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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
New American Standard Version
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Verse John 6:4. And the passover - was nigh. — This happened about ten or twelve days before the third passover which Christ celebrated after his baptism. Calmet. For a particular account of our Lord's four passovers John 2:13.
For thirty days before the Passover there were great preparations made by the Jews, but especially in the last nineteen days, in order to celebrate the feast with due solemnity. Lightfoot supposes that what is here related happened within the last fifteen days. See Calmet's opinion above.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 6:4". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/john-6.html. 1832.
65. Feeding the five thousand (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14)
When the apostles returned from their first tour around the country areas, they met Jesus in Galilee and tried to have a quiet time alone with him (Mark 6:30-32; John 6:1). Jesus also was in need of a rest, but he was filled with pity when he saw the crowds of people flocking to him in their need. They appeared to him as a flock of spiritually starved sheep that had no food because there was no shepherd to feed them (Mark 6:33-34; John 6:2-4).
The apostles were soon reminded that Jesus alone could satisfy the spiritual needs of the people. Without him the apostles were not able to satisfy even the people’s physical needs. With five small loaves and two fish, Jesus miraculously fed a huge crowd, reminding the apostles that the miracles they had done on their missionary tour had resulted solely from Jesus’ power working in them (Mark 6:35-44; John 6:5-13). But to many of the people, the miracle was a sign that Jesus was the promised great prophet. Like Moses, he had miraculously fed God’s people in the wilderness (John 6:14; see Exodus 16:1-36; Deuteronomy 18:15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-5).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on John 6:4". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/john-6.html. 2005.
Now the passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.
This is the key to the chronology of the chapter and shows that about a year had elapsed since the healing at the pool of Bethesda, just mentioned in the preceding chapter.
The passover ... explains the great throngs of people and also points to the Exodus when the Passover was set up, and making it an extremely appropriate time for the teaching on the bread of life, contrasting with the feeding of the people in the wilderness.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 6:4". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/john-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
The passover - See the notes at Matthew 26:2, Matthew 26:17.
A feast of the Jews - This is one of the circumstances of explanation thrown in by John which show that he wrote for those who were unacquainted with Jewish customs.
These files are public domain.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on John 6:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/john-6.html. 1870.
Now we have an indeterminate rate of time. Jesus was in Jerusalem when He was saying these things, they were as a result of this blind man...or the lame man, rather, who was healed there at the pool of Bethesda. And the controversy that was stirred over that. And so John spends a whole chapter in that little picture, but it gives us marvelous insight into Jesus, showing how that He equates His work with the Father and He is working in harmony with the Father. He is actually here doing the Father's work. and the works themselves testify of Him as well as the word of the Old Testament testifies of who He is. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Now after these things ( John 6:1 )
An undetermined period of time. We don't know how long it was after, but John takes us back up to the Sea of Galilee now. He's left Jerusalem, what events others there transpired, we don't know, but back in the area of the Galilee.
Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias [also known as Gennesaret]. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased ( John 6:1-2 ).
And so by His miracles Jesus was attracting a great multitude of people. People are drawn and attracted to Jesus for various reasons. Some of them legitimate and some of them not so legitimate. But Jesus has an appealing force and power. He always has had an appealing force. And it's interesting to me how that Jesus appeals to people in all walks of life. It appears...it is interesting to me how that Jesus appeals to people of all cultures. It's interesting to me how Jesus appeals to people of all ages and how little children are attracted to Jesus. In fact, that to me is one of the most beautiful things in the world, the attraction that even a child has for Jesus. Probably a stronger and greater attraction than we who have become so complex and mixed up in our thinking processes. Oh, the beauty of Jesus that attracts men, but men are attracted by different reasons. These people were attracted because of the spectacular the miracles that Jesus was doing on people who were diseased.
And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. And the passover feast was drawing nigh. And when Jesus lifted up his eyes, he saw a great company that were coming unto him, and he said unto Philip, Where are we going to buy enough bread, that these people may eat? And this he said to prove Philip: for he knew what he was going to do. And Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that everyone might just take a little ( John 6:3-7 ).
So where are we going to buy the bread? Oh boy, I don't know . . . ah two hundred penny worth. Now, a penny was a day's wage for a laboring man. If we had two hundred penny worth of bread, I don't think that would be enough to give everyone a little.
And one of the disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said unto him, There's a lad here, which has five barley loaves, and two small fish: but what are they among so many? ( John 6:8-9 )
I mean, I'm sorry I said it because, you know, what's that with this big crowd?
And so Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was a lot of grass in that place ( John 6:10 ).
Passover time, springtime in the Galilee. Beautiful, absolutely glorious. The Galilee in the springtime has to be one of the most beautiful places you could ever see. Grassy fields, filled with yellow daisies, red and white, and purple anenomies, lupines, prodias, just fabulous the beauty of the wild flowers and all around Passover time. There in the springtime in the Galilee, lot of grass in that area.
So Jesus said, "Have the men sit down."
So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were sat down; and likewise the fish and they ate as much as they desired. And when they were filled ( John 6:10-12 ),
The word in Greek is glutted, when they were stuffed.
he said unto his disciples, Now gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be left or lost. And therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over [which was over and above] that which they had eaten. And then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that Prophet which should come into the world ( John 6:12-14 ).
That is a reference to the prophecy of Moses that declared, "And another prophet, liken to Myself, shall come and to Him shall you give heed." And so they were looking for that other prophet liken to Moses. And when they saw this miracle they said, "This is the One Moses, no doubt, was talking about. That other prophet that should come." And they recognized that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
Now they wanted to then make public acclamation. They wanted to take Him and to force Him to be the King. To establish now the Kingdom. But this was not according to God's plan. Jesus, rather than stepping in with the popular movement at this point, just slipped away from them and went into the mountain alone. He did not allow them to prematurely acclaim Him as their King.
God had a special day to present His King to the nation. That special day we call today Palm Sunday, for it was the Sunday that preceded His crucifixion. And that was the day and the hour that God had prepared and had prophesied when His promised Redeemer would come. And that day Jesus set up carefully. Having the disciples go into the city to get the donkey that He might ride into Jerusalem on the donkey and, thus, fulfill the prophesy of Zechariah. That day He allowed the disciples to cry out that Messianic Psalm 118 , "Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of Lord. Glory to God in the highest." And He allowed them to cry out that Psalm. In fact, when the Pharisees objected, He said if they would at this time hold their peace, these very stones would cry out. That was the day He wept over Jerusalem and said, "If you had only known the things that belong to thy peace in this thy day, but they are hid from your eyes" ( Luke 19:42 ). So here was a premature attempt to establish Him as King by the people. This was a movement of the people; Jesus rejected it because He was working in God's time schedule and not man's.
Oh, God help us to learn to work in God's time schedule rather than our own. It seems that we are always desiring to prematurely do things. God never seems to work quite as fast as we would like Him to work. We would like to speed up the program of God. If I can only have my way the Lord would have come couple of years ago, but some of you would be in bad trouble had He. So you can be thankful He's running things and not me.
So when Jesus perceived that they were going to try and force the issue, and to make him king, he departed into a mountain by himself. And when the evening was now come, his disciples went down to the sea of Galilee, and they entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them. And when the sea arose by reason of a great wind. And when they had rowed about twenty-five or thirty furlongs [three or four miles], they saw Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing near to the ship: and they were afraid. But he said unto them, It's me; don't be afraid. And they willingly [eagerly] received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was on the land where they were going ( John 6:15-21 ).
They docked immediately at Capernaum.
Now the following day, when the people would stood on the other side of the sea [that is where He had fed the multitude,] saw that there was no other boat there, except the one wherein the disciples had entered, and that Jesus was not with his disciples when they went in the boat, but that his disciples were gone away alone; (However there were other boats that had come from the area of Tiberias near to the place where they did eat bread:) and when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither with his disciples, they also took shipping, and they came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus. And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, how did you get here? And Jesus answered and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you ( John 6:22-26 ),
Now He didn't tell them how He got there, He just said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you,"
You seek me, not because you saw the miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled ( John 6:26 ).
"You are seeking Me for the wrong reasons. You are seeking Me for the wrong motives. You are only seeking Me because you had your stomach stuffed with bread and fish, and that's not the reason to seek Me." Jesus would not really accept those who were seeking Him with wrong motivations. There are many people today who seek Jesus with wrong motivations.
There are many ministers who encourage people to seek Jesus, encouraging them with wrong motivations. Encouraging people to do the work of God with wrong motivations. "Now we're going to give a bicycle to the one who brings the most new members into the Sunday school in the next five months." And so we're motivating all these little kids with carnal motivations, teaching them to do the work of God through the carnal rewards. God help us, how far we've come from the straight and narrow.
Don't labor for that meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures to everlasting life ( John 6:27 ),
Don't labor for the material things, don't strive for material things, but strive for spiritual things. The spiritual is superior to the material, that was the constant claim that Jesus made. And that is what men are constantly challenging today. And we in our own minds oftentimes have the challenge. Is indeed the spiritual life superior to the material life? And Satan is constantly holding up to us the glitter and glory of the material realm and saying, "Look, wouldn't you like this?" And the Lord is constantly saying, "Hey, don't strive, don't labor for the meat which perishes, but for that which is life eternal, for the spiritual things, that which endures to everlasting life. For the Son of Man shall,"
which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. Then they said unto him, What shall we do that we might work the works of God? ( John 6:27-28 )
This is a question that people oftentimes asks when they become conscious of the spiritual dimension. But what can I do to do the works of God? We remember the rich young ruler that came and fell before Jesus and said, "What good thing must I do to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven? Good Master, what shall I do?" And I'm always looking for some work that I might do for God.
Jesus answered [in a paradox,] for he said unto them, This is the work of God, that you might believe on him whom he had sent ( John 6:29 ).
Isn't that interesting? What work can you do to be pleasing to God? The only work you can do is just believe in Jesus. That's what pleases the Father. This is the work of God, that you believe on Him whom He hath sent.
They said therefore unto him, What sign will you show us then, that we might see, and believe you? what do you work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven ( John 6:30-32 ).
Moses didn't give you the manna, My Father sent it, by My Father is now giving to you the true bread from heaven. Your fathers ate of that manna and they died.
For the bread of God is he which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world ( John 6:33 ).
This is the bread of God. He who came down from heaven and gives His life unto the world.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: and he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst ( John 6:35 ).
These people had just eaten the day before and were stuffed, but they were hungry again. They had eaten of the bread of this world. And though you can eat today and you can be so stuffed, and I've eaten that pita bread with those delicious sauces and salads and all until I was so stuffed, I thought I can't eat another bite. I get so upset with the cleaners nowadays that shrink my coats so dreadfully. This polyester has one problem: it just shrinks. But, though I push myself away from the table and groaningly stand on my feet and say I never want to eat again as long as I live. The bus isn't very far down the road until someone says, "Can't we stop for some ice cream?" Yea, sounds like a great idea. Hungry again. It just doesn't satisfy, does it.
But Jesus said, "I'm the bread of God, I come down from heaven. If you eat of Me, you'll never hunger again. And if you believe in Me you'll never thirst again." There is that area of man's life that seems to never be satisfied, that always is crying out for more, more, and more. And though a person pursues after the pleasures, the excitements, the thrills of the world, one thing about them is that they're just not lasting. It isn't long before you're thirsting again. But Jesus said, "I'm the bread of heaven. God has sent Me. And if you eat of Me you'll never hunger again, and if you believe in Me you'll never thirst again." What glorious good news!
But I said unto you, That you have seen me, but you don't believe. All that the Father gives me shall come to me; and him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out ( John 6:36-37 ).
What a glorious word of Jesus to our trembling, hesitating souls. Because you see, Satan says to me, "Look, there's no sense you going to God. He doesn't want anything to do with you; you're a failure, man. Your life is a mess. God doesn't want anything to do with you, there's no sense you going because there's no way He's gonna open the door for you." And he would plant unbelief in my heart, and if I believe that God won't receive me, then God won't receive me because I won't come. But Jesus said, "Whoever comes to Me I will in no wise cast out. All that the Father has given Me are Mine; they'll come to Me. And him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out." What encouraging, glorious words to your troubled spirit tonight. You who Satan has been hassling for so long, trying to tell you that you're not worthy, that God doesn't want you, God isn't interested, let me tell you something. If you just come to Jesus there's no way, no way He will cast you out.
For I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me ( John 6:38 ).
"The works that I do, I do not of myself, but the Father that dwelleth in Me. He doeth the works. I didn't do . . . come down to do My will," Jesus said, "but the will of Him who sent Me."
And this is the Father's will ( John 6:39 )
Ho, ho, that's what I've been wanting to know, what's God's will?
that all which he hath given to me I should lose nothing, but should raise them up in that last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which sees the Son, and believes on him, shall have everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day ( John 6:39-40 ).
Those whom the Father has revealed the truth of Jesus Christ and who believe in Him, it's God's will that He saves you and raise you up in that last day. Praise God for His glorious will for our lives.
And the Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I'm the bread which came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus ( John 6:41-42 ),
Isn't this Joshua or Yeshua
the son of Joseph [or Yosef], whose father and mother we know? how is it that he says, I came down from heaven? And Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Don't murmur among yourselves. For no man can come to me, except the Father which have sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day ( John 6:42-44 ).
Here's an interesting statement by Jesus, one that we need to make note of. No man can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him. Now that takes the pressure off of me and my witnessing. Because I sometimes get discouraged when I witness to a person and I can lay out the truth of Christ and I would think that even a child could understand and they just, you know, don't accept it. It doesn't do anything, and I tried to argue and convince and impress, and nothing happens. Well, no man can come except the Father draw him. You say, "Well, I don't know if that's fair." Well, did the Father draw you? "Well, yea." Well then, why you worried about it? It also follows that whosoever will may come and drink the water of life. There are the two sides to the coin. You can't come unless the Father draws you, but anyone who comes can receive eternal life. The door is open for all men.
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, comes to Me ( John 6:45 ).
God has taught us; He's laid it upon our hearts.
Not that any man hath seen the Father, except he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life ( John 6:46-47 ).
Notice these radical claims that Jesus is making concerning Himself. Testifying now of Himself, making radical claims. "I am that bread of life." They said, "How can He say He came down from heaven? He's Joseph's son." He said,
I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and they are dead. But this is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die ( John 6:48-50 ).
Not hunger, not thirst, not die, for,
I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world ( John 6:51 ).
He took the bread and He broke it, and He said, "Take, eat; this is My body broken for you" ( Matthew 26:26 ). "The bread is My flesh that I will give for the life of the world."
And the Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them ( John 6:52-53 ),
You having trouble fellows? I'm going to make it a little harder.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you ( John 6:53 ).
You're dead; you're dead in your trespasses and sins. You don't have life in you.
Whoso eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed ( John 6:54-55 ).
And Jesus took the cup and He said, "Take, drink; this is the blood of the new covenant which is shed for the remission of sin" ( Matthew 26:27-28 ). "Eat of My flesh, drink of My blood, partake of Me, that you might have life. For My flesh is meat indeed My blood is drink indeed."
And He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him. And as the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eats me, even he shall live by me. And this is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat the manna, and are dead: for he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. And these are the things he said to them as he was teaching them in the synagogue, in Capernaum ( John 6:56-59 ).
And you that have been in that synagogue of Capernaum can now sort of put it together in your mind. He was there in the synagogue at Capernaum teaching them these things.
Now many therefore of his disciples, when they heard this, said, [Man,] These are tough sayings; who can hear it? And when Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Does this offend you? What and if you will see the Son of man ascending up where he was before? ( John 6:60-62 )
What if you don't see the kingdom established right now? What if you see Me ascending up and going back to the Father?
It is the Spirit that makes alive; the flesh profits nothing ( John 6:63 ):
Now we're coming back, "You've eaten of the bread, and that's why come. Your stomachs were filled. But don't seek that bread which perishes, but that bread which is everlasting life." And so again coming back to that thought, "It is the Spirit that makes alive, the flesh profits nothing." Underline that. The flesh profits nothing.
the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life ( John 6:63 ).
The word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword. The word of God is Spirit and the word of God is life.
But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who would betray him. And he said, Therefore I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father ( John 6:64-65 ).
Again, declaring, "Look, the only way you can come is that the Father draws you. You can't come unless the Father does draw you."
Now from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him ( John 6:66 ).
Couldn't handle it, too much. When He starts talking about the denial of the flesh, when He starts talking about the life of the Spirit and the partaking of spiritual things. Too much for some people, they can't handle it. Many of them were following Him because they were desiring that He establish the kingdom now, that He overthrow the Roman yoke of government. And that He bring to pass a kingdom of plenty, where everybody would eat and drink to their full. Every man eat his own vine and fig tree, would eat and not be afraid. And they were wanting that kingdom of material prosperity. And He is denouncing it as secondary. The primary thing is the spiritual kingdom, partaking of Me. Finding that life that comes from Me. The life of God imparted to man through Jesus Christ. "The flesh will profit you nothing, but the words that I speak, they're Spirit; they're life." And so they couldn't handle it. They went back and they walked no more with Him.
One time John sent a messenger and said, "Are you the one that we should look for or shall we look for someone else?" These people despaired because Jesus was talking of the importance of the spiritual man rather than the physical. Can handle it.
Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will you also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou has the words of eternal life ( John 6:67-68 ).
Oh, blessed Peter. You know he had the pro . . . he had a problem. He could get in trouble so much with his mouth. And yet, he could also say some of the most appropriate things. The heart, the Christ, the Son of the living God, "Oh blessed art thou Simon Bar-Jonah. Flesh and blood did not reveal this unto you, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" ( Matthew 16:17-18 ).
Then you're going to see the Son of Man betrayed and turned to the hands of sinners. And they're are going to crucify Him and slay Him, but on the third day He will rise again. "Oh, Lord, be that far from thee." And Jesus said, "Oh, get thee behind Me, Satan: you're an offense unto me: you don't understand the things that are God, the things that are men" ( Matthew 16:22-23 ). No, Peter. He could go so fast from the top to the bottom.
But here, one of those grand moments in Peter. When Jesus turns to the twelve and says, "Well, are you going to leave, too?" And, "Lord, where can we go? You have the words of life." Jesus said, "My word is Spirit; My word is life." Peter is testifying, "Yes, Lord, that's true; You have the word of life."
We believe and we are sure that you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered them, Have I not chosen you twelve, and yet one of you is a devil? And he was speaking of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, and he was one of the twelve ( John 6:69-71 ).
Interesting that Jesus says of Judas he was the devil. Paul no . . . Peter refers to him as "the son of perdition." We will read in a few weeks where Satan entered him and he went out and did his dastardly deed. And we'll get into Judah Iscariot as we move on in the gospel of John. But from the beginning Jesus knew who it was that would betray Him. Jesus said, "I may not chosen twelve of you, yet one of you is the devil."
So next week we move on into chapters 7 and 8 and some very interesting. Oh, don't you love John? I just love the gospel according to John. And these insights that he gives us into Jesus. The insights which show and prove that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In order that you might believe and have eternal life.
Father, we thank You for Your Word. It is Spirit, it is Truth; it is life to those that believe. Now may the entrance of Thy word bring life and light to us, and may we walk in that light. In Jesus' name. Amen. "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on John 6:4". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/john-6.html. 2014.
1. The fourth sign: feeding the 5,000 6:1-15 (cf. Matthew 14:13-23; Mark 6:30-46; Luke 9:10-17)
The importance of this sign is clear in that all four Gospels contain an account of it. Apparently John was familiar with the other evangelists’ versions of this miracle as well as being an eyewitness of the event. His story compliments the others (cf. John 6:5; John 6:15). This miracle demonstrated Jesus’ authority over quantity. [Note: Tenney, John: The Gospel . . ., p. 312.] It constitutes further proof that Jesus was the Son of God.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 6:4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/john-6.html. 2012.
Evidently John identified the nearness of the Passover because of Jesus’ later references to Himself as the Bread of Life (John 6:33; John 6:35; John 6:51), the fulfillment of what the Passover bread typified.
"The people were thinking in terms of blood, flesh, lambs, and unleavened bread. They longed for a new Moses who would deliver them from Roman bondage." [Note: Blum, p. 293.]
This was John’s second reference to a Passover feast during Jesus’ ministry (cf. John 2:13; John 2:23; John 11:55; John 13:1). Evidently this event happened two years after Jesus’ first cleansing of the temple and one year before He died on the cross. It would have taken place in April of A.D. 32. [Note: See Hoehner, pp. 55-59, 61, 143.]
"The movement from the miracle to the discourse, from Moses to Jesus (John 6:32-35, cf. John 1:17), and, above all, from bread to flesh, is almost unintelligible unless the reference in John 6:4 to the Passover picks up i. 29, 36, anticipates xix. 36 (Exodus 12:46; Numbers 9:12), and governs the whole narrative." [Note: Hoskyns, p. 281.]
The Passover was an intensely nationalistic celebration in Israel. This accounts for the extreme zeal that many of the Jews demonstrated when they sought to draft Jesus as their political deliverer (John 6:15).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 6:4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/john-6.html. 2012.
THE LOAVES AND FISHES ( John 6:1-13 )
6:1-13 After these things Jesus went away across the Sea of Galilee, that is, the Sea of Tiberias. A great crowd was following him, because they were watching the signs which he did on those who were ill. Jesus went up into the hill and he was sitting there with his disciples. The Passover, the Feast of the Jews, was near. When Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw that a great crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip: "Where are we to buy bread for these to eat?" He was testing Philip when he said this, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him: "Seven pounds worth of bread is not enough to give each of them a little to eat." One of the disciples said to him--it was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother--"There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two little fishes. But what use are they among so many?" Jesus said: "Make the men sit down." There was much grass in the place. So the men sat down to the number of about five thousand. So Jesus took the loaves and gave thanks for them, and dividing them up among those who were reclining there. So too he gave them of the fishes, as much as they wished. When they were satisfied, he said to the disciples: "Collect the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing may be wasted." So they collected them, and they filled twelve baskets with the broken pieces of the loaves which remained over after the people had eaten.
There were times when Jesus desired to withdraw from the crowds. He was under continuous strain and needed rest. Moreover, it was necessary that sometimes he should get his disciples alone to lead them into a deeper understanding of himself. In addition, he needed time for prayer. On this particular occasion it was wise to go away before a head-on collision with the authorities took place, for the time of the final conflict had not yet come.
From Capernaum to the other side of the Sea of Galilee was a distance of about four miles and Jesus set sail. The people had been watching with astonishment the things he did; it was easy to see the direction the boat was taking; and they hastened round the top of the lake by land. The River Jordan flows into the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Two miles up the river were the fords of Jordan. Near the fords was a village called Bethsaida Julias, to distinguish it from the other Bethsaida in Galilee, and it was for that place that Jesus was making ( Luke 9:10). Near Bethsaida Julias, almost on the lakeside, was a little plain where the grass always grew. It was to be the scene of a wondrous happening.
At first Jesus went up into the hill behind the plain and he was sitting there with his disciples. Then the crowd began to appear in droves. It was nine miles round the top of the lake and across the ford, and they had made the journey with all speed. We are told that the Feast of the Passover was near and there would be even bigger crowds on the roads at that time. Possibly many were on the way to Jerusalem by that route. Many Galilaean pilgrims travelled north and crossed the ford and went through Peraea, and then re-crossed the Jordan near Jericho. The way was longer but it avoided the territory of the hated and dangerous Samaritans. It is likely that the great crowd was swelled by detachments of pilgrims on their way to the Passover Feast.
At sight of the crowd Jesus' sympathy was kindled. They were hungry and tired, and they must be fed. Philip was the natural man to whom to turn, for he came from Bethsaida ( John 1:44) and would have local knowledge. Jesus asked him where food could be got. Philip's answer was despairing. He said that even if food could be got it would cost more than two hundred denarii to give this vast crowd even a little each. A denarius was worth about 4 pence and was the standard day's wage for a working man. Philip calculated that it would take more than six months' wages to begin to feed a crowd like this.
Then Andrew appeared on the scene. He had discovered a lad with five barley loaves and two little fishes. Quite likely the boy had brought them as a picnic lunch. Maybe he was out for the day, and as a boy might, had got attached himself to the crowd. Andrew, as usual, was bringing people to Jesus.
The boy had not much to bring. Barley bread was the cheapest of all bread and was held in contempt. There is a regulation in the Mishnah about the offering that a woman who has committed adultery must bring. She must, of course, bring a trespass offering. With all offerings a meat-offering was made, and the meat-offering consisted of flour and wine and oil intermixed. Ordinarily the flour used was made of wheat; but it was laid down that, in the case of an offering for adultery, the flour could be barley flour, for barley is the food of beasts and the woman's sin was the sin of a beast. Barley bread was the bread of the very poor.
The fishes would be no bigger than sardines. Pickled fish from Galilee were known all over the Roman Empire. In those days fresh fish was an unheard-of luxury, for there was no means of transporting it any distance and keeping it in an eatable condition. Small sardine-like fish swarmed in the Sea of Galilee. They were caught and pickled and made into a kind of savoury. The boy had his little pickled fish to help the dry barley bread down.
Jesus told the disciples to make the people sit down. He took the loaves and the fishes and he blessed them. When he did that he was acting as father of the family. The grace he used would be the one that was used in every home: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, who causest to come forth bread from the earth." The people ate and were rifled. Even the word that is used for filled (chortazesthai, G5526) is suggestive. Originally, in classical Greek, it was a word used for feeding animals with fodder. When used of people it meant that they were fed to repletion.
When the people had eaten their fill, Jesus bade his disciples gather up the fragments left. Why the fragments? At Jewish feasts the regular practice was to leave something for the servants. That which was left was called the Peah; and no doubt the people left their usual part for those who had served them with the meal.
Of the fragments twelve baskets were taken up. No doubt each of the disciples had his basket (kophinos, G2894) . It was bottle-shaped and no Jew ever travelled without his. Twice Juvenal (3: 14; 6: 542) talks of "the Jew with his basket and his truss of hay." (The truss of hay was to use as a bed, for many of the Jews lived a gypsy life.) The Jew with his inseparable basket was a notorious figure. He carried it partly because he was characteristically acquisitive, and partly because he needed to carry his own food if he was going to observe the Jewish rules of cleanness and uncleanness. From the fragments each of the disciples filled his basket. And so the hungry crowd were fed and more than fed.
THE MEANING OF A MIRACLE ( John 6:1-13 continued)
We will never know exactly what happened on that grassy plain near Bethsaida Julias. We may look at it in three ways.
(a) We may regard it simply as a miracle in which Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes. Some may find that hard to conceive of; and some may find it hard to reconcile with the fact that that is just what Jesus refused to do at his temptations ( Matthew 4:3-4). If we can believe in the sheer miraculous character of this miracle, then let us continue to do so. But if we are puzzled, there are two other explanations.
(b) It may be that this was really a sacramental meal. In the rest of the chapter the language of Jesus is exactly that of the Last Supper, when he speaks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It could be that at this meal it was but a morsel, like the sacrament, that each person received; and that the thrill and wonder of the presence of Jesus and the reality of God turned the sacramental crumb into something which richly nourished their hearts and souls--as happens at every Communion Table to this day.
(c) There may be another and very lovely explanation. It is scarcely to be thought that the crowd left on a nine-mile expedition without making any preparations at all. If there were pilgrims with them, they would certainly possess supplies for the way. But it may be that none would produce what he had, for he selfishly--and very humanly--wished to keep it all for himself. It may then be that Jesus, with that rare smile of his, produced the little store that he and his disciples had; with sunny faith he thanked God for it and shared it out. Moved by his example, everyone who had anything did the same; and in the end there was enough, and more than enough, for all.
It may be that this is a miracle in which the presence of Jesus turned a crowd of selfish men and women into a fellowship of sharers. It may be that this story represents the biggest miracle of all--one which changed not loaves and fishes, but men and women.
However that may be, there were certain people there without whom the miracle would not have been possible.
(i) There was Andrew. There is a contrast between Andrew and Philip. Philip was the man who said: "The situation is hopeless; nothing can be done." Andrew was the man who said: "I'll see what I can do; and I'll trust Jesus to do the rest."
It was Andrew who brought that lad to Jesus, and by bringing him made the miracle possible. No one ever knows what will come out of it when we bring someone to Jesus. If a parent trains up his child in the knowledge and the love and the fear of God, no man can say what mighty things that child may some day do for God and for men. If a Sunday School teacher brings a child to Christ, no man knows what that child may some day do for Christ and his church.
There is a tale of an old German schoolmaster who, when he entered his class of boys in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. One asked him why he did this. His answer was: "You never know what one of these boys may some day become." He was right--because one of them was Martin Luther.
Andrew did not know what he was doing when he brought that lad to Jesus that day, but he was providing material for a miracle. We never know what possibilities we are releasing when we bring someone to Jesus.
(ii) There was the boy. He had not much to offer but in what he had Jesus found the materials of a miracle. There would have been one great deed fewer in history if that boy had withheld his loaves and fishes.
Jesus needs what we can bring him. It may not be much but he needs it. It may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Jesus what we have and what we are. If we would lay ourselves on the altar of his service, there is no saying what he could do with us and through us. We may be sorry and embarrassed that we have not more to bring--and rightly so; but that is no reason for failing to bring what we have. Little is always much in the hands of Christ.
THE RESPONSE OF THE MOB ( John 6:14-15 )
6:14-15 So when the men had seen the sign which he had done, they said: "Truly, this is the prophet who is to come into the world." So Jesus, aware that they were going to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew again to the mountain alone.
Here we have the reaction of the mob. The Jews were waiting for the prophet whom they believed Moses had promised to them. "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren--him you shall heed" ( Deuteronomy 18:15). In that moment at Bethsaida Julias they were willing to accept Jesus as that prophet and to carry him to power on a wave of popular acclaim. But it was not so very long before another mob was clamouring: "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Why was it at that moment that the mob acclaimed Jesus?
For one thing, they were eager to support Jesus when he gave them what they wanted. He had healed them and fed them; and they would thereupon have made him their leader. There is such a thing as a bought loyalty. There is such a thing as cupboard love. Dr. Johnson, in one of his more cynical moments, defined gratitude as "a lively sense of favours still to come."
The attitude of that mob disgusts us. But are we so very different? When we want comfort in sorrow, when we want strength in difficulty, when we want peace in turmoil, when we want help in face of depression, there is no one so wonderful as Jesus and we talk to him and walk with him and open our hearts to him. But when he comes to us with some stern demand for sacrifice, with some challenge to effort, with the offer of some cross, we will have nothing to do with him. When we examine our hearts, it may be that we wig find that we too love Jesus for what we can get out of him.
For another thing, they wished to use him for their own purposes and to mould him to their own dreams. They were waiting for the Messiah; but they visualized him in their own way. They looked for a Messiah who would be king and conqueror, who would set his foot upon the eagle's neck and drive the Romans from the land. They had seen what Jesus could do; and the thought in their minds was: "This man has power, marvellous power. If we can harness him and his power to our dreams, things will begin to happen." If they had been honest, they would have had to admit that they wished to make use of him.
Again, are we so very different? When we appeal to Christ, is it for strength to go on with our own schemes and ideas or is it for humility and obedience to accept his plans and wishes? Is our prayer: "Lord, give me strength to do what you want me to do" or is it in reality: "Lord, give me strength to do what I want to do"?
That crowd of Jews would have followed Jesus at that moment because he was giving them what they wanted and they wished to use him for their own purposes. That attitude still lingers. We would like Christ's gifts without his Cross; we would like to use him instead of allowing him to use us.
A VERY PRESENT HELP IN TIME OF TROUBLE ( John 6:16-21 )
6:16-21 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, and, when they had embarked upon a boat, they started across the sea to Capernaum. By this time darkness had come on, and Jesus had not yet come to them; and the sea was roused because a great wind was blowing. So, when they had rowed between three and four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea, and coming near the boat, and they were afraid. But he said to them: "It is I; don't be afraid." So they wished to take him on board the boat; and immediately the boat reached the land for which they were making.
This is one of the most wonderful stories in the Fourth Gospel, and it is all the more wonderful when we press behind the meaning of the Greek to find that it really describes not some extraordinary miracle, but a simple incident in which John found, in a way he never forgot, what Jesus was like.
Let us reconstruct the story. After the feeding of the five thousand and the attempt to make him king, Jesus slipped away to the hills alone. The day wore on. It came to the time which the Jews described as "the second evening," the time between the twilight and the dark. Jesus had still not arrived. We must not think that the disciples were forgetful or discourteous in leaving Jesus behind, for, as Mark tells the story, Jesus sent them on ahead ( Mark 6:45), while he persuaded the crowds to go home. Doubtless it was his intention to walk round the head of the lake while they rowed across and to rejoin them in Capernaum.
The disciples set sail. The wind got up, as it can in the narrow, land-locked lake; and the waters were whipped to foam. It was Passover time, and that was the time of the full moon ( John 6:4). Up on the hillside Jesus had prayed and communed with God; as he set out the silver moon made the scene almost like daylight; and down on the lake below he could see the boat and the rowers toiling at the oars, making heavy weather of it. So he came down.
We must remember two facts. At the north end the lake was no more than four miles across; and John tens us that the disciples had rowed between three and four miles; that is to say, they were very nearly at their journey's end. It is natural to suppose that in the wind they hugged the shore of the lake, seeking what shelter they might find. That is the first fact and now we come to the second. They saw Jesus, as the King James Version and Revised Standard Version have it, walking on the sea. The Greek is epi ( G1909) tes ( G3588) thalasses ( G2281) which is precisely the phrase used in John 21:1, where it means--it has never been questioned--that Jesus was walking on the seashore. That is what the phrase means in our passage, too.
Jesus was walking epi tes thalasses, by the seashore. The toiling disciples looked up, and suddenly saw him. It was all so unexpected, they had been bent so long over their oars, that they were alarmed because they thought it was a spirit they were seeing. Then across the waters came that well-loved voice--"It is I; don't be afraid." They wanted him to come on board; the Greek most naturally means that their wish was not fulfilled. Why? Remember the breadth of the lake was four miles and they hid rowed about that distance. The simple reason was that, before they could take Jesus on board, the boat grounded on the shingle, and they were there.
Here is just the kind of story that a fisherman like John would have loved and remembered. Every time he thought of it he would feel that night again, the grey silver of the moonlight, the rough oar against his hand, the flapping sail, the shriek of the wind, the sound of the surging water, the astonishingly unexpected appearance of Jesus, the sound of his voice across the waves and the crunch of the boat as it reached the Galilaean side.
As he remembered, John saw wonders which are still there for us.
(i) He saw that Jesus watches. Up on the hill Jesus had been watching them. He had not forgotten. He was not too busy with God to think of them. John suddenly realized that all the time they had pulled at the oars Jesus' loving look was on them.
When we are up against it Jesus watches. He does not make things easy for us. He lets us fight our own battles. Like a parent watching his son put up a splendid effort in some athletic contest, he is proud of us; or,. like a parent watching his son let the side down, he is sad. Life is lived with the loving eye of Jesus upon us.
(ii) He saw that Jesus comes. Down from the hillside Jesus came to enable the disciples make the last pull that would reach safety.
He does not watch us with serene detachment; when strength is failing he comes with strength for the last effort which leads to victory.
(iii) He saw that Jesus helps. He watches, he comes and he helps. It is the wonder of the Christian life that there is nothing that we are left to do alone. Margaret Avery tells how there was a teacher in a little country school who had told this story to her children, and she must have told it well. Some short time afterwards there was a blizzard of wind and snow. When school finished, the teacher was helping the children home. Sometimes she had practically to drag them through the drifts. When they were all very nearly exhausted with the struggle, she overheard a little boy say, half to himself: "We could be doing with that chap Jesus here now." We could always be doing with Jesus and we never need to do without him.
(iv) He saw that Jesus brings us to the haven. It seemed to John, as he remembered it, that, as soon as Jesus arrived, the keel of the boat grated on the shingle and they were there. As the Psalmist had it: "Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven" ( Psalms 107:30). Somehow in the presence of Jesus the longest journey is shorter and the hardest battle easier.
One of the loveliest things in the Fourth Gospel is that John, the old fisherman turned evangelist, found all the wealth of Christ in the memory of a fisherman's story.
THE MISTAKEN SEARCH ( John 6:22-27 )
6:22-27 On the next day, the crowd which was still standing on the far side of the sea, saw that there had been only one boat, and that Jesus had not gone into the boat with his disciples, but that the disciples had gone away alone. But some boats from Tiberias put in near the place where they had eaten the bread, after the Lord had given thanks. So when they saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples either, they embarked on the boats, and came to Capernaum, looking for Jesus. When they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him: "Rabbi, when did you get here?" Jesus answered: "This is the truth I tell you--you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves until your stomachs were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but work for the food which lasts, and which gives eternal life, that food which the Son of Man will give you; for the Father--God--has set his seal upon him."
The crowd had lingered on the far side of the lake. In the time of Jesus people did not need to keep office-hours. They had time to wait until he came back to them. They waited because having seen that there was only one boat and that the disciples had gone off in it without Jesus, they deduced that he must still be somewhere near at hand. After they had waited for some time, they began to realize that he was not coming back. Into the bay came some little boats from Tiberias. No doubt they had taken shelter from the storm of the night. The waiting people embarked on them and made the crossing of the lake back to Capernaum.
Discovering to their surprise that Jesus was already there, they asked him when he had arrived. To that question Jesus simply did not reply. This was no time to talk of things like that; life was too short for pleasant gossip about journeys. He went straight to the heart of the matter. "You have seen," he said, "wonderful things. You have seen how God's grace enabled a crowd to be fed. Your thoughts ought to have been turned to the God who did these things; but instead all that you are thinking about is bread." It is as if Jesus said: "You cannot think about your souls for thinking of your stomachs."
"Men," as Chrysostom said, "are nailed to the things of this life." Here were people whose eyes never lifted beyond the ramparts of the world to the eternities beyond. Once Napoleon and an acquaintance were talking of life. It was dark; they walked to the window and looked out. There in the sky were distant stars, little more than pin-points of light. Napoleon, who had sharp eyes while his friend was dim-sighted, pointed to the sky: "Do you see these stars?" he asked. "No," his friend answered. "I can't see them." "That," said Napoleon, "is the difference between you and me." The man who is earthbound is living half a life. It is the man with vision, who looks at the horizon and sees the stars, who is truly alive.
Jesus put his command in one sentence. "Don't work for the food which perishes but for that which lasts for ever and gives eternal life." Long ago a prophet called Isaiah had asked: "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which does not satisfy?" ( Isaiah 55:2). There are two kinds of hunger. There is physical hunger which physical food can satisfy; but there is a spiritual hunger which that food can never satisfy. A man may be as rich as Croesus and still have an incompleteness in his life.
In the years just after A.D. 60 the luxury of Roman society was unparalleled. It was at this time that they served feasts of peacocks' brains and nightingales' tongues; that they cultivated the odd habit of taking emetics between courses so that the next might taste better; that meals costing thousands of pounds were commonplace. It was at this time that Pliny tells of a Roman lady who was married in a robe so richly jewelled and gilded that it cost the equivalent of 432,000 British pounds. There was a reason for all this, and the reason was a deep dissatisfaction with life, a hunger that nothing could satisfy. They would try anything for a new thrill, because they were both appallingly rich and appallingly hungry. As Matthew Arnold wrote:
"In his cool hall with haggard eyes,
The Roman noble lay;
He drove abroad in furious guise
Along the Appian Way;
He made a feast, drank fierce and fast;
He crowned his hair with flowers;
No easier nor no quicker passed
The impracticable hours."
Jesus' point was that all that these Jews were interested in was physical satisfaction. They had received an unexpectedly free and lavish meal; and they wanted more. But there are other hungers which can be satisfied only by him. There is the hunger for truth--in him alone is the truth of God. There is the hunger for life--in him alone is life more abundant. There is the hunger for love--in him alone is the love that outlasts sin and death. Christ alone can satisfy the hunger of the human heart and soul.
Why is this so? There is a wealth of meaning in the phrase: "God has set his seal upon him." H. B. Tristram in Eastern Customs in Bible Lands has a most interesting section on seals in the ancient world. It was not the signature, but the seal that authenticated. In commercial and political documents it was the seal, imprinted with the signet ring, which made the document valid; it was the seal which authenticated a will; it was the seal on the mouth of a sack or a crate that guaranteed the contents. Tristram tells how on his own eastern journeys, when he made an agreement with his muleteers and his porters, they set the impression of their seal upon it to show that it was binding. Seals were made of pottery or metal or jewels. In the British Museum there are the seals of most of the Assyrian kings. The seal was fixed on clay and the clay attached to the document.
The Rabbis had a saying: "The seal of God is truth." "One day," says the Talmud, "the great synagogue (the assembly of the Jewish experts in the law) were weeping, praying and fasting together, when a little scroll fell from the firmament among them. They opened it and on it was only one word, Emeth ( H571) , which means truth. 'That,' said the Rabbi, 'is the seal of God.'" Emeth ( H571) is spelled with three Hebrew letters ('-M-T): aleph, which is the first letter of the alphabet; min, the middle letter, and tau, the last. The truth of God is the beginning, the middle and the end of life.
That is why Jesus can satisfy the eternal hunger. He is sealed by God, he is God's truth incarnate and it is God alone who can truly satisfy the hunger of the soul which he created.
THE ONLY TRUE WORK ( John 6:28-29 )
6:28-29 They said to him: "What are we to do to work the works of God?" Jesus answered: "This is the work of God, to believe in him whom he has sent."
When Jesus spoke about the works of God, the Jews immediately thought in terms of "good" works. It was their conviction that a man by living a good life could earn the favour of God. They held that men could be divided into three classes--those who were good, those who were bad and those who were in between, who, by doing one more good work, could be transferred to the category of the good. So when the Jews asked Jesus about the work of God they expected him to lay down lists of things to do. But that is not what Jesus says at all.
His answer is extremely compressed and we must expand it and see what lies behind it. He said that God's work was to believe in him whom he had sent. Paul would have put it this way--the one work that God desires from man is faith. Now what does faith mean? It means being in such a relationship with God that we are his friends, not terrified of him any more but knowing him as our Father and our friend and giving him the trust and the obedience and the submission which naturally arise from this new relationship. How does believing in Jesus tie up with that? It is only because Jesus came to tell us that God is our Father and loves us and wants nothing more than to forgive, that the old distance and enmity are taken away and the new relationship with him made possible.
But that new relationship issues in a certain kind of life. Now we know what God is like, our lives must answer to that knowledge. That answer will be in three directions, each of which corresponds to what Jesus told us of God.
(i) God is love. Therefore in our lives there must be love and service of others corresponding to the love and the service of God, and forgiveness of others corresponding to his forgiveness of God.
(ii) God is holiness. Therefore in our lives there must be purity corresponding to the holiness of God.
(iii) God is wisdom. Therefore in our lives there must be complete submission and trust corresponding to the wisdom of God.
The essence of the Christian life is a new relationship to God, a relationship offered by him and made possible by the revelation which Jesus gave us of him, a relationship which issues in that service, purity and trust which are the reflection of God. This is the work which God wishes us and enables us to perform.
THE DEMAND FOR A SIGN ( John 6:30-34 )
6:30-34 They said to him: "What sign are you going to perform that we may see it and believe in you? What is your work? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness. As it stands written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Jesus said to them: "This is the truth I tell you--Moses did not give you bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the real bread from heaven. The bread of God is he who comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." They said to him: "Sir, always give us that bread."
Here the argument becomes specifically Jewish in its expression and assumptions and allusions. Jesus had just made a great claim. The true work of God was to believe in him. "Very well," said the Jews, "this is in effect a claim to be the Messiah. Prove it."
Their minds were still on the feeding of the crowd and inevitably that turned their thoughts to the manna in the wilderness. They could hardly help connecting the two things. The manna had always been regarded as the bread of God ( Psalms 78:24; Exodus 16:15); and there was a strong rabbinic belief that when the Messiah came he would again give the manna. The giving of the manna was held to be the supreme work in the life of Moses and the Messiah was bound to surpass it. "As was the first redeemer so was the final redeemer; as the first redeemer caused the manna to fall from heaven, even so shall the second redeemer cause the manna to fall." "Ye shall not find the manna in this age, but ye shall find it in the age that is to come." "For whom has the manna been prepared? For the righteous in the age that is coming. Everyone who believes is worthy and eateth of it." It was the belief that a pot of the manna had been hidden in the ark in the first temple, and that, when the temple was destroyed, Jeremiah had hidden it away and would produce it again when the Messiah came. In other words, the Jews were challenging Jesus to produce bread from God in order to substantiate his claims. They did not regard the bread which had fed the five thousand as bread from God; it had begun in earthly loaves and issued in earthly loaves. The manna, they held, was a different thing and a real test.
Jesus' answer was twofold. First, he reminded them that it was not Moses who had given them the manna; it was God. Second, he told them that the manna was not really the bread of God; it was only the symbol of the bread of God. The bread of God was he who came down from heaven and gave men not simply satisfaction from physical hunger, but life. Jesus was claiming that the only real satisfaction was in him.
THE BREAD OF LIFE ( John 6:35-40 )
6:35-40 Jesus said to them: "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst any more. But I tell you, though you have seen me, yet you do not believe in me. All that the Father gives me will come to me, because I came down from heaven, not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me. This is the will of him who sent me--that I should lose none of those he gave to me, but that I should raise them all up on the last day. This is the will of my Father, that everyone who believes on the Son, when he sees him, should have everlasting life. And I will raise him up on the last day."
This is one of the great passages of the Fourth Gospel, and indeed of the New Testament. In it there are two great lines of thought that we must try to analyse.
First, what did Jesus mean when he said: "I am the bread of life"? It is not enough to regard this as simply a beautiful and poetical phrase. Let us analyse it step by step: (i) Bread sustains life. It is that without which life cannot go on. (ii) But what is life? Clearly by life is meant something far more than mere physical existence. What is this new spiritual meaning of life? (iii) Real life is the new relationship with God, that relationship of trust and obedience and love of which we have already thought. (iv) That relationship is made possible only by Jesus Christ. Apart from him no one can enter into it. (v) That is to say, without Jesus there may be existence, but not life. (vi) Therefore, if Jesus is the essential of life, he may be described as the bread of life. The hunger of the human situation is ended when we know Christ and through him know God. The restless soul is at rest; the hungry heart is satisfied.
Second, this passage opens out to us the stages of the Christian life. (i) We see Jesus. We see him in the pages of the New Testament, in the teaching of the church, sometimes even face to face. (ii) Having seen him, we come to him. We regard him not as some distant hero and pattern, not as a figure in a book, but as someone accessible. (iii) We believe in him. That is to say, we accept him as the final authority on God, on man, on life. That means that our coming is not a matter of mere interest, nor a meeting on equal terms; it is essentially a submission. (iv) This process gives us life. That is to say, it puts us into a new and lovely relationship with God, wherein he becomes an intimate friend; we are now at home with the one whom we feared or never knew. (v) The possibility of this is free and universal. The invitation is to all men. The bread of life is ours for the taking. (vi) The only way to that new relationship is through Jesus. Without him it never would have been possible; and apart from him it is still impossible. No searching of the human mind or longing of the human heart can fully find God apart from Jesus. (vii) At the back of the whole process is God. It is those whom God has given him who come to Christ. God not only provides the goal; he moves in the human heart to awaken desire for him; and he works in the human heart to take away the rebellion and the pride which would hinder the great submission. We could never even have sought him unless he had already found us. (vii) There remains that stubborn something which enables us to refuse the offer of God. In the last analysis, the one thing which defeats God is the defiance of the human heart. Life is there for the taking--or the refusing.
When we take, two things happen.
First, into life enters new satisfaction. The hunger and the thirst are gone. The human heart finds what it was searching for and life ceases to be mere existence and becomes a thing at once of thrill and of peace.
Second, even beyond life we are safe. Even on the last day when all things end we are still secure. As a great commentator said: "Christ brings us to the haven beyond which there is no danger."
The offer of Christ is life in time and life in eternity. That is the greatness and glory of which we cheat ourselves when we refuse his invitation.
THE FAILURE OF THE JEWS ( John 6:41-51 a)
6:41-51a So the Jews kept murmuring about him, because he said: "I am the bread which came down from heaven." They kept saying: "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say: 'I have come down from heaven'?" Jesus answered: "Stop murmuring to each other. No one can come to me except the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It stands written in the prophets: 'And all will be taught by God.' Everyone who has listened and learned from my Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except he who is from God--he has seen the Father. This is the truth I tell you--he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and died. This is the bread of life which comes down from heaven that a man may eat of him and not die. I am the bread of life which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever."
This passage shows the reasons why the Jews rejected Jesus, and in rejecting him, rejected eternal life.
(i) They judged things by human values and by external standards. Their reaction in face of the claim of Jesus was to produce the fact that he was a carpenter's son and that they had seen him grow up in Nazareth. They were unable to understand how one who was a tradesman and who came from a poor home could possibly be a special messenger from God.
T. E. Lawrence was a close personal friend of Thomas Hardy, the poet. In the days when Lawrence was serving as an aircraftman in the Royal Air Force he sometimes used to visit Hardy and his wife in his aircraftman's uniform. On one occasion his visit coincided with a visit of the Mayoress of Dorchester. She was bitterly affronted that she had to submit to meeting a common aircraftman, for she had no idea who he was. In French she said to Mrs. Hardy that never in all her born days had she had to sit down to tea with a private soldier. No one said anything: then Lawrence said in perfect French: "I beg your pardon, Madame, but can I be of any use as an interpreter? Mrs. Hardy knows no French." A snobbish and discourteous woman had made a shattering mistake because she judged by externals.
That is what the Jews did with Jesus. We must have a care that we never neglect a message from God because we despise or do not care for the messenger. A man would hardly refuse a cheque for 1,000 British pounds because it happened to be enclosed in an envelope which did not conform to the most aristocratic standards of notepaper. God has many messengers. His greatest message came through a Galilaean carpenter, and for that very reason the Jews disregarded it.
(ii) The Jews argued with each other. They were so taken up with their private arguments that it never struck them to refer the decision to God. They were exceedingly eager to let everyone know what they thought about the matter; but not in the least anxious to know what God thought. It might well be that sometimes in a court or committee, when every man is desirous of pushing his opinion down his neighbour's throat, we would be better to be quiet and ask God what he thinks and what he wants us to do. After all it does not matter so very much what we think; but what God thinks matters intensely; and we so seldom take steps to find it out.
(iii) The Jews listened, but they did not learn. There are different kinds of listening. There is the listening of criticism; there is the listening of resentment; there is the listening of superiority; there is the listening of indifference; there is the listening of the man who listens only because for the moment he cannot get the chance to speak. The only listening that is worth while is that which hears and learns; and that is the only way to listen to God.
(iv) The Jews resisted the drawing of God. Only those accept Jesus whom God draws to him. The word which John uses for to draw is helkuein ( G1670) . The word used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew when Jeremiah hears God say as the King James Version has it: "With loving-kindness have I drawn thee" ( Jeremiah 31:3). The interesting thing about the word is that it almost always implies some kind of resistance. It is the word for drawing a heavily laden net to the shore ( John 21:6; John 21:11). It is used of Paul and Silas being dragged before the magistrates in Philippi ( Acts 16:19). It is the word for drawing a sword from the belt or from its scabbard ( John 18:10). Always there is this idea of resistance. God can draw men, but man's resistance can defeat God's pull.
Jesus is the bread of life; which means that he is the essential for life; therefore to refuse the invitation and command of Jesus is to miss life and to die. The Rabbis had a saying: "The generation in the wilderness have no part in the life to come." In the old story in Numbers the people who cravenly refused to brave the dangers of the promised land after the report of the scouts, were condemned to wander in the wilderness until they died. Because they would not accept the guidance of God they were for ever shut out from the promised land. The Rabbis believed that the fathers who died in the wilderness not only missed the promised land, but also missed the life to come. To refuse the offer of Jesus is to miss life in this world and in the world to come; whereas to accept his offer is to find real life in this world and glory in the world to come.
HIS BODY AND HIS BLOOD ( John 6:51 b-59)
6:51b-59 "The bread which I will give him is my flesh, which is given that the world may have life." So the Jews argued with each other. "How" they said, "can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them: "This is the truth I tell you--unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot possess eternal life within yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is the real food and my blood is the real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, so I live through him; and he who eats me will live through me. This is the bread which came down from heaven. It is not a case of eating, as your fathers ate and died. He who eats this bread lives for ever." He said these things when he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
To most of us this is a very difficult passage. It speaks in language and moves in a world of ideas which are quite strange to us and which may seem even fantastic and grotesque. But to those who heard it first, it was moving among familiar ideas which went back to the very childhood of the race.
These ideas would be quite normal to anyone brought up in ancient sacrifice. The animal was very seldom burned entire. Usually only a token part was burned on the altar, although the whole animal was offered to the god. Part of the flesh was given to the priests as their perquisite; and part to the worshipper to make a feast for himself and his friends within the temple precincts. At that feast the god himself was held to be a guest. More, once the flesh had been offered to the god, it was held that he had entered into it; and therefore when the worshipper ate it he was literally eating the god. When people rose from such a feast they went out, as they believed, literally god-filled. We may think of it as idolatrous worship, we may think of it as a vast delusion; yet the fact remains these people went out quite certain that in them there was now the dynamic vitality of their god. To people used to that kind of experience a section like this presented no difficulties at all.
Further, in that ancient world the one live form of religion was to be found in the Mystery Religions. The one thing the Mystery Religions offered was communion and even identity with some god. The way it was done was this. All the Mystery Religions were essentially passion plays. They were stories of a god who had lived and suffered terribly and who died and rose again. The story was turned into a moving play. Before the initiate could see it, he had to undergo a long course of instruction in the inner meaning of the story. He had to undergo all kinds of ceremonial purifications. He had to pass through a long period of fasting and abstention from sexual relationships.
At the actual presentation of a passion play everything was designed to produce a highly emotional atmosphere. There was carefully calculated lighting, sensuous incense, exciting music, a wonderful liturgy; everything was designed to work up the initiate to a height of emotion and expectation that he had never experienced before. Call it hallucination if you like; call it a combination of hypnotism and self hypnotism. But something happened; and that something was identity with the god. As the carefully prepared initiate watched he became one with the god. He shared the sorrows and the griefs; he shared the death, and the resurrection. He and the god became for ever one; and he was safe in life and in death.
Some of the sayings and prayers of the Mystery Religions are very beautiful. In the Mysteries of Mithra the initiate prayed: "Abide with my soul; leave me not, that I may be initiated and that the holy spirit may dwell within me." In the Hermetic Mysteries the initiate said: "I know thee Hermes, and thou knowest me; I am thou and thou art I" In the same Mysteries a prayer runs: "Come to me, Lord Hermes, as babes to mothers' wombs." In the Mysteries of Isis the worshipper said: "As truly as Osiris lives, so shall his followers live. As truly as Osiris is not dead, his followers shall die no more."
We must remember that those ancient people knew all about the striving, the longing, the dreaming for identity with their god and for the bliss of taking him into themselves. They would not read phrases like eating Christ's body and drinking his blood with crude and shocked literalism. They would know something of that ineffable experience of union, closer than any earthly union, of which these words speak. This is language that the ancient world could understand--and so can we.
It may be well that we should remember that here John is doing what he so often does. He is not giving, or trying to give, the actual words of Jesus. He has been thinking for seventy years of what Jesus said; and now, led by the Holy Spirit, he is giving the inner significance of his words. It is not the words that he reports; that would merely have been a feat of memory. It is the essential meaning of the words; that is the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
HIS BODY AND HIS BLOOD ( John 6:51 b-59 continued)
Let us see now if we can find out something of what Jesus meant and of what John understood from words like this. There are two ways in which we may take this passage.
(i) We may take it in a quite general sense. Jesus spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
Now the flesh of Jesus was his complete humanity. John in his First Letter lays it down almost passionately: "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God." In fact, the spirit which denies that Jesus is come in the flesh is of antichrist ( 1 John 4:2-3). John insisted that we must grasp and never let go the full humanity of Jesus, that he was bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. What does this mean? Jesus, as we have seen again and again, was the mind of God become a person. This means that in Jesus we see God taking human life human problems, battling with our human temptations, working out our human relationships.
Therefore it is as if Jesus said: "Feed your heart, feed your mind, feed your soul on the thought of my manhood. When you are discouraged and in despair, when you are beaten to your knees and disgusted with life and living--remember I took that life of yours and these struggles of yours on me." Suddenly life and the flesh are clad with glory for they are touched with God. It was and is the great belief of the Greek Orthodox Christology that Jesus deified our flesh by taking it on himself. To eat Christ's body is to feed on the thought of his manhood until our own manhood is strengthened and cleansed and irradiated by his.
Jesus said we must drink his blood. In Jewish thought the blood stands for the life. It is easy to understand why. As the blood flows from a wound, life ebbs away; and to the Jew, the blood belonged to God. That is why to this day a true Jew will never eat any meat which has not been completely drained of blood. "Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" ( Genesis 9:4). "Only you shall not eat its blood" ( Deuteronomy 15:23). Now see what Jesus is saying--"You must drink my blood--you must take my life into the very centre of your being--and that life of mine is the life which belongs to God." When Jesus said we must drink his blood he meant that we must take his life into the very core of our hearts.
What does that mean? Think of it this way. Here in a bookcase is a book which a man has never read. It may be the glory and the wonder of the tragedies of Shakespeare; but so long as it remains unread upon his bookshelves it is external to him. One day he takes it down and reads it. He is thrilled and fascinated and moved. The story sticks to him; the great lines remain in his memory; now when he wants to, he can take that wonder out from inside himself and remember it and think about it and feed his mind and his heart upon it. Once the book was outside him. Now it is inside him and he can feed upon it. It is that way with any great experience in life. It remains external until we take it within ourselves.
It is so with Jesus. So long as he remains a figure in a book he is external to us; but when he enters into our hearts we can feed upon the life and the strength and the dynamic vitality that he gives to us. Jesus said that we must drink his blood. He is saying: "You must stop thinking of me as a subject for theological debate; you must take me into you, and you must come into me; and then you will have real life." That is what Jesus meant when he spoke about us abiding in him and himself abiding in us.
When he told us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he was telling us to feed our hearts and souls and minds on his humanity, and to revitalize our lives with his life until we are filled with the life of God.
(ii) But John meant more than that, and was thinking also of the Lord's Supper. He was saying: "If you want life, you must come and sit at that table where you eat that broken bread and drink that poured-out wine which somehow, in the grace of God, bring you into contact with the love and the life of Jesus Christ." But--and here is the sheer wonder of his point of view--John has no account of the Last Supper. He brings in his teaching about it, not in the narrative of the Upper Room, but in the story of a picnic meal on a hillside near Bethsaida Julias by the blue waters of the Sea of Galilee.
There is no doubt that John is saying that for the true Christian every meal has become a sacrament. It may well be that there were those who--if the phrase be allowed--were making too much of the Sacrament within the church, making a magic of it, implying that it was the only place where we might enter into the nearer presence of the Risen Christ. It is true that the Sacrament is a special appointment with God; but John held with all his heart that every meal in the humblest home, in the richest palace, beneath the canopy of the sky with only the grass for carpet was a sacrament. He refused to limit the presence of Christ to an ecclesiastical environment and a correctly liturgical service. He said: "At any meal you can find again that bread which speaks of the manhood of the Master, that wine which speaks of the blood which is life."
In John's thought the communion table and the dinner table and the picnic on the seashore or the hillside are all alike in that at all of them we may taste and touch and handle the bread and the wine which brings us Christ. Christianity would be a poor thing if Christ were confined to churches. It is John's belief that we can find him anywhere in a Christ-filled world. It is not that he belittles the Sacrament; but he expands it, so that we find Christ at his table in church, and then go out to find him everywhere where men and women meet together to enjoy the gifts of God.
THE ALL-IMPORTANT SPIRIT ( John 6:59-65 )
6:59-65 When they had heard this discourse many of his disciples said: "This word is hard! Who is able to listen to it?" Jesus well knew within himself that his disciples were murmuring about this; so he said to them: "Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he formerly was? The life-giving power is the Spirit; the flesh is of no help. The words which I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was who was going to betray him. So that was why he often said: "No man can come to me, except it has been given to him by the Father to do so."
It is little wonder that the disciples found the discourse of Jesus hard. The Greek word is skleros ( G4642) , which means not hard to understand; but hard to accept. The disciples knew quite well that Jesus had been claiming to be the very life of God come down from heaven, and that no one could live this life or face eternity without submitting to him.
Here we come upon a truth that re-emerges in every age. Time and again it is not the intellectual difficulty which keeps men from becoming Christians; it is the height of Christ's moral demand. At the heart of an religion there must be mystery, for the simple reason that at that heart there is God. In the nature of things man cannot ever fully understand God. Any honest thinker will accept that there must be mystery.
The real difficulty of Christianity is two-fold. It demands an act of surrender to Christ, an acceptance of him as the final authority; and it demands a moral standard of the highest level. The disciples were well aware that Jesus had claimed to be the very life and mind of God come down to earth; their difficulty was to accept that as true, with all its implications. To this day many a man refuses Christ, not because he puzzles intellect, but because he challenges his life.
Jesus goes on, not to try to prove his claim, but to state that some day events will prove it. What he is saying is this: "You find it difficult to believe that I am the bread, the essential of life, which came down from heaven. Well then, you will have no difficulty in accepting that claim when some day you see me ascending back to heaven." It is a forecast of the Ascension. It means that the Resurrection is the guarantee of the claims of Jesus. He was not one who lived nobly and died gallantly for a lost cause; he was the one whose claims were vindicated by the fact that he rose again.
Jesus goes on to say that the all-important thing is the life-giving power of the Spirit; the flesh is of no help. We can put that very simply in a way which will give us at least something of its meaning--the most important thing is the spirit in which any action is done. Someone has put it this way: "All human things are trivial if they exist for nothing beyond themselves." The real value of anything depends on its aim. If we eat simply for the sake of eating, we become gluttons, and it is likely to do us far more harm than good; if we eat to sustain life, to do our work better, to maintain the fitness of our body at its highest peak, food has a real significance. If a man spends a great deal of time on sport simply for the sake of sport, he is at least to some extent wasting his time. But if he spends that time in order to keep his body fit and thereby to do his work for God and men better, sport ceases to be trivial and becomes important. The things of the flesh all gain their value from the spirit in which they are done.
Jesus goes on: "My words are spirit and life." He alone can tell us what life is, put into us the spirit in which it must be lived, give us the strength so to live it. Life takes its value from its purpose and its goal. Christ alone can give us true purpose in life, and the power to work out that purpose against the constant opposition that comes from without and within.
Jesus was well aware that some would not only reject his offer but would reject it with hostility. No man can accept him unless he is moved by the Spirit of God to do so but to the end of the day a man can resist that Spirit. Such a man is shut out not by God, but by himself.
ATTITUDES TO CHRIST ( John 6:66-71 )
6:66-71 After this many of his disciples turned back and would not walk with him any more. Jesus said to the Twelve: "Surely you too do not want to go away?" Simon Peter answered him: "Lord, to whom are we to go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed and we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus answered them: "Did I not choose you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he was going to betray him--and he was one of the Twelve.
Here is a passage instinct with tragedy, for in it is the beginning of the end. There was a time when men came to Jesus in large numbers. When he was in Jerusalem at the Passover many saw his miracles and believed in his name ( John 2:23). So many came to be baptized by his disciples that the numbers were embarrassing ( John 4:1-3). In Samaria great things happened ( John 4:1; John 4:39; John 4:45). In Galilee the crowds flocked after him just the day before ( John 6:2). But the tone of things had changed; from now on there was a growing hatred which was going to culminate in the Cross. Already John launches us on the last act of the tragedy. It is circumstances like these which reveal men's hearts and show them in their true colours. In these circumstances there were three different attitudes to Jesus.
(i) There was defection. Some turned back and walked with him no more. They drifted away for various reasons.
Some saw quite clearly where Jesus was heading. It was not possible to challenge the authorities as he was doing and get away with it. He was heading for disaster and they were getting out in time. They were fair-weather followers. It has been said that the test of an army is how it fights when it is tired. Those who drifted away would have stuck by Jesus so long as his career was on the upward way, but at the first shadow of the Cross they left him.
Some shirked the challenge of Jesus. Fundamentally their point of view was that they had come to Jesus to get something from him; when it came to suffering for him and giving to him they quit. No one can give so much as Jesus, but if we come to him solely to get and never to give we will certainly turn back. The man who would follow Jesus must remember that in following him there is always a Cross.
(ii) There was deterioration. It is in Judas above all that we see this. Jesus must have seen in him a man whom he could use for his purposes. But Judas, who might have become the hero, became the villain; he who might have become a saint became a name of shame.
There is a terrible story about an artist who was painting the Last Supper. It was a great picture and it took him many years. As model for the face of Christ he used a young man with a face of transcendent loveliness and purity. Bit by bit the picture was filled in and one after another the disciples were painted. The day came when he needed a model for Judas whose face he had left to the last. He went out and searched in the lowest haunts of the city and in the dens of vice. At last he found a man with a face so depraved and vicious as matched his requirement. When the sittings were at an end the man said to the artist: "You painted me before." "Surely not," said the artist. "O yes," said the man, "I sat for your Christ." The years had brought terrible deterioration.
The years can be cruel. They can take away our ideals and our enthusiasms and our dreams and our loyalties. They can leave us with a life that has grown smaller and not bigger. They can leave us with a heart that is shrivelled instead of one expanded in the love of Christ. There can be a lost loveliness in life--God saves us from that!
(iii) There was determination. This is John's version of Peter's great confession at Caesarea Philippi ( Mark 8:27; Matthew 16:13; Luke 9:18). It was just such a situation as this that called out the loyalty of Peter's heart. To him the simple fact was that there was just no one else to go to. Jesus alone had the words of life.
Peter's loyalty was based on a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. There were many things he did not understand; he was just as bewildered and puzzled as anyone else. But there was something about Jesus for which he would willingly die. In the last analysis Christianity is not a philosophy which we accept, nor a theory to which we give allegiance. It is a personal response to Jesus Christ. It is the allegiance and the love which a man gives because his heart will not allow him to do anything else.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Barclay, William. "Commentary on John 6:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/john-6.html. 1956-1959.
Since this was the second Passover John mentioned (John 2:13, John 2:23), and since he mentioned at least one other Passover (John 13:1 [John 5:1 refers to an unnamed feast of the Jews]), Jesus’ ministry extended for about three years. The events in chapter 6, then, took place about one year before He was crucified.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Gann, Windell. "Commentary on John 6:4". Gann's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gbc/john-6.html. 2021.
And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. This was the third passover, since our Lord's baptism, and entrance on his public ministry; see John 2:13. Whether Christ went up to this feast is not certain; some think he did not; but from what is said in John 7:1, it looks as if he did: how nigh it was to the feast, cannot well be said. Thirty days before the feast, they began to talk about it; and especially in the last fifteen days, they made preparations for it, as being at hand b; and if there was now so long time to it, there was time enough for Jesus to go to it.
b T. Bab. Pesach. fol. 6. 1. Maimon. & Bartenora in Misn. Shekalim, c. 3. sect. 1.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on John 6:4". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-6.html. 1999.
|The Five Thousand Fed.|
1 After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. 2 And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased. 3 And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples. 4 And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. 5 When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? 6 And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. 7 Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, 9 There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? 10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. 12 When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost. 13 Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. 14 Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.
We have here an account of Christ's feeding five thousand men with five loaves and two fishes, which miracle is in this respect remarkable, that it is the only passage of the actions of Christ's life that is recorded by all the four evangelists. John, who does not usually relate what had been recorded by those who wrote before him, yet relates this, because of the reference the following discourse has to it. Observe,
I. The place and time where and when this miracle was wrought, which are noted for the greater evidence of the truth of the story; it is not said that it was done once upon a time, nobody knows where, but the circumstances are specified, that the fact might be enquired into.
1. The country that Christ was in (John 6:1; John 6:1): He went over the sea of Galilee, called elsewhere the lake of Gennesareth, here the sea of Tiberias, from a city adjoining, which Herod had lately enlarged and beautified, and called so in honour of Tiberius the emperor, and probably had made his metropolis. Christ did not go directly over cross this inland sea, but made a coasting voyage to another place on the same side. It is not tempting God to choose to go by water, when there is convenience for it, even to those places whither we might go by land; for Christ never tempted the Lord his God,Matthew 4:7.
2. The company that he was attended with: A great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles,John 6:2; John 6:2. Note, (1.) Our Lord Jesus, while he went about doing good, lived continually in a crowd, which gave him more trouble than honour. Good and useful men must not complain of a hurry of business, when they are serving God and their generation; it will be time enough to enjoy ourselves when we come to that world where we shall enjoy God. (2.) Christ's miracles drew many after him that were not effectually drawn to him. They had their curiosity gratified by the strangeness of them, who had not their consciences convinced by the power of them.
3. Christ's posting himself advantageously to entertain them (John 6:3; John 6:3): He went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples, that he might the more conveniently be seen and heard by the multitude that crowded after him; this was a natural pulpit, and not, like Ezra's, made for the purpose. Christ was now driven to be a field preacher; but his word was never the worse, nor the less acceptable, for that, to those who knew how to value it, who followed him still, not only when he went out to a desert place, but when he went up to a mountain, though up-hill be against heart. He sat there, as teachers do in cathedra--in the chair of instruction. He did not sit at ease, not sit in state, yet he sat as one having authority, sat ready to receive addresses that were made to him; whoever would might come, and find him there. He sat with his disciples; he condescended to take them to sit with him, to put a reputation upon them before the people, and give them an earnest of the glory in which they should shortly sit with him. We are said to sit with him,Ephesians 2:6.
4. The time when it was. The first words, After those things, do not signify that this immediately followed what was related in the foregoing chapter, for it was a considerable time after, and they signify no more than in process of time; but we are told (John 6:4; John 6:4) that it was when the passover was nigh, which is here noted, (1.) Because, perhaps, that had brought in all the apostles from their respective expeditions, whither they were sent as itinerant preachers, that they might attend their Master to Jerusalem, to keep the feast. (2.) Because it was a custom with the Jews religiously to observe the approach of the passover thirty days before, with some sort of solemnity; so long before they had it in their eye, repaired the roads, mended bridges, if there was occasion, and discoursed of the passover and the institution of it. (3.) Because, perhaps, the approach of the passover, when every one knew Christ would go up to Jerusalem, and be absent for some time, made the multitude flock the more after him and attend the more diligently on him. Note, The prospect of losing our opportunities should quicken us to improve them with double diligence; and, when solemn ordinances are approaching, it is good to prepare for them by conversing with the word of Christ.
II. The miracle itself. And here observe,
1. The notice Christ took of the crowd that attended him (John 6:5; John 6:5): He lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come to him, poor, mean, ordinary people, no doubt, for such make up the multitudes, especially in such remote corners of the country; yet Christ showed himself pleased with their attendance, and concerned for their welfare, to teach us to condescend to those of low estate, and not to set those with the dogs of our flock whom Christ hath set with the lambs of his. The souls of the poor are as precious to Christ, and should be so to us, as those of the rich.
2. The enquiry he made concerning the way of providing for them. He directed himself to Philip, who had been his disciple from the first, and had seen all his miracles, and particularly that of his turning water into wine, and therefore it might be expected that he should have said, "Lord, if thou wilt, it is easy to thee to feed them all." Those that, like Israel, have been witnesses of Christ's works, and have shared in the benefit of them, are inexcusable if they say, Can he furnish a table in the wilderness? Philip was of Bethsaida, in the neighbourhood of which town Christ now was, and therefore he was most likely to help them to provision at the best hand; and probably much of the company was known to him, and he was concerned for them. Now Christ asked, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? (1.) He takes it for granted that they must all eat with him. One would think that when he had taught and healed them he had done his part; and that now they should rather have been contriving how to treat him and his disciples, for some of the people were probably rich, and we are sure that Christ and his disciples were poor; yet he is solicitous to entertain them. Those that will accept Christ's spiritual gifts, instead of paying for them, shall be paid for their acceptance of them. Christ, having fed their souls with the bread of life, feeds their bodies also with food convenient, to show that the Lord is for the body, and to encourage us to pray for our daily bread, and to set us an example of compassion to the poor, James 2:15; James 2:16. (2.) His enquiry is, Whence shall we buy bread? One would think, considering his poverty, that he should rather have asked, Where shall we have money to buy for them? But he will rather lay out all he has than they shall want. He will buy to give, and we must labour, that we may give, Ephesians 4:28.
3. The design of this enquiry; it was only to try the faith of Philip, for he himself knew what he would do,John 6:6; John 6:6. Note, (1.) Our Lord Jesus is never at a loss in his counsels; but, how difficult soever the case is, he knows what he has to do and what course he will take, Acts 15:18. He knows the thoughts he has towards his people (Jeremiah 29:11) and is never at uncertainty; when we know not, he himself knows what he will do. (2.) When Christ is pleased to puzzle his people, it is only with a design to prove them. The question put Philip to a nonplus, yet Christ proposed it, to try whether he would say, "Lord, if thou wilt exert thy power for them, we need not buy bread."
4. Philip's answer to this question: "Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient,John 6:7; John 6:7. Master, it is to no purpose to talk of buying bread for them, for neither will the country afford so much bread, nor can we afford to lay out so much money; ask Judas, who carries the bag." Two hundred pence of their money amount to about six pounds of ours, and, if they lay out all that at once, it will exhaust their fund, and break them, and they must starve themselves. Grotius computes that two hundred pennyworth of bread would scarcely reach to two thousand, but Philip would go as near hand as he could, would have every one to take a little; and nature, we say, is content with a little. See the weakness of Philip's faith, that in this strait, as if the Master of the family had been an ordinary person, he looked for supply only in an ordinary way. Christ might now have said to him, as he did afterwards, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? Or, as God to Moses in a like case, Is the Lord's hand waxen short? We are apt thus to distrust God's power when visible and ordinary means fail, that is, to trust him no further than we can see him.
5. The information which Christ received from another of his disciples concerning the provision they had. It was Andrew, here said to be Simon Peter's brother; though he was senior to Peter in discipleship, and instrumental to bring Peter to Christ, yet Peter afterwards so far outshone him that he is described by his relation to Peter: he acquainted Christ with what they had at hand; and in this we may see,
(1.) The strength of his love to those for whom he saw his Master concerned, in that he was willing to bring out all they had, though he knew not but they might want themselves, and any one would have said, Charity begins at home. He did not go about to conceal it, under pretence of being a better husband of their provision than the master was, but honestly gives in an account of all they had. There is a lad here, paidarion--a little lad, probably one that used to follow this company, as settlers do the camp, with provisions to sell, and the disciples had bespoken what he had for themselves; and it was five barley-loaves, and two small fishes. Here, [1.] The provision was coarse and ordinary; they were barley loaves. Canaan was a land of wheat (Deuteronomy 8:8); its inhabitants were commonly fed with the finest wheat (Psalms 81:16), the kidneys of wheat (Deuteronomy 32:14); yet Christ and his disciples were glad of barley-bread. It does not follow hence that we should tie ourselves to such coarse fare, and place religion in it (when God brings that which is finer to our hands, let us receive it, and be thankful); but it does follow that therefore we must not be desirous of dainties (Psalms 23:3); nor murmur if we be reduced to coarse fare, but be content and thankful, and well reconciled to it; barley-bread is what Christ had, and better than we deserve. Nor let us despise the mean provision of the poor, nor look upon it with contempt, remembering how Christ was provided for. [2.] It was but short and scanty; there were but five loaves, and those so small that one little lad carried them all; and we find (2 Kings 4:42; 2 Kings 4:43) that twenty barley-loaves, with some other provision to help out, would not dine a hundred men without a miracle. There were but two fishes, and those small ones (dyo opsaria), so small that one of them was but a morsel, pisciculi assati. I take the fish to have been pickled, or soused, for they had not fire to dress them with. The provision of bread was little, but that of fish was less in proportion to it, so that many a bit of dry bread they must eat before they could make a meal of this provision; but they were content with it. Bread is meat for our hunger; but of those that murmured for flesh it is said, They asked meat for their lust,Psalms 78:18. Well, Andrew was willing that the people should have this, as far as it would go. Note, A distrustful fear of wanting ourselves should not hinder us from needful charity to others.
(2.) See here the weakness of his faith in that word, "But what are they among so many? To offer this to such a multitude is but to mock them." Philip and he had not that actual consideration of the power of Christ (of which they had had such large experience) which they should have had. Who fed the camp of Israel in the wilderness? He that could make one man chase a thousand could make one loaf feed a thousand.
6. The directions Christ gave the disciples to seat the guests (John 6:10; John 6:10): "Make the men sit down, though you have nothing to set before them, and trust me for that." This was like sending providence to market, and going to buy without money: Christ would thus try their obedience. Observe, (1.) The furniture of the dining-room: there was much grass in that place, though a desert place; see how bountiful nature is, it makes grass to grow upon the mountains,Psalms 147:8. This grass was uneaten; God gives not only enough, but more then enough. Here was this plenty of grass where Christ was preaching; the gospel brings other blessings along with it: Then shall the earth yield her increase,Psalms 67:6. This plenty of grass made the place the more commodious for those that must sit on the ground, and served them for cushions, or beds (as they called what they sat on at meat, Esther 1:6), and, considering what Christ says of the grass of the field (Matthew 6:29; Matthew 6:30), these beds excelled those of Ahasuerus: nature's pomp is the most glorious. (2.) The number of the guests: About five thousand: a great entertainment, representing that of the gospel, which is a feast for all nations (Isaiah 25:6), a feast for all comers.
7. The distribution of the provision, John 6:11; John 6:11. Observe,
(1.) It was done with thanksgiving: He gave thanks. Note, [1.] We ought to give thanks to God for our food, for it is a mercy to have it, and we have it from the hand of God, and must receive it with thanksgiving,1 Timothy 4:4; 1 Timothy 4:5. And this is the sweetness of our creature-comforts, that they will furnish us with matter, and give us occasion, for that excellent duty of thanksgiving. [2.] Though our provision be coarse and scanty, though we have neither plenty nor dainty, yet we must give thanks to God for what we have.
(2.) It was distributed from the hand of Christ by the hands of his disciples, John 6:11; John 6:11. Note, [1.] All our comforts come to us originally from the hand of Christ; whoever brings them, it is he that sends them, he distributes to those who distribute to us. [2.] In distributing the bread of life to those that follow him, he is pleased to make use of the ministration of his disciples; they are the servitors at Christ's table, or rather rulers in his household, to give to every one his portion of meat in due season.
(3.) It was done to universal satisfaction. They did not every one take a little, but all had as much as they would; not a short allowance, but a full meal; and considering how long they had fasted, with what an appetite they sat down, how agreeable this miraculous food may be supposed to have been, above common food, it was not a little that served them when they ate as much as they would and on free cost. Those whom Christ feeds with the bread of life he does not stint, Psalms 81:10. There were but two small fishes, and yet they had of them too as much as they would. He did not reserve them for the better sort of the guests, and put off the poor with dry bread, but treated them all alike, for they were all alike welcome. Those who call feeding upon fish fasting reproach the entertainment Christ here made, which was a full feast.
8. The care that was taken of the broken meat. (1.) The orders Christ gave concerning it (John 6:12; John 6:12): When they were filled, and every man had within him a sensible witness to the truth of the miracle, Christ said to the disciples, the servants he employed, Gather up the fragments. Note, We must always take care that we make no waste of any of God's good creatures; for the grant we have of them, though large and full, is with this proviso, wilful waste only excepted. It is just with God to bring us to the want of that which we make waste of. The Jews were very careful not to lose any bread, nor let it fall to the ground, to be trodden upon. Qui panem contemnit in gravem incidit paupertatem--He who despises bread falls into the depths of poverty, was a saying among them. Though Christ could command supplies whenever he pleased, yet he would have the fragments gathered up. When we are filled we must remember that others want, and we may want. Those that would have wherewith to be charitable must be provident. Had this broken meat been left upon the grass, the beasts and fowls would have gathered it up; but that which is fit to be meat for men is wasted and lost if it be thrown to the brute-creatures. Christ did not order the broken meat to be gathered up till all were filled; we must not begin to hoard and lay up till all is laid out that ought to be, for that is withholding more than is meet. Mr. Baxter notes here, "How much less should we lose God's word, or helps, or our time, or such greater mercies!" (2.) The observance of these orders (John 6:13; John 6:13): They filled twelve baskets with the fragments, which was an evidence not only of the truth of the miracle, that they were fed, not with fancy, but with real food (witness those remains), but of the greatness of it; they were not only filled, but there was all this over and above. See how large the divine bounty is; it not only fills the cup, but makes it run over; bread enough, and to spare, in our Father's house. The fragments filled twelve baskets, one for each disciple; they were thus repaid with interest for their willingness to part with what they had for public service; see 2 Chronicles 31:10. The Jews lay it as a law upon themselves, when they have eaten a meal, to be sure to leave a piece of bread upon the table, upon which the blessing after meat may rest; for it is a curse upon the wicked man (Job 20:21) that there shall none of his meat be left.
III. Here is the influence which this miracle had upon the people who tasted of the benefit of it (John 6:14; John 6:14): They said, This is of a truth that prophet. Note, 1. Even the vulgar Jews with great assurance expected the Messiah to come into the world, and to be a great prophet, They speak here with assurance of his coming. The Pharisees despised them as not knowing the law; but, it should seem, they knew more of him that is the end of the law than the Pharisees did. 2. The miracles which Christ wrought did clearly demonstrate that he was the Messiah promised, a teacher come from God, the great prophet, and could not but convince the amazed spectators that this was he that should come. There were many who were convinced he was that prophet that should come into the world who yet did not cordially receive his doctrine, for they did not continue in it. Such a wretched incoherence and inconsistency there is between the faculties of the corrupt unsanctified soul, that it is possible for men to acknowledge that Christ is that prophet, and yet to turn a deaf ear to him.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on John 6:4". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/john-6.html. 1706.
March 7, 1858
C. H. SPURGEON
"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw
him."-- John 6:44 .
Coming to Christ" is a very common phrase in Holy Scripture. It is
used to express those acts of the soul wherein, leaving at once our self-
righteousness, and our sins, we fly unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and
receive his righteousness to be our covering, and his blood to be our
atonement. Coming to Christ, then, embraces in it repentance, self-
negation, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and it sums within itself all
those things which are the necessary attendants of these great states of
heart, such as the belief of the truth, earnestness of prayer to God, the
submission of the soul to the precepts of God's gospel, and all those
things which accompany the dawn of salvation in the soul. Coming to
Christ is just the one essential thing for a sinner's salvation. He that
cometh not to Christ, do what he may, or think what he may, is yet in
"the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity." Coming to Christ is
the very first effect of regeneration. No sooner is the soul quickened
than it at once discovers its lost estate, is horrified thereat, looks out for
a refuge, and believing Christ to be a suitable one, flies to him and
reposes in him. Where there is not this coming to Christ, it is certain
that there is as yet no quickening; where there is no quickening, the
soul is dead in trespasses and sins, and being dead it cannot enter into
the kingdom of heaven. We have before us now an announcement very
startling, some say very obnoxious. Coming to Christ, though described
by some people as being the very easiest thing in all the world, is in our
text declared to be a thing utterly and entirely impossible to any man,
unless the Father shall draw him to Christ. It shall be our business, then,
to enlarge upon this declaration. We doubt not that it will always be
offensive to carnal nature, but, nevertheless, the offending of human
nature is sometimes the first step towards bringing it to bow itself
before God. And if this be the effect of a painful process, we can forget
the pain and rejoice in the glorious consequences.
I shall endeavour this morning, first of all, to notice man's inability,
wherein it consists. Secondly, the Father's drawings--what these are,
and how they are exerted upon the soul. And then I shall conclude by
noticing a sweet consolation which may be derived from this seemingly
barren and terrible text.
I. First, then, MAN'S INABILITY. The text says, "No man can come to
me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." Wherein does this
First, it does not lie in any physical defect. If in coming to Christ,
moving the body or walking with the feet should be of any assistance,
certainly man has all physical power to come to Christ in that sense. I
remember to have heard a very foolish Antinomian declare, that he did
not believe any man had the power to walk to the house of God unless
the Father drew him. Now the man was plainly foolish, because he must
have seen that as long as a man was alive and had legs, it was as easy
for him to walk to the house of God as to the house of Satan. If coming
to Christ includes the utterance of a prayer, man has no physical defect
in that respect, if he be not dumb, he can say a prayer as easily as he can
utter blasphemy. It is as easy for a man to sing one of the songs of Zion
as to sing a profane and libidinous song. There is no lack of physical
power in coming to Christ. All that can be wanted with regard to the
bodily strength man most assuredly has, and any part of salvation
which consists in that is totally and entirely in the power of man
without any assistance from the Spirit of God. Nor, again, does this
inability lie in any mental lack. I can believe this Bible to be true just as
easily as I can believe any other book to be true. So far as believing on
Christ is an act of the mind, I am just as able to believe on Christ as I
am able to believe on anybody else. Let his statement be but true, it is
idle to tell me I cannot believe it. I can believe the statement that Christ
makes as well as I can believe the statement of any other person. There
is no deficiency of faculty in the mind: it is as capable of appreciating
as a mere mental act the guilt of sin, as it is of appreciating the guilt of
assassination. It is just as possible for me to exercise the mental idea of
seeking God, as it is to exercise the thought of ambition. I have all the
mental strength and power that can possibly be needed, so far as mental
power is needed in salvation at all. Nay, there is not any man so
ignorant that he can plead a lack of intellect as an excuse for rejecting
the gospel. The defect, then, does not lie either in the body, or, what we
are bound to call, speaking theologically, the mind. It is not any lack or
deficiency there, although it is the vitiation of the mind, the corruption
or the ruin of it, which, after all, is the very essence of man's inability.
Permit me to show you wherein this inability of man really does lie. It
lies deep in his nature. Through the fall, and through our own sin, the
nature of man has become so debased, and depraved, and corrupt, that it
is impossible for him to come to Christ without the assistance of God
the Holy Spirit. Now, in trying to exhibit how the nature of man thus
renders him unable to come to Christ, you must allow me just to take
this figure. You see a sheep; how willingly it feeds upon the herbage!
You never knew a sheep sigh after carrion; it could not live on lion's
food. Now bring me a wolf; and you ask me whether a wolf cannot eat
grass, whether it cannot be just as docile and as domesticated as the
sheep. I answer, no; because its nature is contrary thereunto. You say,
"Well, it has ears and legs; can it not hear the shepherd's voice, and
follow him whithersoever he leadeth it ?" I answer, certainly; there is
no physical cause why it cannot do so, but its nature forbids, and
therefore I say it cannot do so. Can it not be tamed? cannot its ferocity
be removed? Probably it may so far be subdued that it may become
apparently tame; but there will always be a marked distinction between
it and the sheep, because there is a distinction in nature. Now, the
reason why man cannot come to Christ, is not because he cannot come,
so far as his body or his mere power of mind is concerned, but because
his nature is so corrupt that he has neither the will nor the power to
come to Christ unless drawn by the Spirit. But let me give you a better
illustration. You see a mother with her babe in her arms. You put a
knife into her hand, and tell her to stab that babe to the heart. She
replies, and very truthfully, "I cannot." Now, so far as her bodily power
is concerned, she can, if she pleases; there is the knife, and there is the
child. The child cannot resist, and she has quite sufficient strength in
her hand immediately to stab it to its heart. But she is quite correct
when she says she cannot do it. As a mere act of the mind, it is quite
possible she might think of such a thing as killing the child, and yet she
says she cannot think of such a thing; and she does not say falsely, for
her nature as a mother forbids her doing a thing from which her soul
revolts. Simply because she is that child's parent she feels she cannot
kill it. It is even so with a sinner. Coming to Christ is so obnoxious to
human nature that, although, so far as physical and mental forces are
concerned, (and these have but a very narrow sphere in salvation) men
could come if they would: it is strictly correct to say that they cannot
and will not unless the Father who hath sent Christ doth draw them. Let
us enter a little more deeply into the subject, and try to show you
wherein this inability of man consists, in its more minute particulars.
I. First, it lies in the obstinacy of the human will. "Oh!" saith the
Arminian, "men may be saved if they will." We reply, "My dear sir, we
all believe that; but it is just the if they will that is the difficulty. We
assert that no man will come to Christ unless he be drawn; nay, we do
not assert it, but Christ himself declares it--"Ye will not come unto me
that ye might have life;' and as long as that "ye will not come' stands on
record in Holy Scripture, we shall not be brought to believe in any
doctrine of the freedom of the human will." It is strange how people,
when talking about free-will, talk of things which they do not at all
understand. "Now," says one, "I believe men can be saved if they will."
My dear sir, that is not the question at all. The question is, are men ever
found naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel
of Christ? We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is
so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to
everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good,
that without the powerful. supernatural, irresistible influence of the
Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ. You
reply, that men sometimes are willing, without the help of the Holy
Spirit. I answer--Did you ever meet with any person who was? Scores
and hundreds, nay, thousands of Christians have I conversed with, of
different opinions, young and old, but it has never been my lot to meet
with one who could affirm that he came to Christ of himself, without
being drawn. The universal confession of all true believers is this--"I
know that unless Jesus Christ had sought me when a stranger
wandering from the fold of God, I would to this very hour have been
wandering far from him, at a distance from him, and loving that
distance well." With common consent, all believers affirm the truth,
that men will not come to Christ till the Father who hath sent Christ
doth draw them.
2. Again, not only is the will obstinate, but the understanding is
darkened. Of that we have abundant Scriptural proof. I am not now
making mere assertions, but stating doctrines authoritatively taught in
the Holy Scriptures, and known in the conscience of every Christian
man--that the understanding of man is so dark, that hecannot by any
means understand the things of God until his understanding has been
opened. Man is by nature blind within. The cross of Christ, so laden
with glories, and glittering with attractions, never attracts him, because
he is blind and cannot see its beauties. Talk to him of the wonders of
the creation, show to him the many-coloured arch that spans the sky, let
him behold the glories of a landscape, he is well able to see all these
things; but talk to him of the wonders of the covenant of grace, speak to
him of the security of the believer in Christ, tell him of the beauties of
the person of the Redeemer, he is quite deaf to all your description; you
are as one that playeth a goodly tune, it is true; but he regards not, he is
deaf, he has no comprehension. Or, to return to the verse which we so
specially marked in our reading, "The natural man receiveth not the
things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither
can he know them because they are spiritually discerned;" and
inasmuch as he is a natural man, it is not in his power to discern the
things of God. "Well," says one, "I think I have arrived at a very
tolerable judgment in matters of theology; I think I understand almost
every point." True, that you may do in the letter of it; but in the spirit of
it, in the true reception thereof into the soul, and in the actual
understanding of it, it is impossible for you to have attained, unless you
have been drawn by the Spirit. For as long as that Scripture stands true,
that carnal men cannot receive spiritual things, it must be true that you
have not received them, unless you have been renewed and made a
spiritual man in Christ Jesus. The will, then, and the understanding, are
two great doors, both blocked up against our coming to Christ, and
until these are opened by the sweet influences of the Divine Spirit, they
must be for ever closed to anything like coming to Christ.
3. Again, the affections, which constitute a very great part of man, are
depraved. Man, as he is, before he receives the grace of God, loves
anything and everything above spiritual things. If ye want proof of this,
look around you. There needs no monument to the depravity of the
human affections. Cast your eyes everywhere--there is not a street, nor
a house, nay, nor a heart, which doth not bear upon it sad evidence of
this dreadful truth. Why is it that men are not found on the Sabbath Day
universally flocking to the house of God? Why are we not more
constantly found reading our Bibles? How is it that prayer is a duty
almost universally neglected? Why is it that Christ Jesus is so little
beloved? Why are even his professed followers so cold in their
affections to him? Whence arise these things? Assuredly, dear brethren,
we can trace them to no other source than this, the corruption and
vitiation of the affections. We love that which we ought to hate, and we
hate that which we ought to love. It is but human nature, fallen human
nature, that man should love this present life better than the life to
come. It is but the effect of the fall, that man should love sin better than
righteousness, and the ways of this world better than the ways of God.
And again, we repeat it, until these affections be renewed, and turned
into a fresh channel by the gracious drawings of the Father, it is not
possible for any man to love the Lord Jesus Christ.
4. Yet once more--conscience, too, has been overpowered by the fall. I
believe there is no more egregious mistake made by divines, than when
they tell people that conscience is the vicegerent of God within the soul,
and that it is one of those powers which retains its ancient dignity, and
stands erect amidst the fall of its compeers. My brethren, when man fell
in the garden, manhood fell entirely; there was not one single pillar in
the temple of manhood that stood erect. It is true, conscience was not
destroyed. The pillar was not shattered; it fell, and it fell in one piece,
and there it lies along, the mightiest remnant of God's once perfect
work in man. But that conscience is fallen, I am sure. Look at men.
Who among them is the possessor of a "good conscience toward God,"
but the regenerated man? Do you imagine that if men's consciences
always spoke loudly and clearly to them, they would live in the daily
commission of acts, which are as opposed to the right as darkness to
light? No, beloved; conscience can tell me that I am a sinner, but
conscience cannot make me feel that I am one. Conscience may tell me
that such-and-such a thing is wrong, but how wrong it is conscience
itself does not know. Did any man s conscience, unenlightened by the
Spirit, ever tell him that his sins deserved damnation? Or if conscience
did do that, did it ever lead any man to feel an abhorrence of sin as sin?
In fact, did conscience ever bring a man to such a self-renunciation, that
he did totally abhor himself and all his works and come to Christ? No,
conscience, although it is not dead, is ruined, its power is impaired, it
hath not that clearness of eye and that strength of hand, and that thunder
of voice, which it had before the fall; but hath ceased to a great degree,
to exert its supremacy in the town of Mansoul. Then, beloved, it
becomes necessary for this very reason, because conscience is
depraved, that the Holy Spirit should step in, to show us our need of a
Saviour, and draw us to the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Still," says one, "as far as you have hitherto gone, it appears to me that
you consider that the reason why men do not come to Christ is that they
will not, rather than they cannot." True, most true. I believe the greatest
reason of man's inability is the obstinacy of his will. That once
overcome, I think the great stone is rolled away from the sepulchre, and
the hardest part of the battle is already won. But allow me to go a little
further. My text does not say,"No man will come," but it says, "No man
can come." Now, many interpreters believe that the can here, is but a
strong expression conveying no more meaning than the word will. I feel
assured that this is not correct. There is in man, not only unwillingness
to be saved, but there is a spiritual powerlessness to come to Christ; and
this I will prove to every Christian at any rate. Beloved, I speak to you
who have already been quickened by the divine grace, does not your
experience teach you that there are times when you have a will to serve
God, and yet have not the power? Have you not sometimes been
obliged to say that you have wished to believe. but you have had to
pray, Lord, help mine unbelief?" Because, although willing enough to
receive God's testimony, your own carnal nature was too strong for
you, and you felt you needed supernatural help. Are you able to go into
your room at any hour you choose, and to fall upon your knees and
say,"Now, it is my will that I should be very earnest in prayer, and that I
should draw near unto God ?" I ask, do you find your power equal to
your will? You could say, even at the bar of God himself, that you are
sure you are not mistaken in your willingness; you are willing to be
wrapt up in devotion, it is your will that your soul should not wander
from a pure contemplation of the Lord Jesus Christ, but you find that
you cannot do that, even when you are willing, without the help of the
Spirit. Now, if the quickened child of God finds a spiritual inability,
how much more the sinner who is dead in trespasses and sin? If even
the advanced Christian, after thirty or forty years, finds himself
sometimes willing and yet powerless--if such be his experience,--does it
not seem more than likely that the poor sinner who has not yet believed,
should find a need of strength as well as a want of will?
But, again, there is another argument. If the sinner has strength to come
to Christ, I should like to know how we are to understand those
continual descriptions of the sinner's state which we meet with in God's
holy Word? Now, a sinner is said to be dead in trespasses and sins. Will
you affirm that death implies nothing more than the absence of a will?
Surely a corpse is quite as unable as unwilling. Or again, do not all men
see that there is a distinction between will and power: might not that
corpse be sufficiently quickened to get a will, and yet be so powerless
that it could not lift as much as its hand or foot? Have we never seen
cases in which persons have been just sufficiently re-animated to give
evidence of life, and have yet been so near death that they could not
have performed the slightest action? Is there not a clear difference
between the giving or the will and the giving of power? It is quite
certain, however, that where the will is given, the power will follow.
Make a man willing, and he shall be made powerful; for when God gives the
will, he does not tantalize man by giving him to wish for that which he is
unable to do; nevertheless he makes such a division between the will and the
power, that it shall be seen that both things are quite distinct gifts of
the Lord God.
Then I must ask one more question: if all that were needed to make a
man willing, do you not at once degrade the Holy Spirit? Are we not in
the habit of giving all the glory of salvation wrought in us to God the
Spirit? But now, if all that God the Spirit does for me is to make me
willing to do these things for myself, am I not in a great measure a
sharer with the Holy Spirit in the glory? and may I not boldly stand up
and say, "It is true the Spirit gave me the will to do it, but still I did
it myself, and therein will I glory; for if I did these things myself
without assistance from on high, I will not cast my crown at his feet; it is
my own crown, I earned it, and I will keep it." Inasmuch as the Holy Spirit
is evermore in Scripture set forth as the person who worketh in us to
will and to do of his own good pleasure, we hold it to be a legitimate
inference that he must do something more for us than the mere making
of us willing, and that therefore there must be another thing besides
want of will in a sinner--there must be absolute and actual want of
Now, before I leave this statement, let me address myself to you for a
moment. I am often charged with preaching doctrines that may do a
great deal of hurt. Well, I shall not deny the charge, for I am not careful
to answer in this matter. I have my witnesses here present to prove that
the things which I have preached have done a great deal of hurt, but
they have not done hurt either to morality or to God's Church; the hurt
has been on the side of Satan. There are not ones or twos but many
hundreds who this morning rejoice that they have been brought near to
God; from having been profane Sabbath-breakers, drunkards, or
worldly persons, they have been brought to know and love the Lord
Jesus Christ; and if this be any hurt may God of his infinite mercy send
us a thousand times as much. But further, what truth is there in the
world which will not hurt a man who chooses to make hurt of it? You
who preach general redemption, are very fond of proclaiming the great
truth of God's mercy to the last moment. But how dare you preach that?
Many people make hurt of it by putting off the day of grace, and
thinking that the last hour may do as well as the first. Why, if we never
preached anything which man could misuse, and abuse, we must hold
our tongues for ever. Still says one, "Well then, if I cannot save myself,
and cannot come to Christ, I must sit still and do nothing." If men do
say so, on their own heads shall be their doom. We have very plainly
told you that there are many things you can do. To be found continually
in the house of God is in your power; to study the Word of God with
diligence is in your power; to renounce your outward sin, to forsake the
vices in which you indulge, to make your life honest, sober, and
righteous, is in your power. For this you need no help from the Holy
Spirit; all this you can do yourself; but to come to Christ truly is not in
your power, until you are renewed by the Holy Ghost. But mark you,
your want of power is no excuse, seeing that you have no desire to
come, and are living in wilful rebellion against God. Your want of
power lies mainly in the obstinacy of nature. Suppose a liar says that it
is not in his power to speak the truth, that he has been a liar so long,
that he cannot leave it off; is that an excuse for him? Suppose a man
who has long indulged in lust should tell you that he finds his lusts
have so girt about him like a great iron net that he cannot get rid of
them, would you take that as an excuse? Truly it is none at all. If a
drunkard has become so foully a drunkard, that he finds it impossible to
pass a public--house without stepping in, do you therefore excuse him?
No, because his inability to reform, lies in his nature, which he has no
desire to restrain or conquer. The thing that is done, and the thing that
causes the thing that is done, being both from the root of sin, are two
evils which cannot excuse each other, What though the Ethiopian
cannot change his skin, nor the leopard his spots? It is because you
have learned to do evil that you cannot now learn to do well; and
instead, therefore, of letting you sit down to excuse yourselves, let me
put a thunderbolt beneath the seat of your sloth, that you may be
startled by it and aroused. Remember, that to sit still is to be damned to
all eternity. Oh! that God the Holy Spirit might make use of this truth in
a very different manner! Before I have done I trust I shall be enabled to
show you how it is that this truth, which apparently condemns men and
shuts them out, is, after all, the great truth, which has been blessed to
the conversion of men.
II. Our second point is THE FATHER'S DRAWINGS. "No man can
come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." How
then does the Father draw men? Arminian divines generally say that
God draws men by the preaching of the gospel. Very true; the
preaching of the gospel is the instrument of drawing men, but there
must be some thing more than this. Let me ask to whom did Christ
address these words? Why, to the people of Capernaum, where he had
often preached, where he had uttered mournfully and plaintively the
woes of the law and the invitations of the gospel. In that city he had
done many mighty works and worked many miracles. In fact, such
teaching and such miraculous attestation had he given to them, that he
declared that Tyre and Sidon would have repented long ago in sack-
cloth and ashes, if they had been blessed with such privileges. Now, if
the preaching of Christ himself did not avail to the enabling these men
to come to Christ, it cannot be possible that all that was intended by the
drawing of the Father was simply preaching. No, brethren, you must
note again, he does not say no man can come except the minister draw
him, but except the Father draw him. Now there is such a thing as being
drawn by the gospel, and drawn by the minister, without being drawn
Clearly, it is a divine drawing that is meant, a drawing by the
Most High God--the First Person of the most glorious Trinity sending
out the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, to induce men to come to Christ.
Another person turns round and says with a sneer, "Then do you think
that Christ drags men to himself, seeing that they are unwilling!" I
remember meeting once with a man who said to me, Sir, you preach
that Christ takes people by the hair of their heads and drags them to
himself" I asked him whether he could refer to the date of the sermon
wherein I preached that extraordinary doctrine, for if he could, I should
be very much obliged. However, he could not. But said I, while Christ
does not drag people to himself by the hair of their heads, I believe that,
he draws them by the heart quite as powerfully as your caricature would
suggest. Mark that in the Father's drawing there is no compulsion
whatever; Christ never compelled any man to come to him against his
will. If a man be unwilling to be saved, Christ does not save him
against his will. How, then, does the Holy Spirit draw him?
Why, by making him willing. It is true he does not use "moral suasion;" he
knows a nearer method of reaching the heart. He goes to the secret
fountain of the heart, and he knows how, by some mysterious
operation, to turn the will in an opposite direction, so that, as Ralph
Erskine paradoxically puts it, the man is saved "with full consent
against his will;" that is, against his old will he is saved. But he is
saved with full consent, for he is made willing in the day of God's power.
Do not imagine that any man will go to heaven kicking and struggling all
the way against the hand that draws him. Do not conceive that any man
will be plunged in the bath of a Saviour's blood while he is striving to
run away from the Saviour. Oh, no. It is quite true that first of all man is
unwilling to be saved. When the Holy Spirit hath put his influence into
the heart, the text is fulfilled--"draw me and I will run after thee." We
follow on while he draws us, glad to obey the voice which once we had
despised. But the gist of the matter lies in the turning of the will. How
that is done no flesh knoweth; it is one of those mysteries that is clearly
perceived as a fact, but the cause of which no tongue can tell, and no
heart can guess. The apparent way, however, in which the Holy Spirit
operates, we can tell you. The first thing the Holy Spirit does when he
comes into a man's heart is this: he finds him with a very good opinion
of himself: and there is nothing which prevents a man coming to Christ
like a good opinion of himself. Why, says man, "I don't want to come
to Christ. I have as good a righteousness as anybody can desire. I feel I
can walk into heaven on my own rights." The Holy Spirit lays bare his
heart, lets him see the loathsome cancer that is there eating away his
life, uncovers to him all the blackness and defilement of that sink of
hell, the human heart, and then the man stands aghast. "I never thought
I was like this. Oh! those sins I thought were little, have swelled out to
an immense stature. What I thought was a mole-hill has grown into a
mountain; it was but the hyssop on the wall before, but now it has
become a cedar of Lebanon. Oh," saith the man within himself, "I will
try and reform; I will do good deeds enough to wash these black deeds
out." Then comes the Holy Spirit and shows him that he cannot do this,
takes away all his fancied power and strength, so that the man falls
down on his knees in agony, and cries, "Oh! once I thought I could save
myself by my good works, but now I find that
"Could my tears for ever flow,
Could my zeal no respite know,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save and thou alone.'"
Then the heart sinks, and the man is ready to despair. And saith he, "I
never can be saved. Nothing can save me." Then, comes the Holy Spirit
and shows the sinner the cross of Christ, gives him eyes anointed with
heavenly eye-salve, and says, "Look to yonder cross. that Man died to
save sinners; you feel that you are a sinner; he died to save you." And
he enables the heart to believe, and to come to Christ. And when it
comes to Christ, by this sweet drawing of the Spirit, it finds "a peace
with God which passeth all understanding, which keeps his heart and
mind through Jesus Christ our Lord." Now, you will plainly perceive
that all this may be done without any compulsion. Man is as much
drawn willingly, as if he were not drawn at all; and he comes to Christ
with full consent, with as full a consent as if no secret influence had
ever been exercised in his heart. But that influence must be exercised,
or else there never has been and there never will be, any man who either
can or will come to the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. And, now, we gather up our ends, and conclude by trying to make a
practical application of the doctrine; and we trust a comfortable one.
"Well," says one, "if what this man preaches be true, what is to become
of my religion? for do you know I have been a long while trying, and I
do not like to hear you say a man cannot save himself. I believe he can,
and I mean to persevere; but if I am to believe what you say, I must
give it all up and begin again." My dear friends, it will be a very happy
thing if you do. Do not think that I shall be at all alarmed if you do so.
Remember, what you are doing is building your house upon the sand,
and it is but an act of charity if I can shake it a little for you. Let me
assure you, in God's name, if your religion has no better foundation
than your own strength, it will not stand you at the bar of God. Nothing
will last to eternity, but that which came from eternity. Unless the
everlasting God has done a good work in your heart, all you may have
done must be unravelled at the last day of account. It is all in vain for
you to be a church-goer or chapel-goer, a good keeper of the Sabbath,
an observer of your prayers: it is all in vain for you to be honest to your
neighbours and reputable in your conversation; if you hope to be saved
by these things, it is all in vain for you to trust in them. Go on; be as
honest as you like, keep the Sabbath perpetually, be as holy as you can.
I would not dissuade you from these things. God forbid; grow in them,
but oh, do not trust in them, for if you rely upon these things you will
find they will fail you when most you need them. And if there be
anything else that you have found yourself able to do unassisted by
divine grace, the sooner you can get rid of the hope that has been
engendered by it the better for you, for it is a foul delusion to rely upon
anything that flesh can do. A spiritual heaven must be inhabited by
spiritual men, and preparation for it must be wrought by the Spirit of
God. "Well," cries another, "I have been sitting under a ministry where
I have been told that I could, at my own option, repent and believe, and
the consequence is that I have been putting it off from day to day. I
thought I could come one day as well as another; that I had only to say,
"Lord, have mercy upon me,' and believe, and then I should be saved.
Now you have taken all this hope away for me, sir; I feel amazement
and horror taking hold upon me." Again, I say, "My dear friend, I am
very glad of it. This was the effect which I hoped to produce. I pray that
you may feel this a great deal more. When you have no hope of saving
yourself, I shall have hope that God has begun to save you. As soon as
you say "Oh, I cannot come to Christ. Lord, draw me, help me,' I shall
rejoice over you. He who has got a will, though he has not power, has
grace begun in his heart, and God will not leave him until the work is
finished." But, careless sinner, learn that thy salvation now hangs in
God's hand. Oh, remember thou art entirely in the hand of God. Thou
hast sinned against him, and if he wills to damn thee, damned thou art.
Thou canst not resist his will nor thwart his purpose. Thou hast
deserved his wrath, and if he chooses to pour the full shower of that
wrath upon thy head, thou canst do nothing to avert it. If, on the other
hand, he chooses to save thee, he is able to save thee to the very
uttermost. But thou liest as much in his hand as the summer's moth
beneath thine own finger. He is the God whom thou art grieving every
day. Doth it not make thee tremble to think that thy eternal destiny now
hangs upon the will of him whom thou hast angered and incensed?
Dost not this make thy knees knock together, and thy blood curdle? If it
does so I rejoice, inasmuch as this may be the first effect of the Spirit's
drawing in thy soul. Oh, tremble to think that the God whom thou hast
angered, is the God upon whom thy salvation or thy condemnation
entirely depends. Tremble and "kiss the Son lest he be angry and ye
perish from the way while his wrath is kindled but a little,"
Now, the comfortable reflection is this:--Some of you this morning are
conscious that you are coming to Christ. Have you not begun to weep
the penitential tear? Did not your closet witness your prayerful
preparation for the hearing of the Word of God? And during the service
of this morning, has not your heart said within you, "Lord, save me, or I
perish, for save myself I cannot?" And could you not now stand up in
your seat, and sing,
"Oh, sovereign grace my heart subdue;
I would be led in triumph, too,
A willing captive of my Lord,
To sing the triumph of his Word"?
And have I not myself heard you say in your heart--"Jesus, Jesus, my
whole trust Is in thee: I know that no righteousness of my own can save
me, but only thou, O Christ--sink or swim, I cast myself on thee?" Oh,
my brother, thou art drawn by the Father, for thou couldst not have
come unless he had drawn thee. Sweet thought! And if he has drawn
thee, dost thou know what is the delightful inference? Let me repeat
one text, and may that comfort thee: "The Lord hath appeared of old
unto me, saying, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore
with lovingkindness have I drawn thee." Yes, my poor weeping brother,
inasmuch as thou art now coming to Christ, God has drawn thee; and
inasmuch as he has drawn thee, it is a proof that he has loved thee from
before the foundation of the world. Let thy heart leap within thee, thou
art one of his. Thy name was written on the Saviour's hands when they
were nailed to the accursed tree. Thy name glitters on the breast-plate of
the great High Priest to-day; ay, and it was there before the day-star
knew its place, or planets ran their round. Rejoice in the Lord ye that
have come to Christ, and shout for joy all ye that have been drawn of
the Father. For this is your proof, your solemn testimony, that you from
among men have been chosen in eternal election, and that you shall be
kept by the power of God, through faith, unto the salvation which is
ready to be revealed.
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Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on John 6:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/john-6.html. 2011.
The opening verses (John 1:1-18) introduce the most glorious subject which God Himself ever gave in employing the pen of man; not only the most glorious in point of theme, but in the profoundest point of view; for what the Holy Ghost here brings before us is the Word, the everlasting, Word, when He was with God, traced down from before all time, when there was no creature. It is not exactly the Word with the Father; for such a phrase would not be according to the exactness of the truth; but the Word with God. The term God comprehends not only the Father, but the Holy Ghost also. He who was the Son of the Father then, as I need not say always, is regarded here as the revealer of God; for God, as such, does not reveal Himself. He makes His, nature known by the Word. The Word, nevertheless, is here spoken of before there was any one for God to reveal Himself to. He is, therefore, and in the strictest sense, eternal. "In the beginning was the Word," when there was no reckoning of time; for the beginning of what we call time comes before us in the third verse. "All things," it is said, "were made by Him." This is clearly the origination of all creaturehood, wherever and whatever it be. Heavenly beings there were before the earthly; but whether no matter of whom you speak, or of, what angels or men, whether heaven or earth, all things were made by Him.
Thus He, whom we know to be the Son of the Father, is here presented as the Word who subsisted personally in the beginning ( ἐν ἀρχῆ ) who was with God, and was Himself God of the same nature, yet a distinct personal being. To clench this matter specially against all reveries of Gnostics or others, it is added, that He was in the beginning with God.* Observe another thing: "The Word was with God" not the Father. As the Word and God, so the Son and the Father are correlative. We are here in the exactest phrase, and at the same time in the briefest terms, brought into the presence of the deepest conceivable truths which God,. alone knowing, alone could communicate to man. Indeed, it is He alone who gives the truth; for this is not the bare knowledge of such or such facts, whatever the accuracy of the information. Were all things conveyed with the most admirable correctness, it would not amount to divine revelation. Such a communication would still differ, not in degree only, but in kind. A revelation from God not only supposes true statements, but God's mind made known so as to act morally on man, forming his thoughts and affections according to His own character. God makes Himself known in what He communicates by, of, and in Christ.
* I cannot but regard John 1:2 as a striking and complete setting aside of the Alexandrian and Patristic distinction of λόγος ἐνδιάθετος and λόγος προφορικός . Some of the earlier Greek fathers, who were infected with Platonism, held that the λόγος was conceived in God's mind from eternity, and only uttered, as it were, in time. This has given a handle to Arians, who, like other unbelievers, greedily seek the traditions of men. The apostle here asserts, in the Holy Ghost, the eternal personality of the Word with God.
In the case before us, nothing can be more obvious than that the Holy Ghost, for the glory of God, is undertaking to make known that which touches the Godhead in the closest way, and is meant for infinite blessing to all in the person of the Lord Jesus. These verses accordingly begin with Christ our Lord; not from, but in the beginning, when nothing was yet created. It is the eternity of His being, in no point of which could it be said He was not, but, contrariwise, that He was. Yet was He not alone. God was there not the Father only, but the Holy Ghost, beside the Word Himself, who was God, and had divine nature as they.
Again, it is not said that in the beginning He was, in the sense of then coming into being ( ἐγένετο ), but He existed ( ἦν ). Thus before all time the Word was. When the great truth of the incarnation is noted in verse 14, it is said not that the Word came into existence, but that He was made ( ἐγένετο ) flesh began so to be. This, therefore, so much the more contrasts with verses 1 and 2.
In the beginning, then, before there was any creature, was the Word, and the Word was with God. There was distinct personality in the Godhead, therefore, and the Word was a distinct person Himself (not, as men dreamt, an emanation in time, though eternal and divine in nature, proceeding from God as its source). The Word had a proper personality, and at the same time was God "the Word was God." Yea, as the next verse binds and sums up all together, He, the Word, was in the beginning with God. The personality was as eternal as the existence, not in (after some mystic sort) but with God. I can conceive no statement more admirably complete and luminous in the fewest and simplest words.
Next comes the attributing of creation to the Word. This must be the work of God, if anything was; and here again the words are precision itself "All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made." Other words far less nervous are used elsewhere: unbelief might cavil and construe them into forming or fashioning. Here the Holy Ghost employs the most explicit language, that all things began to be, or received being, through the Word, to the exclusion of one single thing that ever did receive being apart from Him language which leaves the fullest room for Uncreate Beings, as we have already seen, subsisting eternally and distinctly, yet equally God. Thus the statement is positive that the Word is the source of all things which have received being ( γενόμενα ); that there is no creature which did not thus derive its being from Him. There cannot, therefore, be a more rigid, absolute shutting out of any creature from origination, save by the Word.
It is true that in other parts of Scripture we hear God, as such, spoken of as Creator. We hear of His making the worlds by the Son. But there is and can be no contradiction in Scripture. The truth is, that whatever was made was made according to the Father's sovereign will; but the Son, the Word of God, was the person who put forth the power, and never without the energy of the Holy Ghost, I may add, as the Bible carefully teaches us. Now this is of immense importance for that which the Holy Ghost has in view in the gospel of John, because the object is to attest the nature and light of God in the person of the Christ; and therefore we have here not merely what the Lord Jesus was as born of a woman, born under the law, which has its appropriate place in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, but what He was and is as God. On the other hand, the gospel of Mark omits every thing of the kind. A genealogy such as Matthew's and Luke's, we have seen, would be totally out of place there; and the reason is manifest. The subject of Mark is the testimony of Jesus as having taken, though a Son, the place of a servant in the earth. Now, in a servant, no matter from what noble lineage he comes, there is no genealogy requisite. What is wanted in a servant is, that the work should be done well, no matter about the genealogy. Thus, even if it were the Son of God Himself, so perfectly did He condescend to the condition of a servant, and so mindful was the Spirit of it, that, accordingly, the genealogy which was demanded in Matthew, which is of such signal beauty and value in Luke, is necessarily excluded from the gospel of Mark. For higher reasons it could have no place in John. In Mark it is because of the lowly place of subjection which the Lord was pleased to take; it is excluded from John, on the contrary, because there He is presented as being above all genealogy . He is the source of other people's genealogy yea, of the genesis of all things. We may say therefore boldly, that in the gospel of John such a descent could not be inserted in consistency with its character. If it admit any genealogy, it must be what is set forth in the preface of John the very verses which are occupying us which exhibit the divine nature and eternal personality of His being. He was the Word, and He was God; and, if we may anticipate, let us add, the Son, the only begotten Son of the Father. This, if any thing, is His genealogy here. The ground is evident; because everywhere in John He is God. No doubt the Word became flesh, as we may see more of presently, even in this inspired introduction; and we have the reality of His becoming man insisted on. Still, manhood was a place that He entered. Godhead was the glory that He possessed from everlasting His own eternal nature of being. It was not conferred upon Him. There is not, nor can be, any such thing as a derived subordinate Godhead; though men may be said to be gods, as commissioned of God, and representing Him in government. He was God before creation began, before all time. He was God independently of any circumstances. Thus, as we have seen, for the Word the apostle John claims eternal existence, distinct personality, and divine nature; and withal asserts the eternal distinctness of that person. (Verses John 1:1-2)
Such is the Word Godward ( πρὸς τὸν Θεόν ). We are next told of Him in relation to the creature. (Verses John 1:3-5) In the earlier verses it was exclusively His being. In verse 3 He acts, He creates, He causes all things to come into existence; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence which is existent ( γέγονεν ). Nothing more comprehensive, nothing more exclusive.
The next verse (John 1:4) predicts of Him that which is yet more momentous: not creative power, as in verse 3, but life. "In him was life." Blessed truth for those who know the spread of death over this lower scene of creation! and the rather as the Spirit adds, that "the life was the light of men." Angels were not its sphere, nor was it restricted to a chosen nation: "the life was the light of men." Life was not in man, even unfallen; at best, the first man, Adam, became a living soul when instinct with the breath of God. Nor is it ever said, even of a saint, that in him is or was life, though life he has; but he has it only in the Son. In Him, the Word, was life, and the life was the light of men. Such was its relationship.
No doubt, whatever was revealed of old was of Him; whatever word came out from God was from Him, the Word, and light of men. But then God was not revealed; for He was not manifested. On the contrary, He dwelt in the thick darkness, behind the veil in the most holy place, or visiting men but angelically otherwise. But here, we are told, "the light shines in the darkness." (Ver. John 1:5) Mark the abstractedness of the language it "shines" (not shone). How solemn, that darkness is all the light finds! and what darkness! how impenetrable and hopeless! All other darkness yields and fades away before light; but here "the darkness comprehended it not" (as the fact is stated, and not the abstract principle only). It was suited to man, even as it was the light expressly of men, so that man is without excuse.
But was there adequate care that the light should be presented to men? What was the way taken to secure this? Unable God could not be: was He indifferent? God gave testimony; first, John the Baptist; then the Light itself. "There was ( ἐγένετο ) a man sent from God, whose name was John." (v. John 1:6) He passes by all the prophets, the various preliminary dealings of the Lord, the shadows of the law: not even the promises are noticed here. We shall find some of these introduced or alluded to for a far different purpose later on. John, then, came to bear witness about the Light, that all through him might believe. (Verse John 1:7) But the Holy Ghost is most careful to guard against all mistake. Could any run too close a parallel between the light of men in the Word, and him who is called the burning and shining lamp in a subsequent chapter? Let them learn their error. He, John, "was not that light;" there is but one such: none was similar or second. God cannot be compared with man. John came "that he might bear witness about the light," not to take its place or set himself up. The true Light was that which, coming into the world, lighteth every man.* Not only does He necessarily, as being God, deal with every man (for His glory could not be restricted to a part of mankind), but the weighty truth here announced is the connection with His incarnation of this universal light, or revelation of God in Him, to man as such. The law, as we know from elsewhere, had dealt with the Jewish people temporarily, and for partial purposes. This was but a limited sphere. Now that the Word comes into the world, in one way or another light shines for every one: it may be, leaving some under condemnation, as we know it does for the great mass who believe not; it may be light not only on but in man, where there is faith through the action of divine grace. It is certain that, whatever light in relation to God there may be, and wherever it is given in Him, there is not, there never was, spiritual light apart from Christ all else is darkness. It could not be otherwise. This light in its own character must go out to all from God. So it is said elsewhere, "The grace of God that bringeth salvation to all men hath appeared." It is not that all men receive the blessing; but, in its proper scope and nature, it addresses itself to all. God sends it for all. Law may govern one nation; grace refuses to be limited in its appeal, however it may be in fact through man's unbelief.
*I cannot but think that this is the true version, and exhibits the intended aim of the clause. Most of the early writers took it as the authorized version, save Theodore of Mopsuestia, who understood it as here given: Εἰπὼν τὸ · ἐρχόμενον εἰς τὸν κοσμον , περὶ τοῦ δεσπότου Χριστοῦ καλως ἐπήγαγεν τὸ · ἐν τῳ κοσμῳ ἦν , ὥστε δεῖξαι , ὅτι τὸ ἐρχόμενον πρὸς την διὰ σαρκὸς εἶπεν φανέρωσιν . (Ed. Fritzsche, p. 21)
"He was in the world, and the world was made by him." (Verse John 1:9) The world therefore surely ought to have known its Maker. Nay, "the world knew him not." From the very first, man, being a sinner, was wholly lost. Here the unlimited scene is in view; not Israel, but the world. Nevertheless, Christ did come to His own things, His proper, peculiar possession; for there were special relationships. They should have understood more about Him those that were specially favoured. It was not so.
"He came unto his own [things], and his own [people] received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power [rather, authority, right, or title] to become children of God." (Ver. John 1:11-12; John 1:11-12) It was not a question now of Jehovah and His servants. Neither does the Spirit say exactly as the English Bible says "sons," but children. His glorious person would have none now in relation to God but members of the family. Such was the grace that God was displaying in Him, the true and full expresser of His mind. He gave them title to take the place of children of God, even to those that believe on His name. Sons they might have been in bare title; but these had the right of children.
All disciplinary action, every probationary process, disappears. The ignorance of the world has been proved, the rejection of Israel is complete: then only is it that we hear of this new place of children. It is now eternal reality, and the name of Jesus Christ is that which puts all things to a final test. There is difference of manner for the world and His own ignorance and rejection. Do any believe on His name? Be they who they may now, as many as receive Him become children of God. It is no question here of every man, but of such as believe. Do they receive Him not? For them, Israel, or the world, all is over. Flesh and world are judged morally. God the Father forms a new family in, by, and for Christ. All others prove not only that they are bad, but that they hate perfect goodness, and more than that, life and light the true light in the Word. How can such have relationship with God?
Thus, manifestly, the whole question is terminated at the very starting-point of our gospel; and this is characteristic of John all through: manifestly all is decided. It is not merely a Messiah, who comes and offers Himself, as we find in other gospels, with most painstaking diligence, and presented to their responsibility; but here from the outset the question is viewed as closed. The Light, on coming into the world, lightens every man with the fulness of evidence which was in Him, and at once discovers the true state as truly as it will be revealed in the last day when He judges all, as we find it intimated in the gospel afterwards. (John 12:48)
Before the manner of His manifestation comes before us in verse 14, we have the secret explained why some, and not all, received Christ. It was not that they were better than their neighbours. Natural birth had nothing to do with this new thing; it was a new nature altogether in those who received Him: "Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." It was an extraordinary birth; of God, not man in any sort, or measure, but a new and divine nature (2 Peter 1:1-21) imparted to the believer wholly of grace. All this, however, was abstract, whether as to the nature of the Word or as to the place of the Christian.
But it is important we should know how He entered the world. We have seen already that thus light was shed on men. How was this? The Word, in order to accomplish these infinite things, "was made. ( ἐγένετο ) flesh, and dwelt among us." It is here we learn in what condition of His person God was to be revealed and the work done; not what He was in nature, but what He became. The great fact of the incarnation is brought before us "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father"). His aspect as thus tabernacling among the disciples was "full of grace and truth." Observe, that blessed as the light is, being God's moral nature, truth is more than this, and is introduced by grace. It is the revelation of God yea, of the Father and the Son, and not merely the detecter of man. The Son had not come to execute the judgments of the law they knew, nor even to promulgate a new and higher law. His was an errand incomparably deeper, more worthy of God, and suitable to One "full of grace and truth." He wanted nothing; He came to give yea, the very best, so to speak, that God has.
What is there in God more truly divine than grace and truth? The incarnate Word was here full of grace and truth. Glory would be displayed in its day. Meanwhile there was a manifestation of goodness, active in love in the midst of evil, and toward such; active in the making known God and man, and every moral relation, and what He is toward man, through and in the Word made flesh. This is grace and truth. And such was Jesus. "John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This is he of whom I spake: He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for he was before me." Coming after John as to date, He is necessarily preferred before him in dignity; for He was ( ἦν ) [not come into being ( ἐγένετο )] before Him. He was God. This statement (verse John 1:15) is a parenthesis, though confirmatory of verse John 1:14, and connects John's testimony with this new section of Christ's manifestation in flesh; as we saw John introduced in the earlier verses, which treated abstractly of Christ's nature as the Word.
Then, resuming the strain of verse John 1:14, we are told, in verseJohn 1:16; John 1:16, that "of his fulness have all we received." So rich and transparently divine was the grace: not some souls, more meritorious than the rest, rewarded according to a graduated scale of honour, but "of his fulness have all we received." What can be conceived more notably standing out in contrast with the governmental system God had set up, and man had known in times past? Here there could not be more, and He would not give less: even "grace upon grace." Spite of the most express signs, and the manifest finger of God that wrote the ten words on tables of stone, the law sinks into comparative insignificance. "The law was given by Moses." God does not here condescend to call it His, though, of course, it was His and holy, just, and good, both in itself and in its use, if used lawfully. But if the Spirit speaks of the Son of God, the law dwindles at once into the smallest possible proportions: everything yields to the honour the Father puts oil the Son. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came ( ἐγένετο ) by Jesus Christ." (ver. John 1:17; John 1:17) The law, thus given, was in itself no giver, but an exacter; Jesus, full of grace and truth, gave, instead of requiring or receiving; and He Himself has said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. Truth and grace were not sought nor found in man, but began to subsist here below by Jesus Christ.
We have now the Word made flesh, called Jesus Christ this person, this complex person, that was manifest in the world; and it is He that brought it all in. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Lastly, closing this part, we have another most remarkable contrast. "No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son," etc. Now, it is no longer a question of nature, but of relationship; and hence it is not said simply the Word, but the Son, and the Son in the highest possible character, the only-begotten Son, distinguishing Him thus from any other who might, in a subordinate sense, be son of God "the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father." Observe: not which was, but "which is." He is viewed as retaining the same perfect intimacy with the Father, entirely unimpaired by local or any other circumstances He had entered. Nothing in the slightest degree detracted from His own personal glory, and from the infinitely near relationship which He had had with the Father from all eternity. He entered this world, became flesh, as born of woman; but there was no diminution of His own glory, when He, born of the virgin, walked on earth, or when rejected of man, cut off as Messiah, He was forsaken of God for sin our sin on the cross. Under all changes, outwardly, He abode as from eternity the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. Mark what, as such, He does declare Him. No man hath seen God at any time. He could be declared only by One who was a divine person in the intimacy of the Godhead, yea, was the only-begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. Hence the Son, being in this ineffable nearness of love, has declared not God only, but the Father. Thus we all not only receive of His fulness, (and what fulness illimitable was there not in Him!) but He, who is the Word made flesh, is the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, and so competent to declare, as in fact He has. It is not only the nature, but the model and fulness of the blessing in the Son, who declared the Father.
The distinctiveness of such a testimony to the Saviour's glory need hardly be pointed out. One needs no more than to read, as believers, these wonderful expressions of the Holy Ghost, where we cannot but feel that we are on ground wholly different from that of the other gospels. Of course they are just as truly inspired as John's; but for that very reason they were not inspired to give the same testimony. Each had his own; all are harmonious, all perfect, all divine; but not all so many repetitions of the same thing. He who inspired them to communicate His thoughts of Jesus in the particular line assigned to each, raised up John to impart the highest revelation, and thus complete the circle by the deepest views of the Son of God.
After this we have, suitably to this gospel, John's connection with the Lord Jesus. (ver. John 1:19-37; John 1:19-37) It is here presented historically. We have had his name introduced into each part of the preface of our evangelist. Here there is no John proclaiming Jesus as the One who was about to introduce the kingdom of heaven. Of this we learn nothing, here. Nothing is said about the fan in His hand; nothing of His burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. This is all perfectly true, of course; and we have it elsewhere. His earthly rights are just where they should be; but not here, where the only-begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father has His appropriate place. It is not John's business here to call attention to His Messiahship, not even when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask, Who art thou? Nor was it from any indistinctness in the record, or in him who gave it. For "he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? (ver. John 1:20-25) John does not even speak of Him as one who, on His rejection as Messiah, would step into a larger glory. To the Pharisees, indeed, his words as to the Lord are curt: nor does he tell them of the divine ground of His glory, as he had before and does after.* He says, One was among them of whom they had no conscious knowledge, "that cometh after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to loose." (Ver. John 1:26-27; John 1:26-27) For himself he was not the Christ, but for Jesus he says no more. How striking the omission! for he knew He was the Christ. But here it was not God's purpose to record it.
* The best text omits other expressions, evidently derived from verses John 1:15; John 1:30John 1:30.
Verse John 1:29 opens John's testimony to his disciples. (Ver. John 1:29-34) How rich it is, and how marvellously in keeping with our gospel! Jesus is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, but withal, as he had said, the eternal One, yet in view of His manifestation to Israel (and, therefore, John was come baptizing with water a reason here given, but not to the Pharisees in verses 25-27). Further, John attests that he saw the Spirit descending like a dove, and abiding on Him the appointed token that He it is who baptizes with the Holy Ghost even the Son of God. None else could do either work: for here we see His great work on earth, and His heavenly power. In these two points of view, more particularly, John gives testimony to Christ; He is the lamb as the taker away of the world's sin; the same is He who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. Both of them were in relation to man on the earth; the one while He was here, the other from above. His death on the cross included much more, clearly answering to the first; His baptizing with the Holy Ghost followed His going to heaven. Nevertheless, the heavenly part is little dwelt on, as John's gospel displays our Lord more as the expression of God revealed on earth, than as Man ascended to heaven, which fell far more to the province of the apostle of the Gentiles. In John He is One who could be described as Son of man who is in heaven; but He belonged to heaven, because He was divine. His exaltation there is not without notice in the gospel, but exceptionally.
Remark, too, the extent of the work involved in verse 29. As the Lamb of God (of the Father it is not said), He has to do with the world. Nor will the full force of this expression be witnessed till the glorious result of His blood shedding sweep away the last trace of sin in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. It finds, of course, a present application, and links itself with that activity of grace in which God is now sending out the gospel to any sinner and every sinner. Still the eternal day alone will show out the full virtue of that which belongs to Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the world's sin. Observe, it is not (as is often very erroneously said or sung) a question of sins, but of the "sin" of the world. The sacrificial death of Him who is God goes far beyond the thought of Israel. How, indeed, could it be stayed within narrow limits? It passes over all question of dispensations, until it accomplishes, in all its extent, that purpose for which He thus died. No doubt there are intervening applications; but such is the ultimate result of His work as the Lamb of God. Even now faith knows, that instead of sin being the great object before God, ever since the cross He has had before His eyes that sacrifice which put away sin. Notably He is now applying it to the reconciliation of a people, who are also baptized by the Holy Ghost into one body. By and by He will apply it to "that nation," the Jews, as to others also, and finally (always excepting the unbelieving and evil) to the entire system, the world. I do not mean by this all individuals, but creation; for nothing can be more certain, than that those who do not receive the Son of God are so much the worse for having heard the gospel. The rejection of Christ is the contempt of God Himself, in that of which He is most jealous, the honour of the Saviour, His Son. The refusal of His precious blood will, on the contrary, make their case incomparably worse than that of the heathen who never heard the good news.
What a witness all this to His person! None but a divine being could thus deal with the world. No doubt He must become a man, in order, amongst other reasons, to be a sufferer, and to die. None the less did the result of His death proclaim His Deity. So in the baptism with the Holy Ghost, who would pretend to such a power? No mere man, nor angel, not the highest, the archangel, but the Son.
So we see in the attractive power, afterwards dealing with individual souls. For were it not God Himself in the person of Jesus, it had been no glory to God, but a wrong and a rival. For nothing can be more observable than the way in which He becomes the centre round whom those that belong to God are gathered. This is the marked effect on the third day (ver. John 1:29; John 1:29John 1:34; John 1:34) of John Baptist's testimony here named; the first day (ver. 29) on which, as it were, Jesus speaks and acts in His grace as here shown on the earth. It is evident, that were He not God, it would be an interference with His glory, a place taken inconsistent with His sole authority, no less than it must be also, and for that reason, altogether ruinous to man. But He, being God, was manifesting and, on the contrary, maintaining the divine glory here below. John, therefore, who had been the honoured witness before of God's call, "the voice," etc., does now by the outpouring of his heart's delight, as well as testimony, turn over, so to say, his disciples to Jesus. Beholding Him as He walked, he says, Behold the Lamb of God! and the two disciples leave John for Jesus. (ver. John 1:35-40) Our Lord acts as One fully conscious of His glory, as indeed He ever was.
Bear in mind that one of the points of instruction in this first part of our gospel is the action of the Son of God before His regular Galilean ministry. The first four chapters of John precede in point of time the notices of His ministry in the other gospels. John was not yet cast into prison. Matthew, Mark, and Luke start, as far as regards the public labours of the Lord, with John cast into prison. But all that is historically related of the Lord Jesus inJohn 1:1-51; John 1:1-51; John 2:1-25; John 3:1-36; John 4:1-54. was before the imprisonment of the Baptist. Here, then, we have a remarkable display of that which preceded His Galilean ministry, or public manifestation. Yet before a miracle, as well as in the working of those which set forth His glory, it is evident that so far from its being a gradual growth, as it were, in His mind, He had, all simple and lowly though He were, the deep, calm, constant consciousness that He was God. He acts as such. If He put forth His power, it was not only beyond man's measure, but unequivocally divine, however also the humblest and most dependent of men. Here we see Him accepting, not as fellow-servant, but as Lord, those souls who had been under the training of the predicted messenger of Jehovah that was to prepare His way before, His face. Also one of the two thus drawn to Him first finds his own brother Simon (with the words, We have found the Messiah), and led him to Jesus, who forthwith gave him his new name in terms which surveyed, with equal ease and certainty, past, present, and future. Here again, apart from this divine insight, the change or gift of the name marks His glory. (Verses John 1:41-44)
On the morrow Jesus begins, directly and indirectly, to call others to follow Himself. He tells Philip to follow Him. This leads Philip to Nathanael, in whose case, when he comes to Jesus, we see not divine power alone in sounding the souls of men, but over creation. Here was One on earth who knew all secrets. He saw him under the fig tree. He was God. Nathanael's call is just as clearly typical of Israel in the latter day. The allusion to the fig-tree confirms this. So does his confession: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God: thou art the King of Israel. (SeePsalms 2:1-12; Psalms 2:1-12) But the Lord tells him of greater things he, should see, and says to him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, henceforth (not "hereafter," but henceforth) ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man. It is the wider, universal glory of the Son of man (according toPsalms 8:1-9; Psalms 8:1-9); but the most striking part of it verified from that actual moment because of the glory of His person, which needed not the day of glory to command the attendance of the angels of God this mark, as Son of man. (Verses John 1:44-51)
On the third day is the marriage in Cana of Galilee, where was His mother, Jesus also, and His disciples. (John 2:1-25) The change of water into wine manifested His glory as the beginning of signs; and He gave another in this early purging of the temple of Jerusalem. Thus we have traced, first, hearts not only attracted to Him, but fresh souls called to follow Him; then, in type, the call of Israel by-and-by; finally, the disappearance of the sign of moral purifying for the joy of the new covenant, when Messiah's time comes to bless the needy earth; but along with this the execution of judgment in Jerusalem, and its long defiled temple. All this clearly goes down to millennial days.
As a present fact, the Lord justifies the judicial act before their eyes by His relationship with God as His Father, and gives the Jews a sign in the temple of His body, as the witness of His resurrection power. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." He is ever God; He is the Son; He quickens and raises from the dead. Later He was determined to be Son of God with power by resurrection of the dead. They had eyes, but they saw not; ears had they, but they heard not, nor did they understand His glory. Alas! not the Jews only; for, as far as intelligence went, it was little better with the disciples till He rose from the dead. The resurrection of the Lord is not more truly a demonstration of His power and glory, than the only deliverance for disciples from the thraldom of Jewish influence. Without it there is no divine understanding of Christ, or of His word, or of Scripture. Further, it is connected intimately with the evidence of man's ruin by sin. Thus it is a kind of transitional fact for a most important part of our gospel, though still introductory. Christ was the true sanctuary, not that on which man had laboured so long in Jerusalem. Man might pull Him down destroy Him, as far as man could, and surely to be the basis in God's hand of better blessing; but He was God, and in three days He would raise up this temple. Man was judged: another Man was there, the Lord from heaven, soon to stand in resurrection.
It is not now the revelation of God meeting man either in essential nature, or as manifested in flesh; nor is it the course of dispensational dealing presented in a parenthetic as well as mysterious form, beginning with John the Baptist's testimony, and going down to the millennium in the Son, full of grace and truth. It becomes a question of man's own condition, and how he stands in relation to the kingdom of God. This question is raised, or rather settled, by the Lord in Jerusalem, at the passover feast, where many believed on His name, beholding the signs He wrought. The dreadful truth comes out: the Lord did not trust Himself to them, because He knew all men. How withering the words! He had no need that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. It is not denunciation, but the most solemn sentence in the calmest manner. It was no longer a moot-point whether God could trust man; for, indeed, He could not. The question really is, whether man would trust God. Alas! he would not.
John 3:1-36 follows this up. God orders matters so that a favoured teacher of men, favoured as none others were in Israel, should come to Jesus by night. The Lord meets him at once with the strongest assertion of the absolute necessity that a man should be born anew in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus, not understanding in the least such a want for himself, expresses his wonder, and hears our Lord increasing in the strength of the requirement. Except one were born of water and of the Spirit, he could not enter the kingdom of God. This was necessary for the kingdom of God; not for some special place of glory, but for any and every part of God's kingdom. Thus we have here the other side of the truth: not merely what God is in life and light, in grace and truth, as revealed in Christ coming down to man; but man is now judged in the very root of his nature, and proved to be entirely incapable, in his best state, of seeing or entering the kingdom of God. There is the need of another nature, and the only way in which this nature is communicated is by being born of water and the Spirit the employment of the word of God in the quickening energy of the Holy Ghost. So only is man born of God. The Spirit of God uses that word; it is thus invariably in conversion. There is no other way in which the new nature is made good in a soul. Of course it is the revelation of Christ; but here He was simply revealing the sources of this indispensable new birth. There is no changing or bettering the old man; and, thanks be to God, the new does not degenerate or pass away. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (Verses John 3:1-6)
But the Lord goes farther, and bids Nicodemus not wonder at His insisting on this need. As there is an absolute necessity on God's part that man should be thus born anew, so He lets him know there is an active grace of the Spirit, as the wind blows where it will, unknown and uncontrolled by man, for every one that is born of the Spirit, who is sovereign in operation. First, a new nature is insisted on the Holy Ghost's quickening of each soul who is vitally related to God's kingdom; next, the Spirit of God takes an active part not as source or character only, but acting sovereignly, which opens the way not only for a Jew, but for "every one." (VersesJohn 3:7-8; John 3:7-8)
It is hardly necessary to furnish detailed disproof of the crude, ill-considered notion (originated by the fathers), that baptism is in question. In truth, Christian baptism did not yet exist, but only such as the disciples used, like John the Baptist; it was not instituted of Christ till after His resurrection, as it sets forth His death. Had it been meant, it was no wonder that Nicodemus did not know how these things could be. But the Lord reproaches him, the master of Israel, with not knowing these things: that is, as a teacher, with Israel for his scholar, he ought to have known them objectively, at least, if not consciously. Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 59:21, Ezekiel 36:25-27 ought to have made the Lord's meaning plain to an intelligent Jew. (Verse John 3:10)
The Lord, it is true, could and did go farther than the prophets: even if He taught on the same theme, He could speak with conscious divine dignity and knowledge (not merely what was assigned to an instrument or messenger). "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." (Verses John 3:11-13) He (and He was not alone here) knew God, and the things of God, consciously in Himself, as surely as He knew all men, and what was in man objectively. He could, therefore, tell them of heavenly things as readily as of earthly things; but the incredulity about the latter, shown in the wondering ignorance of the new birth as a requisite for God's kingdom, proved it was useless to tell of the former. For He who spoke was divine. Nobody had gone up to heaven: God had taken more than one; but no one had gone there as of right. Jesus not only could go up, as He did later, but He had come down thence, and, even though man, He was the Son of man that is in heaven. He is a divine person; His manhood brought no attainder to His rights as God. Heavenly things, therefore, could not but be natural to Him, if one may so say.
Here the Lord introduces the cross. (Ver. John 3:14-15; John 3:14-15) It is not a question simply of the Son of God, nor is He spoken of here as the Word made flesh. But "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must ( δεῖ ) the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." As the new birth for the kingdom of God, so the cross is absolutely necessary for eternal life. In the Word was life, and the life was the light of men. It was not intended for other beings it was God's free gift to man, to the believer, of course. Man, dead in sins, was the object of His grace; but then man's state was such, that it would have been derogatory to God had that life been communicated without the cross of Christ: the Son of man lifted up on it was the One in whom God dealt judicially with the evil estate of man, for the, full consequences of which He made Himself responsible. It would not suit God, if it would suit man, that He, seeing all, should just pronounce on man's corruption, and then forthwith let him off with a bare pardon. One must be born again. But even this sufficed not: the Son of man must be lifted up. It was impossible that there should not be righteous dealing with human evil against God, in its sources and its streams. Accordingly, if the law raised the question of righteousness in man, the cross of the Lord Jesus, typifying Him made sin, is the answer; and there has all been settled to the glory of God, the Lord Jesus having suffered all the inevitable consequences. Hence, then, we have the Lord Jesus alluding to this fresh necessity, if man was to be blessed according to God. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." But this, however worthy of God, and indispensable for man, could not of itself give an adequate expression of what God is; because in this alone, neither His own love nor the glory of His Son finds due display.
Hence, after having first unmistakably laid down the necessity of the cross, He next shows the grace that was manifested in the gift of Jesus. Here He is not portrayed as the Son of man who must be lifted up, but as the Son of God who was given. "For God," He says, "so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." The one, like the other, contributes to this great end, whether the Son of man necessarily lifted up, or the only begotten Son of God given in His love. (Verse John 3:16)
Let it not be passed by, that while the new birth or regeneration is declared to be essential to a part in the kingdom of God, the Lord in urging this intimates that He had not gone beyond the earthly things of that kingdom. Heavenly things are set in evident contradistinction, and link themselves immediately here, as everywhere, with the cross as their correlative. (See Hebrews 12:2, Hebrews 13:11-13) Again, let me just remark in passing, that although, no doubt, we may in a general way speak of those who partake of the new nature as having that life, yet the Holy Ghost refrains from predicating of any saints the full character of eternal life as a present thing until we have the cross of Christ laid (at least doctrinally) as the ground of it. But when the Lord speaks of His cross, and not God's judicial requirements only, but the gift of Himself in His true personal glory as the occasion for the grace of God to display itself to the utmost, then, and not till then, do we hear of eternal life, and this connected with both these points of view. The chapter pursues this subject, showing that it is not only God who thus deals first, with the necessity of man before His own immutable nature; next, blessing according to the riches of His grace but, further, that man's state morally is detected yet more awfully in presence of such grace as well as holiness in Christ. "For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (Ver. John 3:17; John 3:17) This decides all before the execution of judgment, Every man's lot is made manifest by his attitude toward God's testimony concerning His Son. "He that believeth on him is not judged: but he that believeth not is judged already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." (Ver. John 3:19; John 3:19) Other things, the merest trifles, may serve to indicate a man's condition; but a new responsibility is created by this infinite display of divine goodness in Christ, and the evidence is decisive and final, that the unbeliever is already judged before God. "And this is the judgment, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God." (VersesJohn 3:20-21; John 3:20-21)
The Lord and the disciples are next seen in the country district, not far, it would seem, from John, who was baptizing as they were. The disciples of John dispute with a Jew about purification; but John himself renders a bright witness to the glory of the Lord Jesus. In vain did any come to the Baptist to report the widening circle around Christ. He bows to, as he explains, the sovereign will of God. He reminds them of his previous disclaimer of any place beyond one sent before Jesus. His joy was that of a friend of the Bridegroom (to whom, not to him, the bride belonged), and now fulfilled as he heard the Bridegroom's voice. "He must, increase, but I decrease." Blessed servant he of an infinitely blessed and blessing Master! Then (ver. John 3:31-36) he speaks of His person in contrast with himself and all; of His testimony and of the result, both as to His own glory, and consequently also for the believer on, and the rejecter of, the Son. He that comes from above from heaven is above all. Such was Jesus in person, contrasted with all who belong to the earth. Just as distinct and beyond comparison is His testimony who, coming from heaven and above all, testifies what He saw and heard, however it might be rejected. But see the blessed fruit of receiving it. "He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him." I apprehend the words the Authorised Version gives in italics should disappear. The addition of "unto him" detracts, to my mind, from the exceeding preciousness of what seems to be, at least, left open. For the astonishing thought is, not merely that Jesus receives the Holy Ghost without measure, but that God gives the Spirit also, and not by measure, through Him to others. In the beginning of the chapter it was rather an essential indispensable action of the Holy Ghost required; here it is the privilege of the Holy Ghost given. No doubt Jesus Himself had the Holy Ghost given to Him, as it was meet that He in all things should have the pre-eminence; but it shows yet more both the personal glory of Christ and the efficacy of His work, that He now gives the same Spirit to those who receive His testimony, and set to their seal that God is true. How singularly is the glory of the Lord Jesus thus viewed, as invested with the testimony of God and its crown! What more glorious proof than that the Holy Ghost is given not a certain defined power or gift, but the Holy Ghost Himself; for God gives not the Spirit by measure!
All is fitly closed by the declaration, that "the Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand." It is not merely or most of all a great prophet or witness: He is the Son; and the Father has given all things to be in His hand. There is the nicest care to maintain His personal glory, no matter what the subject may be. The results for the believer or unbeliever are eternal in good or in evil. He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he that disobeys the Son, in the sense of not being subject to His person, "shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" Such is the issue of the Son of God present in this world an everlasting one for every man, flowing from the glory of His person, the character of His testimony, and the Father's counsels respecting Him. The effect is thus final, even as His person, witness, and glory are divine.
The chapters we have had before us (John 1:1-51; John 2:1-25; John 3:1-36) are thus evidently an introduction: God revealed not in the Word alone, but in the Word made flesh, in the Son who declared the Father; His work, as God's Lamb, for the world, and His power by the Holy Ghost in man; then viewed as the centre of gathering, as the path to follow, and as the object even for the attendance of God's angels, the heaven being opened, and Jesus not the Son of God and King of Israel only, but the Son of man object of God's counsels. This will be displayed in the millennium, when the marriage will be celebrated, as well as the judgment executed (Jerusalem and its temple being the central point then). This, of course, supposes the setting aside of Jerusalem, its people and house, as they now are, and is justified by the great fact of Christ's death and resurrection, which is the key to all, though not yet intelligible even to the disciples. This brings in the great counterpart truth, that even God present on earth and made flesh is not enough. Man is morally judged. One must be born again for God's kingdom a Jew for what was promised him, like another. But the Spirit would not confine His operations to such bounds, but go out freely like the wind. Nor would the rejected Christ, the Son of man; for if lifted up on the cross, instead of having the throne of David, the result would be not merely earthly blessing for His people according to prophecy, but eternal life for the believer, whoever. he might be; and this, too, as the expression of the true and full grace of God in His only-begotten Son given. John then declared his own waning before Christ, as we have seen, the issues of whose testimony, believed or not, are eternal; and this founded on the revelation of His glorious person as man and to man here below.
John 4:1-54 presents the Lord Jesus outside Jerusalem outside the people of promise among Samaritans, with whom Jews had no intercourse. Pharisaic jealousy had wrought; and Jesus, wearied, sat thus at the fountain of Jacob's well in Sychar. (Ver. John 4:1-6; John 4:1-6) What a picture of rejection and humiliation! Nor was it yet complete. For if, on the one side, God has taken care to let us see already the glory of the Son, and the grace of which He was full, on the other side, all shines out the more marvellously when we know how He dealt with a woman of Samaria, sinful and degraded. Here was a meeting, indeed, between such an one and Him, the Son, true God and eternal life. Grace begins, glory descends; "Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink." (VerseJohn 4:1; John 4:1) It was strange to her that a Jew should thus humble himself: what would it have been, had she seen in Him Jesus the Son of God? "Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." (VerseJohn 4:10; John 4:10) Infinite grace! infinite truth! and the more manifest from His lips to one who was a real impersonation of sin, misery, blindness, degradation. But this is not the question of grace: not what she was, but what He is who was there to win and bless her, manifesting God and the Father withal, practically and in detail. Surely He was there, a weary man outside Judaism; but God, the God of all grace, who humbled Himself to ask a drink of water of her, that He might give the richest and most enduring gift, even water which, once drank, leaves no thirst for ever and ever yea, is in him who drinks a fountain of water springing up unto everlasting life. Thus the Holy Ghost, given by the Son in humiliation (according to God, not acting on law, but according to the gift of grace in the gospel), was fully set forth; but the woman, though interested, and asking, only apprehended a boon for this life to save herself trouble here below. This gives occasion to Jesus to teach us the lesson that conscience must be reached, and sense of sin produced, before grace is understood and brings forth fruit. This He does in verses 16-19. Her life is laid before her by His voice, and she confesses to Him that God Himself spoke to her in His words: "Sir [said she], I perceive that thou art a prophet." If she turned aside to questions of religion, with a mixture of desire to learn what had concerned and perplexed her, and of willingness to escape such a searching of her ways and heart, He did not refrain graciously to vouchsafe the revelation of God, that earthly worship was doomed, that the Father was to be worshipped, not an Unknown. And while He does not hide the privilege of the Jews, He nevertheless proclaims that "the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." This brings all to a point; for the woman says, "I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things." And Jesus answers, "I that speak unto thee am he." The disciples come; the woman goes into the city, leaving her waterpot, but carrying with her the unspeakable gift of God. Her testimony bore the impress of what had penetrated her soul, and would make way for all the rest in due time. "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?" "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." It was much, yet was it little of the glory that was His; but at least it was real; and to the one that has shall be given. (Verses John 4:20-30)
The disciples marvelled that He spoke with the woman. How little they conceived of what was then said and done! "Master, eat," said they. "But He said to them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of." They entered not into His words more than His grace, but thought and spoke, like the Samaritan woman, about things of this life. Jesus explains: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that true saying, One soweth, and another reapeth. I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours." (Verses John 4:31-38)
Thus a despised Christ is not merely a crucified Son of man, and given Son of God, as in John 3:1-36, but Himself a divine giver in communion with the Father, and in the power of the Holy Ghost who is given to the believer, the source of worship, as their God and Father is its object for the worshippers in spirit and truth (though surely not to the exclusion of the Son, Hebrews 1:1-14). So it must be now; for God is revealed; and the Father in grace seeks true worshippers (be they Samaritans or Jews) to worship Him. Here, accordingly, it is not so much the means by which life is communicated, as the revelation of the full blessing of grace and communion with the Father and His Son by the Holy Ghost, in whom we are blessed. Hence it is that here the Son, according to the grace of God the Father, gives the Holy Ghost eternal life in the power of the Spirit. It is not simply the new birth such as a saint might, and always must, have had, in order to vital relations with God at any time. Here, in suited circumstances to render the thought and way of God unmistakable, pure and boundless grace takes its own sovereign course, suitable to the love and personal glory of Christ. For if the Son (cast out, we may say, in principle from Judaism) visited Samaria, and deigned to talk with one of the most worthless of that worthless race, it could not be a mere rehearsal of what others did. Not Jacob was there, but the Son of God in nothing but grace; and thus to the Samaritan woman, not to the teachers of Israel, are made those wonderful communications which unfold to us with incomparable depth and beauty the real source, power, and character of that worship which supersedes, not merely schismatic and rebellious Samaria, but Judaism at its best. For evidently it is the theme of worship in its Christian fulness, the fruit of the manifestation of God, and of the Father known in grace. And worship is viewed both in moral nature and in the joy of communion doubly. First, we must worship, if at all, in spirit and in truth. This is indispensable; for God is a Spirit, and so it cannot but be. Besides this, goodness overflows, in that the Father is gathering children, and making worshippers. The Father seeks worshippers. What love! In short, the riches of God's grace are here according to the glory of the Son, and in the power of the Holy Ghost. Hence the Lord, while fully owning the labours of all preceding labourers, has before His eyes the whole boundless expanse of grace, the mighty harvest which His apostles were to reap in due time. It is thus strikingly an anticipation of the result in glory. Meanwhile, for Christian worship, the hour was coming and in principle come, because He was there; and He who vindicated salvation as of the Jews, proves that it is now for Samaritans, or any who believed on account of His word. Without sign, prodigy, or miracle, in this village of Samaria Jesus was heard, known, confessed as truly the Saviour of the world ("the Christ" being absent in the best authorities, ver. 42). The Jews, with all their privileges, were strangers here. They knew what they worshipped, but not the Father, nor were they "true." No such sounds, no such realities were ever heard or known in Israel. How were they not enjoyed in despised Samaria those two days with the Son of God among them! It was meet that so it should be; for, as a question of right, none could claim; and grace surpasses all expectation or thought of man, most of all of men accustomed to a round of religious ceremonial. Christ did not wait till the time was fully come for the old things to pass away, and all to be made new. His own love and person were warrant enough for the simple to lift the veil for a season, and fill the hearts which had received Himself into the conscious enjoyment of divine grace, and of Him who revealed it to them. It was but preliminary, of course; still it was a deep reality, the then present grace in the person of the Son, the Saviour of the world, who filled their once dark hearts with light and joy.
The close of the chapter shows us the Lord in Galilee. But there was this difference from the former occasion, that, at the marriage in Cana (John 2:1-25), the change of the water into wine was clearly millennial in its typical aspect. The healing of the courtier's son, sick and ready to die, is witness of what the Lord was actually doing among the despised of Israel. It is there that we found the Lord, in the other synoptic gospels, fulfilling His ordinary ministry. John gives us this point of contact with them, though in an incident peculiar to himself. It is our evangelist's way of indicating His Galilean sojourn; and this miracle is the particular subject that John was led by the Holy Ghost to take up. Thus, as in the former case the Lord's dealing in Galilee was a type of the future, this appears to be significant of His then present path of grace in that despised quarter of the land. The looking for signs and wonders is rebuked; but mortality is arrested. His corporeal presence was not necessary; His word was enough. The contrasts are as strong, at least, as the resemblance with the healing of the centurion's servant in Matthew 13:1-58 and Luke 7:1-50, which some ancients and moderns have confounded with this, as they did Mary's anointing of Jesus with the sinful woman's in Luke 7:1-50.
One of the peculiarities of our gospel is, that we see the Lord from time to time (and, indeed, chiefly) in or near Jerusalem. This is the more striking, because, as we have seen, the world and Israel, rejecting Him, are also themselves, as such, rejected from the first. The truth is, the design of manifesting His glory governs all; place or people was a matter of no consequence.
Here (John 5:1-47) the first view given of Christ is His person in contrast with the law. Man, under law, proved powerless; and the greater the need, the less the ability to avail himself of such merciful intervention as God still, from time to time, kept up throughout the legal system. The same God who did not leave Himself without witness among the heathen, doing good, and giving from heaven rain and fruitful seasons, did not fail, in the low estate of the Jews, to work by providential power at intervals; and, by the troubled waters of Bethesda, invited the sick, and healed the first who stepped in of whatever disease he had. In the five porches, then, of this pool lay a great multitude of sick, blind, lame, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. But there was a man who had been infirm for thirty and eight years. Jesus saw the man, and knowing that he was long thus, prompts the desire of healing, but brings out the despondency of unbelief. How truly it is man under law! Not only is there no healing to be extracted from the law by a sinner, but the law makes more evident the disease, if it does not also aggravate the symptoms. The law works no deliverance; it puts a man in chains, prison, darkness, and under condemnation; it renders him a patient, or a criminal incompetent to avail himself of the displays of God's goodness. God never left Himself without witness; He did not even among the Gentiles, surely yet less in Israel. Still, such is the effect on man under law, that he could not take advantage of an adequate remedy. (Verses John 5:1-7)
On the other hand, the Lord speaks but the word: "Rise, take up thy couch and walk." The result immediately follows. It was sabbath-day. The Jews, then, who could not help, and pitied not their fellow in his long infirmity and disappointment, are scandalized to see him, safe and sound, carrying his couch on that day. But they learn that it was his divine Physician who had not only healed, but so directed him. At once their malice drops the beneficent power of God in the case, provoked at the fancied wrong done to the seventh day. (VersesJohn 5:8-12; John 5:8-12)
But were the Jews mistaken after all in thinking that the seal of the first covenant was virtually broken in that deliberate word and warranty of Jesus? He could have healed the man without the smallest outward act to shock their zeal for the law. Expressly had He told the man to take up his couch and walk, as well as to rise. There was purpose in it. There was sentence of death pronounced on their system, and they felt accordingly. The man could not tell the Jews the name of his benefactor. But Jesus finds him in the temple, and said, "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." The man went off, and told the Jews that it was Jesus: and for this they persecuted Him, because He had done these things on the sabbath. (Verses John 5:13-16)
A graver issue, however, was to be tried; for Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. For this, therefore, the Jews sought the more to kill Him; because He added the greater offence of making Himself equal with God, by saying that God was His own Father. (Verses John 5:17-18)
Thus, in His person, as well as in His work, they joined issue. Nor could any question be more momentous. If He spoke the truth, they were blasphemers. But how precious the grace, in presence of their hatred and proud self-complacency! "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." They had no common thoughts, feelings, or ways with the Father and the Son. Were the Jews zealously keeping the sabbath? The Father and the Son were at work. How could either light or love rest in a scene of sin, darkness, and misery?
Did they charge Jesus with self-exaltation? No charge could be remoter from the truth. Though He could not, would not deny Himself (and He was the Son, and Word, and God), yet had He taken the place of a man, of a servant. Jesus, therefore, answered, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." (Ver. John 5:19-29)
It is evident, then, that the Lord presents life in Himself as the true want of man, who was not merely infirm but dead. Law, means, ordinances, could not meet the need no pool, nor angel nothing but the Son working in grace, the Son quickening. Governmental healing even from Him might only end in "some worse thing" coming. through "sin." Life out of death was wanted by man, such as he is; and this the Father is giving in the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son hath not the Father; he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. This is the truth; but the Jews had the law, and hated the truth. Could they, then, reject the Son, and merely miss this infinite blessing of life in Him? Nay, the Father has given all judgment to the Son. He will have all honour the Son, even as Himself
And as life is in the person of the Son, so God in sending Him meant not that the smallest uncertainty should exist for aught so momentous. He would have every soul to know assuredly how he stands for eternity as well as now. There is but one unfailing test the Son of God God's testimony to Him. Therefore, it seems to me, He adds verse 24. It is not a question of the law, but of hearing Christ's word, and believing Him who sent Christ: he that does so has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment; but is passed from death unto life. The Word, God (and only begotten Son in the Father's bosom), He was eternally Son of God, too, as born into the world. Was this false and blasphemous in their eyes? They could not deny Him to be man Son of man. Nay, therefore it was they, reasoning, denied Him to be God. Let them learn, then, that as Son of man (for which nature they despised Him, and denied His essential personal glory) He will judge; and this judgment will be no passing visitation, such as God has accomplished by angels or men in times past. The judgment, all of it, whether for quick or dead, is consigned to Him, because He is Son of man. Such is God's vindication of His outraged rights; and the judgment will be proportionate to the glory that has been set at nought.
Thus solemnly does the meek Lord Jesus unfold these two truths. In Him was life for this scene of death; and it is of faith that it might be by grace. This only secures His honour in those that believe God's testimony to Him, the Son of God; and to these He gives life, everlasting life now, and exemption from judgment, in this acting in communion with the Father. And in this He is sovereign. The Son gives life, as the Father does; and not merely to whom the Father will, but to whom He will. Nevertheless the Son had taken the place of being the sent One, the place of subordination in the earth, in which He would say, "My Father is greater than I." And He did accept that place thoroughly, and in all its consequences. But let them beware how they perverted it. Granted He was the Son of man; but as such, He had all judgment given Him, and would judge. Thus in one way or the other all must honour the Son. The Father did not judge, but committed all judgment into the hands of the Son, because He is the Son of man. It was not the time now to demonstrate in public power these coming, yea, then present truths. The hour was one for faith, or unbelief. Did the dead (for so men are treated, not as alive under law) did they hear the voice of the Son of God? Such shall live. For though the Son (that eternal life who was with the Father) was a man, in that very position had the Father given Him to have life in Himself, and to execute judgment also, because He is Son of man. Judgment is the alternative for man: for God it is the resource to make good the glory of the Son, and in that nature, in and for which man blind to his own highest dignity dares to despise Him. Two resurrections, one of life, and another of judgment, would be the manifestation of faith and unbelief, or rather, of those who believe, and of those who reject the Son. They were not to wonder then at what He says and does now; for an hour was coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those that have done good to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil to resurrection of judgment. This would make all manifest. Now it is that the great question is decided; now it is that a man receives or refuses Christ. If he receives Him, it is everlasting life, and Christ is thus honoured by him; if not, judgment remains which will compel the honour of Christ, but to his own ruin for ever. Resurrection will be the proof; the two-fold rising of the dead, not one, but two resurrections. Life resurrection will display how little they had to be ashamed of, who believed the record given of His Son; the resurrection of judgment will make but too plain, to those who despised the Lord, both His honour and their sin and shame.
As this chapter sets forth the Lord Jesus with singular fulness of glory, on the side both of His Godhead and of His manhood, so it closes with the most varied and remarkable testimonies God has given to us, that there may be no excuse. So bright was His glory, so concerned was the Father in maintaining it, so immense the blessing if received, so tremendous the stake involved in its loss, that God vouchsafed the amplest and clearest witnesses. If He judges, it is not without full warning. Accordingly there is a four-fold testimony to Jesus: the testimony of John the Baptist; the Lord's own works; the voice of the Father from heaven; and finally, the written word which the Jews had in their own hands. To this last the Lord attaches the deepest importance. This testimony differs from the rest in having a more permanent character. Scripture is, or may be, before man always. It is not a message or a sign, however significant at the moment, which passes away as soon as heard or seen. As a weapon of conviction, most justly had it in the mind of the Lord Jesus the weightiest place, little as man thinks now-a-days of it. The issue of all is, that the will of man is the real cause and spring of enmity. "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life." it was no lack of testimony; their will was for present honour, and hostile to the glory of the only God. They would fall a prey to Antichrist, and meanwhile are accused of Moses, in whom they trusted, without believing him; else they would have believed Christ, of whom he wrote.
In John 6:1-71 our Lord sets aside Israel in another point of view. Not only man under law has no health, but he has no strength to avail himself of the blessing that God holds out. Nothing less than everlasting life in Christ can deliver: otherwise there remains judgment. Here the Lord was really owned by the multitudes as the great Prophet that should come; and this in consequence of His works, especially that one which Scripture itself had connected with the Son of David. (Psalms 132:1-18) Then they wanted to make Him a king. It seemed natural: He had fed the poor with bread, and why should not He take His place on the throne? This the Lord refuses, and goes up the mountain to pray, His disciples being meanwhile exposed to a storm on the lake, and straining after the desired haven till He rejoins them, when immediately the ship was at the land whither they went. (VersesJohn 6:1-21; John 6:1-21)
The Lord, in the latter part of the chapter (verses John 6:27-58), contrasts the presentation of the truth of God in His person and work with all that pertained to the promises of Messiah. It is not that He denies the truth of what they were thus desiring and attached to. Indeed, He was the great Prophet, as He was the great King, and as He is now the great Priest on high. Still the Lord refused the crown then: it was not the time or state for His reign. Deeper questions demanded solution. A greater work was in hand; and this, as the rest of the chapter shows us, not a Messiah lifted up, but the true bread given He who comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world; a dying, not a reigning, Son of man. It is His person as incarnate first, then in redemption giving His flesh to be eaten and His blood to be drank. Thus former things pass away; the old man is judged, dead, and clean gone. A second and wholly new man appears the bread of God, not of man, but for men. The character is wholly different from the position and glory of Messiah in Israel, according to promise and prophecy. Indeed, it is the total eclipse, not merely of law and remedial mercies, but even of promised Messianic glory, by everlasting life and resurrection at the last day. Christ here, it will be noticed, is not so much the quickening agent as Son of God (John 5:1-47), but the object of faith as Son of man first incarnate, to be eaten; then dying and giving His flesh to be eaten, and His blood to be drank. Thus we feed on Him and drink into Him, as man, unto life everlasting life in Him.
This last is the figure of a truth deeper than incarnation, and clearly means communion with His death. They had stumbled before, and the Lord brought in not alone His person, as the Word made flesh, presented for man now to receive and enjoy; but unless they ate the flesh, and drank the blood of the Son of man, they had no life in them. There He supposes His full rejection and death. He speaks of Himself as the Son of man in death; for there could be no eating of His flesh, no drinking of His blood, as a living man. Thus it is not only the person of our Lord viewed as divine, and coming down into the world. He who, living, was received for eternal life, is our meat and drink in dying, and gives us communion with His death. Thus, in fact, we have the Lord setting aside what was merely Messianic by the grand truths of the incarnation, and, above all, of the atonement, with which man must have vital association: he must eat yea, eat and drink. This language is said of both, but most strongly of the latter. And so, in fact, it was and is. He who owns the reality of Christ's incarnation, receives most thankfully and adoringly from God the truth of redemption; he, on the contrary, who stumbles at redemption, has not really taken in the incarnation according to God's mind. If a man looks at the Lord Jesus as One who entered the world in a general way, and calls this the incarnation, he will surely stumble over the cross. If, on the contrary, a soul has been taught of God the glory of the person of Him who was made flesh, he receives in all simplicity, and rejoices in, the glorious truth, that He who was made flesh was not made flesh only to this end, but rather as a step toward another and deeper work the glorifying God, and becoming our food, in death. Such are the grand emphatic points to which the Lord leads.
But the chapter does not close without a further contrast. (Verses John 6:59-71) What and if they should see Him, who came down and died in this world, ascend up where He was before? All is in the character of the Son of man. The Lord Jesus did, without question, take humanity in His person into that glory which He so well knew as the Son of the Father.
On this basisJohn 7:1-53; John 7:1-53 proceeds. The brethren of the Lord Jesus, who could see the astonishing power that was in Him, but whose hearts were carnal, at once discerned that it might be an uncommon good thing for them, as well as for Him, in this world. It was worldliness in its worst shape, even to the point of turning the glory of Christ to a present account. Why should He not show Himself to the world? (Verses John 7:3-5) The Lord intimates the impossibility of anticipating the time of God; but then He does it as connected with His own personal glory. Then He rebukes the carnality of His brethren. If His time was not yet come, their time was always ready. (Ver. John 7:6-8) They belonged to the world. They spoke of the world; the world might hear them. As to Himself, He does not go at that time to the feast of tabernacles; but later on He goes up "not openly, but as it were in secret" (verseJohn 7:10; John 7:10), and taught. They wonder, as they had murmured before (John 7:12-15); but Jesus shows that the desire to do God's will is the condition of spiritual understanding. (Verses John 7:16-18) , The Jews kept not the law) and wished to kill Him who healed man in divine love. (Verses John 7:19-23) What judgment could be less righteous? (Ver. John 7:24) They reason and are in utter uncertainty. (Ver. John 7:25-31) He is going where they cannot come, and never guessed (for unbelief thinks of the dispersed among the Greeks of anything rather than of God). (VersesJohn 7:33-36; John 7:33-36) Jesus was returning to Him that sent Him, and the Holy Ghost would be given. So on the last day, that great day of the feast (the eighth day, which witnessed of a resurrection glory outside this creation, now to be made good in the power of the Spirit before anything appears to sight), the Lord stands and cries, saying, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." (Ver. John 7:37) It is not a question of eating the bread of God, or, when Christ died, of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Here, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Just as in John 4:1-54, so here it is a question of power in the Holy Ghost, and not simply of Christ's person. "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (Ver. John 7:38; John 7:38) And then we have the comment of the Holy Ghost: "(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)" There is, first, the thirsty soul coming to Jesus and drinking; then there is the power of the Spirit flowing forth from the inner man of the believer in refreshment to others. (Verse John 7:39)
Nothing can be simpler than this. Details are not called for now, but just the outline of the truth. But what we learn is, that our Lord (viewed as having entered into heaven as man on the ground of redemption, i.e., ascended, after having passed through death, into glory) from that glory confers meanwhile the Holy Ghost on him that believes, instead of bringing in at once the final feast of gladness for the Jews and the world, as He will do by-and-by when the anti-typical harvest and vintage has been fulfilled. Thus it is not the Spirit of God simply giving a new nature; neither is it the Holy Ghost given as the power of worship and communion with His God and Father. This we have had fully before. Now, it is the Holy Ghost in the power that gives rivers of living water flowing out, and this bound up with, and consequent on, His being man in glory. Till then the Holy Ghost could not be so given only when Jesus was glorified, after redemption was a fact. What can be more evident, or more instructive? It is the final setting aside of Judaism then, whose characteristic hope was the display of power and rest in the world. But here these streams of the Spirit are substituted for the feast of tabernacles, which cannot be accomplished till Christ come from heaven and show Himself to the world; for this time was not yet come. Rest is not the question now at all; but the flow of the Spirit's power while Jesus is on high. In a certain sense, the principle of John 4:1-54 was made true in the woman of Samaria, and in others who received Christ then. The person of the Son was there the object of divine and overflowing joy even then, although, of course, in the full sense of the word, the Holy Ghost might not be given to be the power of it for some time later; but still the object of worship was there revealing the Father; butJohn 7:1-53; John 7:1-53 supposes Him to be gone up to heaven, before He from heaven communicates the Holy Ghost, who should be (not here, as Israel had a rock with water to drink of in the wilderness outside themselves, nor even as a fountain springing up within the believer, but) as rivers flowing out. How blessed the contrast with the people's state depicted in this chapter, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, looking to "letters," rulers, and Pharisees, perplexed about the Christ, but without righteous judgment, assurance, or enjoyment! Nicodemus remonstrates but is spurned; all retire to their home Jesus, who had none, to the mount of Olives. (Verses John 7:40-53)
This closes the various aspects of the Lord Jesus, completely blotting out Judaism, viewed as resting in a system of law and ordinances, as looking to a Messiah with present ease, and as hoping for the display of Messianic glory then in the world. The Lord Jesus presents Himself as putting an end to all this now for the Christian, though, of course, every word God has promised, as well as threatened, remains to be accomplished in Israel by-and-by; for Scripture cannot be broken; and what the mouth of the Lord has said awaits its fulfilment in its due sphere and season.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on John 6:4". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/john-6.html. 1860-1890.
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20