This is part 8 in a 23-part study on the Book of John. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
Let’s begin with a prayer. Lord, we thank You for our time together and we ask that you would guide our thoughts now as we reflect together on the glorious Gospel. Give us insight and not only a willingness to hear but also to apply and obey. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
We are looking at a story that involves yet another miracle, actually two miracles. After the account in John chapter five, where there was a case of mistaken identity, where people failed to see who, really, He is, we have understandings on two levels at once.
In John five we saw the healing at Bethesda and then we saw His discourse in Jerusalem with the rejection of His claims. He offered a number of witnesses as to who He was and we have a discourse that illustrates, through that healing, who He really is.
In this case, the healings, the miracles, reveals something more about who He is. The discourses in John are designed to communicate a message that is cumulative in its nature. Now, in this chapter we have the issue of the surface needs versus the deepest needs of humanity. We are going to see in this chapter that people are looking for just the surface needs. Just like the woman at the well, what was it that she wanted? She wanted physical water. The paralytic man wanted physical healing. One of the things you want to keep in mind is that we are dealing with the festival of the Passover.
It says in verse four, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.” There are going to be parallels here, with the stories and themes, to Exodus chapters 1 through 17. John is assuming that his readership has some familiarity with that. You have some imagery here, of how the manna in the Passover narrative, after you have the Passover and the great deliverance in the Red Sea and then the miracle of provision in the wilderness and the ideas that are found there are followed here and we have to understand that because it is going to give you understanding of the questions and issues that are raised. You need to see that Jesus is going to be superceding Moses himself.
For example, if you take a look at chapter six, verse five, of John, the question is raised by Jesus, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” It echoes the question that Moses raised in Numbers 11:3, “Where can I get meat for all these people?” In Numbers 11:1 the people grumbled and in John chapter six you see them grumbling in verses 41 and 43. You have the parallels there as well. In Numbers chapter 11, the manna was described, particularly in verses 7 through nine and in John 6:31 it describes the manna as well.
There is that allusion back to the manna in the wilderness. In fact, one of the interesting ones here is in verse nine, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” The interesting thing is that Moses raised this very question in Numbers 11, “We don’t have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them.” You see the similarities there? Even if we have all the fish, it won’t be enough.
Interestingly enough, in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was done about 250 BC, the word that was used for fish was ‘opsas’ and the very same word is used for fish here, ‘opsarion’, which is the plural translation. In the Numbers 11 account, for gathering all the fish in the sea, the word ‘sunago’ is used and in John 6:11, Jesus told them to gather all the fragments and the same word, ‘sunago’ is used. There are a lot of similarities and parallels and we are invited to see, then, that this is not accidental.
So, let us begin. In verse one, “After these things,” which evidently refers back to the healing at Bethesda and its sequel, which we talked about before. In chapter five, Jesus was rejected in Jerusalem because of this healing because he violated the traditions of the Elders concerning the Sabbath observance. They couldn’t really grasp that he was the fulfillment of all the Messianic promises of Scripture. What you have, by the way, are a number of events, and when you compare the three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, with John’s Gospel you discover that there are a number of events that were recorded in the other Gospels that are passed over here in this one. John’s Gospel is about 92% unique to John. Most of the material will not also be found in one of the synoptic Gospels.
It is a supplementary Gospel that really assumes that the reader has some familiarity with those accounts. Some of the things that happened in between chapter five and chapter six would be that the Sermon on the Mount was given and also there were the parables of the Kingdom. So, there was some time, clearly, between these two accounts. Now, this particular miracle, the one we see in John 6, with the feeding of the 5,000, is so significant that it is recorded in all four Gospels.
It is unique to have all four of them recording it. Some theologians claim that this was not a miracle at all. The idea, apparently, is that everyone just shared their lunches. That is not the case and you can tell by their reaction. Rather, this was a definite miracle and the people wanted to make Him king, so impressed were they by this. The response, in verses 14 and 15, indicate they wanted to make Him king because they saw He was something more than they had ever seen before.
It was clearly something to be accounted for as a great sign. There were some solutions to the problems that they had. When they went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and by the way, the word in Old Testament for this was ‘kinnerth’, for harp or lyre. The shape of the Sea of Galilee resembles a harp and so that is why they called it that. It would be approximately 13 miles in length and at its widest point it would be about six miles across. So, it is not a very large body of water.
I might point out, by the way, that this was an inland basin and it is 650 feet below sea level. It is a good deal lower, for example, than even Death Valley and it eventually reaches 1,300 feet below sea level when you reach the Dead Sea. That is the lowest point on the surface of the earth. Now, it is interesting that in the nature of this you have mountains to the West and East and those in the West are about 2,000 feet and those in the East, the Golan Heights of today, would be about 4,000 feet in height.
What is fascinating is that, typically, in the afternoon, the cooler air from the Mediterranean Sea would come across the lake and it would collide with the lower, hot air from this basin and often it would cause sudden storm systems. So, people who worked the Sea of Galilee had to be very, very careful about this because they could become quite violent.
In fact, we are going to see one of those violent storm systems in this chapter. I will point out, by the way, just a couple of things so we have this mind. Up in the Northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee there is a plain where, according to tradition, the feeding of the 5,000 took place. These people had come out because of the healings at Cana as well as at Capernaum that were very, very key and, of course, word eventually got out about His power to heal.
In any case, let us continue on. John mentions the city of Tiberias for people who may not have been familiar with the area. Herod Antipas founded that city, over on the western shore, around AD 26. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and he named it in honor of the emperor Tiberias.
Continuing, now, with verse two, “A large crowd followed Him because they saw the signs He was performing on those that were sick.” So, they were following Him around looking for signs, miracles, and wonders. They weren’t so interested in the source of the signs but in the outcomes. They wanted the healings that they would be having and they were fascinated by a miracle worker.
It goes on to say, “And Jesus went up on the mountain and there He sat with His disciples.” So, He sat with His disciples and “the problem was that the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Phillip, ‘Where are we to buy bread so that these may eat’?” Now, earlier, in Mark 6:35-36, the disciple’s solution was simply to send the people away. This would get rid of the problem but it wouldn’t be in their best interests.
Consequently, Jesus asked Phillip the question, “Where are we to buy bread so that these may eat?” He is kind of testing Phillip to see how he would respond. Sometimes people think money is the answer to all their problems. Phillip answered, in verse seven; “Two hundred denarli worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” That was about eight months worth of labor in those days.
He is testing, I think, the strength of Phillip’s faith and it a natural assumption for him to say if they had the money it would be no problem. One of the things folks discover in our world is that money often isn’t the answer to all things. We suppose it is but we discover it will leave us empty in the long run.
There was an old show years ago, called The Millionaire. You might recall that John Bairsford Tipton used to give out cashier’s checks for one million dollars. In this show the basic animating device was that the recipients could never reveal the amount or the source of the money.
The story line was centered around what impact it would have on those who received it. In most cases it was disastrous. Even now, when you hear about the impact on people winning the lottery, it is not a positive thing at all. Actually, it can be genuinely disastrous. People discover, too late, realize it is not the end to their problems. In any event, Andrew, then, found a boy, in verse eight, and said, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are those for so many people?” Now, barley loaves were a sign that these people were impoverished because barley was then associated with the bread of the poor.
I don’t know what he had in mind for Jesus to do, but he raises this question and then it goes on to say, “Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down’.” The number was about 5,000 and they gathered around and sat down. “Then Jesus took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted.” So what we see here is the miracle taking place in the hands of the Savior, not in the hands of the disciples. He is the One who multiplied the food and they had the privilege of passing it out.
I would encourage you, by the way, to go see the film, The Gospel of John, before it leaves town. It is a tough thing to pull off, just doing the whole Gospel of John. There is no screenplay. All you have is the Gospel, word for word. It is about as good a job as you can do. It stretches out to about three hours in length. On the whole, it is a pretty good interpretation of it. This is part of the Visual Bible Series. They have also done Matthew, as well as the book of Acts. This will work well with historical books like these, but I don’t know what they are going to do with the Epistles.
In any case, moving on, “When they were filled, He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost’. So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.” Now, this is a very important picture here because we see that in contrast to the ‘little’, in verse seven, the Lord gives it with abundance.
I am reminded of the imagery from Ephesians 3:20, where He gives you exceedingly and abundantly and beyond all that you ask for. Not only did He satisfy them but also there was food left over. There was more than they could even eat, and you are talking about a very large crowd. So, that is an amazing miracle and the imagery that we see here is that He is never impoverished, our Lord, by the generosity of His giving.
There is more than enough to satisfy the people, but it is interesting that it is still precious, so they gather it up and do not waste it. Two times, by the way, John mentions that Jesus gave thanks, here is verse 11 and again in verse 23. The Synoptics mentioned as well, in the same parable account that Jesus looked up Heaven when He gave thanks because He saw God as the source of all good and needful gifts. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Instead of complaining about what we don’t have, then, we need to give thanks to God for what we do have and I think God takes that and multiplies it. The idea here is that giving thanks is a settled attitude.
It is certainly relevant this week because it is Thanksgiving. Sadly, though, it is just a tack-on. We have now reduced it to what we call ‘turkey day’. It is rather a sad thing, just like some people call Christmas ‘Xmas’. Easter is associated with the Easter bunny and Easter eggs. It is almost like diffusing the real power behind these concepts. To give thanks is critical. The Eucharist, in liturgical Churches, means simply ‘the giving of thanks’.
The idea here is that it is something we are called to do and I argue that thanksgiving is a discipline; it is not meant to be left for spontaneous moments. It is something that we must choose to do and it is an attitude that one can have. And so, this idea here of giving thanks is this: see everything that you have as coming from the hand of God; that everything is really given by grace, everything is on loan. If we come to look at it that way we will have a different attitude on things.
We must invite God to be the One who determines the content of our life. We can only do what we can do, but we have to look to God for the outcome. So, this imagery of giving thanks is a big part, by the way, of our Lord’s ministry and it is a big part of the Epistles and, indeed, a big part of the Bible; the idea of remembering God in all things. So, I see a lesson in here, give all you have Jesus and let Him do the rest. You have give Him something, though; you see the idea here? Give Him something to start with and then He can multiply that. Give Him what you’ve got and it has been said that, “The Lord gives His best to those who allow Him to make the decisions.”
And so, we see in verse 14, “When the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world’.” Now, I have forgotten to mention that there is a parallel miracle in II Kings 4:42-44, where Elisha feeds 100 men with 20 barley loaves there were also baskets leftover there. Elisha is seen to be a type of Christ in the Old Testament. Now, here is what happening here, unlike the Judeans, the Galileans did accept Him as a Prophet, as anticipated in Deuteronomy 18:18.
Remember when Moses said, “There will be a greater Prophet than me who will come in the latter times.” They saw Him as a second Moses who could provide in the wilderness but they acknowledged Him for the wrong motives and the wrong intentions. And so, it says, “Jesus, seeing that they were intending to come and take Him by force, to make Him king, withdrew to the mountain by Himself alone.”
So, they wanted to seize Him and they wanted to use Him for their own agenda. I guess that their hope and expectation was that if He had this kind of power He could organize them and set Himself up as the King of the Jews and overcome the Roman dominion.
This idea, as the second Moses, then, is that He could do for them what the first Moses had done for their ancestors. What did the first Moses do? He delivered the people from oppression. However, I might also mention here that 1:19-25 and also John 7:40-42 seem to show that the Messiah and the Prophet were distinguished in their public expectation. They almost saw Him as two separate figures.
Now, the Scriptures, when we put it together, both speak of Him as One because the Prophet and the King and the Priest, in this case, are all one and the same. So, Jesus escapes this fate of being used by them for their own machinations by withdrawing to the mountain to pray in solitude. It is likely that He headed somewhat further north while He instructed His disciples to leave.
So, it says, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat they started to cross the sea Capernaum. It had already become dark and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat.” Apparently the wind was blowing contrary to where they were trying to go and so they were trying to row, instead of sailing against the wind. It says “They saw Jesus walking on the sea and nearing the boat; and they ere frightened.” The word would really be ‘terrified’ because this was a water miracle now. We have the miracle of the bread and now we a miracle involving water.
By the way, that would parallel Exodus chapters 13 through 15, the Red Sea crossing and his power over water. Let me return you to Psalm 77 for just a moment. There is also a parallel image here. You have to understand that Jesus is steeped in the Scriptures and a lot of these images would have been on His mind. Look at verse 16, “The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were in anguish; the deeps also trembled.” And in verse 19, “Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known. You led Your people lick a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”
So, it is an image of His authority over water that we see here. Going back to our text, the disciples, who are terrified, then, have to assured when He says to them, in verse 20, “It is I,” and the phrase He uses is ‘ego ami’, which translates as ‘I am’. This is one of those statements that be can drawn as a parallel with the ‘I am, that I am’ imagery that we see not only in Exodus but in other texts which point to Jesus saying, “If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins. Before Abraham was born, ‘ego ami’, I am.” That is a powerful image because it refers back to the idea of God as the ‘I am’.
So, He says, “I am, do not be afraid’. They were willing to receive Him into the boat.” They overcame their terror. They were probably more afraid of Him than they were of the storm. “Immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Was that another miracle? I don’t know, but all of sudden there they were, right where they wanted to go. Suddenly they were at the land. That reminds me, by the way, of another Psalm, Psalm 107. This is one of my favorite Psalms.
It is one of tremendous deliverance and it uses the imagery of deliverance in four ways. In verses 25 to 30, it says, “He spoke and He raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; their soul melted away in their misery. They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and they were at their wits end. Then they cried to their Lord in their trouble and He brought them out of their distresses.
He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed.” So, we see here a picture that goes on to say, “They were glad because they were quiet, so He guided them to their desired haven.” So, here we also see that, all of a sudden, they were where they wanted to be.
Now, here I see Jesus fulfilling the role of God. What has He already been doing? He has been feeding His people. He has been protecting them. He has been rescuing them and He has been guiding His followers despite the natural calamities that surrounded them. In an obviously similar way, I believe God will feed us and He will protect us and He will rescue us and guide us in our own lives.
Our lives, too, are going to be surrounded from time to time by storms and calamities. So, our calm sea, really, is in Christ even though the storms of life may become enraged, we still have One who can guide us to our desired haven. Only in His hands do we have the security to miss the shoals and storms of life. There we have that imagery and as I see it, then, this is a powerful way of seeing just exactly how Jesus really fulfills and satisfies and protects His own people.
Let us continue on, then, and by the way, when I see these stories about the boat it is like a floating seminary, there are four major events and each time you see them they learned something new about Jesus that they did not know before. And so, I see that as being a way of learning. Jesus used anything at His disposal to teach us.
May I say as well that He will use everything at our disposal to teach us. Some times we may not want that lesson, because it normally involves things you didn’t have in mind. That is how He broke through to them. usually God gets our attention best when we are at the limit of our own resources. Then he can break through and teach us and test us and He can encourage us and draw us closer to Himself as we gain new insights about Him. Now, it goes on to say, “The next day the crowd that stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other small boat there, except, and that Jesus had not entered with His disciples into the boat, but that His disciples had gone away alone. There came other small boats from Tiberias, near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.”
So, some of the crowd came over when they heard about the miracles and they up from the Northwest from Tiberias and then seeing that Jesus and His disciples were not there, they headed over toward Capernaum. In the account that we have, we will see Jesus having a discourse in the Synagogue of Capernaum. Look at verse 59 of chapter six, where it mentions this. “These he said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.” We could call this discourse, verses 25 through 58, the ‘bread of life’ discourse, just like you have the ‘upper room’ discourse and the discourse of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the ‘bread of life’ discourse.
It is a very important one because we gain insight as to what He is about. “When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here’?” Now, Jesus immediately responds. They are hoping to pursue Jesus and they want to see what He is going to do next. In verse 26, Jesus answers, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw signs because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” So, immediately He rebukes them because He is essentially telling them they are seeking Him for all the wrong reasons. They are looking for the gift and failing to grasp the nature of the giver.
It is very similar to the way He dealt with Nicodemus as well. He struck at the root of the materialistic assumptions of these Galileans. Their belief in Him, really, was an unbelief because it was based upon a complete misunderstanding of the miracle that He had wrought. He is trying to use that miracle to reveal truth about Himself, but they just want another handout. So, they failed to see the meaning that lies beneath it all.
They have no sense of the problem of sin and no have no longing for a higher form of life. He tells them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to the eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” He is telling them not to work for things that perish, but to work for the things that won’t perish. Remember, Jesus said to the woman, “You want to have a drink, but I am going to offer a drink, that if you ask for it, you will never thirst again.” It is similar here; living bread and living water. It is the fulfillment of both.
Now this is a very important section, these next two verses, and I want you consider them carefully. “Therefore, they said to Him, ‘What shall we do so that we may work the works of God’?” If you didn’t read the next verse, what do you suppose that He might have said? This is a very critical question; “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”
In other words, what work should we accomplish? This is where religions come into play because religious systems are essentially work systems. ‘Tell us what we need to do in order to get where we need to go’. It is usually a ‘works’ idea; if you pray this way, or you say this and do that, and they are sets of ‘do’s and don’ts’. Surprisingly, Jesus answers and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent.” The one work you can do is the work of belief. It is a work of faith and not a work you accomplish. It is something that is given to you and this is where the idea of grace come in. So, like most people steeped in religious tradition, they thought they had better do something to merit eternal life and Jesus is telling them that the only work necessary is believing in Him.
This reminds me of Ephesians 2:8-10. Turn there because I would really like you to keep this passage in mind. These are some of His best known verses, really, when He says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” So, it is this grace of God that makes it possible and it is our faith that lays hold of grace.
Faith, really, and as we know is of trust. It is not intellectual assent. It is trusting in a person. “That is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” even the gift of faith, “it is not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” So, we have this incredibly important answer. It reminds me of a story I sometimes tell, of a woman who got a job in a textile factory. When she began to work the foreman instructed her on how to work a certain loom. She practiced and had it down well enough and he said if she had any problems with this loom to please stop. Don’t try to fix it yourself. After a couple of hours everything is going well and all of a sudden a little problem surfaces. But, it is of such a small nature that she figures she can handle it.
You can guess what happens. Her trying to fix a small problem leads to another and another and another. After about an hour of trying to fix it, she works up an emotional involvement and then the guy shows back up. He said, ‘I told you if you had a problem with the loom to call me’. She snapped back, ‘I’m doing the best I can’. He said, ‘No, your not. The best you can would have been to call me’. You see the idea? I think most people try to fix the looms of their lives themselves.
But God would answer, ‘Your best will not suffice’. The best thing you can do is to call upon the name of the Lord and lay hold of grace by faith. So, this is the one work that we must do in order to do the works of God. Now, back to John verse 30, “So they said to Him, ‘What then do you do for a sign, so that we may see and believe You’?”
Now, what we have here are people who are part of a congregation and as we move into the synagogue there are going to be some people who have not seen His sign that He performed the previous day. They are raising the questions of what they can see and what work dies He perform. “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread out of Heaven to eat.” They were wanting to know if He could give them that kind of sign. The interesting thing here is that the Jews expected what they called a ‘treasury of manna’ to be actually descending upon them.
In the inter-testamental writings they discuss this and there was an oral tradition about this treasure. Actually, in an early Jewish commentary on the book of Exodus, it said, “As the first redeemer caused manna to descend,” and who is the first redeemer, here? It was Moses. Then, “So will the latter redeemer cause manna to descend.” They were expecting that the new redeemer would feed them and cause manna to descend upon them. Actually, they had the physical kind of manna in mind.
It reminds me, also, of Deuteronomy 8:3, “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” What Jesus, then, is showing them is that He is giving them bread that is more than physical bread. I am giving you bread that comes from the hand of God Himself. So, rather than have the duplication of the miracle of manna, Jesus is basically saying here that you must seek something more substantive than that.
Again, I fear that what often takes place is that people seek His benefits more than seeking Him. They see Jesus as a means or as a utility for having a more comfortable life. But, He is the one who tells them that there is more to it than this. Jesus tells them, in verse 32, “Truly, truly I say to you that it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.” It wasn’t even Moses who did that, it was the Father who did that. “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world. Then they said, ‘Lord, always give us this bread’.”
Again, I think they are thinking only of the physical. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life, he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst.” This is the first of the ‘I am’ statements in the Gospel of John. They are found only in the Gospel of John. “I am the light of the world,” He will say in chapter 8 verse 12. He will say, “I am the doer of the sheep,” in chapter 10. He will say, “I am the good shepherd,” also in chapter 10. He will say, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He will also say, “I am the way, the truth and the light,” and finally He will say, “I am the true vine.” In each of these seven ‘I am’ statements He reveals a little something about His character, His mission, and His nature.
So, this is a powerful picture here for the need for us to come and to receive and to believe. It is not a personal asset, but a personal reception. “He who believes in Me will never thirst.” That is the Gospel, essentially; coming to Him and trusting in Him. You transfer your trust from your own work; ‘I’m doing the best I can’, to His grace and work. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him who He has sent.”
It is the Father who sends down this manna, this living bread, that causes us to live. So, in verse 36, then, He tells them, “I see that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” He knows those that are His own. He is saying that many of them have seen Him but still refuse to believe. “All that the Father gives me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”
The success of His efforts depends entirely upon the Father. This is something that the Father gives Him and what we have here is an important discourse that concerns the sovereignty of God. In the sovereignty of God we see a mystery, a mystery of how God will accomplish His purposes and how we are still required to respond.
I find that the only solution to the mystery, as I have said several times before, is to embrace the tension and to acknowledge that whosoever will, will come to the Father, and at the same time the Father chooses those who are His. It is not a determinism or fatalism, but rather it is a matter of a synergy between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. He honors our choices, but a choice must be made. And so, He goes on to say, “All that the Father gives me will come to Me.”
He is saying that I can hold them in my hands in such a way that they will never be cast out. That is a wonderful word of assurance. If you have been called to the Father, then He will not cast you out. You are His. Jesus goes on to say, in verse 38, “I have come down from Heaven not to do my own will but the will of the One who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the Last day.” That is His assurance and that promise, by the way, is what gives me confidence in the world. Frankly, if I were depending on my own good works and performance I would be in serious trouble.
But instead, He is saying that once you come to Me, which is the work of God, I will hold you in My hand. This is even more clearly seen in John chapter ten. He goes on to say, “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” That particular verse, verse 40, is a powerful picture of the message of the truth. My Father’s will, that anyone who beholds the Son and trusts in Him, will have the possession of eternal life and in the future that person will be raised up on that last day. That is the assurance; that they will have a new position, they will have a new destiny and they are given assurance, the security and assurance that they will be raised up on the last day, to enjoy resurrected life with the Father and the Son. In verse 41, “Therefore, the Jews were grumbling about Him because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven’.”
This is natural because some of the people knew Him from His youth. They were thinking, ‘isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph and whose father and mother we know? How can he now say that he has come down from heaven’? So, they despise what He is saying because it doesn’t make a bit of sense to them. They and wondering how He could make such a claim. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day’.”
What He is saying here is the you do not have the power to come to the Father. That is something that the Father must grant to you. At the same time, it does not eliminate the idea that all who come to Him, He will receive. The idea of believing and the idea of being called are two sides of the same coin. “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God’. Everyone who has heard and learned of the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone who has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has,” and again, present tense, “eternal life. I am the bread of life.” There is a parallel to the early statement, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” Now, we are introduced to a new dimension in this verse. First of all, we saw that He moves from the obvious.
Bread on a hillside; that is the obvious. The next level is the symbolic; “I am the bread of life.” He is now saying that the manna that comes down from heaven is, in fact, Me. I am the living Manna. I am the living bread that comes down from the hands of the Father. Just as it was the Father who gave you manna in the wilderness, My Father is now giving you living bread so that now if you eat of this you will never die, in the ultimate sense. You will be raised on the Last day. Now, we go from the obvious, the bread on the hillside, to the symbolic, “I am the bread of life” and now we go to the third dimension, a dimension further in.
This will alienate even some of His own disciples when He says this. This is the spiritually mystical. You must eat my flesh and drink my blood. Now He is saying this bread must be consumed. First it was the literal bread. Then it was the spiritual bread, which comes down from Heaven, but now, in the third dimension, He is saying you must consume this bread. By the way, it is in the ‘aorist’ tense, which means a singular event of appropriation; you must take this and eat.
It is the imagery of receiving Christ. “I am the living bread that came down out of Heaven, and if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” You can imagine how they received that. Sounds almost like cannibalism. “Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat’? So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves’. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.
For My flesh is true food and My blood true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him’.” He is saying here, and of course He is not talking about cannibalism in the literal sense, but it is an image of eating and drinking, which is one of consuming, it is one of receiving. And so, when we think about the Lord’s Supper, we have an idea, an image here, of consuming.
It is a sacramental picture of what it means for us to receive His life, by feeding on Him and drawing our life from Him. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats of Me, he will also live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” These things were said in a Synagogue, while He taught in Jerusalem. You can just imagine the uproar that would have taken place.
One of the things that helped me, when I saw The Gospel of John, was that the visual caused me to see the tensions and the resulting opposition much more clearly. Several times you see them literally picking up stones to stone Him. You could just see the tension that was involved when He was communicating these things to the people. As a result, this is going to alienate people. In fact, many of His own disciples, as it says in verse 60, thought it “Is a difficult statement and who can listen to it?”
You see, the people wanted to follow Him to get the handout and now Jesus sharpens the edge of His teaching when the crowd gets too large. He is not looking for a big crowd. What He is looking for is people who will be followers of Him and take Him seriously enough to pursue Him.
In verse 61 we see, “But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should see the Sin of Man ascending to where He was before’?” You see, full glorification is a composite. It is a composite of three things. It is a composite of Jesus’ death, which is the Cross, the Resurrection and the Ascension. So, the Glorification includes not only the Cross but then His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. So, He says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
It is an image, here, of drinking Him and eating Him, and it is an image of receiving Him by receiving the Spirit. The idea of the spirit of God, then, is that we receive the life of the Son by means of the power of the Holy Spirit after we put our trust and faith in Him. But He goes on to say, “’There are some of you who do not believe’. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him from the Father’.” I must be honest with you, Jesus said things that do not actually draw a crowd.
I promise you, if people preached this way today, they would have empty churches. Just stop and think about it. He was not trying to please or entertain. He was, in fact, teaching in such a way that He knew that many people would be divided. He also knew this, and this is the important thing, that no one is going to be able to grasp this mysterious truth unless the Father reveals it.
You have to understand that this is a major theme. ‘They are called by My Father and they can not grasp this mystery unless My Father reveals it’. So it is with us. If you really analyze the mystery of the Gospel, you have to realize that it really is quite strange. You are putting your eternal destiny in the hands of a carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago. It sounds totally absurd and preposterous.
And then if we think about the idea of feeding from Him and living with Him, and we think about the unique doctrines that He claims, that it is not a matter of your works but it is a matter of His work for you and that you can do nothing but offer up empty hands to receive this free gift. That is a hard thing and it goes completely contrary to human nature because it is our natural disposition to say, ‘what can we do for you’? ‘What can we do in exchange for that’? Everything He says, everything He teaches, is contrary to our own expectations and it was contrary to the Jewish expectations.
Every time He speaks they are thinking of Him on the material level and He is speaking on a different level; a spiritual and, indeed, a mystical level because when we stress what Christianity is about we discover it is dealing with incomprehensibles. It is dealing with things that the mind can not really grasp. It is dealing with revelations and God, in dealing with revelations, always carries us beyond the ceiling of our own comprehension. It is not irrational, it is of a higher nature.
It reveals the mind of God and I claim, therefore, that only if God reveals this to us can we receive that revelation, just as the Scriptures are revelations from God, so the Spirit of God must break through into the human heart and give us the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. The other breakthrough you are going to have is that the eyes of your heart are enlightened, as Ephesians one shows us. Only when that happens, when you get a spirit of wisdom and of revelation, will you grasp the spiritual truth. This is not stuff where you can just read the Gospels and suddenly know.
It requires more than that. It requires an openness to the Spirit of God and a willingness to receive what He has for us. That open heart, then, enables us to be in a position where the Spirit of God can speak to our spirits and reveal and illuminate that truth. It is not something that you and I can pull off. That is why, by the way, when I share the Gospel the pressure is off.
It is off because I am not responsible for the outcome. I have to tell you that I used to have the idea that unless a person signed on the dotted line that I failed when I witnessed to someone. It put tremendous pressure on me. A lot of people just did it out of guilt, of course, and wanted it for pride, like having spiritual scalps on their belt. But, my thinking is that I discovered that evangelism is really a part of a larger process. Only God knows who was involved in your conversion.
But, I promise you it is more than you may think. People that you don’t even know have prayed for you and they will never know the impact that they had. There are people involved who prayed for us and some shared with us and some manifested a quality of life to us. One might plant and another might water, but God is going to be the One who is causing the growth. When I realized that, I was free to be myself and share the good news when I have the opportunity and not try to club them over the head.
Then, I look to God for the outcome because, to be frank with you, we are utterly impotent to change another person. I can’t even change myself and if I can’t change myself, how am I going to change another person? Never make it your agenda to change another human being. It is the power of God that makes it possible.
But, what I see here is the mystery; the mystery that surrounds the life of Christ. He is saying that all the things that I do, whether it is the miracle of the wine in Cana or the miracle we see of the new birth that Jesus describes to Nicodemus, or the healing of the nobleman’s son, or the miracle of the living water that He was offering, or the idea of taking a person who has been paralyzed and making him walk by giving an oral command, it is impossible to comprehend it all.
Remember what He told that man to do? “Take up your pallet and rise.” The point is that you can’t rise. Yet that very word, that very command, had the power of fulfillment. So it is, as well, here, with the feeding of the multitudes. All these things, in their various ways, point to the true mystery, which is the incarnate God; the God-man who fulfills all the old messianic prophecies and the One who is “the way, the truth and the light.” He is all these things and He has a unique message. It is not just a message of God but it is a message that He is the way to the Father. His message is always related to Him.
I sometimes quote this sermon that Ghana gave, at Christmas of 1930, “Even if it was found that Jesus of Nazareth never lived, the Sermon on the Mount would be true for me.” While that might sound all pleasant and nice, it is actually utterly false. Even on the Sermon of the Mount Jesus talks, unabashedly, about Himself. He can not separate Himself from His teaching. If He never existed, or wasn’t who He claimed to be, it would be false. It would not be true for me.
When people say they like the Sermon on the Mount and it is a beautiful passage, I think to myself, have they read it lately? It is a frightening passage. Actually, it reveals things about Jesus that are terrifying in many ways and causes us to recoil. He is saying that “many will call to Me on that day.” The worst words you could ever hear from Him would be, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” The worst words you could ever hear Him say would be, “I never knew you.” Just as the very same Jesus says that the best words you can hear are “well done, good and faithful servant and enter into the joy of your master.” He Himself is saying that the best and worst words you can ever hear have to do with your relationship with Me. That is pretty strong stuff.
Now, the disciples, as we conclude, struggle and wrestle with this. In fact, in verse 66, we see, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” Remember that they had these different levels. You had the ‘curious’, on the one hand, those who wondered what was He going to do next, and then you had the ‘convinced’, and they were certain He was who He claimed to be and then there were the ‘committed’. You could still have that intellectual conviction without being personally committed to Him. The issue of commitment is illustrated here with Peter’s response.
So, many of them were not walking with Him any more and He said to them, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him and this is one of Simon Peter’s greatest words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” In other words, he is saying he has no other option. That, to me, may well be a motive that you many have to come to.
When everything else is stripped away, once you came to Christ you admitted that everything else was bankrupt. When you admit that, even though you don’t feel you can understand Him or things are falling apart, you realize you have no other place to go. Sometimes, that is the only thing that keeps us there. Now, may I invite you to believe that Peter was no more aware of what Jesus meant than many of the people who actually left? I think he was confused by this word, too.
The difference between Peter and the twelve, and the many who left, was that they were so committed to Him that they saw no other way. They didn’t understand Him, but they would still follow Him. Frankly, that is what God wants us to do. He is more interested in us committing to Him and following Him than He is in our understanding Him. There will be a lot of things that He teaches and shows us that we will not understand. We are dealing in the realm of pure mystery here in many ways.
So, Peter goes on to say, “We have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” It is interesting because in the Synoptic Gospels this phrase, “the Holy One of God,” is actually used describing demons who acknowledged His authority and position.
It is an Old Testament title, ‘The Holy One of Israel’. Peter is given a revelation of Jesus’ identity. Remember earlier he said something like that? What did he say? He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Now he says, “You are the Holy One of God.” So, God the Father revealed these things to him. Jesus answered, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” He meant Judas, the son of Simon Escariot, because he was the one of the twelve who was going to betray Him.
So, as we tie this chapter together, we realize that there are going to be times when you have no other options. It may be the only thing that keeps you there. There will be other times when we are motivated by love or gratitude, or by our identity in Jesus Christ, or by our perspective or purpose. All these are good things. Sometimes, though, it will be this negative one that holds us there.
As we conclude, we can ask ourselves, how are we fed by God? The whole thing is an imagery of being fed by Him. Feeding on Christ, to abide on Him, to rest in His presence, to walk by the Spirit, to practice His presence, all these are dynamic images of a process to invite us to practice His presence and to draw our life and our sustenance from Him on an ongoing basis.
(Q)(A): Yes, when the miracles stopped, or when He started talking about hard things, they weren’t interested in that. They weren’t interested in the giver. They were only interested in the handouts. In a very real way, I fear that we can do a more sophisticated number on that; we can call ourselves Christians but we can actually use these things for our own particular agenda. We create our own image and then we want God to baptize our plan. When He doesn’t show up in the way we have in mind then we get upset with Him. There is this way of trying to feed on the wrong thing. Clearly, without the signs, none of these people would have been following Him. By the way, that is the reason why Jesus commits Himself to a small handful. It is His focus that He has a small band of people that He really spends His time with, not a large crowd. In fact, as the Gospels go on, as you know, it all narrows. He goes from less and less public discourse to more and more of His time dedicated to small numbers, especially in view of His mounting opposition. When He knows He is going to die, He knows His mission is going to be in the hands of these few and so He focuses on the few rather than the multitudes.