The Feeding of the Five Thousand

6:1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias). 6:2 A large crowd was following him because they were observing the miraculous signs he was performing on the sick. 6:3 So Jesus went on up the mountainside and sat down there with his disciples. 6:4 (Now the Jewish feast of the Passover was near.)

‘Since John’s Gospel is selective (John 20:30-31), he does not record events in the life of Jesus that do not help him fulfill his purpose. Between the healing of the paralytic (John 5) and the feeding of the 5,000, you have many events taking place, some of which are mentioned in Luke 6:1-9:10 and Mark 3:1-6:30. During this period our Lord preached “the Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5-7) and gave the parables of the kingdom (Matt. 13).’ (Wiersbe)

This miracle is, uniquely, recorded by all four Evangelists.  See Mt 14:13-21; Mk 6:32-44; Lk 9:10-17.

There were a number of reasons why Jesus sought to withdraw from the crowds: (a) to find rest from the strain of public ministry; (b) to pray; (c) to teach the disciples privately; (d) to avoid a premature clash with the hostile authorities.  Note that in the present case, the news of John the Baptist’s cruel execution had recently broken.

‘The Fourth Gospel agrees with the Synoptics that Jesus performed many miracles during his ministry, but it narrates only seven-far fewer than in the Synoptics. The feeding of the five thousand (Jn 6:1-15), Jesus walking on the sea (Jn 6:16-21) and probably the healing of the nobleman’s son (Jn 4:46-54) have Synoptic parallels, but the other four, including the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44), are unique.’ (DJG)

Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee – The distance from Capernaum was about 4 miles.

The Sea of Tiberias – In about AD 20 Herod Antipas founded a city on the west shore of the lake and called it Tiberias, after the Roman emperor.  Gradually, the lake itself became known by that name; hence John’s explanation.

There is a run of imperfect tenses in this verse. Read, therefore, something like, ‘A great crowd of people kept following him because they had seen the miraculous signs he had been performing on the sick.’

The saw the miraculous signs – John concurs with the Synoptists that Jesus performed many miracles; yet he chose to relate only seven.

‘For certainly the government of the whole world is a greater miracle than the satisfying of five thousand men with five loaves; and yet no man wonders at the former; but the latter men wonder at, not because it is greater, but because it is rare. For who even now feeds the whole world, but he who creates the cornfield from a few grains?’ (Augustine)

John was particularly fond of using “sign” to denote miraculous activity. (see Jn 2:11,18,23 3:2 4:54 6:2,14,26 7:31 9:16 10:41 11:47 12:18,37 20:30 Rev 12:1,3 13:13,14 15:1 16:14 19:20).

A mountainside – This would have been what is now called the Golan Heights.

Passover – This is the second of three Passovers mentioned by John (see also Jn 2:13,23; 11:55ff). At the time of the first, Jesus described himself as the temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt (pointing to his death and resurrection). The third Passover was the time of his death. At about the time of this second Passover, Jesus performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand, which precipitated his teaching about the bread of life.

‘The movement from the miracle to the discourse, from Jesus to Moses, and above all from bread to flesh is almost unintelligible unless the reference to the Passover picks up Jn 1:29,35, anticipates Jn 19:36, and governs the whole narrative.’ (Hoskyns)

‘This is one of the circumstances of explanation thrown in by John which show that he wrote for those who were unacquainted with Jewish customs.’ (Barnes)

‘The nearness of the Passover is probably added to explain Jn 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 this question, “When shall we be delivered from the bondage of Rome?’ (Hendriksen)

‘John notes that the Passover was near because he linked the following discussion about the heavenly bread with this feast (cf. v 51, which becomes more intelligible against a Passover background).’ (NBC)

‘John’s mention of the Passover is evidently meant to awaken associations of the wilderness as well as to locate the event in time. Later in the chapter the references to “living bread,” v51, “the true bread out of heaven,” v32, “the bread of God,” v33, etc. are clearly to bring the same things before us. What the manna in the wilderness foreshadowed is perfectly given to men in Jesus. He is the Messiah who gives men the richest banquets to enjoy.” (Morris)

‘Paul tells us that in the wilderness the Israelites “did all eat the same spiritual food; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and that rock was Christ,” 1 Cor 10:3-4. It is likely that John has a similar thought in mind. Christ always has been the perfect provider of his people’s need. It was he who was their “bread of God” in the wilderness, and it is he who is the bread of God now.’ (Morris)

6:5 Then Jesus, when he looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread so that these people may eat?” 6:6 (Now Jesus said this to test him, for he knew what he was going to do.) 6:7 Philip replied, “Two hundred silver coins worth of bread would not be enough for them, for each one to get a little.”

The Synoptists supply further information: that Jesus and the disciples had retired to a deserted place to be alone; that the crowd had followed them there; that he had spend the day teaching and healing; that is was now evening. Mk 6:33-35 explains that Jesus had taught the crowd at some length – hence his concern about feeding them.

He said to Philip

Undesigned coincidence?  It is Luke who tells us that this event took place near Bethsaida (Lk 9:10).  Now Philip (and Andrew, cf. v7f) came from Bethsaida, Jn 1:44, and so was the obvious person to ask.

More fully: ‘He directed himself to Philip, who had been his disciple from the first, and had seen all his miracles, and particularly that of his turning water into wine, and therefore it might be expected that he should have said, “Lord, if thou wilt, it is easy to thee to feed them all.” Those that, like Israel, have been witnesses of Christ’s works, and have shared in the benefit of them, are inexcusable if they say, Can he furnish a table in the wilderness? Philip was of Bethsaida, in the neighbourhood of which town Christ now was, and therefore he was most likely to help them to provision at the best hand; and probably much of the company was known to him, and he was concerned for them.’ (MHC)

Philip’s reply is not the suggestion of a solution, but the assertion of an impossibility. ‘When Christ is pleased to puzzle his people, it is only with a design to prove them. The question put Philip to a nonplus, yet Christ proposed it, to try whether he would say, “Lord, if thou wilt exert thy power for them, we need not buy bread.”‘ (MHC)

He already had in mind what he was going to do – ‘This comment is capable of the widest application. Our Lord still surveys the needy world with compassion, just as he surveys the micro-world of our personal affairs. He is not without plans. He “already has in mind what he will do” in our time and generation, and just as surely with the tangled threads of our personal present and future.’ (Milne)

‘Philip’s response to Jesus’ request shows a natural but purely human sense of the occasion. He was intensely practical in his calculations (7). Andrew was little better in informing Jesus of the hopelessly inadequate supplies available. He also took a literalistic approach. But none of the disciples was to know what was in the mind of Jesus.’ (NBC)

‘Sadly, our response to the Lord’s testing is too often the same as Philip’s. We measure the need, quantify our inadequate resources, and resign in hopelessness. It is all beyond us; the need cannot be met. Even when, like Andrew, we identify some limited resource, the possibilities are not significantly improved…But this assembling of our resources is a key to the divine provision, for Jesus is not discouraged, as we are, by what we have to offer. Indeed, if we will put it into his hands he will still “give thanks” for it, a wonder in itself. Our instinct is to put ourselves down and demean what we have to give, particularly when measuring it against raw human need. But Christ is thankful for us! And if we will believe sufficiently in his gifting to trust him with our whole selves, he will take us, break us as need be, Mk 6:41, and offer us to the Father as in his hands the miracle is repeated, the resource multiplied, and a multitude fed.’ (Milne)

6:8 One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 6:9 “Here is a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many people?”

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother – Here, as in Jn 1:40,42, Andrew is bringing someone to Jesus.

“Five small barley loaves” – Only John specifies that these were barley loaves, the bread of the poorer classes.  Moreover, this event took place at the time of the Passover, which was near the time of the barley harvest.

“Two small fish” – Probably pickled.

‘The “barley” loaves are reminiscent of 2 Kings 4:42-44, where Elisha multiplies such loaves. Philip’s and Andrew’s skepticism also mirrors that of Elisha’s prophet disciples. (2 Kings 4:43) (Some scholars also point to the presence of Elisha’s assistant in 2 Kings 4:38,41; the LXX there uses the same word for “lad” as Andrew does here.) Fish and bread were basic staples; few people could afford meat.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)

6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” (Now there was a lot of grass in that place.) So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 6:11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed the bread to those who were seated. He then did the same with the fish, as much as they wanted.

“Have the people sit down” – lit. recline – the usual posture for eating.  ‘People’ is not gender-specific, whereas ‘men’ is.  It would appear that, for some reason, the women and children did not sit down, but continued to mill about.  It would thus have been much easier to compute the number of men (5,000), especially as they sat in groups of 50 (Lk 9:14).  Mt 14:21 confirms that

‘”Make the men sit down, though you have nothing to set before them, and trust me for that.” This was like sending providence to market, and going to buy without money: Christ would thus try their obedience.’ (MHC)

A lot of grass – ‘One can readily visualise 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”.’ (Hendriksen)

Undesigned coincidence?  This little comment reflects local knowledge, for the event, having taken place at the time of the Passover (Jn 6:4), occurred towards the end of the rainiest part of the year.

About five thousand – This is gender-specific, the men being numbered partly from convention, and partly to emphasise the potential number of recruits for the king, v15. The total crowd, with women and children, may have numbered 20,000.

I read somewhere the following: ‘Jesus said, “Let’s eat” and got 5,000. He said, “Let’s witness” and got 70. He said, “Let’s go to the cross” and got one.’ (See Mt 14:21 20:22; Mk 6:44; Lk 9:14; Lk 10:1,17; Jn 6:10)

Gave thanks Eucharistein. ‘The verb John uses here is the same as the synoptics use in the narrative of the Lord’s Supper. This is noteworthy in view of the fact that John does not include the Last Supper in his gospel.’ (NBC) However, Carson warns against reading too much eucharistic symbolism in the narrative here, for John does not mention any breaking of the bread, or the distribution of the pieces. Instead, John stresses the lavishness of the meal.

The traditional thanksgiving was, “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.” (Carson, who notes that Jesus gave thanks; he did not ‘bless’ the food.)

As much as they wanted – confirming that this was no token meal.

Although what is recorded here is first and foremost a miracle, it is not without spiritual meaning (cf. John’s characteristic use of the term ‘sign’). Food is such an important, regular, and enjoyable item that Jesus’ generous supply of it shows him to be a supplier of human need in a more general sense.

6:12 When they were all satisfied, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted.” 6:13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves left over by the people who had eaten.

‘John stresses that the people were all satisfied (12), which means it was a full meal and not a merely symbolic act.’ (NBC)

‘Greco-Roman moralists and Jewish teachers abhorred waste; although the extra bread has been provided miraculously, its provision is not to be taken for granted and squandered.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)

‘This command is omitted by the other evangelists. It shows the care of Jesus that there should be no waste. Though he had power to provide any quantity of God, yet he has here taught us that the bounties of Providence are not to be squandered. In all things the Saviour set us an example of frugality, though he had an infinite supply at his disposal; he was himself economical, though he was Lord of all. If he was thus saving, it becomes us dependent creatures not to waste the bounties of a beneficent Providence. And it especially becomes the rich not to squander the bounties of Providence. They often feel that they are rich. They have enough. They have no fear of want, and they do not feel the necessity of studying economy. Yet let them remember that what they have is the gift of God-just as certainly as the loaves and fishes created by the Saviour were his gift. It is not given them to waste, nor to spend in riot, nor to be the means of injuring their health or of shortening life. It is given to sustain life, to excite gratitude, to fit for the active service of God. Everything should be applied to its appropriate end, and nothing should be squandered or lost.’ (Barnes)

They gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves – Thus indicating both the truth and the abundance of the miracle.

‘Though Christ could command supplies whenever he pleased, yet he would have the fragments gathered up.’ (MHC)

‘The leftovers are considerably more than they started with. It was a Roman custom always to have some food left over after a meal to indicate more than adequate provision. Jesus reveals himself as the ultimate host.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)

‘It is doubtful whether the twelve baskets of fragments were intended in a symbolic way to refer to God’s provision for the tribes of Israel. It is more in harmony with the context to see it as a proof of God’s unstinting bounty.’ (NBC)

6:14 Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 6:15 Then Jesus, because he knew they were going to come and seize him by force to make him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone.

The miraculous sign – ‘”Signs” are precisely what the Johannine miracles are, for in very concrete, physical ways they point to the deep and crucial truth about Jesus (and God), namely, that he is the absolutely unique Son of God who descended from heaven to reveal the Father and through whose “lifting up” on the cross, resurrection and return to the Father believers receive the Holy Spirit and thus eternal life. The signs, in other words, point to the present glory of the exclusive mediator of eschatological salvation and also portend the salvation to be enjoyed by the beneficiaries of the completion of his messianic work.’ (cf. Jn 7:37-39) (DJG)

“Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” – The seven ‘signs’ were recorded by John with the express intention of evoking faith in Jesus Christ, Jn 20:30-31.

‘”The Prophet” implies the prophet like Moses of Deut 18:15-18. In Moses’ day, God had miraculously provided bread from heaven, manna. At Passover season (Jn 6:4) hopes for deliverance ran high, because the Jewish people rehearsed how God had delivered them from their oppressors by the hand of Moses.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)

‘The Passover had been instituted during Israel’s wilderness wandering, when God had fed his people supernaturally with manna from heaven. The setting was again a “wilderness” area, where Moses had spoken of the “prophet” who would come. Surely this was he, a “second Moses,” their long-awaited deliverer.’ (Milne)

They intended to come and make him king by force – The Passover was a time of great nationalistic fervour, rather like the fourth of July to Americans.

This verse explains Mk 6:45.

‘The real nature of Jesus’ kingship becomes a major issue in the passion narrative, Jn 18:33ff. The truth of the matter is that Jesus’ kingship was like no other, Jn 18:36. Jesus himself knew that the way his kingdom would triumph would not be by beating the enemy in siege warfare, but by dying and rising from the dead; “he would go to Jerusalem not to wield the spear and bring the judgement, but to receive the spear thrust and bear the judgement” (Clowney). Perhaps he recognised in the mob’s enthusiastic but unwelcome attention the same temptation that he had confronted in the wilderness, Mt 4:8-10; Lk 4:5-8. And so he fled, abandoning the crowd and (according to Mark) sending even his own disciples away, back across the lake, perhaps in fear that they too might become contaminated by the crowd’s irrepressible but misguided enthusiasm.’ (Carson)

‘It is only in this gospel that the plan to make Jesus king is mentioned. This would explain why in Matthew and Mark Jesus urged his disciples to get into the boat. It is likely that the crowd’s main purpose was to secure through Jesus a constant supply of free food, rather than any careful summing up of his Messianic potential.’ (NBC)

‘Jesus saw the effect on the crowds, and perceived that they would try and make a king of him. There were fierce nationalistic longings among the Jews of that period. Doubtless many of the people who saw the miracle felt that here was a divinely accredited leader, who was just the person to lead them against the Romans. So they set themselves to make him king. Like many others since, they wanted to use him to further their own ends. But to Jesus the prospect of an earthly kingdom was nothing less than a temptation of the devil, and he decisively rejected it, Lk 4:5ff’ (Leon Morris).

Taylor (The miracles of our Saviour) says that ‘in seeking to act on this impulse they were adopting a thoroughly false idea of the royalty of the Messiah.  They thought that the deliverer of whom their prophets had spoken was to be a temporal potentate, and that, gathering earthly followers around him, he would break the oke of the Roman oppression, set up his throne in Jerusalem, and distribute among his adherents the rewards of place and preferment.  But of a kingdom founded upon truth and love, or of a royalty over the hearts, consciences, and lives of men, they had not even the faintest conception.  In seeking, therefore, to make Christ a king after their patten, so far from conferring honour upon him, they were doing their best to wreck the cause of which he was the head.  They were repeating, only in their own way…the temptation which Satan had set before him on the moutain, when he offered his the crown without the cross; therefore, for his own sake, as well as for theirs, “he sent the multitudes away.”‘

Jesus…withdrew again to a mountain by himself – Jesus often prayed at times of special significance.

Walking on Water

6:16 Now when evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 6:17 got into a boat, and started to cross the lake to Capernaum. (It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.) 6:18 By now a strong wind was blowing and the sea was getting rough. 6:19 Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they caught sight of Jesus walking on the lake, approaching the boat, and they were frightened. 6:20 But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” 6:21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat came to the land where they had been heading.

An account of this is also found in Mt 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-52.

They saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water, and they were terrified

Walking on the waterepi tēs thalassēs.  The expression could mean either ‘by the sea’ or ‘on the sea’.  But Matthew and Mark definitely report this as happening ‘in the middle’ of the lake, and the whole thing is presented as a miracle (it is difficult to account for the disciples’ amazement if Jesus was only walking on the seashore).

Rather characteristically, William Barclay eliminates the miraculous element from this story, and turns it into a ‘lesson’ for us all:-

‘Let us reconstruct the story. After the feeding of the five thousand and the attempt to make him king, Jesus slipped away to the hills alone. The day wore on. It came to the time which the Jews described as “the second evening,” the time between the twilight and the dark. Jesus had still not arrived. We must not think that the disciples were forgetful or discourteous in leaving Jesus behind, for, as Mark tells the story, Jesus sent them on ahead, (Mk 6:45) while he persuaded the crowds to go home. Doubtless it was his intention to walk round the head of the lake while they rowed across and to rejoin them in Capernaum.

The disciples set sail. The wind got up, as it can in the narrow, land-locked lake; and the waters were whipped to foam. It was Passover time, and that was the time of the full moon. (Jn 6:4) Up on the hillside Jesus had prayed and communed with God; as he set out the silver moon made the scene almost like daylight; and down on the lake below he could see the boat and the rowers toiling at the oars, making heavy weather of it. So he came down.

We must remember two facts. At the north end the lake was no more than four miles across; and John tells us that the disciples had rowed between three and four miles; that is to say, they were very nearly at their journey’s end. It is natural to suppose that in the wind they hugged the shore of the lake, seeking what shelter they might find. That is the first fact and now we come to the second. They saw Jesus, as the King James Version and Revised Standard Version have it, walking on the sea. The Greek is epi tes thalasses which is precisely the phrase used in Jn 21:1, where it means-it has never been questioned-that Jesus was walking on the seashore. That is what the phrase means in our passage, too.

Jesus was walking epi tes thalasses, by the seashore. The toiling disciples looked up, and suddenly saw him. It was all so unexpected, they had been bent so long over their oars, that they were alarmed because they thought it was a spirit they were seeing. Then across the waters came that well-loved voice-“It is I; don’t be afraid.” They wanted him to come on board; the Greek most naturally means that their wish was not fulfilled. Why? Remember the breadth of the lake was four miles and they hid rowed about that distance. The simple reason was that, before they could take Jesus on board, the boat grounded on the shingle, and they were there.’

But ‘the suggestion that the disciples actually saw Jesus walking on the shore and thought he was on the water must be rejected, because it would give no reason for them to be terrified.’ (NBC)

Heiser (I Dare You Not To Bore Me With The Bible) points out that in the OT the sea is a frequent symbol of cosmic chaos and disorder.  The sea was uncontrollable, powerful, unpredictable, and dangerous.  The sea was sometimes personified in the form of its monster, Leviathan.  ‘People accustomed to land would naturally view the vast, raging ocean as uncontrollable and potentially deadly, filled with terrifying unknown creatures.’  The God of Israel conquers the chaos and brings order to the cosmos (Job 26:12f; Psa 89:5-14).  It was remembered that God had split the sea in order to bring his people out of Egypt (Psa 74:12-17).  God’s final victory will include the slaying of Leviathan (Isa 27:1), and the raging sea will be ‘no more’ (Rev 20:3).  In Dan 7 four beasts emerge from the sea, are sentenced to death by God, and then the son of Man arrives to receive his kingdom.  Jesus identifies himself as the son of Man, who had God-given authority to execute judgement (Jn 5:27; Mt 26:57f).  Moreover, he links himself closely (and, in John’s Gospel, repeatedly) with God himself (think of the ‘I am’ statements, along with Jn 10:30, 37f).  Heiser concludes:-

For John, a Jew familiar with the Old Testament, the image of Jesus walking on the sea was a dramatic portrayal that Jesus is Yahweh—the one who subdues the forces of chaos and imposes His will on the waters and everything the waters represent. The kingdom of the Son of Man had begun, and all forces opposing God’s ordained order would now be defeated. Like Jesus’ disciples, we can find comfort in knowing that the one who treads upon the volatile sea can subdue whatever chaos threatens to overwhelm us.
6:22 The next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the lake realized that only one small boat had been there, and that Jesus had not boarded it with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 6:23 But some boats from Tiberias came to shore near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 6:24 So when the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

Jesus’ Discourse About the Bread of Life

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 6:26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. 6:27 Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.”

‘He recognises the real motives of these fellow-travellers and speaks sharply.  Had they come even on the basis of the “signs” they had seen it would have betokened some faith, however small.  Faith which rests on the miracles is not the highest kind of faith, but it is better than no faith at all.  But these people were crass materialists.  They had not reflected on the spiritual significance of the sign they had seen…They were moved not by full hearts, but by full bellies.’  (Morris)

‘Few follow him for love, but for loaves; few follow him for his inward excellencies, but many follow him for their outward advantages; few follow him that they may be made good by him, but many follow him that they may be made great by him.’  (Thomas Brooks)

The basic error of these people was that they were materialists. (Milne)  They were interested in food that would fill their bellies, and which they didn’t have to work to obtain.

“Do not work…” – ‘This does not mean that we are to make no effort for the supply of our wants (comp. 1 Tim 5:1 2 Th 3:10), but that we are not to manifest anxiety, we are not to make this the main or supreme object of our desire.’ (Barnes)  See Isa 55:2.

‘”Men,” as Chrysostom said, “are nailed to the things of this life.” Here were people whose eyes never lifted beyond the ramparts of the world to the eternities beyond. Once Napoleon and an acquaintance were talking of life. It was dark; they walked to the window and looked out. There in the sky were distant stars, little more than pin-points of light. Napoleon, who had sharp eyes while his friend was dim-sighted, pointed to the sky: “Do you see these stars?” he asked. “No,” his friend answered. “I can’t see them.” “That,” said Napoleon, “is the difference between you and me.” The man who is earthbound is living half a life. It is the man with vision, who looks at the horizon and sees the stars, who is truly alive.’ (DSB)

‘In the years just after A.D. 60 the luxury of Roman society was unparalleled. It was at this time that they served feasts of peacocks’ brains and nightingales’ tongues; that they cultivated the odd habit of taking emetics between courses so that the next might taste better; that meals costing thousands of pounds were commonplace. It was at this time that Pliny tells of a Roman lady who was married in a robe so richly jewelled and gilded that it cost the equivalent of 432,000 British pounds. There was a reason for all this, and the reason was a deep dissatisfaction with life, a hunger that nothing could satisfy. They would try anything for a new thrill, because they were both appallingly rich and appallingly hungry.’ (DSB)

It is possible to be rich and yet poor, fully clothed, and yet naked, full and yet hungry, educated and yet ignorant.

Food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you – Here, says Ryle, ‘one of the widest and most general offers to unconverted sinners that we have anywhere in the Bible. The men to whom He was speaking were, beyond question, carnal-minded and unconverted men. Yet even to them Jesus says, “The Son of man shall give unto you.” To me it seems an unmistakeable statement of Christ’s willingness and readiness to give pardon and grace to any sinner. It seems to me to warrant ministers in proclaiming Christ’s readiness to save any one, and in offering salvation to any one, if he will only repent and believe the Gospel.’

His seal of approval – lit., ‘For him God the Father has sealed.’  The affixing of a seal was the mark of ownership; in an age of widespread illiteracy the seal took the place of a written label.  But the seal is also a mark of authority, of the approval of a document’s contents by the owner of the seal.  That is the meaning here (so NIV).  Specifically, Jesus received his Father’s approval at his baptism, in his miracles.  More generally, Jesus always lived within the divine favour.  See Eph 1:13.

‘My soul, hast thou ever remarked the peculiar glory of those scriptures, which comprise within a small compass all the persons of the Godhead, as concurring and co-operating in the grand business of salvation? No doubt, all scripture is blessed, being given by inspiration of God; but there is a peculiar blessedness in these sweet portions, which at one view, represent the Holy Three in One, unitedly engaged in the sinner’s redemption. My soul, ponder over this divine passage, in thy Saviour’s discourse, as thus: who is the Him here spoken of, but the Lord Jesus? And whom but God the Father could seal Christ? And with whom was Christ sealed and anointed, but by God the Holy Ghost? Would any one have thought, at first view, that in seven words, such a blessed testimony should be given to the glorious foundation-truth of the whole bible? “For him hath God the Father sealed. “Precious Jesus! enable me to behold thy divine authority as the warrant of faith in this gracious act of thy Father. And while! view thee as infinitely suited for my poor soul, in every state and under every circumstance, let my soul find confidence in the conviction that the validity of all thy gracious acts of salvation is founded in the seal of the Spirit. Yes, thou dear Lord, it was indeed the Spirit of Jehovah that was upon thee, when thou wast anointed to “preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken in heart, to give deliverance to the captive, and the restoring of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. “And art thou, dearest Lord, thus held forth, and thus recommended by the grand seal of heaven, to every poor sinner who feels a conscious want of salvation? Oh then help, Lord, by thy blessed Spirit, all and every one of this description, so to receive a sealed Saviour, as to rest in nothing short of being sealed by him; and while every act of love, and every tendency of grace proclaims thee, blessed Jesus, as “Him whom God the Father hath sealed,” so let every act of faith, and every tendency of the soul, in the goings forth after thee, be expressive of the same earnest longings as the church, of being sealed and owned by thee, when she cried out,” Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.”‘ (Robert Hawker)

6:28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 6:29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” 6:30 So they said to him, “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
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“What must we do…” – they have not grasped the point about life being a gift.  They have mistakenly picked up on Jesus’ statement that they must ‘not work for food that spoils’, and assumed that there was some other kind of work that God required.  They may have taken heavenly food to symbolise the Law (so some Rabbinic passages), and so were enquiring about which law(s) in particular they should be observing.

‘This was the earnest inquiry of men who were seeking to be saved. They had crossed the Sea of Tiberias to seek him; they supposed him to be the Messiah, and they sincerely desired to be taught the way of life; yet it is observable that they expected to find that way as other sinners commonly do-by their works. The idea of doing something. to merit salvation is one of the last that the sinner ever surrenders.’ (Barnes)

“The work of God is this…” – Jesus replaces their ‘works of God’ with the singular, ‘work of God’.  This means the work which God requires of men; the work he approves.  One thing is needful – faith in the one God has sent.

‘The desire to satisfy God’s requirements ought to be our highest goal. Many sincere seekers for God are puzzled about what he wants them to do. The religions of the world are mankind’s attempts to answer this question. But Jesus’ reply is brief and simple: we must believe on him whom God has sent. Satisfying God does not come from the work we do, but from whom we believe. The first step is accepting that Jesus is who he claims to be. All spiritual development is built on this affirmation. Declare in prayer to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (see Matthew 16:16), and embark on a life of belief that is satisfying to your Creator.’ (Life Application)

The world today (and even the church today) has plenty of pragmatists and materialists.  ‘They are down-to-earth folks who “don’t go in for this Bible study and prayer stuff,” or who don’t believe in “taking religion too far”.  They are “practical Christians” who “live in the real world,” and whose motto text is “God helps those who help themselves”.  The present verse is Jesus’ answer to all such people.

“The work…is to believe…” – But in what sense belief a ‘work’?  Hendriksen suggests an illustration: the roots of a tall oak tree peform an incredible amount of work in drawing water from the soil to nourish the tree.  Nevertheless the roots do not themselves produce the water but receive it as a gift.  ‘Similarly, the work of faith is the work of receiving the gift of God.’

“The one he has sent” – Another reference to Jesus as ‘the sent One’; cf. Jn 3:34.

This passage (30-59) is said to be in the form of a midrash, or homily, Exodus 16:15 and Psalm 78:24.  The latter passage is quoted in John 6:31. ‘Jesus paraphrases, explains and expounds in a manner characteristic of ancient Jewish teachers, yet his hearers fail to understand him. Ancient teachers sometimes made their lectures hard to understand to sort out genuine followers from the masses.’ (NT Background Commentary).

“What miraculous sign…?” – Cf. 1 Cor 1:22.  And yet they have just seen signs, v26, but are not satisfied.  They must prescribe what sign they must have before they will believe.  They demand that Jesus demonstrate his credentials.  They want Jesus to act as the new Moses – working on an earthly, political level.

What do we want: Christ himself, or just what he can do for us?

‘Like other ancient writers, John was free to paraphrase his material in his own words; here the crowd cites Scripture as if they are rabbis in a debate (Ex 16:4, 15; cf. Ps. 78:24.’ (NT Background Commentary)

“Our fathers ate the manna…” – The Jews expected that, when the Messiah came, he would renew the miracle of the manna.  Jesus has just has just performed such a miracle, but now they want a permanent supply of bread.

‘The rabbis taught that, when Messiah came, He would duplicate the miracle of the manna (see Ex. 16). If Jesus was truly sent by God (see John 6:29, 38, 57), then let Him prove it by causing manna to fall from heaven. They wanted to “see and believe.” But faith that is based on signs alone, and not on the truth of the Word, can lead a person astray; for even Satan is able to perform “lying wonders” (2 Thes. 2:8-10).’ (Wiersbe)

Manna was the small round grains or flakes, which appeared around the Israelites’ camp each morning.  They were were ground and baked into cakes or boiled (Ex. 16:13-36). Their name is thought to have come from the question the Israelites asked when they first saw them: “What is it (mah nah)?”

Apparently, the Jews expected that the Messiah would provide his followers with abundant food; and as Moses had provided for the Jews in the wilderness, so they supposed that Christ would make provision for the temporal wants of his people. This was the sign, probably, which they now desired to see.

“‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat'” – They seem to be reasoning as follows: ‘If you are greater than Moses, then give us a sign that is greater than the one which Moses performed when he gave them bread from heaven.  Yesterday, you multiplied the loaves: but you had some loaves to begin with; Moses gave us bread from nothing, out of heaven.’

6:32 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. 6:33 For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 6:34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”

Jesus corrects them: ‘the true bread from heaven’ is not that which Moses gave (although it was not given by Moses but by God); on the contrary, it is that which God even now continues to give.  ‘My Father’ suggests the unique relationship of Jesus to God.

The ‘true bread’ is ‘the true or real support which is needed to keep the soul from death. It is not false, deceitful, or perishing. Christ is called bread, because, as bread supports life, so his doctrine supports, preserves, and saves the soul from death. He is the true support, not only in opposition to the mere supply of temporal wants such as Moses furnished, but also in opposition to all false religion which deceives and destroys the soul.’ (Barnes)

‘Then Jesus clearly identified what the bread is: He is the true Living Bread that came down from heaven. But He came, not only for Israel but for the whole world. And He came, not just to sustain life, but to give life! Seven times in this sermon, our Lord referred to His “coming down from heaven” (John 6:33, 38, 41-42, 50-51, 58), a statement that declared Him to be God. The Old Testament manna was but a type of the “true bread,” the Lord Jesus Christ. This dialogue began with the crowd seeking Christ and then seeking a sign, but listeners soon began to seek the “true bread” that Jesus talked about. However, like the woman of Samaria, they were not ready for salvation (see John 4:15). She wanted the living water so she would not have to keep going to the well. The crowd wanted the bread so they would not have to toil to maintain life. People today still want Jesus Christ only for the benefits He is able to give. In His reply to their impetuous request, Jesus used two key words that often appear in this sermon: come and believe. To come to Jesus means to believe on Him, and to believe on Him means to come to Him. Believing is not merely an intellectual thing, giving mental assent to some doctrine. It means to come to Christ and yield yourself to Him. At the close of His sermon, Jesus illustrated coming and believing by speaking about eating and drinking. To come to Christ and believe on Him means to receive Him within, just as you receive food and drink.’ (Wiersbe)

It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven – Ryle argues that ‘must not be supposed to imply actual reception on the part of the Jews. It rather means “giving” in the sense of “offering” for acceptance a thing which those to whom it is offered may not receive.’

Ryle continues: ‘It is a very remarkable saying, and one of those which seems to me to prove unanswerably that Christ is God’s gift to the whole world,—that His redemption was made for all mankind,—that He died for all,—and is offered to all…It is a gift no doubt which is utterly thrown away, like many other gifts of God to man, and is profitable to none but those that believe. But that God nevertheless does in a certain sense actually “give” His Son, as the true bread from heaven, even to the wicked and unbelieving, appears to me incontrovertibly proved by the words before us.’

Further: ‘The truth is, I venture to think, that the text cannot be answered by the advocates of an extreme view of particular redemption. Fairly interpreted, the words mean that in some sense or another the Father does actually “give” the Son to those who are not believers. They warrant preachers and teachers in making a wide, broad, full, free, unlimited offer of Christ to all mankind without exception.’

As Ryle notes: ‘Even Hutcheson, the Scotch divine, though a strong advocate of particular redemption, remarks,—“Even such as are, at present, but carnal and unsound, are not secluded from the offer of Christ; but upon right terms may expect that He will be gifted to them.’

The bread is identified as ‘he who’ (or ‘that which’) not merely is sent, but ‘comes down from heaven’.  It has life, and it gives life ‘to the world’.

The contrast is as follows:-

Moses did not himself provide the bread – The Father in heaven is the true Giver
The manna was not the true bread – The Father is giving ‘the true bread’
What was provided was physical nourishment – What is provided is eternal life.

Like the woman who wanted the living water, 4:15, these people want the bread of God.  She wanted relief from having to draw at the well; they had been fed by the loaves, and wanted permanent relief from hunger (“from now on…”).  But they were hearing Jesus at their own level, rather than his.  But their request is ironical: they do not believe he can provide this bread.

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. 6:36 But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe.

“I am the bread of life” – the first of seven ‘I am’ statements in this Gospel. Verses 36-51 will provide a commentary on it. It probably has overtones of divinity. Jesus doesn’t bring bread which they can pick up and eat; he is the bread. Note, our old life is one of beggarly famine and dissatisfaction. Jesus bids us leave this old life, and says, “Come to me.” This verse is not just an abstract statement; it is an earnest appeal.

‘The saying enshrines the essence of Jesus’ message – he is the answer to the needs of the human heart. The bread of life implies the fundamental, elemental role Jesus claims to fulfil in relation to the yearning of the human spirit. For Jesus’ audience bread was “the staff of life,” the primary source of nourishment, as it continues to be for millions in Third World countries. But since bread is a basic food universally, there is also the implicit claim that he fulfils this role for everyone. Caviar, like cake and confectionery, is for the few, but bread is for all. He is “the Saviour of the world” (Jn 4:42).’ (Milne)

‘The bread of life also points to the satisfying nature of Jesus. This is drawn out in the corollary, never go hungry and never be thirsty. All other breads, like the manna in the wilderness, leave a sense of dissatisfaction. As Jesus had said to the woman in Jn 4:14, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst,” so now he says to the Galileans, he who believes in me will never be thirsty. Jesus alone can satisfy the heart. In a society which has experimented to the point of satiation with every form of material, physical and spiritual palliative to fill the inner emptiness of its heart, Jesus’ invitation comes with wonderful relevance – he who comes to me will never go hungry…will never be thirsty.’ (Milne)

‘Christ’s presence satisfies our deepest desires. People eat bread to satisfy physical hunger and to sustain physical life. We can satisfy spiritual hunger and sustain spiritual life only by a right relationship with Jesus Christ. No wonder he called himself the bread of life. But bread must be eaten to sustain life, and Christ must be invited into our daily walk to sustain spiritual life.’ (HBA)

The bread which gives life is available only to those who believe in Christ. Jesus’ hearers had not met this condition.

6:37 Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away.

Since Jesus’ hearers had not met the condition of faith (v36), does this mean that his mission was a failure? This verse gives the answer: the final outcome is in the sovereign Father’s hands.

“All that the Father gives me will come to me” – This verse strongly emphasises the sovereignty of God. Becoming a Christian is not merely a matter of personal choice, but of being ‘given’ by the Father to the Son.

‘We learn from these words the great and deep truth of God’s election and appointment to eternal life of a people out of this world. The Father from all eternity has given to the Son a people to be His own peculiar people. The saints are given to Christ by the Father as a flock, which Christ undertakes to save completely, and to present complete at the last day. (See John 17:2, 6, 9, 11, 12; and 18:9.) However wicked men may abuse this doctrine, it is full of comfort to a humble believer. He did not begin the work of his salvation. He was given to Christ by the Father, by an everlasting covenant.’ (Ryle)

‘We learn from these words the irresistible power of God’s electing grace. All who are given to Christ shall come to Him. No obstacle, no difficulty, no power of the world, the flesh, and the devil, can prevent them. Sooner or later they will break through all, and surmount all. If “given,” they will “come.” To ministers the words are full of comfort.’ (Ryle)

“Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” – This is in the form of a figure of speech known as a ‘litotes’. Accordingly, ‘will never drive away’ = ‘will certainly keep’. This retains the emphasis of the first part of the verse on the sovereignty of God.

‘Will never drive away’ is emphatic = ‘I will never, no never, reject’ (Amplified). ‘He who forgave the sinner that perfumed his feet; he who called Saul the persecutor to be an Apostle of the faith; he who from the cross bore the companion of his last agonies to Paradise; – he hath said, “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.”‘ (Horsley) Search both the pages of Scripture and the annals of history, and the conclusion will still be – Christ has never turned away a single person who came to him.

‘These words declare Christ’s willingness to save every one that comes to Him. There is an infinite readiness in Christ to receive, pardon, justify, and glorify sinners.’ (Ryle)

‘To “cast out of the synagogue,”—to “cut off from the congregation of Israel,”—to “shut out of the camp,” as the leper was shut out (Lev. 13:46), were ideas with which all Jews were familiar. Our Lord seems to say, “I will do the very opposite of all this.”’ (Ryle)

‘We learn from these words that the one point we should look to is, “whether we do really come to Christ.” Our past lives may have been very bad. Our present faith may be very weak. Our repentance and prayers may be very imperfect and poor. Our knowledge of religion may be very scanty. But do we come to Christ? That is the question. If so, the promise belongs to us. Christ will not cast us out. We may remind Him boldly of His own word.’ (Ryle)

‘We learn from these words, that Christ’s offers to sinners are wide, broad, free, unlimited, and unconditional. We must take care that we do not spoil and hamper them by narrow statements. God’s election must never be thrust nakedly at unconverted sinners, in preaching the Gospel. It is a point with which at present they have nothing to do. No doubt it is true that none will come to Christ but those who are given to Him by the Father. But who those are that are so given we cannot tell, and must not attempt to define. All we have to do is to invite every one, without exception, to come to Christ, and to tell men that every one who does come to Christ shall be received and saved. To this point we must carefully stick.’ (Ryle)

6:38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 6:39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. 6:40 For this is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Although Jesus may not have the crowd’s approval, his will is entirely one with the Father’s.

‘The salvation he brings is no ephemeral thing.  It is ultimate and final.  This thought is of the greatest comfort to believers.  Their assurance is based not on their feeble hold on Christ, but on his sure grip of them.’  (Morris)

‘It is a cheering and pleasant thought, that free and full salvation, and the final perseverance of believers, should be so expressly declared to be “the will of the Father.”’ (Ryle)

‘We have in these words the doctrine of the final perseverance of true believers. It seems hard to imagine stronger words than these to express the doctrine. It is the Father’s will that no one whom He has given to Christ should be lost. His will must surely take effect. True believers may err and fall in many things, but they shall never finally be cast away. The will of God the Father, and the power of Christ the Son, are both engaged on their side.’ (Ryle)

‘We have in these words abundant comfort for all fearful and faint-hearted believers. Let such remember that if they “come” to Christ by faith, they have been “given” to Christ by the Father; and if given by the Father to Christ, it is the Father’s will that they should never be cast away. Let them lean back on this thought, when cast down and disquieted;—“It is the Father’s will that I should not be lost.”’ (Ryle)

Calvin: ‘The way to obtain salvation is to obey the Gospel of Christ. If it is the will of God that those whom He have elected shall be saved, and if in this manner He ratifies and executes His eternal decrees, whoever he be that is not satisfied with Christ, but indulges in curious inquiries about eternal predestination, such a person desires to be saved contrary to the purposes of God. They are madmen who seek their own salvation, or that of others, in the whirlpool of predestination, not keeping the way of salvation which is exhibited to them…To every man, therefore, his faith is a sufficient attestation of the eternal predestination of God.’

6:41 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began complaining about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” 6:42 and they said, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

The Jews who were hostile to Jesus – lit. ‘the Jews’.  In the Fourth Gospel, ‘the Jews’ often has a restricted meaning.  In Jn 5:15-18, for example, it refers to the Jewish leaders.  ‘But here it becomes a designation for the crowd as it begins to grumble to itself about Jesus’ (Michaels).

Kruse observes that ‘this is the first place in chapter 6 where those who listen and partake in a dialogue with Jesus are called ‘the Jews’. Up until this point they have been described as ‘the crowd’ (2, 22, 24) or ‘the people’ (10, 14), or simply referred to as ‘they’ or ‘them’. Only here and in Jn 6:52 are they spoken of as ‘the Jews’.’

‘This expression ‘shows what was the impression that the Jews commonly had about our Lord’s birth. They believed him to be the naturally begotten son of Joseph the husband of Mary. The annunciation by the angel Gabriel, the miraculous conception, the miraculous birth of our Lord, are matters of which the Jews apparently had not any knowledge. Throughout the whole of our Lord’s ministry we never find them mentioned. For some wise reason a total silence was observed about them until after our Lord’s death, resurrection, and ascension. It was not probably till after the death of the Virgin Mary and all her family, that this great and deep subject was allowed to be much brought forward in the Church.’ (J.C. Ryle)

6:43 Jesus replied, “Do not complain about me to one another. 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.

‘The nature of man since the fall is so corrupt and depraved, that even when Christ is made known and preached to him, he will not come to him and believe in him, without the special grace of God inclining his will and giving him a disposition to come.’ (J.C. Ryle)

‘When our Lord says, “Except the Father draw him,” we must not suppose that the “drawing” means such a violent drawing, as the drawing of a prisoner to a jail, or of an ox to the slaughterhouse, a “drawing” in short against a man’s will. It is a drawing which a Father effects through the man’s own will, by creating a new principle within him. By the unseen agency of the Holy Ghost, He works on the man’s heart, without the man himself knowing it at the time, inclines him to think, induces him to feel, shows him his sinfulness, and so leads him at length to Christ Every one that comes to Christ is so drawn.’ (Ryle)

6:45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. 6:46 (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God—he has seen the Father.) 6:47 I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life.
‘According to a certain theology a man may have life in Christ one day and lose it the next.  How, then, is it everlasting life?  That which comes to an end could not have been everlasting.  But we teach with the authority of Christ that the man who believes in Christ has at this moment within him a life that can never expire.  The many may die after the flesh, but he can never die after the spirit.’

(Spurgeon)

6:48 I am the bread of life. 6:49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 6:50 This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. 6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven” – ‘Manna was a dead thing; if kept but one night, it putrefied and bred worms; but Christ is ever living, everlasting bread, that never moulds, nor waxes old. The doctrine of Christ crucified is now as strengthening and comforting to a believer as ever it was, and his mediation still of as much value and efficacy as ever.’ (MHC)

“…which I will give for the life of the world” – ‘When our Lord says, “I will give my flesh for the life of the world,” I can only see one meaning in the word “world.” It means all mankind…That all the world is not saved is perfectly certain. That many die in unbelief and get no benefit from Christ’s death is certain. But that Christ’s death was enough for all mankind, and that when He died He made sufficient atonement for all the world, are truths which, both in this text and others like it, appear to my mind incontrovertible.’ (Ryle)

6:52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
6:53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 6:54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 6:55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 6:56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. 6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. 6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.”

‘The latent idea…is that first passover in the land of Egypt, which was kept on the night when the first-born were slain.  The flesh and blood of the lamb slain that night were the means of life, safety and deliverance to the Israelites.  In like manner…our Lord meant the Jews to understand that his flesh and blood were to be the means of life and deliverance from the wrath to come to sinners.  To a Jewish ear therefore there would be nothing so entirely new and strange in the sentence as at first sigh may appear to us.  The thing that would startle them no doubt would be our Lord’s assertion that eating HIS flesh and drinking HIS blood could be the means of life to their souls.’ (J.C. Ryle)

The statement of Zwingli with respect to this verse is pertinent to the issue of the extent of the atonement: ‘Except ye firmly and heartily believe that Christ was slain for you, to redeem you, and that His blood was shed for you, to wash you thus redeemed (for that is the way we are in the habit of showing bounty and kindness to captives— first freeing them by paying a ransom, then when freed washing away the filth with which they are covered), “ye have no life in you.” Since, therefore, Christ alone was sacrificed for the human race, He is the only One through whom we can come to the Father.  (Quoted by Allen, David L.. The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review (Kindle Locations 1630-1633). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

Many Followers Depart

6:59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 6:60 Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?”
6:61 When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? 6:62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? 6:63 The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 6:64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 6:65 So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.”

The ascension would complete the U-shaped life of the incarnate Christ. He who would ascend would be he who had come down. See Eph 4:10.

Peter’s Confession

6:66 After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer. 6:67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 6:69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!”
'Many turned back' (Jn 6:66)
1. WHO THEY WERE

(a)  Disciples. (b)  They had seen Jesus works (vv1-14) and heard his teaching (vv25-65).

2.  WHY THEY TURNED BACK

1.  WHO THEY WERE

(a)  They had misunderstood his mission, Jn 6:14; 18:36. (b)  They had not counted the cost, Lk 14:28. (c)  They followed the crowd, Mt 7:13.

Nb. They had squandered a golden opportunity; would they ever have the same chance again?  Cf Lk 13:24.

‘To forsake Christ for the world, is to leave a treasure for a trifle. . . . eternity for a moment, reality for a shadow.’  (William Jenkyn)

“To whom shall we go?” – To other religions?  To pleasure? Cf 2 Tim 3:4.  To despair? Cf Eccl 1:2.

6:70 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?” 6:71 (Now he said this about Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.)

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