From: Busy Person’s Guide to John 1 to 10 Return to Home
By Roland H. Worth, Jr. © 2019
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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:
Quickly Understanding John
(Volume 1: Chapter 6)
On the Other Side of the Sea of Galilee with the Passover Near, Jesus Miraculously Feeds 5,000 from Only Small Remnants of Food (John 6:1-6:13): 1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias). 2 A large crowd was following him because they were observing the miraculous signs he was performing on the sick. 3 So Jesus went on up the mountainside and sat down there with his disciples. 4 (Now the Jewish feast of the Passover was near.)
5 Then Jesus, when he looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread so that these people may eat?” 6 (Now Jesus said this to test him, for he knew what he was going to do.) 7 Philip replied, “Two hundred silver coins worth of bread would not be enough for them, for each one to get a little.”
8 One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “Here is a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many people?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” (Now there was a lot of grass in that place.) So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed the bread to those who were seated. He then did the same with the fish, as much as they wanted.
12 When they were all satisfied, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves left over by the people who had eaten. --New English Translation (for comparison)
6:1 After these things Jesus went
the sea and city of
6:2 Then a great multitude followed Him, because they saw His signs which He performed on those who were diseased. Because His miracles had so impressed them, a very large crowd followed to where Jesus had gone. If a person performed such impossible things, what else might He do or say that they should be present for? Indeed what course might they be able to convince Him to follow? That their dreams (temporal kingship: ) matched His was their delusion. As well as any dream that they might find a way to compel Him to adopt the revolutionary course He rejected.
Sidebar: “Better [translation:] were following . . . were beholding .
. . was doing. The verbs express a continuance of the
actions. It does not mean simply that
they saw these miracles on the west of the lake, and followed Him across it;
but that He kept on healing the sick, and that the crowds kept on
following Him. The usual caravan-road
for the northern pilgrims [to the annual Feasts in
6:3 And Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. The choice of a mountain side permitted those in the crowd to easily see Him and hear anything He had to say.
6:4 Now the Passover, a feast of
the Jews, was near. Since the time setting was near the Feast of
Passover, this was an excellent opportunity to stir up the enthusiasm of the
disciples—if He wished to launch a coup or revolt . . . if He
wished to claim the crown of
By describing this as “a feast of the Jews” John indirectly tells us that his targeted audience for the gospel was mainly Gentiles who would be unacquainted with the various Feast names.
6:5 Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” However He would ultimately deal with their nationalistic dreams--referred to below and not referred to in the Synoptics--there was still the more immediate problem of food for the gathering: They either were hungry or soon would be so. So Jesus turned to the apostle Philip and enquired where they should buy “bread” to eat. (Bread was the fundamental food of life; everything else was supplemental, however desirable.)
Jesus’ words with Philip were clearly before the teaching had begun: “seeing a great multitude coming toward Him.” The actual feeding, however, occurred only after a day of teaching and healing according to the gospel of Luke (); Matthew chooses to mention only the teaching coming first () and Mark only the healing (). Hence Jesus’ conversation with Peter in this chapter (verses 8-9) must have occurred later in the day and John has “run it together” for simplicity of narrative.
6:6 But this He said to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do. Jesus did this not for information purposes but in order to determine Philip’s reaction: the Lord had already determined what would be done. Hence this was a practical test to see how well the apostles had adjusted to His way of thinking.
The response also seems to imply that it was utterly impractical to attempt it--even if they had the money--which tells us just how scattered and modest the readily available food resources would be: One might find enough for a family in numerous places scattered here and there, but this large an amount readily available and in one location, was something totally different. What was available would have to be searched out. Luke 9:12: “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.”
That Jesus could do something about the food
problem, if He chose to, does not enter Philip’s mind. He was certainly aware of His miracles, but
would that immediately cause the apostle to think of a different application of
Jesus’ past miracle working power? Of
course if he was at the wedding feast at
6:7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may have a little.” Philip despaired at Jesus’ question because the cost of giving each even “a little” would be immense--the equivalent of a year’s wages or better to cover the cost of less than one good meal. Economically they probably didn’t have the money and even if they had it, even that large a sum would barely make a dent in what was needed.
Sidebar: The final questions surrounding what to do for the crowd’s hunger come when “the hour is already late” (Matthew ). Apparently Jesus simply threw the food question at Andrew and never responded further until the lateness of the hour drove unidentified apostles to raise the matter themselves. It is quite possible that Andrew’s report of the earlier question had encouraged them to intervene at this point when it was essential to make a decision of one kind or another.
6:8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” The only other alternative beyond sending everyone away was if there were enough food scattered among the crowd. Andrew (and presumably others among the apostles) had already investigated the matter and discovered that--though the crowd numbered in the thousands--there seemed to be no more than a mere two fish and five loaves of barley scattered among them; they could find no hint of a large amount of food anywhere.
Sidebar: Barley bread was the cheaper type that the poorer classes could afford. A mark of climbing up the “economic totem pole” was the financial “where with all” to afford something better. “Pliny and some of the Jewish writers describe barley as food fit for beasts. Suetonius speaks of a turgid rhetorician as a barley orator, inflated like barley in moisture: and Livy relates how cohorts which had lost their standards were ordered barley for food.” (Vincent’s Word Studies)
The word used for “fish:” “The
use of this word is peculiar to our Gospel. . . . This opsarion
mostly consisted of small fishes caught in the lake, which were dried, salted
as ‘sardines’ or ‘anchovies’ are with ourselves for a
similar purpose. This habit belonged
locally to the neighborhood of the lake, and reveals the Galilean origin or
associations of the writer. . . . Edersheim reminds us that the fish laid on the charcoal
fire (John 21:9, 10, 13) was opsarion,
and that of this the risen Lord, on the shore of this very lake, gave to His
disciples to eat, though he guided them at that time to a shoal of ‘great fishes,’ ἰχθύων μεγάλων,
and bade them add some of these to the ὀψάρια, which He was
content to use still. The use of this
word on these two occasions shows that, at the last, our Lord [implicitly]
reminds His disciples of the miraculous feeding by the shore of the lake; and
both narratives breathe the air of the northern parts of
Then Jesus said, “Make the
people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five
thousand. We learn from the other gospels that He also
divided the crowd into smaller eating groups (Mark -40).
Emphasis is put on the fact that the number fed referred to the number
of males present and does not included an unknown number of women and
children as well (Matthew 14:21). This
is at the time of the Passover (6:4) and it is usually contended that their
number would have been relatively few since going to
And Jesus took the loaves, and when He had given thanks He distributed them to the disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise of the fish, as much as they wanted. After giving thanks for the loaves, the disciples passed them among the crowd. The same procedure was followed with the fish. Somehow (and how would one explain such miraculous things in purely human terms?) the tiny amount of food had been transformed into enough to feed the entire multitude. More than the bare minimum but “as much as they wanted.”
“It is futile to ask whether the multiplication took
place in Christ’s hands only: the manner of the miracle eludes us, as in the
turning of the water into wine. That was
a change of quality, this of quantity.
This is a literal fulfillment of Matthew 6:33.” (
So when they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing is lost.” After every one was full, Jesus ordered the disciples to gather the usable fragments that had not been eaten or distributed. In other words, they would be consumable as “leftovers” later the same evening or the next day. There is a profound difference between “having more than enough” and “wasting it;” the latter is virtually an insult of the first. Even One who could miraculously create food considered it absurd to waste it.
6:13 Therefore they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. The fact that there had been enough in the first place was amazing; the fact that there were large leftovers was almost as much so.
Sidebar: “All four
accounts have the same word for basket, cophinus, i.e. the [container] which every Jew
carried when on a journey, to keep himself independent of Gentile food, which
would be unclean. . . . Each of the
Twelve gathered into his own and filled it full. Moreover in referring to the miracle the
word cophinus is
used (Matthew 16:9). In the feeding of
the 4,000 (Matthew ; Mark 8:8), and in referring to it (Matthew ), a different word for basket, spuris, is used. Such accuracy is evidence of truth.” (
Sidebar on efforts to make what happened non-miraculous: “The
expedients to evade the obvious meaning of the narrative are worth mentioning,
as showing how some readers are willing to ‘violate all the canons of
historical evidence,’ rather than admit the possibility of a miracle: (1) that food had been brought over and
concealed in the boat; (2) that some among the multitude were abundantly
supplied with food and were induced by Christ’s example to share their supply
with others; (3) that the whole is an allegorical illustration of Matthew
6:33. How could either (1) or (2) excite
even a suspicion that He was the Messiah, much less kindle such an enthusiasm
as is recorded in John 6:15? And if
the whole is an illustration of Matthew , what meaning in the allegory can be given to this
popular enthusiasm? There are
‘rationalizing expedients that are considerably more incredible than miracles.’
The Crowd’s Hyper-Enthusiastic Reaction to the Miracle Causes Jesus to Remove Himself from Their Presence For They Had Decided to Force Kingship on Him Whether He Wanted It Or Not (John 6:14-15): 14 Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Then Jesus, because he knew they were going to come and seize him by force to make him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
Then those men, when they had seen the sign that Jesus did, said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” When the magnitude of the miracle fully sank into the minds of the crowd they recognized Jesus as “the Prophet who is to come into the world.” The term Messiah is notably not employed, but a word that describes the Messiah in the role of teacher and revealer of God’s word: “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you [Moses] from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him,” a prediction recorded in Deuteronomy 18:18 (context: verses 15-19).
John the Baptist had publicly and explicitly rejected that description and text as applying to himself (John ) and had worked no miracles (-42). With this being well known among many (and probably all) of them, it was then quite natural that it be applied to Jesus. Although teaching had been done that day (Mark 6:34), John himself does not mention it and the crowd itself does not refer to it here, but solely to “the sign” (in the singular) as if the mass feeding were specifically in their mind. Indeed the unprecedented magnitude of the miracle so exceeded anything else Jesus had done how could any other miracle be on their minds?
Both of these factors could be linked together in the popular mind with Moses as prophet. The miraculous “food making” could be easily read as the contemporary equivalent of the Israelites under Moses’ leadership being provided with manna for forty years in the wilderness (Exodus ). Likewise His role as teacher--for had not Moses given the Torah by Divine revelation and insight? So combining the ideas of Prophet as teacher and Prophet as miracle worker was not really much of a distance to travel at all. The problem arose not in recognizing these correlations but out of the determination to twist them to their own agenda. . . .
Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone. Some people launch revolutions because they want to; others get pushed into their role by zealous followers who are convinced they will provide the leadership they themselves can not--or, in this case, have the naked power to assure the victory. If He could heal the sick of every type and provide food for thousands, what utter defeat could He unleash upon the Romans! They were right in this analysis; they dangerously erred in thinking that such actions were on His agenda.
Hence Jesus was going to have no part in this foolishness. It would be an utter departure from His own goals and purposes. One can’t help but suspect that the “unthinkable” teaching He gives later in this chapter--which caused “many of His disciples” to no longer have anything to do with Him (verse 66)--was intentionally motivated in large part to remove such unwise and overzealous souls from the ranks (6:53-66). He wanted to rid His movement of those who wished to graft on Him their agenda rather than grafting themselves onto His agenda.
Jesus Meets the Apostles in Their Boat During a Storm on the Sea of Galilee (John 6:16-21): 16 Now when evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 got into a boat, and started to cross the lake to Capernaum. (It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.)
18 By now a strong wind was blowing and the sea was getting rough. 19 Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they caught sight of Jesus walking on the lake, approaching the boat, and they were frightened.
20 But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat came to the land where they had been heading. --New English Translation (for comparison)
Now when evening came, His
disciples went down to the sea, 17 got
into the boat, and went over the sea toward
But into the boat they went. And waited to see whether Jesus would rejoin them. When it was dark they set sail--presumably upon the orders He had given earlier since they were hardly likely to leave Him behind unless they knew it was acceptable to do so. It would have been flagrant discourtesy and disrespect for their leader.
Sidebar: “This must have been the ‘second evening;’ for the miracle itself was said to he wrought when the day began to decline (Matthew ; Luke ). The first evening (ὀψία) lasted from three to , the ‘second evening’ stretched from sundown to darkness (σκοτία).” (Pulpit Commentary)
Then the sea arose because a great wind was blowing. Then erupted one
of those frightening storms that could tear the
So when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near the boat; and they were afraid. Whatever rowing they did to move the vessel forward, the winds counteracted--blowing them southward to a point only about half way across to the other shore. Then they were startled to see Jesus doing something they would never have thought of--somehow walking on the surface of the sea. This unexpected sight terrified them: Was He dead? If He wasn’t, were they hallucinating? Either was a frightening possibility. And if any other possibilities could be conjured up, they could not be encouraging either.
Sidebar: One of the more amusing unbelieving bendings of scripture is sometimes made here: Jesus was really walking on the sea shore and not on the sea near enough to be seen by them; they simply misunderstood how far they were apart and how close the shore actually was. (Remember those on board include individuals intimately familiar with the lake and sailing on it and weren’t “landlubbers” like you and me.) And somehow they managed to get Jesus aboard non-miraculously (for getting rid of the miraculous is the purpose of this “interpretation”) and they manage to do it without wrecking the boat in the middle of a powerful storm. With a sufficient amount of vodka I have no doubt that this can make total sense.
But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” He urged them not to be afraid since there was no reason for it. After all, it was really Him and not a delusion of some type--and He was obviously of no danger to them. That is the path of logic and sound reasoning.
Yet we should still be able to understand their fear: They had been fighting the tumult for hours; they were wet and tired; they were surely fearful--and then suddenly there is Jesus seemingly walking near them without the slightest sign of discomfort. How would you have reacted?
Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going. As soon as He got on board, the boat seemed to “immediately” reach its destination on the other side. The “immediately” is odd since they had been only half-way across. Perhaps an additional miracle--which is certainly possible.
Or perhaps the language is intended to convey the more ambiguous idea of “promptly, quickly, with no delay:” It has been noted that the same Greek word is used in Mark 1:29: “Now as soon as they had come out of the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.” Obviously “immediately/as soon as” does not mean “instantaneously” in the Markian text. Nor in the parable of the sower where we read--again with the same Greek word--that “some [seed] fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth” (Matthew 13:5). A fair amount of time had passed but comparatively speaking it was “immediately,” i.e., “promptly, with no delay.”
The Next Day, When the Crowds He Had Fed Realized Jesus Was
Not Returning, They Sought Him in Capernaum (John 6:22-24): 22 The next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the lake
realized that only one small boat had been there, and that Jesus had not
boarded it with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came to shore near
the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were
there, they got into the boats and came to
6:22 On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone— The crowd that had been left behind had kept an eye on the apostles and knew full well that Jesus had not crossed over with them. Indeed, those who had noticed Jesus discretely parting their company, would surely have reasoned that so long as the apostles remained He was going to return where the crowd (and apostles) were. Especially since they were his “transportation.”
Nor would He leaving into the mountains alone have startled them. They knew He was a deeply religious man. What more natural thing to do than to seek time alone for meditation and prayer (Mark )? Even an involuntarily “drafted” King as they wished to make Him, needed some times for such privacy and prayer. Furthermore yesterday, as it got dark, was no time to spring their plans on Him; rather it made sense to wait till the next day when they had the full day to overcome any hesitancy He might express.
6:23 however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks— The sea was a busy place and other boats would be regularly transiting it to the area where the mass feeding of thousands had occurred. For that matter, they may well have thought that many would be ready to return by now and would reimburse them a reasonable fee for not having to travel the distance around the lake by foot. However it should not be forgotten that night time fishing was quite common so some/many of these could have arrived due to the storm of the previous night (verses 16-21).
when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not
there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to
Our text does not claim that “all got into boats” for the crowd had been over 5,000 strong--though multiple trips might well have been made if the crews thought they were going to make enough for the effort. That a large percentage did do so would be argued from the revolutionary enthusiasm they had had the previous day and the grim determination whereby Jesus now intentionally words His teaching to drive away all but those most spiritually (rather than temporally/revolutionarily) orientated.
The Crowds Were Still Concentrating on Physical Food to Eat While Jesus Was Concerned With Them Receiving the Spiritual “Food” That Would Produce Salvation (John 6:25-34): 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. 27 Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.”
28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.”
30 So they said to him, “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
32 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” --New English Translation (for comparison)
And when they found Him on the
other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?” They
knew that the apostles had left without the Lord and they were startled to
learn that He also had somehow arrived in
Sidebar: This conversation takes place in
Jesus answered them and said, “Most
assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you
saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Now comes the time that
Jesus must disillusion these people.
They had been willing to resort to violence to force Him to become king
(), thereby provoking a war with
He begins His calculated disappointment of the crowd by accusing them of having the wrong motive. They now sought Him out not because of His supernatural “signs” but because His miracle had provided them a meal to eat. (A King, but a King who could provide free and unworked for daily bread as well--an appealing combination both for the poor and the lazy . . . and, truth be told, for many not in those categories.)
Sidebar: The rendering “signs” (rather than “miracles”) is not only far more accurate, it also reflects the reality Jesus is facing: They had seen the outward shell of the event--the “miracle”--but they had not seen the inner “sign” (i.e., the lesson and message) it was meant to convey. “You did not see in them tokens of My divine power and mission.” (Vincent’s Word Studies). Nor of how His teaching which they had heard the same day was not only something for them to hear but for them to “consume” and assimilate into their hearts for spiritual nourishment . . . just as the physical food was consumed for physical well being.
Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” There was a food to labor for and Jesus would give it because that was part of the work God had given Him to do; it is that which produces “everlasting life” and not mere survival on planet earth. But both His rebuke of their seeking out physical food and this vague reference to other types of food sets them on warning—if they are perceptive enough—that He is not going to talk about the nourishment that keeps one physically alive. This double entendre based on food--in which “food” refers not just to eatable rations but to that which provides spiritual nourishment and life as well--will be the basis of the remarks that will so upset them.
Sidebar: Jesus is not dismissing the need to earn a living, but wishes to stress that there is far more than mere physical survival that we need to seek. Or, as Jesus asks in a different context, “what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26). In His conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, He had spoken of the spiritual “water” that would provide ongoing spiritual life; to this Jewish audience, He speaks of the spiritual “bread” to make the same basic point.
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Since He had challenged their motives, they responded with a plea for the opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of them: What do we need to do to “work the works of God?” In other words, what does God expect of us. Whatever it is we will do it. This is the optimistic interpretation of their words; the pessimistic one is that they suspect He will demand something they are unwilling to do. Note that I said “unwilling” rather than “unable.” In regard to that possibility notice that they do not add to their question “and we will do it.”
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” The foundation of the answer to their question is that they believe on the One who God had sent into the world. Note how Jesus defines faith as an intellectual and even moral “work.” What else can it be but a “work” since if it is truly present it is inevitably expressed in constructive behaviors?
Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? They challenge Jesus to vindicate His teaching: Well, then, what sign will You do to prove that you are justified in claiming to be that person sent by God? In a very real sense their faith is already beginning to weaken: the previous day they were ready to proclaim Him king. They had been fed, along with the rest of the vast crowd, by a mere handful of food. Now they want some additional sign? What chutzpah! On the other hand . . . . perhaps they are worrying that He is going to demand something from them that they do not want to do and they are preparing the way to avoid obeying Him? There was a profound difference between Him being made king at their insistence and His actually claiming the inherent authority of such because God had chosen Him.
Our fathers ate the manna in
the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from
heaven to eat.’ ” To justify the demand for an even
grander miracle than they had seen the previous day, they appealed to the fact
that in the Exodus the nation had been given a steady supply of manna for food
for forty years. The argument, then,
seems to be that if Jesus was really as important as they initially
thought--and if He were really important enough to require them to do
what He wanted rather than what they wanted--then He would continue
indefinitely to produce food for them.
Commentators typically think that Jesus is asserting His Messiahship without using the term (verse 29) and that they are responding to that implicit claim. If so then they are arguing that He had only fed them for a mere one day; to be the Messianic successor to Moses that was far too little to match what Moses could do, who did far far more.
The transition of thought from “King” to “Messiah” may be true, but wasn’t the Messiah inherently expected to be king as well? Furthermore Jesus conspicuously does not use the language of either “Messiah” or “king”--both terms fraught with political overtones and ease of misinterpretation and misapplication--but simply as the one “whom He (God) sent.” In effect He is arguing: No matter what language you want to use to describe My “position” (king, messiah, prophet) are you willing to do what I say? If they weren’t willing to do that, the exact definition of His role was irrelevant.
Sidebar: Psalms 78:24, Psalms 105:40, and Nehemiah 9:15 make such statements as the one quoted and one or more is likely in their minds.
Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. Jesus could have challenged them on the grounds that it was not Moses who gave them the manna but God and introduce the testimony of Moses himself in favor of that (Exodus 16:13-16). Instead, He chose to shift the response to a discussion of the bread that is really needed: Moses’ bread only seemed to be from heaven and the term only fits because God provided it.
In contrast to those days, through the ministry of Jesus the Father was willing to give them bread that “truly” came down from heaven in a way that Moses’ never had. Ultimately that had still been of this earth; in contrast the “bread” that did come down from “heaven” (where God resides) was only now available--the spiritual bread of redemptive knowledge through Jesus. Since He provides it, by logical extension He can rightly picture Himself as being that bread.
The roots of this concept of teaching as spiritual bread can be found in the other gospels: In a physical sense Jesus uses “bread” as a “catch term” to describe all that one needs to satisfy one’s hunger and to survive (Luke 15:17). From this principle a spiritual application would be fully logical and appropriate. Furthermore Jesus described “the leaven of bread” as “the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:11-12) and He did this specifically in the context of making a spiritual application of His two mass feedings of 5,000 and 4,000 (verses 8-10)--the former of which is under discussion here.
This usage of “bread” makes the further development of the concept quite logical in this chapter of John. Here it is stressed that eating Moses’ bread you still died (verse 49) while eating the bread of Jesus and His teaching will keep one from ever dying (verse 58). Jesus is literally the bread of heaven in that He came down from heaven (verse 41) and literally--but non-physically--provides the spiritual strength and nourishment for all of us to be saved (verse 50). That teaching is designed to be so filling and satisfying that we need nothing else (verse 35). It produces eternal salvation by its consumption (verses 51, 58).
For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” . . . that is, Jesus Himself who not only came down from heaven but also provides and constitutes the true “bread” of spiritual knowledge and nourishment that is available to one and all with no exceptions. At the time the words were spoken “to the world” would have been taken as “to all Jews” no matter where they dwelt; after the Gentile mission expanded the base of the church’s work, the term “world” would have been understood in a more literally universal sense of the entire human race.
Sidebar: Just as Jesus, in the current context, is making Himself the “bread” that is so essential to human life, in talking with the Samaritan woman two chapters earlier He had compared Himself to the “water” that is also essential (John 4:10-14).
Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread
always.” Since their minds
are still in a literalistic mode, they gladly embrace the idea of receiving a
free meal for all the rest of life. Just
as citizens of the city of
The Spiritual “Bread” They Needed Was Readily Available by Accepting and Embracing What Jesus Taught (John -40): 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe. 37 Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.
39 “Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
--New English Translation (for comparison)
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. Jesus identified Himself as that “bread” which permanently provides nourishment. But to have it, they had to both “come” to Him and “believe” in Him--note how He makes the two virtually synonymous expressions. If they do this, they will permanently fill the twin and inevitably interlinked needs of permanently removing both spiritual and moral “hunger” and “thirst.”
Note the double “never.” The most glorious meal soon disappears from the memory and one is hungry again. The thirsty body has drunk freely yet not that many hours later there is the need to drink again. These things are inevitable. But on the spiritual level neither is the case, for Jesus provides an inexhaustible supply of truth that even a lifetime of extended study will never use up.
But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. They might think they believed in Him and in some vague sense they surely did. Yet when it came down to fully accepting whatever He had to say, even when they disliked it, they did “not believe” even though they had both seen and observed Him--some repeatedly.
Sidebar: The “I said to you” carries the clear intent of, “I previously said to you” and “I’ve said this to you before.” Those specific words are clearly missing, but the point underlying them had been taught previously to these very people: “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (). They did not really believe all that much even in the significance of the “signs” (miracles) He performed; what was pivotal to them was that they had been fed. His teachings and healings shrank into comparative insignificance in contrast. Even in verse 26 is He not condemning them for that?
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. God is willing to “give” anyone and everyone to Christ and if anyone “comes” to stay with Him he or she is guaranteed a friendly reception. But whether God will “give” you to His Son depends upon your own decision. Otherwise He is not really “giving” anyone; rather He would be forcing them upon His Son. If you so believe in the Father that His evidence in Jesus’ behalf convinces you, then the Father happily delivers you into the care of His one unique Son.
Once one is part of Christ’s flock there is absolutely no danger of being “cast out.” Jesus is not one of those hard hearted, self-centered egotists who acts in an arbitrary manner. You are fully and permanently accepted--if you “play by the rules (principles)” that Jesus lays down. If you don’t, then Jesus hasn’t arbitrarily “cast you out;” rather, it is more like you have walked out and deserted Him . . . something profoundly different.
For I have come down from
heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. His single, sole, and exclusive
purpose was to strictly do that which His Father wanted done. Hence arbitrariness on His
own part did not need to be feared.
The linkage between this and verses 37 and 39 is: “How could I
cast them out, seeing that I am come to do my Father’s will, and He wills that
they should be received?” (
Sidebar: The concept behind these words of loyalty to the Father’s will echoes the thought Jesus had stressed in the preceding chapter: “I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me” (John ).
6:39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. He would cast out no one. Human rulers are often fickle as to who remains in their favor, but all Jesus demands is continued commitment and faithfulness to His will. He won’t stop you from deserting Him, but so far as His own part goes, He will never do such a thing to you.
6:40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” The fundamental principle was simple: God was determined that everyone who “believed” in Jesus would gain “everlasting life.” One of the great dangers of scriptural interpretation is to take one thing it says on a subject and ignore all the other things that are also said--the failure to weave it all into a synthesis rather than building a theology solely on one of the truths that is presented.
Verse 37’s promise that “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me” can be read as predestination--irrevocable and inescapable even if the redeemed person were to foolishly wish it were otherwise. But verse 40 warns us that we must also blend into this the fact “everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him [will] have everlasting life.” The synthesis of these two facts would be that unless the person has chosen to accept Jesus and His teaching, God has not given that person to the Lord. In other words, faith is the means to accept God’s wish for you to be joined to the Lord: He gives you the opportunity by and through your faith. The Father will refuse none that opportunity if they but embrace it. On the other hand, He will force no one to accept it either.
By Eating the Spiritual “Bread” That Was Jesus and His Teaching, They Could Readily Have “Eternal Life” (John 6:41-51): 41 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began complaining about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” 42 and they said, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
43 Jesus replied, “Do not complain about me to one another. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me.
46 (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God—he has seen the Father.) 47 I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life.
48 “I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” The expression “Jews” is typically used in John as distancing rhetoric to describe the religious leaders opposed to Jesus--in distinction from the Jewish people. What has been said previously in the chapter however--at least initially--leads us to suspect that in this case we are encountering the “rank and file of Judaism.” After all a heavy percentage of the hearers are those who only the day before were ready to involuntarily draft Him into the role of revolutionary King over the country. The last thing the religious leaders wanted was Jesus--in any sense--being king “over” them!
other hand, these objectors may simply represent elements of the religious leadership who
recognized an opportunity to turn the masses against Him. Hence they may be protesting both their own
annoyance at the teaching and, recognizing that the language would be
disturbing to quite a few others as well, taking the opportunity to use it to
stir up the crowd against Him. Verse 59
tells us that this discussion occurred in the
Sidebar: Inserting into the text, as the NET does, the presumption that they were already hostile to Jesus prior to His efforts to disillusion misplaced enthusiasms about Him, is legitimate interpretation but not translation. One would be hard pressed to find other major translations that act in a similar manner.
And they said, “Is not this
Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” On a literalistic level, this
claim to come down from heaven seemed transparent nonsense. They knew who his father and mother
were. Where was there room for heaven in
this? These questions also argue that
the challengers were “locals” rather than religious leaders from other places
Sidebar: The reference to knowing Jesus’ earthly father could mean he was still alive, but if that were the case it is strange that there is no explicit mention of his actions during Jesus’ ministry. In casual conversation they would hardly say, “we know His mother and used to know His father.” Instead they would simply use the present tense to keep their words short and to the point. The core point in their thinking is: “Jesus can’t be bread come down from heaven because we are well aware of His parents!” Anything about the life or death of either is purely coincidental to making that point.
Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. Jesus called for them to stop grumbling among themselves about Him. This could mean either “if you have a problem with this, ask me!” or “why don’t you wait a minute and hear the rest of what I say!” Certainly their behavior so far is to “belly ache” rather than deal directly with it. If you wish a modern parallel, think of those who are disgruntled by something the preacher has to say and never have the gumption to directly ask about or challenge it. The problem here has never ceased to exist.
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is impossible to come to Jesus unless the Father “draws” you. But how does God do so? Does He force you or compel you there involuntarily as predestination would require? No. He does it by getting you spiritually educated through your study of the scriptures and the studying of it with others. That knowledge of the Divine revelation is under consideration is pointed out by the Lord in the next verse.
This non-violent, non-coercive “drawing” expresses God convincing us of the need to volunteer our service. Or as the Old Testament put its: “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you”--not “forced you” or “compelled you” (Jeremiah 31:3). “I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love. . . “ (Hosea 11:41).
Martin Luther on this verse: “The drawing is not like that of the executioner, who draws the thief up the ladder to the gallows; but it is a gracious allurement, such as that of the man whom everybody loves, and to whom everybody willingly goes.”
It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Jesus explained His remark about God “drawing” people to Him by citing the scripture “They shall all be taught by God” (Isaiah 54:13). Hence they would be drawn to the extent that they submitted themselves to the teaching God had given. This is a universal principle--“Everyone” comes to God this way (says Isaiah and the Lord) or they don’t come at all. There are no short cuts to reconciliation with God, It is through knowledge of the written revelation--thereby putting the responsibility on the individual to read it, meditate upon it, and obey it.
Sidebar: Jeremiah 31:31-34 describes the then future covenant God would make with His people: Of all of them and not just the religious leaders, it is said “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (verse 33). They will not need a religious elite to teach them any more--doing the learning for them and having to rely upon them for all knowledge; instead, all of them will be educated in the ways of the Lord (verse 34).
Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Only one Person then living had actually ever “seen” God. Since it was obviously not the critics, Jesus was applying to Himself an assertion that He had had a relationship with the Father that none of them had ever had. However they might define the “seeing” God--at most, perhaps, as synonymous with specially commissioned prophet?--it still put Jesus on a superior level above them in God’s relationship with the human race. As to what Jesus Himself had in mind, it is surely His preexistence in heaven with the Father described in the prologue to this gospel. But He had no reason to make this explicit: If they would not accept His other teaching, there was absolutely no way they would accept this truth.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. Because of Jesus’ pre-earthly existence with the Father (verse 46), acceptance of Jesus’ claims and teachings can produce what no one else on earth can--“everlasting life.” Not just existence but life--for mere survival without the ability and opportunity to use it in a constructive manner would be worth little or nothing. But if Jesus is the source of this kind of “life” it is quite natural to say. . . .
I am the bread of life. The bread that produces the life. For without bread the human body starves to death. And unless Jesus was advocating cannibalism, He couldn’t be referring to His physical body; He has to be conveying a meaning beyond the literal. Hence He provides the spiritual food and nourishment that makes us grow and prosper.
Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. The physical manna that their ancestors had eaten in the wilderness during the Exodus had not kept them from dying. With the sole exceptions of Joshua and Caleb, all of those twenty years of age or older died during the wilderness wanderings (Numbers -34; 32:10-13). Important and life-sustaining as it was, it was never designed to permanently preserve them from physical death. Not so on the spiritual level the “bread” that Jesus is speaking of. . . .
This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. If the “bread” originated elsewhere than in this physical cosmos, then it could produce a result that physical bread never could--the avoidance of death both short term and long term . . . as in permanent, unending life.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” In words that would have appalling overtones of cannibalism if taken in a literal sense, Jesus asserted that His “flesh” was the “bread” that came down from heaven and which had to be eaten in order to “live forever.” Yet that eternal life for others would be produced by the death of His own flesh: “I shall give [it] for the life of the world” (i.e., be crucified). Here Jesus throws in a further indication that He is not talking as “literally” as they thought: if His flesh died, how in the world were they going to be able to eat of it? Clearly he is using the term in a flexible manner, shifting its significance between literal and symbolic.
the reference is not exclusively, nor even directly, to the Eucharist
[Communion / Lord’s Supper] is shown from the use of ‘flesh’ (sarx) and not ‘body’ (sôma). In all places where the Eucharist is
mentioned in the New Testament, we have ‘body,’ not ‘flesh:’ Matthew
26:26; Mark ; Luke
22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24ff. . . . The primary reference, therefore, is to
Christ’s propitiatory death; the secondary reference is to all those means by which the death of Christ is
appropriated, especially the Eucharist.
Not that Christ is here promising that ordinance, but uttering deep
truths, which apply, and which He intended to apply, to that ordinance, now
that it is instituted.” (
Those “Who Eat [Jesus’] Flesh and Drinks My Blood”--Through Consuming His Teaching and Making It the Core of Their Lives--“Will Live Forever” (John 6:52-58): 52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
55 “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” The listeners had a falling out over how He could possibly do this. After all, He was still living and in front of them. Even cannibalism could only be done with a dead body. The very fact that they were not united in immediate opposition to Christ shows that some (many?) were trying to find an interpretation that would avoid a repudiation of Him.
Actually He hadn’t quite said He was “giving us His flesh to eat” but it was very easy to gloss the words with this understanding when listening to them. He had spoken of how He was the “bread of life” (verse 48) and how eating of this “bread” (verse 50)--this “living bread” (verse 51)--was essential to eternal life. At first glance, verse 51 does seem to make the linkage they made: “the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” But even here the command is not actually to eat this flesh; instead He asserts that He Himself will give this flesh to produce salvation for the world. Only in our next verse does He take that final step and it is in response to them already having done so--since even then the language still fits well with what He is driving at.
Then Jesus said to them, “Most
assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink
His blood, you have no life in you. Instead of explaining in everyday
language what He means, He chooses to re-emphasize His demand in the most
emphatic language--a strategy that assures that those who most fervently see
Him only as a miracle working revolutionary King are driven away in
horror: He uses language that would
bring to their minds a practice forbidden by the Old Testament--the consumption
of blood. Indeed the early Christians
continued to oppose anyone doing so: To
the Gentile converts the meeting of apostles and brethren in
As to Jesus’ argument, on a literalistic basis it makes full sense: If the flesh must be eaten, then it would not be illogical to say that the “blood”—which coexists with the flesh and keeps it alive—must also be consumed. Without that, only “part” of Him and not “all” would be consumed. However the language also worked well on a spiritual basis as well: Whatever you “consume” becomes part of you. Shapes you, changes you, is that which causes you to live and act. Likewise absorbing all of Christ’s example and ethics transforms one and keeps one spiritually and morally alive.
Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. By “eating” the “flesh” and “drinking” the “blood” one had both “eternal life” and the promise of the resurrection. Since the spiritual “eternal life” could hardly be produced by a literal eating and drinking of the human body, a symbolic content and intent is reinforced--one far easier to see when the text is in written form and one can meditate upon it at leisure rather than being a person hearing the surprising words vocally and for the first time.
The core idea is that all that Jesus is must be incorporated into ourselves. We become transformed into the spiritual image of Jesus by partaking fully of His teaching and, as the result, acting in the manner that His flesh and blood did while on earth.
The idea of
“eating” spiritual instruction was far from unknown in those days. Isaiah 55:2 conveys it most concisely: “Listen
carefully to Me, and eat what is good,”
i.e., eat and consume My teaching, incorporating it into your life. At greater length notice the image of eating
God’s word in Ezekiel 3:1-3, “
‘Son of man, eat what you find; eat
this scroll, and go, speak to the house of
In effect these verses speak as if of bread to eat. The image shifts to Wisdom providing the intellectual and spiritual food and drink that causes one to alter behavior in Proverbs 9:4-6: “As for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live, and go in the way of understanding. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.” In Proverbs the image also is of food and drink as representing the lifestyle one lives by: “For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.”
But Jesus has no intention of providing more than the most gentle of hints that such things are on His mind. He is intent on permanently bursting apart any serious mass movement to make Him King.
For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. The Majority Text of the Greek Testament (as well as the Textus Receptus behind the KJV) provides this reading, but the “Neutral/Critical Text” that is behind the large bulk of translations places the word “true” in front of both subjects: Jesus insists that His flesh is the “true food” and His blood the “true drink.” This fits in well with our point that Jesus is making a spiritual parallel based on physical realities. (The double use of “indeed” performs much the same function in the KJV tradition--for His flesh and blood to be “indeed” such then it must “truly” be that as well.)
The substitution of that word “true” is far clearer and more emphatic however: the substitution more clearly indicates that Jesus is contrasting reality with appearance: they are thinking on one level; He on another. If physically intended, indignation was appropriate and proper but when Jesus transforms Himself into the bodily source of all spirituality then one moves onto a different level and a different way of thinking.
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. The continued eating of Jesus’ “flesh” and “blood” is essential for abiding in Christ and Christ in us. It is a two way street. If the communion were the sole aspect of this partaking, then all that would be necessary to assure salvation would be regularly eating of it even though one’s convictions and lifestyle otherwise repudiated full acceptance of the Lord. What He has in mind, therefore, is the regular “incorporating” of the essence of Jesus’ attitudes and behavior into ourselves, thereby transforming us into a different type of being than we would otherwise be.
Sidebar: If “flesh” and “blood” are literal, then we must somehow literally dwell “in” Jesus as well for that is also stressed in this verse. If the bread and wine of communion is literally flesh and blood, then somehow we should be physically incorporated into the body of Jesus as well. Would someone like to suggest how this would be done? The New Testament is clear that we do dwell “in” Christ but it is by being faithful to Him . . . being part of His people and movement (Romans 16:7; Galatians ; Ephesians ). Likewise we are baptized “into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Galatians ) to become part of that body. If this is a non-physical being “in Christ,” how in the world would one expect the communion bread and fruit of the vine to be anything less than non-physical as well?
As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. Just as Jesus has true life in Himself because of the Father, likewise the disciple will have true life inside himself or herself as well because we have Jesus within us--spiritual loyalty to Him as manifested by constant “feeding” upon His word and obedience to it.
This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” One final time Jesus returns to the manna issue. They wanted physical food to fill their stomachs. Yet the ancients who partook of such food ate and still died. Those who partake of the spiritual bread and blood that is Jesus’ will, in profound contrast, “live forever.” Those who ate the bread in the wilderness gained nourishment and strength only for survival in the present world. Those who eat the “bread” of Jesus’ teaching and character have a “nourishment” that will provide them existence and strength of soul both in the current world and the one to come.
The Teaching Above Occurred That
Day in the
61 When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.”
(For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” --New English Translation (for comparison)
These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in
course, the use of the synagogue argues that the local religious
officials were also present as well and, presumably, played a significant role
in what was happening. (Cf. our
discussion in verse 41.) For cases of
the synagogue being used as a place for religious discussion see the cases of
Sidebar: Oddly enough we know that this synagogue was
paid for by a centurion serving under the regional rule of Herod Antipas (Luke
7:1-5). Described as one “who loves our
nation,” he was probably a proselyte (non-circumcised Gentile) who had attached
himself to their religion. Otherwise the
generosity is far harder to understand.
It was claimed that
6:60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” This teaching startled and worried “many of His disciples”--it wasn’t just the concern of a handful. They rightly considered it “hard” and wondered who could hope to comprehend its meaning. The words seem to imply that they recognized that Jesus had to be driving at something different than what He appeared to be saying on the surface. They weren’t sure what; just that they themselves did not yet know what it was. This is close to an admission of defeat--but if you ever stop trying you are doomed to failure.
take the expression “hard” not as a reference to “understandability” but as to
“impossible to accept:” “The word for ‘hard’ means originally ‘dry,’ and so
‘rough;’ and then in a moral sense, ‘rough, harsh, offensive.’ . . . Here the meaning is: ‘This is a repulsive
speech; who can listen to it?” (
6:61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? Jesus recognized their discontent not because they loudly argued among themselves but because of His supernatural grasp of what was going on around Him: “Jesus knew in Himself.” To which, of course, must be added the fact that He had set out to “disillusion” and get rid of even the fantasy of making Him a revolutionary King. The bulk were only “disciples” in the most superficial sense since they had crossed the Sea because of the food and revolutionary potential of Jesus. To those with only a minimal attachment to His cause He proceeds to show in the next verse that if the preceding words upset them, “they hadn’t heard anything yet”--and proceeded to tell them it. . . .
6:62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? If they had a problem with what had just been said, what in the world were they going to do if they saw Him “ascend” back to heaven? If they could not grasp earthly teaching, how were they going to handle an awesome visual miracle that took Him back to where He originated?
Sidebar: This future event refers to the eleven remaining apostles seeing Jesus return to heaven in Acts 1. Verses 12-13 of that chapter lists their names and how they reported what had happened to the earthly mother of Jesus and the other women in their traveling party (verse 14). His point is that if the current teaching seems impossible, how in the world would they react “if” (note that word) His various listeners were among those who saw it? Interestingly John himself provides no description of the Ascension though this verse surely shows that he was well aware of it.
6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. At least in comparison to what our spirit can do, the outward flesh is of no value. The “spirit” refers to our inner person (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Zechariah 12:1; Acts ; Romans 1:9) from which our worship of God must come (John ). Outward ritualism may leave the impression of religious devotion, but the inner being knows whether it is real or mere pretense to impress others. It is that inner loyalty in our “spirit” that produces spiritual life and salvation.
If we capitalize the “s”--making the Holy Spirit under consideration in the first half of the verse as the bulk of translations do that utilize capitalization for Deity--then the idea is that obeying the teaching of the Spirit produces life while relying upon what our own flesh prefers gains us nothing. The words from that Spirit are themselves spiritual in nature and purpose, conveying spiritual life to those who embrace and cherish it.
The contrast between “flesh” and “spirit” also warned His listeners to look at the inward point and not the outward appearance of His words--at the “spirit” / intent of them and not merely the outward “body” of words the concept was being framed in.
6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. At this point Jesus pointedly observed that even among His followers there were some who did not adequately “believe.” Jesus had recognized this weakness and lack of faith among a number of them “from the beginning” of His ministry and even in the one who would ultimately betray Him. They “believed” and were “disciples” (verse 66) in the sense of being part of His movement and respecting and following Him, but lacked the depth of commitment that we would normally associate with the terms. Perhaps because we connect full dedication to both terms, we tend to overlook that many may “fly by that label” but be only veneer deep in true loyalty.
The fact that it was a plural number who did not fully believe--“they were” and not “he was”--shows that there were more than one who had the potential for betrayal. That the betrayal was predicted is a fundamental fact, but there were others beside Judas who could have carried out the foul deed under a different set of circumstances. This shows that he was not involuntarily locked into a predestined act.
In other words, it would be done; the only question was by whom. By this point Judas had become so bent that he was going to be the one that performed the fatal act (verse 70), but there were others among the broader band of disciples potentially susceptible to the charms of the Devil as well.
6:65 And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” Those that lacked adequate faith in Him (6:64) could not come to Him because full confidence was the means God had “granted” to the human race to come to meaningful knowledge and acceptance of Jesus. God “granted” the opportunity and the evidence; it was up to the individual whether to seize it or not.
Having Driven Away by This Teaching the Large Numbers Who Were Interested Only in the Food and Physical Blessings They Might Get, the Apostles Refused to Follow Their Example of Unbelief (John 6:66-71): 66 After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?”
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!”
70 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?” 71 (Now he said this about Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.) --New English Translation (for comparison)
6:66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. This day of radical and startling teaching broke the back of support for an insurrection to make Him King. It also alienated “many” of His other less committed disciples as well and they also refused to have anything more to do with Him. We see here “not a gradual thinning down or departure of some disciples, one today and another tomorrow, but a kind of rush and stampede took place. Those who a few hours before were ready to call Him their Messianic King, were entirely disenchanted” (Pulpit Commentary)--not only by what He was refusing to do but also by His teaching what was totally alien to their ears. True, He had retained control of a movement ready to spin out of His control, but how it must have hurt His own inner spirit to see so many desert when they could not get their way!
6:67 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” Jesus pointedly asked the innermost cadre their intentions. These are the ones He had given the most trust to. And from them He wants a direct and verbal response, not just that of “disappearing” as the others were doing.
Sidebar: In this gospel this is “the first mention of them; John speaks of them
familiarly as a well-known body, assuming that his readers are well acquainted
with the expression.” (
Because 6:13 refers to “twelve” baskets of leftovers from the feeding of the 5,000, it is natural to suspect that this is because there were that number of people doing the gathering--each with their own basket. On the other hand, without this verse we would simply regard verse 13 as an incidental, passing remark and nothing more.
6:68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Peter summarized their sentiment: Where else did they have to go? Only Jesus had “the words of eternal life”--the words, the message, that showed them how to gain it and how to live to continue to be worthy of it.
One wonders whether this was the ringing affirmation of faith it sounds to our ears so many centuries later or whether it was tinged with a touch of despair: Yes, they would continue to believe and obey, even when their own minds did not understand and even when their own preferences were rejected. In its own way, perhaps that is an even greater profession of faith--faith in spite of uncertainty and having an excuse to do otherwise.
6:69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Note the plural “we”--he is speaking the opinion of the entire group: they had come to a consensus that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and uniquely the “Son of the living God.” Whatever their disappointments, they could find neither anywhere else.
Sidebar: Virtually all other translations work from the “critical text” that reads “you are the Holy One of God.” This emphasis on Jesus’ historical uniqueness surely requires, however, the implication found in “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” How could He be that unique without being this?
6:70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” Their conviction was good and commendable but they needed to be given a warning: one of their number had cast his loyalties with the other side, the devil. At what point Judas began his fatal alienation from the Lord we do not know nor at what point he started abusing his position as group treasurer (John 12:6)--although the two ideas are virtually “flip sides” of the same coin. However it would not be irrational to speculate that one or both began with this chapter’s emphatic decision to drive away those who saw in Him a revolutionary King.
It rejected the popular scenario--in which Judas, and for that matter, the rest of the apostles--may well have shared. Furthermore it guaranteed that Judas’ role of money handler would never grow in importance as much as it otherwise could have. People have been alienated in religious movements for far less.
6:71 He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve. The one He had known and worked with closely but would still ultimately betray Him (6:64 also) is now identified. Not merely a disciple but one of the inner twelve selected to be apostles and leaders of the movement. Jesus was well aware of the identity but not the others. Perhaps at this point not even Judas himself realized just how far his alienation would ultimately carry him. Could the open accusation be intended as a “red flag” of warning and caution for him--giving him, so to speak, an additional opportunity to change?