The Feeding of the Five-Thousand: Jesus as Son of Man vs. the Manna
John 6. In the feeding of the five-thousand and the Lord walking on water are examples of the testimony to who Jesus was; the Son of God come in flesh. Two times of great need, and the Person of the Son of God on earth in all His fullness to meet that need. This testimony is an example of the second witness in ch.5. This testimony was rejected by the Jews, and the Lord showed by His actions that He would not receive the kingdom from their hands. The postponement of the kingdom then becomes a test for faith. Will you believe on the Son, not only as the Son of God, but as the humbled Son of man? In John 5 we had the glories of Christ as the Son of God, and His Divine power to quicken. But in John 6 we have the Son of Man come in flesh, set forth as the object of faith, and thus the source of life for the world. In John 5 it was the Son’s sovereign will to quicken, but in John 6 it is man’s need to lay hold of Him by faith. There is more of man’s responsibility in John 6, although it never contradicts God’s sovereignty (e.g. v.37).
Feeding of the Five-Thousand: Demonstration of Power (6:1-15)
The Feeding of the Five-thousand. This is the only miracle of our Lord that is recounted in all four gospels, so it evidently has a special importance. See Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-15 (compare). By contrast with the Synoptic gospels, John the Evangelist does not record the beheading of John the Baptist, nor the apostles’ return from their mission, nor their desire to send the multitude away because they needed rest. In John it is Jesus who takes the initiative, that the masses may be fed. Ultimately, spiritual food is the primary thought in each account, but a different emphasis in each.
A dispensation outline is seen in this chapter:
- vv.1-15 represent the first coming of Christ to the Nation of Israel. It is pictured by the feeding of the five-thousand. Christ comes to Israel in lowly grace while under Roman captivity, and makes Himself known as the sustainer of life.
- vv.16-17 represent the Church period. It is pictured by a night of absence while Jesus is in heaven, carrying on a priestly work.
- vv.18-21 represent the second coming of Christ. It is pictured by a time of great tribulation, concluded by His coming to the faithful remnant.
¶ After these things Jesus went away beyond the sea of Galilee, or of Tiberias, v.1 The Lord is now in the north of the land, beyond the sea of Galilee, which was renamed in honor of Emperor Tiberius in the late first century. By using the name “the sea of Tiberias”, John the evangelist accepts the government of God on Israel in that Palestine was at this time subject to Gentile rule. John also uses Roman time in his gospel. Neither the Lord Jesus nor His disciples could be charged (although they did charge Him falsely in His trials) with being revolutionaries.
2 and a great crowd followed him, because they saw the signs which he wrought upon the sick. v.2 This verse gives us a great key to understanding the mentality of the crowds that followed Jesus. They followed “because they saw his miracles”. They had human belief, but not spiritual faith (see John 2:23-25). Faith rests on the word of God concerning the person of Christ (John 3:33), not signs of power like the Jews, or logical reasoning like the Greeks. “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, etc.” (1 Cor. 1:22-24).
3 And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there sat with his disciples: v.3 The mountain scene has symbolical meaning. First, mountaintop experiences often have to do with communion with God (e.g. Gen. 12:8; Exo. 34:2; Deut. 32:49; 1 Kings 18:42; Matt. 17:1). It teaches us that grace comes from above. If there was to be blessing for Israel, it certainly came from God, and not man. But also the mountain is a place of isolation. Because there was unbelief, the Lord separates Himself, with his disciples, from the mass.
4 but the passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. v.4 The nearness of the Passover is noted repeatedly in John’s Gospel; once for each year of public ministry (John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55). The reason why the Passover is mentioned here is that the blessings of grace (presented in John 6) are the result of the sacrifice of Christ, and enjoyed only by communion with God in that sacrifice. Later in this very chapter, the Lord Jesus presents Himself to the Jews as the true Passover. All are required to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to live.
Man Looks to Money to Provide Sustenance (vv.5-7)
5 Jesus then, lifting up his eyes and seeing that a great crowd is coming to him, says to Philip, Whence shall we buy loaves that these may eat? 6 But this he said trying him, for he knew what he was going to do. vv.5-6 Seeing the hungry crowds, the Lord was filled with compassion. He was going to feed this multitude, to satisfy their natural hunger first, then present them with what could satisfy them spiritually. Jesus first addresses Philip; the disciple who was noted for having believed Moses’ writings (John 1:45). But here Philip is tested, and fails. The Spirit is careful to maintain the Lord’s glory, and lets us know that there was no uncertainty in the Lord’s own mind, but He asked the question in order to test Philip. He already knew what He was going to do. This demonstrates the Lord’s omniscience; an attribute of deity (John 2:24, 25; John 13:3; John 18:4).
7 Philip answered him, Loaves for two hundred denarii are not sufficient for them, that each may have some little portion. v.7 Philip failed to look beyond the purchasing power of money. Although we know the scriptures, we so often turn to human resources in an emergency. Perhaps this was especially hard for Philip because they were near Philip’s hometown of Bethsaida (compare Luke 9:10 with John 1:44; 12:21). He may have felt some additional, personal responsibility because he was a local. The best that we can do is to look to God for direction.
A fullness resides in Jesus our Head;
A fullness abides to answer all need: …
We trust His protection;
We’ll lean on His might;
We’re sure His direction will guide us aright. 
Man Looks to His Fellow Man to Provide Sustenance (vv.8-9)
8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, says to him, v.8 The next lesson is that looking to our fellow man for sustenance will not avail. All it will do is make us despair.
9 There is a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two small fishes; but this, what is it for so many? v.9 Our need is so great, and our ability to take in the Word of God is so limited by our weakness (small lunch). The result is a cry of despair. They were not seeing Jesus for who He was. A little boy and his lunch – a pitiful sight – becomes the object of their thoughts, instead of the Person before them. When the Lord is guiding us, it doesn’t take a great show of strength or provision. We don’t know this little boy’s exact age, but perhaps his mother packed this lunch for him. Although it was little, when offered to the Lord it could be used for great blessing.
Only Christ can Provide True Sustenance(vv.10-13)
10 And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place: the men therefore sat down, in number about five thousand. v.10 The numeral five is the number of man in responsibility. The numeral one-thousand speaks of Millennial blessing. Jesus would bless the people, according to the promise of Millennial blessing given them in Psalm 132:15, for He was Jehovah on earth. To be made to “sit down” is to realize our own inability to help. Contrast “much grass” with “a desert place” (Luke 9:10)… Jesus made them comfortable.
11 And Jesus took the loaves, and having given thanks, distributed them to those that were set down; and in like manner of the small fishes as much as they would. v.11 Jesus loves to take the little we have and multiply it, by His gracious power, to feed a multitude. The loaves and fishes could do no good in the little boy’s hands, but when Jesus took the food, the whole direction of things changed. He “gave thanks” – ever dependent upon the Father. Translational note: the involvement of the disciples is not in the original manuscripts in John 6:11. The Lord alone is in view when the emphasis is on sustenance.
- Five barley loaves (small rolls) speak of Christ as the Bread of Life in lowly humiliation and suffering. Barley was the poor man’s food.
- Two small fishes remind us of His passing through the waters of judgment for our sake.
12 And when they had been filled, he says to his disciples, Gather together the fragments which are over and above, that nothing may be lost. 13 They gathered them therefore together, and filled twelve hand-baskets full of fragments of the five barley loaves, which were over and above to those that had eaten. vv.12-13 The crowd was not merely satisfied, they were “filled”… there was no rationing of the food! In v.11 we read that they ate “as much as they would”! They could receive as much as they desired. We may have as much of Christ as we want. The fragments were to be gathered up. On a practical note, it is good to try to capture as much as possible when we read the Word, or hear it ministed to us. Taking notes is a great way to do this! The “twelve baskets” remaining are a hint of blessing still reserved for all twelve tribes of Israel in a future day when they finally see Christ as the Bread of Life. The Lord can do so much with one action: He has fed the Church for 2000 years, and He will feed the restored nation of Israel after that!
The Prophet, Priest and King in Respect to Israel (vv.14-15)
14 The men therefore, having seen the sign which Jesus had done, said, This is truly the prophet which is coming into the world. v.14 Upon blessing the people, the Jews acknowledge Him to be “that Prophet” (see Deut. 18:15), and that Millennial blessing hinged on Him being the Messiah. While these people were insensitive as to their deepest need (for spiritual sustenance) at least they recognized that the kingdom was going to be set up on earth. This is more than some Christians acknowledge today (amillennialism).
15 Jesus therefore knowing that they were going to come and seize him, that they might make him king, departed again to the mountain himself alone. v.15 They desire to make Him their King (v.15) by force; the flesh was at work, and by the end of the chapter He makes it manifest that they wanted the kingdom without the King. But the Lord would not take the kingship in a carnal way. First, He must “go into a far country”, become Priest, and then come again “to receive for Himself a kingdom and return” (Luke 19:12; Dan. 7:13-14). So He leaves them, and goes up by Himself into a mountain. It pictures the last two-thousand years in which Jesus is absent from the earth. During this time (in which we now live) the kingdom is only perceived by those who have faith.
The postponement of the kingdom as a test of faith. If the Lord had not refused the kingdom, there would be no sifting of the people (see the end of John 6). The postponement of the kingdom really has the effect of sifting out unbelief. Faith alone can patiently wait upon the word of the Lord. Unbelief either:
On the other hand, faith:
- waits for the kingdom (premillennialism), which will be established by Christ, the Second Man, when the first man has been judged.
Walking on Water – His absence & Reception by the Remnant (6:16-21)
Typical significance of the following miracle. The disciples getting into the ship after Jesus has departed speaks of the faithful remnant in the early chapters of Acts. T his is the place that we are in now, not as the church, but as a remnant of faith, while the Lord is in heaven. But then the sea becomes agitated, and it gets dark… a picture of the tribulation period, and the disciples are the Jewish remnant passing through it. The Lord rejoins them and calms their fears… a picture of the appearing of Christ and revelation to His brethren, to satisfy and give them rest.
Application to Christians. The primary interpretation of the disciples in the boat is the Jewish remnant; but then, we, as to our path on earth, are the continuation of that remnant, and Christ is a Priest living on high for us while we are on the waves below. But the subsequent part of the chapter, (teaching on the Bread of Life) is properly Christian teaching.
The Time of Christ’s Absence (vv.16-17)
16 But when evening was come, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 and having gone on board ship, they went over the sea to Capernaum. And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not come to them, vv.16-17 The sea speaks of the unrest among the masses of the Gentiles. Historically speaking, the remnant in the time of our Lord embarked on a long and perilous journey. The very disciples that walked on earth with Jesus became the nucleus of the Christian testimony. The darkness speaks of the moral darkness of man’s day, which has rolled on now for almost 2000 years, while “Jesus had not come unto them”.
A Time of Great Tribulation, and the Lord’s Coming (vv.18-21)
18 and the sea was agitated by a strong wind blowing. v.18 The agitation of the sea pictures how the world’s unrest will only increase in the dark hours of the tribulation period.
19 Having rowed then about twenty-five or thirty stadia, they see Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the ship; and they were frightened. v.19 They went 25-30 furlongs (about 3 ½ miles). Recall that the Sea of Galilee was just about 7 miles wide. They were in the very middle of the sea, which was the worst possible place. The Lord often will bring us into a place where we realize our own helplessness. It is in the stormy waters of the tribulation that the Jewish remnant will see the Lord coming to them. The initial response is that “they were afraid”. Their hearts are not at peace until Jesus came to be with them. So it will be, that the full work of the restoration of the Jews will not be completed until the Lord reveals Himself to them (v.20).
20 But he says to them, It is I: be not afraid. v.20 Even when Jesus appears, the remnant will not be immediately delivered from their fears… not until they hear His voice and know that He is indeed their Savior. “I am the good shepherd; and I know those that are mine, and am known of those that are mine” (John 10:14).
21 They were willing therefore to receive him into the ship; and immediately the ship was at the land to which they went. v.21 The company of our Savior has a transporting effect. The trial almost seems to be over when we get a sense of His presence with us. “Immediately” the ship is at the place they were going. This is another proof of His deity! The boat was transported. When the Lord’s feet touch down on the Mount of Olives, their every wish fully and immediately satisfied — full blessing and rest — when He rejoins them.
Jesus as the Bread of Life – Only Source of Spiritual Sustenance (6:22-59)
The Greedy Curiosity of the Multitude (vv.22-25)
22 On the morrow the crowd which stood on the other side of the sea, having seen that there was no other little ship there except that into which his disciples had got, and that Jesus had not gone with his disciples into the ship, but that his disciples had gone away alone; 23 (but other little ships out of Tiberias came near to the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks;) vv.22-23 The crowd was struck by the mysterious disappearance of the Lord. They knew that He had not accompanied the disciples into their ship, and that there was no other boat in which He could have crossed the lake at the time when He must have left the mountain. Other boats had come to the vicinity, but none others had gone in the other direction… and yet the Lord had disappeared.
24 when therefore the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, “they” got into the ships, and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. v.24 Prophetically, there will be those of Israel to “arrive” at the other side without going though the storm. This would be the ten tribes who are brought home between the two attacks of the Assyrian. However, a mixed multitude of Israelites will come up, and the Lord will bring them into the wilderness, at the borders of the land to sift them. The “rebels” will be purged out from among them (Ezek. 20:35-38).
25 And having found him the other side of the sea, they said to him, Rabbi, when art thou arrived here? v.25 They were really looking to get more profit from the Lord as they had done already in the feeding of the five-thousand, but they cover it by putting forward their curiosity as to His mode of passage. He strips away their pretenses. They were really looking to have their bellies filled.
The Lord Exposes their Motives (vv.26-27)
26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, Ye seek me not because ye have seen signs, but because ye have eaten of the loaves and been filled. v.26 They sought the Lord really because of natural advantage, “ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled”. They were interested in the filling of their stomachs, not even because of the wonder of His miracles. But they had no heart for Him personally, so why should He satisfy their mere curiosity and desire after present ease? Self-sufficiency and faith in the Son are mutually exclusive. These ones needed to be shown their own hearts.
27 Work not for the food which perishes, but for the food which abides unto life eternal, which the Son of man shall give to you; for him has the Father sealed, even God. v.27 The seeing of miracles is not enough, as we learned in John 2:23-25, to change man. He needs to be born again to really have faith. Otherwise, their “seeking him” was really seeking after human gratification, “the meat which perishes”. What they really should have been seeking was “food that endures to life eternal”. If they were, they would have come to Him in faith. He was the Son of Man, sealed by the Father, as the Giver of eternal life. God the Father had sealed Him as “Son of man”, which is His title as a humbled man. God was as much as saying, “the human race cannot really live apart from this man, whom I have marked out.”
Jesus Sealed and Anointed, but not Baptized, with the Spirit. We read of Jesus "sealed with the Spirit" (John 6:27) and believers "sealed" as well. We read that "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power" (Acts 10:38) and we also read of believers "anointed" with the Spirit. However, there is an important difference. We are sealed in view of the work of Christ, but He was sealed as a witness of His own perfection. We are anointed for direction and discernment, but Jesus lacked neither, before the Spirit descended on Him. The term "baptized with the Spirit" is never applied to Jesus. He was baptized with water, but not with the Spirit. Why? The Baptism of the Spirit formed a new vessel of testimony here in this world (i.e. the Church). It would be inconceivable to speak of Christ as anything less than a perfect testimony before His water baptism.
Man’s Inability to Please God Except in Believing on His Son (vv.28-29)
28 They said therefore to him, What should we do that we may work the works of God? v.28 Because the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, they misapply the Lord’s exhortation, and focus on “work” instead of “food”.
29 Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom “he” has sent. v.29 Jesus is the object of faith. To believe on Him is the only “work” for a sinful man, and it is not even a meritorious work (Rom. 4:4), It is ultimately God’s work (Eph. 2:8). God will not allow men to mix up self with Jesus… it is all of one or the other. the only “work” that the Father will own is faith in the Son (John 3:18).
The Jews Desire a Greater Sign, like the Manna (vv.30-31)
30 They said therefore to him, What sign then doest thou that we may see and believe thee? what dost thou work? v.30 They knew that He was claiming to be the Son, and the One on whom God insisted men should believe… so now they say “prove it”; “What dost Thou work?” The feeding of the five-thousand, and the crossing of the sea were not enough. Unbelief is never satisfied.
31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, “He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.” [Ex. 16:15] v.31 They anticipate that Jesus will point to the miracle He had just done. What they really are saying is that the feeding of the 5000 was insignificant compared with Moses’ work. They wanted Jesus to give them food from heaven, as Moses did, for not just one afternoon, but for forty years… and “once you have done that, we will think about believing”.
Jesus as the True Bread out of Heaven (vv.32-33)
32 Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, It is not Moses that has given you the bread out of heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven. v.32 Moses was a human instrument to bring physical bread down from the sky… but the “true bread out of Heaven” has been given by the Father, in sending His Son into this world as a man.
33 For the bread of God is he who comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world. v.33 He Himself was the bread of God — the true manna. Following we have two great characteristics of the Bread of Heaven that separate Him from all other men:
- He comes down out of heaven – a Divine Person, yet a man here below.
- He gives life to the world – not merely to Israel in the desert, but to the whole world.
Bread Evermore vs. Bread of Life (vv.34-36)
34 They said therefore to him, Lord, ever give to us this bread. v.34 This is the Jews’ last effort to get what they really desired; physical bread for this world, that wouldn’t run out. They had totally missed the point.
35 And Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger, and he that believes on me shall never thirst at any time. v.35 They were looking for something “from him”, that is “apart from him”… but what God is offering is “life in Christ”. This is what man really needs to satisfy him. Here is one of the great “I am” statements of John’s gospel. Once we have Him, we shall “never hunger” and “never thirst.” Bread “evermore” wouldn’t meet the deep need of the human heart. This brings us back to the first chapter; “in Him” – that is, in His person – “was life” (John 1:4). In John 5 He is viewed as the Son of God, quickening whom He will… but in John 6 He is the Son of man, accessible to all, and the object of faith.
36 But I have said to you, that ye have also seen me and do not believe. v.36 Man’s natural disposition… he won’t believe. “Ye also have seen me” – their eyes had looked upon the very One in whom was life itself (the fulfillment of all of man’s need). But, being faithless, they rejected Him.
God’s Sovereignty & Man’s Responsibility Concerning Faith (vv.37-38)
37a All that the Father gives me shall come to me, v.37a The Father gives some by sovereign grace. All that the Father gives to Christ shall come unto Him; because the Father is sovereign. This is a clear attestation to the sovereignty of God in the salvation of man. It deals a death blow to free-will doctrine. If you are saved, it is because the Father has given you to the Son! This truth of God’s sovereignty is accompanied by the parallel truth of man’s responsibility (v.37b). A blessed thought: you are the Father’s love-gift to the Son!
37b and him that comes to me I will not at all cast out. v.37b-38 The Son receives those who responsibly come to Him in faith. This is an encouragement, given by the Lord, to the individual that comes unto Him. Man’s responsibility to come to the Son is not absolved by the fact of God’s sovereign election (see v.44). But all men are encouraged to come, and if they do, the Son will not cast them out!
God’s Sovereignty & Man’s Responsibility Linked. This passage in John 6 is one of the greatest which link the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man in the salvation of lost souls. The Father’s drawing souls (v.44), the Father’s giving them to the Son (v.37a), them coming to the Son (v.37b), and the Son giving them eternal life (v.40) are interlocked together. If you say the Father draws all (an Armenian doctrine), then the whole human race must have been given to the Son, and the whole human race would be saved. If you say that not all who are given to the Son come to Him, then you deny the faithfulness of God. If God is not sovereignly drawing, etc., then the believer’s security is conditional, not eternal.
38 For I am come down from heaven, not that I should do “my” will, but the will of him that has sent me. v.38 The Son as a Perfect Servant was on earth to do His Father’s will, and whomsoever the Father brought Him He would receive – because that is the Father’s will – that they might have life eternal (c.p. John 5:21). This dedication to His Father’s will (which is spelled out in vv.39-40) led the Son to give up His claims as Messiah and usher in a new dispensation (see note below on the present vs. the eternal).
The Double Character of the Father’s Will (vv.39-40)
39 And this is the will of him that has sent me, that of all that he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up in the last day. v.39 That the Son would lose nothing given Him by the Father. The Father’s will is that the totality of all that He has given to the Son would be kept… a fact which will be proven when Christ raises them all from the dead in the last day. The “last day” is an expression referring generally to the time of resurrection (Dan. 12:13). The cross is the price that must be paid so that nothing committed to the Son would be lost. Christ is the restorer of all things! It is beautiful to see that, even higher than the Father’s will for our blessing (v.40), we are involved in the Father’s will in a transaction that goes totally beyond us; we are the Father’s love gift to the Son! Such is our security. That love will conquer everything, even death, and raise the believer up in the last day.
40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son, and believes on him, should have life eternal; and I will raise him up at the last day. v.40 That those who believe on the Son might be blessed. Every believer in Christ is given life eternal, which is a new, heavenly sphere of communion with Divine Persons (John 17:3). Eternal life is only given to those who have faith. This is a fact which is sure to those who have faith now, but will be proven to sight when Christ raises the believer from the dead. Notice that resurrection is the final fulfilment of both aspects of the Father’s will: that the Son would lose nothing, and that believers would be blessed. Beautiful!
vv.37-48 The great point of vv.37-48 is that while man’s condition is exposed (that he will not come to the Son, vv.34-36) God’s sovereignty has come in to save men in spite of their unbelief, for the purpose of accomplishing God’s will!
Natural Circumstances a Stumbling Block for Unbelief (vv.41-42)
The present vs. the eternal. The Lord had taken the place of a servant to accomplish the Father’s will. As a result, His glory as Messiah on the earth was given second place to His raising up the believer at the last day. That which was unseen and eternal is brought into prominence, because He sought the glory and the will of His Father. Had He sought His own rights, His reign as Messiah would have been prominent (v.15), as the independence from Rome was to the Jews. This shows that a great dispensational change was being brought in, in which the kingdom would be postponed in lieu of something far greater. But this change was something that unbelief just could not accept (vv.41-42).
41 The Jews therefore murmured about him, because he said, I am the bread which has come down out of heaven. 42 And they said, Is not this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we have known? how then does “he” say, I am come down out of heaven? vv.41-42 The Jews Stumble in Unbelief. If He was “the bread which came down from heaven”, then He must be Divine… for no mere man could say that He was “from above”. This was what they choked on in v.42. They judged the Lord according to appearances, and thus made a mistake of massive proportions. Truly, He was the son of Mary, or else He would not be a man, and thus could not give life to the world. But He was not the son of Joseph by birth (however He was Joseph’s son in a legal, royal sense), because that would mean He was not the Son of God, not a Divine Person… and without that, the incarnation is nothing, the cross is nothing, and Jesus can do nothing to meet the needs of men on this earth.
Begging them to Hear the Voice of God through the Son (vv.43-48)
43 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, Murmur not among yourselves. v.43 Unbelief had made them deaf to the voice of God. This is an evidence, in itself, of the Lord’s Divine omniscience. He knew they were murmuring though they hadn’t said anything. Murmuring is the product of unbelief… they would do far better to listen to the voice of God speaking through the Son.
44 No one can come to me except the Father who has sent me draw him, and I will raise him up in the last day. v.44 Man does not have a free will. No one can come to Christ by his supposed moral free will towards God. It requires the Father drawing him. Free-will advocates claim that the Father draws everyone, or Christ draws everyone and that “drawing” is used in the sense of persuading. But, clearly, that is not so. Concerning those whom the Father draws, Christ said: “I will raise him up in the last day.” It is exactly and only the “drawn ones” that will be raised up.
Immoral argument for Free-will. Proponents of Arminianism use a so-called “moral” argument to support their free-will doctrine. The argument, they claim, is on the grounds of God’s morality. They say, man must have a free will because God would not be morally righteous to condemn a person who doesn’t have the power to choose God. In other words, if man was truly powerless then God couldn’t hold him responsible. This argument, I contend, is really immoral. Responsibility has nothing to do with power, and everything to do with created order. Man is responsible to obey God because he is created by God. God is not bound by man’s powerlessness… He is the Creator! If a man turns to God, the power of God will be there on his behalf (v.37). The problem is that man’s will is set against God. J.N. Darby once said:
“Now as to responsibility; power is not the question at all. If my will were right, there would soon be power from God. Here is my child tied under the table by the leg, and I say to him, “Come with me”; and he says, “I won’t.” I say, “You must”; but he will not, and I go to flog him. But then he says, “I was tied by the leg to the table”; but I say, “that makes no difference, I have a knife to cut the cord, for you would not come. It is the will that is the difficulty. I have lent ten thousand pounds to a man; he comes and tells me he is not responsible to me for his debt, for he has not a penny left—all is squandered. He has no power to pay but that does not destroy my claim.”
Man’s condition of deadness does not absolve him of his responsibility to receive the gospel. Let’s say a sinner ends up in eternal fire, and hypothetically he were to have a conversation with God. He cannot say, “I shouldn’t be here because I was powerless to choose salvation”. God will say, “You were responsible to come, and you refused”. This free-will argument is immoral because it contends that man’s sinful condition robs God of His moral claims. The truth is, nothing robs God of His moral claims because He is God!
45 It is written in the prophets, “And they shall be all taught of God.” [Isa. 54:13] Every one that has heard from the Father himself, and has learned of him, comes to me; 46 not that any one has seen the Father, except he who is of God, he has seen the Father. vv.45-46 The Exclusive Path to the Father. To be blessed, you need to be taught by God. Isa. 54:13 refers to Israel in the future day when “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26), when they shall all be righteous (Isa. 60:21). And the reason for it is that they shall all have been taught of God. The Lord quoted it for the principle in it; namely, that those actually blessed are taught of God, and those taught of God are in fact blessed. So, the Christian believer has heard from the Father and has learned of Him, and therefore comes to Christ. This is not talking about book learning, but rather a personal knowledge of God that comes with new birth. Man does not have the intellectual faculty to bless himself. As a creature, he can only be blessed in dependence on God, through receiving God’s revelation. The only way to see the Father (to be taught) is to know the Son (v.46). Not that the Father has been seen by man (John 1:18). He is known by men only “in the Son”. The Son alone has seen the Father.
47 Verily, verily, I say to you, He that believes on me has life eternal. 48 I am the bread of life. vv.47-48 The Bread of Life. It all comes down to what you do with God’s Son. To receive the testimony of God in this new dispensation, you must believe on His Son whom He has sent. As the Word made flesh, as a man in this world, now rejected by Israel under the title of “Son of man” He announces that He is the giver of life eternal, far more than the Messiah of Israel, the world itself depends on him! The Lord Himself is the Bread of Life. Life is found only in the Person of the Son, and cannot be possessed in separation or in independence from Him.
Food for Understanding vs. Food for Sustenance. The New Testament speaks about food for the Christian in two different ways; for our understanding of divine things, and for the “survival” of our spiritual life.
- Food for Our Understanding of Divine Things has to do with knowledge and perception of the purpose and ways of God. in 1 Cor. 3:1-4 Paul shows that, due to the poor state of the Corinthian assembly they were only able to be fed milk. This milk represents the very basic truths of Christianity. The meat (the deep truths of Christianity) was too much for them because they were spiritual babies. In this case what was limiting their growth in understanding of divine things was strife and divisions in the assembly. In Heb. 5:10-14 due to the poor state of the Hebrew believers they were only able to be fed milk. In this case, the mixing of Christianity with Judaism was limiting their growth in understanding of divine things.
- Food for Spiritual Life has more to do with life and energy than it does with knowledge and perception. Usually when we speak of “food for our souls” this is what we mean. There are times when we feel physically fatigued, lethargic, etc. and often it is related to our diet. Spiritually, we need the right food to give us energy for the path of faith.
The Christian’s Menu. There are three “entrees” on the Christian’s menu… and you will notice that all three are Christ! We can take a lesson from that. These three entrees are connected with the three phases of Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan (see Joshua 5:10-12). The “manna” represents Christ as the bread of heaven, and “the Passover” represents Christ sacrificed for sin, referenced here as eating His flesh and drinking His blood. We even have what answers to “the old corn of the land” mentioned in v.62! Read more…
Food to be Eaten for Life Initially – Two Aspects (vv.49-53)
#1. Christ as a Man in His Incarnation (vv.49-51a)
49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51a I am the living bread which has come down out of heaven: if any one shall have eaten of this bread he shall live for ever; vv.49-51a The first aspect mentioned is the manna. Take note that whenever Christ is compared with the manna that Jehovah gave the children of Israel in the wilderness, it represents Christ in as a humble man on earth. If the Lord was typified by the manna, He went incomparably beyond it. The Israelites ate the manna in the wilderness to stay alive; but it could not ultimately prevent death. Christ is the Bread come down out of heaven “that a man may eat thereof and not die“. To “eat the living bread” come down from heaven is to receive and know Christ as the Son of God, come as a humble man, to bring eternal life to as many as believe on Him. It is a once-and-for-all thing; “shall have eaten”. To be saved we need to believe that the Son of God became a man to bring us life. But there is more to the gospel than the incarnation.
#2. Christ in His Atoning Death (vv.51b-53)
51b but the bread withal which I shall give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. v.51b The word “but” signals a change. He now speaks of bread “which I shall give”… an action then future. Without question, the flesh of the Son of God was given for us at the cross. This is what we remember in the Lord’s Supper; “this is my body, which is given for you,” (Luke 22:19). However, it is important to see that we do not actually eat His flesh and drink His blood in the Supper. See notes on Eucharistic Theology.
52 The Jews therefore contended among themselves, saying, How can he give us this flesh to eat? v.52 Blind unbelief wonders, “Is the Lord speaking about cannibalism?” No. Yet He is very clear that there is “food” and “eating” involved (v.55). So what is He saying? He is explaining that the very way you eat and digest physical food and drink is the same way you need to eat and digest the Lord Jesus Himself if you are to have eternal life. When we eat food, we assimilate it. Assimilation is more than appropriation. The proteins contained in the food become part of our body. Literally, we are what we eat!
53 Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Unless ye shall have eaten the flesh of the Son of man, and drunk his blood, ye have no life in yourselves. v.53 To “eat the flesh and drink the blood” of the Son of Man is to receive and know Christ as the One whose atoning death (flesh and blood separate) has brought you life, to take Him (as you take food and water), and to appropriate Him to yourself. Note: This is not the Lord’s Supper as the Catholics believe; i.e. you cannot be saved unless you take the Lord’s Supper. That is entirely false, one might be taking the Lord’s Supper but never have truly taken Christ for salvation. Why? At least two reasons. First, John 6 was long before Luke 22. Second, here the Lord is speaking to unbelievers. But this is what the Lord’s Supper is a symbol of: Christ in His death. John’s Gospel takes up what is vital, and therefore the Lord’s Supper is not given in John.
Food to be Eaten to Sustain Our Life Ongoing – Two Aspects (vv.54-58)
“Has eaten” vs. “Eats”. The verb “have eaten” in vv.49-53 is “phago” in Greek and it means to consume. It is in the aorist tense, which is once-for-all. The verb “eats” in vv.54-58 is “trogo” in Greek which means to crunch or chew on food. It is in the present tense, which means it refers to an ongoing action. In these verses, the Lord goes on to explain that once we are saved we cannot go on living independently from Him; that we need to feed on Him continually throughout our pathway, to sustain our life. We cannot sever eternal life from its source. The believer has eternal life, but it is “in the Son”, not apart from Him. A good comparison to show this is in v.53 (“shall have eaten”) and v.54 (“eats”).
#1. Christ in His Atoning Death (vv.54-56)
54 He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up at the last day: 55 for my flesh is truly food and my blood is truly drink. vv.54-55 Those who receive the truth of the incarnation in faith (the bread from heaven) must also with the same faith receive His death (flesh and blood) in order to have eternal life. Both the incarnation and the death of Christ are tests of faith; but the more decisive of the two is His death. He adds “and I will raise him up at the last day” because the flesh and blood of the Son are the basis not only of our eternal salvation and ongoing sustenance, but also of the salvation of our bodies; i.e. in resurrection. We may believe in the incarnation, but we haven’t really tasted that the Lord is gracious until we see that His love took Him all the way to death; then our hunger perseveres, never tires, and returns to feed on Him again and again.
56 He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him. v.56 The idea of dwelling in Christ and Christ in us is communion. Not only do we need to feed on Christ in death to have life (for security) but also for communion. For a Christian to walk out of communion with the Son is not really life; it is spiritual death to the believer.
#2. Christ as a Man in His Incarnation (vv.57-58)
57 As the living Father has sent me and I live on account of the Father, “he” also who eats me shall live also on account of me. v.57 The Father’s will was ever before the Lord as an all consuming object here below. It was His “meat” (John 4:34) or sustenance. In like manner, Christ has set Himself before the believer as an object, that we might find our sustenance in Him. “To me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). This verse explains what the manna typifies… the Lord as a humble man on earth living for His Father’s will; that is what we feed on!
58 This is the bread which has come down out of heaven. Not as the fathers ate and died: he that eats this bread shall live for ever. v.58 The Lord returns to the subject before us in vv.49-50; i.e. Christ as the bread of heaven, but now in the ongoing sense of eating. The manna in the wilderness sustained only the natural, temporal life, but still ended in death. The loaves and fishes couldn’t do any more. But a person eating of the Bread which came down from heaven would not die (in a spiritual sense of course), and would receive sustenance that nourishes eternal life.
59 These things he said in the synagogue, teaching in Capernaum. v.59 We are reminded that He spoke these things in Capernaum, in Galilee (not in Jerusalem), away from the center of religious formalism. Yet many had followed who could not pass this test; they found it too hard to accept (v.60).
The Disciples Tested and Sifted (6:60-71)
The danger of rejecting the truth. When a person rejects the truth it opens them up to being blinded by Satan; “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Cor. 4:4) and ultimately to being hardened by God (Rom 9:18) so as to be used as a display of His righteous judgment against sin.
Jesus Rebukes the Unbelief among His Disciples (vv.60-65)
60 Many therefore of his disciples having heard it said, This word is hard; who can hear it? v.60 This was such a test that even His disciples were divided over it. It is a big mistake to reject what you can understand. If God said it, we need to believe it. Faith believes what our minds cannot understand. They ask “who can hear it?”. The answer is “those who have faith”. The reason they couldn’t hear it is given in v.61; because they were offended.
61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmur concerning this, said to them, Does this offend you? v.61 They were confused and offended, because they did not have faith or an ear to hear. In the parable of the sower (the greatest and key to all parables) the issue wasn’t with the seed (see v.63) but with the way it was received. The idea that God would “become man” was repulsive to the Jew, and the thought of communion with His death was even more so. It offended their religious sensibilities, because they did not understand their own hearts. They were clinging to their own righteousness, and therefore could not conceive of God coming down to earth, much less going into death for them.
62 If then ye see the Son of man ascending up where he was before? v.62 Jesus now introduces precisely the subject of ch.7; the ascension of the Son and sending of the Holy Spirit. If they were offended as to the truths of (1) the incarnation, and (2) the atoning death of the Son, how would they handle (3) the ascension and (4) glorification of Christ? The ascension was implied in Psa. 8; 80; 110, and Dan. 7: but the Jews had their eyes glued on the earth, and simply refused to look up! Note that we have the manna and the passover in the earlier part of the chapter, and now we get hints of what answers to the old corn of the land of Canaan!
63 It is the Spirit which quickens, the flesh profits nothing: the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life. v.63 This is the key to the whole previous discourse. The things Jesus had been presenting were spiritual, and they can only be understood by the Spirit of God. It is “the Spirit of God which quickens” or makes good the Word of God to us. Because these disciples did not have faith, the words spoken did not profit them. It isn’t that there was a problem with the words that came from the Lord’s mouth; they were spiritual and had the potency to give life. What a lesson to learn; “the flesh profits nothing”.
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 deliver him up. v.64 Perhaps this is the saddest verse in the whole chapter. When the will is set against God, the very manifestation of God’s heart standing in their midst was not enough to make some of His own disciples believe. Think of it… the Eternal Word become flesh! He “knew from the beginning” (by Divine omniscience) two things:
- the individuals who did not believe (see v.66 – phase 1)
- the specific individual from His inner circle who would betray Him (see v.70 – phase 2).
65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no one can come to me unless it be given to him from the Father. v.65 These disciples (as well as Judas) were the living proof that man does not have a free will… “no one can come to me.” They had seen the miracles, and now heard the truth from the very lips of the Son of God Himself, and they refused to believe. A “will to believe” or a new nature needs to be “given to him from the Father”.
The Sifting of the Lord’s Disciples, in Two Phases (vv.66-71)
The First Man and the Second Man. The disciples would be sifted according to the value they placed on the Second Man. Those without faith valued the First Man more.
66 From that time many of his disciples went away back and walked no more with him. v.66 1st Phase – the greater mass of the disciples depart. What a sad day this was… confronted with the depths to which the Second Man would go to glorify the Father, the “many” break company with the few, and disappear from the pages of scripture. The twelve are silent (Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 4:22).
67 Jesus therefore said to the twelve, Will ye also go away? v.67 Sometimes we don’t want to speak the truth, as Jesus had done, because we are afraid that it will scare away some. That was not the Lord’s way. The warnings of the Lord (vv.61-65) precipitated the departure of unbelievers, but when the faithful were pressed (v.67) they became knit more closely to Himself, and brought out (vv.68-69) their sense of what He was to their souls.
68 Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast words of life eternal; v.68 Certainly Peter did not understand (and how little do we) of the truth in John 6. But he knew a little, and had known that this One had words that could lift you out of this world altogether (eternal life), and there was no One to rival Him for greatness. How beautiful and profound is the response of Peter!
69 and we have believed and known that thou art the holy one of God. v.69 Peter, the spokesman, gives a fine confession of faith; that this One standing in their midst was none other than the Holy Son of God. He uses the work ‘ginosko ‘ for “known”, which has the thought of an objective knowledge. But Peter’s use of the word “we” was incorrect (v.70).
70 Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you the twelve? and of you one is a devil. 2nd Phase – the betrayer among the twelve. Peter did not know how deep the unbelief truly ran… that it had penetrated the ranks of their own close-knit group. How shocking and unbelievable this was to the disciples! The Lord had “chosen” the twelve as a special privilege, but “one is a devil,” or, one has the character of the Devil. It wasn’t until Judas went out of the upper room (John 13) Satan actually possessed him.
71 Now he spoke of Judas the son of Simon, Iscariote, for he it was who should deliver him up, being one of the twelve. v.71 Why does it say “Simon’s son”? Perhaps the Spirit of God is presenting a contrast between Simon’s son and Simon Peter? While one confessed for all that Jesus was the Holy One of God, the other would ultimately betray Him. We see in a remarkable way the hearts of all men being manifested; the multitude, the disciples, Peter, and Judas.
- Fawcett, John. A Fullness Resides in Jesus our Head. Little Flock Hymnbook #267. 1739-1817.