This chapter brings us back again to Galilee, and we read of another of the great “signs” which Jesus did. The miracle of feeding the five thousand has evidently a special importance, since it is related in each of the four Gospels. Our chapter gives us the teaching, based upon it and relating to it, which makes apparent its significance. The miracle itself is described in such a way as to emphasize the Lord’s resource and foreknowledge.
Jesus first addressed Himself to Philip. Now this was the disciple who did believe Moses’ writings, as we saw in John 1 : 45; yet when tested here he did not look beyond the purchasing power of money. Jesus Himself “knew what He would do.” In such an emergency the best that could be said of other servants of God would be that not knowing what to do, they looked to God for direction, and got it. But here was One, who knew what to do, and knew He had the power to do it. Before Andrew spoke of the lad with his small loaves and fishes, He knew about them. To have such knowledge, and wield such power as to know with absolute certainty what one will do, is the prerogative of Deity. Statements such as this are common in this Gospel: see John 2: 24, 25; John 13: 3; John 18: 4.
Though His knowledge and power were such, He did not disdain the small supplies which the lad offered, nor did He ignore the disciples with their small understanding and feeble faith. He made them the distributors of His bounty. The original food supply was the lad’s; the hands that distributed it were the disciples’; the power and grace were His, and His alone. So manifest was this to the men that partook of the bounty, that they connected it with heaven, and declared that He must be the Prophet that should come into the world, as Moses had said. People were led to that conclusion on a number of occasions—see, John 4: 19; John 7: 40; John 9: 17—yet to be lasting it had to be a stepping-stone to deeper conclusions. In John 4, it led to the conviction that He was the Christ: in John 9, to the conclusion that He was the Son of God.
With these men the loaves and fishes had acquired too much importance, and desiring a continuance of supplies so easily procured, they took counsel to force kingship upon this Prophet. Now we have just heard Him say, “l receive not testimony from man,” and again, “I receive not honour from men,” so we are not surprised to find that He will not receive a kingdom from the hands of men. The glory of the greatest earthly kingdom, that man can erect, is but tinsel before Him. So He departed into the solitude of a mountain, while His disciples set out to cross the lake. Matthew 14: 22, tells us that He constrained His disciples to enter the ship while He dismissed the crowds by Himself. John’s account explains His actions. They would easily and enthusiastically have fallen in with the proposals of the people, but He thoughtfully removed them from the scene of temptation.
But though He would accept no earthly kingship by democratic vote, He showed Himself to be complete Master in other spheres, though the display of this was for the eyes of His disciples only, Both wind and sea can display a force in the grip of which man is but a toy and a plaything, but over which He is supreme Lord. The disciples in their day, and we in our day, need to apprehend Him in this light. An earthly kingdom with plenty of food easily appeals to a carnal mind. The spiritual mind is formed by knowing Him as the Master of both wind and wave, and the powers they represent. Revealing Himself thus to the disciples, their fears were dispelled, and they found themselves conducted at once to their destination, when they willingly received Him into the ship. Ponder this incident with care, for we very specially need to know Him in this way. He is today not dealing with an earthly kingdom, but proving Himself supreme above adverse forces, while conducting His saints through them.
The crowd knew nothing of His miraculous crossing of the sea, yet they sensed that something unusual had happened, and they sought Him on the further side, wishing to satisfy their curiosity as to the mode of His transit. The Lord did not satisfy it, but rather at once showed them that He knew the unspoken thoughts of their hearts. The seeing of miracles is not enough, as we learned in John 2:23-25, but even that was in their minds supplanted by the food that perishes: He, the Son of Man, sealed by the Father, was the Giver of food that endures to life eternal. They should seek that.
His answer to these men bears a strong resemblance to His approach to the Samaritan woman, in John 4. There water was in question, here bread; but in both cases the well-known material substance was turned into a symbol of great spiritual reality, and the hearer brought face to face with that, though there is no evidence of these men receiving blessing as the woman did. The “living water” was the Spirit, that He would give. The “living bread” was Christ Himself, come down from heaven, the food of eternal life for men. That food can only be received as a gift in which the whole Godhead is concerned, since it comes from the Son of Man, sealed by the Father—and that seal, we know, was by the Spirit.
The woman no more understands at first the import of the Lord’s words than did these men, but her response was, “Sir, give me . . .” whereas theirs was, “What shall we do that we might work . . .?” A tell-tale difference this! The men’s question at once drew forth the assertion that faith in the Sent One of God is the very beginning of all work that is according to God. If men do not believe on Him whom God sent, in no proper sense do they believe in God, and they remain in spiritual death, since life is presented to them in Him. Alas! they did not believe, as verse 30 shows, but instead they demanded a sign, suggesting that if it were spectacular enough it would create faith in their hearts. And then, anticipating that He might refer them to the sign of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, which they had just witnessed, they attempted to discount that by referring to the miracle of the manna, ministered to their fathers in the wilderness through Moses for the space of forty years.
This called forth the emphatic statement of verse 32. It was not Moses but God who gave that bread from heaven, which was only a figure of the true. The true bread out of heaven is the gift of God, and He was now being revealed as Father by the One who was that gift. He had Himself come down out of heaven as the Giver of life to the world. In natural things bread only sustains life and in no sense gives it; but the spiritual always transcends the natural. The material figure serves to direct our thoughts to the Divine fact, but can never contain its fulness. Jesus was here as both the Giver and the Sustainer of life; and this in relation to the world and not merely to the small Jewish nation, amongst whom He moved. We have noticed this feature before: the Word having become flesh, He cannot be confined in His light and life-giving powers to any circle less than the world.
Their response to this, in verse 34, looks more encouraging, yet in it there was no faith, as verse 36 shows. It led, however, to the Lord very definitely and plainly presenting Himself as the bread of life, and stating that in coming to Him in genuine faith every desire would find its satisfaction. The gift from Him of the Spirit leads to heart satisfaction in John 4. Here, the reception of Himself in faith leads to the same blessed consummation. In the knowledge of Himself all the fulness of the Godhead is revealed to us, and may be appropriated by us. This it is that satisfies. These men showed no sign of coming to Him, but the Father was active in His purposes and grace, and hence a response there was going to be.
In this setting stands that great and assuring gospel statement, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” In John 3, we saw that though “no man receiveth His testimony,” yet some did receive His testimony. Now, for the first time we discover what lies behind the paradox. There is the sovereign grace of the Father, which has given certain to the Son, and these without any exception come to Him. These happy individuals are impelled towards Him, as far as their own consciousness is concerned, by a variety of things, differing in almost every case; yet beneath all, as the ultimate explanation, lies this gift of the Father to Christ—a love gift, we may call it.
All that the Father has given come, and none that come are cast out by the Son; and that not only because of His own grace and personal love for such, but because they are the Father’s gift, and because the very object of His coming down from heaven was to carry out the Father’s will, and thus reveal the Father’s heart. The Father gave them in order that, coming to the Son, He might be to them the Giver and the Food of life and thus, the Father made known to them, they might be satisfied indeed. There is no possibility of any slip between the Father’s gift and the Son’s reception. As we observe thus the context and bearing of the passage, we see how rightly and happily the evangelist directs the anxious soul, who is turning towards Christ and about to come to Him, to the golden words, “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”
Then again, the Father’s will is not only that the Son should receive in life-giving power the one who comes to Him now, but that all should be consummated in resurrection at “the last day.” The Jews had the light of the Old Testament, and looked forward to the time of Messiah’s presence and glory as the last day. The Lord’s words here amply confirm the thought and show that though we may have the life now in a world that is marked by death, we are to know the fulness of it in the age that is to come. How delightful is the connection between verses 37 and 39—no one will be cast out now, and nothing will be lost as we move on to the day of glory; and both in keeping with the Father’s will.
Verse 40, while expressing the same truth as verse 39, amplifies it somewhat. The same persons are in view, but described first as, “all which He hath given Me,” and then as, “every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him.” The first describes from the viewpoint of Divine purpose; the second shows the corresponding action of faith in our responsible lives here. This “seeing” the Son is, we believe, as much faith as believing on Him. Many there were who saw Jesus as He walked on earth without “seeing the Son” in any true sense. But where eyes were spiritually opened, and they saw the Son and believed on Him, eternal life was received in the present (see also 20: 31), and the world of resurrection life will be entered at the last day.
The Jews promptly displayed themselves as being wholly without faith. They only did see the Man Jesus, thinking they knew His parents; that He was the Son, come of David’s seed according to the flesh (see Rom. 1: 3), was utterly unperceived by them. Thereby they made it plain that they had no part nor lot in this matter. They were strangers to that drawing of the Father, apart from which no man actually does come to Christ.
Verses 39, 40, and 44, each end with resurrection. They set before us the Father’s gift to the Son according to His purpose, His drawing to make the gift effective, and the resultant faith on our side, which leads to the present possession of eternal life, and the certainty of its fulness in resurrection. The Lord found in Isaiah 54: 13, a forecast of this inward work of the Father; and He knew that what He is going to do in Israel’s children, who shall be redeemed and restored when the age to come dawns, He was doing then, and He is still doing today. No man has seen the Father in a natural way. Only those who are “of God” see Him, and that by faith.
Verses 40 and 46 are linked together by the two expressions, “seeth the Son,” and “seeth the Father.” Faith is needed for both, and the Father is only seen if the Son be seen. Let us beware, therefore, of theories which tamper with the Sonship of Jesus. The Divine and eternal Fatherhood cannot be retained if the Divine and eternal Sonship be discarded.
The murmuring of the Jews called forth another of those weighty statements of especial emphasis, which are frequent in this Gospel. Jesus is the bread of life, and those who appropriate Him by faith have life eternal. This great fact stands, without any reservation or qualification whatever. The manna in the wilderness had been recalled by the Jews; the Lord now uses it as in sharp contrast with Himself. Their fathers were dead, though they partook of the manna. He was the bread come down from heaven, and to partake of Him meant deliverance from death. Their fathers were dead spiritually as well as physically, for they had not faith (see Heb. 3:19) though they ate the manna. The man who eats the bread come down from heaven never dies spiritually, whatever happens to him physically.
In verses 50-58, the Lord speaks of eating Himself or His flesh as the living bread no less than seven times, and of drinking His blood three times. His language is figurative, yet really very simple. That which we eat and drink we appropriate in the fullest and most intense way. It is wholly and irrevocably ours, and ultimately becomes part of ourselves. It is consequently a very appropriate figure of faith, for that is just what faith effects in a spiritual way. By incarnation the Son of the Father was amongst men, truly come down from heaven, and thereby all that was revealed in Him was made available for men, but only to be actually appropriated by faith. Hence men must eat of that bread, and eating they live for ever.
The latter part of verse 51 brings in a further thought. This “bread” is His flesh, to be given not for the Jewish nation only but for “the life of the world.” Here the Lord indicates that His incarnation was in view of His death. Wholly blinded, the Jews plunged into arguments among themselves, and this brought forth another statement of extreme emphasis. Apart from the death of the Son of Man, appropriated by faith, no one has any spiritual life in him. The Son having come in flesh as Son of Man and died, life depends upon faith in Him. Before He came there were many who believed in God, according to the testimony He had given, and they lived before Him. But now that the Son of God is come, He is the testimony and everything hinges upon Him.
The tense of the verb, “eat,” in verses 51 and 53, is worthy of note. Darby’s “New Translation” renders, “if any one shall have eaten . . .” and “unless ye shall have eaten . . .” respectively. It signifies an act of appropriation, once for all accomplished. This act there must be if a man is to live toward God—no life without the faith-appropriation of the death of Christ. This, however, does not militate against eating as an habitual thing, which is set forth in the four occurrences of the word in verses 54, 56, 57, 58. The life that is received has to be nourished and sustained; hence the one who has eaten still eats; in other words, he who has received the life by the original appropriation of faith now lives on the same principle— “The just shall live by faith.” He has believed, and he goes on believing.
The habitual eater has eternal life and, in verse 54, for the fourth time resurrection is brought before us. What underlies this fourfold mention undoubtedly is that eternal life is to reach its fullest expression and fruition in resurrection at the last day. It is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament: “life for evermore” (Ps. 133:3), “everlasting life” (Dan. 12:2), and in both cases Messiah’s day, which is “the last time,” is anticipated. Daniel 12 speaks of a national resurrection for Israel, how they shall rise up from amidst the dust of the nations; but in our chapter we have individuals in view, and the resurrection is not figurative but vital and real.
When Paul mentions eternal life he usually has in view its future fulness in resurrection; for instance, “the end everlasting life” (Rom. 6:22). In John it is habitually presented as a present reality though, as the Lord’s words here show, its fulness in the age to come is not excluded from our thoughts.
He who thus eats and drinks not only has the life but he “dwells” or “abides” in Christ, and Christ in him. Moreover, as verse 57 shows, he is put into the same relation with Christ as He was in with the Father. As the Sent One of the Father, commissioned to reveal the Father, the whole life of Jesus was lived on the Father’s account, as drawing everything from Him. Just so, in regard to Christ, shall live the one who appropriates Him habitually by faith; and so living he abides in Christ and Christ in him. One can only exclaim, What a marvellous character of life is thus opened to the simple believer, and how little we have entered into it experimentally! This is indeed, in contrast to the manna, the true bread that came down from heaven; and the life, into which by eating we are introduced, abides for ever.
These remarkable teachings of our Lord had a very testing and sifting effect upon His disciples, and many were offended. His saying was “hard” to them; but wherein did its hardness consist? In that it cut at the roots of their national religious pride. To be told, “Ye have no life in you” except there be this eating and drinking, was intolerable to them. Why, they took it for granted that life was theirs as the nation owned of God, and they had not abandoned that idea though they thought they had found the promised Messiah in Jesus. Now He knew “in Himself” that these disciples were thus objecting under their breath, since He knew all things, and as a consequence He proposed to them an even greater test.
That of which He had spoken had involved His incarnation, by which the fulness of the Godhead had been brought down to us, and His death, by which life has been made available for us: now He speaks of His exaltation and glory. If they stumbled at the thought of the Son of God coming down, what would they say to the Son of Man going up? In our chapter then we have the first and last items in that “mystery of godliness” of which 1 Timothy 3: 16 speaks— “God was manifest in the flesh . . . received up into glory.” Note that He ascends as Son of MAN. It was a wonder that God should descend to earth: it was no less a wonder that Man should ascend to heaven. Jesus of Nazareth is in heaven (see Acts 22: 8). And He is “where He was before.” A striking witness this to the fact that His Person is one and indivisible, however much and rightly we may emphasize the force and meaning of His various names and titles, as well as distinguish between what He ever was and what He became, as we did when considering the opening verses of this Gospel.
The teaching of this chapter is completed by verse 63, where the Holy Spirit is brought in. Nothing proceeds from the flesh that profits in this matter: it is the Spirit who gives life. The Father is the Giver of the true bread of life: the Son is that bread, and as Son of Man gives His flesh for the life of the world: the Spirit quickens. All is of God, and nothing proceeds from man. How dead man is this chapter shows, for the Lord’s words, which are spirit and life, were only an occasion of stumbling to them. The Evangelist interrupts his record in verses 64 and 65, to tell us that Jesus spoke in the full knowledge of this, and that not only did He know in Himself what they thought and said, but also who believed and who did not, from the very beginning, and who should betray Him.
It was at this point apparently that many of those spoken of in John 2:23-25, revealed themselves in their true character. Vital faith was not theirs, and they disappeared. Jesus then tested the twelve, and Peter, their spokesman, uttered a fine confession of genuine faith. He recognised the Sent One of God, who had the words of eternal life. Mere men may have the words of science or the words of philosophy, and occasionally words of wisdom, but only the Son of God has words of eternal life. So there was no alternative, no possible rival upon the horizon of Peter’s faith. Christ was unique and alone. Surely, by the grace of God, He is that for us too. Yet He was not that even for each of the twelve, and the Lord took the occasion to show that the heart of Judas Iscariot was completely open to His eye. He had not placed him amongst the twelve under any misapprehension of his true character. At this time Galilee was still the scene of the Lord’s ministry, and in a remarkable way the hearts of all men were being manifested. We have seen spurious disciples going back, a genuine disciple making the confession of faith, the traitor disciple being unmasked. (Hole)
Acknowledgements: Lad with fishes and loaves photo, freebibleimages.org