Matt. 14:13-21; Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 6:32-44; Mark 8:1-10; Luke 9:10-17.
Our Gospel now gives us the great miracle, or sign rather, common to all the four; and this, as ever here, introductorily to the discourse that follows-Christ, incarnate and in death, the food of eternal life for those who believe on His name. Here it is the Son of man humbled and ascended, as in chapter 5 the Son of God quickening those that hear, and by and by as Son of man about to judge those that believe not.
“After these things Jesus went away beyond the sea of Galilee, of Tiberias, and a great crowd followed Him because they saw the84 signs which he wrought on the sick. But Jesus went up into the mountain, and there sat with His disciples; and the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. Jesus then, lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great crowd cometh unto Him, saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy loaves that these may eat? But this He said, trying him, for He Himself knew what He was about to do. Philip answered Him, Loaves for two hundred pence are not sufficient for them, that each of them85 may have some little. One of His disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, saith to Him, There is a little boy116 here that hath five barley-loaves and two fishes; but these, what are they for so many?”
The scene is wholly changed from Jerusalem. We see the Lord in Galilee, and in that part of the lake called from the city of Tiberias, as well as from the province bordering on its western side. A great crowd follow Him because of the signs He wrought on the sick. The Lord withdraws to the high land, where He sits with His disciples, the Passover being then at hand. None of the motives mentioned in the Synoptic accounts do we find here: neither the beheading of John Baptist, nor the Apostles’ return from their mission, nor the need of rest after toils in teaching or other work. Jesus fills the picture: all is in His hand. It is He Who takes the initiative; not that the disciples may not have previously been perplexed, nor as if John did not know this as well as Matthew and the rest, but because it pleased the Holy Spirit to give us Christ Himself alone master of the situation, as always in his Gospel. The nearness of the Passover is noted as repeatedly in this Gospel. Here, too, there was the reason for it, that the discourse that follows, as well as the sign wrought, is grounded on eating and drinking as the token of communion.
“Jesus, then, lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great crowd cometh unto Him, saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy loaves that these may eat?” The evangelist, however, is careful of His glory, and loses no time in letting us know that it was out of no uncertainty in His own mind, but in order to test Philip: He knew what He was going to do. Nevertheless, He awaits the despairing words of Philip’s fellow-townsman, Andrew, and would teach all now what His gracious power loves to do with the little and despised, were it for the greatest need. The brother of Simon Peter, who was even before his brother in seeing the Messiah, could think of a little boy with five barley-loaves and two fishes, not of Jesus. And where was Peter? Where John, the disciple that He loved? Nowhere in faith. Truly flesh cannot glory in His presence.
Let us turn to the One we may and ought to glory in, honouring the Father in honouring Him. “Jesus said, Make the people (
ἀνθρώπους) sit (or lie) down. Now there was much grass in the place. The men (
ἄνδρες) then sat down in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and, having given thanks,86 distributed87 to those that were set down, and likewise also of the fishes, as much as they would.117 But when they were filled, He saith to His disciples, Gather the fragments that are over, that nothing be lost. They gathered (them) then, and filled twelve baskets with fragments117a of the five barley-loaves which were over to those that had eaten. The people (
οἱ ἄνθρωποι) then, having seen the sign which Jesus88 did, said, This is truly the Prophet that is coming into the world. Jesus then, knowing that they would come and seize Him that they might make (Him) king, withdrew (again)89 to the mountain Himself alone” (verses 10-15).
One is afraid that, poor as was the intelligence of the Galilean crowd, they understood the import of this great sign better than the Christendom of the last seventeen hundred years. They were, no doubt, dull enough as to their deepest need, and they had no appreciation of the Saviour’s grace in humiliation and redemption, afterwards fully set forth by Him in the discourse that ensues; but they had some thoughts not wholly untrue, though human and short enough, of the kingdom God is going to set up here below. Now and for many centuries theology indulges in a sort of mystic dream that the Gospel or Church is the kingdom of Christ, His kingdom of grace, to be at the end His kingdom of glory. But they have no thought of His coming in the kingdom He will have received, that not Israel only, but all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; and this too an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. A two-fold error, which lets slip the oneness of the body of Christ, the Church, with its glorified Head on high, and denies the mercy and faithfulness of God to Israel, who are the destined centre of Jehovah’s earthly plans for the kingdom, when we, changed into the likeness of Christ’s glory, shall reign together with Him.
The crowd were struck with the fulfilment of this fresh and crowning sign. They had not abandoned as yet their hopes. They knew that Jehovah has chosen Zion; that He has desired it for His habitation; that He will abundantly bless her provision and satisfy her poor with bread (Ps. 132). Was not He Who now displayed this power of Jehovah the promised Son of David Whom Jehovah will set on His throne? Such was their conclusion. “This is truly the prophet that is coming into the world.” They thus bound up the law,118 Psalms and prophets in their testimony to the Messiah; and so far they were quite right. But not so in their desire, which the Lord knew, to forge Him to be king.118a For this would be in no way the kingdom of God, but of man, nor of heaven, but of earth. Not so: as He Himself taught afterwards, He was to go into a far country to receive for Himself a kingdom and to return. Not till then shall the kingdom of God appear.
Till then it is a question for us of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, and the kingdom is not in word, but in power which is known to faith, not displayed yet. But it will not be always hidden as now, nor the domain of purely spiritual energy. Christ will come in His kingdom and reign till He has put all enemies under His feet, after asking from Jehovah, Who will give Him the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. It will be no question then, as now, of patiently working by the Gospel, but of breaking the nations with a rod of iron and of dashing them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
Unbelief either antedates the kingdom, striving to set it up now by man’s will, or abandons it for the delusion of human progress, without a thought of God’s purpose to establish it by Christ the second Man when the first is judged. Faith patiently waits for it meanwhile. So the Lord declined then, and went up on high-this time Himself alone.119 It was the figure of what is actually true. Owned as Prophet, He refuses to be man’s king, and goes above to exercise His intercession, as He is now doing, the great Priest in the presence of God.
But the Lord vouchsafes another sign to the very people who soon after ask for a sign that they might see and believe (verse 30). So blind is man even when grace is multiplying these helps for those who discern it! Submission to God was the true want. not more signs.
Matt. 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-52.
“But when evening was come, His disciples went down unto the sea, and, having gone on board ship,90 were crossing the sea unto Capernaum.120 And darkness had already come on, and Jesus had not yet91 come to them, and the sea was rough, as a strong wind was blowing. Having rowed, then, about twenty-five or thirty stadia, they behold Jesus walking on the sea120a and coming near the ship, and they were affrighted. But He saith to them, It is I: be not afraid. They were willing therefore to receive Him into the ship, and immediately the ship was at the land whither they were going” (verses 16-21).
How striking the contrast with another storm on the same lake, where the waves beat into the ship so that it was now full, and He was on board, but asleep, and the disciples awoke Him with the selfish and unbelieving cry, Master, carest Thou not that we perish? And He arose and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace, and both obeyed the Creator of all, Whom man alone despised because His love made Him the servant of all to God’s glory.
Here it is the picture of the Lord’s people while Himself is on high, exposed to the storms which the enemy knows how to excite, and after much toil making little progress. So it will be also for those who follow us at the end of the age. They will experience untold trials of the sharpest kind, with scanty comfort or even intelligence, save as compared with “the wicked,” who shall not understand, least of all (we may perhaps add) in that day. Darkness will have already set in; but in the midst of their increasing troubles Jesus will appear, though they will not even then be delivered from their fears, for the glorious light will rather augment them, till they hear His voice and know that He is indeed their Saviour, long absent, now come back. Received into the ship, He causes it to reach immediately the desired haven. So it will be with the righteous remnant by and by. Whether for them or for ourselves, all turns on Christ; and this it is the peculiar office of our Gospel to illustrate.
Matthew, who alone specifically names the Church as taking the place now of the disowned people after the rejection of the Messiah, alone shows us Peter quitting the ship to walk over the water toward Jesus, to walk where nothing but faith could sustain, and where, therefore, we see him soon sinking through unbelief, as the Church has done still more deplorably: but the Lord, faithful in His care, keeps spite of all. It is only when the ship is entered (the Jewish position properly) that the wind ceases, and He is welcomed with all His beneficent power in the land whence once they had besought Him to depart out of their borders (Matt. 14).
Our evangelist, however, does not trace these earthly blessings which await “that day,” but turns to the circumstances and questions which the Lord makes the occasion of the wonderful discourse that follows. He adheres to his task of unfolding the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.
“On the morrow the crowd that was standing on the other side of the sea, having seen that there was no other boat but one,92 and that Jesus went not with His disciples into the ship,93 but that His disciples went off alone-yet94 (other) boats95 came from Tiberias near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord had given thanks-when the crowd then saw that Jesus was not there nor His disciples, they went themselves on board the ships and came to Capernaum seeking for Jesus; and having found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, Rabbi, when camest Thou hither?121 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say to you, Ye seek Me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of the loaves and were filled. Work not for the food that perisheth, but for the food96 that abideth unto life eternal which the Son of man shall give97 you; for him the Father sealed, (even) God. They said therefore to Him, What must we do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He sent.”
The particulars related serve to show how the crowd was struck by the mysterious disappearance of the Lord. They knew that He had not accompanied the disciples in their ship, and that there was no other in which He could have crossed the lake when He must have left the mountain. They put forward their curiosity as to His mode of passage as a cover for their desire to profit, as they had done already, by His miraculous supply of their wants. The Lord in reply strips them of their disguise and confronts them with their selfishness. It was this which prompted their search after Him, not the* interest in the signs which He had just wrought. He prefaces their exposure with the formula of unusual solemnity which He reserved for the enunciation of great truths. “Rabbi” (said they), “when camest Thou hither?” They had sought after Jesus; they had taken trouble to find Him; when found, they address Him with honour; but they manifest by their inquiry that it was not Himself, nor yet the signs which He had wrought, which attracted them. Faith was not in their hearts, but curiosity about the time and mode of His coming, and at the bottom desire after present ease through Him. Was the Son of God here to gratify all this?
“Verily, verily, I say to you, Ye seek Me not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate and were filled.” Here the Lord searches those who had been in quest of Him, and searches them thoroughly, for a single act that looks fair may prove a character hollow and base. And He looked on and listened, and did not trust Himself to them because He knew all men, and needed none to testify of man, for Himself knew what was in man. To make Him a king in order to enjoy His promised earthly favours was nothing in His eyes-nay, called for His most grave detection of them to themselves. It was no question of the Messiah for Israel now, but of a Saviour for sinners. He was rejected as the Christ by those who ought most to have hailed Him with joy, but did not because His coming as He did made nothing of them and their religiousness-that is, of all they valued. And if this poor hungry crowd seemed to feel quite differently and wished to give Him the honour that was due, it was needful to demonstrate that they were not a whit better, but sought their own things, not God’s glory in Him. He was really come, into a world of death over which judgment hung, that the poorest of sinners might feed on Him and live for ever: what did they think of or care for His love? They thought only of themselves in their way, just as their rulers and teachers in theirs. God was in none of their thoughts. High or low, they had no sense of their sins or ruin, no knowledge of God or His grace. A Messiah for temporal good was what they wanted, not a Jesus to save His people from their sins. But the Messiah as a Divine Person could not but lay bare their alienation and distance from God; and thus He became increasingly odious, till their hatred ended in His Cross. This made plain the deep purpose of grace in sending Him into the world, not for Israel only, but, if now rejected by them, that we might live by Him and He be a propitiation for our sins.
Hence He adds, “Work not for the food that perisheth, but for the food that abideth unto life eternal, which the Son of man shall give you; for Him the Father sealed, (even) God.” It is no question of Messianic honour or blessing, but of what the Son of man has to give; and as He gives the food that abides to life eternal, so man needs no less than this. It is as such that God the Father sealed Him. Toil will not suffice, nor any seeming sincerity. The humbled Messiah, the Son of man, is no less God’s object in sealing with the Holy Ghost than He is the Giver of the only food that abides to life everlasting; and nothing less can supply the need of lost man, be he Jew or Gentile.122
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Hence they misapply the Lord’s exhortation, “Work not for the food that perisheth, but for the food that abideth unto life eternal,” and infer their own capacity to do something acceptable to God. “They said therefore to Him, What should we do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He sent.” Jesus is the object of faith. To believe on Him is the only work for a sinful man, if it is to be called a work. It is truly God’s work, for man trusts it not, and refuses to confide in Him for eternal life. He would rather trust to his own wretched performance, or his own miserable experience-anything rather than to Jesus only. But God will not allow men to mix up self with Jesus, whether it be a fancied good self or a confessedly evil self. It is the Son of man Whom the Father sealed, and Him only can He accept as the ground of the sinner’s approach to God, Him only does He command as the food that abides to life eternal. For this He sent Him, not for man to make Him a king over a people with their sins unremoved, but to be the true Passover, and the only food that He warrants. Faith, however, is the sole way in which one can feed on Him; not of works, else it must be by the law, and thus be for Jews only. On the contrary; it is by faith that it might be according to grace, and thus be open to Gentile as freely as to Jew. Truly it is not the way of man, but the work of God, that we believe on Him Whom He sent.
The crowd was not so ignorant as not to know that the Lord claimed no insignificant place when He spoke of Himself as the Son of man. The Psalms and the prophets had spoken of such a One, and of His wide and exalted glory. Besides, apart and different from the Old Testament testimony, He had just told them that the Son of man is the Giver of the food that abides unto eternal life, and that the Father, even God, sealed Him. “They said therefore to Him, What should we do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He sent.” Thus, as He spoke clearly, they manifest afresh the inveterate assumption of men in every state and age and country that fallen man is capable of working the works of God. They ignore their own sin, His holiness and majesty. It was the way of Cain; and professing Christendom is as infected with it as Judaism or heathenism. It is the universal lie of man, till the Holy Spirit brings him to repentance. Then in the new life he feels and judges the old, and finds, as we see in Rom. 7, that it is a question not of works, but of what he is, and that there is no help for him but deliverance from all, and that in Christ by faith.
So the Lord here answers that the work of God is that they should believe on Him Whom He sent. Similarly the Apostle reasons in Rom. 4, that if Abraham were justified by works, he would have had matter for boast, but not before God, from Whom it would detract. Scripture guards against any such misunderstanding, and says plainly that he believed God, which was reckoned to him as righteousness. The principle is thus evident: to him that works the reward is reckoned as not of grace, but of debt; while to him that does not work, but believes on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. Man may be fully and securely blest, but it is only of grace, and so by faith, which gives the glory to God, as itself His gift. Faith is thus the work of God, and excludes man’s working, not as its effect (for it produces works, and good works abundantly), but as antecedent to it or co-ordinate with it; and justly so, unless it would suit God to be partner with man, and this the believer would be the first to eschew. The Sent One of the Father is the object of faith.
It was at once felt that this was to claim more and more on God’s part, although He refused to be made a king by man. “They said therefore to Him, What sign doest Thou, then, that we may see and believe Thee? What dost Thou work? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, according as it is written, Bread out of heaven He gave them to eat. Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Not Moses hath given98 you the bread out of heaven, but my Father giveth you the True Bread out of heaven. For the Bread of God is He that descendeth out of heaven, and giveth life to the world” (verses 30-33). Such is unbelief, ever dissatisfied with the admirably suited and magnificent signs of God, refusing perhaps to ask a sign when God offers, despising those He does give. They did not on this occasion say outright what they meant, but it seems to have been some such thought as this: “You ask us to believe; yet, after all, what was the miracle of the loaves to that of the manna? Give us food from heaven, as Moses did, for forty years; and then it will be time enough to speak of believing. Do a work to match his, if you cannot surpass it.” The Lord answers that it was not Moses that had given the bread out of heaven, but His Father was giving them the True Bread out of heaven. The Bread of God is Jesus Himself, and these two great characteristics are His alone of all men; He comes down out of heaven, and He gives life to the world. He is a Divine Person, yet a man here below, the Bread of God for every one that needs Him. It is no mere question of Israel in the desert: He gives life to the world. Less is not the truth, nor would it suit God.
“They said therefore to Him, Lord, evermore give us this Bread. And (or, Then)99 Jesus said to them, I am the Bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall in nowise hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall in nowise ever thirst. But I said to you, that ye have even seen Me, and do not believe” (verses 34-36). This is their last effort to get what they sought-bread for this world, bread evermore, if not through them in any way, at least from Him. But unbelief is every way wrong. It is life that God is giving, and nothing less meets the true need of man; and this life is in Christ, not from Him. Apart from Him, given out of Him, and thus, so as to be independent of Him, it exists not. In Him was life; in Him only is life found. He is the Bread of life.123 He is not here viewed as the Son of God, quickening whom He will, even as the Father. Here He is the Son of man sealed, and the object of faith. “I am the Bread of life; he that cometh to Me shall in nowise hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall in nowise ever thirst.” Alas! the crowd that saw Him had no faith in Him. Their privilege in seeing Him but added to their guilty unbelief; and, one must add, that now that the atoning work is done, and He is dead, risen, and glorified, and preached among Gentiles, it is a greater sin still where He is not believed on in the world. Yet men no more believe on Him than those who then followed Him, nor are their motives purer who profess and preach Him than theirs who would have crowned Him in Galilee.
The Lord proceeds to explain what was behind and above this in the words that follow. “All that the Father giveth Me shall come unto Me; and him that cometh unto Me I will in nowise cast out. For I am descended from100 heaven not to do My will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (verses 37, 38). This then is the key, and it is twofold; and only in this largeness do we know the truth. If either side be taken to the exclusion of the other, the teaching is imperfect, and the consequences are apt to be error on this hand or on that. The reprobationist presses the first clause; the Arminian the second. Neither gives its due weight to the clause they respectively omit. The theologian who sees only the Divine decrees pays little heed to the encouragement given by the Lord to the individual that comes unto Him. The advocate of what he calls free-will seeks to neutralise, if he does not absolutely ignore, the declaration that all the Father gives to Christ shall come unto Him; and no wonder, for it is an assertion of His sovereignty, which is inexplicable on his own theory. But the hard lines of reprobationism can as little admit cordially the Lord’s assurance of a welcome to him that comes unto Him.
The purpose of the Father is as sure as the Son’s reception of all that come to Him. The unbelief of Israel, favoured as they were, did not enfeeble the counsels of the Father: and the Son would not refuse the vilest or most hostile that came to Him. The reason given also is most touching. He was thoroughly the servant of God in this. Come to Him who might, He had come down from heaven to serve, not to do His own will. It was for the Father to choose and give. He had descended to serve, and would in nowise cast out even the man who had reviled Himself most. He was the Father’s servant in salvation as in all else. The servant would not choose, but receive him that came to Him, as all the Father gives should come. He is come down from heaven to do the Father’s will Who sent Him, not His own will.
This is carried out still more fully in verses 39, 40, where the Lord says, “And this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that every one who beholdeth the Son, and believeth on Him, should have life eternal, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Thus, on the one hand, He Who sent Christ, and gave Him in His sovereign grace, fails in nothing of His will, for Christ loses nothing of it; on the other hand, Christ abides the test for every soul of man who receives life eternal in Him by faith alone; while in both cases, whether for the whole or for each individual, Christ raises up when man’s day is ended for ever. All hope of present deliverance under the Messiah, which they fondly dreamt for men in the flesh or dead as they were, was vain. The Father’s will, whether for His children as a whole or individually, shall stand: the whole that He has given to the Son shall be kept, and every believer in Him has life everlasting, as Christ’s raising will prove for both when the last day comes.
The Lord is thus contrasting His glory as Messiah on the earth with His raising up the believer at the last day. Unbelief was even then using the former to overlook the latter; but the Lord here brings what was unseen and eternal into prominence, and this, because He had (to God’s glory and in love) taken the place of a servant to accomplish purposes yet deeper. Had He sought His own will or His own name, His reign as Messiah would have been still nearer to Him than to the Jews. But no! He sought the glory and the will of His Father, and, as He gave Himself up to suffer, so He should lose nothing, but raise it up at the last day. To the individual all turns on beholding the Son and believing on Him: every one who does should have life eternal, and Christ should raise him up at the last day. Those who look for nothing but the reign of the Messiah inevitably perish. They acknowledge not their sins, they feel not for the violated majesty and holiness of God, they believe not on the Saviour, and, not so believing, have not life. He that believes knows Him to be more than the Messiah, even the Son of the Father; he knows that only in Him has he life eternal, and that he will have his portion with Christ in resurrection at the last day. It is no question of man or the world as they now are, but of Christ then.
This was peculiarly strange to the people of Judea and Jerusalem, resting as they did in tradition, and so we see next, “The Jews therefore murmured about Him, because He said, I am the Bread that came down out of heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then101 doth He say, I am come down out of heaven?” (verses 41, 42). Thus they set the circumstances as they knew them (and they knew them ill) against the truth of Christ. It was judging according to appearances, and consequently unrighteous judgment. He was the son of Mary-truly and properly man; else His work had not availed for man. He was not son of Joseph save legally; but this He was, in order that He should be Messiah according to the law. Had He been really son of Joseph, as of Mary, He had not been Son of God, or a Divine Person; but this was the foundation of all, and without it the Incarnation were a falsehood, and the Atonement a nullity. He was really Son, the Only-begotten Son of the Father, Who deigned to become son of Mary, and by law consequently son of Joseph, who had espoused her (a point of all moment for His Messianic title, for Messiah He could not properly have been unless He were heir of Joseph’s rights).124 But as Son of God, the incarnate Word, He was the Bread which came down out of heaven: thus only could man feed on Him by faith and be blessed for ever.
“Jesus102 therefore103 answered and said to them, Murmur not among yourselves. No one can come unto Me except the Father Who sent Me draw him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. (Isa. 54:13.) Every one that heard104 from the Father and learned cometh unto Me. Not that any one hath seen the Father, except He Who is of God, He hath seen the Father” (verses 43, 44). Unbelief can only destroy and trouble; it cannot give life or comfort. Man under Satan is the source of unbelief, which ever leads from Christ, not to Him. But as the Father sent Christ, so He draws the believer to Christ, Who raises Him up at the last day. It is not man’s worth or work or will, therefore, but the Father’s grace, by which one comes to Christ. The whole blessing, in short, is of sovereign mercy, and so the prophets have written. All true teaching comes from God, and all are taught of God, Who never forgets what is due to Christ. “Every one that heard from the Father and learned” comes to Christ. Not that the Father has been seen by man. He is known in the Son. “He who is of God, He hath seen the Father”; it is Christ only Who has.
The Lord then solemnly reiterates, “Verily, verily,125 I say to you, He that believeth (on Me.105) hath life eternal. I am the Bread of life” (verses 47, 48). In truth, as the promised One, He was always the object of faith, even as being the eternal Son He had ever quickened the believer. But now He was the Word made flesh; He was the Son of God, and this as man in the world, and, as rejected by Israel, He announces that He is the giver of life eternal. This is the grand point: not the kingdom merely by and by, but life eternal now in the Son, and inseparable from Him, but in Him now a man.
Hence the Lord says, following this up, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died. This is the Bread that cometh down out of heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the Living Bread that came down out of heaven. If one shall have eaten of this106 bread, he shall live for ever. Yea, and the bread that I will give is my flesh107 for the life of the world” (verses 49-51). Thus, if the Lord was typified by the manna, He went incomparably beyond its virtue. The fathers of the Jews ate the manna in the wilderness; but it could not ward off death, for they died like others. Christ is the Bread that comes down out of heaven that a man may eat thereof and not die. Eternal life is in the Son of God, and none the less because He was then the Son of man. Rather was the grace of God more manifest in Him thus; for, if He were a man, was it not for men to eat thereof and not die? He was the Living Bread that came down out of heaven. If one ate of this Bread, he should live for ever.126
This, we shall see, involves another truth besides the Incarnation, even His death in Atonement; for the bread that He would give is His flesh for the life of the world. Here He hints at what He would open out somewhat further-His atoning death. When His life is given, it is not for the life of Israel only, but of the world. The grace of God which was about to descend so low could not be circumscribed to the Jews alone. “God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have life eternal.” On this, however, He enlarges more fully afterwards. Did they strive against His words in unbelief? He puts forward the truth, so as still more to offend man’s pride and opposition to God, but to feed and strengthen faith in His elect.
Such words from our Lord, His flesh given for the life of the world, were startling enough to those who heard them, but statements yet plainer follow. He insists on the necessity of drinking His blood.” The Jews therefore contended among themselves, saying, How can He (
οὗτος) give us His108 flesh to eat? Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Unless ye shall have eaten the flesh of the Son of man and drunk His blood, ye have109 no life in yourselves. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath life eternal; and I will raise him up at the last day; for my flesh is truly110 food, and My blood is truly111 drink. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live by reason of the Father, he also that eateth Me, even he shall live by reason of Me. This is the bread that came down out of heaven. Not as the112 fathers ate and died: he that eateth this bread shall live for ever. These things said He in (the) synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.”
Thus, as the Lord set forth Himself incarnate under the bread that came down out of heaven to be eaten in faith, so here we have His death under the figure of the flesh113 to be eaten, and the blood to be drunk. It is the life given up, the blood drunk as a separate thing, the most emphatic sign of death. Of this faith partakes, and finds in it atonement and communion. Without it there is no life. It was the more important, as some professed to receive Him as the Christ, but stumbled at His death. The Lord shows that such is not the faith of God’s elect; for he who welcomed Him as come down from heaven would glory in His cross; and though none could anticipate His death, all who truly believe would rejoice, once it is made known, and its object and efficacy opened. Those who receive the Incarnation in faith do also with like faith receive His death; and these only have eternal life. For such as accept the former after a human sort are apt to cavil at the latter. Both are objects and tests of faith; and the more decisive of the two is His death.
It may be observed that, as there are two figures in the central part of the chapter, so under the last there are two forms of expression which we distinguish: the act of having eaten [
φάγητε] His flesh and drunk [
πίητε] His blood, as in verse 53; and the continuous eating [
τρώγων] and drinking [
πίων], as in verse 54. This is of moment, as cutting off all occasion from such as either argue for or object against severing eternal life from its source. Scripture leaves no room for the thought. The believer has eternal life, but it is in the Son, not apart from Him. The believer eats His flesh and drinks His blood. He is not content that he ate so once: if thus content, can such a one be supposed to have life in him? Assuredly not. If his faith were real, he would be ever eating His flesh and drinking His blood; and he who so does has eternal life, and the Lord will raise him up at the last day. The love that came down from heaven is precious, and the heart receives Christ thus humbled thankfully, not doubting but desiring that it should be the truth. And if that love goes farther, even down to death itself, the death of the cross, the heart is enlarged and well-nigh overwhelmed; but it counts nothing too great, nothing too good, for the Son of God and Son of man. It bows and blesses God for Christ’s dying to accomplish redemption. For the same reason, if it has tasted that the Lord is thus gracious, it perseveres, it can never tire, it feeds on Him again and again. For it is felt that His flesh is truly meat, and His blood is truly drink.
Hence it is added, “he that eateth my flesh and drinketh My blood abideth in Me and I in him.” This abiding in Christ and Christ in him is one of the characteristic privileges of the Christian in John. It is not merely security for the Christian, but Christ the home of the soul as it is of Christ. How unspeakable the nearness! And as the life of fellowship is thus blessed, so is the effect in motive and object which accompanies it. “As the living Father sent Me and I live by reason (or, on account of) the Father, he also that eateth Me, even he shall live by reason of Me.” As the Father’s will and glory were ever before the Lord here below, so is He Himself before the believer. Otherwise one lives to self or the world. “To me to live is Christ,” (Phil. 1:21.) said the Apostle Paul; and this is proper Christian experience. When Christ is the motive, such is the result.
It is well known that many have laboured to prove that the eating the flesh and drinking the blood, on which last our Lord insists as distinct from eating the bread, means His supper. This is groundless, not merely because the Eucharist was not even instituted till long after, but far more because what is affirmed of eating the flesh and drinking the blood here is wholly irreconcilable with participation in the Lord’s supper; and this both positively and negatively. For it would follow that the Lord lays down with His most impressive formula of truth, on the one hand the impossibility of life save for those who have so partaken; on the other, the certainty of eternal life now and of blissful resurrection at the last day for him who habitually so partakes-yea, the highest privilege of Christianity necessarily attached to the constant celebration of it. Doctrine so absolute as this must be repudiated by all Romanists or Protestants save by such as are utterly blinded by superstition. But it is not a whit too strong when applied to, as it really was spoken of, feeding by faith on Christ’s death.127
It is not correct to say that the same topic is continued before and after verse 51. There is eating both before and after; and it is conceded on all hands that eating “the bread that came down from heaven” is to be understood of faith. It is harsh in the extreme, therefore, to contend that eating the flesh and drinking the blood means something else than partaking by faith-that it is figurative in the one, and literal in the other. It is at least consistent that, as the eating in the former part of the discourse unquestionably means communion by faith, so it should continue in the latter part. The discourse in both parts clearly refers to what was literal-the eating of the bread miraculously provided for the multitude. But the doctrine, though vitally akin, is not the same in the two parts, for the Lord’s Incarnation is the topic and object of faith in the former, His death in the latter. It is the way of John on outward facts or miracles to hang some essential truth of Christ’s Person or operation; and so it is here. He begins with Himself as the incarnate bread, more immediately answering to the divinely supplied loaves; He goes on, when unbelief cavilled, to bring out the truth of Himself dying, still more repulsive to nature, especially to a Jew.
Thus all hangs simply yet profoundly together. Christ lets the Jews know (for the discourse is to them, not to the disciples)127a that He had not come to be a king after the flesh, but to be fed on in humiliation-yea, also in death: the only food of eternal life issuing in resurrection at the last day, not in temporal power and present glory, as the people fondly hoped who wished to crown Him now. To bring in the Eucharist here is to import a foreign element which neither suits the scope of the chapter as a whole, nor a single section of the discourse. And it is the more absurd, when we see that another topic follows the main argument as its fitting conclusion, the ascension of the same Son of man Whose Incarnation and death had been previously presented as the food of faith, and this as a climax for faith when unbelief had stumbled first at His coming down from heaven, and yet more at His death. As was said afterwards: “We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest Thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” (John 12:34). “Doth this offend you?” said the Lord to the disciples when they too murmured. “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where He was before?” It is not an institution which the Lord hints at establishing. Throughout it is Himself the object of faith as the Son of man incarnate, dead, and ascended.
I am aware that a celebrated controversialist128 strove to persuade people that the first part closes with verse 47. But this is to the last degree arbitrary. Verse 51 is the true transition where the bread is declared to be Christ’s flesh which He should give for the life of the world. This, in answer to their incredulous query in verse 52, the Lord expands in verses 53-58. For the bread as such is still continued in verses 48-50, which ought not to be the case if we had really passed into the second part. The eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood begins properly with verse 53. This is plain and positive in the chapter; and, indeed, it is bold to state differently; but, if so, eating the bread pertains as clearly and certainly to the first part as eating the flesh and drinking the blood to the second. In fact, it is assumed from the beginning (verses 32-35), but definitely affirmed before the end (verses 48-50). Undoubtedly the language is stronger when the necessity of faith in His death is pressed in verse 53 and what follows. But this proves nothing more certainly than the exclusion of the Eucharist, except to such as can conceive our Lord’s making His supper more momentous than His work and faith in it. That He would speak more strongly of the giving up of His life than of His coming down from heaven to become man, no Christian could doubt, as well as of the graver danger to man of despising His death, and of the deeper blessing for the believer of communion with it.
Nor, let me add, is it absolutely true that in the first part the Father alone is said to give, in the second the Son of man; for in the beginning of the first part (verse 33) the bread of God is said to be He that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, not merely to be given. But so far as it is said, it entirely falls in with the real difference in these two parts. The Father gave the Son to be incarnate; the Son gives Himself to die, and consequently His flesh to be eaten and His blood to be drunk. Further, it is not true that the consequences stand in contrast; for as in the first part eternal life results with resurrection at the last day, so this is carefully repeated in the second part (verse 54).
It is true, as we may readily observe, that more is attached to one’s eating His flesh and drinking His blood-namely, his dwelling in Christ and Christ in him (verse 56); but this is as certainly a result of faith in Christ’s death, as it is nowhere in Scripture attributed to the Eucharist. John 15, where Christ speaks of Himself, and 1 John 4:13-16, where the Apostle speaks of God, approach nearest; neither of these alludes to the Lord’s supper, but one sets forth Christ as the only source of fruit-bearing by continual dependence on Him; the other predicates God’s dwelling in him and his in God of every soul that confesses Jesus to be the Son of God. These, then, so far confirm the conviction that the Lord is, in John 6:56, describing the privilege enjoyed by him who feeds on his own death by faith. No doubt he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him; but all flows from a new life, which comes only through faith in Christ; for without faith it is impossible to please God. This, therefore, shows an advance, not a new and different theme, but the same Christ viewed not in His life but in His death, with its deepening consequences to the believer. 129
Himself the life eternal which was with the Father before all worlds, He took flesh that He might not only show the Father and be the perfect pattern of obedience as man, but that He might die in grace for us and settle the question of sin for ever, glorifying God absolutely and at all cost in the cross. Except the corn of wheat (as He Himself taught us) fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; dying it brings forth much fruit. His death is not here regarded as an offering to God as elsewhere often, but the appropriation of it by the believer into his own being. Hence, what was comparatively vague in speaking of the bread given from above becomes most precise when He alludes to His death. For this was in the Father’s purpose and the Son of man’s heart, not reigning over Israel now, but giving His flesh for the life of the world: for, Jew or Gentile, all are here seen as reprobate, lost, and dead. He only is life, yet this not in living but in dying for us, that we might have it in and with Him, the fruit of His redemption, life eternal as a present thing, but only fully seen in resurrection power, already verified and seen in Him ascended up as man where He was before as God, by and by to be seen in us at the last day manifested with Him in glory.
Hence the believer is here said to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and this not once only, when we believed in Him and the efficacy of His death, but continuously taking in its depth and force, as death to the world and man’s estate, estranged as they are from God. Drinking His blood gives the more emphasis to the expression of the full reception of His dying by the believer. Had He simply left the world as One ever a stranger to it, we had been left behind for ever, objects of the judgment of God. But, dying to it and for us by the grace of God, He gave us who believe what separated us to God as well as cleansed us from our sins. Had it been simply our death, it had been our judgment and no honour to God, but rather the triumph of the enemy. Blessed be God, it is of His death, and of our entrance by faith into His death in all its reality and value, that He here speaks. It is not His supper; but His supper points as the sign to Christ’s death, and these verses speak of the same death. They, however, speak of the efficacious reality, not of its symbol, which, when confounded with the truth, becomes no better than an idolatrous vanity, and when most stripped of truth even as a sign is then made openly an object of worship. So we see in Romanism, where the votaries are sentenced not to drink the blood. Christ is contained whole and entire, as they say, under the species of bread: so that all is there together, flesh and blood, soul and divinity; but if so, the blood is not shed, and the mass is to the Romanist who communicates a too true witness of the non-remission of his sins. Such is the showing of their own formal doctrine and most trusted theologians.
It may be added that, after the rich testimony to His death as the object of faith, which should follow with its consequences, the Lord seems to me in verse 57 to shut out all excuse for overlooking His intention. It was Himself, not a symbolic act, which He here meant, as should be plain from the words “he that eateth me.” Further, He unites the two parts of the discourse by the following verse which closes the part about His flesh and His blood by again using the figure of “the bread that came down out of heaven,” and “he that eateth this bread shall live for ever”: a declaration as true when applied to faith in Himself as it is false of the Eucharist, taken in whatever sense men please.
The Lord had now in the synagogue at Capernaum concluded His discourse, the main topics of which were His Incarnation and Atonement, as the indispensable food of faith, let men despise them as they might; and let them cry up the manna or aught else, which had neither such a Divine and heavenly source nor such an everlasting effect, but must leave men to die after all; for in Him, and none else, was life. “Many therefore of His disciples on having heard said, This word is hard: who can hear it? But Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples murmur concerning this, said to them, Doth this offend you? If, then, ye behold the Son of man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words which I have spoken114 to you are spirit and are life; but there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from (the) beginning which were they that should believe not, and which was he that should betray Him. And He said, On this account have I said that no one can come unto Me unless it hath been given him from the115 Father.”
A most serious form of unbelief now betrayed itself, not among those of Judæa or elsewhere only, but the disciples, many of whom murmur, stumbling at His words. If they found hard His descent from heaven or His dying, what if they beheld the Son of man going up where He was before? It was implied in Ps. 8, Ps. 80, Ps. 110, as well as Dan. 7. But Jewish will had long turned only to Israel’s hopes in their ]and, and liked not a higher aspect, any more than a lower. The cross and heaven were equally out of their field of vision. Hence the Lord here confronts them with His Own ascension as a most unpalatable truth. Yet is it one which fitly follows His death, as it falls in with His coming down to be a man in incarnation. He is gone up a Saviour in righteousness, having glorified God to the uttermost about sin, as surely as He came down to serve in love. All hang together here, as, in fact, it is while He is thus ascended on high, that faith feeds on Him in life and death here below.130 But disciples murmuring at His words of humiliation He told of His exaltation, sad to say to still deeper offence. Had they been true, had they known and loved the truth, it had been their joy; but they valued the first man rather than the Second, and were more and more offended.
Such is the flesh even in disciples. It profits nothing. It is the Spirit that quickens, and this by and in Christ, never apart from Him, still less to His dishonour. Hence His words have a character essentially Divine and Divine efficacy; they are spirit and life, as He says Himself of what He had just spoken in His discourses, stumble as men might; and few words have been more disastrously perverted to this day, idolising the sign to the shame of Him Who was signified to have thus come and died in supreme love, Who blesses faith accordingly. But, alas! “there are some of you who do not believe.” Not to believe is fatal to any, most inconsistent withal in a disciple. Christ must be all or nothing. If all, His words are to the believer no reproach but a delight, and have power all through-yea, increasingly as He is thereby better known. Jesus knew their unbelief, not by observation or experience, but from the first. He is God, and none the less because He became man; and this is our evangelist’s constant thesis. Yet did He distinguish between such as did not believe and him who should betray Him; but who ever gathered it save now from His own words? Who had ever seen grace in Him falter in His ways with all? How solemn is the patience of Divine love! On the other hand, those who believed had no ground of boasting, for though they did cleave to Jesus, none could come unto Him, except it had been given to him from the Father. It was sovereign grace in God.
“From that (time) many of116 His disciples went away back and walked no more with Him. Jesus therefore said to the twelve,131 Do ye also wish to go away? Simon Peter117 answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go away? Thou hast words of life eternal; and we have believed and known that Thou art the Holy One118 of God. (Jesus)119 answered them, Did I not choose you the twelve? And one of you is a devil.131a Now He was speaking of Judas (son) of Simon Iscariot;120 for he, one121 of the twelve, was about to betray Him” (verses 66-71). Thus the warnings of the Lord precipitate the departure of unbelievers, while they knit the faithful more closely to Himself, and bring out their sense of what He is to their souls.132 The cause lay in their own will, which gave Satan power. Yet the Lord does not hesitate to let the twelve know that, while one confessed for all that He was the Holy One of God, one of themselves should betray Him. What a contrast with all but Himself, unless it be with such as have learned of Him! How different those who seek to draw the disciples after them! Still, His words would confirm His own, even all that were real. The more free, the more are they bound. He only is worthy, He is the Holy One of God.133
I am aware that a learned but self-confident German pronounces the “Holy One” not Johannean.133a But this was a rash and ignorant judgment. It is a title given to our Lord once in his first Epistle as here once in his Gospel. He is the only writer in the New Testament who ever uses it of the Lord in relation to the saints. It is therefore more characteristic of John than of any other Apostle. Mark and Luke tell us of evil spirits tremblingly owning Him thus. Well might they quail before the Holy One Who is destined to deal with them in judgment. How blessed to hear one saint confess for all their faith in Him in this very character, cleaving to Him and His words of eternal life with confidence! How gracious to hear another comforting the babes of God’s family with the reflection that they had received unction from the Holy One and knew all things! Antichrists might go out from among those who bore Christ’s name, but they were not of the family of God:134 if they had been, they would surely have remained as Peter did here, as Judas135 did not when the last crisis came. First or last, they went out that they might be made manifest that none are “of us”-of the family. For God’s children the Holy One is the spring of every joy and of all peace, of repulsion for unbelievers, of terror for demons. The babes rebuke the pride of mere unbelieving human intelligence which denies the Father and the Son, yea, that Jesus is the Christ, and perishes away from Him Who alone has life and gives it to every believer. So it is in the Gospel as in the Epistle.
But we see here also the vast moment of walking with Him, of open identification with Him in this way before men as well as God, the danger and ruin of going away. Faith, however weighty, is not all: one has to walk with Him here below. Where else are words of life eternal? Without may be religion, philosophy, present ease, or honour and power. With Him are those who think of the Father’s appreciation of the Son, and act for eternity.
Yet even the apostolate, as the Lord here shows, gives no sure ground to build on-nothing but Himself. So His most honoured servant lets the Corinthians (too enamoured of gifts) know, that he might preach to others, yet, if he kept not his body in subjection, himself must be a reprobate. (1 Cor. 9:27.) The Son of man, in life and death appropriated by faith, alone secures life eternal now and resurrection at the last day.
John 7 - 12.
Part 2 of An Exposition of the Gospel of John
Edited with annotations, by E. E. Whitfield.
(The reference figures, relate to the notes respectively so numbered in the Appendix — john_app.doc.)
83 [Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 454-456.]
ΔII, many cursives, and almost all the ancient versions; with it EFGHMUV
Π, six cursives, and most versions reject
86 D, etc., read
εὐχαρίστησεν καὶ, “gave thanks and.”
87 It will be noticed that the vulgar text interpolates the disciples,
τοῖς μαθηταῖς, οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ, while the true text makes it only a question of the Lord. One may add too that D
Γ, nine cursive MSS., and other authorities have
ἔδωκεν (eight others
δέδωκεν), “gave,” while ABL
ΔΛII, and most others give
διέδοκεν, “distributed” [Edd.].
Ὁ Ἰησοῦς, the reading of most MSS., is not in BD and some other good authorities [as Syrsin].
πάλιν is supported by ABDKL
Λ, many cursives, and some versions. It is omitted by EFGHMSUV
ΓΔ, more than one hundred cursives, besides versions.
90 The article is not in BL
Δ, a few cursives, etc., but is in more than a dozen uncials, and most cursives.
οὔπω is read by BDL, some cursives, and most ancient versions.
92 cABL, some cursives, and excellent versions, support
εἰ μὴ ἓν, but the common text, following at least a dozen uncials, most cursives, etc., has
ἐκεῖο εἰς ὅ ἐνέβησαν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ , “that one whereinto His disciples were entered.”
θg, twenty-five cursives, etc.;
πλοιάριον, “boat,” eleven uncials, most cursives, etc.
δὲ is omitted by BL
θg, etc. It is also a question between
ἄλλα, “other,” or
ἀλλὰ. “ but.”
πλοῖα, “ships,” in a few MSS.
96 The second
τὴν βρῶσιν is omitted by EFGH, etc.
δίδωσιν, “doth give,” is the reading of D, etc. [Blass];
δώσει, “shall give,” of ABEFGHKL, etc [Syrsin, followed by W. and H., Weiss].
98 So the majority of uncials with A [Weiss], etc. But BDL, etc., have
ἔδωκεν, “gave” [Blass, as W. and H. (text)].
99 The witnesses differ, some giving neither.
ἀπὸ ABLT with cursives,
νὑν, “now” [W. and H., Weiss], is the reading of B C T, the Memph. Goth. and Arm. Syr.hiers., etc.;
οὖν ADL and eleven other uncials, all known cursives (Æth. =
οὖν νῦν), Theb., etc. Many versions [as Syrcu sin; so Blass] omit both.
Ἰησοῦς, omitted by most [so Blass], is read by BLT, etc.
οὖν, “therefore,” is read by AD and ten uncials more, most cursives, etc.; but omitted by BCKLT
ΙΙ, ten cursives, and several ancient versions [Blass simply, “He said to them”].
104 The aorist participle has the preponderance of witnesses in age and number.
105 BLT, etc. [so Edd.], omit
εἰς ἐμὲ, though given by ACDE
Δ, etc., cursives, etc. [Syrsin, “on God”].
106 Instead of
τούτου τοῦ, as given by BCLT and twelve other uncials, all cursives, and versions,
τοῦ ἐμοῦ, “my,” is read by , some old Latin copies, etc.
107 So BCDLT, several cursives , ancient versions, and fathers [most Edd., and] so , etc., putting
ἡ σάρξ μου ἐστὶν last [Tisch.]; but twelve inferior uncials [
ΓΔΛΠ, etc.] and a mass of other authorities add
ἣν ἐγὼ δώσω.
108 BT (and the ancient versions apparently) add
109 The Latins read “habebitis,” “ye shall have,” contrary to all authority.
Π, many cursives and versions [W. H. Weiss];
ἀληθῶς and eleven other uncials, most cursives, etc. [Blass].
112 A dozen uncials and most cursives and versions [including Syrsin] add
ὑμῶν, which is not in BCLT, etc.
113 Dean Alford’s notions, that the flesh here is in His resurrection form only, and the world here all the creation form, as said to be held together in Col. 1:17, are groundless in themselves and contrary to the context.
Π, many cursives, and most ancient versions but
λαλῶ in the Text. Rec. with ten uncials and most cursives [with Syrsin].
115 Text. Rec. adds
μοῦ, with more than a dozen uncials, etc.
116 BGT, seven cursives, etc., read
ἐκ, but the weight of authority is against it.
οὖν of the Text. Rec. is not in BCGKLU
ΛΙΙ, many cursives, and the oldest versions.
118 So BCpmDL, etc., against the great majority of inferior authorities which support the received reading,
ὁ χς ὁ υἱός, many also adding
τοῦ ζῶντος. There are varieties in copies and versions which point to the most ancient reading, but mixed up with the later ones in different measures and forms. [Synsin, with several Old Latt., has “Christ, the Son of God.” Syrcu omits Christ, whilst Syr pesch hier add “living” before “God.”]
119 Many omit
Ἰησοῦς [so Syrsin].
120 The Text. Rec. reads
ν, with some good MSS.; but the best have
ὢν, “being,” is not read by BCpmDLSyrr. cu. [sin] et pesch. Aeth. (Edd.]., but is found in the great majority.