In this chapter, Jesus feeds the five thousand. He walks on water. Then he teaches that he is the bread of heaven. Finally, he reveals that his words are Spirit and life, which is the interpretive key to the symbols abounding in this chapter.
As I write in every introduction:
This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.
The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.
A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand (John 6:1-15)
1 Afterwards, Jesus departed beyond the Lake of Galilee (also called the Lake of Tiberias). 2 A large crowd was following him because they saw the signs which he was doing for those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus left for the hill country and sat down there with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Feast of Passover was near.
5 Jesus, lifting up his eyes and, seeing the large crowd coming towards him, said to Philip, “Where should we buy bread from, so that they may eat?” 6 (He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was about to do.) 7 Philip answered: “Two hundred denarii to buy bread would not be sufficient for them so that each one could receive even a little bit of it!” 8 One of the disciples, Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, said, to him, Andrew, 9 “Here’s a child who has five barley loaves and two fishes, but what is this for so many people?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” (There was plenty of green grass in that place.) So the men, numbering about five thousand, sat down. 11 Jesus then took the bread, blessed it, and distributed it to those sitting down, and he did the same with the fish, as much as they were wanting.
12 When they were full, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the abundant fragments, so that nothing spoils. 13 So they gathered it and filled up twelve baskets with fragments, from five barley loaves, which were abundantly left over by those who had eaten.
14 Therefore, the men, seeing the sign he did, said, “This man is truly the prophet coming into the world.”
15 So then Jesus, knowing that they were about to seize him in order to make him king, withdrew alone to the hill country.
This is the only miracle that appears in all four Gospels (Matt. 14: 13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17). They are remarkably similar.
Here is a table of the signs, but John also clarifies in various places that Jesus performed many other signs. So now we see that John’s narrative is highly stylized and edited, to suit his purpose.
THE EIGHT SIGNS OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
|1||Turning water into wine||2:1-11, the “beginning” or “first” sign|
|2||Healing an official’s son||4:43-54 “the second sign”|
|3||Healing a disabled man at a pool||5:1-15; see 6:2, where many healings are summarized|
|4||Feeding 5000||6:1-14 (see 6:14 and 6:26)|
|5||Walking on water||6:16-21|
|6||Healing a man born blind||9:1-12 (see 9:16 and “such signs”)|
|7||Raising Lazarus from dead||11:1-44 (see “signs” in 11:47 and “this sign” in 12:18)|
|8||Rising from the dead||20:1-31 (see many other signs in 20:30)|
|Source: BTSB, p. 2141, slightly edited. I repost it here because this is cyber-space, so we don’t need to worry about cost per printed page.|
And here is the purpose of the signs, without a complicated commentary:
30 So then Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 These were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory. Evidently, Messiahship and Sonship are interchangeable here.
“sign” is used as a synonym for miracles and works (erga in Greek), that is another term for miracles. They confirm the message and Jesus himself, but they are designed to help people in need:
Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally.
The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.
The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” Instead, everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.
Now let’s move on.
These four verses set the scene for the miracle. We know where they are (eastern side of the lake) and what time of the year it is. “Afterwards” means that the next event happened after the healing of the man in Jerusalem and Jesus’s long speech to the Jerusalem establishment.
Verse 10 says there was plenty of grass in the hill country around the Lake of Galilee, and the Passover is in March / April, when the rainfall was abundant. So the grass would of course be green. Mark 6:39 also confirms that the grass was green.
The Lake of Galilee is also named Kinnereth in the OT (Num. 34:11 and so on), which means “lyre,” because of its shape. It was also called “Lake Tiberias from the city which Herod Antipas founded on its western shore about A.D. 20 and named in honour of the Emperor Tiberius. The lake had probably not acquired this new name at the time of Jesus’ ministry, but it was generally so known by the time this Gospel was written (cf. John 21:1)” (Bruce, comment on vv. 1, 2).
Three Passovers are mentioned: John 2:53 and 11:55. (The best manuscripts do not call the festival of the Jews in 5:1 the Passover.) So rather than going up into Jerusalem for the Passover, as was customary, he withdrew to the hill country around the lake. Jesus did not feel the need to get to Jerusalem. He went by the Father’s timeclock and followed the Father. He was not bound to keep the Passover as the religious authorities demanded it. He had just had a major confrontation with the religious establishment there in John 5, so he retreated, to minister to his home region, up north in Galilee.
For a description of the Passover, click back to John 2 and scroll down to v. 13:
“Disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
John 1:44 and 12:21 say that Philip was from Bethsaida, and Luke 9:10 says that the miracle happened near Bethsaida, on the north shore of the lake. So of course Jesus would ask a local man where they could get food to feed so many people.
Why was Jesus testing Philip? He wanted to find out if Philip had the faith to trust God to work a miracle. Jesus knew that they did not have the money to buy food to feed all the people. Jesus knew their backs were against the wall. Could Philip have faith in God and his Son?
Now for the verb “test.” It comes from the verb peirazō (pronounced pay-rah-zoh), and it can mean both “tempted” and “tested” in the right context. Here are the nuanced meanings and their verses: “try, attempt” (Acts. 9:26; 16:7; 24:6); “try, make trial of, put to the test” (Matt. 16:1; 22:18, 35; Mark 10:2; John 6:6; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 13:5; Heb. 2:18; 11:17; Rev. 2:2; 3:10); make trial of God, which is not a good idea (Acts 5:9; 15:10; 1 Cor. 10:9; Heb. 3:9); “tempt, entice to sin (Matt. 4:1; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:2; Gal. 6:1; 1 Thess. 3:5; Jas. 1:13; Rev. 2:10). The context determines the nuanced meanings.
Temptation: To provoke you to do evil, in order to ruin and sideline you
Testing: To find out what is in your character, in order to improve and grow you up
The context here is to test. Jesus was not provoking Philip to do evil, but to build his faith. It is true, however, that Philip was thinking in natural terms and did not believe that God would work a miracle as he did for Elisha.
In Exod. 16 story God gave the manna to the people, and here Jesus does the same, becoming the giver of manna that satisfies the multitudes. In 2 Kings 4, Elisha fed one hundred with twenty loaves of bread. Jesus is about to feed many more.
A denarius was the pay for an agricultural worker’s daily work (Matt. 20:2), if he could get work, since it was seasonal. Philip calculated that 200 denarii would not be enough to buy enough food (Mark 6:37 also says 200 denarii.). If we add in women and children, then there may have been 10,000 to 20,000 people. I reject the views of postmodern critics who are hyper-skeptical about miracles. I accept them, and I advise you to do the same.
Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, both of whom were also originally from Bethsaida (John 1:44), speaks up because he saw a child carrying five barley loaves (and all the Gospels agree on five, flat, disk-like pieces) and two fish (all the Gospels agree on two fish). Then he did not pass the test because he asked the nature-bound question: What good would this tiny amount be for so many people? The disciples had little faith, but would we be any better and have gigantic faith? I wouldn’t think of OT precedence in Elisha’s miracle.
Jesus told the disciples to have the people recline (literally the Greek says this, because their posture was to lay down while they ate), but most translation go with “sit down” to make it more culturally relevant for our times. Mark says they sat down in companies of hundreds and fifties, while Luke says in groups of about fifty (Matthew does not mention these organizing divisions.) Clearly the disciples organized the five thousand men (and Matt. 14:21 adds that women and children were there in addition to the five thousand men), for ease of distribution. Jesus knew what he was about to do (v. 6), so everything was done in order and harmony. I trust that your family dinners are set out in this kind of harmony.
Bruce makes the connection that five thousand men would be enough for a powerful militia or guerilla-force to back up their new king (comment on vv. 10, 11). This is what the people wanted to do (v. 15).
Then Jesus took up the bread, held it up, and looked upward to his Father in heaven and blessed it. The traditional Jewish blessing for bread: “Blessed art thou, Lord our God, King of the world, who bringest forth bread from the earth” (Bruce comments on vv. 10, 11). He did the same for the fish.
“bless”: it comes from the Greek verb eulogeō (pronounced eu-loh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard), and it literally means to “speak well.” BDAG defines the term, depending on the context, as follows: (1) “to say something commendatory, speak well of, praise, extol”; (2) “to ask for bestowal of special favor, especially of calling down God’s gracious power, bless”; (3) “to bestow a favor, provide with benefits.” Here it is the second definition. Some translations have “he gave thanks.” Being grateful even for food shows gratitude and an acknowledgement that God is the source.
Note: He did not bless the food, but he blessed God!
John uses here the Greek word for abundance, both the noun (abundance in v. 12) and the verb (abounding leftovers in v. 13). Translators go with different renderings, but whatever they say, they had twelve baskets full, and the people ate until they were “full” or “fully satisfied.” All the Gospels agree, by the way, that there were twelve baskets full of leftovers. Of course we can’t miss that these were twelve disciples by now in the Synoptic Gospels, so no doubt that by this time, Jesus had already called the twelve. Is the number both literal (there really were twelve baskets) and symbolic (twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles)? Possibly. Probably. If so, then the symbolic message is that God could supply the spiritual needs of Israel at this time, but they could not see their Messiah right in front of them. And when they believed him to be their prophet (Deut. 18:18), they were about to make him their military king. They were spiritually blind.
Mounce: “Not only do we learn the practical lesson of not wasting food, but we learn the practical lesson that however bountifully the Lord bestows his grace, there is always more than enough to go around” (comment on v. 13).
Carson: John portrays this as a miracle, not a eucharist mouthful, still less an ethical lesson on how to shame people into sharing their lunches. This is the provision of the Lord who declares, ‘My people will be filled with my bounty’” (Jer. 31:14) (Carson, comments on vv. 12-13).
When the people saw this sign or miracle, they wanted to make him their king. Presumably, they would hole up in the Judean or Galilean hills, and Jesus could feed them every day by the miracle of bread and fish, similar to what God did for the children of Israel and manna, “the bread of heaven” (Exod. 16:4). He might even be able to call down fire on Roman soldiers, like Elijah did on the two companies of fifty soldiers sent by the king of Samaria (2 Kings 1:9-14). The new military of five thousand men would be unstoppable, much like the Israelites were in the wilderness as they were heading towards the Promised Land. This time unbelief and fear would not overtake and disqualify them from entering the New Promised Land (Num. 13:30-14:12), because Jesus would lead them. No doubt some of the men envisioned that the numbers would increase to many thousands beyond the five thousand; then they could march on Jerusalem and conquer it for the LORD, and God’s People would live as they were destined to be—a mighty nation, beaming out some sort of light to the nations.
However, Jesus either learned of their plan or he knew it by supernatural knowledge. In either case, he withdrew from the twelve and the five thousand eager men, alone in the hill country. It was best to do this, for God had a different plan—to rescue the whole world from their spiritual darkness, if people would exercise their faith in the Lord. He would save them from their sins, not from the Roman army. His mission was spiritual, not military.
Jesus seemed to slip away from them, much as he did in these two verses:
29 They got up and drove him out of the town and led him up to the edge of the hill on which their town had been built, to throw him off. 30 But he passed through the middle of them and left. (Luke 4:29-30)
In those two verses in Luke, they intended to seize him by force to throw him off a high point. But he miraculously walked through them, as if he had a divine hedge of protection surrounding him and keeping them away. Here in John 6:15, he slipped away. Either way, his Father was not going to allow his Son to follow people’s will and plans.
Satan tempted him to bow to him and take all the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8-10; Luke 4:6-8). He said no.
Finally, let’s discuss the differences in the four Gospel accounts of the feeding of the five thousand. What struck me is how similar the stories are in their details, down to the five loaves and two fish. However, critics will always find fault with the differences.
For a reply, see this chapter and scroll down to vv. 13-21:
GrowApp for John 6:1-15
A.. Jesus tested Philip to find out how much faith he had. How has Jesus tested you in your walk with him? Did you fail or pass the test?
B.. Good news: when we fail the test, we get to take it again! Have you ever had to take the same test over again? How did it work out?
Jesus Walks on the Water (John 6:16-24)
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 and getting in a boat, they were trying to cross the lake to Capernaum. It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come for them. 18 The lake was stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had gone twenty or thirty stadia, they saw Jesus walking on the lake, and when he got close to the boat, they were afraid. 20 But he said to them, “It is I! Do not fear!” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was on the shore where they were going.
22 The next day, the crowd standing on the other side of the lake saw that no other small boat was there except one and that Jesus did not go with his disciples, but his disciples had departed alone. 23 Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had blessed it. 24 When therefore the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got in boats and went to Capernaum, looking for Jesus.
Capernaum was not so far from Bethsaida, and the disciples got in a boat by a prearranged plan made with Jesus (“Jesus had not yet come for them”). The scene was evening, and then after some rowing it had become dark. So things became potentially dangerous, but never fear, Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen (Andrew was probably a fisherman). They were experienced with storms that whipped up, because the lake sat in a bowl with hills surrounding it, so the winds came down the hills with strong force.
A “Jesus boat” was found in the mud on the shore of the Lake of Galilee. It could hold twelve men. Please google it.
Concerning the darkness, Carson writes: it “may also be symbol-laden: as in 3:2; 11:30, the darkness of night and the absence of Jesus are powerfully linked” (comment on vv. 16-18).
Borchert agrees: “Darkness may describe not only the setting but also the disciples’ theological situation as they entered a boat and headed from the east side across the lake to Capernaum on the northwest side (6:17)” (comment on 6:16-19a)
On the storms hitting the Lake (or Sea) of Galilee, Carson states the following about the geography and weather patterns: “The Sea of Galilee lies about six hundred feet [182.88m] below sea level. Cool air from the south-eastern tablelands can rush in to displace the warm moist air overt he lake, churning the water in a violent squall” (comments on 16-18).
A stadion (plural: stadia) was about 605 feet or 185m. They had gone three or four miles or 4.82 to 6.42 km. Then, during the storm, Jesus walked on the water. And as he got closer, they became afraid. Then he reassured him. In Greek he literally says, “I am!” but most translations go with “It is I!” or some other variation. In this context, he is merely identifying himself, as the man healed of blindness did in identifying himself (John 9:9). See vv. 34-35, below, for the first of the I AM saying where he does allude to the I AM of Exod. 3:14.
The disciples were wanting to take him into the boat because he reassured them that the figure walking on the water was indeed the Lord. They left behind their fear and actually brought him into the boat.
John seems to portray next part of the story as a miraculously accelerated speed to reach the shore, while Matt. 14:22-27 and Mark 6:45-52 do not have this (apparent) miracle. So we have these choices: (1).. Either this is a miracle which Matthew and Mark omit; (2).. Or John compressed the time, and Matthew and Mark end their versions with the wind stopping, without narrating how and when they got to shore.
Remember: the fact that a Gospel omits one or two details, while another Gospel includes the detail or details do not add up to a contradiction, but a difference, and a difference ≠ a contradiction. In fact, a difference ≠ an error. The Gospel authors had the freedom to include or omit data points as they saw fit, as they were inspired by the Spirit. They were not androids.
Please see the links and the simple addition at the end of the previous pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) to put things in perspective. Postmodern critics fish around for differences and then tell the world that the Bible is full of errors. They take things too far without understanding how ancient biblical narratives work. The critics are part of their own times, and I encourage everyone to see them for who they are and not take their jack-hammer analysis seriously.
These complicated verses add up to these details: (1) the crowd remained (literally “stood”) on shore where the disciples had departed from. (2) They learned or recognized or saw that Jesus had not left with the disciples on the previous evening. (3) The disciples had left without Jesus. So where was Jesus? (4) Other boats arriving from Tiberias came to shore, presumably rowed or sailed by other people. (5) They landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread blessed by the Lord. (6) Then the crowd observed or found out that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there where the miracle feeding took place. (Maybe they thought that the place was also blessed and Jesus and the twelve disciples would remain there to soak up the atmosphere, but of course if this was their thinking, they were wrong, but I’m only speculating.) (7) They got in the boats (or got back in their boats) and left for Capernaum, looking for Jesus.
They did not see the miraculous walking on the water, probably because it was done when it had already been dark.
This is a transitional pericope or section, and now we have the crowds looking for Jesus, but what was their motive? To be disciples or to get more food?
Jesus answers this question himself in the next pericope. Then he delivers a long teaching full of symbols.
GrowApp for John 6:16-21
A.. God wants to work miracles that calm the storms in your life. How has he done this for you? Tell your story.
Jesus Is the Bread of Heaven (John 6:25-59)
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 In reply, Jesus said to them, “I tell you the firm truth: You do not seek me because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves of bread and were fully satisfied. 27 Do not work for food that spoils but for food which lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, for God has set his seal of approval on him.” 28 So they said to him, “What should we do, so that we work the works of God?” 29 In reply, Jesus said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then which sign do you perform so that we may see it and believe you? What would you work? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” [Exod. 16:15; Num. 11:7-9; Ps. 78:23-25; Neh. 9:15] 32 So Jesus said to them, “I tell you the firm truth: It was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread from God is the one coming down from heaven and giving life to the world. 34 So they said to him, “Sir, always give us this bread.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one coming to me will never be hungry, and the one believing in me will never thirst.
36 “But I say to you: Though you have seen me, yet you do not believe. 37 Everyone whom my Father gives to me will come to me, and I will in no way throw out the one coming to me, 38 because I have come down from heaven, not to do my will, but the will of the one who sent me. 39 This is the will of the one who sent me: That everyone whom he gives me I will not lose any of them, but I will raise them up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father: everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
41 The Jews began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread coming down from heaven.’ 42 And they were saying, “Isn’t this Jesus, son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it that he now says that he has come down from heaven?” 43 In reply, Jesus said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the one who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And everyone shall be taught of God.’ [Is. 54:13] Everyone who listens to the Father and learns comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the one who is from the Father—he has seen the Father. 47 I tell you the firm truth: The one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and died. 50 This is the one who is the bread coming down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread coming down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread which I will give is my flesh, on behalf of the life of the world.
52 Then the Jews began to quarrel with each other, saying, “How can this one give his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, I tell you the firm truth: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. 54 The one eating my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is the true food and my blood is the true drink. 56 The one eating my flesh and drinking my blood dwells in me and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father has sent me, so I also live because of the Father, and the one feeding on me—that one will also live because of me. 58 This is the bread coming down from heaven, not like the bread which your ancestors ate and died. The one eating this bread will live forever. 59 He said these things in the synagogue, teaching in Capernaum.
The one verse that unlocks all of these verses, particularly vv. 53-57, is in the next pericope: v. 63.
The crowds took the boats to Capernaum to find Jesus. Recall that they had recently experienced the feeding of the five thousand, and now they are looking for Jesus to see him work another feeding miracle. Let’s hope this does not indicate that people lived in poverty and food was difficult to come by. Whether they got food easily or with difficulty, they were still obtuse and spiritually dull. They could not connect the miraculous feeding with Jesus being the bread of heaven. And now Jesus is about teach them about spiritual bread of heaven—he is the bread of heaven.
No doubt that the people of Capernaum heard he was back in his adopted hometown, so they too added to the crowd that followed him. However, v. 59 says he was teaching in the synagogue. Maybe at v. 41, when the Jews began to grumble, the scene shifts over to the synagogue, without John notifying us.
“Rabbi”: it simply means teacher at this time. It does not have the connotation of an official office, as it does in later Judaism.
The signs Jesus was doing indicates miraculous signs, and we have to assume that he was working signs that went unrecorded in the details but are summarized (2:11, 23; 3:2; 6:2). But the synagogue audience, some of whom were the crowds who followed him, boiled down these signs to one thing: eating until they were fully satisfied.
“I tell you the firm truth”: it literally read, “amen, amen, I tell you.” Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus says amen only once (“amen, I tell you”), but in John he very often says the word twice, so I translate the double word as “firm truth.” It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “Truly, truly I tell you” or “I tell you with utmost certainty.” (Bruce has “indeed and truly I tell you”). Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus in the NT.
Jesus uses a limited negative: “don’t work for food that spoils.” He does not mean it literally, or else we will not work at all for our food. He means “don’t work (only) for food that spoils.”
Now let’s move on to deeper truths.
Jesus goes into symbolic mode. Two different kinds of food, literal and symbolic. Maybe it would be more accurate to say the food that leads to eternal life. After a short time, food gets moldy. It spoils. But there is a food that will never spoil. Go for this food.
Variation on the theme of eternal things contrasted with perishable things:
19 Don’t store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust disfigure and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust disfigure and where thieves don’t break through nor steal. 21 For where your treasure is there will be your heart. (Matt. 6:19-21)
The Synoptics and John are not so far apart on major concepts.
“eternal life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. In other words, eternal life happens now, but we must be careful not to believe that everything in the new age, in everlasting life, is happening now. This is called over-realized eschatology (study of ends times and new ages). Not every new-age blessing becomes realized or accomplished right now. But let’s not remain negative. We get some benefits of the next age or new age right now. We get some benefits of eternal life, right now.
“life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. The next age has broken into this age and given us new life. It is eternal life right now.
Let’s look at life by the book—by the prominent Greek lexicon.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
Clearly, John means the fourth definition.
Jesus will soon reveal that he is the bread of heaven and he gives eternal life to everyone who believes him (vv. 32-33, 35).
“Son of Man”: It both means the powerful, divine Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
God has sealed him or set his seal of approval on him. The Father approved of him. Here is John the Baptizer’s testimony of Jesus at his baptism:
32 Further, John testified, saying: “I saw the Spirit like a dove coming down from heaven and remained on him. 33 I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize in water—he told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit coming down and remaining upon him—this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit!’ 34 And I saw and testify that this one is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34)
Here is Matthew’s version when the Father approved him with a voice from heaven:
16 And being baptized, Jesus instantly got up out of the water, and look! Heaven opened up to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down as a dove and coming upon him. 17 And listen! A voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight!” (Matt. 3:16-17)
The crowd—representatives from the crowd in the synagogue—are still carrying on a dialog with Jesus, in one statement and reply after another.
Then they ask him about the work of God, because he told them to work for the food that never spoils. What should they do to perform these works? My translation is literal: “work the works of God.” Or it could be “work the works for God.” Jews were used to doing the works which God required. They may still be talking about bringing down bread from heaven. Is there any way that the crowds can work for an endless supply of manna, like the children of Israel got while they were in the wilderness? Then Jesus told them—the unconverted and the non-followers of him—that the work of God is to believe in the one whom God has sent, that is, in Jesus, the bread from heaven. The opponents ask about the works (plural) of God, but Jesus changes it to the work (singular) of God (or for God). They should not focus on saying the right prayer to bring down manna, but their first work is to believe in the one whom the Father sent. Jesus is saying that the only work (singular) of God (or for God) that we do to acquire food that lasts forever, which is given by the Son of Man–not earned–is to believe in Jesus, whom the Father has sent. So this passage totally supports Paul’s theology of grace through faith. John says the food is given (grace) by the Son of Man, God’s only agent (John 14:6).
John agrees with Paul, who writes:
22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3:22-24, NIV)
Now the hyper-grace teachers tell us that belief or faith is this one “work,” believing in Jesus, and is all that is required of them. Of course they are wrong. Believing in Jesus is the first step for the nonbelievers; then, when they believe and are born again, they are required to do good works.
14 You are the light of the world the light of the world. A town sitting above on a mountain cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do they light a lamp and place it under a container, but on a lampstand, and it shines on everyone in the house. 16 In this way, let your light shine before people, so that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)
Parable of the Talents, told by Jesus himself:
19 After a long time, the master of those servants settled accounts with them. 20 And the one receiving five talents approached and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted me with five talents. Look! I have earned five other talents.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Excellent, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over little; I shall set you over many things. Go into the joy of your master. 22 The one having two talents also approached and said, ‘Master, you entrusted me with two talents. Look! I earned two other talents.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Excellent, good and faithful servant! You were faithful over little; I shall set you over many things. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matt. 25:19-23)
In this parable, the two servants got a large amount of money and multiplied it. And they heard praise from the master of the household. (Let’s not discuss what happened to the third servant who buried his money in the ground!) The point is that we are called to be productive members of the kingdom.
Paul writes the classic and powerful statement:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:8-10, NIV)
It is stunning to me how much of the Bible the hyper-grace teachers neglect, as they obsess over one doctrine in Scripture and skip over all the others. See Acts 20:27 for how Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God. He was balanced.
An exegete, referenced by Mounce (comment on v. 31; also see Carson, comment on v. 27), says that Jesus is following a set homily (sermon-teaching). It opens with a statement which is repeated at the end. A secondary citation is brought in which develops the main commentary. Verse 31 is the main text; vv. 32-33 supply a paraphrase of the text; vv. 35-50 represent the homily of the text that discusses sequentially the themes of “bread,” “from heaven,” and “eating.” You can make of this idea what you will.
The synagogue audience questions him or lure him to make more bread. Which sign do you perform, Jesus? Hint: Please give us more bread! Then one of them—a Bible student—actually quoted from Scripture, probably the verse in Exodus, but the other listed verses tell the same story in different wording. The concept is there. Can Jesus cause bread to come down from heave, as God caused manna to rain down, so they can eat daily without working?
Here is the most important verse, because it introduces the bread from heaven:
15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. …” (Exod. 16:15, NIV)
Now some supporting verses:
23 Yet he gave a command to the skies above
and opened the doors of the heavens;
24 he rained down manna for the people to eat,
he gave them the grain of heaven.
25 Human beings ate the bread of angels;
he sent them all the food they could eat. (Ps. 78:23-25, NIV)
5 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them. (Neh. 9:15, NIV)
Water from the rock supports Jesus’s statement in v. 34 that drinking from the water he gives will satisfy the thirsty soul (Num. 20:9-11).
Then these two verses are the most important and clarifying ones so far. They are so solemn that Jesus uses his introductory formula: “I tell you the firm truth.” See v. 26 for more comments.
Moses was not the source of the bread of heaven or out of heaven, but Jesus’s Father is giving them the true bread from heaven. Who or what is the true heavenly bread? This bread comes down from heaven and feeds the world with life. Recall that the world is a dark place, which needs to be invaded.
Jesus refers to his coming down from heaven for the first time in v. 33 (see also v. 38, 41, 50, 51, 58).
“life”: for more comments on life, please scroll up to v. 27.
“While manna could be said to come ‘from heaven,’ in the sense that God provided it miraculously, it was not ‘true bread from heaven.’ It satisfied physical hunger but was unable to meet the deeper spiritual hunger of the human heart” (Mounce, comment on v. 32).
“world”: The Greek noun is kosmos (pronounced coz-moss). It could refer to the physical universe (17:5; 21:25). Or it could refer to humanity as a group. What we call humanity or humankind is, in John, the world. This is why God invades the kosmos. “The ‘world’ is the place or realm where God is at work, the place that is the main focus of God’s attention. God’s saving light invades the dark world. Jesus came to the dark world to save as many as those who believe in him and in his name. In sum, “it appears that the personification of the ‘world’ in John is the portrait of a class of people.” It is the dimension of a relational encounter between God and people (Klink, comment on 1:10, pp. 100-01).
God is at work in the world. So once again, Jesus is not completely revealing who or what this bread is.
I like Carson’s summary of the bread of God, which is synonymous with bread of heaven (compare “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew and “kingdom of God” in Mark and Luke). (1) The metaphors help us transition from Jesus provides bread from heaven (vv. 27ff.) to Jesus being the bread from heaven (vv. 35ff.); (2) the recipients expand from the Jewish world to the whole world, that is, to lost men and women without distinction, opening up to the notion that the deciding factor is being a member of the race, to one who is taught of God; (3) the phrasing is about the revealer, who has narrated God to us (1:18), who alone can tell of heavenly things (3:11-13).
So the crowd and their spokesman or spokesmen ask for this never-spoils bread, always, every day. It’s some sort of angelic bread that they can literally eat every day without its spoiling. Now Jesus delivers the clarifying and world-changing pronouncement or statement. “I am the bread of life.” Manna fed the ancient Israelites for each day, but whoever feasts on Jesus, spiritually speaking, of course, will never get hungry, and the believers in him won’t need daily manna, because he is the bread of life—the life that leads to eternity, the kingdom, both here and now and in That Age, the age to come.
“life”: for more comments on life, scroll back up to v. 27.
So let’s once again look at the diagram.
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Now let’s fill it in:
2.. Jesus’s person, presence, spiritual food, sustenance
1.. Bread of Heaven
Jesus said he is the bread of heaven, so the bread symbolizes him. I write “person” because even when Jesus talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he is not speaking of literal things, but his person, his presence, by faith and by the power of the Spirit.
The one coming to him—and surrendering and believing in him—will never hunger again and never thirst again, but the feasting and drinking is done by faith in him. He satisfies fully by his Spirit and his Father’s will.
As for never thirsting again, Jesus is referring to the impartation of the Spirit:
38 The one believing in me, just as the Scripture says: Out of his inner most being rivers of living water will flow. 39 But he said this about the Spirit whom those believing in him were about to receive, for the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:38-39).
He already taught this to the unnamed woman at the well:
13 In reply, Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks from this water will thirst again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water which I will give will not thirst forever, but the water which I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I do not thirst and nor pass by here to draw.” (John 4:13-15)
This is the first of seven “I am” statements: I am the bread of life. In Exod. 3:14, in the Septuagint (pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent, a third to second century BC translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek), the Greek reads: “the LORD says, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’” This is high Christology.
JESUS’ SEVEN “I AM” SAYINGS IN JOHN
|1||I Am the Bread of Life (6:35, 48) and Living Bread (6:51)|
|2||I Am the Light of the World (8:12)|
|3||I Am the Gate (10:7, 9)|
|4||I Am the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14)|
|5||I am the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)|
|6||I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)|
|7||I am the True Vine (15:1, 5)|
|BTSB, p. 2163, slightly edited|
Or Jesus may indirectly refer to the “I am he” passages in Is. 40-55, as he did at John 8:24. Here is a list (all NIV and emphasis added):
Who has done this and carried it through,
calling forth the generations from the beginning?
I, the Lord—with the first of them
and with the last—I am he.” (Is. 41:4)
10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no savior.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—
I, and not some foreign god among you.
You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.
13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he.
No one can deliver out of my hand.
When I act, who can reverse it?” (Is. 43:10-13, see v. 25)
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Is. 46:4)
“Listen to me, Jacob,
Israel, whom I have called:
I am he;
I am the first and I am the last.
13 My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I summon them,
they all stand up together. (Is. 48:12-13)
12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
human beings who are but grass,
13 that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretches out the heavens
and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction? (Is. 51:12-13)
This is high Christology.
Let’s get back to the bread metaphor.
“Jesus corrects their misunderstanding. He is not the giver of the bread—God the Father does that—He is the bread itself (Mounce, comment on v. 35, emphasis original)
“Spiritual food both satisfies and creates the desire for more. What is permanently satisfied by eating the bread of life is the deep-seated hunger in the hearts of people created in the image of God. He created us for fellowship with himself, and nothing short of that intimate association will ever satisfy” (Mounce, comment on v. 35).
In this section of his speech, peppered by their dialog, he now talks about what it means to come to him. So the crowd has seen Jesus but do not believe in him. Of course they are spiritually obtuse and cannot connect this signs and the miraculous feeding. Abraham speaking in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead!’” (Luke 16:31).
“As Jesus charged the citizens of Jerusalem with unbelief (5:36-38), so now he repeatedly charges his fellow Galileans with the same sin (cf. v. 26). True, in one sense, Jesus can acknowledge to them, you have seen me … but they have seen only a mightily endowed man, a potential king (6:14, 15), not the Son of God who perfectly expresses the Father’s words and deed (5:19ff); they have seen only bread and power, not what they signify. This crowd has witnessed the divine revealer at work, but only their curiosity, appetites and political ambitions have been aroused, not their faith (Carson, comments on v. 36).
The Father gives people to his Son, but which people? Just a select few or everyone? Read in isolation it seems to be select few, but the previous verses speak of believing in Jesus, so we have to factor in faith in Jesus (v. 40). So everyone who believes has been given by the Father to the Son, yet the call goes out to “anyone”; however, not everyone responds in faith but maintains his life in the world and move on past the call of the gospel.
“Throw out” or “throw outside” or “eject out” is how the Greek literally reads. Jesus will not throw out anyone, after they have entered the kingdom and exercised faith to receive eternal life.
In v. 37, the Greek singular neuter is used (“everything,” not “everyone”), but professional grammarians tell us that sometimes the neuter can refer to humanity as a whole (Novakovic, p. 206; see 3:6; 6:39; 17:2, 24). However, if you want to translate it as “everything,” you may certainly do so. Klink does and adds that it refers to the quality of general humanity, and this quality is that which only the Father can give (comment on v. 37).
This section reminds me of these verses in Matt. 11:25-27:
25 At that time, Jesus answered and said, “I acknowledge to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the ‘wise’ and ‘understanding’ and revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, because in this way it was well pleasing to you. 27 All these things have been given to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father and anyone to whom the son of Man decides to reveal him.” (Matt. 11:25-27)
And this similar one in Luke 10:21-22
21 At that very time, he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden this from the wise and intelligent and revealed it to children. Yes, Father, because this way is your good will for you. 22 Everything has been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is, except the Son and to whomever the Son wills to reveal him.” (Luke 10:21-22)
These two passages are sometimes called the “Johannine bold from the blue” (“Johannine” is the adjective for John). John’s Gospel, in comparison with the Synoptics, is not so far off that we do not have the core of Jesus’s teaching in the Fourth Gospel.
Jesus will not throw anyone out because the Father has given them to his Son. The one coming to Jesus will not be rejected, and we have to assume that this coming is genuine and in faith. Jesus has come down from heaven, which parallels v. 33, which says that the bread coming down from heaven is Jesus himself, who gives life to the world.
The will of the Father is now clarified. Jesus won’t toss out anyone coming to him in genuine faith—and not to get daily physical food. Yes, he taught us to pray for a daily food (Matt. 6:11), but in this context, he is steering the people in the synagogue away from the physical needs of life because their lives will be put in order when they have faith in him.
When they have this knowing and saving faith, he will raise them up on the last day (see v. 40 for more explanation on the “last day”).
Once again, Jesus drives home the will of the Father, as if the synagogue audience, representing the crowd, did not get it the first time, in v. 39. People seeing the Son clearly, presumably with the eyes of faith, and believing in him have eternal life. So yes, the Father gives to the Son those coming to the Son, but they have to come with clear vision of who Jesus is and by faith in him. Thus, we see cooperation between the sovereignty of God and the faith of humans. God’s sovereignty does not run roughshod over human faith and the human heart—for now. At the Second Coming, in That Age, people will be compelled to bow the knee and confess his Lordship, but right now, in This Age, he gives them enough rope to hang themselves or to reach out and grab the lifeline, and then he pulls them up, by his grace. Even the offer of the saving rope is grace. And now we have to reach out in faith a hold on and allow him to pull us up.
“eternal life”: for more comments, please scroll back up to v. 27.
Now let’s discuss the last day (vv. 39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; 12:48). As I noted in my comments on 5:28-29:
When Jesus came the first time and was in the process of inaugurating the kingdom of God, the kingdom came subtly and mysteriously. When he comes a second time, his inaugurated kingdom will be fully accomplished.
First Coming → This Age —————→ Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age (That Age)
The last day happens at the Second coming. During the time of This Age, the kingdom is working behind the scenes and in people’s hearts and wherever the gospel of the kingdom is preached.
So now we can take out one term and insert another one:
First Coming → This Age —————→ Second Coming → Judgment → Kingdom Age (That Age)
The Messianic Age and the Kingdom Age are the same reality.
In short: Messianic Age = Kingdom Age, and both are considered That Age.
Then, at that time, the Kingdom will have been fully realized and accomplished. For right now, we foretaste eternal life right now, and when the eternal kingdom comes will experience it in all its fullness. Being raised up on the last day means that our decomposed bodies will be resurrected from the graves and will be recomposed and transformed and glorified, and our bodies will be just like Jesus’s body, which has also been glorified and transformed; he is the first-fruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20). He leads the way, and we follow.
An amillennialist believe that the millennium begins with Christ’s first coming, but apparently it is quiet and behind the scenes, and it will be fully manifested at his Second Coming.
In John 5:28-29 and Matt. 13:41-43 and 25:31-46 Jesus talks about judgment in the above diagrams.
Sidebar: How does the rapture fit in? When people are snatched out of their tombs, they will be snatched or caught up (the rapture) and meet the Lord in the air. Then they will descend to a new heaven and new earth, which will have been recreated at the same time. Then they will be judged, and wicked will be sent away to punishment (though vv. 28-29 do not say this), and the righteous will be welcomed into the Messianic / Kingdom Age. In other words, the rapture and the Second Coming happen at the same time and are the same event.
Please see my post:
There is no reason, biblically, to over-think and complicate these verses and insert a separate rapture that comes before the Second Coming. Just because a teaching is popular does not make it right.
Now “the Jews” enter the picture, and v. 59 says that he was teaching these things in the synagogue. So we go from the crowds (vv. 22-25) to the synagogue. It could be that John shifted the scene from the crowds outside to the “Jews” in the synagogue, or a crowd could have been standing outside and inside, filling the synagogue. Either way, the Jews here seem to be the local leaders. They were the ones who quoted from Scripture in v. 31.
Their grumbling has echoes coming from the ancient Israelites grumbling against Moses and Aaron, who were their representatives before God (Exod. 16:2 and all over the Torah!).
They are in disbelief about Jesus’s heavenly origins. They know Joseph—hinting that he may still be alive, though many believe that he died before Jesus began his ministry—and Mary, who followed him to the cross (John 19:25-27), so she was very much alive. Familiarity breeds contempt, at least in the authority figures. Carson on whether Joseph was still alive: “The language does not necessarily mean that Joseph was still alive. The crowd’s point is simpler. They say, in effect, ‘We know who Jesus’ parents are. What right then does he have to claim nobler, even divine, heritage?’ The Jews think they know all there is to know about Jesus’ paternity, but they speak in ignorance not only of his virginal conception but of his true identity. Repeatedly Jesus insists that his opponents do not know his (heavenly) Father at all (4:22; 8:19, 55; 15:21; 16:3; 17:25). Indeed, it will transpire that Jesus knows their ‘father’ (8:42ff) far better than they know his!” (comment on vv. 41-42).
The rhetorical question, according to Greek verbiage, expects an affirmative answer.
Capernaum suffers a denunciation from Jesus, in a list of other Israelite towns who were also denounced for their refusal to repent at his teaching and turn to him:
23 And you Capernaum: Will you be exalted to the heavens? You will go down to Hades! Because if the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom, it would remain to this day! 24 However, I tell you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day judgment than for you!” (Matt. 11:23-24)
And here we see why the town had to hear the proclamation of woe. They disrespected his heavenly origins.
Jesus bluntly tells them to stop grumbling and complaining. In v. 46 he will reinforce his revelation to them that he has come down from the Father. Here in v. 44 he makes an interesting statement about being drawn by the Father, the one who sent Jesus. It means that you cannot strut into the kingdom on your own willpower; you have to be wooed and invited and drawn. So what does this word “drawn” mean in this context?
First let’s look at a lexicon. It is the verb helkō (pronounced hehl-koh). BDAG is considered by many to be the most authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and the verb means, depending on the context:
(1).. “to move an object from one area to another in pulling motion, draw.” This is done in a physical sense: Draw a sword (John 18:10); haul a net (John 21:6); dragging or hauling Paul and Silas before the authorities (Acts 16:19); haling people into court (Jas. 2:6).
(2).. “to draw a person in the direction of values for inner life, draw, attract.” BDAG recommends this second definition for 6:44; and the editors recommend this definition in the context of when Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32).
(3).. “to appear to be pulled in a certain direction, flow”; however, there is no reference to this meaning in the NT.
I believe that we would misinterpret the verses in John 6:44 (and 12:32), if we conclude that the drawing or attracting is actually dragging or hauling in the first definition. The first definition is about drawing physical things or dragging people into court against their will and unjustly. The second definition in context is a wooing of the will, not a raping of the will. So let’s not over-interpret the verb here in v. 44 by imposing the first definition. John’s Gospel is all about people believing or having faith in Jesus by their seeing him and hearing his message, not about being dragged or pulled against their will from area to another.
3 The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. (Jer. 31:3, NIV)
I agree with Borchert: “Salvation is never achieved apart from the drawing power of God, and it is never consummated apart from the willingness of humans to hear and learn from God. To choose one or the other will ultimately end in unbalanced, unbiblical theology” (comment on vv. 43-48).
For being raised up on the last day, please see v. 40.
And sure enough the Jews, when they truly listen to the Father and learn from him, should come to his Son. The Jews were not getting it, though the Son was standing right in front of them, the fullest revelation. Isaiah the prophet said as much. Everyone will be taught of God, and now the Logos, the expression of God is standing right in front of them and talking to them but they are not learning and listening. They may know the law of Moses on a certain level, but they have not read the themes and patterns and types and shadows accurately and fully. If they did, they would come to Jesus. “Jesus proceeds to explain what kind of ‘drawing’ (v. 44) the Father exercises. When he compels belief, it is not the savage constraint of a rapist, but the wonderful wooing of a lover. Otherwise put, it is by an insight, a teaching, an illumination implanted within the individual, in fulfillment of the Old Testament promise, They will all be taught by God” (Carson, comment on v. 45, emphasis original).
9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up 10 and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Exod. 24:9-11, NIV, emphasis added)
Verse 46 is a strong statement of the equality of the Father and the Son. Indeed, the Son is called the “only and unique God.” You and I have not seen God in his pure essence, who is pure spirit, in his total glory; if we did, we would die—vaporize. So these men saw God as he partly revealed himself in a limited way. I like how they ate and drank. It shows God allows some level of enjoyment in his presence.
We can listen to hear the Father and learn from him, but we must not believe that we can see the Father, up in heaven, unless God invites him, as Isaiah was invited (see Is. 6), though he did not see God’s face in all his power and glory and purity, in his full essence; otherwise, Isaiah would have died (Exod. 33:20). Only the Son of God, who is from the Father and has lived with the Father has seen God in his glory. The Son is eternal and has always been with the Father.
Please see these posts for a systematic theological overview of Jesus’s life before, during, and after the incarnation. (“Incarnation” literally means the “act of changing into flesh”: -ion = act of and “carn” = “flesh” and “in” with a change = “into”).
There are many more parts in that series. The seventh part has an easy-to-read, helpful list.
Other verses that exalt Christ to the highest level:
2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. (Heb. 1:2-3, NIV)
I have already exegeted vv. 47-59, 63 in this post:
I will just say that v. 51 is in a sequence. First, one partakes of the bread (= responding to the gospel and conversion and born again experience). Second, the partaker then receives eternal life. Conversion involves the human partaking. He responds to the message Jesus proclaims. The message is sufficient to spark saving faith in the listener. Then the listener responds with saving faith. And then the listener is given eternal life.
GrowApp for John 6:25-59
A.. How have you “eaten” the body and “drunk” the blood of Christ? That is, how have you received union with him?
B.. When you believe in the Son, you have eternal life. How has this biblical truth and reality changed you?
His Words Are Spirit and Life (John 6:60-71)
60 Then many of his disciples who heard him said, “This message is hard. Who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, since he knew in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man going up to heaven where he was before? 63 The Spirit gives life, the flesh profits nothing. The words which I have spoken to you are Spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning that there were some who did not believe and who would betray him.) 65 He was saying to them, “For this reason I have said to you that no one can come to me unless it has been granted him by the Father.”
66 After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him. 67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t wish to go away too, do you?” 68 Simon Peter replied to him, “Lord, to whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 And we believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus replied to them, “Have I not selected you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” 71 He was saying this about Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, for this man, one of the twelve, was about to betray him.
The English verbs “listen” and “hear” are the same very common Greek verb akouō (pronounced ah-koo-oh), and it carries in it the connotation of “obey” or “heed.” So the peripheral disciples were questioning whether they could follow and obey this teaching about being in union with the Son, as the Son is in union with the Father.
Carson lists four features which insulted the Jews: (1) they were interested in food, political messianism (vv. 14-15) and manipulative miracles (vv. 30-31) than in the spiritual realities which feeding the five thousand pointed. (2) They refused to relinquish their own sovereignty over spiritual matters, which blocked their first steps of faith. (3) Jesus advanced the claim that he was greater than Moses (vv. 32ff, 58). (4) they did not like extending the metaphor of eating bread to eating flesh and drinking blood, which was taboo in their culture (comments on v. 60).
John clearly teaches us that Jesus has supernatural knowledge about their inner thoughts. John 5:19 shows the Son’s close connection to the Father and his listening to his Father’s instructions, as Jesus moved forward in his ministry. The Son was unable to work his powerful ministry without his Father and the power and anointing of the Spirit, but he needed both the Father and the Spirit’s anointing (Acts 10:38). What the Father does, the Son does in like manner. So we see the First and Third Persons of the Trinity in cooperation with the Second Person of the Trinity, now in human form. This is why we can never abandon the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s the fullest revelation of who God truly is. The Son knew their thoughts by the Father’s will and by the Spirit. We call this supernatural knowledge.
Then the Son uses the verb “offend.” The noun is skandalon (pronounced skan-dal-lon) and the verb is skandalizō (skan-dahl-ee-zoh). Here it is the verb. The Greek language adds the suffix –iz- to a noun and changes it into a verb. (We do that too: modern – modernize.) So the noun becomes skandalizō. And it means, depending on the context, (1) “cause to be caught … to fall, i.e. cause to sin” a. … Passive: “be led into sin … fall away”; b. “be led into sin or repelled by someone, take offense at someone”; (2) “give offense to, anger, shock.”
It looks like the second definition best fits here (or the second part of 2b). They were shocked by his words, so they “drew back” or “went away” (both translations of another verb).
If the disciples are offended when Jesus is still with them, would they fall away after he ascended on high? The professional grammarians tell us that we are supposed to supply the answer: Would you fall away then?
Once again, see this post for an exegesis of v. 63:
Jesus shocks them with the statement that some of them do not believe in him, who will be revealed in v. 66. He then reveals that someone, unnamed until v. 71, will betray him or hand him over. Let’s wait until then.
For now, Klink writes: “It is strange that the narrator inserts here the future betrayal of Jesus by one of his disciples. Just as Jesus knew in the past that some disciples would not believe in the present, so also he knows in the present that a certain disciple will reveal his unbelief in the future. The allusion to Judas here also serves as an allusion to the cross, the very thing ‘some of’ these disciples are rejecting” Klink, comment on v. 64).
This verse parallels v. 37: “Everyone whom my Father gives to me will come to me, and I will in no way throw out the one coming to me.” Verse 39: “This is the will of the one who sent me: That everyone whom he gives me I will not lose any of them.” And v. 44: “No one can come to me unless the one who sent me draws him.”
The spiritual road is rough, for his sayings are hard and his geographical travels require stamina and loss of comfort. So unless the Father grants people the capacity and ability to follow his Son, they will not make it. In this small context, he is referring to his disciples right there, just before many of them depart from him (v. 66). Does this mean that the invitation of the gospel goes out to a limited number and only a limited number? No, the call goes out to everyone, and then everyone who hears and believe it is welcome to follow Jesus. What happens after that depends on the cooperation of the disciple and the Father. The Father is willing—even eager—to sustain the disciple, but the disciple must do his part and remain in union with Christ Jesus.
And here is the (sad) result of their hearing his hard words. Eating his flesh and drinking his blood? Really? These words were too symbolic for their dull minds. They were taking him literally.
“After this” can also be translated “as a result of this” (Novakovic, p. 228).
“walk with him”: that is a literally translation, but another translation could read “follow him.” A disciple literally walked behind his master-teacher.
“What they wanted, he would not give; what he offered, they would not receive. So, like many of his Jerusalem followers earlier (John 2:23-25), many of his Galilean followers now failed to stand the test of unreserved allegiance. To be attracted by the signs is one thing, to appreciate and embrace their inward significance is another; and it only those who do the latter who can be counted as true disciples (Bruce, comments on v. 66).
The look of Jesus, that is, he looks at his twelve and asks the big question. In Greek, the professional grammarians teach us that the question expects a no or negative answer. So Jesus has confidence in the Father’s ability that he can keep the twelve (but see vv. 70-71), so he asks the question that demands a no answer. They will not leave him. But why did they not want to go? Verse 69 answers the question. Here in v. 68 Peter replies to Jesus’s question with words that have comforted people for many centuries. Where else would the twelve go away? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life (see v. 27 for more discussion of eternal life).
“Truth calls for commitment. It allows no place for what is false. To accept the truth is to forsake all attempts to find ultimate meaning in the vagaries of human existence” (Mounce, comment on vv. 67-69).
No religion can match Jesus. They pile up rules upon rules, while Jesus provides union with him and his Father.
“eternal life”: see v. 27 for more comments.
In v. 69, Peter says that the twelve (minus Judas) have believed and have known that he is the Holy One of God. Professional grammarians teach us that the perfect tense, in this context, is an intensive present tense, their present state, grown in them from the time they began to follow him. But when the going gets tough, their faith and knowledge will be so tested and stretched. Peter will eventually deny Jesus, so once again John is setting people up and testing them to find out how deep their faith and knowledge really goes. Of course this confession parallels the passages in which Peter professes that Jesus is the Messiah (Matt. 16:16; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).
Borchert is right to see Peter’s confessions as separate, this one in v. 69 as later:
From this side of the resurrection the words “The Holy One of God” (6:69) undoubtedly carried for the evangelist, as they should for the reader of John, the full implications of an incarnational messianic confession. What those words could have meant for Peter at that earlier time is difficult to determine. At least they must have meant that the hope of Israel was tied up in Jesus. In the Johannine sense life was at stake, and Peter was at that stage not willing to abandon the possibility of that hope (6:68; cf. 20:31). Moreover, since holiness is an attribute of God, Peter was confessing at least a direct connection between Jesus and the God of the Patriarchs. (comments on vv. 67-69).
“The disciples had from early on been more than willing to Jesus as the Messiah (cf. 1:41, 45, 49), but now they see him and their understanding as something more. There are no parallels for this title in Judaism. Rather, rooted in the words of Jesus, ‘the Holy One of God’ is the emissary, the one who came descending and ascending, the ‘I AM,’ the ‘bread of life,’ the revelation of God, the Judge and the life, the Son of Man. Peter is confessing what he has been ‘given’ to see and believe. It is to all of this that the Gospel has been serving as witness. In Jesus is found everything God wants to do and is doing” (Klink, comment on v. 69).
Jesus selected the twelve. He prayed before he did (Luke 6:12). And he listened to his Father, who told his Son whom to select. The Father ordained that Jesus would select Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, the one who was about to betray him. Luke also says that the devil entered Judas (22:3). So we need to take comfort with the fact that when Satan uses a human to attack us, God will see us through the attack. Jesus was resurrected and vindicated, and the resurrected Jesus restored Peter.
On the name Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, see this link:
Judas was one of the most common names in greater Palestine (one of Jesus’s brother was so named), so the Gospel authors distinguished between them with other markers like son of Simon Iscariot.
GrowApp for John 6:60-71
A.. When the going gets tough, are you tempted to abandon him?
B.. Do you believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life? What does this mean to you?
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary. Vol. 25a. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 1-10: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.