing on him of which he has already spoken. He that does thus eat and drink will satisfy a craving after nourishment and refreshment. Unless a man consciously or unconsciously accepts, absorbs, the sublime and wondrous gift of the Divine humanity from the second Man, the Lord from heaven, rather than from the first man, he has no life in himself. Human nature apart item the new creation and the new beginning is a dying, not a living, entity. The new life quickened by the Incarnation is not all that Christ would give. The blood of the Son of man, to be accepted in the same way. is a further exposition of the object of faith. The "eating" and "drinking" are therefore phrases which portray the very intimate and close form of that contact with, and dependence upon, the incarnation and the sacrifice of the Son of God, which Christ erewhile defines in broader, vaguer metaphor. A great question has arisen on these verses—whether our Lord is pointing to, or making prophetic reference to, the institution of the Eucharist, about which the fourth evangelist is strangely silent. £ Certain of the early Fathers—Chrysostom, Cyril, and Theophylact—have given it this meaning, though the great bulk of the patristic writers—Ignatius, Irenseus, Origen, Clemens Alex., Tertullian, and even Cyprian—do most obviously interpret the passage itself of direct and spiritual, not the indirect and sacramental manducation of the living Bread. The same view is presented by Eusebius, Athanasius, and Cyril of Alexandria. For the first four centuries all that was done was to apply the argument of John 6:1-43.6.71., in order to press the importance of communicating sacramentally. This led the Romanist writers to go further, and regard the participation in the sacramental body and blood as essential to life eternal. Pope Innocent I., Bishop of Rome, A.D. 402, was the first distinguished man who brought up out of this passage "the necessity of communicating infants;" and from the time of his synodical epistle the Latin Chinches interpreted the passage, "Except you receive the Eucharist, you have no life in you." The views of Augustine were vacillating or are dubious. Fulgentius shows that he had, to some extent, broken loose from this narrow view when he concluded that baptism without the Eucharist did convey all the benefits of the body and blood of Christ. Numerous Schoolmen rejected the sacramental interpretation, and the Reformers most justly repudiated it. Luther, Melancthon, Beza, Grotius, Owen, Lampe, Cocceius, asserted that the whole construction of the passage, which treats "coming," "believing," as the complete conditions of life and resurrection, must not be held to transform an, as yet, uninstituted ceremonial into the sole method of "believing." Notwithstanding this wide protest, the opponents of the authenticity of the Fourth Gospel—Bretschneider, Strauss, Baur, Thoma, Hilgenfeld, and numerous others—see in this passage the conception of a mystically disposed second-century divine, who placed the Eucharistic ceremony in the lips of Jesus long before the institution. But while this view can be without hesitation rejected, it is obvious that there was a spiritual participation in the "humanity" and the "sacrifice" of the Son of God which Christ called upon the Capernaites to experience—one which must have been possible to Old Testament saints, to little children; to all who are acceptable to God and accepted by him. Such participation is, without doubt, aided and rendered peculiarly possible, thinkable, in the Eucharist. These words were timed, therefore, to bear the rich and twofold sense of Holy Scripture. Observe:
(1) The use of σῶμα rather than σάρξ, in every account of the institution of the Supper, is not without special meaning; σάρξ and αἷμα meaning the whole of his humanity, and the entire fulness of the sacrifice for the world; while σῶμα καὶ αἷμα suggest that organized personal life in which the Incarnation culminated, and the blood which was shed for the remission of sins. The σῶμα is not without reference to the new "body" in which the spirit would be ultimately enshrined.
(2) The phrase, "drinking of the blood," is peculiar to these verses. In the Eucharist we "drink of the cup which is the new covenant in the blood of Christ." "The hand of history," says Edersheim, "has drawn out the telescope; and, as we gaze through it, every sentence and word sheds light upon the cross, and light from the cross carrying to us the twofold meaning—his death and its celebration in the great Christian sacrament."
A new justification is given for this great statement: For my flesh is true £ food, and my blood is true £ drink. (The two active verbals are adopted, "eating," "drinking;" but βρῶσις and πόσις are used very frequently by the Attic writers for "food" and "drink," as well as for the processes of eating and drinking.) That is, Christ's flesh and blood stand in the same relation to the true life of man that food and drink do to the physical life of earth; and so, unless we duly and fully assimilate Divine humanity, we have no life in us. If we cannot assimilate food, we die. It must become part of our life blood and permeate our system; so "the coming and believing" must mean such an acceptance of the Christ that the love of God penetrates our whole being, "even the joints and marrow of soul and spirit;" unless it does so, we have no life in us. Lange, even here, presses the idea of the flesh and blood of Christ as being true food, seeing that by believing historic contemplation we participate in the "historic form of his manifestation," and by spiritual contemplation and fervent faith we drink in the blood which is the life. The difference between ἀληθής and ἀληθῶς is nearly that between ἀληθής and ἀληθίνος. The former is the antithesis of the merely apparent food; the latter would have meant genuine food answering to the ideal of food. "The true food" is the food for the inner man—food in all reality. The Lord was speaking to them of a unique relation which he sustained to the human race, and which cannot be explained away into some mere euphemism for the blessedness and stimulating character of the gospel message. This is made still more evident by his next words—
He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I (dwell) in him. This mutual indwelling is illustrated elsewhere (John 15:1-43.15.5) by the image of the vine and its branches. The vine abides in the branch in the virtue of its life-giving forces. Cut away from the parent stem, it can do nothing. Fruitlessness condemns and fire consumes it. The branch abides in the vine, as deriving all its worth, its true place, its possibility of growth and fruit, from the vine (cf. also Joh 17:23; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:16). The dwelling of the believer in Christ involves an utter self-surrender to him, a recognition of the supreme claims of the God-Man and his work, a complete trust in him as the Source of all life, a sound and abiding place of rest, a justification before God as one with Christ, as one identified with him in his well pleasing to the Father. The dwelling of Christ in the believer is the fulness and riches of the Divine life. Christ liveth in him (Galatians 2:20), thinks in his thoughts, moves through his will. This is sanctification. The believer is in Christ as the members are in the body. Christ is in the believer as God is in his temple. What is the condition of this mutual indwelling? Christ puts the condition of this Divine interpretation thus: "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." £ The verb is in the present tense, implying the continuous appropriation of the Divine sustenance.
Here is the grandest assertion of all. Christ began by speaking of himself as the Bread of God, as the life-giving Bread, as the living Bread of human souls. He made it then clear that he was this by reason of his Divine humanity given for the life of the world. He added to this that he was specially to be appropriated and accepted as a sacrifice, as the death sacrifice, involved in his giving his flesh for the life of the world. The power conferred by his death in life and life in death for man, enabled him to institute eternal life-giving relations between himself and those who entirely accept and make their own this central reality. And now, to meet the nascent objection as to the unique grandeur of his position, he adds: As the living Father sent me. The phrase, "living Father," occurs nowhere else (cf. "righteous Father," John 17:25; "holy Father," John 17:11; "the living God," Mat 16:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 10:31; and above all, Heb 5:1-14 :26, "As the Father hath life in himself, so he gave also to the Son to have life in himself"). Christ is speaking of the human position he assumed before them as sent by the Father who has life in himself, who is more than all his laws or all his works. Not merely as the Word, but as the Word of the living Father made flesh, he stands before them. And I live because of the Father. "Because he lives, I live; my life is guaranteed by his." This is the premiss, the platform on which he now stands (διὰ τὸν Πατέρα must not be confounded with per Patrem, or διὰ τοῦ Πάτρος, as M"Leod Campbell, who, in his interesting discussion on "Christ the Bread of Life," made this expression equivalent to the means and condition of the Saviour's life). From this premiss the Lord argues a corresponding relation of the believer to himself: So he that eateth me, he also shall live because of me. The points of comparison are:
(1) The Father's life-imparting relation to Christ, and Christ's life-imparting relation to the believer. In both cases the life of one is the guarantee of the life of the other.
(2) The sending of Christ by the Father, correlated with the eating of Christ by the believer.
(3) The peculiar relation of the believer to Christ. "He that eateth me" gathers up and really comprehends all that has gone before. It is, then, possible for the believer not only to share in the Divine humanity by his faith, and also in the fulness and significance of iris (blood) death, but to have full possession of his Divine personality. "He that eateth me shall live because of me" (cf. "Because I live, ye shall live also," John 14:19). This is the vindication of the previous verse, and the climax of the argument.
Here the Lord returns once more to the starting point of the discourse. This is the bread that came down from heaven (cf. John 6:50, John 6:51). Already he had said, "I am the living Bread that came down from heaven," and he has expanded the statement to show how much was contained or involved in eating it. He has, moreover, emphasized the two sides of his offer of himself to the world, and shown how the twofold reception of beth sides becomes a thorough acceptance of himself, and a twofold identification of himself with his people. He forthwith returns to the original statement, and to its implied contrast with that which these sign-loving Jews had demanded. Not as (your £) fathers ate, and died: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. This is a strong reassertion of the language of John 6:49-43.6.51. Life itself in its highest sense shall be independent of death, and will triumph over it.
These things—probably referring to the discourse which followed upon the contest and discussion of the Jews among themselves (John 6:52-43.6.58), or it may include the entire discussion from John 6:40 onwards—he said in synagogue (or, in a synagogue), as he was teaching in Capernaum. Capernaum is thus distinctly verified as the place whither the multitudes had followed him. It was, as we learn from the synoptists, his second and habitual home in Galilee. In Warren's 'Recovery of Jerusalem,' p. 344, a description of Tell-Hum and of its ruins occurs, and amongst them the remains of an ancient synagogue. "On turning over a large block of stone," says Wilson, "we found the pot of manna engraved on its face." "This very symbol may have been before the eyes of those who heard the Lord's words" (Westcott). This note of time and place is important, as showing that thus early in his ministry our Lord proclaimed in Galilee, as well as in Jerusalem, the deepest things of his own consciousness and intentions; that the teaching in Galilee was not, as Renan would have us apprehend, nothing more than an idyllic progress of personal popularity and rapturous hosanna. The Lord knew that he must offend those who would by force constrain him to be their Messianic King, and made it by this discourse clear that spiritual communion with his inner life, as a Divine, Heaven-sent Representative, as One suffering and dying for the world, was the only and supreme condition of deriving and sharing in his own supernatural and eternal life.
The effect of this discourse and the crisis that followed in his public ministry is now described. The words of Jesus led to deeper faith and to a more determined antagonism. "The light shone into the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." "He came to his own, and his own received him not; but to as many as received, he gave power to become sons of God."
(4) The twofold effect of these instructions.
(a) The unbelief of some, which led him to predict the ascension of his humanity to where HE was before.
Many therefore of his disciples. This word is used in a wider sense than of the twelve. The synoptists tell us of much labour already done in this neighbourhood, and a considerable harvest of souls reaped, so far as a general acknowledgement of his claims and an expectation that he was the Messiah was involved: When they heard it (i.e. the entire instruction given in open synagogue), said, This is a hard saying. The discourse was σχληρός, harsh, the opposite of μαλακός, a word used by the unprofitable servant of his master (Matthew 25:24). It does not mean "hard to be understood," but difficult to accept or be content with. Luthardt here reiterates his conviction that there is no reference in it to the death of Christ, and that the disciples were simply unwilling to accept the idea of his supreme claims and his constant return to the. eating and drinking of his flesh and blood and identification of this eternal life with participation in his corporality. But surely Meyer and Wcstcott, etc., are far nearer to the truth in referring the expression to their unwillingness to accept the bloody death of their Messiah, or to entrust themselves to a Divine Personality whose most distinctive act would be his sacrifice. This was the gross and terrible offence which made the cross a stumbling block to the Jew (see Joh 12:34; 1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11; Matthew 16:2, etc.). Who is able to listen to him? This seems not only to be the possible, but most probable, translation of the genitive with ἀκούω. It was the language, not of "the Jews," but of "the disciples."
But Jesus, knowing in himself—not necessarily by supernatural penetration, for many signs of impatience may have been manifested—that his disciples murmured (see John 6:41, note) concerning this hard argument, said unto them, Doth this cause you to stumble? (see note on John 16:1).
If it does put difficulties in your way, then how will it be if you behold the Son of man ascending up to where he was before? This unfinished and ambiguous sentence and query have been variously interpreted. Some have argued that our Lord here simply refers to the "resurrection;" that he told his hearers they would have an opportunity of observing that, after death, he would return to where he was before, that is, to the conditions of earthly life. The striking antithesis between "descending from" and "ascending" almost compels the repudiation of this view. Did Christ, however, mean to ask them whether, under the new condition of things, all ground of offence would not be taken away? or to imply that their faith would have to be put to a still greater strain, and that they would stumble at length irretrievably? Lucke, De Wette, Kuinoel, Meyer, chiefly urge the latter, and on the ground:
(1) That in John's Gospel the death of Christ is always looked at as his real glorification, and that therefore by ἀναβαίνειν, he was referring in his euphemistic fashion to his death in the true Johannine phrase as a going to God (cf. John 13:3, a return to the Father; 14.; John 16:5, John 16:28).
(2) That John does not describe the Ascension as a physical fact. Meyer does not allow that John 3:13 and John 20:17 are sufficient with this phrase to justify such a reference to the great event referred to by Mark, Luke, and Paul, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Against Meyer and those who agree with him it should be noticed that ἀναβαίνειν is never used for "death" of Christ. The phrases, ὑπάγειν τῷ Πάτρι, and ἔλθειν, etc., are used for this purpose. Moreover, when a phrase was wanted to denote the twofold idea of uplifting on the cross and ascension to the skies, ὑψωθήναι, is the word twice used in the Fourth Gospel (John 3:14; John 12:32-43.12.34). Moreover, if death could be realized as such a θεωρεῖν of glory and fulness of life, the offence of the cross, and scandal of participation in and dependence upon the flesh and blood of Christ, would be reduced and not augmented. To Meyer's objection that these Galilaean disciples would not see the ascending Christ, and therefore the supposition would be tantalizing, it is sufficient to reply
(1) that, in a similar sense, there was no reason to suppose they would see the Lord suffer and die upon the cross;
(2) that, as Christ Jesus was evidently "set forth as crucified" among the Galatians (Galatians 3:1), so these Galilaean disciples, through the vision of the apostles, would verily see the Son of man suffer, die, and ascend. Apart also from the inappropriateness of the word ἀναβαίνειν convey the subtle thought of the transfiguration of death as such, there was not, apart from resurrection and ascension to glory—which is the additional matter to which our Lord referred—any justification of the phrase, whereas it coincides decidedly with the expressions used of the pre-existing glory of the great Personality who, though calling himself "Son of man," yet consciously refers to his existence before the world was (cf. John 8:58; John 17:5, John 17:24; Colossians 1:17). Again, the ἀναβαίνειν of these words stands in imposing antithesis to the repeated use of καταβαίνειν of the previous discourse. He had been sent "from heaven," "sent by the living Father," he had "come down from heaven," "to give himself and his flesh for the life of the world" and he now leads his disciples to suspend their murmuring at the form of his discourse. They may behold and see a greater marvel yet, such a losing of his humanity in God and glory, that they will be able to apprehend more fully what he means by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Of course, there might be some who are so entirely obtuse to the conception of this close identification with him during the time of his manifestation in the flesh, that they will be still more powerless to receive the spiritual interpretation when, for believing minds, the idea would become clear. John recorded this discourse a generation after the mighty effects of the Resurrection and Ascension had been produced. We know that long before he presented these outlines the ideas presented in it had been widely diffused. St. Paul had spoken of Christ as "the second Man from heaven," as invested and clothed in a "spiritual body," as "the last Adam," as "a life-giving Spirit," and the Epistle to the Hebrews had represented him as "having passed through the heavens that he might fill all things. Whence came such august ideas about the Man Jesus, if not from himself? The offence of the cross has never ceased, and Athenians and many since have mocked at the story of the Resurrection and Ascension; but notwithstanding this, there is an ever-increasing multitude who from the day of his ascension till now have been finally convinced. They have understood, as they would never have done without such help, that it was possible, since he had passed through these heavens that he might fill all things, to hold the most entire and intimate communion with him, both as the God-Man and as the Paschal Lamb. Moreover, the prince of this world has been cast out and judged because Christ has gone to the Father. He has been lifted up, and is drawing all men to himself. When the Son of man in the continuity of his Person shall be beheld as ascending into the glory from which he in his Divine nature descended, then those who stumbled at the idea of intimate life-giving participation in himself will "come to see that the words can only be understood spiritually" (Moulton). The ascension of the humanity to the life and glory of the pre-existent Deity of the Son of God was a conception firmly grasped by St. Paul (Ephesians 4:10; Philippians 2:6-50.2.9), and must have been based on the Lord's own words. It is only by the exaltation of the man into God that we are able to participate in the Divine humanity. Weiss, unfortunately, cannot believe that there was any reference to the visible ascent to heaven, but simply to the termination of his earthly labours. The question, then, of verse 62 is left to find its own answer and to give its own suggestion. But the interpretation here offered is strongly confirmed by—
It is the spirit that quickeneth (the τὸ, though omitted by )*, is retained by all the principal editors); the flesh profiteth nothing; i.e. the "flesh" taken by itself, and apart from the life-giving Spirit which is its principium. The antithesis between "flesh" and "spirit" occurs frequently in the Gospel, and is one of the great points of Pauline doctrine. The Lord does not introduce the pronoun μου to τὸ πνεῦμα or ἡ σάρξ. The statement is generalized, though having special reference to himself, or to the spirit and flesh of the Son of man. "Flesh," in neither St. Paul nor St. John, means the sensuous nature as opposed to the intellectual nature; nor does it mean the "body" as antithetic to the "soul"—the organized material frame, to which the Jews were attributing so much and felt to be the guarantee and seal of his spiritual efficiency (Meyer)—but the "creaturely nature," the "humanity" per se in all its parts. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Christ qua his humanity was fashioned by the Spirit, and the Spirit dwelt upon him with iron measurable potence. "The Logos became flesh," but that flesh itself was so ordered and prepared by the Holy Spirit as that it should sustain this lofty companionship. Christ's own flesh, his nature, his humanity per se, and apart from the fulness of the Spirit, profiteth nothing. The mere human life, however spotless and ideal, could not be "eaten," i.e. could not be assimilated, though to some extent it might be imitated; but imitation is not faith. The "glory" that the apostles saw "of the Only Begotten of the Father, the fulness of grace and truth," in and through that wondrous life of Christ, was the glory given to his humanity by the creative Spirit. Apart from this consideration, a manducation of his flesh, even were it physically possible, was useless. It was not possible to participate in his humanity save through the Holy Spirit which generated him and regenerates us. The sentence doubtless points back to the original constitution of man, the specialty of whose life is that it was inbreathed by the Lord God himself. The use of the saying here was to make it still more clear that he gave his flesh to eat, not through any physical process, not through any sacramental rite, but through the Spirit to our spirit. Mr. Sadler, who takes the strong sacramental view of the entire passage, says, however, wisely and forcibly here, "Even flesh cannot be given to a corpse." We receive the gift, we know the love of God, whether sacramentally or not, through the Spirit. Christ does not deny or retract the statement, "Except ye eat the flesh," etc. He simply shows in what sense he meant the whole mutual indwelling of himself and his people to be understood. The Spirit is the Quickener. The Spirit is the life-fashioning, life-pre-serving Energy. The flesh, the human manifestation, apart from the Spirit which makes that human life the centre of Divine effluence, the focus for its Divine energy, profiteth nothing. Some have taken these words (like Chrysostom) as a contrast between a spiritual and literal interpretation of Christ's words. Luther and many Lutherans have urged the contrast between a right celebration and a merely material use of the sacrament. So more or less Augustine and Olshausen. Canon Westcott seems to limit the original meaning of "flesh" and "spirit," the one to the visible, temporal, corporeal only, and the other to the unseen eternal order of things, and he does not give to "flesh" here the fulness of meaning which it bears in the New Testament; but he says that this utterance is not limited to either of the views just referred to, though it may include them. Archdeacon Watkins remarks, "They think of a physical eating of his flesh, and this offends them; but what if they, who have thought of bread descending from heaven, see his body ascending into heaven? They will know then he cannot have meant this. The descent of the Spirit will follow the ascent of the Son."
The words that I have spoken £ unto you are spirit and are life. The words which I have now uttered, these teachings of mine concerning myself, are (not merely "spiritual" or "life-giving," but) spirit and life, i.e. the way and method in which the Spirit can convey to you the life eternal. The words which I have spoken at all times have been the effulgence of my glory, the effluence of my Spirit. The seed of the kingdom is the Word of God. The contact of the Divine Spirit with the human spirit is not through teeth and palate, but through mental and moral processes. "Thou hast the words of eternal life," said Peter (verse 68). Christ thus works his way back again to the receptivity of the mind and heart of his disciples. Believing is not only "coming," but, as he has before implied, it is the identical process which he has called "eating his flesh and drinking his blood." Christ's words are the ministry of himself, because the chief method of communicating his life-giving Spirit. In John 15:4, John 15:7 the Lord used both expressions, "I" and "my words," in identical relations: "Abide in me, and I in you;" "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you," etc.
But, he adds, there are some of you that believe not. "Some," not many, who were following him yet felt that they could not trust—could not accept his greatest revelations, these Divine assumptions, this spiritual position of his. The Divine humanity, the offered life, the cruel death, of the Son of God, the victory over death, the return to the Father, when put into words or when taught in metaphors even, were grounds of offence. The evangelist adds: For (the γάρ introduces the explanatory clause of the disciple who testified of these things) Jesus knew (knew absolutely, rather than came to know) from the beginning—referring to the commencement of his public ministry, when men began to close round him (John 1:43, John 1:48; John 2:24), not from the beginning of time, or the beginning of their unbelief (Kling); he knew by his Divine penetration into their character, by their manner and spirit, and the nakedness and openness of all hearts before him—who they were that believed not, and who it was that should betray him. Westcott here reminds us that the first indication of the sin of Judas occurs in close association with predictions of the approaching Passion. This foreknowledge of issues is no interference with free self-consciousness in itself. It may imply that the natures thus known contained in themselves the seeds of the future growth. He knew what would be, but he did not compel it. There was possibly some fresh manifestation of feeling, of failing sympathy, even of enmity, which led the evangelist to notice the manner and interpret the mind of the Lord.
And he said, For this cause have I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of the Father (μου is omitted by R.T. and Tischendorf (8th edit.); the authorities seem here more equally divided); see notes on John 6:37 and John 6:44. Christ has come completely round to the fundamental principles with which he started. The coming to him, the believing on him, the spiritual apprehension of his Divine humanity, the adoring acceptance of his precious blood, the reception of the spiritual life-giving energy which went forth from him in word, depended on the Father's "drawing"—on those fundamental characteristics of appetite and capacity to receive the grace of Christ which are subjective and are referrible to the Father's good pleasure. Christ does not give the hunger, but the bread. From the beginning he saw the presence of the appetite after that which he came to bestow. Sometimes a morbid absence of all hunger, a moribund cessation of thirst, may be and is transformed into passionate and life-saving eagerness by The sight of food. The Father gives both the hunger and the food, the sense of need and the heavenly supply. The love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, is the drawing of the Father through the Son to himself. The drawing of the Father is the giving of souls to the Son. A fresh thought is here added. This drawing, thus interpreted, is God's gift also to the human soul The question arises—If the Lord knew, why did he choose the traitor, or call Judas into the innermost circle (see John 6:71)?
Upon this (ἐκ τούτου; cf. ἐξ οὗ, equivalent to qua propter). Not "from that time forwards," not a gradual thinning down or departure of some disciples, one today and another tomorrow, but a kind of rush and stampede took place. Those who a few hours before were ready to call him their Messianic King, were entirely disenchanted. The claims of Christ were so profoundly different from what they anticipated that upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. The fascination those felt who had seen some of the excellences of Jesus led them to put themselves at his disposal, to wait upon him, to desert their ordinary occupations. Hence part of the phraseology of redemption was derived from the method of Christ. Men "came" to him; they "followed" him; they "walked" with him; they could "go back," desert, forsake their Lord. These actions of his first disciples have created the vocabulary of the kingdom of God. Christ's teaching tested as well as attracted men. There was a repellent force as well as an infinite fascination. He sifted as well as saved. The very deeds and words that broke some hearts into penitence roused impatient and angry remonstrance in others. There is seen in this Gospel a continual departure and a deepening faith.
(b) The loyalty of the twelve, with a note of prophetic warning.
Jesus therefore said unto the twelve. He spake to them because of the wide defection from his ranks. "The twelve" have never been mentioned before in the Gospel, but this passing reference reveals acquaintance with the fact on the part of the evangelist. He assumes the historic number as perfectly explicable to his readers. The reference to the twelve baskets in John 6:13 almost presupposes that there were the same number of disciples, and this pathetic appeal is in harmony with the synoptic account of their "call." Would ye also go away? Μὴ θέκλετε suggests a negative answer, "Ye cannot wish, can you?" (Meyer). Godet says, on the contrary, "If you wish, you can!" Westcott, "The form of the question implies that such desertion is incredible, and yet to be feared" (cf. John 7:47, John 7:52; John 18:17, John 18:25). The question is far from identical with that query which once more the Lord put to the twelve, after many subsequent months of varied activity and critical discourse, which showed how Jesus had at length broken with the narrow literalism of Judaic privilege, On that occasion he was summing up the varied convictions produced upon the Galilaean multitudes, and he asked, "But whom say ye that I am?" Here he is simply suggesting the possibility, but yet the incredibility, of his desertion by the twelve apostles, merely because he had affirmed the spiritual aims of his entire mission, and had made an unreserved offer of his Divine humanity to their need. The pathos of this inquiry shows how serious a crisis was being enacted. It has reference in its issues rather to himself than to the twelve. The critical school see in this verse the Johannine treatment of the great apostolic confession, and Weiss here agrees with it. Even Godet thinks that two such questions with their answers, under comparatively similar conditions, are improbable. He suggests that the ἐκ τούτου (John 6:66) points to a great scattering, and that months may have elapsed before the scene which John here condenses. It is more likely that John omits the later scene, and prefers to give this, which stands closely related with the immediate circumstances (cf. also Luke 9:1-42.9.62.). The context and surrounding of the scene in Matthew 16:13-40.16.17 and Mark 8:27-41.8.29 appear to differ in place, occasion, query, and answer, and in the corresponding teaching that followed. The question was "the anticipation of Gethsemane" (Edersheim).
John 6:68, John 6:69
Simon Peter—prominent here, and in John 13:6-43.13.11, John 13:24, John 13:36; John 18:10; John 20:2-43.20.10; John 21:7, etc.; just as he is in the synoptic Gospels (see portrait of St. Peter, Introduction vIII. 3 (4))—[then £] answered him;Lord, to whom shall we go? Perhaps ἀπελευσόμεθα is even stronger than the ὑπάγειν; Hast thou not drawn us to thyself, and supplied a need and craving which thou hadst first of all excited? Is there any teacher to rival thee? Can we look for another while we have thee? "Da nobis alterum te". The second part of this immortal reply points clearly back to verse 63, where the Lord had declared that the words he had spoken to them were spirit and life. Thou hast words of eternal life. Not "the words," which would savour too much of the dogmatic and technical, but words of life—words which minister the Spirit of life; words which convey the Divine power, even the Holy Spirit, to our minds; words which bring those thoughts before us which we can believe, and believing which, we have eternal life. "Thou hast such words" (cf. for use of ἔχειν, 1 Corinthians 14:26). The third item of this confession is twofold. We have believed, and have come to know; so that we now do believe and know that, etc. There is a knowledge which precedes belief, and there are some great facts and ideas about Christ which lead to a higher and to a different belief (see John 17:8; 1 John 4:8); but again the fullest knowledge follows belief, a notional and real assent leads to an invincible assent. Faith is the womb of assurance. This richer knowledge is mediated by love. "He that loveth not knoweth not," and the faith that evokes "love" also excites and confirms the "knowledge" that is life eternal (John 17:2). That thou art the Holy One of God £ The recognition of the nature of the Lord, which fell short of the great utterance of Peter in Matthew 16:16. This was an ascription which the daemoniacs, or the devils, by their lips were ready from the first to proclaim prematurely (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34). (On the holiness of Christ, on his entire consecration, and on the fact that he was sealed and sent into the world to do the Father's will, see John 10:36; 1 John 2:20; Revelation 3:7.) "Thou art sent on the highest mission. Thou canst accomplish all that thou hast told us; we have come to believe it, and we do know it. We cannot leave thee. We are not looking for temporal honours or Messianic splendours, but for the food that endureth unto everlasting life."
The answer of the Lord is one of the most solemn and heart-rending character, and a further hint from his own lips of what the evangelist had uttered on his own account. It is an outburst of bitter grief over the moral imperfections which are developing under this strong revelation of the Divine glory. Did I not choose—I, even I the Holy One of God—you the twelve to myself (ἐξελεξάμην), and of you one is a devil? This "choice" is repeatedly referred to (John 13:18; John 15:16; cf. Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, Acts 1:24). "He appointed twelve to be with him, that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to cast out daemons" (Mark 3:14). This choice was made in the full human self-consciousness and knowledge of their peculiarities. It is morally inconceivable that he, in his Divine foreknowledge, chose Judas to special reprobation, knowing him then to be devilish in his nature, and so that he might have his character demoralized by this close contact with Christ's holiness, and thus be trained for the damnation of the traitor's sin and doom. Yet this choice, to Christ's human nature and self-consciousness, was early seen to be one which was not softening but hardening the heart of Judas. He brought him nearer to himself, and gave him fresh opportunity of acquiring just ideas of the kingdom and its methods, and by these warnings the Lord was giving him chance after chance of escaping from what, even to the Lord's prophetic human foresight, looked like his destiny. "One of you," says he—"one is devil." Official relation to me is not salvation. Even the admission that I am the Holy One of God is not eternal life. We may compare Christ's severe rebuke to Peter, when, after the grand confession (Matthew 16:16), he counted himself worthy to disapprove the methods of his Lord's mercy, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence to me; thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men." Judas did far worse—he wanted to use the Divine power of his Master for his own personal ends.
Now he spake concerning Judas the son of Simon the Iscariot £ being one of the twelve. Iscariot is most probably "of Kerioth," a town of Judah, mentioned in Joshua 15:25, though Westcott cites another Kerioth in Moab (Jeremiah 48:44). If this Kerioth, which Simon and his son Judas have degraded, be the Kerioth-Hezron, then it would seem that Judas was the only Judaean among the apostles. For he it was that was about to betray him being one of the twelve (cf. verse 64). Ὁ παραδώσων gives a somewhat different turn of description to the futurity of the deed. Had it yet fully dawned on the soul of the traitor? Had he laid any plans to bring his Master to the point from which he turned so divinely? We know not.
The miracle of the loaves and fishes.
The scene of our Lord's ministry changes once more to Galilee, where he remains for the next seven months. Large multitudes followed him on account of his miracles—"because they saw the miracles which he did on them which were diseased."
I. THE SCENE OF THE NEW MIRACLE.
1. It was, as Luke tells us, at a "city called Bethsaida," that is, Bethsaida Julias, in Gaulonitis, on the northeast of the sea of Galilee.
2. It was along the slopes of the mountain that closes round the lake. "Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples."
3. It was a thoroughly secluded district, far from the stir of human life, and therefore well fitted to prepare the multitudes for the solemn lessons they were about to receive; for we are told by the synoptists that the miracle followed a day of teaching and healing.
II. THE OCCASION OF THIS MIRACLE.
1. It occurred near the time of the Passover. "And the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh." This was the only feast of the sort that our Lord failed to attend, on account of the increasing hostility of the Jews.
2. It occurred during a temporary withdrawal of Jesus from society, caused by the news of the death of John the Baptist, and by the need of rest after the exhausting labour of his disciples in their first missionary tour.
III. THE COMPASSION OF JESUS FOR THE MULTITUDE. I. They had travelled afoot "out of all the cities," many of them long distances, to see our Lord.
2. They were, in our Lord's eyes, as "sheep without a shepherd," and therefore "he was moved with compassion toward them" (Mark 6:34).
3. They had remained a whole day in "the desert," and would be sure to faint on their way back, if they departed without food. How considerate is our Lord for the physical wants of men!
IV. MARK HOW HE PREPARES THE DISCIPLES FOR SUPPLYING THE WANTS OF THE MULTITUDE. "He saith to Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?"
1. He makes the disciples feel the inadequacy of their resources for the work in hand. They had but five loaves and a few fishes; and Andrew might well say, "What are these among so many?" The sense of an inadequacy is often the beginning of Divine strength.
2. He makes the disciples carry their inadequate resources to himself. "Bring them hither to me," as Matthew reports.
V. MARK THE ORDER PURSUED IN THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE FOOD. "Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand." There is something moral in the idea of order or arrangement. It implies an economy of effort as conducive to a practical result.
1. He distributes the food by means of the disciples. "He gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples to the multitude." Thus the Lord feeds the hungering world by means of his Church. Let us all learn our high vocation and our solemn responsibilities.
2. He takes his place at the head of the "table spread in the wilderness," as Father of the family; for "he gave thanks" before the distribution.
VI. THE MIRACULOUS MULTIPLICATION OF THE BREAD AND THE FISHES.
1. The disciples might doubtingly and sparingly begin to distribute, but they would find each one's portion increase in his hands, till group after group was provided.
2. The people "were filled." The satisfaction of appetite was an undoubted fact. How clearly this food symbolizes the Bread of Life as adapted for the whole race of man!
VII. MARK THE ECONOMY SUGGESTED BY OUR LORD"S COMMAND. "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."
1. A gift so precious and obtained so mysteriously was not to be wasted.
2. Our Lord gathered the fragments, perhaps, for the use of his disciples in coming days.
VIII. EFFECT OF THE MIRACLE ON THE MULTITUDE.
1. They recognize him as a Prophet of God; for they said," This is of a truth that Prophet that cometh into the world."
2. They are prepared to recognize him as King of Israel. "Jesus therefore, perceiving that they were about to draw near and seize him to make him King, withdrew again to the mountain alone."
3. They imagined he was the destined Deliverer of Israel from the Roman yoke, and were prepared to support his claims to a temporal monarchy.
4. Our Lord anticipated, and therefore prevented their design by withdrawing from the crowd.
5. He passed the night, as the synoptists tell us, in prayer, on the mountain, after this day of exhausting toil and effort. Prayer restores the vigour of the wearied spirit.
Christ walking on the sea.
Our Lord had sent the disciples across to Capernaum, to detach them from the influence of the excited multitude.
I. THE DISCIPLES EXPOSED TO DANGER ON THE LAKE. "And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them. And the sea was agitated by a great wind that blew."
1. The sea of Galilee was often exposed to dangerous storms.
2. The darkness of the night must hare intensified the fears of the disciples.
3. The absence of Jesus must have made them feel their helplessness.
4. They were not relieved till the danger had reached its highest point. The boat had now reached the middle of the lake; "they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty stadia." As it was about six miles across, the boat was therefore in the middle of the lake.
II. CHRIST'S SUDDEN INTERVENTION. "They see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid."
1. Nothing will keep Christ from his people in their hour of danger.
2. He is superior to winds and waves. He can walk on the surface of the water; he can still the winds.
3. The words of Jesus still the fears of his people. "It is I; be not afraid." His gracious presence supports us in all risks and in all afflictions.
4. The willingness of the disciples to receive Jesus in their distress. "Then they were willing to receive him into the ship." How dear he is in the hours of our loneliness, our desertion, our helplessness!
5. Jesus does not leave his disciples till he sees them in absolute safety. "And immediately the ship was at the land whither they were going."
The dialogue between Jesus and the Jews in the synagogue of Capernaum.
The multitude followed our Lord on the following day across to Capernaum.
I. JESUS DISCLOSES TO THEM THE SELFISH MOTIVES THAT GOVERNED THEIR CONDUCT. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of those loaves, and were filled."
1. Jesus knew the hearts of men.
2. He exposes their inward character with an unshrinking boldness.
3. How seldom is Christ sought for his own sake! The Jews followed him for selfish ends, for mere worldly advantage. Lunge says, "Instead of seeing in the bread the sign, in the sign they beheld only the bread." Their search after Jesus, therefore, had a pre-eminently unspiritual character.
II. JESUS DIRECTS THEM TO THE TRUE WAY OF SEEKING HIM. "Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which endureth in life eternal."
1. He does not counsel any neglect of the due discharge of our daily calling. All men must work for "the meat that perisheth." "If any man will not work, neither let him eat." Yet the best things of this life are fading and perishing.
2. He proclaims the essential superiority and indispensableness of "the food which endureth in life eternal."
(1) This is a permanent principle of life; it is eternal life itself.
(2) We are to work for it; not that our salvation is of works, but our work is limited to the appropriation of the gift offered for our acceptance. Our work would be in vain without this gift. Faith supplies all that is involved in this gift.
(3) It is the gift of Jesus—"which the Son of man shall give unto you." We are saved entirely by grace. Jesus grants faith and repentance, and through these all the blessings of redemption.
(4) Jesus is specially consecrated to this work—"for him hath the Father, God, sealed."
(a) The Father appointed him to be the Saviour of his people;
(b) he approved him by the Spirit's descent upon him, and a voice from heaven declared him to be his beloved Son;
(c) he sealed him as such by miraculous signs. What security for his salvation is thus possessed by every believer!
III. THE HUMAN SIGN IN THE ACT OF SALVATION. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." The Jews asked what works of God should they do as conditions precedent to their receiving this gift.
1. They were seeking for life, not by faith, but as it were by the works of the Law. They imagined there was some higher work yet to be done than any commanded by the Law of Moses.
2. Our Lord points to faith as the only work to be done. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." It is the work of God
(1) because God demands it;
(2) because God gives it;
(3) because God approves of it—"without faith it is impossible to please God;"
(4) all other works are acceptable only when done in faith—"faith is the life of works; works are the necessity of faith."
3. Our Lord points to the true Object of faith. "Him whom he hath sent."
(1) It is the Messiah, sent by the Father as Mediator between God and man.
(2) Jesus is not only to be an Object of intellectual belief, but of the heart's strongest trust.
(3) The faith in question is not to be a mere single act, establishing a contact with the Redeemer, but a continuous state of faith.
The nature of the gift from heaven.
The Jews demanded "a sign from heaven."
I. THEM DEMAND FOR A FRESH MIRACLE. "What sign then dost thou do, that we may see, and believe in thee? what dost thou work?"
1. They thought they were entitled to demand a fresh miracle, much in advance of the miracle at Bethsaida Julius; because that was, after all, not so remarkable as the miracle of the manna in the wilderness. "Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He did give them bread from heaven to eat."
2. They still evidently understood the higher benefit promised by our Lord as material, and not spiritual.
3. They meant, by their seeing and believing in Christ. to reduce faith to a mere matter of sight—a mere belief of truth in the testimony of their senses. They were quite unspiritual in their conceptions.
II. OUR LORD'S ANSWER TO THEIR DEMAND. He corrects their misapprehensions.
1. He asserts that it was not Moses, but God, who fed the people with manna. "Moses gave you not the bread from heaven." It was a truly Divine work to feed two millions of people in the desert from day to day. Therefore there could be no comparison between Moses and Christ.
2. He asserts that the Bread he speaks of is yet material, but spiritual. "But my Father giveth you the true Bread from heaven. For the Bread of God is he who cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world."
(1) Mark how gradually our Lord passes from figure to reality. The Jews think of bread like manna; Jesus speaks of himself, though he has not yet directly done so.
(2) The Bread from heaven was true Bread, because it satisfied the deepest wants of man's nature. It had true life-giving, life-upholding virtue.
3. It was continuous in its supply of man's wants. "It cometh down from heaven."
4. It was not limited to one people, but offered to the whole race of man. The age of Jewish particularism was past.
The divergence between the thoughts of Jesus and those of the Jews.
A rupture was clearly at hand. The people had hopes of merely material blessing.
I. THE JEWS ASK FOR THE BREAD FROM HEAVEN. "Lord, evermore give us this bread."
1. They ask for a continuous supply of it.
2. Their demand betrays a carnal spirit, that speaks of either sensual want, or covetousness, or the spirit of idleness; for no more labour would be expended upon the production of food.
II. JESUS REVEALS HIMSELF PLAINLY AS THE BREAD OF LIFE. "I am the Bread of life."
1. He represents himself as the Sustainer of the life he communicates; for he is that "Eternal Life which was in the beginning with the Father" (1 John 1:2). He thus presents the objective side of salvation.
2. Faith is the condition of its reception. "He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."
(1) Faith as a coming suggests its more active aspect.
(2) Faith as a believing its more restful aspect.
3. This Bread will bring the full satisfaction of all wants. The receptive spirit will have no desire for any other food than Christ. It will have
(1) strength from the food, and
(2) peace from the appeasing of the thirst.
III. JESUS PLAINLY DECLARES THE UNBELIEF OF THE JEWS. "But I said unto you, Ye have seen me, and yet ye believe not."
1. They had asked to see, and their desire had been fully gratified.
2. Yet they refused to believe in him. An impression exists that if men could see Christ they should all surely believe in him. The Jews saw him from day to day, witnessed his miracles, heard his words, and yet were none the better for that immediate experience. We enjoy the higher blessing. "Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."
IV. YET JESUS DECLARES THE ULTIMATE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF HIS FATHER'S WILL, IN THE FACE OF JEWISH UNBELIEF. "All that the Father giveth me shall reach me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
1. He declares the Divine purpose, in virtue of which "all that the Father giveth"—his seed, his spouse, his Church, his inheritance—shall be everlastingly saved. They will surely reach the Saviour.
2. He declares at once the subjective side of this salvation, and his attitude as a Redeemer toward those who come to him as their Refuge. He will in no wise cast them out of
(1) his love;
(2) his arms;
(3) his Church;
(4) his glory.
3. The security for the salvation of all who come to him. "For this is the will of him that sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day."
(1) Christ has no separate will from his Father.
(2) The Father's will has a double aspect; it respects
(a) the delivery of his people from destruction;
(b) their restoration into the transfigured manhood of the resurrection.
4. The further confirmation of this security. "For this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which sooth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day." The previous verse presented the objective, this verse presents the subjective, side of this blessed truth.
(1) Men must see Christ in order to obtain everlasting life. They are naturally blind. The Spirit opens their eyes that they may see, not merely themselves, their sin, their helplessness; but Christ, his righteousness, his peace, his grace, his salvation.
(2) Men must trust in him to obtain everlasting life, There must be an actual reliance upon Christ.
(3) The end is everlasting life; not mere escape from hell, or the absence of loss.
(4) It is resurrection in glory. Christ will be the efficient Cause, as he is the Firstfruits of the resurrection.
Our Lord's explanation of Jewish unbelief.
A rupture was clearly near at hand.
I. THE MURMURING OF THE JEWS. "The Jews then murmured concerning him, because he said, I am the Bread which came down from heaven." It sprang:
1. Partly from doubt. (John 7:12.)
2. Partly from contemptuous surprise.
3. Partly from dissatisfaction.
II. THE GROUND OF THEIR MURMURING. "And they said, Is not this Jesus, the Son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?"
1. The Jews of Capernaum must have been personally acquainted with the humble family at Nazareth, which was not far distant.
2. They did not know of the miraculous conception of Jesus, which was yet concealed in the heart of Mary, and was not to be revealed till after his resurrection.
3. The miracles that Jesus wrought could not undo the impression made upon their minds by the circumstances of his familiar life at Nazareth. He was still, notwithstanding all his miracles, but the carpenter's Son.
III. OUR LORD'S ANSWER TO THEIR MURMURED DISSATISFACTION.
1. He attributes it to their incapacity to understand his saying. Their moral condition explained their ignorance.
2. He emphasizes the necessity of a Divine influence to work faith in their hearts. "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him."
(1) The reason is that men are naturally in a state of alienation and darkness, at once estranged from God by their "carnal enmity," and unable to see the true Light.
(2) Faith is God's gift (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:23).
(3) The attracting power of the Father is
(a) not mere moral suasion.
(b) It is nothing merely arbitrary.
(c) It has no compulsory efficacy; for, as Bernard says, "No man is saved against his will."
(d) It is something distinct from the power of doctrine or miracles.
(e) It is that influence which makes a sinner willing in the day of God's power (Psalms 110:3), enlightening his understanding, renewing his will, and alluring his heart by the power of his grace. "He draws with the bands of love."
(4) Yet there is a human side to the process by which sinners are drawn to Christ. "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, eometh unto me."
(a) The teaching which is contained in the writings of Moses (John 6:46, John 6:47) and the Word of God in general (John 6:38) discloses sin, and makes the sinner realize the nothingness of his own righteousness.
(b) The teaching enables us to learn concerning the Father's love, grace, and mercy, so that the sinner is led to commit his soul to Christ.
(c) This teaching, however precious, is not immediate. "Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father."
(α) We are bound, notwithstanding, to believe in the revelation of the unseen Father just as we rejoice, believingly, in the unseen Saviour (1 Peter 1:8).
(β) Because that revelation reaches us through him who is a sharer in Deity, "who is of God."
(5) Christ makes a further advance in his teaching.
(a) He repeats several truths.
(α) The connection between faith and eternal life. "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life."
(β) The fact that he is himself the Bread of life.
(γ) The fact that their fathers were fed on the manna, and yet died.
(δ) The life-giving properties of the true manna that "cometh down from heaven."
(b) And then he explains its life-giving properties. "And the bread that I will give him is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
(α) This refers, not to his incarnation, but to his atoning death, for he speaks of the gift as still future.
(β) The design or application of the gift. "For the life of the world." There is here no narrow particularism. His life was to be sacrificed for the salvation of the world.
The increasing difficulties of Jewish unbelief.
The further teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum only developed the more decidedly the unbelieving temper of the Galilaeans.
I. THE STRIFE AMONG THE JEWS. "The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can he give us his flesh to eat?"
1. Some of them evidently were in his favour, and understood his words in their true sense; but the majority were as evidently opposed to him.
2. Those who are carnally minded are apt to put a wrong sense upon the words of life, to their own undoing.
3. Yet our Lord does not alter his words to meet the moral difficulties present to their minds.
II. CONSIDER HOW OUR LORD DEALS WITH THEM QUESTION. "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." Here he gives his explanation, first in a negative, then in a positive form, to the effect that the atoning obedience of Christ is the cause of life to men (Romans 5:18). He had first connected the life with his Person; he now connects it with his work.
1. Our Lord does not, as some imagine, refer here to the Lord's Supper,
(1) because this ordinance had not then been instituted, and the Jews could not possibly have understood his reference to it;
(2) because it is not true to say that every one who partakes of the Lord's Supper either has or shall have eternal life;
(3) and Roman Catholics, who insist upon this interpretation of the text, are not consistent, by denying the cup to the laity, though "drinking his blood" is expressly declared to be as essential to life as "eating his flesh."
2. He does not refer these words to his doctrine, or his system of ethics, or his example. Such an interpretation is exceedingly shallow.
3. He does not refer to the Incarnation, as the sole channel for the communication of life, according to those who hold the mystical theory of the atonement, as if his death were the mere climax of his dedication to God, and not a true sacrifice for sin.
4. He refers, in these expressive words, to his atoning death on Calvary, of which the Paschal lamb was but the shadow. With their awe of blood, the Jews would think it strange to hear Jesus assert the necessity of drinking his blood; but the strangeness disappears when he virtually says to them, "I am the Substance or Reality of that type."
(1) Consider the import of the life that is thus imparted to the sinner.
(a) It presupposes men as without life, as alienated from the life of God (Ephesians 4:18), because they have not the love of God in them (John 5:42).
(b) It is something freely provided and bestowed by God.
(c) It is eternal in its nature, incapable of break or interruption, finding its completeness in the final resurrection of the body.
(2) This life, so far from being an absolute or unpurchased gift, is secured through the atoning obedience of Christ. The Prince of Life submits to death; he gives his flesh for the life of the world. The words point to a priestly act of oblation (Ephesians 5:2).
(3) This life is received through faith. Our Lord uses the terms "eating his flesh" and "drinking his blood" as interchangeable with believing in him (John 6:35, John 6:40, John 6:47). The terms imply that sinners are to receive Christ, as a hungry man partakes of food. Thus the atonement becomes not merely a divine expedient for man's salvation, but a profound personal necessity.
5. The crucified flesh of Christ is the essential food of the immortal soul. "For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." The reason is that the food of the old sacrifices was only the type of which Christ crucified was the transcendent reality.
6. Explanation of the life-giving virtue of Christ's flesh and blood. "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him." This implies a union of the closest kind.
(1) Believers dwell in the heart of Christ as in a place of refuge and rest.
(2) Christ dwells in the heart of believers by faith (Ephesians 3:17)—a wonderful instance of condescension on the part of our Divine Redeemer. This indwelling secures to the believer all that is Christ's.
7. The true ground of the common life of Christ and believers. "As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me shall live by me."
(1) Jesus himself has access to the Source of life;
(a) for he has his life by the Father, and
(b) has been sent by the Father, who is the Fountain of life.
(2) Thus the believer who feeds on Jesus lives upon the Father himself. "The true God, the living Father, gives himself to One alone, but in him to all who feed upon this only One."
(3) Thus is realized the great mystery of the gospel—"the gathering together of all things in one" (Ephesians 1:10).
8. Jesus now reaches the climax of his revelation to the Jews, for he tells them plainly that death or life hangs upon their acceptance or rejection of himself. "He that eateth of this bread shall live forever."
9. The scene of this long discourse. "Jesus said these things, teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum." Modern exploration has identified Tell-Hum as the site of Capernaum, and brings to light the ruins of an ancient synagogue, in which has been found a block of stone with the pot of manna engraved upon its face. The discovery suggests that the Jews as well as Christ may have seen this very stone.
The growth of discontent and unbelief among his disciples.
The burden of this teaching was too heavy to be borne, even by those disciples who followed Jesus for a time, without realizing the true conditions of discipleship.
I. THE TRIAL OF THEIR FAITH. "Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a bard saying; who can hear it?"
1. The saying was hard, not in the sense of being obscure, but Offensive to their judgment.
2. The ground of offence was not
(1) the bloody death of the Messiah;
(2) nor the assumption on the part of Jesus that the salvation of the world was linked with his Person;
(3) nor his claim to have come down from heaven;
(4) but the statement of the paramount need of their eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of man. To their vulgar perception it was repugnant to the moral sense.
II. OUR LORD'S ANSWER TO THEIR MURMURED DISCONTENT, "Doth this offend you? What then if ye should behold the Son of man ascending where he was before?"
1. The words refer to his ascension up to heaven after death.
2. It would then be manifest in what sense they would eat his flesh, for it would be impossible to eat it, in their gross sense, after his ascension to glory.
3. The words imply Christ's previous existence in heaven.
4. Explanation of the nature of the life-giving principle. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing."
(1) Jesus asserts that the life-giving principle is not in the material substance of the flesh, which would, indeed, after the ascension, be beyond the reach of man.
(2) The great reality was the torthcoming Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit.
(a) Thus the second Adam becomes a quickening Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45).
(b) Thus the words that Jesus speaks "are spirit and life," that is, they are "the pure incarnation of the Spirit and the vehicle of life."
III. YET SOME ARE INACCESSIBLE TO THIS LIFE-GIVING INFLUENCE BY THEIR UNBELIEF. "But there are some of you that believe not."
1. They were, perhaps, but a small portion of his disciples.
2. Yet their unbelief was no surprise to one gifted with omniscience. "For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who it was that should betray him."
3. The explanation of their unbelief. "Therefore I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father."
(1) It is impossible to understand the interaction of the will of God and the will of man in salvation;
(2) yet our Lord asserts plainly that, as faith is God's gift, the salvation of man depends upon his efficacious grace.
The crisis reached at last.
The Galilaean disciples, in many cases, revolted against Christ's teaching.
I. THE DEFECTION IN GALILEE. "From that time many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him."
1. These disciples returned once more to the world, with its old occupations, and to the religious guidance of the scribes and Pharisees.
2. They ceased to attend upon our Lord's ministry, or to follow him from place to place in his errands of truth and mercy.
3. The cause of their defection was their unbelief. "There are some of you which believe not."
(1) There are many persons who profess to be Christ's disciples for a time, and afterwards fall away from their profession.
(2) Though Jesus foresaw this defection, it must have been a bitter disappointment.
II. OUR LORD'S TOUCHING APPEAL TO THE TWELVE. "Will ye also go away?"
1. Though he has suffered from the sudden thinning of the ranks of his disciples, he yet holds open the door for the chosen twelve to follow them if they are so inclined.
2. Yet such an additional defection would have added immensely to his trial, as the apostles were nearer to him than the Galilaean disciples.
3. Our Lord seeks to find a small company of true disciples, as the last support of his word, who would be impregnable against apostasy.
III. PETER'S PROMPT AND FERVENT ANSWER. "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life."
1. The answer is characteristic of the apostle's impulsive nature; for he does not take the trouble to inquire whether it represents the convictions or feelings of all his colleagues.
2. The answer recognized the impossibility of the return of the apostles:
(1) Either to the guidance of the scribes and Pharisees, who taught for doctrines the commandments of men, and were blind leaders of the blind;
(2) or to the Law of Moses, by which there was neither life nor righteousness.
3. It recognized the essential fitness of Christ to be the Teacher of the apostles.
(1) He had words of eternal life.
(a) Either promises of eternal life made before the world began, and put into Christ's hands;
(b) or the doctrines of eternal life, which exhibit the way of salvation through a crucified Saviour.
(2) The ground of this conviction. "We believe and know that thou art Christ, the Holy One of God."
(a) The belief is first, as it is the foundation of a right understanding, while the right understanding distinguishes the belief from mere opinion.
(b) The confession, strangely recalling that of the demoniacs (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34), was the recognition of Christ as God's Son, sealed unto the work of giving his life for the world.
IV. OUR LORD'S DISCLOSURE OF THE SECRET CHARACTER OF ONE OF HIS APOSTLES. "Have I not chosen you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?"
1. The choice is to apostleship, not to salvation. (Luke 6:13.)
2. Our Lord sees the truly devilish character of one apostle through all disguises. Judas was
(1) a deceiver,
(2) a liar,
(3) a murderer.
3. It is a significant fact that Judas was, unlike the eleven disciples, who were all Galilaeans, a native of Judaea. "He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon." He belonged to the village of Kerioth, in Judaea (Joshua 15:25). The betrayer of our Lord belonged to that Judaea where the hostilities of the Jews reached its highest point.
4. Our Lord makes the apostles aware of the character of Judas, partly that he may prepare them for the coming betrayal—"for he it was that should betray him"—partly to convince them that they could only stand steadfast in their faith and allegiance by reliance on his grace.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
"It is I!"
They who endure many evils, anticipate more; they are bowed down; and every touch, however kindly, seems a blow to smite them, and to thrust them lower still. When the apostles were tossed on the stormy waters of the lake, and almost despaired of deliverance, Jesus himself drew nigh. But the presence of their best Friend affrighted them. Only his voice could soothe the terror which his presence roused. There is no voice which can rise above the storms of life, to soothe the spirit and to hush the turmoil, save the voice of Christ. What, then, is the import of his reassuring declaration, "It is I"?
I. IT IS I WHO WATCH. Although the disciples did not know it, their Master was, from the neighbouring height, by the fitful moonbeams, watching the little vessel as she struggled with the tempest. He knew exactly how matters were with his friends, and, when he came down from the height, he knew where to find the storm-tossed boat. So does he ever watch his people's course over the waters of life, and with especial interest when that course is one of peril.
II. IT IS I WHO LINGER AND DELAY. Although Jesus knew the state of his disciples, he did not at once come to the rescue. He waited, perhaps to try their faith, and to make his interposition the more welcome. Often do Christ's people fancy that their Lord is careless of their state of anxiety, alarm, or danger. But they are mistaken. He has his own reasons for delay.
III. IT IS I WHO LOVE. Christ's kindness may not always show itself just in the way which would be acceptable to us. Yet his kindness shall not depart from his own; he has loved them with an everlasting love. If there is one time when, more than at another, his heart yearns over his beloved ones, that time is the season of affliction, calamity, and apprehension.
IV. IT IS I WHO COME. At the right moment Jesus drew near. The "voice of the Beloved" was heard above the storm, assuring the distressed disciples that he was near. And his very presence brought comfort and confidence to the heart. Christ comes to his needy and afflicted ones—those "tossed with tempest, and not comforted." His language is, "Fear not; I am with thee: be not dismayed; I am thy God."
V. IT IS I WHO SAVE. He is the Lord of nature, and all nature's powers are, like the storm, subject to his control He is the Friend of man, and every heart may be reached by his sympathy and cheered by his encouragement. He is the Son of God, and as such he can bring the souls he has redeemed from the depths of earthly danger and of fear into the calm of heavenly security and peace.
"If Thou wert less than One Divine,
My soul would be dismayed;
But through thy human lips God says,
Tis I; be not afraid!'"
The Lord Jesus came to earth to seek and to save that which was lost. And again and again in the course of his ministry he was sought by those whom he was seeking. There were periods of popularity when, from various motives, the multitudes resorted to the Prophet of Nazareth. Their seeking Jesus was emblematical of the conduct becoming in all men, when Christ comes nigh to them in the messages of his Word and the ordinances of his Church.
I. SEEKING JESUS IMPLIES NEEDING JESUS. Men do not seek what they do not want. The soul that is without Christ, and has a perception of its destitution and need, is urged to go in quest of him. Men may have health, luxury, wealth, learning, fame; yet if they are without him who is the Son of God, and who brings God near to man, they are strangers to the highest good which we are capable of partaking. If there be any spiritual awakening, then the actual need becomes a conscious want, and the pressure of spiritual indigence urges to undertake this spiritual quest and pilgrimage.
II. SEEKING JESUS IS PROMPTED BY PRIZING JESUS. He is the Treasure hidden in the field, he is the costly Pearl; they who recognize him as such are constrained to use every endeavour to make him their own. Since to find him is to find all spiritual blessings—forgiveness of sin, help for duty, fellowship with heaven, and life eternal—it is natural enough that those who understand and feel this should set a high value upon Christ, and should seek him with all their heart.
III. SEEKING JESUS IS CREDITING AND HONOURING JESUS. It is his wish to be sought, nay, it is his command that men should seek him. There is, therefore, no presumption in this attitude and action of the soul; it is just what the Lord himself expects and desires from us. He will neither hide himself from those who seek him, nor will he repel and dismiss them from his presence. For, in coming to him, they take him at his word, and render to him the honour which is his due.
IV. SEEKING JESUS INVOLVES TRUSTING AND LOVING JESUS. They who earnestly, patiently, persistently seek the Lord, are drawn to him growingly by the bonds of a Divine attraction. The closer they keep to him, the stronger grows their faith, the warmer grows their love.
V. SEEKING JESUS LEADS TO FINDING JESUS. His own word of assurance is ample warrant for this: "Seek, and ye shall find." Many good things may be sought with diligence, and by a lifelong search, and yet may be sought in vain. Of the best of all blessings this cannot be said. "Every one that seeketh findeth."
APPLICATION. Here is a picture of the action which is becoming to every one to whom the gospel comes. It is not enough to admire the character of Jesus and to approve his work. Our will, our active nature, must be engaged in the effort to attain and to enjoy him. And we have this promise to cheer us: "Seek, and ye shall find."—T.
Fruitless and fruitful toil.
Our Lord's miracles did not end in themselves. Out of them there often grew interviews, conversations, and discourses of the greatest interest and profit. Such was the case with the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. The provision made for their bodily wants prompted the people to resort in numbers to the Prophet of Nazareth. And thus our Lord had the opportunity, which he did not fail to use, of presenting to the multitudes, upon the suggestion of the miracle he had wrought, lessons, reflections, expostulations, and appeals of vast and lasting value. Especially did he put in a true light the relative claims of the body and the soul upon the attention and the endeavours of mankind.
I. AN ERROR REBUKED; i.e. the very common habit of living and working merely for the sake of the supply of bodily wants. Our Lord's words have sometimes been misunderstood. He could not have intended to reprove poor men for labouring hard in order to secure an honest living for themselves and their families. What was it, then, which he so gravely reprehended? It must have been the concentration of all human interest and effort upon the existence and comfort of the body, upon the securing an abundance of material good, upon the attainment of opulence and the enjoyment of luxury. Such a course of life may be termed an idolatry of the body and of this passing earthly life. How many there are who pursue with all the energy of their nature the so called "good things of this life," forgetful that these things are destined to perish and to pass away! To such the ancient admonition of the prophet is applicable, "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?"
II. AN EFFORT ENJOINED; i.e. the earnest endeavour to obtain spiritual provision.
1. Our Lord here gives a very striking and just representation of himself. He is "the Bread of life." Knowledge of him, fellowship with him, feed, nourish, strengthen, and cheer the soul. To know his truth, to feel his love, to do his will,—this is an aim in life worthy of all pursuit, worthy of the nature with which the Creator has endowed us.
2. Our Lord reminds us that "labour"—strenuous and persevering exertion—is necessary in order that we may partake of Christ, and enjoy the advantages of his spiritual fellowship. No mere passive acceptance is sufficient. The spiritual nature comes to appropriate and enjoy the Divine Saviour, through sincere and constant effort, through the study of his character, through growth into his likeness, through devotion to his cause.
III. A MOTIVE PRESENTED; i.e. the assurance that this spiritual provision abideth unto eternal life. Earthly supplies can only satisfy bodily wants. The need and the provision are alike perishable and perishing. But the heavenly Bread is especially provided to feed the immortal soul; and they who eat of it shall never hunger, and shall never die. The living water springs up unto life eternal, and they who drink of this fountain shall never thirst. To the disappointed and the distressed such representations should bring comfort and inspiration. The witness of our Saviour to himself is worthy of all acceptation.
IV. A PROMISE GIVEN; i.e. that the Son of man will surely give, to all those who labour to attain it, the satisfying and imperishable food of heaven. If we were convinced of the excellence and the attractiveness of the Bread of God, we might still have no belief in its accessibility to man; and in this case they would be cruel who should dwell upon the advantages of a possession which could never be appropriated. But the very purpose of Christ's mission to earth, of his teaching and miracles, of his sufferings and death, was that he might give himself to the hungering heart of humanity. Never does he turn a deaf ear to those who believingly and humbly approach him with the entreaty, "Lord, evermore give us this bread."—T.
John 6:28, John 6:29
The work of God.
It is not easy to decide what was the spirit in which the Jews took up the admonition of Jesus, "Work not for the meat that perisheth," etc., and upon its suggestion urged the question which called forth our Lord's reply. Probably they had a very imperfect apprehension of the meaning of the words they used, when they asked, "What must we do that we may work the works of God?" yet, as there is no evidence that at this stage they had ill feeling towards Jesus, it is better to assume that their question was not captious but sincere.
I. AN ADMIRABLE INQUIRY.
1. It reveals a noble conception of the higher life of man, which may be justly said to consist in working the work of God.
2. It embodies a worthy aspiration and purpose; for it implies that those who spoke thus believed themselves to be prepared to do whatever needed to be done, in order that by them the work of God might in some measure be accomplished.
3. It is a question which is becoming to all thoughtful students of human life, and to all who desire a law to direct their individual energy. It is too unusual; for whilst there are many, especially amongst the young, who ask—What shall we do to be rich, honoured, powerful, happy? there are few who eagerly inquire how they may work God's work. They who do so in sincerity, with docility, and with the resolution to obey the directions given, are certain to be led aright. For this question, when urged by ardent natures, excites joy, not only in the minds of Christ's ministers, but in the very heart of Christ himself.
II. A MEMORABLE AND DECISIVE REPLY.
1. It is a seeming paradox. Why, when the question was, "What shall we do?" should the answer be, "Believe"? An unexpected response! They who look at the matter superficially are wont to say—Never mind what you believe, so that you do what is right. But Christ puts faith first.
2. Belief in Christ is obedience, because God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, as the Object of human faith. It is the will of God that men should believe on his Son. It is the supreme moral probation of every man, when Jesus comes to him and demands his faith. Christ points away from many works to one work.
3. As a matter of fact, belief in Christ is the turning of the soul to righteousness. For this is the means of securing pardon and acceptance, of becoming right with God, and also of securing spiritual strength and guidance for the duties of the earthly life.
4. It is a great moral principle, which the gospel takes up and uses for highest ends, that faith underlies doing. A man's inner convictions determine what his habitual works, his moral life, shall be. Such is the relation between faith and works, as taught by both Paul and James; the one apostle laying stress upon faith, the other upon works, and both pleading the authority of this and other sayings of the great Teacher himself. Believing is the beginning, work is the continuation, of the life; belief is the inner, work is the outer, process; belief is the motive, work the result; belief is the cause, work the effect. The Divine life for man is a work; but it is a work based upon a Divine Person, and it is faith which so bases it, which unites the worker to the living and personal Power.—T.
The true Bread.
From any other than Jesus Christ this language would have been egotistical in the extreme. Coming from his lips, referring as it did to himself, this declaration is natural enough. For since he was the Son of God, no claim inferior to this would have been just. It is a marvellous metaphor, this, in which our Lord proclaims himself the true Bread, the Bread from heaven, the Bread of God, the Bread of life.
I. CONSIDER THE HUNGER OF THE SOUL WHICH IS PRESUMED. The body is dependent upon food for life, health, and strength; and the appetite of hunger prompts to the seeking and partaking of food. There is a correspondence between the hunger that craves and the bread that satisfies; an adaptation of the supply to the necessity. There is a parallel arrangement in the spiritual realm. Man is a weak, dependent, craving being, with an ineradicable desire for the highest good—a desire not to be appeased by earthly provisions. It is a spiritual appetite, which in many is deadened by carnal indulgence, by sinful habit, yet which ever and anon recurs. What a revelation of soul yearning would there be, could the inner nature and experience of any congregation be exposed to an observer's view!
II. CONSIDER THE BREAD OF THE SOUL WHICH IS PROVIDED.
1. Christ, as the true Bread, is the gift of the Father. All the family are dependent upon the liberality and thoughtfulness of the great Father and Benefactor. If "he openeth his hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing," it is not to be believed that, providing for the lower wants, he will neglect the higher. And, as a matter of fact, he has not done so.
2. Christ is the Bread "from heaven." As such he was prefigured by the manna of the wilderness. This gift is bestowed from the sphere of the spiritual and supernatural, which is thus brought near to our souls.
3. He is the true, the real Bread. There is no hollow pretence in this gift. God is not a Father who, if his son ask bread of him, will give him a stone. He who made the soul of man knows how that soul's wants can be fully and forever met.
III. CONSIDER THE SATISFACTION OF THE SOUL WHICH IS SECURED.
1. Christ is partaken, not by physical eating, but by communion of the spirit with the Saviour. Faith is the means of appropriating the Divine provision. Jesus in this conversation especially warned his disciples of the error into which some of them afterwards fell—the error of confounding carnal with spiritual participation of his body and blood.
2. The result of feeding by faith upon the Bread of life is—satisfaction and gladness, health and vigour of soul, and a life which is immortal. "If a man eat this Bread, he shall live forever." As the hunger of the Israelites was appeased by the manna, as the hunger of the multitude was appeased by the miraculous multiplication of loaves in the wilderness, so have myriads in every age partaken of the true and spiritual Bread, and have borne witness to its efficacy to satisfy their deepest cravings, and to nourish their spiritual life.—T.
The Father draws the soul to Christ.
We have to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to God, first for giving and sending his Son to be our Saviour, and then for guiding us unto his Son, in order that in fellowship with him we may experience the blessings of salvation. For in these two ways does the Father furnish us with a complete display of his love; in these two ways does he completely secure our highest good.
I. THE DRAWING OF THE SOUL BY THE FATHER.
1. The soul needs to be divinely drawn. And this because:
(1) By reason of sin it is estranged from God, is far from God, is even at enmity with God.
(2) There are other attractions, very powerful, and such as men are wont to yield to, which draw man's nature in an opposite direction. "The world, the flesh, and the devil" have great power; and in the case of very many exert that power efficaciously to keep the soul from God, and even to increase the distance by which it is so separated.
2. The instrumentalities, or spiritual forces, by which the Father draws human souls to Christ.
(1) The presentation of truth adapted to man's intelligence. The next verse brings this agency before us in explicit statement: "They shall be all taught of God."
(2) The utterance of moral authority addressing the conscience. Passion and interest may draw men from Christ; duty, with a mighty imperative, bids them approach their Lord and Saviour.
(3) Love appeals to the heart of man with mystic power.
"The moon may draw the sea;
The cloud may stoop from heaven, and take the shape,
With fold to fold, of mountain or of cape."
The attraction of Christ's character and life, of his gracious language, and above all of his sacrifice upon the cross, is the mightiest moral force the world has ever felt. "I," said he, "if I am lifted up, will draw all men unto myself." Thus in many ways, adapted by his own wisdom to the nature and circumstances of men, is the Father drawing men unto Christ.
3. The manner in which the Father draws the soul unto himself.
(1) This attraction is not of a physical, mechanical, forcible kind. Such compulsion would be out of all character, would not harmonize with man's moral freedom. And, indeed, it would not be the drawing of the soul.
(2) It is a moral, spiritual attraction, in accordance with the nature both of him who draws and of those who are drawn. The Holy Spirit of God is the power to whom we owe the action of those moral constraints which are the chief and most beneficent factors in the moral life of mankind.
(3) Mighty though this drawing be, it is for the most part gentle and gradual. Its influence is not always at once apparent; it becomes manifest with the growth of experience and the lapse of time. It is continuous, lasting in the case of many from childhood to old age.
(4) The power and efficacy of this agency is not to be disputed. The Father calls, and the child answers. The magnetism is exercised, and the soul flies to the attracting power. The light shines, and the eye turns towards the welcome ray.
II. THE COMING OF THE SOUL TO CHRIST.
1. There is an indispensable condition without which no soul can come to Christ. Christ must first come to the soul. The gospel must be preached, and must be received, for it is the Divine call, which alone can authorize the approach of sinful man to the Holy One and Just.
2. The soul's method in coming. It is easy enough to understand how when Jesus was on earth men came to him; they came actually, bodily, locally. Yet the principle of approach is ever the same; for our Lord said indifferently," Come unto me," and "Believe on me." The coming of the bodily form was useless apart from spiritual approach, sympathy, and trust. As it is the soul which the Father draws, so it is the soul which, being drawn, finds itself near the Saviour and in fellowship with him.
3. The soul's purpose in coming. It is impelled by conscious need of the Redeemer, as the Prophet, the Priest, the King, divinely appointed. It hopes to find in him that fall satisfaction which, sought elsewhere, is sought in vain.
4. The soul's experience in coming.
(1) There is welcome and acceptance; for he who comes is never, in any wise, cast out.
(2) There is a perfect response to the desire and need. The hungry is fed, the thirsty finds the water of life, the weary meets with rest, and the man who longs to serve has revealed to him the law and rule of consecration.
(3) There is the eternal abiding; for the soul that comes to Jesus neither leaves him, nor is left by him.
5. The soul's obligation in coming.
(1) Gratefully to acknowledge the infinite mercy by which this attractive influence has been exercised, and to which the fellowship with Christ is due.
(2) Diligently to act as the Father's agent in bringing other souls to Jesus. We can trace the Divine power in the human agency which was employed to lead us to the Saviour. The same God can still use the same means to the same result.—T.
The Ascension foretold.
The aim of our Lord's conversation with the Jews was to convince those who were prepared for the revelation, that he was the Divine Mediator, and that union with him was the one hope of salvation for sinful men. An inferior claim he could not have made. Yet this assertion of his power and dignity was an offence to many who heard the Saviour's language, and who could not believe that the lowly Nazarene occupied a place so exalted in the counsels of the Eternal. Jesus, perceiving that both the cavillers and the disciples were perplexed by his statements and demands, instead of withdrawing anything that he had said, asked them how they would be impressed should they witness his ascension to his proper abode? Although the evangelist John does not record the Ascension, this is not the only passage in which he attributes to Christ language referring to that great event; a fact in favour both of the actual occurrence of the Ascension and of John's acquaintance with it. This great and final event in our Lord's earthly ministry was—
I. A SUITABLE CONCLUSION TO HIS CAREER ON EARTH. As his birth had been supernatural and his ministry likewise, as his resurrection from the dead had in this respect corresponded with all that had gone before, it was proper that his final departure from earth should be distinguished by what was more than human in incident and in power. He could not die a second time; how could he disappear from among men more appropriately than in the manner he himself had foretold?
II. AN EVIDENT PROOF OF THE DIVINITY OF HIS PERSON AND MISSION. And this in two ways.
1. Jesus had expressly and repeatedly foretold that he should ascend into heaven; the fact of his doing so proved his Divine foreknowledge.
2. At the same time, his ascension distinguished him from all others. He was not even, like Elijah, taken up; he ascended in the exercise of his own native power.
III. A NECESSARY CONDITION OF THE OUTPOURING OF THE SPIRIT. He himself had said, "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come." His work was to be completed in the bestowal of spiritual influence for the enlightenment and conversion of mankind. It was when he ascended on high that he led captivity captive, and received gifts for men.
IV. A PREPARATION FOR THE ESPECIALLY CHRISTIAN LIFE OF FAITH AND SPIRITUALITY. Through the Ascension Christ's friends and followers realize their union with an unseen Saviour. The invisible sphere, which apart from this seems so remote, is thus brought near, Christians, risen with Christ, set their affections upon things above.
V. A POINT OF DEPARTURE FOR THE CHURCH'S LABOURS, No one can read the Book of the Acts of the Apostles without feeling that the ascension of Christ, recorded in the first chapter, is the key to the whole of the narrative. The Lord went into heaven, but left his servants upon earth, to carry out his instructions, and to advance his cause and kingdom. The trust came home to their hearts, and animated their ministry.
VI. THE GROUND OF A BLESSED HOPE. Jesus departed with his hands outstretched in the attitude of blessing. Blessing his people, he ascended; blessing them, he lives and reigns above; and blessing them, he will return. It is his own assurance, "I will come again;" it is the assurance of his angels, "He shall so come in like manner as ye beheld him go into heaven."
APPLICATION. If, as our Lord's language intimates, his ascension must needs awaken surprise, still more should it enkindle gratitude, arouse to consecration, and inspire hope.—T.
The flesh and the Spirit.
Our Lord here teaches a great lesson which he several times repeated in the course of his ministry, and which is most emphatically inculcated by the Apostle Paul, especially in his Epistles to the Corinthians. There are two different principles of religion—one carnal, i.e. earthly and human; the other spiritual, i.e. heavenly and Divine; and of these the second is the true and satisfactory principle. "The flesh profiteth nothing"—the religion which is external and ceremonial, which rules itself by the letter, is vain; "the Spirit quickeneth"—the religion which begins with the inner nature, and lays all stress upon the laws and the life of the soul, is Divine, acceptable, and enduring.
I. THE SUPERIORITY OF THE SPIRIT TO THE FLESH IS APPARENT IN THE VITAL QUESTION AS TO THE NATURE OF THE UNION OF THE CHRISTIAN WITH CHRIST. The religion of the flesh teaches that, if a man could only eat the Lord's body and drink his blood, he must be saved. The religion of the Spirit tells us that physical contact in itself is worthless; and that the matter of all importance is the spiritual connection between the believer and the Saviour.
II. SPIRITUAL WORSHIP IS BETTER THAN MERE BODILY OBSERVANCES. There is a very powerful tendency in human nature to lower religion into a system of form and ceremony. Many under the Mosaic economy were carried away by this tendency, whilst the more spiritual Jews saw clearly into the true nature of acceptable worship. On this point our Lord's language is most explicit, especially in his conversation with the woman of Samaria. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
III. A SPIRITUAL CONCEPTION OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS SUPERIOR TO ONE THAT IS CARNAL. It is often regarded as something of the nature of a human organization; yet our Lord's parables should convince the student that there is a kingdom altogether different from any human institution, whether political or ecclesiastical. Many are the mischiefs, as Church history abundantly teaches us, which have flowed from the fountain error of regarding the Divine kingdom according to "the flesh,"
IV. THE SACRAMENTS THEMSELVES ARE ONLY RIGHTLY DEEMED OF WHEN THEY ARE VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF THE SPIRIT. The outward observances, the visible signs, are valuable and necessary. But they are material expressions of spiritual truth and reality; they are earthly means to spiritual ends.
V. CHRISTIAN OBEDIENCE IS THAT WHICH IS RENDERED, NOT SIMPLY BY THE BODILY NATURE, BUT BY THE SPIRIT. Christ is a Master who asks not mere outward homage or conformity, but the reverential subjection, the cheerful obedience, of the whole nature. Let the spirit serve him, and the devotion of the bodily powers will follow, to prove the sincerity of love.—T.
Desertion and adhesion.
It is instructive to observe that, in the course of Christ's ministry, there were those among his professed friends who forsook him. And it is also instructive to observe that such cases of desertion led Christ's real and attached friends to ask themselves what it was that held them to their Lord, and to form upon this matter a definite and decided conviction. Thus the desertion of merely nominal adherents became the occasion of a mental process which was singularly advantageous; for faith and love were thus called out and strenghtened. Our daily observation shows us, that as it was during our Lord's ministry, so now and always there are those who cleave to Christ, and those who quit him.
I. HOW IS IT TO BE EXPLAINED THAT SOME PROFESSED CHRISTIANS FORSAKE THE LORD?
1. Fickle and frivolous natures, when the novelty of discipleship wears off, revert to the careless and irreligious life of the past. Their heart is in the world, and, like Lot's wife, they look back. Some transient excitement, some personal influence, induces impressible natures to acknowledge in words that Jesus is their Saviour and Lord. But only the surface of the soul is reached, and the world has possession of the inmost depths.
2. Christ's claims to Divine authority are rejected as too lofty to be accepted by those accustomed to merely human standards. And his moral requirements are too stringent for a low ethical standard to submit to. Many would hold to Christ did he make a lower claim, or impose a laxer rule.
3. The doctrines which Christ reveals are too profound and spiritual for the carnal mind. The disciples of Jesus find that if they would know the Master's thoughts they must brace themselves to an arduous effort of spirit. From this they shrink, and consequently turn to a creed more commonplace and less exacting. One thing may certainly be said of all the various classes who are chargeable with the guilt and folly of forsaking Jesus. It is this: those who leave Christ have never really known him. If they had found eternal life in him, they would never have forsaken him for causes such as those described.
II. WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD CLEAVE TO CHRIST.
1. Because there is no one else to whom to go. The invitations and allurements which conflict with the attractions of the Saviour, however specious, are altogether vain. In the time of his earthly ministry, to whom could men go, if not to Jesus? They could find no satisfaction in the teaching and society of Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, etc. So is it now.
2. Because Christ is the supremely excellent. As the Messiah, the Son of God, able to secure forgiveness and acceptance, able to procure us all spiritual help and blessing. He is beyond all comparison the most precious. To desert him is to turn the back upon all moral perfection and Divine grace.
3. Because Christ has the highest of all gifts to bestow; i.e. eternal life. With this what can the promises of others for a moment compare?
4. Because Christ's own remonstrance begs us to stay with him. "Will ye also go away?" is his gracious appeal. As much as to say—For your own sake, and for my sake, remain! Since Christ has not forsaken his people, his people are bound not to forsake him. Wonderful as is the fact, it is certain that Jesus is pained and grieved by the desertion of those for whom he has done and suffered so much; it is certain that Jesus is gladdened when his people cleave closely to him in the season of temptation or discouragement.—T.
HOMILIES BY B. THOMAS
The human and Divine idea of kingship.
We have in the connection:
1. A wonderful miracle. Five thousand fed.
2. A right conclusion. "This is the Messiah."
3. A wrong act. They would take him and make him King. Notice—
I. THE PROPOSAL OF THE MULTITUDE. "To make him King."
1. The proposal was sincere and enthusiastic. The multitude were full of the idea; it burned in their breasts, boiled in their thoughts, flashed in their countenances, and blazed in their words. They were entirely swayed by it, and ready at any moment to break out in an apparently irresistible action.
2. The proposal was popular. The vast multitude were united, and even the disciples were not exempt. They were naturally drawn to the vortex of the terrible whirlpool of the popular sentiment. And although these people were not representative men, still they were fired with the national idea, and attempted to carry out the national wish with regard to the Messiah.
3. It was thoroughly secular. They wished to make him King in opposition to all the kings of the earth, and especially to Caesar, and to deliver them as a nation from the hateful yoke of Rome. Thus the proposal was directly seditious, endangering their own safety as well as the safety of Christ in direct opposition to the great purpose of his life.
4. It was utterly selfish.
(1) They wanted to use him for their own purposes. Instead of surrendering themselves to him and to his teaching as the Messiah, they wished him to surrender himself to them, and to serve their low and personal purposes. They were not anxious to be drawn up to him, but to draw him down to them. They thought and acted under the inspiration of the loaves and fishes. They are not the first nor last to attempt to use Christ for personal and worldly purposes.
(2) They wished to compel him to this. They would make him King by force. If they succeeded they would really be kings, and he the subject of their selfish desires. When they would take him by force, they little thought of the counter force they had to contend with. This is not an exceptional conduct with regard to Christ, to make him King by force. How many honours are forced upon him which he declines!
(3) It was entirely mistaken. There is no regard paid to the Divinity and dignity of his Person, the nature of his office, or the great purpose of his life. They were doubtless sincere and enthusiastic, but their thoughts moved in a groove unspeakably lower than his. Little they thought that the honour they proposed would ill fit him; that the sceptre of the mightiest empire would ill become him who wielded the sceptre of creation; that the thrones of the Caesars would be infinitely too small and mean to contain him who occupied and filled the throne of the universe; that the most brilliant earthly crown would be a worthless toy to him who already wore a crown bedecked with stars and suns. To offer an earthly kingship to him was a mistake and an insult.
II. THE CONDUCT OF JESUS. It shows:
1. The unselfishness of his nature. Consider:
(1) The proposal was real. The multitude were unanimous. They represented the national idea with regard to the Messiah. They were terribly earnest, and determined to make him King at any cost, even by force.
(2) It was quite possible. It was not the wild idea of a few enthusiasts, but that of a vast crowd representing the sentiments of the nation. And if Jesus were to consent they would rally round him with enthusiasm untold, and with such a General would be soon victorious.
(3) From a human point of view it was very tempting. They wanted to make him King—the highest honour, power, and glory that people can confer on their fellow man. Think of his low position. A poor Carpenter, and the Son of a poor carpenter from Nazareth. Under the circumstances, who but Christ would not gladly accept such an offer? What was offered him in a mental vision, or perhaps by the personal presence of the prince of this world in the wilderness, was now offered him in a more practical manner by the multitude in another wilderness. But such was the unselfishness of his nature, that the worldly honour and royal dignity and glory involved in the proposal appealed in vain to him. They had no response from his nature but the old one, "Get ye behind me."
2. The spirituality of his mission.
(1) Spiritual in its nature. It would not blend with worldly objects, nor fall in with worldly schemes.
(2) Spiritual in its sphere. The mind, the spirit, the soul, and heart.
(3) Spiritual in its means and operations.
(4) Spiritual in its end. The spiritual life of man; the salvation of the human race; the liberty of the captives of sin. He said, "My kingdom is not of this world." Here is an illustration and a proof of it. He is offered an earthly kingdom. His ideas of power, honour, and glory were diametrically opposed to those of the world. They were purely spiritual.
3. The purity and strength of his character.
(1) His character was in perfect harmony with his mission. His mission was spiritual and his character was true. Strictly true to his mission and to itself; there was not a jarring note.
(2) His character was delicately sensitive to the presence of evil. Sensitive to its invisible promptings and motives. "He perceived that they would come," etc. He was sensitive to the very breath of worldly notions, human ambition, and petty pride.
(3) His character had a decided resisting force against evil ever, in its most insidious and apparently innocent forms. How insidious and apparently innocent was evil in this proposal of the multitude! Was it not kindness and gratitude? Yes, but it was radically against the nature of his mission and the purpose of his life, and he shrank from it as from a venomous reptile. It was one thing to resist the proposal of the devil when he barefacedly offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world with their glory, on the humiliating and vile condition of worshipping him; it was another thing to resist him in the apparently innocent proposal of the multitude to make him King. It is one thing to resist the evil one in the common and glaring vices of society; it is another to resist him in the garb of kindness and in the hosannas of gratitude. Jesus did this. He had a force of character stronger than the force with which he was threatened. He became poor of his own accord, but could not be made King by force. A child could win him. A poor blind man could stop him by crying for help, but a multitude could not make him King against his will. He was taken by force once, but not before he gave a proof that it was by permission. He gave himself up to a cross, but not to an earthly crown. He sacrificed his life, but would not sacrifice his principle, his integrity, his mission, and heavenly trust.
4. The wisdom of his conduct.
(1) He resisted the evil at its very beginning. "When he perceived," etc.; before it had gained too much strength, nipped it in the bud.
(2) Resisted it at once. "Straightway," according to Mark—without any hesitation.
(3) Resisted it in the best way. The disciples were sent away first, then the multitude. When the multitude saw the disciples depart, they lost hope and courage, tie did not use extraordinary means when ordinary ones would suffice. The force of his character and wisdom were sufficient for this.
5. The devotion of his spirit. "He departed again," etc. We see:
(1) The manner of his devotion. Retirement, alone.
(2) The spiritual dependence of his nature. Independent of the crowd, but dependent on his Father. The multitudes were filled. He was hungry now for his Father's fellowship.
(3) The habit of his life. "He departed again," etc. It was not the first time nor the last. Prayer was the habit of his life.
(4) The secret of his power. His power was fed and nursed in secret fellowship with his Father. He went up the mountain to meet him, and came down with fresh inspiration and strength. If we want to do wonders down among men, we must retire and climb the mount to God.
1. When a multitude is inspired with wrong ideas and purposes, better disperse it. Thus did Jesus.
2. The best of teachers often find it difficult to gather people and keep them together. Jesus often found it difficult to send them away; they clung to him, and he had to take himself away from them.
3. When Divine and human forces come into collision, the human ought and must give way.
4. If Christ deemed it wrong to take man and make him his subject by force, it is wrong for man, or any number of men, to attempt to make him King by force. Voluntariness is the principle of his kingdom.
5. It is better to be alone with a mountain than to be with a multitude, when it is entirely inspired with wrong and dangerous notions.
6. Much honour is attempted to be forced on Jesus against his expressed will. Such honour to him is dishonour, and will not have it. He withdraws from it.
7. The highest honour we can pay Jesus and ourselves is to make him King of our hearts and souls. "Enter in, thou blessed of the Lord."—B.T.
False seekers and a true Saviour.
We have here in relation to Jesus—
I. A MANIFESTATION OF AN OUTWARDLY PROPER AND HOPEFUL CONDUCT. These people sought Jesus, and in doing so:
1. They strove to find the right Object—Jesus. Many seek unworthy, worthless, and injurious objects—objects unworthy of them and their efforts—the very thought of which is most debasing and morally dangerous; but these people seek the most worthy, valuable, and soul-benefiting Object it was possible for them to seek.
2. It was most important for them and for all to find him. So important it was, that Christ, at the expense of the greatest condescension and self-sacrifice, placed himself in their way so that they may know and truly find him. And to find him is to find "a Pearl of great price"—an eternal fortune which will make the soul really rich forever.
3. They strove to find him in the right way. They sought him. Christ, as well as all the blessings of his redemption, is to be found by seeking. "Seek, and ye shall find," is as applicable to him as to all the spiritual blessings of his kingdom.
4. In their seeking there is much that is commendable and worthy of imitation.
(1) There is much enthusiasm.
(2) Intelligent observation. They observed his movements and those of his disciples.
(3) Diligent search. They spared no trouble nor effort.
(4) Determined perseverance. While others had given up in despair, they persevered in spite of the conduct of others, of disappointment and difficulties. When they were convinced that he was on the other side, and that the sea was between them, this they bravely crossed.
(5) Ultimate success. They found him, their efforts were rewarded with success—they found him.
II. A REVELATION OF WRONG MOTIVES. "Ye seek me, not," etc. This revelation shows:
1. That Christ is perfectly acquainted with the real character of men. He not merely knows the outward actions, but also their inward springs, motives, and inspiration. He knew the character of these men better than they themselves. He cannot be deceived by any amount of outward show and profession; the inward man is open to him.
2. That much outward interest is often manifested in Christ from wrong and improper motives. "Ye seek me, not," etc. It was so in the case of these people.
(1) Their motives were utterly selfish. They sought him, not for his sake, but for their own; not on account of what he was in himself, as manifested in his mighty works, but on account of what he might be to them as experienced in the loaves. They sought not Jesus at all, but their own self-interest in the results of his miracles.
(2) Their motives were lamentably low. They were not merely selfish, but they were such as pertained to their lowest self. "Because ye ate of the loaves, and were filled." They sought him, not even from intellectual curiosity, but from selfish gratification; their inspiration in seeking him came not from the higher region of the heart and soul, but from the lower region of the appetites. They seem to have partly lost the national idea of the Messiah's kingship which they entertained on the previous day; they now wish to crown him as the King of human food.
(3) Their motives reveal the complete ascendancy of the animal and the dormancy of the spiritual in them. They seemed to have been entirely under the reign of their physical nature; the spiritual seems fast asleep. The body was all alive and loud in its demands and satisfaction, but the immortal soul uttered not a word about her existence, wants, and misery—not even in the presence of Jesus.
3. That much of the interest manifested in Jesus is inspired by wrong motives, although the greatest advantages are enjoyed to possess the right ones.
(1) These people had seen the mighty works of Jesus. They had seen the signs—not one, but many; they were performed before their very eyes. They had enjoyed their temporal benefits, and they possessed the required capacities to comprehend their meaning and mission.
(2) These signs were eminently adapted to furnish them with right motives in seeking Jesus. They most eloquently and convincingly proclaimed him to be a Divine Person; their Messiah, the Son of God, come on a special mission, not to feed their bodies but to save their souls; not to deliver from the Roman yoke, but from the yoke of sensuality and vice and spiritual death.
(3) But in spite of all this he is sought from low and wrong motives. "Ye seek me, not," etc. The fight and natural motives are ignored, and wrong and unworthy ones are adopted. The loaves are more valued than the Divine power which multiplied them; the streams are more valued than the fountain—the means than the end. The Divine miracles of Jesus are prostituted to gratify the lowest appetites; the powers of the world to come are prostituted to serve the low ends of this, and an attempt is made to make the King of souls the slave of human bodies.
4. That any amount of interest in Jesus, in the absence of right and proper motives, is quite worthless. A right motive alone can make an action morally and spiritually right, valuable, and acceptable. As such:
(1) It is worthless to the man himself. "Though I speak with," etc.
(2) It is worthless to Jesus. Nothing is valued by him but what proceeds from right motives and worthy considerations—considerations of our spiritual wants, and his willingness and power to satisfy them. Motives with Christ are the final test of character and attachment to him.
5. That Jesus reveals the wrong motives of men in relation to him in order to improve them. In some cases he seems to do this for the improvement of others; but in this ease, as well as generally, for the improvement of those he addressed.
(1) The revelation is made directly to them. "I say unto you," etc. Not to some one else. Christ was honest and straightforward, and told people their faults to their faces. He holds the looking glass of truth before the man, so that he may see his moral image. And it is a great help to improve a man to let him see himself.
(2) The revelation is made with solemn emphasis. "Verily, verily," etc. Indicating the absolute truth of the charge, and its paramount importance with regard to their destiny.
(3) The revelation is in a reforming spirit. It is firm and condemnatory, still is moderate—a simple and plain statement of facts; and its evident intention was to benefit, correct, and improve them, elevate their tastes and motives, raise them from the material to the spiritual, from body to the soul, and from the temporal to the eternal. "Ye seek me, not because ye saw the signs," etc. There you lost it. You must retrace your steps and look at me through the miracles, and not through your own low self-interest; through your spiritual nature, and not through your physical appetites. Then you will see that the spiritual wants of your souls are infinitely more important than those of your bodies, and that I am divinely sent to feed and save you.
1. That Jesus could not be deceived by popular demonstrations in his favour. And what would cheer religious teachers generally rather saddened him, for he could see the inward motives as well as the outward movements; he judged from within, and what a man was inwardly he was really to him. He found this wanting often, even when the outward was promising.
2. That Jesus, with regard to his followers, went in for quality rather than quantity. He invited all, and would welcome all with equal readiness and joy. But only the genuine he would receive and encourage; the ungenuine he would reject and reprove. He preferred a few real followers to a multitude of "loafers."
3. On the great day of revelation it will be found that the religion of many was based upon selfish and worldly considerations, and not upon genuine faith and love, and warm attachment to the Saviour.
4. Inasmuch as purity and spirituality of motives and intentions are so essential in relation to Christ and the salvation of our souls, we cannot be too careful in this direction, especially when we consider that worldliness and selfishness are our most besetting and insidious sins. They clandestinely entwine around our most sacred devotions and services, and appear often innocent and agreeable; but nothing can so efficiently separate from Christ. Hence the necessity of the prayer, Create in me a clean heart, etc.—B.T.
The Father's will and its Executor.
1. That the majority of Christ's hearers disbelieved him. His verdict at last was, "Ye believe not;" "Ye will not come."
2. That they disbelieved him in spite of the greatest advantages to faith. (John 6:36.)
3. That in spite of their obstinate unbelief and cruel rejection, the gracious purposes of God and the mission of Jesus will not be void. "For all that the Father giveth me," etc. Notice—
I. THE FATHER'S WILL. We see in this will:
1. That he has given a certain number of the human family to Christ. In a general and a true sense all the human family have been given him; they are the objects of his saving love and grace. All are invited to the gospel feast, and commanded to repent. The earth is Immanuel's land, and the human race, without exception or partiality, are the objects of his saving mercy. But there are some specially given to Christ; they are spoken of as such: "All that the Father giveth me." They have been given in the past in purpose; they are given in the present in fact. This suggests:
(1) That the salvation of the human family is carried on according to the eternal purpose and plan of God. Everything has been arranged from the beginning. Nothing happens by accident; neither the Father nor the Son is ever taken by surprise.
(2) That the mission of Christ is not a speculation, but with regard to him an absolute certainty. Speculation is a term unapplicable to Divine proceedings; they are fixed and determined as to their mode and result. Jesus lived and acted on earth in the full consciousness of this. And who would not rejoice that the blessed Redeemer was not in this hostile world as the creature of chance and at the mercy of fate, but ever fortified with the knowledge of his Father's will and purpose, the consciousness of his Father's love, and the certainty of the success of his own mission?
2. That the Father gave these to Christ, because he knew that they would come to him. Let it be remembered that the division of time, as past, present, and future, is nothing to God. All time to him is present. In his plans and election he experienced no difficulty arising from ignorance, but all was divinely clear to him. And we see that he is not arbitrary in his selections, We know that his authority is absolute; that he has the same authority over man as the potter over the clay. He can do as he likes, and perhaps this is the only answer he would give to some questioners, "I can do as I like." But we know that he cannot like to do anything that is wrong, unreasonable, or unfair. He cannot act from mere caprice, but his actions are harmonious with all his attributes, as well as with the highest reason; and can give a satisfactory reason for all acts, and justify himself to his intelligent creatures. The principle on which he gave certain of the human family to Christ was willingness on their part to come to him. In the gifts of his providence he has regard to adaptation—he gives water to quench thirst, etc. But, in giving human souls to Christ, he had a special regard to the human will. He knew as an absolute fact that some would refuse his offer of grace in Christ, and that others would gladly accept the same offer under the same conditions. The former he neither would nor could, the latter he graciously gave. It is an invariable characteristic of those given to Christ that they give themselves to him.
3. Those given to Christ shall certainly come to him. "All that the Father giveth me shall," etc. Jesus was certain of this. And if given, they come; and if they come, they were given. Divine foreknowledge is never at fault, and Divine grace can never fail to be effective with regard to those thus given to Christ. Their coming was included in the gift. There was the knowledge of their coming, and every grace, motive, and help was promised with the gifts; so that their arrival to Christ is certain. They shall come, in spite of every opposition and difficulty from within and without.
4. That these were given to Christ in trust for special purposes. These are set forth:
(1) Negatively. "That I should lose nothing" (John 6:39). Not one, not the least, and not even anything necessary to the happiness of that one.,
(2) Affirmatively. "May have everlasting life." The highest good they could wish and enjoy.
(3) That they should have these blessings on the most reasonable and easy terms. By simple acceptance of the gift, and simple and trustful faith in the Giver (John 6:40).
II. JESUS AS THE EXECUTOR AND TRUSTEE OF THE FATHER"S WILL. In these capacities:
1. He is most gracious, for
(1) the work involves the greatest responsibilities. It is true that those given shall come to him. But look at their miserable condition. They are guilty; he must procure their pardon. They are condemned; he must justify them. They are corrupt; he must cleanse and sanctify them. They are sick; he must heal them. They are in debt; he must pay it. The responsibilities are infinite.
(2) It involves the greatest self-sacrifice. To meet these responsibilities required the greatest self sacrifice possible. Before they could be justified, he himself must be condemned; to heal them, he must be mortally wounded; to make them rich, he must become poor; to pay their debt, he must lay down his life as a ransom; and to bring them unto glory, he must be made "perfect through sufferings." What but infinite love would accept the trust and execute the will?
2. He is most tenderly and universally inviting. "Him that cometh to me I will," etc. These words are most tender and inviting. They were uttered in the painful consciousness that many would not come to him, although there were infinite provisions and welcome. The door of salvation need not be wider, nor the heart of the Saviour more tender, than this. There is no restriction, no favouritism. "Him that cometh."
3. He is most adapted for his position. This will appear if we consider:
(1) That he is divinely appointed. "The Father which sent me." The Father appointed him to be the Trustee and Executor of his will. And he knew whom to appoint. He acts under the highest authority.
(2) He was willing to undertake the trust. It is true that he was sent, but as true that he came. "I am come down from heaven" (John 6:38). There was no coercion. His mission was as acceptable to him as it was pleasing to the Father, so that he has great delight in his work.
(3) He is thoroughly acquainted with the Divine will. Perfect knowledge is essential to perfect execution. Many profess to know much, but where is the proof? Jesus proves his knowledge by revelation. "This is my Father's will," etc. He was acquainted with all its responsibilities, its purposes, and sufferings, as well as all the difficulties in carrying it out. This he knew from the beginning before he undertook the trust.
(4) He is enthusiastically devoted to both parties—to the Testator and the legatees. He is devoted to the Father. "I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but," etc. He had a will of his own, but in his mediatorial office it was entirely merged in that of his Father. He is equally devoted to the objects of his Father's love; for "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." And he could say more—he would help and almost compel him to come in.
(5) He is divinely competent. He is the Son of God, the Elect of the Father, ever conscious of his capacities for this work. Not a shadow of doubt in this respect ever came across his mind. He was serenely conscious of fulness, of power, of life—the fulness of the Godhead; and he gave ample proof of his Divine competency as he went along. The sick were healed, the dead were raised, the guilty were pardoned, and all penitents who appealed to him were saved. Naturally and well he might say, "I will raise him up at the last clay." And being able to do this, he can do all. All the qualifications necessary to execute the Divine will with regard to the human race fully meet in him. "His will be done."
1. The purposes of the Divine will are in safe hands. Not one shall suffer on his account.
2. The lives of believers are in safe custody. Nothing will be lost.
3. The mission of Jesus is certain of success. "All that the Father giveth me," etc.
4. The perdition of man must come entirely from himself. All the purposes and dispensations of God, all the mediatorial work of Jesus, are for his salvation. All that God in Christ could do for his deliverance is done. Nothing but his own will can stand between him and eternal life.
5. The duty of all to come to Jesus and accept his grace. There is a marked difference between the conduct of Jesus and the conduct of those who reject him. He receives the vilest; they reject the most holy and gracious One. He opens the door to the most undeserving; they close it against the pride of angels, the inspiration of the redeemed, and the glory of heaven and earth. Beware of trifling with the long suffering mercy of Jesus. The last thing he can do is to cast out; but when he casts out, he casts out terribly.—B.T.
The sad departure from Christ.
I. THAT THE MINISTRY OF JESUS REPELLED MANY. "From this time many of his disciples," etc. And why?
1. Because his ministry revealed their true character to themselves and others.
(1) As unreal. They were miserably wanting in sincerity, honesty, and earnestness.
(2) As worldly, secular, and carnal—wanting in spirituality and true concern for the soul
(3) As selfish. They were self-seeking and self-righteous.
(4) As wicked.
(5) As unbelieving.
2. Because his ministry was diametrically opposed to their real character. He preached repentance—inward reform, heavenly birth, and honesty, which were opposed to their hollowness of principle. He preached the superior claims of the soul and spiritual things, which were opposed to their carnality and worldliness. He preached self-sacrifice and love and exemplified them in his life, and these were opposed to their selfishness. He inculcated holiness, which was opposed to their wickedness and vice. He demanded practical and genuine faith, which was opposed to their infidelity and indifference. He denounced their conduct, and enforced opposite principles with such force and honesty that at last his ministry not merely became unattractive to them, but obnoxious and painful.
3. Because his ministry was uncompromising and unchangeable. He would not pander to their likings in any way. He was the true and faithful Witness. There was no discord in the music of his ministry. So that his followers had either to change, exercise faith in him, or follow him under a cloak of profession, or leave him entirely. These chose the latter; they "went back, and walked no more," etc.
II. THAT IT IS POSSIBLE TO GO A LONG WAY WITH JESUS AND THEN LEAVE HIM. It was so in this case. We have here:
1. A sad separation. "They walked no more," etc.
(1) They left Jesus, and not Jesus them. He did not send them away. All moral separations from Christ are commenced by man. Judas shall remain in the society of Jesus till he goes out himself. An illustration of what our Lord had just said, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
(2) They separated from him after being with him for some time. "They walked no more with him." They had walked a good deal with him. They were his disciples. They had attended his ministry, heard his gracious words and saw his mighty deeds, but separated at last.
(3) They separated from him although they had received much kindness from him. Their sick were healed, their miseries alleviated, and their hunger satiated. They had only just been feeding on his bounties in the desert; but now they leave their old Benefactor, who was willing, able, and anxious to bless them spiritually and eternally. What ingratitude and perversity!
(4) They separated from him forever. This was certainly the case with regard to his society in this world. There are sad partings often on earth, and painful social separations by distance and death; but of all sad separations, the saddest is the separation of the soul from Christ—of an old disciple from his Master.
2. A sad loss to them, not to Jesus.
(1) They lost what they had gained. We can scarcely think that they could have been with Jesus without being somewhat benefited. Some of them, we may conjecture, were almost Christians, but in leaving Christ they lost all, even what they had; much of their best energies were wasted.
(2) They lost what they might have gained. What they had from Jesus was nothing to what they might have. What he had done for them was only introductory to what he would do. They left him on the threshold of the temple of truth and salvation, and thus lost the best society, the divinest ministry, their only Deliverer, and the inestimable blessings arising from union with him. What a sad loss!
3. A sad retrogression. They went back.
(1) To go back from Christ is to go back from all good. For he is the incarnation of goodness, the exhaustless Treasury of all spiritual blessings, and the only Saviour of the soul. To go back from him is to recede from the standard of moral excellency, and the centre of redemptive help and grace.
(2) To go back from him is to go on towards all evil and its consequences. Man cannot be spiritually stationary; and in the opposite direction of Christ there is only evil—the cold breath of infidelity, the darkness of spiritual death, and the terrible whirlwinds of despair and misery.
(3) To go back from Christ is one of the worst symptoms of the soul. While man clings to Christ there is some hope of him; but when he tears away from him, he manifests a sinful force which breaks through the mightiest moral power which can be brought to bear on him, and his character seems fixed and his destiny decided. We speak of going back in the world, but this is the saddest going back of all—to go back from Christ. "Many of his disciples went back;" but Christ went on in his eternal course of benevolence, redemption, and glory.
1. What ought to attract people to Christ often drives them away from him. It was so here.
2. There are crises in the Christian ministry and in the lives of disciples which severely test their Christian character and attachment to Christ. "From that hour," etc.
3. There are many who will follow Jesus while everything runs smoothly, but leave him at the least offence or difficulty. They will not stand the test.
4. Those who leave Jesus early rather than follow him under a false profession are better off than those who follow on thus to the last. These disciples who left him now were better than Judas, who continued to the bitter end.
5. It is better not to follow Jesus at all than, after following awhile, turn back again. They are worse at the end than the beginning—more difficult of recovery. And the recollection of their time with Jesus will only be the painful memory of better days, brighter hopes, nobler possibilities, which must enhance their misery.—B.T.
The departure of the many consolidating the few.
I. JESUS" QUESTION. "Will ye also," etc.? This implies:
1. His regard for the freedom of the will. Christ does not destroy, nor even interfere with, the freedom of the human will, but ever preserves and respects it. He ever acknowledges the sovereignty of the human soul and will.
2. That it was his wish that each disciple should decide for himself. "Will ye," etc.?
(1) The personality of religious decision. Religion is personal. Every religious act must be personal, and is ever judged as such.
(2) The importance of religious decision, "Will ye," etc.? A most important question to them in its immediate and remote issues. Their destiny hangs upon it.
(3) The urgency of immediate decision. If they had a wish to leave him, the sooner the better. The question of our relationship to Christ cannot be settled too soon. It demands immediate consideration.
3. That it was not his wish to retain them against their will.
(1) This would be against the principle of his own life.
(2) It would be against the principle of all spiritual life.
(3) And against the great principle of his kingdom, which is willing obedience and voluntary service. Whatever is done to him against the will, or without its hearty concurrence, has no virtue, no spiritual value. All his true soldiers are volunteers. Unwilling service must lead to separation sooner or later.
4. His independency of them.
(1) He is not disheartened by the great departure. Many went back. He was doubtless grieved with this, with their want of faith and gratitude, but was not disheartened.
(2) He is independent of even his most intimate followers. "Will ye," etc.? If even they had the will to go away, he could afford it. One might think that he could ill afford to ask this question after the great departure from him. He had apparently now only twelve, and to these he asks, "Will ye also," etc.? He is not dependent upon his disciples. If these were silent, the very stones would speak; if the children of the kingdom reject him, "many shall come from the east," etc.
5. His affectionate care for them. "Will ye also," etc.? In this question we hear:
(1) The sound of tender solicitude. There is the note of independency and test of character; but not less distinctly is heard the note of affectionate solicitude for their spiritual safety. He did not ask the question of those who went away.
(2) The sound of danger. Even the twelve were not out of danger. Although they were in one of the inner circles of his attraction, they were in danger of being carried away with the flood.
(3) The sound of tender warning. "Will ye also," etc.? You are in danger. And their danger was greater and more serious than that of those who left; they were more advanced, and could not go away without committing a greater sin.
(4) The sound of confidence. The question does not seem to anticipate an affirmative reply. With regard to all, with the exception of one, he was confident of their allegiance.
II. THE DISCIPLES ANSWER. Simon Peter was the mouthpiece of all. The answer implies:
1. A right discernment of their chief good. "Eternal life." This, they thought, was their greatest need, and to obtain it was the chief aim of their life and energy; and in this they were right.
2. A right discernment of Jesus as their only Helper to obtain it. Little as they understood of the real meaning of his life, and less still of his death, they discerned him
(1) as the only Source of eternal life;
(2) as the only Revealer of eternal life;
(3) as the only Giver of eternal life. "With thee are the words," etc.
3. Implicit faith in his Divine character. "We believe and know," etc. They had faith in him, not as their national, but as their personal and spiritual Deliverer—the Saviour of the soul. and the Possessor and Giver of eternal life.
4. A determination to cling to him.
(1) This determination is warmly prompt. It is not the fruit of study, but the warm and natural outburst of the heart and soul.
(2) It is wise. "To whom shall we go?" They saw no other one to go to. To the Pharisees or heathen philosophers? They could see no hope of eternal life from either. To Moses? He would only send them back to Christ. It would be well for all who are inclined to go away from Christ to ask first, "To whom shall we go?"
(3) It is independent. They are determined to cling to Christ, although many left him. They manifest great individuality of character, independency of conduct, and spirituality and firmness of faith.
(4) It is very strong.
(a) The strength of satisfaction. Believing that Christ had the words of eternal life, what more could they need or desire?
(b) The strength of thorough conviction. They not only believe, but also know. They have the inward testimony of faith and experience. True faith has a tight grasp. Strong conviction has a tenacious hold.
(c) The strength of willing loyalty. "Lord, to whom," etc.? "Thou art our Lord and our King, and we are thy loyal subjects." Their will was on the side of Christ, and their determination to cling to him was consequently strong.
(d) The strength of loving attachment. The answer is not only the language of their reason, but also the language of their affection. Their heart was with Jesus. They could not only see no way to go from him, but they had no wish.
(e) The strength of a double hold. The Divine and the human. The hold of Jesus on them, and their hold on him. They had felt the Divine drawing, and they were within the irresistible attraction of Jesus. They were all, with one notorious exception, by faith safely in his hand.
1. Loving faith in the Saviour is strengthened by trials. It stands the test of adverse circumstances. In spite of forces which have a tendency to draw away from Christ, it clings all the more to him.
2. The success of the ministry must not always be judged by additions. Subtractions are sometimes inevitable and beneficial. The sincerity of the following should be regarded even more than the number of the followers.
3. It is afar greater loss for us to lose Jesus than for Jesus to lose us. He can do without us, but we cannot do without him. He can go elsewhere for disciples; but "to whom shall we go?" B.T.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The feeding of the five thousand.
I. A THOUGHTLESS CROWD. Five thousand men have allowed themselves to be gathered together in a desert place, not very far indeed from places of habitation and nourishment, and yet far enough to cause faintness and famishing before they can reach them. They seem to have drifted into this position without any thought beforehand. The only sufficiently wise person among them was a bit of a lad who had five loaves and two small fishes with him. Yet these men must not be hastily reckoned fools as the world counts fools. It is easy to be wise after the event. It was the easiest thing in the world for this crowd to get into this helpless state. For:
1. It was a crowd. Not an army, not a disciplined band; it had no leader. The men composing this crowd never supposed when they started off that five thousand of them were going to be in a desert place together.
2. The most thoughtful of people cannot be thoughtful about everything. The most thoughtful of people may also be the most thoughtless. Even while this crowd was going blindly in the track of the great Wonder-worker, many of them would have hearts filled with anxiety because of their private affairs, Not all our thinking and pondering, not all our inquiring and superintending, will keep us out of sore perplexities. We may be in the daily habit of weighing and measuring the needs of life, and yet some day, all at; once, there may start up a need the possibility of which we were not able to guess.
II. A THOUGHTFUL JESUS. Jesus himself seems to have been the first to suggest the impending difficulty and danger. He always sees whither the actions of men are tending, and what complications and difficulties they are all unconsciously bringing about. Jesus himself is thoughtful concerning us, even when we are without thought, and without fear or suspicion that there is anything to think about. It is the business of Jesus, so to speak, to be thoughtful forevery one of us. This world is a sinful world, a suffering world, where thousands are ever on the brink of desperation, forced onwards, as it seems, with no choice but ruin and misery. Happily it is also a world constantly thought of by a higher wisdom and power than are to be found anywhere among us. Jesus knows that sooner or later every child of man will have to accept his ministry. Not a day but many are waking up to a want more pressing and terrible than any the body can feel, and Jesus is ready for the waking up. He thinks concerning all of us all the time.
III. A PERPLEXED COMPANION. Jesus will not only be a Benefactor to the hungry multitude, he will also be a Teacher to the disciples. They had to be taught concerning difficulties where they themselves could give no effectual help. It belongs to humanity that men should ever and again be driven into a corner where neither can they help themselves, nor can any other help them by the ordinary channels of human endeavour and ability. As we come face to face with human want and woe, we must be deeply, humblingly impressed with our natural inability before we can enter into all the strength of spiritual ability.
IV. A PROVIDING JESUS. He knew what he would do. Of course he did. We also can be thoughtful in our way. But, alas! the more we think the less we are able to do; the more we see to be done, and the more we see our own inability to do it. It is the glory of Jesus that he is at once the most sympathizing of all who observe human need, and the most able to help it. With him pity and providence go together. He is never tied to our ways of working. He is never taken by surprise. He is never overtaxed by the number of needy ones. He who fed five thousand could just as easily have fed five millions. He can be prompt, and yet neither strain nor hurry. He gives his own calmness and confidence to his servants. They know that his resources are theirs. Note, too, the responsibility that came on every one of these five thousand, because of his share in what was provided.—Y.
John 6:12, John 6:13
Gathering the fragments.
I. THE PROOF OF THE ABUNDANCE. There are distributions where the quantity is so limited that each has far short of what he could manage. The point of the miracle lies in this, that each had not merely something, but enough. And the proof that each had enough lies in this, that fragments were all strewn about.
II. THE EVIDENCE THAT THIS MODE OF SUPPLY MUST BE ONLY VERY OCCASIONAL. What comes easily is lightly valued. Though the people had got a meal in this marvellous way, they were not very thoughtful about the marvel. They ate on till they had enough, and then flung the residue away. Not every one would be so thoughtless, but a great many must have been, else whence the twelve baskets full? Habitual beggars are wasteful and reckless livers. There is great wisdom in the ordinance whereby man has to work so hard for his bread. He learns that he has to make the very best of things he can. It is a pitiful confession to make; but most men are compelled into forethought through sheer necessity.
III. THE RESPECT WHICH OUGHT TO BE PAID TO BREAD. Lane, in his "Modern Egyptians," says of them that they show a great respect for bread as the staff of life, and on no account suffer the smallest portion of it to be wasted if they can avoid it. "I have often observed an Egyptian take up a small piece of bread which had by accident fallen into the street or road, and after putting it before his lips and forehead three times, place it on one side, in order that a dog might eat it rather than let it remain to be trodden underfoot." Consider the marvellous transmutation by which bread becomes flesh and blood. Make the very best of it, then. Remember how Jesus has taken it as the symbol of that spiritual sustaining force which is to be found in him. One would have expected these people each one to take his own remaining fragment as an interesting memento of the wonderful deed. Even if it had become hard as a stone it would still have been there to recall the mercy and power of Jesus on an occasion of great need.
IV. WE ARE REMINDED THAT THERE IS NO ULTIMATE WASTE IN THE UNIVERSE. Jesus will have us waste nothing. We may be sure, then, that he wastes nothing himself. A great deal of rain falls where it cannot freshen anything, but sooner or later it finds its work and does its mission. We must not measure utility by our power to see it. What are called waste products in many manufactures turn out even more valuable than the direct products. Things reckoned useless are experimented on, and so in due time their value is discovered.—Y.
Working and eating.
In looking at the feeding of the five thousand, we must not allow the miraculous provision to hide the equally important element of the free donation. Jesus might have provided all this vast supply of food miraculously, and yet have said also, "Now you that can pay must pay." But all the necessities of the case required promptitude, and it was best to give freely. We see, however, that immediately the people began to draw wrong conclusions from this free giving. They wanted to make the Being of so much ready power their King, to be at their beck and call, so that the table might never be without a meal, the cupboard without a loaf. Jesus had to turn the people sharply away from these dreams of sweet nothing to do. Jesus is a Giver—Giver of ample and appropriate gifts—but always upon conditions. Not without great need does Jesus speak here of work. Jesus did not come into the world that men might work less, but rather all the more.
I. THE AIM OF WORK ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL. This work must be for much more than the getting of a living. Jesus sees us sweating, straining, worrying, all to support natural life; and yet this support will neither make natural life safe, nor will it stave off the decay of natural powers. The old man does not get out of bread what the young man does. Natural life is but a means to a life more precious still. We turn things upside down when we give the chief thought of life to the producing of daily bread. That is a thing we must, indeed, think about, but let it be in the right way. A joiner must think about the sharpening of his tools; if he lets them get blunt his work wilt soon come to grief. But suppose a joiner thinks so much about the sharpening of his tools as never to do anything but sharpen them; why, he will soon sharpen them out of existence altogether. He does enough when he keeps his tools sharp for their proper work. The natural exists for the spiritual. The earthly exists for the heavenly. Let there be the work that men can see, but alongside of it let there be work just as hard, just as steady, having for its aim the prosperous growth and maintenance of the life that men cannot see.
II. THERE CAN BE NO SUSTAINING OF SPIRITUAL LIFE WITHOUT WORK. This point cannot be dwelt upon too much. There is no danger of us forgetting that we must work for the perishable bread. The world is full, always has been full, of them that work with their hands. Civilization means work—hard, continuous work. But somehow, when we come to consider spiritual life and growth, the idea of work seems to slip out of the mind altogether. So much of our talk about spiritual life and growth is mere talk, without basis of real experience and urgent desire of the heart. Then, too, we talk so much of God's grace, and God's giving, and man's inability, and the virtue of simple trust, that it is very easy to forget the need of spiritual industry. It is well, therefore, to have Jesus emphasizing this very need. Man does not leave the earth to bring forth of itself. Other things being equal, it is work that tells the most. And surely the same law may be expected to apply in our spiritual concerns. It cannot be all the same for the devout, prayerful, humble reader of his New Testament and for him who altogether neglects it.
III. THE MAIN ELEMENT IN SPIRITUAL INDUSTRY. "Believe in him whom God hath sent." True faith is true work. We are apt to get confused in distinguishing between faith and works—as if faith were not work, and very hard work too. Distinguish between faith and works as much as you please, but let it be a distinction between one kind of work and another. Is it to be supposed that a real, calm, intelligent, steady trust in Jesus can be got all at once? Surely it is one of the great attainments of the regenerated heart, coming after much experience, to say as Paul said, "I know whom I have believed."—Y.
Never turned away.
It is the disposition of some men so to act as if they should have it written up on their doors, "Him that cometh to me I always send empty away." Others go to the opposite extreme. They have the giving disposition, but they give without judgment. Here we are directed to a Giver, a Helper, who never turns a suppliant away, never says a harsh word to him, is always both able and willing to give, if only the needy will get themselves ready for what is offered. Such are the resources of Jesus, such his sympathy, such his insight into human need, that he can ever say, "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." The words are at once a fingerpost and a welcome.
I. REMEMBER DISTINCTLY THE DEPENDENT CONDITION OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS. We are, constantly, every one of us going to some one or other; and just as constantly others are coming to us. The dependence is none the less real because we come with money in our hands. Life begins with dependence and ends with dependence. We are members one of another. Jesus himself was not free from this great law of reciprocity in need. It was part of the fulness of his humanity that he should come to other human beings for the supply of common wants, just like all the rest of us. Even in the higher matters connected with his great spiritual purposes, there is a coming of Jesus to us. Not only do the branches come to the vine for the life that is to make them useful, but the vine also comes to the branches to find places where it may deposit and manifest its life. So when Jesus speaks of coming to him, this great fact of human dependence should excite in all of us the deepest interest in his words.
II. THE LIMITS OF THIS DEPENDENCE. There is a great difference between buying bread and begging bread. You will not be cast out as long as you have money to pay for the loaf. But go begging instead of buying, and you will soon be cast out. If you were to give to every one asking, turning not away from a single suppliant, such an army of askers would gather round you as would soon bring your giving to an end. A great deal must be done in the way of casting out for this reason, if for no other, that our resources are so limited. We are not as Elijah when he lodged with the widow at Zarephath. The secret of the unwasting barrel of meal and the unfailing cruse of oil is not with us.
III. WE HAVE ONE WITH UNLIMITED SUPPLIES. Jesus spoke to those who knew the attitude of the suppliant and the needy. A great crowd had come to him, hungering for the bread that perisheth, and he had not cast them out. But now he desired them to come, seeking for a better bread. We are not as concerned about spiritual life and spiritual sustenance as we are about natural life and natural sustenance. What greater calamity can happen to the natural life of men than that bread should become dear and scarce, and those who go seeking to find it cheap and plentiful should be, as it were, cast out? Such may happen in transactions over the bread that perisheth. Here is Jesus, speaking of the bread that endures to eternal life. As the appointed Donor and Custodian of that bread, he says no one coming to him will be cast out. You dare not write such an inscription over your door. The most capable of men, the man of largest resources, understands perfectly how he is in charge, not of a fountain, but of a reservoir. Jesus only can make the declaration without limit as to numbers or to time. Coming to him, we come to One who speaks out of the infinite and the eternal.
IV. THOSE WHO FAIL TO STAY WITH JESUS GO WITH A VOLUNTARY LEAVING.
"Many disciples went back, and walked no more with him." But they were not driven away, cast out; they went of their own accord. Jesus never turns any one back to sole dependence on the things of time and sense. If we like to call refusal of selfish desires and discouragement of frivolous pleasures a casting out, we may do so, but that is truly no casting out which is a voluntary going out. God seems to say to us every morning after our solid, substantial breakfast, "I have given thee the natural; wilt thou not also have the spiritual?" Days will come when all the abundance of bread will do our bodies little good. The flesh will fail. The outward man will perish. Jesus makes his declaration that the inward may be renewed day by day.—Y.
Apostasy from Jesus.
What candour there is in the Gospel narratives! Many went away from Jesus, and no concealment is made of the great apostasy. We are not to suppose that the whole company departed simultaneously, as if the heart of one man was in their breasts. Probably they went one or two at a time. Some would go openly, some under cover of darkness. We may be certain Jesus had his eye on each one as he departed, and he desired those still remaining to mark these who had gone. A critical time had come. Jesus could not be utterly silent about the apostates. He wanted some word to be spoken that would make a clear line between those who went and those who stayed. It was no astonishment to Jesus that some should go back and walk no more with him. He was even prepared to see many shrinking from his searching tests. But if all had gone, if he had been left in utter solitude, a Teacher with nobody to teach, a Messenger with none to welcome his message, he would have been astonished.
I. CONSIDER THOSE WHO WENT.
1. How came they to Jesus at all? This is best answered practically by considering how people now first of all come into connection with Jesus. Departure is ever going on of those who in some way, for some time, have been in connection with Jesus. What can be a more decided bringing of human beings to Jesus than all that is included in early training. Think of the thousands whom loving mothers bring to Jesus on the strength of his own strong words, "Suffer the little ones to come unto me." Coming is a thing of degrees, as departing is a thing of degrees. There must ever be movement in one direction or the other. We cannot, as Jesus did, single out particular individuals. There would be neither charity, humility, nor advantage in doing that. In truth, Jesus did not so much single out the apostates as they themselves did.
2. How came they to go? Their own plea would be found in the hard sayings of Jesus. They would profess a lack of the sensible and the practical in these sayings. That is just where the mistake generally comes in. We want all speeches and actions measured by our estimate of the possible and the desirable. If mysterious and difficult utterances are to shut out Jesus from the rule of human hearts, then he will never get the devotion of a single one. Those who went away professed to find the sayings difficult; that does not mean that those who stayed found them easy. The real reason for departure lay in this, that those departing had never faith of the right kind in Jesus himself. Many words of Jesus are really difficult—difficult of necessity and of purpose—but quite enough of his words are clear and plain to take away all ground for basing reasonable apostasy on them. No one can know better than Jesus himself how often his wisest, deepest words have been made the base and carnal excuse for unbelief.
II. CONSIDER WHOSE WHO SWAYED. Listen to their spokesman, Peter. Their spokesman, but not, therefore, the real, true representative of every one of them. Recollect Judas stayed, and for all we can see he might just as well have gone with the rest. Peter's answer, up to a certain point, was satisfactory. It cannot be supposed that he understood as yet the essence and the preciousness of eternal life. But he did feel that what Jesus laid such stress on must be something unspeakably good, and so he must stay with Jesus to make sure of getting it for his own. Go where you cannot get natural food, and natural death will soon come. Go where you are out of living and abiding contact with Christ, and whatever beginnings of eternal life be in you will soon perish. Yet there is a saddening element in the answer. One would have liked it better had there been some tender expression of sympathy with Jesus in this hour of so many desertions. The state of heart by which Peter was to look at things more from Jesus" point of view was to come after.—Y.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on John 6". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany