Sunday, August 21, 2011

John 6, Part Three

A hard saying (vs. 60-71)--"This is a hard saying; who can understand it?" (v. 60, NKJV, which helps clear up the KJV's "who can hear it?")  Yes, a lot of what Jesus said is difficult for men to comprehend, even today.  We can look back, through the entirety of the New Testament, and understand most of what Christ taught.  But for those worldly Jews to whom He was speaking, Jesus' message here was far beyond them.  Even some of His disciples complained (v. 61), and Jesus asked them, "Does this cause you to stumble?" (ASV, which is better here than the KJV and NKJV's "offend you."  Jesus' words didn't "offend" them in the sense we might think of, but because they didn't understand it, they might reject it.)   Jesus' argument in verse 62 seems to be, "if you can't understand the simple truth I've just taught, how are you going to grasp the great spiritual truths later on?"  The flesh (the physical bread) won't help you get to heaven; only spiritual bread ("the words I speak") will do so (v. 63). But Jesus knew that many would not believe, and even knew who some of them were (v. 64).  The "therefore" of verse 65 is clarified by what He had just said in verse 63--"no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father."  How does the Father "grant" that one comes to Jesus? T hrough the words Christ spoke.  If we will accept those words, God graciously pardons us from our sins and allows us access to eternal life.  This wasn't what some people wanted to hear (v. 66); for whatever reasons, "many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more." Jesus then turned to the twelve and asked them if they were going to leave Him, too. Peter answered, and it's a classic: "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou has the words of eternal life" (v. 68).  We've already seen, constantly in fact, the obtuseness and lack of understanding of the apostles.  And almost surely, they did not understand what Jesus had said in this chapter any more than any others of the Jews did.  What was the difference? The heart.  There is something about the Lord Jesus Christ that, even though we do not--cannot--comprehend him completely--the "honest and good heart" (Lk, 8:15) will accept and follow Him.  This is surely the case with His apostles.  The Jews who rejected Christ had seen His miracles and heard His teachings--just like the apostles.  The apostles followed Him, most of the Jews didn't.  The only difference was inside.  Peter then concluded by saying "We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v. 69).  Notice that Peter makes a distinction between belief and knowledge.  "We believe it, based upon the evidence, therefore we know it."  The evidence proves it.  But Jesus has some sad words to end this section.  "Not all of you believe; one of you is a devil" (v. 70).  He was talking about Judas (v. 71).

This chapter begins with a great miracle, follows with great teaching, and ends with a great statement by Peter.  Jesus is the "bread of life."  But it is spiritual life, not physical.  To those who love this world, the latter is not what they want.

John 6, Part Two

The bread of life (vs. 30-35)--Jesus introduces a theme that will thread through the rest of the chapter--the bread of life.  Actually, in a form, He introduced it in verse 26. The question the Jews ask in verse 30, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You?" is indicative of their cold, stubborn hearts.  They had just witnessed Jesus feeding 5,000+ people with five loaves of bread and two fish.  He had done other miracles in their presence.  What else did they want?  In mentioning Moses (God) feeding the people in the wilderness for 40 years (v. 31), their argument seems to be, "What is your tiny miracle in comparison so this?"  A miracle is a miracle, and what Jesus did was no small thing.  Yet, the Jews were looking for any excuse, and when that is the case, one is as good as another.

Jesus then (once again) steers them to what is truly important--spiritual matters.  The bread Moses fed the people was physical and did not last.  The bread the Father now sends down from heaven ("the true bread," v. 32) "gives life to the world" (v. 33).  His audience, thinking only in physical, wanted that bread so that they could have it always; famines were still common in the ancient world.  But Jesus is that true bread, and those who come to Him "shall never hunger" and "shall never thirst" (v. 35).  But they didn't believe (v. 36).

The Father's will (vs. 37-40)--It is the will of God that all men be saved (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9), and the promise He has made to mankind is that those who come to Him through His Son would find eternal life.  Jesus will protect those who come to Him (v. 37).  That's what He came for, not to do His own will, but the will of the Father (v. 38), that is, to save men from their sins.  But again, that salvation comes through Jesus--"everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life" (v. 40).  The "seeing" here is obviously metaphorical; we "see" Him through the eye of faith.  We walk by faith, not by sight (II Cor. 5:7).

Returning to the bread of life theme (vs. 41-59)--The complaint of the Jews was Jesus' statement that He "came down from heaven" (v. 41). T hey knew His earthly father and mother, so how could He say He came down from heaven?  Jesus tells then that those who are "taught by God" (v. 45) would come to Jesus.  The statement "And they shall all be taught of God" is actually a quotation from the Old Testament (Isa. 54:13).  Thus, in effect, Jesus is saying that the Old Testament speaks of Him, and that if they knew their own book, the Jews would come to Him.  Now this is not a literal, face-to-face teaching by the Father (v. 46).  Nobody has, or can, truly see God.  But the Father teaches through the One whom He sent, and those who believe in Jesus will have everlasting life (v. 47).  In verses 48-50, Jesus again contrasts the bread He offers (which leads to eternal life) and the bread Moses fed the people with.  Those people "are dead" (v. 49).  The "living bread" which came down from heaven is Christ, and He emphasizes that those who partake of it "will live forever" (v. 51).  Keep in mind this is all metaphorical. Jesus often uses matters at hand to make a spiritual point, and since the feeding of the 5,000 was fresh on everyone's mind, it provided a wonderful opportunity for Jesus to use that event to illustrate a spiritual truth.  The Jews still didn't get it (v. 52).  Their worldly-mindedness simply forbade them to understand great spiritual concepts.  Some have seen in verses 53-55 (eating the flesh and drinking the blood) as an allusion to the Lord's Supper, but I'm not convinced.  I believe Jesus is simply indicating the necessity of partaking in His life and death, fully accepting Him; just as food is necessary to sustain physical life, spiritual food (Jesus) is necessary to procure eternal life.  And this was the bread the Father sent down from heaven (v. 58).  It's not like the bread which Moses gave to his people.  Jesus reiterates that point over and over again; how many times did He have to say it before they caught on? Well, they never did, so more repetition of it was not going to help, just like doing more miracles would not have created faith.  Jesus did enough, and taught enough, for anyone with a true heart to believe and accept Him.  If we do not believe on the evidence we have now, then we will not believe.

I will sum up the last few important verses of this chapter in my next post.

Monday, August 15, 2011

John 6, Part One

Feeding the 5,000 (vs. 1-14)—This is long chapter, so it will take at least two, and possibly three posts to cover it all.  Fortunately—at least for posting’s sake—the first two stories (vs. 1-21) are covered in earlier gospels.  Yet, there are a couple of brief points that John adds that are worth noting.  In verse 6, Jesus tested Philip, apparently to see what sort of conclusions that apostle had drawn from earlier miracles.  It was Philip who told Him that it would take an enormous amount of money—200 days worth of wages—to feed the whole multitude (v. 7).  Andrew then chimes in that “a lad here has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” (v. 9).  John is the only gospel writer who tells us the source of the five loaves and two fishes.  The child apparently was willing to help and offered what he had.  Once the miracle was performed, the people were astonished, and said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world" (v. 14).  This statement is based upon Deut. 18:15, where the promise of the Messiah is made and the word “prophet” is used to describe Him.

Jesus walks on water (vs. 15-21)—Since many of the multitude had (rightly) concluded that Jesus was the Messiah, “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (v. 15).  Jesus escaped from this ill-conceived attempt to turn Him into something He never intended to be, and even found some respite from His apostles (v. 15).  They then entered a boat in order to cross the sea.  As related in earlier gospels, Jesus walked on the water to go to them.  John omits Peter’s failed attempt to walk on the sea as well. 

The work of God (vs. 22-29)—Jesus is now in Capernaum.  The feeding of the five thousand took place near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10), which is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, a couple of miles up from the Jordan River.  He drew a crowd, some of them coming from a city called Tiberias, which was on the southwest corner of the lake.  When they all got together, somebody asked Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?”  Jesus doesn’t bother answering an unimportant question.  He, in effect, turns the question back on them and explains why they came to Him--not for spiritual reasons, but because He had fed them (v. 26).  Then, as always, Jesus tries to get them to focus their priorities on proper things:  “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (v. 27).  Jesus, having mentioned the Father, elicits a further question from them:  What shall we do, that we may work the works of the God?” (v. 28).  It’s interesting that they do not use the term “Father,” perhaps because Jesus did and they didn’t want to be accused of the very thing they had wanted to kill Him for (John 5:18).  The “works of God” are those things which God tells man to do—in other words, commandments to be obeyed.  The concept of “works” has confused many, many people, and they get the willies when someone dares to suggest that men are saved by works.  Well, that’s exactly what James says in James 2:24—“you see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.”  Man is not saved by works alone, of course; no one would be so ignorant as to claim that.  The point is, some works do save, and some do not (Eph. 2:8-9 and Gal. 5:19-21 speak of “works” which do not lead to salvation).  But some works do, i.e, the works which God gives us to do.  Notice very carefully John 6:29:  “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”  Even faith is a work!  It is something God commands us to do.  So think of the “works of God,” those which justify us (James 2:14-26), as doing His will as He commands us.  Too many denominational people have been so influenced by the Lutheran heresy of “salvation by faith only,” that they have a complete mental block regarding the word “works.”  It’s a fine word, the Bible uses it in relation to our salvation, and we should thus not fear to use it, either.  We just need to understand that no one can earn salvation (such is what Paul means in Ephesians 2 and Romans 4); no one can “work” their way to heaven, putting God into his debt as owing him eternal life.  But this does not mitigate the commandments of God, the “works of God,” or obedience to God, which is also obligatory for our salvation (Heb. 5:8-9).

John 5, Part Two

Honoring the Father and Son (vs. 16-23)--There is so much rich material in the rest of this chapter that a book could be written on it.  The rage of the Jews is evident in that they persecuted Jesus (Greek literally, “pursue, put to flight), and some even wanted to kill Him.  What barbarity, evil, and blindness were in the hearts of these people!  It was bad enough that Jesus broke their perverted view of the Sabbath, but when He called God His “Father,” implying equality with Jehovah, they felt they had another reason to kill Him, i.e., blasphemy.  The term “Son of” is a Hebrew expression which means having the qualities and characteristics of whatever, or whoever, you are a “son of.”  Jesus called James and John “sons of thunder” because of their explosive temper.  By calling God His “Father,” Jesus being the “Son of God,” He was thus making a claim for deity.  The Jews knew it (v. 18) and “sought all the more to kill Him.”  But Jesus goes on to describe His unique relation to His Father, and in ways we do not—cannot—fully understand.  Jesus works whatever works the Father gives Him to do, marvelous works (vs. 19-20).  The Father and Son both give life—physical and eternal (v. 21).  Judgment has been committed into the hands of the Son, perhaps because He is the one who came to earth (v.23), and because of that judgment, everyone should honor the Son equally with the Father (v. 23).

The coming resurrection (vs. 24-30)—This is one of the most thought-provoking, and comforting, passages in the Bible—at least to Christians.  Eternal life comes from hearing Jesus’ words and believing “in Him who sent Me” (v. 24).  The word ultimately comes from heaven, thus any rejection of Christ’s word is a rejection of the Father (and, in effect, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  But Jesus, in this passage is discussing His unique relationship with His Father, and thus He speaks hear of damnation resulting from a rejection of that Father).  It is that word (“the voice of the Son of God,” v. 25) which gives life, because the Father has granted that authority to Christ (vs. 26-27).  The phrase (v. 27) “because He is the Son of Man” perhaps indicates that such judgmental authority has come to Jesus because of His dual nature, God and man, and He is the only one in the godhead who has occupied that position.  That “voice” (word, v. 28) will also raise “all who are in the graves” (v. 28), some to eternal life, some to eternal damnation (v. 29), depending upon how they have lived in this world.  But Jesus reiterates, in verse 30, that this authority comes not from Him, but from the Father.  Jesus’ judgment comes from what He is told by the Father—“as I hear, I judge.”

The witness of the John the Baptist and the Father (vs. 31-37)—The law of Moses required that the testimony of more than one witness was required for the death penalty (Dt. 6:17), thus establishing a principle that truth must be supported by more than one witness.  Jesus, based upon that idea, said that the Jews weren’t required to believe Him simply on the basis of His own testimony (v. 31).  John the Baptist, a second witness, also authenticated Christ’s identity (vs. 32-35), but Jesus had greater support than this—“for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent me” (v. 36).  There are two ideas here.  Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament’s predictions of Who the Messiah would be and what He would do.  But also, His miraculous deeds—power from above—were a strong testimony to His identity.  Only God could do what He did; man has never had the power to work such miracles.  Thus, these “works” gave full support to His claims, and they mean that “the Father Himself…has testified of Me” (v. 37).
“Search the Scriptures” (vs. 39-47)—And herein lay the great problem—“You do not have His word abiding in you” (v. 38).  There was something more important to the Jews—power, wealthy, national honor and splendor—than believing what God had said.  And thus their vision was warped and they did not recognize the Messiah when He came.  They simply misinterpreted the Old Testament.  They still do.  Verse 39 is a bit ambiguous.  The King James Version has “Search the Scriptures,” implying a command, the NKJV says “You search the Scriptures,” indicating simple action.  The Greek form of this word could mean either.  I prefer the KJV’s command structure.  Jesus tells them that the answer is in the Old Testament.  Study it, they testify of Me.  But they wouldn’t do it (v. 40).  They wouldn’t come to Christ because He wasn’t the kind of King they wanted.  Jesus’ honor did not come from men (v. 41); He wasn’t going to accept their accolades and become an earthly monarch.  And because of the Jews desires for Him, they did not “have the love of God” in them (v. 42).  If they truly loved God, they would love Jesus and submit to Him.  Jesus came from the Father, but they did not receive Him.  However, they would accept someone else, if he came telling them what they wanted to hear (v. 43), because they sought honor from men and not God (v. 44).  And then Jesus lays open their hypocrisy.  The Jews wanted to kill Him, initially, because He (they thought) was breaking the Law of Moses.  But they didn’t truly believe Moses, for if they did, they would believe Jesus, “for he wrote about Me” (v. 46).  That’s what the whole point of the Old Testament was—Christ is coming to redeem mankind—all men from every nation—from sin, not to exalt the Jews to a prominent national position in this world.  The Jews, like most people, had become earthly-minded, and thus could not—would not—see the true meaning of their own law.  And “if you do not believe his (Moses’) writings, how will you believe My words?” (v. 47)  What a marvelous section this is.