We are continuing our verse-by-verse study of the Fourth Gospel, and we are currently working our way through chapter 6. This chapter records the high point of Yeshua's popularity. This is the only chapter in John that treats the Galilean phase of Yeshua's ministry which occupies so much of the Synoptics. From the end of this chapter on, Yeshua's popularity begins to wane, and He enters into the opposition phase. So this chapter takes us from the height of popularity to persecution.
After these things Yeshua went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). John 6:1 NASB
"After these things"—is a vague expression that establishes sequence, but not tight chronology. It's a generic statement that we're now leaving the subject of chapter 5 and moving to a completely different scenario.
In this chapter Yeshua feeds over 20,000 people. What we don't see here that the other Gospels fill us in on is what happened immediately proceeding this feeding of the multitude, which was the slaughter of John the Baptist by Herod. And the other Gospel writers say that as a result of that event, the Lord Yeshua went out to be alone.
So the Twelve had just returned from a preaching and teaching mission, and Yeshua wants to pull them back and regroup and find out what happened. He's exhausted. They're exhausted. They need time together. So they go to the eastside, which was much more rural, they went for some R&R.
Yeshua and the disciples get to the shore, and they are hoping for a little R & R. But when they arrive, there are thousands of people waiting on the shore to meet them. Word is spreading about Yeshua' miracles.
So Yeshua fed most likely over 20,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish. This caused the people to say, "This is that great prophet that should come into the world," the view of the crowd here was that a miracle so great had been performed that they were convinced that this must be the prophet that Moses had prophesied would come. Messianic expectations are running high, and this miracle of our Lord only serves to fan the flames of enthusiasm. Moses had provided military leadership for the Israelites and had liberated them from the oppression of the Egyptians. These Jews concluded that Yeshua could do the same for them, and so they now sought to secure His political leadership by force.
So Yeshua immediately sends the disciples away, and He goes up into the mountain to pray. Later that night, He sees the disciples in the midst of a great storm and He sets out to meet them, walking on the sea. What is the purpose of the walking on the water and teleporting miracle? The rest of the chapter is a discourse on the Bread of Life that results from the feeding miracle. So why the water miracle? This is a private miracle for His disciples, because after all that has happened they still don't get it:
for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. Mark 6:52 NASB
In spite of all that Yeshua had done earlier that day, heal the sick and feed 20,000 people, literally creating food, it didn't do it for the disciples, they still didn't get it. Yeshua told them that He was equal to Yahweh in every way in the last chapter, but they still didn't get it. So He gives them another miracle that proves He is much more than a political Messiah, He is the great "I am"—Yahweh.
Think about what they saw that night. They see Yeshua walking on the water in the midst of a storm; He gets into the boat and every thing is calm, and suddenly they are no longer in the middle of the lake, but are at their destination. That is amazing. This is not your normal everyday stuff.
Matthew records their response to these events:When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, "You are certainly God's Son!" Matthew 14:32-33 NASB
What's unusual in this verse? Who was in this boat? Jewish men. And these Jewish men are "worshiping Him." For a Jew to worship anyone but Yahweh was a capital offence. If the disciples are worshiping Yeshua, I think they understand that He is much more than a political messiah that the crowd thought He was. I think that they get that He is Yahweh.
Following this event, Lazarus will return to the theme of bread and describe Yeshua as the Bread of Life, and provide a major discourse revealing the true significance of the multiplication of the loaves.
In the morning, the crowd He'd fed had crossed over to Capernaum looking for Him. When the crowd found Him, Yeshua pointed out that their motivation in seeking Him was the satisfaction of their physical hunger, and He exhorted them to seek for that which eternally satisfies by believing in Him. Then they asked Him "for a sign" to prove that He was God's authorized representative as He claimed to be, pointing out that Moses had given their forefathers manna in the wilderness for forty years. If Yeshua would call them to trust in Him, He would have to win that right by out-performing Moses. The Jewish expectation of that time believed the Messiah would renew the gift of manna. Yeshua responded by saying, "It was the Father, not Moses, who gives the true bread from heaven, which gives life to the world."
As we study this chapter we have to keep in mind Yeshua's audience. He is talking with unbelieving Jews who are skeptics. They ate the miraculous bread and then wanted to make Yeshua their king. But He didn't come to reign physically over the Jews, but spiritually over all men. They later sought Yeshua in Capernaum, but for the wrong reason. They wanted Him to be the new Moses, who could provide them with a lifetime supply of physical bread. So Yeshua tells them for a second time that He is the "Bread of life":"I am the bread of life. John 6:48 NASB
The whole discussion of the manna in verses 22-34 appears to have been designed to lead up to this statement. Yeshua claims to be the "Bread of Life," three times in this discourse (vv. 35, 48, 51). The word picture of the bread reveals that He alone offers the spiritual truth that provides life. Yeshua fed the twenty thousand with five loaves and had twelve baskets of leftovers, showing that He was the bread of life.
The fundamental thought that would have been associated with bread by Yeshua's audience was that which nourished and sustained life. Just as physical life depends on food (symbolized by bread) so spiritual life depends on Yeshua."Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. John 6:49 NASB
Throughout this discourse Yeshua was drawing a contrast between the manna which fed the Israelites in the desert and the true bread of which it was the type. The manna came down from heaven. They went out and gathered it. It lasted for one day except when it fell on Friday morning. Then it will last two days, through the Sabbath.
Naturalists, those who have trouble with the supernatural, have sought to find something out in the deserts that might correspond to the manna. So they could say it really wasn't something supernatural. It was just imply feeding off of things that fall off the tamarisk tree, or perhaps there are some insects that give out some little globules of something that's kind of sweet. But they can't find it because the manna was a supernatural provision of Yahweh designed to feed them through the time of the wilderness journeys. The manna was merely a substitute for ordinary food; it had no power to prevent death: the generation which had been miraculously fed by this bread died, like all other generations of mankind. Therefore, Yeshua argued, it could not be the true bread from heaven; for the true bread is capable of destroying death, and endowing all who eat it with the power of eternal life:"This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die." John 6:50 NASB
This verse sounds very much like what we see in:When the sons of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. Exodus 16:15 NASB
But in John 6:50 he is not talking about manna, but Yeshua who came from Yahweh and provides eternal life. The contrast between the manna and Yeshua the, bread from heaven, has already been introduced (vv. 30-33). Now one further aspect of that contrast is developed: the manna in the wilderness, heaven-sent though it was, and useful for sustaining natural life under desert conditions, could not bestow eternal life.
It is not difficult to see in the manna a picture of our Lord Yeshua the Christ. The manna was a mysterious thing to the Jews; in fact, the word manna means: 'What is it?' (see Ex.16:15).
Now the terms "eat" and "feed" dominate the passage (vv. 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57, 58):"I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." John 6:51 NASB
Yeshua is "living" Bread, not manna, but He also "came down" from God (out of
heaven)—as manna did. When Yeshua says, "If anyone eats of this bread" what does He mean? Remember He is the bread. "I am the living bread" "the bread…is my flesh":Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" John 6:52 NASB
Yeshua's audience, the Jews, took Him literally. They didn't ask, What does Yeshua mean by this?" What they asked was "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?"So Yeshua said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. John 6:53 NASB
So they ask, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" And Yeshua ups the ante and says not only do you have to eat my flesh, you also have to drink my blood if you want to have eternal life.
This sounds like cannibalism. What does He mean by eating His flesh and drinking His blood? First let me say that there is no textual issue with this verse. This is what Yeshua said. That we know, the question is, What did He mean? And as we get into that question, we are getting into hermeneutics. The purpose of hermeneutics is to establish guidelines and rules for interpreting the Bible. Any written document is subject to misinterpretation, and thus, we have developed rules to safeguard us from such misunderstanding. The Supreme Court's job is to function as a board to interpret the Constitution. They are to be involved in hermeneutics.
Yahweh has spoken, and what He has said is recorded in Scripture. The basic need of hermeneutics is to ascertain what God meant by what He said. If we don't understand what God meant by what He said, we will end up twisting the Scriptures to meet our own needs. Peter put it this way in his second epistle:as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2 Peter 3:16 NASB
Untaught means: "ignorant"; and unstable is asteriktos, which means: "unfixed, vacillating." We want to use every tool available to correctly interpret the Word.
The primary rule of hermeneutics is called: The Analogy of Faith—this means that Scripture interprets Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. So how do the Scriptures teach that we receive eternal life? It is by grace through faith. So then receiving eternal life by eating Christ's flesh and drinking His blood would be in conflict with believing the Gospel. Do you agree with that? So to take Yeshua's words here literally would violate the Analogy of Faith.
Along with this is the rule that The Implicit is to be interpreted by the Explicit. Implicit means: "suggested though not plainly expressed." Explicit means: "clearly stated, definite." The word distort that Peter uses, is the Greek word strebloo, it means: "to put on a torture rack, to twist or pervert." It's real easy to twist or distort the Word of God, but it is hard work to interpret it accurately. So what is clearly stated is that salvation is by faith in Christ, not by eating His flesh and drinking His blood.
Another rule is that we are to "Interpret the Bible literally." To interpret the Bible literally is to interpret it as literature. That is, the natural meaning of a passage is to be interpreted according to the normal rules of grammar, speech, syntax, and context. When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Therefore, take every word at it's primary, ordinary, usual, literal (Biblical not twenty first century) meaning unless the facts of the context indicate clearly otherwise. The Red Sea really parted, Yeshua really walked on water.
Most of what the Bible says is to be construed literally. You might ask, "Most, not all?" That's right, most, the Bible uses metaphors, parables, apocalyptic language and anthropomorphism. Yeshua said, "I am the vine." Is that literal? No, it is a metaphor. The Mormons take anthropomorphism literally and make God out to be a man; because He is said to have hands, eyes, and ears. If you take that approach, what do you do with Psalm 17?:Keep me as the apple of the eye; Hide me in the shadow of Your wings Psalms 17:8 NASB
Now is God a chicken or duck, because He is said to have wings? John 4:24 says that "God is a spirit." Remember the analogy of faith, Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. We must understand metaphors, parables, and apocalyptic language.
Now some of you may be thinking, Who in there right mind would take Yeshua's words here literally? Do any of you know who would? Catholics do!
A Catholic commentary states, "Jesus is speaking literally and sacramentally, and He is using extremely strong language: It is His flesh that must be eaten, and it is His blood that we must drink."
John chapter 6 has been mutilated by the Roman Catholic Church, and they have used this to develop the Mass where Christ is re-sacrificed again and again and again. And you eat His flesh and drink His blood. The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church base their views of transubstantiation in part on John 6:53, where Yeshua says that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life.
In paragraph 1376 of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church the Council of Trent" summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring:
"Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation (CCC, 1376).
So the Roman Catholic view says that the bread actually becomes the body of Christ, and the wine actually becomes the blood of Christ. They call this transubstantiation. Roman Catholic scholars, from the time the Doctrine of Transubstantiation was declared a dogma in A.D. 1215, insist that Jesus means that the bread is in very fact and true reality His body. In other words, they take Christ's words extremely literally. They contend that though the consecrated bread looks like bread, the bread or "host" is in true reality or "substance" the very body of Jesus Christ. That is why they take such care not to drop or spill the elements in the mass and why the devout genuflect before the presence of the consecrated host in a Catholic sanctuary.
What Yeshua is teaching is not cannibalism, which was a charge for which Christians were executed in the second century for insisting that they were indeed eating the flesh of Yeshua the Christ.
Many interpreters of these verses have seen allusions to the Lord's Supper in what Yeshua said. Sacramentalists find apparent support here for their belief that participation in the Eucharist is essential for salvation.
Harris writes, "Anyone who is inclined in the least toward a sacramental view point will almost certainly want to take these words as a reference to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, because of the reference to eating and drinking."
A. W. Pink gives four reasons that John 6 does not refer to communion.
"First, communion had not yet been instituted. Jesus instituted it on the night He was betrayed. Second, Jesus was speaking here to unbelievers and communion is for believers. Third, the eating here is unto salvation or eternal life, while eating the Lord's Supper is for those already saved and points to fellowship. Fourth, the Lord's Supper does not produce the results that are here attributed to eating and drinking Christ. If Jesus' words here refer to communion, then you gain eternal life by partaking, which contradicts many other Scriptures that show that salvation is through faith in Christ, not through participating in a ritual." [A.W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, p 347-348]So Yeshua said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. John 6:53 NASB
How could the Jews that Yeshua was talking to have understood His words literally? Or I should ask, What would keep the Jews from understanding this literally? The idea of eating blood was repulsive to the Jews, because the Torah forbade it:'And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 'For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.' "Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, 'No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.' Leviticus 17:10-12 NASB
Would Yeshua command what the Torah forbids? No, because He speaks for the Father:"For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. John 12:49 NASB
Christ doesn't speak on His own initiative, He speaks the Father's words. Telling the Jews to disobey Torah would not be pleasing to the Father:"And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." John 8:29 NASB
So what did Yeshua mean by eating His flesh and drinking His blood? It should be obvious that Yeshua was speaking metaphorically, and not literally. By referring to His "flesh" and "blood," He was figuratively referring to His whole person. This is a figure of speech called "synecdoche," in which one part stands for the whole. We use the word "bread" as a synecdoche when we say, He is the bread winner.
In verses 51-59 Yeshua introduces a new metaphor for believing on Him, namely, eating His flesh and drinking His blood. This pericope is highly metaphorical. The terms "coming to Yeshua" (v. 35), "listening to Him" (v. 45), "seeing Him"(v. 40), "eating His flesh" (v. 53), "drinking His blood" (v. 53)—all mean "believing on Him" (v. 35). What becomes clear is that when Yeshua talks about feeding on Him, it means the same as believing on Him. Those who believe on Him (whoever "eats of this bread") will experience eternal life ("live forever").
Notice the future tense in verse 51:`I am the living bread that came down out of the heaven; if any one may eat of this bread he shall live—to the age; and the bread also that I will give is my flesh, that I will give for the life of the world.' John 6:51 YLT
Young's does a good job in showing the tenses. "The bread also that I will give is my flesh." The future tense here points to the Cross. The flesh of Christ will be the life of the world. That is, the giving up of His flesh in death will be the life of the world. In the giving up of His flesh, His sacrificial death is mainly intended, and the eating of His flesh, refers to faith in the atonement. Let me just say here again that "world" does not mean every single person, it means, Jews and Gentiles.
The hearers of Yeshua were on their way to eat the paschal lamb:Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. John 6:4 NASB
Christ says to them: Ye must eat Me, the real paschal lamb now offered for the sins of the world:Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" John 6:52 NASB
These Jews are thinking literally, which is what we have seen all through this Gospel. Yeshua speaks in spiritual terms, and they understand Him literally. For example, Yeshua spoke to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem about "destroying this temple" in chapter 2, referring to His body, and they took Him to be referring to the literal Temple.(2:19-22). In chapter 3, Yeshua spoke to Nicodemus about being "born again," Nicodemus asks, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" He took Christ literally. Yeshua spoke to the woman at the well about "living water," and she thought it was something to drink (John 4:10-15). In our text, Yeshua speaks about "eating His flesh and drinking His blood," and His audience takes His words in a most literal way, and they are repulsed.
"Then the Jews began to argue with one another"—the word "argue" is the Greek word machomaia, which means: "to war, that is, (figuratively) to quarrel, dispute: fight, strive." It is the Greek word for fighting. An intense argument erupted among them. So they were fighting among themselves over what Yeshua meant,"How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" They didn't get it at all:So Yeshua said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. John 6:53 NASB
"Blood" in the Tanakh primarily represented a violent death. Blood is a metonym for His death, as it is throughout the New Testament. So what is He saying? Yeshua was hinting that He would die violently. He connected the importance of belief in Him with His atoning death. Yeshua's hearers should have understood that He was speaking metaphorically, but this reference offended many of them (vv. 60-61).
What is promised to those who "eat Christ's flesh" and "drink His blood" is the same as what is promised to those who "believe," that is, the promise of eternal life:"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:54 NASB
Compare this to verse 40 and notice the close parallel:"For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." John 6:40 NASB
The only substantial difference is that one speaks of eating Yeshua's flesh and drinking Yeshua's blood, while the other, in precisely the same conceptual location, speaks of looking to the Son and believing in Him. The conclusion is obvious: the former is the metaphorical way of referring to the latter. Augustine wrote, "Believe, and you have eaten."
To believe in Yeshua, to come to Yeshua, to eat this bread, to feed on Him, to eat His flesh and drink His blood, all of these actions result in the same spiritual outcome: eternal life. To believe in Him is to believe that He is God in human flesh, the holy, almighty Yahweh, standing here before them—visible, touchable, one of them.
Remember that in 1:14 we saw that the Word became "flesh." It is as the incarnate logos that Yeshua is able to give His "flesh" for the life of the world. Readers could not help but remember that Yeshua has already been presented as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29, 36). Yeshua has already referred to the cross in John 3:14-15 where He said:"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. John 3:14-15 NASB
So when He talks in chapter 6 about eating and drinking His flesh and blood, He means trust Him as one who dies for you. Receive Him as one who gives His life for you.
The idea that their Messiah would die as a sacrifice, was a huge problem for the Jews. They were utterly unwilling to accept that. Even the disciples struggled with that. When talking to the disciples on the Emmaus Road, Yeshua took them back to the Tanakh to show them from their Scriptures that the Messiah must suffer and die. And when they went out to preach in the book of Acts, they were preaching to the Jews; initially the Messiah had to suffer and die:"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:54 NASB
Harris writes, "The participle in verse 54, trogo, (eats) is almost shockingly graphic: it means to eat noisily, often used of animals ("gnaw," "nibble," "munch"). When used with reference to people, it often has the idea of enjoyment (Matt 24:38) and close comradeship."
So we have to ask, Why did Yeshua use such a repelling analogy? Why talk about eating flesh and drinking blood? Maybe to disperse a mob that had come to crown Him king and lead a rebellion against the Romans. Remember the crowd was following Him for the wrong reason. And remember that in this chapter, the Lord stresses the sovereignty of God in salvation. The crowd following Christ could not trust Him; unless they had been given to Him by the Father, unless the Father drew them, unless it had been granted to them of the Father. So maybe Christ talks this way to push away the non-elect, who want a political messiah. If this is in fact the reason, it works:As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. John 6:66 NASB
Christ's teaching caused many of those following Him to turn away.
"And I will raise him up on the last day"—this is the fourth time Yeshua said this in this chapter. When Yeshua says, "raise him up" He is referring to the resurrection. And He tells us that this resurrection will happen on the last day. The Scriptures tell us that the time of the resurrection was to be at the last day of the Old Covenant age. We know this to have happened in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Jewish Temple. For more information on this, see our last study in John:"For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. John 6:55 NASB
Unlike the manna, Yeshua is the food and drink that provides eternal life:"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. John 6:56 NASB
The word "abide" here is the Greek word meno, which is a favorite word of Lazarus. Used here it is synonymous with having eternal life. Yeshua was saying that believers continue to possess eternal life; they will never lose it. Believers remain in Christ, and He remains in them. Yeshua was not speaking here to His disciples about the importance of believers abiding in fellowship with God, as He did later in chapter 15. Here He was speaking to unbelievers about entering into a saving relationship with God.
Catholic theology states, "Holy Communion augments our union with Christ. The principal fruit of receiving the Eucharist in Holy Communion is an intimate union with Christ Jesus. Indeed, the Lord said: 'He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.' " (CCC#1391 quoting Jn 6:56 &57). The Catholics see all this talk about eating flesh and drinking blood as referring to Communion."As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. John 6:57 NASB
This living God, in sending the Son, established that He would also have life-in-Himself: the argument is a compressed form of 5:21, 24-27.
This is referring to the eternal generation of the Son, which is the teaching that the Son is eternally begotten by the necessary will of the Father, but that the Son is not created or caused, and that neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit are dependent upon the Father or any other member of the Godhead for existence. The eternal generation of the Son is a statement on the relationship within the Trinity between the Father and the Son before the incarnation. Therefore, the term is not in reference to causation but to nature and relationship. The eternal generation of the Son does not mean that the Father brought the Son into existence, which would deny the full immutability and deity of the Son.
The Father's life extends to and through the Son to those who will partake of the Son's flesh and blood. This helps us see that eternal life is essentially God's life that He imparts to believers. For the Christian, eternal life is always mediated through Yeshua. However mystical the language of the Fourth Gospel, Lazarus cannot imagine any genuine spiritual life that is independent of Yeshua."This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." John 6:58 NASB
The Jews often substituted the term "heaven" for "God" out of respect for God's name, and Yeshua did that here. This is a figure of speech called "metonymy," in which the speaker or writer uses the name of one thing for that of another associated with or suggested by it. The Israelites who "ate" the physical "bread" that came down from God "died" in the wilderness (vv. 30-31), but those who believe in the ("eat this") spiritual Bread that "came down" from Him "will live forever."
This text that we looked at today stresses that faith in Christ and His atonement brings eternal life. This is not about a ritual, it's about faith alone in Christ alone.