6 1 After these things Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a vast crowd was following him, because they were viewing the signs which he was performing upon the sick. 3 So Jesus went up the hill, and there he was sitting with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was approaching. 5 So when Jesus lifted up his eyes and observed that a vast crowd was coming toward him, he said to Philip, “How are we to buy bread-cakes that130 these may eat?” 6 This he was saying to test him; for he himself knew what he was about to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Bread-cakes for two hundred denarii would not be sufficient for them so that each might get a little something.” 8 One of the disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, 9 “There is a young lad here who has five barley-cakes and two fishes, but what are these for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was plenty of grass in that place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus, therefore, took the bread-cakes, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them among those that were seated; similarly the fishes as much as they wanted. 12 Now when they had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Pick up the pieces that are left, in order that nothing be wasted.” 13 So they picked them up, and from the five barley-cakes they filled twelve baskets with pieces that were left over by those who had partaken of the food. 14 So when the people saw the sign which he had done, they were saying, “This is really the prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Now when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take him by force in order that they might make him king, he went away again to the hill by himself.
16 And when evening fell, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 and having embarked in a boat, they were proceeding across the sea toward Capernaum. Now it was already dark,131 and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 And the sea was getting rough, as a strong wind was blowing. 19 Now when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking upon the sea and approaching the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I, stop being frightened.” 21 Then they were willing to take him aboard, and all at once the boat was at the land where they were going.
6:1. The story opens with the familiar phrase After these things. This has been explained in connection with 5:1. The miracle recorded in this paragraph occurred six months to a year after the events of chapter 5. It took place, in all probability, in April of the year 29 a.d.; see on 5:1. This was a year before Christ’s death.
The Gospel of John seems to take for granted that the readers are familiar with the contents of the Great Galilean Ministry as found in the Synoptics (Matt. 4:12–15:20; Mark 1:14–7:23; and Luke 4:14–9:17). Having recorded the miracle which occurred at the very opening of this ministry (4:43–54), the evangelist now proceeds at once to the one which marked its close. The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand is recorded in all four Gospels (Matt. 14:13–23; Mark 6:30–46; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–15). John’s purpose in telling the story is clearly to set forth the majesty of Christ (cf. 20:30, 31). In doing this he furnishes certain details which are not found in the other accounts. Also, he draws a striking parallel between chapters 5 and 6: in the former he has shown how Jesus was rejected in Judea; in the latter he will now indicate how he was rejected in Galilee (compare especially 5:18 with 6:66). The account of this double rejection is necessary in order to furnish a background for the next few chapters, in the sense that it causes the tender love of the Savior to stand out sharply against the background of human ingratitude.
The present chapter also reveals, more clearly perhaps that any other portion of Scripture, the kind of Messiah the people wanted; namely, one who would be able and willing to provide for their physical needs. When it seemed to them that Jesus would actually fulfil this expectation, they were anxious to lead him in triumph to Jerusalem, if need be by force, in order to crown him king. But as soon as it was made clear to them that their hero was not at all what they had imagined him to be, but a spiritual Messiah, who had come to save people from the guilt, pollution, and misery of sin, they turned their backs upon him and walked no longer with him. Hence, one and the same chapter pictures Jesus, first of all, at the very zenith of his popularity; then, suddenly, proceeding with rapid strides toward the nadir of public scorn. But in the midst of the fickle multitude his glory stands revealed, especially in this respect: that, though he knew these people so thoroughly, he was, nevertheless, willing to lavish his kindness upon them!
We are told that Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Luke 9:10 informs us that the place of its occurrence was in the general vicinity of Bethsaida. Although there is no certainty with respect to the question whether there was more than one city by that name near the Sea of Galilee (see also explanation of 1:44) nevertheless, having studied the arguments on both sides, we feel inclined to answer in the affirmative. Our reasoning is as follows:
1. According to the Synoptics, before crossing the sea of Galilee Jesus had been laboring in the western part of the country, in and around Capernaum, Nazareth, etc. Also, as we have seen, the miracle recorded in the fifth chapter of John took place west of the Jordan (in Jerusalem, at the Pool). For both of these reasons it would seem that the expression “Jesus went to the other side of the sea” could have only one intelligible meaning for those who had read the Gospel-stories up to this point; namely, that he now crossed over to the east (or north-east) of the sea. And that is exactly where Bethsaida Julias was located, just south-east of the point where the Jordan River, coming from the north, flows into the sea of Galilee.
2. After the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand the disciples recrossed the sea. Their boat was now headed toward Capernaum (6:17), but according to Mk. 6:45 it was proceeding toward Bethsaida. Certainly, the explanation which lies ready at hand is that this was another Bethsaida, situated somewhere in the vicinity of Capernaum.
3. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that this Bethsaida (of Mark 6:45) was located in the plain of Gennesaret (Mark 6:53), which stretches north-west from the sea of Galilee.132
4. The very fact that when the home-town of Philip (also of Andrew and Peter, 1:44) is mentioned (12:21) it is called Bethsaida of Galilee may point in the direction of a distinction between that Bethsaida and another Bethsaida which was not in Galilee; namely, Bethsaida Julias, a town which had been recently rebuilt by Philip the tetrarch, and had been named after the beautiful but profligate daughter of Emperor Augustus.
5. The argument which is sometimes advanced against the supposition that there were two Bethsaidas is this: the existence of two towns of the same name on the same lake must be considered unlikely. But is not this the answer: a. there were many identically named towns and villages in biblical Palestine, and some of them were not far apart; and b. in view of the abundance of fish in the sea of Galilee it would almost seem strange if only one coast-town were named “House of Fish” (i.e., Bethsaida).
Jesus then crossed the Sea of Galilee and stepped ashore in the vicinity of Bethsaida Julias. The Sea of Galilee is here designated also by one of its other names. It had many names: Sea of Chinnereth (Num. 34:11; Deut. 3:17; Josh. 13:27; 19:35), Sea of Chinneroth (Josh. 12:3; I Kings 15:20), Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1), and Sea of Tiberias (here in John 6:1). The latter name, which in modified form is used to this very day, was derived from the city (Tiberias) which was founded on its western shores by Herod Antipas in the year 22 a.d. Probably the readers in Asia Minor were better acquainted with that name than with any of the others. Therefore the explanation which is the Sea of Tiberias is added to the older designation.
The reason why Jesus, together with his disciples, crossed the sea is told in Mark 6:30–32 and Matt. 14:12, 13: the disciples had just returned from a missionary tour, and needed rest and an opportunity to be alone with Jesus. On the busy, western shores — especially, in Capernaum — there was no opportunity for leisure. Then also, the shocking intelligence of the Baptist’s cruel death had just reached Jesus. This, too, required reflection and quiet meditation.
2. And a vast crowd was following him, because they were viewing the signs which he was performing upon the sick. In picturesque language — note the three imperfects — the crowds that followed Jesus while he labored in Galilee are here described: they were following him because they were viewing the signs which he was performing upon the sick. From Matt. 14:13 (cf. Mark 6:33; Luke 9:11) we learn that the people, noticing that Jesus had gone on board a boat and was heading for Bethsaida Julias, ran around the lake, from the various towns and villages, in order to be with him once more. Not that they were interested in a Savior from sin, but they were definitely impressed by a Worker of miracles. Now these miracles were in reality signs (see on 2:11) but this was not understood by the crowds.
3. So while the people were walking around the lake, Jesus was crossing it.133 He reached the lonely region near Bethsaida Julias. Here Jesus went up (into) the hill (εἰς τὸ ὄρος). Here A.V. has “into a mountain,” A.R.V.: “into the mountain.” But if the term “mountain” be used for any height 2000 ft. or more above sea-level, and any lower conspicuous elevation be called a “hill,” then we cannot speak of a mountain in this vicinity. It is not necessary, however, nor even advisable, to use the plural (“into the hills”) as if a hilly region or chain were indicated. A little study of the territory around Bethsaida Julias will make this clear. On the north-eastern shore of the sea, about a mile south of the town, there is a little plain of rich silt soil. As it was Spring-time when Jesus and his disciples landed here, we are not surprised to read that there was plenty of green grass here. A hill actually rises up just behind this plain, so that all the requirements of the account as found in the Gospels are fully met. Accordingly, when the evangelist writes that Jesus went up (into) the hill, those acquainted with the surroundings would know exactly what hill was indicated; those unacquainted could easily guess that there was a hill behind a level stretch of territory along the sea-shore.
Here, then, we can picture Jesus. He had ascended the slope of the hill for a certain distance, and there he was sitting with his disciples. From the Synoptics the readers in Asia Minor (and elsewhere) have learned that by this time the Lord has twelve disciples. Some of them are named in this very chapter: Philip (6:5, 6). Andrew (6:8), Simon Peter (6:68), and Judas Iscariot (6:71). Their reactions to the work and the words of Jesus are recorded. What the Lord did was for them a test, revealing what was in their heart.
4. Now the Passover was approaching. It is here called the feast of the Jews, a name given to the feast of Tabernacles in 7:2. The nearness of Passover is probably added to explain 6:15. Passover was a reminder of the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. Hence, it was especially on this day that the thoughts of the Jews revolved about the question, “When shall we be delivered from the bondage of Rome?”
5. From his elevated position it was easy for Jesus to see from afar the approach of a great multitude. So when Jesus lifted up his eyes and observed (θεασάμενος, just as he had done when the vast crowd of Samaritans approached him, see 4:35) that a vast crowd was coming toward him, the Lord, far from regarding them as a cause of unwelcome disturbance, started out down the slope to meet them, for he was filled with compassion with respect to them (Matt. 14:14). He then said to Philip, How134 are we to buy bread-cakes that people may eat? In this connection note the following:
1. The reason why the Lord turned to Philip has not been revealed. Commentators make various guesses; such as, a. because Philip came from Bethsaida, was therefore well acquainted with the region, and could be expected to know where bread-cakes could be obtained (but here, to mention no other objections, the two Bethsaidas are probably being confused); b. because Philip was slow of understanding and more in need of being tested than the others (usually with a reference to 14:8, 9); c. because he was the matter-of-fact, coldly-calculating type of person; d. because he had just asked a question; or e. because he was standing closest to Jesus.
We do not have the answer. There is nothing in the context that suggests why Jesus selected Philip as the man to whom the question was addressed. To be sure, Philip’s faith needed to be proved (6:6), but was not this true also with respect to the faith of the other disciples?
2. For “bread” the original employs a term which should not be rendered “loaves,” as this English word has a meaning that is entirely foreign to the sense of the original. An ἄρτος was flat and round, resembling a pan-cake rather than a loaf. At times the term simply means bread.
6. The reason for this question is given in the following words: This he was saying to test him; for he himself knew what he was about to do. The word used in the original may mean either to tempt (as in Jas. 1:13) or to test, to prove, to try (as in Jas. 1:2: trials). Here, of course, the meaning is that the Lord wished to give Philip an opportunity to reveal whether he was moved with sympathy for these people, and whether he had taken to heart the lesson which the miracles as signs were intended to teach; namely, that they pointed to the majesty, power, and glory of the Lord, his ability and willingness to supply every need. The purpose of the question was not at all to obtain needed information regarding the places where bread might be obtained; nor was the question an indication that the Lord was at a loss what to do; for we read, “He himself knew what he was about to do.”
7. Philip sees the vast crowds, and immediately begins to calculate, forgetting entirely that the power of Jesus surpasses any possibility of calculation. He answered him, Bread-cakes for two hundred denarii (genitive of price) would not be sufficient for them so that each might get a little something. The silver denarius was, perhaps, the most used Roman coin in New Testament times. Literally the name denarius means containing ten. It was called thus in relation to the as, a bronze coin having the value of 1/10 denarius. However, when it is said, as is done in many commentaries, that the denarius is equal to 16 or 17 or even 20 American cents, and that Philip, who mentioned two hundred denarii, was therefore thinking of a total amount of $32, $34 or $40, this is misleading. The value of the dollar and of the humble penny is constantly fluctuating. It is therefore better to point out, on the basis of Scripture (Matt. 20:2, 9, 13), that a denarius represented the wages paid to a laborer for one day’s work; hence two hundred denarii means the amount of remuneration which one man receives for two hundred days of work. This amount would not have bought enough bread so that each might have a little something (βραχύ τι). Moreover, it is doubtful whether Judas, the treasurer, actually had as much as two hundred denarii in his bag!
Philip had time to reflect on the answer which he had given, and (more important!) on the question that had been asked. Jesus began to speak to the multitude about the kingdom of God. Moreover, those who needed healing he healed (Luke 9:11). Nevertheless, in spite of these manifestations of power, it seems not to have occurred to Philip that the Lord who at Cana had manifested his ability to supply wine when it failed would be just as able at Bethsaida to furnish bread.
8, 9. And so the day wore on, until evening fell. By this time the people, who had been with Jesus several hours, had become hungry. What happened next is recorded in Mark 6:35–37: “And when the day was now drawing to its close, his disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place, and the day is drawing to its close; send the people away, so that they may go to the country and the villages round about and buy themselves something to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They answered, ‘Shall we go and buy bread for two hundred denarii, and give it to them to eat?’ ”
It is clear from this that the faith of the rest of the disciples was not any stronger than that of Philip. The power of Jesus seems not to have occurred to any of them. They all calculated, but failed to exercise faith.
Mark informs us that Jesus asked the disciples: “How many bread-cakes do you have? Go and see” (Mark 6:38). The answer (Mark 6:38b; Matt. 14:17; Luke 9:13b) was: “five bread-cakes and two fishes.” The author of the Fourth Gospel, himself an eye-witness, adds certain interesting details. We read, One of the disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter (see on 1:40) said to him, There is a young lad here who has five barley-cakes and two fishes, but what are these for so many?
It is interesting to notice that not only here but also in 12:20–22 we find Philip and Andrew mentioned together. We know, of course, that they came from the same town, and that both were numbered among the six earliest disciples of our Lord (see on 1:41–43). Andrew, in answer to the question which Jesus had asked, points to a young lad, παιδάριον, not necessarily a very small child; diminutives in Greek as well as in other languages have a tendency to lose something of their original, diminutive force. Andrew informs the Lord that this boy has five cakes of barley bread and two fishes (ὀψάρια here and also in 21:9–13, not ἰχθύας as in the Synoptics), the latter to cover the bread as a relish, or to be eaten with it as a side-dish.
Many sermons have been preached about this lad. With reference to him information has been supplied of which we find no hint in Scripture nor anywhere else; e.g., that this boy had been sent on an errand, and was returning to his mother with the bread-cakes and the fishes which she had ordered; or, that he was on an outing, had taken his lunch along, and that Andrew must have used some very persuasive language to deprive this boy of his lunch; or (not much better) that this boy was simply carrying on his usual business as a vender of refreshments (just like today!). It has not pleased the Lord to supply any additional information. The light is focussed on the Lord, not on the lad. Suffice it to know that Jesus was willing to make use of this boy. The fact that barley-bread was considered in certain circles to be “the poor man’s bread,” and that Josephus even speaks of a certain barley-cake as being “too vile for man’s consumption,”135 has little or nothing to do with the present story. A cake of barley-bread is good, wholesome food. Food eaten by the poor is not necessarily poor food! When Andrew thinks of the five bread-cakes — only five! — and the two fishes — only two! —, of the vast and hungry crowd, but not of Jesus and his power and love, he exclaims, “What are these for so many?” And as Andrew spoke so thought they all.
10. Without administering any verbal rebuke for their little faith, Jesus said, Make the people sit down. The command was easy to obey, as about this time of the year there was plenty of grass in that place, growing on the slopes of the hill. So the men sat down (ἀνέπεσαν, fell back; i.e., reclined against the hillside). For ease of counting and serving, the people sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties constituting a very charming picture, like so many garden-beds (cf. Mark 6:40 in the original). One can readily visualize this multitude dressed in bright Oriental garments, reclining under the blue vault of heaven, upon the green grass, with the Sea of Galilee not very far away: “a sapphire in a setting of emerald.” Were they expecting a miracle to happen? And is that the reason why no one hesitated to obey the command to sit down in orderly fashion? Is it possible that the men were counted because there were many more men than women and children? At any rate, there were about five thousand men, besides the women and children.
11. With wonderful simplicity the miracle is now recorded: Jesus, therefore, took the bread-cakes, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them among those that were seated; similarly the fishes as much as they wanted. Note that the thanksgiving comes first, then the miracle, just as in 11:41, 42. (For prayer after meals see Deut. 8:10.) In this connection it is often said that Jesus must have used a customary table-prayer. This is barely possible; nevertheless, the best answer is that we just do not know. It must be borne in mind in this connection that our Lord’s addresses delivered to the multitudes were always characterized by freshness and originality — he never spoke like the scribes, merely copying the words of former rabbis. Is it probable, then, that when he addressed his Father in heaven he borrowed a formula-prayer?
Jesus distributed the bread-cakes among those that were seated. Notice how John abbreviates here. He seems to take for granted that the readers have learned the further details from the other Gospels. From them (Mark 6:41; Matt. 14:19; Luke 9:16) we learn that after the Lord had given thanks, he took the bread-cakes and began to break off fragments (of edible size) which he then gave to the disciples, who carried them (in baskets collected here and there from the crowd?) to the people. With the fishes the procedure was somewhat similar. The point that is emphasized is that those present received as much as they wanted. Some even took more fragments than they were able to consume. Thus, with majestic simplicity, the miracle is related. Did the bread multiply in the hands of the Savior? Just at what point did the miracle occur? All we know is that a great miracle took place, a sign which was transformative in character. Just as Jesus at Cana did not simply create wine, but changed water into wine, so here he does not just create bread, but changes bread into more bread. This was entirely in line with the purpose of his coming to earth. He had come not to create but to transform, and in the process of this glorious work he shows his (and therefore also the Father’s) amazing generosity: whenever he gives, he gives lavishly.
12. Nevertheless, infinite resources are no excuse for waste. Wastefulness is sinfulness. Besides, were there not others who needed something to eat; for example, that young lad, the disciples, the poor on the day of tomorrow; last but not least, Jesus himself? So we are not surprised to read, Now when they had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, Pick up the pieces that are left, in order that nothing be wasted. Note: the pieces or fragments, not scraps or crumbs.
13. So they picked them up, and from the five barley-cakes they filled twelve baskets with pieces that were left over by those who had partaken of the food. The idea is that some people had taken too many pieces when they were being distributed by the disciples. These pieces are now collected. Not less than twelve stout wicker-baskets (κὁφινος-οι; contrast σφυρίς) were needed, and these were actually filled with the left-overs.
14, 15. The miracle was not appreciated in its true character. Its lesson was not understood. Now when the people saw the sign (for the term sign see 2:11) which he had done, they were saying, This is really the prophet who is to come into the word. They identified Jesus with the prophet of Deut. 18:15–18. So far so good. It is even possible (see p. 94) that in this prophet they saw the Messiah, for it must not be overlooked that to characterize this prophet they employ a phrase which elsewhere in the Fourth Gospel indicates the Christ; namely, the phrase, “who is to come (or; who is coming) into the world” (ὁ ἐρχόμενος εἰς τὸν κόσμον; see p. 79). But even if they viewed him as the Messiah, it was the earthly, political Messiah of Pharisaic hope whom they imagined to see in him, as is clear from verse 15: Now when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take him by force in order that they might make him king, he went away again to the hill by himself. Filled with enthusiasm, the type of fervor which takes hold of a Jewish mob at the season of Passover, they were ready to proceed post-haste to Jerusalem, holding in their midst their strong man, who was able to effect cures and to provide bread and prosperity for everybody — if he refused to come along of his own accord, they actually intended to kidnap him, thus forcing him to go with them — in order that, arrived in the Holy City, they might crown him king, throwing off the yoke of the Romans and establishing the kingdom of God on earth. But he, whose kingdom is not of this world (18:36), went away again to the hill (cf. 6:3 and Matt. 14:14); i.e., he proceeded farther toward the top, in order that he might be by himself. But first, by the power of his word, he frustrated the design of the mob: he simply dismissed the vast throng, meanwhile ordering the disciples to go into a boat in order to row back to the other side of the sea of Galilee.
16–21. And when evening fell, the disciples went down to the sea, and having entered a boat, they were proceeding across the sea toward Capernaum. Now it was already dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. And the sea was getting rough, as a strong wind was blowing.
The disciples, having been ordered by Jesus to “go before him to the other side” (Matt. 14:22) went down to the sea. The evangelist pictures them as, having embarked in a boat, they proceed across the sea in the direction of Capernaum, on the north-western shore. The idea of some that they waited a long time before starting out, expecting that Jesus would join them, is a plain contradiction of Matt. 14:22, and certainly does not follow from 6:17.
The manner in which John uses the Greek tenses in verses 17 and 18 is very instructive.136 He employs the imperfects “were proceeding” (ἦρχοντο) and “was getting rough” or “was rising” (διηγείρετο) to picture the condition, respectively, of the men in the boat and of the sea. But between these imperfects he makes use of the pluperfects (darkness) “had come (to be)” (ἐγεγόνει) and (Jesus) “had not yet come” (οὔπω ἐληλύθει), to indicate what had (or had not yet) happened before the disciples had reached the opposite shore. Moreover, when the author says, “Now darkness had already come (or: “now it was already dark”), and Jesus had not yet come to them,” he is writing from the point of view of one who himself had been in that boat and now, many years later, is writing the story. As he wrote, he knew, of course, that before the night was over and the opposite shore had been reached, the Lord had joined the little group; he is also aware of the fact that the readers know this from Mk. 6 or Matt. 14. Hence, his words may be paraphrased as follows: “Now it was already dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them; that coming of Jesus about which you have read in the other Gospels happened later during this same night. But even a long time before Jesus appeared upon the scene, the sea was getting rough (or: was rising), as a strong wind was blowing.”
From the ravines (deep and narrow valleys or gorges between the hills to the west) strong blasts of wind came rushing down, and suddenly struck the lake whose surface lies 682 ft. below the level of the Mediterranean. Soon the storm was increasing in intensity. The night deepened. Hour upon hour the disciples, used to the sea, were plying the oars. As they did so, they were facing Bethsaida Julias, while their boat faced (was headed in the direction of) Bethsaida of Galilee. They found themselves in a situation of real danger; that is, from the human point of view. Actually it was not so, as will become evident when two verses in Matthew 14 are seen in their relation to each other. These verses form, as it were, a composite picture. Famous artists137 have painted Part I of this picture (Jesus alone in prayer) or Part II (the disciples in the midst of the storm), but what we should have is the one composite picture, just as Matthew shows it to us in the following words:
“And after be had sent the crowds away, he went up into the hills by himself to pray; and when evening fell, he was there alone. But the boat was now in the midst of the sea (or: many stadia distant from the land) beaten by the waves, for the wind was from the opposite direction” (Matt. 14:23, 24).
While the storm was raging, and the darkness enveloped the little group of men, they were, nevertheless, perfectly safe, for upon the hill the Lord was interceding for them. A beautiful picture, indeed, one which has many present-day applications.
The disciples had been rowing now for several hours. They had left the eastern shores when darkness fell or very shortly afterward. And now it was 3:00 A. M. or later (Matt. 14:25: the fourth watch of the night; hence, between 3:00 and 6:00 A. M.). So fierce was the storm that the boat had covered only twenty-five to thirty stadia. A stadium is 1/8 of a mile; hence, the meaning is that the boat had proceeded a distance of from 31/8 to 3¾ miles; i.e., translated into our modern way of speaking “about three or four miles.” Now if the distance between the point from which they started to the place where they landed was fives miles, as seems probable, then it is clear that the disciples were now, indeed, “in the midst of the sea” (Mk. 6:47). Besides, the possibility must not be discounted that they were driven somewhat off their course by the violence of the wind or that they had attempted for a while to hug the shore. At any rate they still had a long way to go before reaching their destination. Now when they had rowed three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking upon the sea and approaching the boat, and they were frightened.
Then suddenly it happened! Facing east (while their boat faced west) these rowers through the enshrouding darkness discerned the outlines of a form walking on top of the angry billows. The winds and the waves did not seem to bother this man-shaped form in the least. It was walking right into the gale, and walking so fast that it was gradually catching up with the boat, until for a moment it seemed as if it were going to pass on alongside of it. Thoroughly alarmed, the storm-weary disciples cried out, “A ghost, a ghost!” (Mark 6:48, 49). These details which are furnished by Matthew and Mark are omitted by John, who simply says, “Now when they had rowed three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking upon the sea and approaching the boat, and they were frightened.” The reason for this fear was that at first the men did not know that it was Jesus. But he said to them, It is I, stop being frightened (μὴ φοβεῖσθε present imperative). According to Matthew and Mark the words “It is I” were preceded by “Take heart” (or “Be of good cheer”). In Matthew (14:28–31) the story of Peter’s attempt to walk upon the waters to Jesus is told next.
Returning now to the Fourth Gospel (6:21), when the disciples were convinced that what they saw was not a ghost but the Lord himself, they were willing to take him aboard, which they actually did. Then the wind ceased (Matt. 14:32). And all at once (εὐθέως) the boat, which when Jesus went aboard was still a long way from shore, was at the land where they were going. This, too, is represented as a miracle. The One who had manifested his power over sickness (ch. 5) had absolute control over winds and waves. He proved himself to be the Son of God (20:30, 31; cf. Matt. 14:23).
Synthesis of 6:1–21
See the Outline on p. 68. The Son of God Rejected in Galilee (the two miracles).
The two sub-divisions are 6:1–15, which suggests the lines, “Come, for the feast is spread … Come to the Living Bread,” and 6:16–21, “On the Stormy Sea He Speaks Peace to Me.”
Under the first theme we have:
A. The Bankruptcy of Human Calculation
The place (a plain about a mile south of Bethsaida Julias, north-east of the Sea of Galilee) was lonely. And the time? It was getting dark. Furthermore, there were more than five thousand mouths to feed. The disciples did not have enough money to buy even “a little something” for each person. And the young lad who appeared upon the scene had only five bread-cakes and two fishes! The situation, in brief, appeared hopeless; that is, on the basis of human calculation, apart from faith in the love and power of Christ. The disciples (not only Philip and Andrew, but all of them) were men of little faith. It seems that they had not yet sufficiently learned to know Jesus as the Son of God, whose resources are infinite.
B. The All-Sufficiency of Divine Provision
Jesus was never at a loss what to do. From the very beginning he knew just how he was going to provide. His heart was filled with love. Did this mob spoil his need for rest and quiet? Were they earthly-minded thrill-seekers? Did Jesus know that they were yearning for a political Messiah, and that they would reject the true Messiah? Of course, he knew! Nevertheless, he provided bread for them, as much as they wanted. When one studies this miracle, the question occurs: which virtue shines forth most gloriously: Christ’s love or his power?
For Old Testament stories which foreshadow this miracle we refer to Num. 11:13; I Kings 17:16, and II Kings 4:42.
Although the miracle is told in all four Gospels, yet as John tells it, it is different: in his Gospel it is distinctly a sign (see on 1:11), and forms the introduction to Christ’s Discourse on The Bread of Life.
It is foolish to try to explain what happened here. One of the most absurd examples is this: Jesus and the disciples had taken some food with them, and they started to share this with others who had none. When the people saw this, each man who had taken something with him from home, ashamed of his own selfishness, began to do the same. Hence, there was enough for all. — This miracle-story should be accepted by faith. If one does not believe it, however, let him not try to explain it away. Let him be honest and say, “I do not believe it.”
The miracle on the sea is really four miracles in one: a. Jesus walks upon the sea (without suspending the laws of gravity, he controls them in the interest of the kingdom); b. he causes Peter to walk upon the sea (but this story is not found in the Fourth Gospel); c. he reveals himself as master of the storm, for when he enters the boat the storm ceases (not in John); and d. he conquers even space, for when he enters the boat, it is on the shore all at once.
The story as told by John may be divided into these three parts:
A. The Disciples without Jesus
B. The Disciples and the Unknown Jesus
C. The Disciples and the Lord whom they know and who speaks peace to them.
22 The next day the crowd which had remained on the other side of the sea perceived that no other boat had been there except one, and that Jesus had not embarked with his disciples in that boat but his disciples had departed by themselves. 23 However, boats from Tiberias came near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there nor his disciples, they embarked in the boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
25 And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered and said to them, “I solemnly assure you, you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the bread-cakes and were filled. 27 No longer work for food that perishes, but work for food that endures for everlasting life, which food the Son of man will give you, for on him God the Father has set his seal.”
28 So they said to him, “What must we do in order that we may be working the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that138 you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what are you doing as a sign, in order that we may see and believe you? What are you working? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, ‘Bread out of heaven he gave them to eat.’ ”
32 Jesus then said to them, “I most solemnly assure you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven, but it is my Father who is giving you the real bread out of heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 So they said to him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will in no way get hungry, and he who believes in me will in no way ever get thirsty. 36 But I said to you that139 although you have seen (me), yet you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and him who comes to me I will in no way cast out, 38 for I am come down from heaven, not in order to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 Now this is the will of him who sent me, that140 of all that he has given me I should lose nothing but should raise it up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that140 everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have everlasting life, and I myself will raise him up at the last day.”
6:22, 23. Jesus and his disciples had landed on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee sometime between 3 and 6 A. M. It was now the next day — that is, the morning after the feeding of the “five thousand,” which is the same as saying: the morning of the arrival of Christ and his disciples on the Plain of Gennesaret. You will recall the crowd which had remained on the other side of the sea. Those people who, having been dismissed by Jesus, had not yet returned to their homes but had remained overnight on the eastern shore, began to realize something. They perceived:
a. That no other boat (πλοιάριον a diminutive; one might translate “a little sea-going vessel” hence, a boat) had been there (i.e., here at the landing-place south of Bethsaida Julias) except one; namely, the one with which the Lord and his disciples had come to this northeastern shore, and
b. That Jesus had not embarked with his disciples in that boat, but his disciples had departed by themselves in that boat. Jesus had gone to the top of the hill to pray; and his disciples at his command, as we know from Matt. 14:22, had departed by themselves.
So the people began to search for Jesus, thinking that he was still in the neighborhood of Bethsaida Julias. This is implied in 6:24 a. They discovered, however, that Jesus, too, had disappeared, however mysteriously. They drew the correct conclusion that he had gone back to the western (Capernaum) region; though, of course, with no other boat in sight to take him back, they could not figure out how he got back. Did he walk around the sea? But in that case would they not have seen him? They never thought for a moment that he might have walked across!141
The crowd wanted to be with Jesus. Besides, the people desired to return to their homes on the western shore. Of course, it was possible once again to walk the whole distance around the sea (as many, perhaps, had already done), about ten miles for those who lived in or near Capernaum. This, however, due to all the marshes north of the sea, and especially in view of the fact that just yesterday these same people had made that trip, was not easy. However, intelligence had reached the boat-owners in Tiberias142 (the capital-city on the south-western shore, south of the Plain of Gennesaret) to the effect that there was business for them across the sea: a large crowd of people was waiting to be carried across to their towns and villages. So we are not surprised to read: However, boats from Tiberias came near to the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks (the last words: after the Lord had given thanks, are added to show that this had not been an ordinary meal).
24. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there nor his disciples, they embarked in the boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. We are not surprised to learn that these vessels brought their cargo of passengers to Capernaum; for a. this was Christ’s headquarters during the Galilean Ministry; and b. this must have been centrally located as far as the passengers were concerned, the most convenient landing place for them. Arrived in Capernaum, the crowd started to search for Jesus.
25, 26. And when they found him on the other side of the sea … In view of what is known about the location of the Plain of Gennesaret and of the time when Jesus and his disciples had arrived there — sometime between 3 and 6 A. M. — it does not at all surprise us to read that these people actually found Jesus. We cannot see any good reason for assuming, with certain commentators, that Jesus could not have covered the distance from the place where he landed to Capernaum in such a brief span of time. There was ample time even if Jesus proceeded in ordinary fashion, without a further miracle, and even if it be taken for granted that the entire discourse from verse 28 on was delivered in the Synagogue at Capernaum (see 6:59). And there was ample time even for the events mentioned in Matt. 14:35, 36.
Having found Jesus, these people, who have just been carried across the sea by boats whose owners lived in Tiberias, exclaimed to him, Rabbi (on this term see 1:38, footnote 44), when did you come here? The reason for their surprise has already been stated. Instead of answering their question, which might have strengthened them in their conception that Jesus was, first and most of all, a miracle-worker, powerful enough to lead a revolution and to provide prosperity for all, the Lord sharply reprimands them. The motive of their search for Jesus was all wrong. Says he, I solemnly assure you, you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the bread-cakes and were filled. (For the words of majesty which introduce this sentence see on 1:51.) What Jesus meant was that though these people had seen his miracles (especially the healing of the sick and the feeding of the “five thousand,” but, in a more general way, all the wonders which he had performed), they had not understood them in their quality as signs which pointed to him as the spiritual Messiah, the Son of God. (For the term sign, σημεῖον, see on 2:11.) The people’s chief interest in Jesus was this, that they had eaten the bread-cakes which he had provided, and that thus their stomachs had been filled (ἐχορτάσθητε: “and were filled,” a word is selected which in its primary meaning refers to the kind of eating that is done by animals; e.g., when they eat grass: χόρτος, from which this verb is derived).
27. There follows another beautiful mashal (see on 2:19): No longer work (or “stop working,” the verb is present imperative) for food that perishes, but work for food that endures for everlasting life, which food the Son of man will give you, for on him God the Father has set his seal.
This veiled saying should be compared with the very similar one in 4:14; and the answer, especially that contained in verse 34, should be compared with the one in 4:15. The Jews did not understand Christ’s saying about food (i.e., bread; see verses 31–35) any better than the Samaritan woman grasped his saying about water. Both gave a literal interpretation to his mashal, and both were wrong! In the light of the explanation which follows in verses 32–35 (cf. for the last clause also 5:31–37) we know that the saying has the following meaning:
“No longer work for food that perishes,
Stop yearning for bread-cakes and the like, as if physical food would ever be able to fill the void in your heart. Realize that this food perishes, has no abiding value.
“but work for food that endures for everlasting life,
Instead, render to God the work of faith in the One whom God has sent, the real food, which produces and sustains everlasting life;
“which food the Son of man will give you,
which food, I, the Son of man, will give; i.e., I will give myself for those among you who believe in me;
“for on him God the Father has set his seal.”
for, by means of the testimony of the Son himself, of John the Baptist, of the many works or signs, of the Father (directly), and of the Scriptures, God the Father has certified that I am the real Messiah, the Son of God.
For the term βρῶσις see on 4:32. For Son of man see on 12:34. For everlasting life see on 3:16.
28, 29. Of the true, spiritual meaning of the mashal the audience understands nothing. When Jesus mentions “works,” this term is immediately taken in its crassly literal sense, as indicating law-works which one performs in order to earn a place in the kingdom. The Pharisees weighed and counted such works. So they (the people) said to him, What must we do in order that we may be working the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. (On Jesus as the One sent see 3:34; cf. 1:6.) But in this passage does not Jesus call the exercise of faith a work? And if it be a work which man must render, then is it true that man is saved by grace? Cf. Eph. 2:5, 8. We answer:
a. The teaching of Christ as recorded in the Fourth Gospel, including chapter 6, leaves no room for doubt that salvation is entirely by grace. It is the work of God and of his Christ; it is a gift: 1:13, 17, 29; 3:3, 5, 16; 4:10, 14, 36, 42; 5:21; 6:27, 33, 37, 39, 44, 51, 55, 65; 8:12, 36; 10:7–9, 28, 29; 11:25, 51, 52; 14:2, 3, 6; 15:5; 17:2, 6, 9, 12, 24; and 18:9.
b. But this does not exclude the idea that man must render to God the work of faith. An illustration will make this clear. The roots of a tall oak perform a well-nigh unbelievable amount of work in drawing water and minerals from the soil to serve as nourishment for the tree. Nevertheless, these roots do not themselves produce these necessities but receive them as a gift. Similarly, the work of faith is the work of receiving the gift of God.
30, 31. When Christ demanded faith in himself as the One sent by the Father, the Jews asked to see his credentials (cf. Deut. 18:20–22). They said to him, Then what are you doing as a sign, in order that we may see and believe you? But had not Jesus performed many signs? And was not the multiplication of the bread-cakes on the preceding day a glorious sign? How is it possible that these people dare to say, What are you working? Verse 31 explains what they have in mind: Our (fore)fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, as it is written, Bread out of heaven he gave them to eat. The phrase “out of heaven” modifies the noun bread (as is clear from verse 32), not the verb he gave. The quotation is from Ps. 78:24 (see, however, also Neh. 9:15; Ex. 16:4, 15; and Ps. 105;40). In the Old Testament passages it is distinctly stated that it was Jehovah who had given this wonderful bread. Nevertheless it is true that the passage from Nehemiah mentions Moses in the preceding verse (i.e., in Neh. 9:14); similarly Ex. 16. From the reply of Jesus it can be inferred that the Jews were reasoning in the following trend:
“If he is even greater than Moses, let him perform a sign that is greater than the one which Moses did when he gave us bread from heaven. To be sure, yesterday Jesus multiplied the bread-cakes. He had bread, and from it he made more bread. But he had something to begin with (five bread-cakes, two fishes); and besides, he gave us earthly bread, but Moses gave us bread straight out of heaven!”
32, 33. Jesus said to them, I most solemnly assure you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven, but it is my Father who is giving you the real bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.
After another solemn introduction (see on 1:51) Jesus in verses 32 and 33 annihilates the contrast which the Jews had drawn, and in its stead presents his own comparison. It is as follows:
1. Moses, as God’s agent, merely gave directions to the people regarding the manner in which manna was to be collected, Ex. 16.
1. The Father in heaven is ever the real Giver.
2. Even if Moses be considered the giver, it remains true that he did not give the real bread out of heaven. The manna was a type; it was not the Antitype.
2. The Father is giving the real bread out of heaven. That real bread is Jesus, the Antitype.
3. What the manna provided, as it descended from the visible heaven, was nourishment (τροφή).
3. What Jesus, the real bread of life, gives, is life (ζώη). (For meaning of the term life see on 1:4; 3:16.)
34. In the spirit of 4:15 they (the Jews), totally blind with respect to the spiritual meaning of the words of Christ, said to him, Lord (for this see 1:38, footnote 44) always give us this bread, i.e., never fail to supply us with this wonderful, physical bread, which not only sustains but even imparts (physical) life.
35–38. Jesus explains his mysterious saying. He said to them, I (myself) am the bread of life; i.e., I am the One who both imparts and sustains life. According to the form of the sentence in the original, Jesus completely identifies himself with this bread of life; really, of the life (τῆς ζωῇς, qualitative genitive, referring not to any kind of life but to spiritual, everlasting life). It is through faith, i.e., through intimate union with him, assimilating him spiritually as physical bread is assimilated physically, that man attains to everlasting life. When Jesus continues, He who comes to me will in no way get hungry, and he who believes in me will in no way get thirsty, he is, of course, speaking about spiritual hunger and spiritual thirst. Note also that here believing in Jesus is defined as coming to him; i.e., coming as one who has nothing (but sin) and needs everything; turning to him as plants turn their green parts toward the sun. (On the meaning of believing see also 3:16, and note 83.) He who comes to Jesus with a believing heart will in no way get hungry nor ever get thirsty. This is, of course, another example of the figure of speech called litotes (affirmation produced by the denial of the opposite). The meaning is that such a person will receive complete and enduring spiritual satisfaction, perfect peace of soul. But the Jews have not accepted Jesus by a living faith. According to verse 30 they had asked to see a sign, and had stated that if their request were granted, they would believe in him. But Jesus, entirely in the spirit of verse 26, to which in all probability verse 36 refers, states, But I said to you that although you have seen (me), yet you do not believe. The Lord, therefore, clearly places the blame upon these unbelievers themselves as persons who are fully responsible for their actions. Does this mean, therefore, that he who does accept Jesus with a believing heart can give himself the credit for this excellent deed? By no means: salvation is ever by grace, and faith is ever the work of God in the heart of the sinner. Hence, immediately following a statement in which human responsibility is emphasized (verse 36) we have one in which divine predestination is stressed (verse 37): All that the Father gives me will come to me, and him who comes to me I will in no wise cast out. A person cannot be saved unless he comes to Jesus; he cannot come unless he is given (cf. especially 6:44). But “all that” is given, certainly comes. The expression “all that” (see also 6:39; 7:2, 24; I John 5:4) views the elect as a unity; they are all one people. The clause, “And him who comes to me I will in no way cast out,” places the emphasis once more on human responsibility; as if to say, “Let no one hesitate, saying, ‘Perhaps I have not been given to the Son by the Father.’ Whoever comes is welcomed heartily” (I will in no way cast him out is another example of litotes). Note that verse 37 also teaches: a. that in working out the plan of redemption, so that salvation is bestowed upon the elect individuals and upon the entire elect race, there is complete harmony and cooperation between the Father and the Son: those whom the Father gives, the Son welcomes; and b. that the work of redemption cannot be frustrated by the unbelief of the Jews of which mention was made in the preceding verse: there is an elect race; a remnant will most certainly be saved. The reason why it is so certain that the Son will not cast out those given to him by the Father is stated in verse 38: for I am come down from heaven, not in order to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. This cannot mean, of course, that the two wills ever clash; the contrary is explicitly taught in 4:34; 5:19; and 17:4. It does mean, however, that the Jewish unbelievers who have questioned the authority of Jesus must understand that whenever they oppose his will they are also opposing the will of the Father.
39, 40. That will is defined in the two closing verses of this paragraph: Now this is the will of him who sent me, that of all that he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have everlasting life, and I myself will raise him up at the last day. Here in verse 39 something is added to what was stated in the preceding verses with reference to the will of the Father which is carried out by the Son. There, by means of a litotes, it was stated that the latter would welcome those given to him by the Father; here it is added that he will guard them to the very end. Again we have a litotes: “I should lose nothing.” This addition is, indeed, very comforting. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is taught here in unmistakable terms; first negatively, then positively. The last day is the judgment day; see on 5:28, 29. The idea is: the elect will be kept and guarded to the very end. This doctrine is also taught in 10:28; Rom. 8:29, 30, 38; 11:29; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 6:17; II Tim. 2:19; I Pet. 1:4, 5; etc. In these and many other passages Scripture teaches a counsel that cannot be changed, a calling that cannot be revoked, an inheritance that cannot be defiled, a foundation that cannot be shaken; a seal that cannot be broken, and a life that cannot perish. The doctrine of the preservation (hence, perseverance) of the saints is surely implied in the very term everlasting life (on which see 3:16). A further definition of the will of the Father (which is at the same time a reason for the act of raising believers at the last day) is given in verse 40. Everyone who with the eye of faith sees in Jesus the Son of God, and who, accordingly, believes in him, has everlasting life. Jesus himself will raise him up at the last day. In this verse the matter which in the preceding verse was viewed from the point of view of divine predestination is described from the aspect of human responsibility (cf. the two clauses of 6:37). Note also that πᾶν of verse 39, where believers are viewed collectively, is here individualized, so that we have πᾶς. For the sense in which Jesus is the Son of God in the Fourth Gospel see on 1:14. Note also the very emphatic “I myself.”
For Synthesis see p. 249.
41 So the Jews were murmuring about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven,’ 42 And were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it that he now says, ‘I have come down out of heaven.’?” 43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns of him will come to me. 46 Not that143 anyone has seen the Father, except the One who comes from God, he has seen the Father. 47 I most solemnly assure you, he who believes has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, in order that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I myself am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he will live forever.144 And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”145
52 The Jews, therefore, were wrangling among each other, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “I most solemnly assure you, ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so also he who eats me, he, indeed, will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down out of heaven, not such as the fathers ate, and died. He who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 These things he said in the synagogue, as he was teaching in Capernaum.
6:41. So the Jews were murmuring about him. For the contrast “ordinary bread versus manna from heaven,” which antithesis the Jews had proposed, Jesus had offered a far better one: “bread” (or manna) considered as a type versus the real bread, even “I myself,” the Antitype. People do not like to see their carefully constructed argument shattered so completely. So they were murmuring about him. The original has ἐόγγυζον. The verb is an imitative word. It does not necessarily carry a sinister implication. It could refer to mere speaking in whispers. However, in view of verses 42, 52, and of the prohibition in verse 43, it is probably better to see in this type of reaction a kind of dissatisfied grumbling or muttering, a speaking in low, sullen tones. In this connection it must not escape notice that it was the Jews who did the murmuring (see on 1:19). In the Fourth Gospel these are generally represented as being hostile to Jesus. According to some commentators the reference is here to Sanhedrin representatives from Jerusalem; this on the basis of Mark 3:22. But there is no intimation of this in the present context. Besides, verse 42 seems to indicate that these Jews belonged to Galilee, and were well acquainted with the family in whose midst Jesus had grown up. We do better therefore to think of such men as the leaders of the Capernaum synagogue and those who were of similar mind.
What the Jews objected to most strenuously was the Lord’s statement concerning himself (cf. the parallel in 5:17, 18). Hence, we read, because he said, I (myself) am the bread that came down from heaven. He himself, and not the vaunted manna of their forefathers, was the real bread, which both sustained and imparted life. (These glorified ancestors, by the way, had not always held this manna in such high esteem; cf. Numbers 11:6, “But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all save this manna to look upon!” It is so easy to enclose the past in a halo.) Jesus is called the bread “which came down out of heaven” (ὁ καταβὰς ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ). Note that here the aorist participle is used, though Jesus himself in verse 33 had used the present when he had spoken about “that which comes (or: is coming) down out of heaven” as being the true bread of God. Some commentators make a point of it that Jesus subsequently accommodated himself to the phraseology employed by the Jews, for in verses 51 and 58 he also uses the aorist. However, it must not be forgotten that not the Jews but Jesus, in his conversation with Nicodemus (3:13) had been the first to use the aorist. As to the difference in meaning: a. the present (6:33, 50) indicates quality; showing that even during his sojourn on earth the Lord in many respects retains the character of One who belonged to the sphere of heaven: b. the aorist (3:13; 6:41, 51, 58) fixes the attention on the incarnation as such conceived as a single act; and c. the perfect (6:38, 42) pictures him as one whose act of humiliation performed in the past has abiding significance.
42. It is very clear from 6:42 that when Jesus spoke of himself in this fashion, the Jews did not interpret his language as referring only to his Messianic mission. They realized that the Lord denied that he was born like any other human being. Nowhere does Jesus say or imply that in reaching this conclusion they had misinterpreted his words. The inference is clear, therefore, that what Jesus taught here was the counterpart or complement of the doctrine of the virgin birth. One who is born of a virgin — and who, accordingly, never had a human father (in the ordinary sense of the term), and is not a human person (though he has a human nature) — must have come down out of heaven! The Synoptics and John are in beautiful harmony. (See also pp. 12, 13, 34.) And, of course, we are not surprised to find indirect reference to the doctrine of the virgin birth in a Gospel written by the great opponent of Cerinthus! (See p. 33.)146
And were saying. They raise a question. This question of the Jews, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? expects an affirmative answer. The question does not necessarily imply that Joseph was still alive. The words have a scornful ring. One could almost translate the first part as follows: “Is not this fellow (οὗτος) Jesus.… ?” They regard Jesus as being guilty of base presumption, if not outright blasphemy. It is in this spirit that the next question is uttered: How is it that he now says, I have come down out of heaven? Their argument was: “We have known him since the days of his childhood; his father, his mother, his family. Yet now that he is grown up, look what happens! He makes extravagant claims. Does he actually expect us to believe them?”
43, 44. In view of the testimonies that had been given (see on 5:30–47) there was no excuse for this scornful attitude on the part of the Jews. If everything was not immediately clear, they could have asked questions in a polite and humble manner. The questions which they actually asked were wrong both in content and in spirit. Hence, Jesus does not enter into them. He realizes that this would have been useless. In a passage (verse 43, taken in its entirety) which again places side by side human responsibility and divine predestination, Jesus answered and said to them, Stop murmuring among yourselves. Here human responsibility is stressed. Then, taking up again one of his own main points (see 6:37), Jesus continues, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day. Here the emphasis is on the divine decree of predestination carried out in history. When Jesus refers to the divine drawing activity, he employs a term which clearly indicates that more than moral influence is indicated. The Father does not merely beckon or advise, he draws! The same verb (ἕλκω, ἑλκύω) occurs also in 12:32, where the drawing activity is ascribed to the Son; and further, in 18:10; 21:6, 11; Acts 16:19; 21:30; and Jas. 2:6. The drawing of which these passages speak indicates a very powerful — we may even say, an irresistible — activity. To be sure, man resists, but his resistance is ineffective. It is in that sense that we speak of God’s grace as being irresistible. The net full of big fishes is actually drawn or dragged ashore (21:6, 11). Paul and Silas are dragged into the forum (Acts 16:19). Paul is dragged out of the temple (Acts 21:30). The rich drag the poor before the judgment-seats (Jas. 2:6). Returning now to the Fourth Gospel, Jesus will draw all men to himself (12:32) and Simon drew his sword, striking the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear (18:10). To be sure, there is a difference between the drawing of a net or a sword, on the one hand, and of a sinner, on the other. With the latter God deals as with a responsible being. He powerfully influences the mind, will, heart, the entire personality. These, too, begin to function in their own right, so that Christ is accepted by a living faith. But both at the beginning and throughout the entire process of being saved, the power is ever from above; it is very real, strong, and effective; and it is wielded by God himself!
The question may be asked: Why is it that in the teaching of Jesus (12:32) this drawing activity is ascribed to the Father (6:44) and to the Son (12:32) but not to the Holy Spirit? We answer: a. As long as the Holy Spirit has not been poured out, we cannot expect detailed teaching with reference to him; b. nevertheless, in the night of the betrayal Jesus did refer to the drawing power of the Holy Spirit, though the words used are different (14:26; 15:26; 16:13, 14; see esp. the thirteenth verse of that chapter); and c. the work of regeneration which is specifically ascribed to the Spirit (3:3, 5) is certainly included in this process of drawing a sinner from death to life! — In connection with the work of the triune God in drawing sinners to himself see also Jer. 31:3; Rom. 8:14; and Col. 1:13.
The one drawn, actually gets there: he whom the Father draws is raised to life by the Son. Moreover, the powerful operation affects both soul and body. Jesus says, “And I will raise him up at the last day.” The last day is again the judgment day. On Jesus as the One sent by the Father see 3:34; cf. 1:6.
45, 46. It is not true that 6:45 cancels or at least weakens 6:44. The expression, It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God, does not in any sense whatever place in the hands of men the power to accept Jesus as Lord. Here is more — much more! — than mere intellectual advancement. Here, too, is more than that plus moral suasion. Here is the transformation of the entire personality! The reference to the prophets is very general, indicating that it was the prevalent teaching of that section of the Old Testament which is called “the prophets” that in the Messianic age all the citizens of the true Israel would be taught of God. The following passages immediately occur to the mind: Isa. 54:13; 60:2, 3; Jer. 31:33, 34; Joel 2:28; Mic. 4:2; Zeph. 3:9; and Mal. 1:11. Clearest is Isa. 54:13, as is evident when we place side by side
THE LXX VERSION
καὶ πάντας τοὺς υἱούς σου διδακτοὺς θεοῦ.
καὶ ἔσονται πάντες διδακτοὶ θεοῦ.
In the LXX the quoted words are in the accusative as object of the verb θήσω; in the passage from the Fourth Gospel the words form a complete sentence. The idea, however, is the same.
Here again the divine and the human activities in the work of salvation are juxtaposed, for immediately after “And they shall all be taught of God” there follows, Everyone who listens to the Father and learns of him will come to me. In this connection, however, it should be emphasized that in showing how sinners are saved Scripture never merely places side by side the divine and the human factors, predestination and responsibility, God’s teaching and man’s listening. On the contrary, it is always definitely indicated that it is God who takes the initiative and who is in control from start to finish. It is God who draws before man comes; it is he that teaches before man can listen and learn. Unless the Father draws, no one can come. That is the negative side. The positive is: everyone who listens to the Father and learns of him will come. Grace always conquers; it does what it sets out to do. In that sense it is irresistible. The absolute character of the cooperation between Father and Son, which, in turn, is based upon unity of essence, is stressed once more as in so many other passages in this Gospel: he who listens to the Father (not merely in the outward sense but so that he actually learns of him) comes to the Son, “will come to me.” Such a person will embrace Christ by a true and living faith. This listening and learning, however, does not indicate that any human being would ever be able to comprehend God (or to have an immediate knowledge of him apart from his revelation in Christ). Such fullness of knowledge is the prerogative of the Son. Hence, we read: Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who comes from God, he has seen the Father. (On this see also 1:18. On the use of παρά in 6:46 cf. 1:14.)
47–51. But the knowledge which one does attain by listening to the Father and learning of him is not to be disparaged. It results in the greatest possible blessing: I most solemnly assure you (on this see 1:51), he who believes has everlasting life. (For the verb to believe and on everlasting life, see on 3:16.) Note: the believer already has it; he has it here and now. This life is the gift of Jesus as “the bread of life.” Hence, this thought is repeated: I am the bread of life (for which see 6:35). This bread does what no other bread, including even the manna from heaven, has ever done or can ever do: it imparts and sustains life, and it banishes death. It imparts and sustains spiritual life; it banishes spiritual death. However, it even affects the body, raising it up in the last day so that it may be conformed to the glorious body of him who is the bread of life (cf. Phil. 3:21). In sharp contrast with this is the manna which the (fore)fathers had gathered: Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and died. This (did Jesus point to himself as he spoke this word?) is the bread which comes down out of heaven (see 6:32), in order that a man may eat of it and not die. Not only is Jesus the bread of life (imparting and sustaining life) but he is this because he is the living bread (cf. 4:10), having within himself the source of life (5:26): I myself am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eat of this bread, he will live forever. For ὁ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καταβάς see on 6:41. One must eat this bread, not merely taste it (Heb. 6:4, 5). To eat Christ, as the bread of life, means to accept, appropriate, assimilate him — in other words, to believe in him (6:47) —, so that he begins to live in us and we in him. One who does this will live forever (the truth of verse 51 now stated positively). The words will live forever clearly indicate that one cannot dissociate the quantitative idea from the concept of “everlasting life.” When one has ζωὴν αἰώνιον, he actually ζήσει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα. Of course, the meaning of “everlasting life” is not exhausted in this quantitative concept. (See on 3:16 and cf. 1:4).
A new thought is now added. Up to this point Jesus has been stressing the fact that not the manna but he himself is the true bread from heaven. He now gives a further definition of the term bread, showing in which sense he is the bread: And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. (On the meaning of the term σάρξ see 1:14; also the note at the bottom of that page.) What Jesus means here is that he is going to give himself — see 6:57 — as a vicarious sacrifice for sin; that he will offer up his human nature (soul and body) to eternal death on the cross. The Father gave the Son; the Son gives himself (10:18; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2). Note: “the bread which I myself — in distinction from the Father — shall give!” The future tense — “I shall give” — clearly indicates that the Lord is thinking of one, definite act; namely, his atoning sacrifice on the cross, which, in turn, represents and climaxes his humiliation during the entire earthly sojourn. This, and this alone, is meant when he calls himself flesh. The meaning cannot be that Jesus is for us the bread of life in a twofold sense: a. entirely apart from his sacrificial death; and b. in his sacrificial death. On the contrary, the words are very clear: “And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” To believe in Christ means to accept (appropriate and assimilate) him as the Crucified One. Apart from that voluntary sacrifice, Christ ceases to be bread for us in any sense. That Jesus actually thought of his death is clear from 6:4, 53–56, 64, 70, and 71, which should be studied in this connection.
This bread is given “for the life of the world.” Its purpose is, accordingly, that the world may receive everlasting life. The concepts life and world are used here as in 3:16. (See commentary on 3:16.)
52. The Jews had drawn the correct conclusion: what Jesus wanted is that men should eat his flesh. Jesus had not said that in so many words, but the implication was very clear. Jesus had said:
a. “I am the bread of life” (6:35, 48).
b. Men should eat this bread (6:50, 51).
c. “The bread … is my flesh” (6:51).
The obvious conclusion was: men should eat my flesh. I give it for that very purpose (6:51).
However, as so often (see pp. 125, 133) so also now, the Jews interpret the words of Jesus literally, as if the Lord had intended that in some way or other men must partake of his physical frame. But how? To some this must have seemed an utter impossibility. Others probably tried to show in which sense, always physical, Jesus might have meant this saying. None of the answers given seemed to satisfy. The more they argued, the more impossible the whole thing appeared to be. Hence, we read: The Jews, therefore, were wrangling among each other, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? This “how can?” reminds us of 3:4, 9; 4:11, 12; and 6:42. Unbelief never understands the mysteries of salvation. Moreover, it is ever ready to scoff, and to say, “This or that is a sheer impossibility.”
53–58. In his answer Jesus does not try to tone down his earlier statements. He strengthens them, so that what seemed impossible at first seems absurd now. Instead of speaking merely about the necessity of eating his flesh, Jesus now speaks about the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. To the Jews drinking blood was very repulsive; cf. Gen. 9:4; Lev. 3:17; 17:10, 12, 14. Nevertheless, had they known their scriptures thoroughly, they would also have recognized the symbolism which Jesus employed. They would have known that the blood, viewed as the seat of life, represents the soul and is without intrinsic value for salvation apart from the soul. The language of Lev. 17:11 is very clear on this point: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life.” It is clear, therefore, that when Jesus speaks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood he cannot have reference to any physical eating or drinking. He must mean: “He who accepts, appropriates, and assimilates my vicarious sacrifice as the only ground of his salvation, remains in me and I in him.” As food and drink are offered and accepted, so also is Christ’s sacrifice offered to believers and accepted by them. As those are assimilated by the body, so is this sacrifice assimilated by the soul. As those nourish and sustain physical life, so this nourishes and sustains spiritual life. Here is the doctrine of the voluntary shedding of Christ’s blood as a ransom for the salvation of believers. The same doctrine is either explicitly taught or implied in such passages as the following:
1:29, 36; Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:20; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:25; 5:9; I Cor. 10:16; 11:25, 26; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20, 22; Heb. 9:14, 22; 10:19, 20; 10:20; 13:12; I Pet. 1:2, 18, 19; I John 1:7; 5:6; Rev. 1:5; 7:14; 12:11.
In the history of theology attempts have been made again and again to conceive of this eating of the flesh of Christ and drinking of his blood in a physical manner. Such interpretations crumble before the following arguments:
a. The passage in which Jesus, by implication, urges the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood is clearly a mashal. Such veiled sayings always require a spiritual interpretation; see pp. 124, 125.
b. If these words be interpreted in a strictly literal fashion, the only logical conclusion would be that Jesus advocated cannibalism. No one dares to draw this conclusion.
c. Verse 57 clearly indicates that the phrase “eating my flesh and drinking my blood” means “eating me.” It is, accordingly, an act of personal appropriation and fellowship that is indicated. Cf. also 6:35 which shows that “coming to me” means “believing in me.”
d. We are told that those who eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood remain in him and he in them (verse 56). This, of course, cannot be true literally. It must be given a metaphorical interpretation (intimate, spiritual union with the Lord). Similarly, the result of such eating and drinking is said to be everlasting life. This, too, is a spiritual concept. If the result be spiritual, it would seem reasonable that the cause, too, be conceived of as being spiritual.
The section 6:53–58 is a summary of Christ’s teaching with reference to the bread of life. Nearly every clause and phrase appears elsewhere in this Gospel. Hence, to avoid repetition we shall not again comment on that which is explained elsewhere in this book; but instead, shall limit ourselves to two things: a. we shall reproduce the passage in full, giving in each instance the reference to the passage where the identical (or a very similar) clause or phrase is explained; and b. we shall give a paraphrase of the entire passage.
So Jesus said to them, I most solemnly assure you (see on 1:51), unless you eat the flesh (see on 1:14) of the Son of man (see on 12:34), and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves (see on 4:14). He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life (see on 3:16), and I will raise him up at the last day (see on 5:28, 29; 6:39, 40). For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed (see on 6:32, 35). He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him (see on 15:4). As the living Father (see on 5:26) sent me (see on 3:17, 34; cf. 1:6) and I live because of the Father (see on 5:26), so also he who eats me, he, indeed, will live because of me (see on 14:19). This is the bread that came down out of heaven (see on 6:41), not such as the fathers ate (see on 6:31) and died (see on 6:49). He who eats this bread will live forever (see on 6:50, 51).
This passage may be paraphrased as follows: So Jesus said to them, I most solemnly assure you, unless by a living faith you accept, appropriate, and assimilate the Christ, trusting in his sacrifice (broken body and shed blood) as the only ground of your salvation,147 you do not possess everlasting life (the love of God shed abroad in the heart, salvation full and free). On the other hand, he who does accept my sacrifice with a believing heart, digesting it spiritually, has everlasting life for the soul, and I will raise up his body gloriously at the last day, the great day of judgment. For my sacrifice (broken body and shed blood) is the real spiritual food and drink. He who spiritually digests this food remains in the closest and most vital union with me. As the Father, the Ever-living One, commissioned me, and is for me the fountain of life, so also he who spiritually digests me, he, indeed, will find in me the source of life for himself. (Pointing to himself?) This is the real bread, the genuine source of spiritual life and nurture, even the One who does not owe his origin to this earthly sphere but came down from heaven. And this bread is far better than that mere shadow and type — namely, the manna in the wilderness — which your fathers ate, but which could not keep them alive in any sense whatever, not even physically, for they died. He who spiritually digests me as the true bread of life will live forever (first, with respect to the soul, afterward also with respect to the body which on the last day will be raised gloriously).
59. We are informed that this discourse on The Bread of Life was a synagogue-sermon. The translation, These things he said in the synagogue is not necessarily wrong. Though it is true that the original does not have the article, this was probably not necessary in order to make the word definite. We also say “in church.” “in town,” “at home.” Yet, these phrases are definite, even without the article. The synagogue in which Jesus delivered this discourse was at Capernaum. The ruins of a structure which was probably similar to it in many respects have been excavated in recent years. That ancient synagogue was built about the third century a.d.
From the fact that Jesus delivered his discourse in the synagogue it does not necessarily follow that the day on which it was spoken was a sabbath. There were also services on Monday and on Thursday.148
For Synthesis see p. 249.
60 So, many of his disciples, having heard it, said, “Hard (to accept) is this message. Who can listen to it?” 61 Now when Jesus knew within himself that his disciples were murmuring about it, he said to them, “Does this ensnare you? 62 Then what if you shall see the Son of man ascending where he was before?149 63 The spirit is that which makes alive; the flesh does not help at all. The words which I have spoken to you, spirit are they and life are they. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were that did not believe, and who he was that would deliver him up. 65 And he was saying, “Therefore I said to you that no one can come to me unless it is given to him by the Father.”150
66 As a result of this, many of his disciples drew back and were no longer walking with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You, surely, do not also wish to go back, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of everlasting life. 69 And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Have I not chosen you, the twelve, yet one of you is a devil?” 71 Now he was referring to Judas, (son) of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to deliver him up.
6:60. So, many of his disciples, having heard it, said.… Those who heard Jesus deliver this discourse on The Bread of Life are by the author divided into three groups: “the Jews” (hostile leaders and their followers), “the disciples,” and “the twelve.” The last two groups in reality overlapped; or may be represented by concentric circles, the larger of which represents the “disciples” (6:66), the smaller “the twelve” (6:67). The reaction of the Jews has been stated: they asked questions which originated in hearts of unbelief, self-satisfaction, and glorying in tradition (6:28, 30, 31); they muttered and belittled (6:41, 42); they even wrangled among each other (6:52). The present section (6:60–65) describes the reaction of the disciples. This is the group of more or less regular followers of the Lord, as 6:66 clearly indicates. There were probably scores, if not actually hundreds, of them in Galilee.
When the sermon was over, these disciples appear not to have been pleased with it. They said, Hard is this message. Who can listen to it? It is clear from the answer of Jesus (6:61–65) and from their own final reaction (6:66) that they did not merely mean that the sermon was difficult to understand, but that it was hard to accept. We translate, “Who can listen to it?” Though it is true that “Who can listen to him?” is also a possible rendering, nevertheless, the verb employed certainly permits either translation (cf. also 10:16, 27; Acts 9:7; 22:7, 10 in the original), the antecedent of the pronoun is, no doubt, “this message,” to which also the immediately following context text (verse 61) clearly refers. These disciples of Jesus were clearly offended by his words. To say that they were disgusted is probably correct. Their hearts were rebellious. It is in that light that we can understand the Lord’s question which immediately follows.
61–65. When Jesus knew within himself (how? see on 5:6) that his disciples were murmuring about it, he said to them, Does this ensnare you? The verb translated ensnare (σκανδαλίζει from σκάνδαλον, the bait-stick in a trap or snare; this crooked stick springs the trap) does not merely signify offend, nor, on the other hand, does it mean kill; it means: cause to fall into a trap, here in the figurative sense; hence, cause to sin. Jesus, therefore, is asking whether by his sermon these hearers have actually been seduced or led into sin. Yet, it was not the hardness of the sermon but rather the hardness of their own hearts that had brought about this unfavorable reaction on their part (as Calvin151 and many commentators after him have correctly pointed out). Just what did they object to in Christ’s discourse? No doubt the answer is: they were displeased with the sermon in its entirety. The Lord had pointed out that not the manna about which they had heard so much, but he himself was the true bread that had come down from heaven; that in his quality as the true bread he was offering his flesh; and that in order to have everlasting life (i.e., to be saved) one had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. This was too much for these people to take. Had they only been willing to accept the evidence of the witnesses regarding Jesus (see 5:30–47), they would have asked, “Is it possible that these words have a deeper sense?” As it was, they regarded the sayings of the Lord as lacking in spirit and void of life. They attached to them the most rigidly literal interpretation. When Jesus mentioned the word “flesh,” they thought of his body not as an instrument of the soul but merely in distinction from the soul. When he said “blood,” they did not ponder the possibility that he might be referring to his own voluntary sacrifice even unto the shedding of his blood. No, they saw only the actual drops of blood, and shuddered to think of drinking it! What! was this man, whose parents they knew (or had known) so well, was he bread that had come down from heaven? Jesus answers: If you shall see the Son of man ascending where he was before? The apodosis is probably: What will you say then? Will not the Son of man’s ascension to heaven prove that he had really come down from heaven? (On the term Son of man see our comments on 12:34). Jesus continues, The spirit is that which makes alive; the flesh does not help at all. The sense, it would seem, is perfectly clear in the light of the entire preceding context. What Jesus meant was this: “My flesh as such cannot benefit you; stop thinking that I was asking you literally to eat my body or literally to drink my blood. It is my spirit, my person, in the act of giving my body to be broken and my blood to be shed, that bestows and sustains life, even everlasting life.” Turning now to the blunder of the misinterpretation of his words, Jesus says, The words which I have spoken to you, spirit are they and life are they. These words are full of his own spirit and his own life. They are not dead letters. On the contrary, not only are they rich in metaphors, as Jesus expressly declared (16:25), but when accepted by faith, these words in their deep, spiritual meaning, become instruments of salvation for his people. The Lord continues: But there are some of you who do not believe. Unbelief was the root of intellectual lethargy; and this, in turn, was the cause of failure to grasp Christ’s words and of attaching a crassly literal interpretation to them. The evangelist adds the comment: For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were that did not believe, and who he was that would deliver him up. The last clause is explained by 6:70, 71. Jesus knew all this from the beginning of his work as Mediator. (On this knowledge of Jesus see on 5:6.) Now this unbelief, though inexcusable, was to be expected, for faith is a gift of God, and it is not given to all men: And he was saying, Therefore said I to you that no one can come to me unless it is given to him by the Father. The reference is to such passages as 6:37, 44 (see our comments on 6:37, 44).
66. In view of the immediately preceding context, we translate ἐκ τούτου as a result of this, rather than simply “after this.” As a result, then, of the discourse of Jesus on The Bread of Life, but more especially as a result of Christ’s accusation “There are some of you who do not believe, many of his disciples drew back, and were no longer walking with him. They went back to the things which they had left behind (εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω), not only their ordinary daily pursuit but also their former way of thinking and living, not intending ever to return to Jesus. They proved by this action that they were not fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 6:62). This was the real crisis. Now not only the masses left him, but even many (possibly the majority, cf. verses 66, 67) of his disciples, i.e., of those who had been much more closely and regularly associated with him.
67. Jesus now intends that this desertion of so many of his regular followers shall become for the innermost circle a reason for testing themselves, an opportunity for confessing their faith. So Jesus said to the twelve — here designated by that name for the first time in the Fourth Gospel —, You, surely, do not also wish to go back, do you? The form of the question, as it is found in the original, shows that a negative reply is expected.152 Do they really wish to remain his followers? Do they make this conscious choice after listening to the discourse on the Bread of Life? Have they fully made up their minds to remain with Jesus, regardless of the fact that the great masses have left him, including even many of his regular followers?
68, 69. Simon Peter is the man who gives the answer, and a glorious answer it was! He uses the plural, showing that he was the spokesman for all, though not in reality the spokesman for Judas. Peter answered him by asking him a question: Lord (on this see 1:38; footnote 44) to whom shall we go? Man is so constituted that he must go to someone. He cannot stand by himself. What Peter means is clearly this: “There is no one else to go to; no one who satisfies the yearning of the heart.” He continues: Thou hast the words of everlasting life. The reference is clearly to what Jesus himself has said (6:63). Peter knows that the words of Jesus are more than mere sounds or dead utterances. They are vital and dynamic, full of spirit and life, means unto salvation, means of grace (on everlasting life see 3:16; cf. 1:4). Peter adds: And we have believed and know — i.e., we have begun to believe and we still believe; we have come to realize, and we still are convinced — that thou art the Holy One of God. Jesus is confessed to be the Holy One; i.e., consecrated unto God to fulfil his Messianic task; he is set apart and qualified to perform whatever pertains to his office (cf. 10:36; Acts 3:14; 4:27; Rev. 3:7). He is God’s Holy One, belonging to God and appointed by God. — It was a most meaningful and glorious confession!
70, 71. Jesus knows, however, that this confession did not represent the inner convictions of every one of the twelve; there was one exception. So, in order that the man who forms this exception may never be able to say that he was not warned, and in order that the others will never be able to think that their Lord was taken unawares, Jesus answered them, Have I not chosen you, the twelve, yet one of you is a devil? (On the twelve see p. 19.) That these twelve men had been chosen to be Christ’s special disciples and apostles they knew, of course. The readers of this Gospel also knew it, both from oral tradition and from the Synoptics. Jesus says, “… yet one of you is a devil.” The term διάβολος means slanderer, false accuser. This one man is the servant, the instrument of the devil. His devilish character appears especially from this fact that while others, ever so many of them, had deserted the Lord when they felt that they could not agree with him and when they rebelled against the spiritual character of his teaching, this one individual remained with him, as if he were in full accord with Jesus! (He reminds one of those people who, while they hate the distinctive doctrines of the denomination to which they belong, remain right in it, preferring to drag it along with them to utter ruin.) The evangelist, writing so many years later, adds a note of explanation: Now he was referring to Judas, (son) of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to deliver him up. The father of Judas was Simon. This Simon was called Iscariot; i.e., a man of Kerioth; probably in Judah (Josh. 15:25), though there was also a place of that name in Moab (Jer. 48:24). The traitor is here so carefully described in order to distinguish him from another Judas, who also belonged to the twelve. The appositive “one of the twelve,” was probably added to show the enormity of his sin (though a highly favored one, yet he was going to commit this terrible deed) and to justify the remark of Jesus in verse 70, “Have I not chosen you, the twelve.” The manner in which Judas was going to deliver up the Lord is not described here (but see 13:2, 30; 18:2, 3; Mark 14:43–45). It is enough that the terrible deed has been indicated.
Synthesis of 6:22–71
See the Outline on p. 68. The Son of God Rejected in Galilee (concluded).
On the day after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the crowds embarked in ships from Tiberias and found Jesus on the western shore. The Lord criticized them for their thoroughly materialistic motive in seeking him. Jesus told them to work for the food that endures. When they compared his miracle to the one which had taken place many centuries earlier, in the wilderness, where their forefathers had received manna from heaven, while Jesus had merely given them earthly bread, he shattered their argument by telling them that he himself was “the true bread from heaven,” of which the manna was merely a shadow. In a beautiful and meaningful discourse on The Bread of Life he declared himself to be the real gift of the Father. He said that he, in turn, would give his flesh and blood for the life of the world, and that in order to be saved, one had to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Although Jesus, of course, had in mind the necessity of spiritual acceptance, appropriation, and assimilation, many of his hearers not only interpreted his words literally, but in their unbelieving hearts rebelled against him and his message. Jesus emphasizes that only those can come to him who have been drawn by the Father.
The reaction of the audience to this discourse was fourfold: a. The masses and their “religious” leaders, utterly rejected the message and belittled the speaker. Their sentiment is summarized in 6:42: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it that he now says, ‘I have come down from heaven?’ ” b. The large group of rather regular followers (called “disciples” here) considered the discourse hard to accept; and when Jesus showed that unbelief was the root of this reaction, they, in large numbers, turned away from him. c. The innermost group of disciples (called “the twelve”) by mouth of Peter, made a glorious confession, recognizing Jesus as God’s Holy One. d. Judas, though in rebellion against the divine speaker and his words, in typical traitorous fashion decided to remain in the company of Jesus!