On the Gospel of John 6

John 6  •  27 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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The fifth chapter presented to us Christ quickening whom He will in common with the Father, then judging as the Son of man. It is Christ acting in His divine power. In the sixth chapter He is the food of His people, as Son of man come down from heaven, and dying. It is not His quickening power in contrast with the obligation of the law, but who He was, the history of His Person, if I may dare to say so-that which He is essentially, that which He became-a history which terminates by His entering again as Son of man there where He was before: it is essentially the humiliation of Jesus in grace, in contrast with that which He was in right of enjoyment, with that which was promised in the Messiah when He should be upon earth. The teaching of this chapter embraces all, from His coming down from heaven, until He enters it again, so that in descending and ascending, He fills all things; but this teaching rests especially on the Lord's incarnation and death, in connection with which He gives eternal life, and introduces His own into the glory of the new creation, far above and beyond all that an earthly Messiah could give.
Jesus went away beyond the sea of Galilee, and sat there upon a mountain with His disciples. Now the passover was near; and this fact gives the tone to all the discourse we have here. Lifting up His eyes, Jesus sees the multitude that had followed Him, and asks Philip where they should buy bread for all this people, knowing well what He would do. The disciples think, not according to the thoughts of faith, but considering the resources upon which man can calculate; one thinks of what would be needed, the other, of what there was. There was indeed an immense disparity between the five loaves of bread and the five thousand men. Now one of the promises made for the time of the Messiah, was, that Jehovah would satisfy His poor with bread (Psa. 132); and Jesus accomplished this promise, working a miracle, which had its effect on the crowds which surrounded Him; there was abundance, and there remained over and above.
This gives occasion (v. 14-21) to a kind of framework of the Lord's whole history, a history in which He replaces the Messianic blessings by spiritual and heavenly blessings which should be consummated in resurrection, upon which He insists four times in the course of the chapter. He is recognized as the Prophet who was to come; they wish to make Him a king; but He avoids that by going up to pray alone, and the disciples cross the sea without Him. They are looked upon here in the character of the Jewish remnant; still, it is this that has become the Christian assembly. But these few verses give us, as I have said, the framework of Christ's history, recognized as Prophet, and refusing royalty, to exercise priesthood on high, whilst His people cross the waves of a troubled world with difficulty. As soon as Jesus rejoins them, they arrive at the place where they were going; difficulties are over, their goal reached: here the disciples represent entirely the Jewish remnant.
The multitude rejoin the Lord on the other side of the sea, astonished to find Him there, knowing that there was not, where He had been, any other boat but that of His disciples. The Lord accuses them of seeking Him, not because they had seen the miracle, but because they had eaten the loaves, and had been filled, and He invites them to seek that food which abides unto life eternal, which the Son of man would give them; for Him had God the Father sealed (v. 26, 27).
In the fifth chapter Jesus is Son of God; here, Son of man, and we shall see what faith in Him as such works. The legal question of the crowd (v. 28), rather vague and trivial, introduces this development. What shall we do (they say), that we may work the works of God? This is the work of God (the Lord replies), that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent. Thereupon they ask of Him a sign, led of God in their question, remembering the gift of the manna in the desert, as it was written: " He gave them bread out of heaven to eat."
This quotation introduces directly the doctrine of the chapter. Christ was the bread. It was not a question of showing a sign to men; He was Himself the sign of God's intervention in grace, in His Person as Son of man come down here upon earth, and not as Prophet, or Messiah, or King. My father gives you the true bread which comes from heaven.
The Father-it is always He when it is a question of active race-gave them the bread of God. The true bread, in its nature, is He who cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world. This goes entirely outside Judaism: it is the Father, the Son of man, He who comes down from heaven, and whom God gives for the life of the world; not Jehovah fulfilling the promises made to Israel by the coming of the Son of David, although Jesus was this indeed. Like the poor Samaritan woman-but impelled here by a vague need of the soul, they ask that the Lord would give them part in this bread of God which gives life. This furnishes the occasion for the full development of the teaching of Jesus. " I am the bread of life. He who cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth in me shall never thirst " (v. 35). If you would have bread forever which is food indeed, come to Me; you shall never hunger. But, adds the Lord (for such was Israel's state, always thus looked upon in John), ye have seen Me, and ye believe not. If it be a question of you, and of your responsibility, all is lost: the bread of life has been presented to you, and ye would not eat of it, ye would not come to Me to have life; but the Father has counsels of grace, He will not allow you all to perish. " All that the Father has given me shall come to me "; for grace, sovereign and certain in its effects, is clearly taught in this Gospel: since it is the Father who has given him to Me, I will never cast out the one that comes to Me, however wicked he may have been, or insolent enemy of Myself. The Father has given him to Me, and I am not come to do My will, but the will of Him that hath sent Me. What a humble place the Lord takes here, although all was fulfilled at His expense! He had made Himself a Servant, and He accomplishes the will of another only, the will of Him who sent Him (v. 38).
This will is now presented to us in a double aspect, and in a very striking manner " This is the will of him that sent me, that of all that he hath given me, I should lose nothing." Their salvation is assured by the Father's will, the fulfillment of which nothing can hinder. But it is in another world that the blessing will take place. It is no longer here a question of Israel and of the Messiah, but of the resurrection at the last day. The expression, " the last day," which we find four times in this part of the chapter, designates the last day of the legal dispensation in which the Messiah was to come, and will come.
The course of these dispensations has been interrupted by the rejection of the Messiah when He came, which has given place to the introduction of heavenly things, which are brought in parenthetically between the death of the Messiah and the end of the weeks of Daniel. Those whom the Father gives to Jesus will enjoy as raised, the heavenly blessing which the Father's love keeps for them, and which the Son's work assures to them. Not one of them will be lost: all will be raised by the power of the Lord. Such are the unfailing counsels of God.
It is also the Father's will that whosoever sees the Son, and believes in Him, has eternal life: and the Lord will raise him up at the last day (v. 40). The Son is presented to all, that they may believe in Him, and whosoever believes has everlasting life. Here, again, it is not a question of the Messiah and of promises, but of seeing the Son, and believing on Him, of eternal life and resurrection. Before, it was the Father's counsels that could not fail; here, it is the presentation of the Son of God as the object of faith; if, through the humiliation of the Lord, one saw the Son, and believed upon Him, one would have everlasting life, and the result would be the same. In the first case it is a question of the Father's counsels and of His acts, as well as of those of Jesus in raising them: the Father gives them, Jesus raises them, not one of them is lost. Next, we have the presentation of the Son in connection with man's responsibility: if a man believed, he would have eternal life, and would rise again. These are the two aspects, brought together, in which these great truths are presented.
The Jews murmur because the Lord said that He had come down from heaven. They saw the Son, and did not believe in Him: they knew Him after the flesh; He was, for them, Joseph's son. The Lord then insists upon the fact, that no one can come unto Him unless the Father draw him; He insists upon the necessity of grace to be able to come, not that every one was not free, as people say, to come, for whosoever should see the Son, and believe on Him, would have eternal life; but He shows that the mind of the flesh is enmity against God. There is the blinding of sin, of the flesh, and hatred of God, as far as He reveals Himself; there is none that understandeth, none that seeketh after God; so that the power of grace is needed to dispose the heart to receive Christ. Now when the Father draws to Jesus, it is by efficacious grace in the heart: the eyes are opened, one passes from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God; one passes into a salvation assured by Christ, who will raise up such a soul at the last day. It is the revelation of Jesus to the soul by the grace of the Father: the soul sees the Son, it receives eternal life, it shall never be lost, but raised up at the last day. It is important to observe, that he who is drawn by the Father will never be lost, and that at the last day he will have his part with the redeemed in an entirely new world, in an entirely new state. Such a soul is taught of God to recognize the Son; the Father has spoken to it; it has learned of Him; it comes to Christ, and is saved; not that any one hath seen the Father, save Christ Himself. Christ had revealed Him, and he who believed in Christ had everlasting life (v. 47). Solemn but precious assurance! Eternal life has come down from heaven in the Person of the Son, and he who believes in Him, possesses it, according to the efficacious grace of the Father, who draws him to Christ, and according to the perfect salvation that Christ has accomplished: his faith lays hold, as to life, of this Son of God, who will manifest His power later on, in raising the redeemed one from among the dead.
We see that, as in chapter 5, Christ is presented to us as a quickening power, He is here set before us as the object of faith, and that in His humiliation, as come down from heaven, and put to death. It is not the promised Messiah. It is Christ come down from heaven to save those that believe. His re-entrance into heaven is mentioned at the end of the chapter as testimony, with the title, " There, where he was before."
As we have seen, the multitude, under the hidden direction of God, had alluded to the manna, asking some similar sign of the Lord. Jesus had said to them (a touching reply!): I am the sign of God's salvation, and of eternal life sent into the world; I am the manna, the true bread, which the Father, God acting in grace, gives to you: " He that comes to me shall never hunger, and he that believes on me shall never thirst." I recall all this, although we have already spoken of the verses which follow, in order to bring together what is said about the bread, and I pass now directly also to verse 48. " I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die....
If any one shall have eaten of this bread, he shall live forever." Here it is Christ come down from heaven, the incarnation, setting aside all idea of promise; it is the great and mighty fact, that, in the Person of Jesus, people saw Him who was come down from heaven, the Son of God become Man, as we see in the first chapter of the First Epistle of John: " that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have contemplated, and our hands handled, concerning the word of life... the eternal life which was with the Father, and has been manifested to us." It was as to His Person, not yet as to our entrance into it, the beginning of the new order of things. Come of a woman, so that, according to the flesh, He was connected with the human race, Son of man, but still come down from heaven, one with the Father, in order that we might have part in this life, that we might be of this new order of things, He must needs die; otherwise He remained alone. But He had taken this flesh; He had been made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, having taken this flesh, which He was going to give for the life of the world.
The first great point, then, was the incarnation, Christ come down from heaven, the Word made flesh-life in Him- and to give eternal life to him who should eat Him. The second point is, that Christ gave this flesh for the life of the world. He must die, close all relationship with the world, and the lost human race, by death; and begin a new seed, that He would not be ashamed to call His brethren, because He that sanctifieth, and they that are sanctified, are all of one; then, redemption1 being accomplished, He would introduce them, risen, into the glory of the Father's family, according to the counsels of that Father who had given them to Him. This arrests the Jews: How could this Man's flesh be eaten? But Jesus does not spare them. He is, thus known, eternal life. It was no longer a question of conciliating the Jews, but of giving salvation and eternal life to the world by faith in Him, who had come from heaven for this, and of presenting to the Father those whom the Father had given to Him, such as the Father would have them in His love, and in His counsels, according to His nature, if they were to be in His presence. If they did not eat His flesh, and drink His blood, they had not life. In themselves there was none for that new world of glory, that blessed race. For that, it was necessary that a divine and heavenly life should come down from heaven, and be communicated to souls, and that in a Man; it was necessary that this Man should die, and terminate all relation with the fallen race, and risen, should begin a new race,2 possessing the divine life (inasmuch as they had appropriated Christ to themselves by grace), and which should be raised again by the Savior's power, when the moment should come, " at the last day."
This work is accomplished. Now it is not of its efficacy to redeem our souls that we are speaking at this moment, nor of the pardon which we enjoy in virtue of its accomplishment, precious as these truths may be, but of the connection which there is between these divine events and the possession of life, in virtue of which we have part in this redemption and in this pardon, with all the consequences which flow from them. Christ is received in His incarnation; but, though the incarnation preceded necessarily, historically, the Savior's death, I do not think that one can really seize the bearing of this life of humiliation, unless one first enters into that of His death. Personally, the new thing, as we have already said, was presented in His Person-a Man, God manifested in flesh, but He in whom was life, He who was this eternal life which had been with the Father, and which was now manifested to the disciples. But, in this state, the corn of wheat remained alone, however productive it should be; in order to introduce those whom God gave to Him into the position of the last Adam, of the second Man, it was necessary That He should die, that He should give up His life in this world, to take it again in the state of resurrection, beyond sin, death, the power of Satan, and the judgment of God, after having passed through all these things, and having taken again His life of Man, but in a spiritual and glorified body. Now His death was, morally, the end of man driven out of paradise; His resurrection, the beginning of the new state of man, according to the counsels of God. Now man in Adam had no life in himself; he had not the life of God, and, in order to have it, he must understand and receive not only the incarnation, or a promised Messiah, but the judgment on the first man, borne by Christ's death; he must enter, as to himself, into the conviction, the realization of this state thus shown forth, although in grace, in the Savior's death. He who appropriated to himself the death of Christ, accepted this judgment with regard to himself, when sin (not sins) was condemned in another. Sin in the flesh, which is enmity against God, has been condemned for us. In receiving by faith Christ's death as the absolute condemnation of that which I am, I have part in the efficacy of that which He has done: sin has been before God, and has disappeared from before His eyes in the death of Christ, who, however, had not known it. I say to myself; That is I. I eat it; I place myself there by the operation of the Spirit of God, not that I believe that it is for me personally, but I recognize what His death signified, and I place myself in it by faith in Him. There, where I was, in death spiritually, by sin and disobedience, Christ entered in grace and by obedience, for the glory of His Father, in order that God might be glorified. I recognize my state in His death, but according to the perfect grace of God, according to which He took my place there; for it is in this that we know love, that He laid down His life for us. Now, if one died for all, then were all dead. By faith and repentance I recognize myself there, and I have eternal life. Now I can follow Jesus through the whole of His life, even the fact of His having been a Man down here, and I can feed upon this bread of life, upon all His patience, His grace, His gentleness, His love, His purity, His obedience, His humility-upon all that perfection of every day, and all the day long, which ended only at the cross, where all was consummated. " He who eateth me shall live forever." I have everlasting life, and Jesus will raise me up at the last day.
We have still some points to notice in this chapter.
The verb, " to eat," is employed in it in two different tenses. He who has eaten, has eternal life; he who, by grace, has taken his place in the death of Christ, outside of all promise, of all title of any kind whatsoever, feels that he depends upon the sovereign grace that has placed Christ there, and believes in it. He who shall have eaten of this bread, shall live forever. But in verses 54 and 56 we have the character of the man, and his eating is a present thing. Two things are the consequence of it: first, he has eternal life, and shall be raised up; secondly, he who feeds upon this bread, dwells in Jesus, and Jesus in him: first of all, general blessing, with salvation present and to come; then communion, and the permanent presence of Jesus with us, and even in us. For as the Father, who has life in Himself, sent Jesus, and Jesus lived because of Him, as inseparable from Him, so he that eateth Christ shall live, because of the life that is in Christ. " Because I live, ye shall live also." It is a union in life, by grace, with Jesus: life in us is inseparable from Him; we live because He lives. He is our life. As He is inseparable from the Father, and even as Man down here, living because of the life that was in the Father, this life in Him could not be separated from the Father, and our life should not be separated from Jesus. That is the bread which came down from heaven, that one may eat of it, and not die.
We may also notice that the passage before us comprehends more than a single discourse. The beginning refers to the moment when the crowds met the Lord again after He had crossed the sea, whilst the last part was spoken in the synagogue at Capernaum (v. 59). The Jews were scandalized at it, taking what He said literally, and thinking that Jesus wanted them to eat His flesh; many of His disciples even said, " This is a hard saying, who can hear it? " The Lord appeals to the fact, that He was going to ascend up where He was before. He was not an earthly Messiah, but a heavenly Savior, come from heaven into this world, come down into this world, in order to accomplish that which was necessary to make us ascend up there, to give eternal life to man, and to raise him up when the moment should come, to give him a part in the second Man, in the Man and in the world of God's counsels and grace, an eternal part in His favor, by redemption, according to His counsels in grace. It was not a succession of dispensations, a Messiah come in glory to terminate them, a Son of David according to the promises; but it is He (and that as a present thing) who came down from heaven to communicate eternal life, and to place the believer in heaven, as to the state of his soul, and finally, as to his body, fit for the light and the divine glory. But to have part in this, one must see Him who came down, not only in humiliation, as the bread come down from heaven, but who has been rejected, such as He was, by man, in order to enter into the presence of God, according to the true state of humanity which was enmity against God-passing through death and judgment, when He was made sin for us-and recommencing His life of Man in an entirely new state, beyond death and judgment. All relationship of God with the first man being impossible, save by the cross, where Christ in grace made a Substitute for the believing sinner met with God; man, dead in trespasses and sins, must know Him in this character, recognizing there his own state; that is to say, in Christ dead, made sin, and sin condemned in Him. But the believer, in the fact that he died in thus identifying himself with Christ, as with Him who was made that which man is really himself, and who endured the penalty of it-in this fact, the believer, I say, is dead unto sin, he who before was dead in his trespasses and sins, for he has known himself there where Christ died to sin. Christ died there in grace, as sin condemned before God; and the sinner says to himself, That is really myself; I am that in the flesh; and now, Christ having offered Himself for that, God has made Him sin for us; but Christ, in dying, has done with sin, and therefore I have done with it too. There is, then, no existing relationship between God and the race of the first Adam: the death of Jesus has made evident this fact, when God had tried everything, even to the gift of His Son. God has done with all this race of the first man upon the cross • and as for me, I have done with sin, which was the basis of all this. Oh, how marvelous and perfect are God's ways, full of infinite grace!
I recall also that it is not here a question of our present heavenly position; John, as we have said elsewhere, hardly ever speaks of it. Christ will raise up the believer at the last day. He speaks of His own ascension to complete the truth: come from heaven, He will go back there; but He does not associate us with Himself in heaven as a present fruit of His work. For us, He passes from His ascension to the resurrection of our bodies.
One remark more. I have spoken of the incarnation and of the death; and, as to that which is reached here, it is the knowledge of these things that sets us clear, and that delivers us. But the Lord says, in verses 40, 47, that He is come, that whosoever believeth in Him may have everlasting life, and that he that believeth on Him hath everlasting life so that whosoever really sees the Son of God in the despised Man of Nazareth, has everlasting life. The Lord, however, does not hide the bearing of this fact; His rejection, His death, could but be the consequence of His presentation to a world such as the one in which we live, and of which we are according to the flesh; it is important we should know it.
In answering the Jews, offended at the fact of His ascension, Jesus adds, that it is the Holy Ghost that quickeneth-the flesh profiteth nothing-that He did not speak as though they were to eat of His flesh in a material sense. The words He spoke to them were " spirit and life." It was by the word that spiritual things were communicated; and by the power and by the action of the Spirit they become realities, and living realities, in the soul, a real part of our being. But the Lord knew well that there were, even amongst those who followed Him as His disciples, persons who believed not, and He told them so; He well knew, too, who it was who should betray Him. These were the branches that were to be cut off, and that have been. Jesus must walk in the midst of those whom He knew to have no root, of whom He knew even that they would betray Him, and He adds: " It is for this that I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, unless it be given unto him of the Father " (v. 65). From that time many of His disciples left Him, and walked no more with Him.
It is striking to see how the Lord would have that which was true, divine, permanent, and nothing else. That which had led many to follow Him was not hypocrisy; there were, no doubt, hypocrites, but many had come under the influence of a passing impression, which wore off in presence of the difficulties of the way, and before the stumbling-block which was found in the truth, or rather in the prejudices which the truth offended. Jesus therefore said to the twelve, " Will ye also go away? " Simon Peter, always ready to put himself forward, prompted by a warm affection, but full of an ardor which sometimes betrayed him, and involved him in a path, out of which it could not take him with an undefiled conscience, this time becomes, happily, the mouthpiece of all to express true faith. There was with him-with all of them-(not to speak of Judas) a real need, to which Jesus alone answered. This is very important. It does not at all appear that Peter had understood what Jesus had said: he knew not how to accept the sufferings of his Master, who called him Satan on that occasion when the flesh showed the supremacy it exercised over him. Still, the root was there with Peter; the need of possessing eternal life was awakened in him; he was conscious that this life was only to be found in Jesus, and that He was the sent One of God, come from God; Jesus possessed the words of eternal life. Whatever want of clearness might be in Peter's views, Peter thought of eternal life, with the need of possessing it himself; he believed and knew that Christ had the words which revealed it, and, by grace, communicated it, and that He was the Holy One of God, the One whom the Father had sanctified, and sent into the world. True faith was there, as well as the needs which God produces. There was not knowledge either of the deep truths which Christ was teaching, or of the persons for whom Peter answered, when he said, " we "; but the needs of the soul were there, as well as faith in the words and in the Person of Christ. Thus, through many falls, Peter was kept to prove himself to be faithful to the Savior to the end, and the Lord confided to him the sheep and lambs He loved-the apostle's ministry amongst the Jews- and also gave him to be the first who should bring in a Gentile. It is interesting to see that if the knowledge of the truths taught in this chapter was wanting, if there was true faith in the words and in the Person of Jesus, as sent of God (not merely as a prophet who spoke that which God gave him to say, but as being personally the Holy One of God, who had the words of eternal life), one possessed this eternal life, one possessed all.
1. This is not our subject here.
2. I have no doubt that the Old Testament saints were quickened; but we are speaking here of the work upon which their blessing, as ours also, was founded.