John 6

The early chapters of John's Gospel strikingly shew us that the Son of God, when on earth, would be received as a Savior, or not at all. The mother understood Him as a doer of wonders, Nicodemus as a teacher of heavenly secrets, His brethren as having power to awe the world into astonishment and submission, but these apprehensions of Him are only a trouble to Him. He is weary to bear them; and even the multitude that would receive Him as their king, and set the crown on His head, are an offense to Him. (See chap. 6, 7)
There may be observed a great deal of earnestness in the manner of His withstanding all these approaches. His reply to the mother is, “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” The shortness with which He turns upon Nicodemus is a vivid expression of this same earnestness. And the character of His answer to the desire of the multitude conveys the same. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force to make him a king, he departed alone into a mountain.” And in like manner His reply to His brethren expresses deep and entire alienation of mind from the motion and will of their hearts. The same decisiveness appears in His answer to the Pharisees who would treat Him as a judge in chap. viii. 6.
This I may say of chapter 6 in company with all the early chapters of this gospel. But, of course, it has its own peculiar character also. And at verse 26 it begins to present itself to us, I judge, very distinctly.
The Lord warns the multitude to work for the meat that endures to eternal life. The multitude then ask Him what this work was to be, how they were to work the works of God. He tells them that the work of God, the way to please and serve and obey Him, was to believe on the One whom He had sent.
They, rightly understanding this to mean that they were to transfer all their confidence for acceptance with God and for eternal life over to Him, ask Him for His credentials; telling Him, at the same time, that Moses had shown his credentials to their fathers, inasmuch as he had given them bread from heaven.
In reply, the Lord, shortly denying that Moses had given them that heavenly bread, or worked the miracle of the manna, reveals Himself to them as the true Bread or heavenly Manna. And, pursuing the figure, He further tells them the quality of this bread—that it was, so to speak, such as none but a convicted sinner, one consciously exposed to judgment, could relish. He lets them know that it was as paschal food they must eat it, like another generation in days of old who fed upon that very lamb whose blood on the lintel was sheltering them from destruction.
Thus does this great discourse vindicate and set forth the thought, that the Lord will be received only as a Savior, a Lamb slain for sinners. A saving knowledge of Him lies in that. He came, not to satisfy the Greek in his search after wisdom, nor the Jew in his looking for a sign of power, but as the true Manna for hungry souls, the Paschal Lamb whose blood shelters the Israel of God.
But further as to this chapter. It was the time of the Passover; a season which should have told them that but for blood they would all have perished. Their own history had taught them this. (Ex. 12) Had they learned the lesson of that history, they would have known this. But in this chapter the Jews betray the fact, that they had never learned this lesson, this first lesson, of their national history, their history as God's people. They had never in reality kept the Passover, however they may have flocked to Jerusalem at the appointed season. To this hour they were disclaiming the thought of being such an exposed people as that nothing but blood appointed of God could shield them from the destroyer.
The Lord was not taking them by surprise, when He demanded of them to eat His flesh and drink His blood. It was only, in other words, to keep the passover, the feast of that day (see ver. 4), in reality, or according to its divine meaning. And none can keep it, but a convicted sinner, one who recognizes his exposure to judgment but for the blood of a victim appointed of God.
However, therefore, the multitude may have admired Jesus, and been ready to hail Him as their King, they were showing that they had never as yet even begun their history according to God's mind, or in that way which is the only divine way. For Israel began their journey as a redeemed or blood-bought people. They had to take that character at the very outset. And therefore, of the month Abib (which had been the seventh month, being the month in which they were sheltered by the paschal-blood), it is said, “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year unto you.” The Son of God could not own them in any way, till they had taken this necessary character. (Ex. 12:2.)1
Peter's confession distinguishes the Jew at the true passover. It signalizes faith as apart from the apostate, unbelieving condition of all beside. (Ver. 68.) It bowed to Jesus not as king or as teacher, or as a doer of miracles, but as the life of a sinner.
This is all simple and sure; and, I may add, it has comforted me to remember that it is in the same character we are to be introduced into heaven. As it was as sinners we went to Jesus at first (like Israel beginning their history at the Passover) and found a hearty welcome in that character, so will it be as accepted souls that we shall enter heaven. Works may follow there, as here. Here we have been ordained unto good works, after our new creation in Christ. (Eph. 2:1010For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10).) There their works may follow the saints (Rev. 14:1313And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them. (Revelation 14:13)) and dignities in the kingdom be awarded, cities allotted them; to some ten, to others five. But still, it is only as pardoned sinners m he had before trusted in Christ (Eph. 1:1212That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. (Ephesians 1:12)) that we shall be received into heaven.
That is happy for our souls. And we may ask ourselves, do we reckon on going to heaven exactly and only in that character? Do we believe that it is only as blood-bought sinners, as a paschal Israelite that even the bravest of us, the most devoted, will be received there? It is so; and that is a comfort. I may be outshone and outrun by the light and speed of all around me, but our entrance into heaven is in a common character. As sinners who boast only in Jesus, the common character, are we all received there, though the honors of the kingdom by and by may be in various orders.
But this, as we pass. I observe further on this chapter, that when the multitude ask the Lord to give them some sign, by doing some miracle, after the pattern of Moses, He does not answer this demand, or work any miracle as the ground of the faith in Himself which He was requiring of them.
And why this? Are not signs and wonders proper seals of any divine mission? They are. Just as fulfilled prophecy is. Both the fulfillment of prophecies in Him and the doing of miracles by Him are seals of His mission, and a due ground of challenging the obedience of faith.
Why, then, did the Lord refuse them this ground of confidence, as they were requiring? I might say, He had already given them a sign. The multitude, who at that moment was following Him, had seen the miracle which He did with the loaves and fishes. But beside this, I say, a miracle is not the proper or immediate ground of divine or evangelic faith, i.e., such faith as the Spirit works and as saves the soul. No. The faith that saves the soul takes such acquaintance with the Son of God as convicted sinners alone have. It is that which the conscience makes. All John's Gospel has been showing us this. Accordingly, in this very chapter, the Lord, instead of working a miracle after the desire of the multitude, talks with them in a way to discover whether their conscience had been reached, whether they were following Him as sinners who needed life, or merely as an admiring and interested populace.
A miracle may draw attention, and in this way be the distant parent of faith. But the faith that saves, the faith that the Christ of God (looked for as we have seen), is that of a sinner convicted of his need of life. And with such an one, I will add, fulfilled prophecies or miracles become entirely secondary.
Nathanael and the rest in chapter i. of this gospel were saved without witnessing any miracle at all. So was the Samaritan in chapter iv. So, among others, I might mention Levi the publican, in Matt. 9:99And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him. (Matthew 9:9). So, as a striking instance, the dying thief. And so Peter; for though arrested by the draft of fishes, yet quickly that miracle became altogether secondary to him, and the discovery which his conscience had made of Christ is everything to him, as his confession in this very chapter tells us. (Ver. 68.) And there is not one of us, I may be bold to say, but that (however we may use such phenomena in dealing with others, and offer to them the evidence of the fulfilled prophecies or of attested miracles) to ourselves, to our souls, they have become altogether secondary.
What did the jailer and his family, I would ask, think about or talk about, as they sat together at meat with Paul and Silas? Was it the recent earthquake? or was it the need which their consciences had discovered, and of those suited resources which Christ alone had for it? Sure I am that they forgot the miracle; or, if they remembered it, remembered it in the divine grace, and not in the marvelous strangeness of it. It had become entirely secondary to them, as miracles do in the esteem of every quickened soul. The Eunuch, in like manner, forgot the rapture of Philip, most wondrous as it was, and under his own eve, in the occupation of his soul with a freshly discovered Jesus.2
This chapter, indeed, further shews, in connection with all this, that the faith merely grounded on a miracle will never do. It may lead to admiration of Christ, or to some other affection kindred with this, but there is no salvation in all that. (See ver. 14, and also chap. 2:23-25.) Life or salvation rests on Jesus being apprehended and resorted to for life and salvation; and nothing does that but a convicted conscience. The faith that justifies deals with God as a justifier, apprehending sin in us and redemption by blood in Christ.
NOTE.—Death came in by sin. If Christ give life, He must put away sin. It' we enjoy life from him, we must trust in Him as the Purger of sin—in the language of this chapter, feed on His flesh and blood, His sacrifice, as pardoned sinners have done from the beginning. This life He gives is eternal— “His flesh is meat indeed, and His blood is drink indeed;” because it is victorious life, life acquired in conflict with death; life, therefore, not to be tested like Adam's, but life already proved. No acceptance of Him, save as the One who died to put sin away will do; it does not recognize our death-estate. A teacher, a judge, a king, may be received to improve the old thing: that will not do; it must be renounced. Peter receiving Him, as having the words of life, used Him as the root of all to him, not as the cultivator of what he himself already had, as Nicodemus would have done. The cherubim taught Adam there was no recovery of life for him but through the gospel of a dead and risen Savior.