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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
John 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-71

FEEDING THE FIVE THOUSAND

(vs.1-13)

The setting here is no longer Jerusalem, but Galilee, and the contrast to the beginning of chapter 5 is striking. For here grace shines out beautifully, available for all, the miracle of the loaves and fishes being a sign to illustrate the gospel of free grace. But the sea of Galilee is called also Tiberias, named for the Roman Emperor, a reminder of Israel's humbling captivity and subjection to Rome. Great crowds follow Him, but not because they are concerned about His words. Curiosity as to His miracles seems to be the motive (v.2).

Though going up into a mountain to be with His disciples apart, yet He is followed there by the crowds. The higher level here teaches us that grace comes from above: it is heavenly in character. The reference to the nearness of the Passover also surely intimates that the blessings of grace are the result of that of which the Passover speaks, the matchless sacrifice of Christ. Yet to the Jews it had merely become their feast.

The Lord raises the question with Philip as to where to buy bread for the need of the crowd. It is a question to exercise not only Philip, but everyone. Where is there sufficient grace to meet the crying need of all mankind? But Philip fails the test: his faith did not simply depend on the greatness of his Lord, as it ought. He does not even consider "where" to buy, but only sees the poverty of their finances in this matter (v.7).

However, Andrew mentions a lad who had evidently already shown himself willing to give his lunch for the need of others (vs.8-9). he had apparently not worried (as Philip and Andrew had) about how little this was. Certainly the Lord could have miraculously brought food into existence, without the need of the boy's lunch, but grace is illustrated here in the way it can use the smallest willing sacrifice of affection for Him in multiplied blessing. The five barley loaves (no doubt small rolls) speak of Christ as the bread of life in lowly humiliation and suffering. The two small fishes remind us of His passing through the waters of judgment for our sake.

To receive the blessing all are reduced to a common level and a state of inaction: they sit down, or recline (v.10). Neither man's outstanding prominence nor his work has any place here. But the dependence of the Lord Jesus upon the Father is seen in His giving thanks, and from this point the provision is multiplied abundantly, as He distributes to the crowd (v.11). Though other Gospels speak of the disciples' part in this distribution, in John the emphasis is on His own work. Nor was there any rationing: all could receive as much as they desired. There is no limit: we may have as much of Christ as we want.

When all were filled, there was to be no waste of what remained (v.12) What we may not appropriate of Christ, God does appreciate. But also, is there not a hint here of blessing still reserved for all twelve tribes of Israel in a future day? The twelve baskets remaining may well speak of this.

NOT ACCEPTING MEN'S ADULATION. YET IN PERFECT CONTROL

(vs.14-21)

Though the miracle was a sign of infinitely greater spiritual blessing, people saw only the aspect of material benefit, and were greatly impressed so as to acknowledge Him as Israel's promised prophet, the Messiah (v.14). Sadly, this did not produce heart-submission to Him, but rather the partisan zeal to have such a king to liberate them from Caesar, and cater to the selfish pride of Israel. They were even prepared to use force to make Him a king. But knowing this, He left and went into a mountain alone (v.15). His kingdom is not of this world, and He seeks the higher level of communion with the Father, above the world's confusion.

For His great miracle had not brought peace to a troubled world, nor was it intended to do so. This is illustrated in the evening, when the disciples began the return journey across the sea of Galilee. The stormy sea is a picture of the world's unrest that will in fact only increase in the dark hours of the tribulation period. Could He not restrain the wind and the sea from such agitation? Certainly, but He did not do so until the morally appropriate time. Yet He walked on the sea when it was raging, the Lord of glory in perfect control of all the elements (v.19). The disciples needed this manifestation, for in seeing Him they were afraid, rather than simply adoring Him. They must learn in experience that He is truly Lord of all.

Though He will indeed reign as King eventually, yet now is the time for us to learn in the midst of adverse trial and need the moral and spiritual power of His authority. Israel will learn this in the tribulation. But it is necessary preparation for reigning with Him. When He is received into the boat the journey is ended (v.21).

THE BREAD COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN

(vs.22-40)

There were those who had seen the Lord's miracle of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes who were puzzled by the fact that the disciples had left by boat to return to Capernaum, without having the Lord with them; and yet that the Lord was not be be found on the east side of the sea. Other boats had come to the vicinity, but none others had evidently gone in the other direction (vs.22-23). Yet they went to find Him, and they too come to Capernaum, where indeed He is found. No doubt their question as to when He had come also involved that of how He had come. But He ignores this completely, and solemnly, doubly affirms that they sought Him really because of natural advantage, the filling of their stomachs, not even because of the wonder of the miracles (v.26). They had no heart for Him personally: why should He satisfy their mere curiosity?

They were willing to expend their energy for the food that perishes, but with no serious thought of the significance of the Lord's miracle, which of course indicated His blessed sufficiency to satisfy the eternal needs of their souls, giving the food that endures to eternal life. It is not that man's labor secures this food, for it is freely given by the Son of Man; but if people were just as earnest in seeking that their spiritual needs be met as they are in seeking their natural food, they would find Christ ready to freely give to them according to their need. Was the Son of Man qualified to do this? Absolutely! for "God the Father has set His seal on Him" (v.27). He is true Man, God's chosen Man, sealed by the Spirit of God at His baptism, the only Mediator between God and men.

But the people were insensible to this, and instead talk about their own doings (v.28). No doubt they would desire the ability the Lord had to multiply the loaves and fishes, and imagined they could "do" something to acquire such power, "to work the works of God."

He assures them that the work of God as applied to them was that they believe in Him whom God had sent (v.29). Any true working of God in people's hearts would draw them in faith to the Lord Jesus personally.

But His questioners were bent on deceit, and tell Him in effect that they might believe if He will show them a sign that will satisfy them. They ill conceal their hint at desiring a repetition of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes, or even an enlargement upon this, when they suggest that Moses supplied Israel with manna in the wilderness (v.31). Has His one great sign not been enough to persuade them of the truth of His words? Indeed, it was not persuading they wanted, but material blessing.

He would not cater to their mere selfishness. Again, with a double "verily", or "most assuredly," He insists that Moses was not the giver of the manna; but the same God who gave the manna was His Father, who now had given the true Bread from heaven. The manna was corruptible: it was therefore not "the true bread." The bread of God is the living person who has come down from heaven (v.33), the giver of life; therefore One who had life in Himself, eternal and incorruptible. This involves the absolute necessity that He is God manifest in flesh, and the life He gives is available for the world, not only for Israel.

Yet such unusual, vital words beget no real faith in these people, though they ask, "Lord, give us this bread always" (v.34). It was not Himself they wanted, but what He might give them. Could He not continually multiply the loaves and fishes for their satisfaction? They are only confirming the truth of what He said in verse 26: they cannot at all conceal their earthly mindedness.

Plainly therefore He declares that He Himself is the Bread of life: in trusting Him, one will never hunger, coming to Him, one will never thirst: in Him every eternal need is met (v.35). Yet, though He Himself is the Bread of life, able to fully satisfy the need of every hungry and thirsty heart, He sadly tells the Jews that they also had seen Him (which of course involves His works of power and grace and every exterior quality that proved His great glory), yet they disbelieved. They saw no beauty in Him personally. Dense indeed is the darkness of mere materialism!

On the other hand, what lovely comfort is in verse 37. The Father was dealing in sovereign grace and wisdom, to reveal to some at least the glory of His Son, and all the Father gave to Him would come to Him. Nor would even one of these be ever turned away. How positive and absolute this is! If some are refused because of unbelief, yet not one child of faith can ever be cast out. Wonderful it is to be the Father's gift to His Son! How could the Son ever refuse a gift from His Father?

For He had come down from heaven to do the Father's will, not merely His own will, as though independent of the Father. He would therefore accomplish that for which the Father had sent Him, and in perfect accord with His Father's thoughts.

Now He declares the Father's will to be that the Son Himself should not lose one of those whom the Father had given Him. Death itself could not interfere with this, for He is superior to death, as chapter 5:26-29 has taught us. He will raise up every believer at the last day (v.39). In Christ's death and resurrection the believer reads the certainty of his own eternal blessing: nothing can possibly defeat this.

In verse 40 the absolute certainty of this is further emphasized, for He wants no believer to remain doubtful. The Father who sent Him had the express intention of --communicating eternal life to every person whose eyes were opened to see Christ as the Son of the Father, and therefore trusting Him. The Son Himself at the last day would raise up every such believer (v.40).

THE JEWS' CONTENTION AGAINST HIS WORDS

(vs.41-58)

After such words that should have awakened interest and concern, the questioning of the Jews turns to murmuring. They resisted His claim to be the Bread sent down from heaven (v.41). People want what He can give, but they do not want Him personally. They think of Him as merely Joseph's son: their eyes can see nothing more that what is natural, despite every spiritual evidence of His glory. But though their murmuring was among themselves, the Lord reproved it, an evidence in itself of His divine omniscience He goes further, to declare the impossibility of one coming to Him apart from the drawing of the Father (v.44). This refers to the Father's working by the Spirit to exercise people as regards their need of Christ. For human beings will never; of their own voluntary will, seek the Lord: the movement to produce this must be the work of God. Indeed, the Gospel itself comes from God: it is He Himself who sends the message of entreaty by His servants: it is He who produces by grace a response in hearts. All mankind needs to be reminded of this, that they may learn to depend, not on their own wisdom or ability, but on the grace of God. Notice that those spoken of three times as being raised up at the last day are those who [1] are given by the Father; [2] believe on the Son; and [3] are drawn by the Father (vs.37,40,44).

The Lord quotes Isaiah 54:13, that all shall be taught of God. It is a prophecy of Israel's millennial blessing, and then linked with their newly awakened faith in the Lord Jesus. Meanwhile it is just as true that everyone whom the Father has taught will come to the Son. But the word "all" cannot be applied today as in the millennium, as the Lord says in verse 46: only those who are of God had seen the Father: others were yet in darkness.

The Lord then has clearly drawn the line between those who are of God and those who are not. Of the former He confirms with strongest authority that these who believe in Him have everlasting life (v.47). This is not to be challenged, for He Himself is the Bread of life, the source of the sustenance of that life. Since He who sustains the life is eternal, the life also is eternal.

This was not true of the manna in the wilderness: it sustained only the natural, temporal life, which ended in death: what more would the loaves and fishes do? But one eating of the Bread which came down from heaven would not die. Of course the Lord is not speaking of natural death, but receiving Christ Himself gives spiritual life, which is not affected by death at all. For He is the living Bread, come from a higher sphere than earth, where death prevails. One who eats of this Bread will live forever (v.51). Then He adds that the Bread of which He speaks is His flesh, to be given for the life of the world. For He could not die apart from having a body of flesh and blood. Eating this bread therefore is a spiritual appropriation by faith of the value of the death of the Lord Jesus on our behalf.

The Lord speaks in this way because of the fact that the Jews had been blindly materialistic in their attitude. He seeks to show them that there is something higher than mere natural understanding. Still, they will not even consider a deeper meaning than appears on the surface: they quarrel among themselves (v.52) as though He was merely speaking literally, which could not possibly be the case.

He answers their objections with another double affirmative, insisting that, apart from their eating His flesh and drinking His blood, they have no life in them (v.53). On the other hand, he who ate His flesh and drank His blood had eternal life. It is one or the other, no life at all, or eternal life. Of course, it is spiritual life of which He speaks. He is certainly not referring to the Lord's supper, as some people imagine, as though outwardly partaking of the bread and the cup would give eternal life, and that those who did not do so would have no life! For notice that this was true at the time the Lord spoke, before the Lord's supper was ever observed, and He had not yet died. The only basis of eternal life for mankind in all ages is the death of the Lord Jesus. The faith that believed God was actually faith in Him who would yet be the sacrifice for our sins. Faith therefore anticipated the cross, though no-one understood the truth of the cross at this time. Yet, though the Jews did not understand the force of the Lord's words, if they had faith they would give Him credit for knowing more than they, and would bow to His superior wisdom. Then for the fourth time He uses the expression, "I will raise him up at the last day." This itself should have arrested the attention of every hearer, for this is work that God only can do. But one must have a vital identification with the death of the Son of Man. At this very time the faith of every true disciple involved this, little as he understood it.

Verse 55 further presses the value of His flesh and of His blood. Both His incarnation (as God manifest in flesh) and His death are involved in this. To believe Him as the Son of Man come from God and sacrificing Himself in the death of the cross, is to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. Every such believer "dwells" in the Son and the Son in him; that is, He is our abiding place, and He abides in us also permanently. Marvelous, living reality! This is the truth of the offerer sharing in eating the peace offering, along with God Himself and Christ, the Priest; though the literal drinking of blood, as to any offering, was forbidden. For blood is the natural life. By nature we have forfeited this totally, but by grace we are given eternal, spiritual life, so that it is spiritually that Christ's flesh and blood are partaken of.

Verse 51 has spoken of Christ as "the living Bread." Now we read of "the living Father" having sent Him (v.57). In the Father, life in its pure, sublime essence is inherent from eternity to eternity; and by reason of what the Father is, so Christ lived. His essential, vital unity with the Father is involved here. Therefore he who eats of Him, the living Bread, lives by Him. This life is communicated and sustained by Him.

In verse 58 the Lord concludes this subject of great importance. It is this Bread of a heavenly origin that people need, not merely that which feeds their bodies for the time being, as did the manna; for death soon intervened. But this Bread gives life to the eater. Of course, just as the Bread is of an infinitely higher order than natural bread, so the life is infinitely higher than natural life: it is eternal) which involves both its duration and its character.

DISCIPLES TESTED AND SIFTED

(vs.59-71)

We are reminded that He spoke these things in Capernaum, in Galilee (not in Jerusalem), away from the headquarters of formalism. Yet even here many of those who had followed as disciples murmured against His words: they thought this too hard to accept (v.60). But it was a test as to whether they had faith in Him personally or whether they followed for selfish reasons. True faith would say that, whether I understand or not, the Lord's wisdom is higher than mine.

Again His divine omniscience is evident in His answering this covert murmuring. Did they not realize His greatness and wisdom as manifest in this very fact? But spiritual blindness is unreasonable. He speaks firmly, "Does this offend you?" Certainly only unbelief could be stumbled by the word of the Son of God.

However, this same blessed Son of Man, who had come down from heaven, would yet ascend up to heaven (v.62). Would this make any difference in their thoughts? Would they refuse One so manifestly come from God, and who would return to God, just because their rationalizing minds did not understand everything He said. But man in the flesh will not be subject to the unseen power of the Spirit of God. He prefers his own pride. Yet it is the Spirit who quickens, that is, gives life out of a dead state. We have before read of the Father and the Son quickening (ch.5:21). This work is totally divine, a work in which the Trinity is always engaged in perfect unity. But here the unseen, living power of the Spirit is emphasized. Perfectly linked with this are the words of the Lord Jesus: those words "are spirit, and they are life" (v.63). This is in contrast to human, materialistic thoughts, and on a higher level. He had used the material illustrations of bread, flesh and blood as having spiritual significance. Those who had no desire for spirituality were thereby exposed. As He now says, there were some who disbelieved: they would not receive His testimony. Again His omniscience shines out: He had known from the beginning who they were who believed not, and who would betray Him. So He reaffirms His declaration that it is impossible for one to come to Him apart from the grace of the Father. (v.65).

His words are certainly intended to cause a searching and sifting, to reveal who is really His and who is not. From that time many of His disciples drew away from Him. How totally in contrast to the smooth words of religious misleaders is this pure faithfulness of the Lord of glory! He sought no mere followers, but only those true in heart, those who were the gift of the Father to Himself.

When these many disciples turned back to walk no more with Him, then He addresses the twelve, "Do you also want to go away?" (v.67). For it is an attracting and popular thing to follow the crowd, and we shall all at some time be faced with the fact that to follow Christ is not popular How good then is the firm decision of Peter's answer, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" Material things (loaves and fishes) were not his object: he must have a living person to sustain the need of his soul. Who else could substitute for the Son of the living God? He knew that the words of the Lord Jesus were those of eternal life, however feebly he may have understood all those words. There could be no possible question that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, the Christ, and Son of the living God. Faith could see this with absolute clarity.

But Peter spoke for others beside himself: he had said "we." So the Lord Jesus solemnly tells them that, though He had chosen twelve apostles, yet one of them was a demon (v.70). Even the Lord's searching words had not caused Judas to leave Him. This shows the blinding power of Satan's delusion in the man's soul. Of course, Judas was gaining materially by theft from the disciples' fund (ch.12:6). and he brazenly continued this deceitful course of greed in spite of many other occasions of the Lord's searching words, which Judas should have known applied directly to him. Only at the end was he revealed for what he was. Sad, pitiable case of one yielding willingly to Satan!

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 6:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/john-6.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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