(John 6:1-71 - Jesus - The Bread of Life - cont.)
Life is the central concept of the second major section of John's gospel. John dealt with the concept of Jesus as a new beginning in chapters 2-4. Starting with 4:43 the focus shifted to Jesus as the life-giving word. This theme occupies the gospel writer through the end of chapter 5. Chapter 6 is devoted to Jesus as the Bread of Life. The concepts of Light and Life will be dealt with in chapters 7-11.
John 5:19-47 forms a unit of thought within the section on the life-giving word. In these verses John focuses on the relationship of Jesus and the Father. Verses 19-29 (30) gave attention to the unity of action of Jesus and the Father. Verses (30) 31-40 return to the concept of witnesses to Jesus (v. 30 is a transitional verse between the two sections; it belongs to both, rather than to only one). The relationship of Jesus and Judaism is always a matter of concern in the Fourth Gospel. Verses 41-47 further explore that problem by describing the role of Moses in pointing to Christ.
Verse 30 sums up verses 19-30 and also introduces verses 31-40. There is a oneness between Jesus and God the Father because there is "a complete oneness of will." The opening sentence of verse 30 sounds strange to modern evangelical ears. Jesus says, "I am able to do nothing from myself." The Greek text emphasizes the word "nothing." There is not even one thing Jesus can do by himself. Barrett comments, "If he were to act independently of God (supposing such a thing to be possible) Jesus would be completely powerless." The judgments Jesus renders are in fact reliable. However, they are reliable only because he is seeking the will of the Father rather than his own will.
If Jesus' strength and success were so dependent upon the will of God then God's will must be far more important to us than we have ever imagined. If Jesus felt the need to constantly conform his will to the Father's will, how much more (as Paul would say) will we need to be vigilant at that point.
It is also interesting that Jesus describes the Father in verse 30 as the "one who sent me." There is no indication that Jesus tried to figure out God's will for his life a day at a time as we often do. He was sent with a mission from the Father. The Father's will was to do the job he was sent to do. For us, the will of God should also be thought of in mostly general terms. Most of what we need to know about the will of God is clearly spelled out in Scripture. We are to be holy. We are to be witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. We are to love God and neighbor with the totality of our beings. If we will do that consistently, it will not be a hard thing for God to communicate some special expression (such as witnessing at the supermarket) of his will to us. To wait for special communication of the will of God for our every move misses the way Jesus understood the will of the one who sent him.
John 5:31-40 - Witnesses to Jesus
Verse 31 begins with another shocking statement. Jesus actually states, "If I bear witness about myself, my witness is not true." In this Jesus was following Jewish legal practice. In the Mishnah Kethuboth 2:9 it states, "None may be believed when he testifies of himself." This moves beyond the Old Testament principle of requiring two or three witnesses to establish testimony (Deuteronomy 19:15). However, John then turns to two or three witnesses to establish the validity of Jesus' identity. John the Baptist is brought forward in verses 33-36 as witness. The Father appears in verse 37 to testify in Jesus' behalf. Verse 39 states that the Scriptures bear witness to Jesus also.
Before calling those witnesses to the stand Jesus makes another strange remark in verse 32. He refers to another witness who testifies concerning him. The Greek word indicates that it is another witness of the same kind as Jesus himself. Some interpreters think that he is referring to John the Baptist, but the language more closely fits the idea that he is referring to the Father.
Verse 33 introduces the witness of John the Baptist. Jesus states, "You sent to John." This wording reflects the words of John 1:19 where the Jews from Jerusalem sent a delegation to interrogate John the Baptist. The Greek construction indicates that the witness of John in chapter 1 is still valid. The truth to which John the Baptist had testified was both negative and positive. He (John the Baptist) was not the Messiah but the Holy Spirit was remaining on Jesus.
Even if the Jews had accepted the witness of John the Baptist it would have been accepting the witness of man. Jesus will not accept such a witness. In the final analysis only God the Father can authentically witness about the relationship of Jesus and the Father. It is Jesus' words that lead to salvation. Thus Jesus delivers this discourse in order that his listeners might be saved.
Verse 35 further describes the witness of John the Baptist as a lamp that was burning. There are several interesting allusions in this description. John 1:8 states that John the Baptist was not the light. Jesus is the light; John the Baptist is a lamp. Jesus as the light is original and primary. John's light is derived from that of Jesus and is secondary. Some also see a possible allusion to John the Baptist being Elijah. The intertestamental book Sirach describes Elijah as a prophet like fire whose word burned like a lamp (Sirach 48:1). However, since John the Baptist rejected the title of Elijah (John 1:21) it is not likely that John (the gospel writer) has this in mind. The Jews were willing to rejoice in the witness of John the Baptist.
However, Jesus has a witness on his behalf that surpasses John. In fact the consistency between the works of Jesus and the works of God is a powerful witness Jesus is sent by God. The works of Jesus create life. Only God can create life. Thus the conclusion follows that Jesus is an emissary of God. That is the argument of verse 36.
Verse 37 turns to the testimony of the Father. Jesus affirms that the Father has testified to his (Jesus) identity. However, the Jews have not accepted the witness of the Father for three reasons. They have not heard God's voice. Perhaps this is a veiled reference to Mt. Sinai. God spoke, but they did not hear. It may also be noting that though God spoke the Jews did not obey. Secondly, they did not see God's form. This reflects the statement of Deuteronomy 4:12 and 15. Further, they do not have God's word abiding in them. The context of verse 38 suggests that the "word" means Scripture. However, it is also quite possible that John (the gospel writer) has in mind that Jesus is the Word who does not abide in the Jews.
The conclusion following these three reasons is that the Jews do not believe. This conclusion of verse 38 implies two contrasts. First, there are those (like the official, the Samaritans, and the disciples) who do believe. The implication is that those believers do have the Word of God abiding in them. Secondly, the contrast includes Jews and Christians in the time John wrote the gospel. In fact any time in history when people believe in Jesus then they have the Word of God abiding in them, they have heard the voice of God, and they have seen the form of God.
The first verb of verse 39 can be taken as either an indicative or an imperative. The imperative, "Search the Scriptures," makes sense in light of the final phrase that they witness concerning Christ. However, most interpreters believe the construction should be taken as an indicative: "You are searching the Scripture because you think that you have eternal life in them." Judaism believed that the Law was the source of life. As the two healing miracles described in John 4:46-5:9 show, life flows from Jesus. The Jews think (mistakenly) that Scripture provides life. In fact Scripture points to Jesus the true source of life. However, the Jews are not interested in life since it requires coming to Jesus.
John 5:41-47 - The Unbelief of the Jews
With the witness of John the Baptist, the witness of Jesus' works, the witness of the Father, and the witness of Scripture the unbelief of the Jews is a moral matter. They arrogantly refuse to believe in the face of overwhelming evidence. Jesus is not interested in gaining glory (approval) from them. After all they do not have the love of God in them. The phrase, "love of God," can be taken to mean the love that God has for them. If they did it would lead them to understand the witness of Scripture correctly. However, it is more likely that "love of God" means loving God. The Jews do not love God because if they did they would be open to His truth about Jesus.
Verse 43 returns to the language of receiving. The Jews did not receive Jesus. This echoes John 1:11. Instead of receiving Jesus who came as a delegate of the Father, the Jews would receive one of their own. The opposition to Jesus was coming from what Lindars calls a "mutual admiration society." The Jews were interested in maintaining their own position and traditions. They were seeking their own glory. As verse 44 notes this makes believing impossible. That is a point worth remembering. We are often tempted to seek our own glory. Glory belongs only to God. To seek our own moves us into unbelief.
The final verses attack Judaism at its most sensitive point. Moses was understood as the source of the Law and thus, in some significant ways, the founder of Judaism. Moses will accuse Jesus' Jewish opponents. The Law of Moses witnesses to Jesus. If Jews really put their trust in Moses, they would believe in Christ. Verse 47 raises the final question that Jews could not answer. If the Jews did not believe Moses who wrote about Jesus, how could they believe in Jesus? The answer is clear. They cannot. When we cut ourselves off from what God is saying through Scripture, we cut ourselves off from any work that God would do through Christ.
John 6:1-71 - Jesus - The Bread of Life
The transition from John 5 to John 6 is problematic. The last geographical reference in chapter 5 placed Jesus in Jerusalem. John 6:1 has Jesus on the Sea of Galilee with no intervening reference to a return to Galilee. The reference to an approaching Passover in 6:4 also complicates the transition. These difficulties have led many to suggest that chapters 5 and 6 have somehow gotten reversed from John's original order. However, such a suggestion is based on the supposition that John must have been committed to presenting a smoothly developed narrative of Jesus' life.
The whole of John's gospel, however, suggests that he is more interested in theological truth than in chronological precision. Chapter 6 reflects that concern. It is rich in theological implication. The chapter begins with the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand in verses 1-15 and the narrative of Jesus walking on the water in verses 16-21. Verses 22-59 are completely different in style as they present a lengthy discourse on the meaning of Jesus as the Bread of Life. Verses 60-71 close the chapter with a concluding narrative.
John has taken the basic narrative sequence of the feeding of the five thousand, walking on the water, and dialog between Jesus and the disciples on the meaning of the loaves and has broken it apart. He has inserted the lengthy discourse that brought to the forefront a number of theological themes implicit in the narrative sections.
The feeding of the five thousand is the only miracle of Jesus mentioned in all four gospels. The walking on the water is also mentioned in Matthew and Mark and is placed immediately following the feeding of the five thousand in those gospels also. Modern scholarship still debates whether or not John wrote with a copy of Mark's account before him. Both the similarities and the differences between Mark's and John's accounts are significant. Most analytical scholars believe John did not have a copy of Mark, but the resolution of that problem is not necessary for our understanding of John's account. It appears that John saw a clear relationship between the feeding of the five thousand, the walking on the water, and the Passover. As is also typical of John he used the two miracles as vehicles for enhancing our understanding of who Jesus is.
John 6:1-15 - Feeding the Five Thousand
John's account of the feeding of the five thousand has four basic parts: (1) his description of the situation and background in verses 1-4, (2) the preparation for the feeding in verses 5-10, (3) the generous provisions in verses 11-13, and (4) the consequences of the feeding in the crowd's response and Jesus' reaction. There are a number of details of John's account of the feeding that are not found in the parallel passages in the Synoptic Gospels. Many of these unique details reveal the theological interests of John.
Verse 1 contains an unusual designation for the place of the miracle. It is said that Jesus departed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. This is the only mention of Tiberias in the New Testament. By the later part of the first century Tiberias was used as the name of the Sea of Galilee. It does not appear to have been in use during Jesus' lifetime as a name for the lake. This little touch appears to be the effort of the author to provide a name recognizable to his readers who may have been Ephesians.
Verse 2 contains the only reference in John to great crowds following Jesus. The writer comments that they came because they had seen the signs of healing that Jesus had been doing. The construction of the Greek verb indicates a pattern of healing miracles, not just the two mentioned in John 4:46-54 and 5:1-9. Thus this alludes to aspects of Jesus' ministry not mentioned specifically in the Fourth Gospel. However, the fact that these followers come because of the miracles places them beside the Galileans mentioned in 4:44-54 who demonstrate an inadequate faith. This prepares the reader for the inappropriate reaction of the crowd that will be revealed later in the chapter.
Only John places this event on a mountain (v. 3). Often interpreters of Scripture think gospel writers make such remarks to place Jesus and Moses in a comparative relationship. One must then examine the context to see if such a comparison is, in fact, being made. Several factors suggest such a possibility here. First, Moses had been contrasted with Christ in the closing verse of chapter 5. Second, John specifically connects the feeding to the Jewish Passover in verse 4. The Passover had its origins in the Mosaic period and the Passover liturgy in Judaism emphasized the manna provided by Moses. Manna will be specifically introduced in verse 31. The Moses motif and the Passover emphasis also provide a backdrop for a possible Eucharistic interpretation of the story.
John's account of the decision to feed the crowd and the distribution of food focus all the attention on Jesus. The Synoptics describe the lateness of the hour and the fatigue of the crowd. The miracle is motivated by the need of the people. However, in our text (verse 5) Jesus sees the people coming to him and immediately initiates the process that will lead to the feeding. It is his initiative, his insightful perception of their true need, that is at the forefront.
The question to Philip is not designed to find information but to test Philip's faith. The evangelist remarks that Jesus himself knew what he was about to do. Philip's reply only serves to stress the impossibility of the situation. It is no accident then that in verse 11 it is Jesus himself who gives the bread to the crowd. We are left with a picture of Jesus in which he knows exactly what he is going to do. Even though it is hopeless from a human standpoint, Jesus supplies the bread needed by the multitude.
Only John describes the five loaves as barley loaves. This and the Greek word used for the lad with the loaves and fish recalls the Old Testament account of Elisha found in 2 Kings 4:42-44. There the prophet fed a hundred people with 20 barley loaves and had some left over. But Jesus far outstrips that great man of God of the Old Testament.
Verse 10 emphasizes that "much grass" was at that place. Here the metaphor shifts somewhat. Moses had fed Israel manna in the desert. One greater than Moses here is feeding the new people of God in rich pastures. Jesus is the Messianic shepherd who leads his people in green pastures (as in Psalm 23:2) and provides them with the nourishment of life itself.
Verse 11 describes Jesus as taking the loaves, giving thanks, and distributing them to the crowd. The Greek word for giving thanks is the root from which the term Eucharist comes. There are certain parallels in language between the description of Jesus' action here and his actions in introducing the Lord's Supper at the Last Supper Passover meal. Some of the evidence points toward a Eucharistic theme here and some points against it. However, the real Eucharistic emphasis is not in the feeding of the five thousand but in the interpretation given in the following discourse.
The instructions to gather the fragments serve to emphasis the generous and even extravagant supply of Jesus. Only John suggests that the motivation for gathering the fragments is that "nothing be lost" (verse 12). The Greek word for "be lost" is the same that is used in 6:27 when the crowd is warned to not work for bread that passes away. In John's mind the bread that fed the five thousand was not really the product of a bakery but Jesus as the bread of life himself. He is the bread that does not pass away. The fragments are gathered so none of Jesus' supply [of himself] be wasted.
The generous feeding of the five thousand also fills a role of fulfillment of messianic expectation. At least certain segments of Judaism expected the Messiah to repeat the miracle of the manna. This expectation appears to have arisen from the combination of understanding the Messiah as a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15, 18) and the general view that the Messianic Age would be a time of utopian plenty. Thus the feeding of the five thousand enabled Jesus to affirm his messianic ministry without uttering a single word about messiahship. While that connection has generally been lost on modern readers it was not lost on the original crowd, as verse 15 makes quite clear.
Verses 14-15 summarize the consequences of the feeding. The crowd recognizes and affirms Jesus as the prophet who was to come - the prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15, 18). For John the term prophet is an accurate though inadequate title for Jesus. The feeding narrative has already shown Jesus' superiority to Moses and to Elisha. The affirmation of Jesus' as prophet can be a stepping-stone to further understanding of Jesus or it can become a stumbling block if it limits understanding of Jesus to the earthly sphere. It is this second, undesirable possibility that characterized the crowd. Verse 15 affirms Jesus' premonition that the crowd had limited its understanding of him to traditional, materialistic messianic concepts. They were ready to make him king. So he withdrew.
John 6:16-21 - Walking on the Water
In Matthew and Mark the walking on the water scene immediately follows the feeding of the five thousand, as it does here in John. Following this event John will return to the theme of bread and describe Jesus as the Bread of Life and provide a major discourse revealing the true significance of the multiplication of the loaves. Is not the account of the walking on the water an interruption to his story? Does he simply follow Matthew and Mark in connecting it to the feeding of the multitude even though it doesn't fit the flow of thought that he wishes to develop?
It would certainly be unusual if John felt bound to include something in his gospel that did not fit his flow of thought or contribute to his theological emphasis. The walking on the water, in fact, had considerable connection to the Passover liturgy in Judaism. That liturgy also emphasized the "I am" phrase from God's self-disclosure in Exodus. The connection of Passover, passage through the Red Sea, and "I am" in the Passover liturgy seems to be clearly reflected in John 6. The feeding of the five thousand has Passover themes and the walking on the water climaxes with an "I am" saying of Jesus.
Verse 17 describes the disciples as caught in the darkness. Darkness is a common Johannine theme describing existence without Christ. This perspective is emphasized by John's remark in verse 17 that Jesus had not yet come to them. On their own, in the darkness, away from Christ the strong wind whipped around them. The initial appearance of Jesus brought fear, but his presence is a helping presence and verse 20 is the climax. Jesus' words, "It is I," are a translation of ego eimi, which literally means, "I AM." It is the Old Testament name for God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. It is part of a phrase that will be increasingly used by John. "I am the bread of life." "I am the good shepherd." "I am the true vine." These are only a few of the "I am" statements in John. Out of the storm comes the comforting words, ego eimi, God is here, do not be afraid" (see "I AM" in John's Gospel)
It should be no surprise that when the disciples received Jesus into the boat it immediately reached its goal. For John and for us that is the goal - receiving Jesus. The Passover imagery is fulfilled in him. The Exodus which produced Israel has been surpassed and Christ calls to a new people, the church, "ego eimi, do not fear."
John 6:22-25 - Transition to the Discourse
These verses form a transition from the account of the walking on the water to the discourse on Jesus as the Bread of Life. The purpose is to get everyone back together at Capernaum and to make it clear that Jesus had arrived on the other side by miraculous means. The parenthetical reference in verse 23 to Jesus giving thanks brings the "Eucharist" root word back to the reader's attention. Verse 24 speaks of seeking Jesus. In verse 25 those who seek him find him and Jesus then begins the discourse on the Bread of Life. It is only those who seek Jesus who find Him. It is only those who find Him who receive life. In the construction of a simple narrative John has again focused attention on Jesus as the giver of life.
The question of the people in verse 25, "When did you get here?" also points to the miracle of walking on the water and introduces the discourse. The answer is obvious to the reader who has already read of the walking on the water in verses 16-21. Jesus doesn't answer the question, "When?" It is the question, "Why?" that concerns Christ and verse 26 begins the discourse by discussing the motivation of the Jews in seeking Him.
For John the question of motivation in seeking Jesus is always an important question. For him authentic faith means trusting obedience of Christ. To seek Jesus to simply satisfy one's own desires and to meet one's own need is not authentic faith. To really know Jesus is not just a matter of correct doctrine. It also involves total commitment to the will of the Father.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will make the Word alive and meaningful to you.
First Day: Read the notes on John 5:30-6:25. Look up the Scripture references.
1. Identify one or two new insights that were meaningful to you.
2. Select a truth for which you see a personal application in your own life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. Are you seeking the glory that comes from God rather than the glory that comes from other men? Ask the Lord to help you live consistently seeking to please the Father.
Second Day: Read John 6:26-59. Focus in on John 6:26-40.
1. Why does Jesus think the crowds are seeking Him?
2. What do you believe Jesus meant in verse 27 when he spoke of the food that endures to eternal life? What insight does Isaiah 55:1-3 add to your understanding?
3. Read Exodus 16:4-35. How does the passage in Exodus function as background for Jesus' comments in John 6:31-40?
Third Day: Read John 6:26-59. Focus in on John 6:26-40.
1. What role does the bread of God fulfill?
2. Jesus' statement, "I am the Bread of Life," is a figurative statement. In what ways is bread related to life that shed light on the role of Jesus for us?
3. Verses 38-40 refer to the will of God three times. What things are said about the will of God? To what degree do those three aspects of the will of God apply to you?
Fourth Day: Read John 6:26-59. Now focus John 6:41-51.
1. How does the statement in verse 41 about grumbling relate to Exodus 16:4-35?
2. Verses 44-45 speak of being drawn to God, being taught by God, and coming to God. Describe what it is about Jesus that you think causes people to be drawn to God through Him.
3. How is Jesus different from the manna given by God in the wilderness? How is Jesus similar to the gift of the manna?
Fifth Day: Read John 6:26-59. Now focus in on John 6:52-59.
1. What new thoughts are introduced in John 6:52-59 that did not appear in the previous verses?
2. Some scholars believe John is thinking about the Lord's Supper in these verses. Others reject the idea. What is your opinion on this question? Why do you think that way?
3. How important is Jesus according to these verses? What meaning does he hold for us on the basis of these verses?
Sixth Day: Read John 6:60-71.
1. What unusual title is given Jesus in these verses? What do you think it means?
2. What seems to be the reason for which many followed Jesus? How does Jesus explain those who really follow him?
3. These verses reveal followers making a personal decision about whether to continue following Jesus. Do you want to continue following Christ? What things hinder you? What things encourage you? Write about how much you want to follow Christ.