John Chapters 5 to 8, Part 4
by Karl Kemp
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We continue with this verse-by-verse study of John chapters 5-8 here in Part 4, starting with John 6:38.
(38) For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me [cf. John 4:34; 5:30]. (39) This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me [cf. John 6:37; 17:2, 24] I lose nothing [cf. John 17:12; 18:9], but raise it up on the last day [cf. John 6:40, 44, 54; 11:24]. [[As I mentioned, when commenting on verse 39 in my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?," "This verse certainly emphasizes God's role in our salvation. If this was all the Bible had to say on the subject, I would still believe in eternal security [once saved, necessarily always saved]." When I became a born-again Christian essentially every born-again Christian I knew believed once saved, always saved, and I accepted that doctrine as part of the package, and I could cite a few verses to "prove" that doctrine, including this verse. But after spending quite a bit of time studying what the Bible has to say on the subject, I had to abandon that doctrine. It seems clear to me that there are many passages in the New Testament that clearly demonstrate that born-again believers can lose their salvation through failing to press on in faith. Believers can become unbelievers. Although God takes the initiative in our salvation, He doesn't give us saving faith (see my "A Paper on Faith"), and He doesn't make us continue in faith to the end, but His grace is more than sufficient to keep us if we do our part of continuing to look to Him in faith (continuing to appropriate and cooperate with His saving grace).
GOD'S WILL ISN'T ALWAYS DONE! God doesn't ever will for His people to give themselves to sin and to turn from Him in their hearts and become unbelievers ((I had a footnote: "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). The sins of God's people, by definition, go against God and His perfect will. God is sovereign and He is in control. The sins of people (or the sins of the devil) will never catch God by surprise or cause Him to lose sovereign control. But God clearly leaves room for people to go against His perfect will.)), but He didn't create robots (we are free moral agents; our wills are still free to some extent after the fall, and we must respond to and cooperate with the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus on a continuous basis), and, although He sent His Son to die for us and gave us the Holy Spirit to enable us to be faithful to Him and righteous, He doesn't force us to be faithful to Him and righteous. See my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?" that is available on this Christian article site and the other references mentioned above in the last footnote under John 6:37.
I'll quote what I said under John 6:39 on pages 38-40 of my "A Paper on Faith" that is available on this Christian article site (this quotation goes on for several paragraphs): This verse puts all the emphasis on God's role in our salvation. If this verse (and several verses like it, including 6:44, 65) was not balanced out by much other Scripture, we would have to say that man doesn't have much of a role (if any role) in God's salvation plan. However, there is much Scripture that emphasizes our role. This paper ["A Paper on Faith"] is filled with such passages, as is my paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?" As discussed in that paper, the Bible (in common with other ancient Jewish writings like the Dead Sea Scrolls) sometimes makes statements that seem to teach that man doesn't have a free will at all and God just pre-determines everything, but as you keep on reading you find that this assumption was inadequate and man does have something of free will and is responsible to do the things required of him.
The Bible doesn't fully satisfy our curiosity and give us the full balanced truth in this area. However, our lack of complete revelation/information in this area doesn't give us the right to just emphasize those verses that emphasize God's part and ignore the much greater number of verses that emphasize man's responsibility to do his part. And, of course, we don't want to overemphasize man's part. God is sovereign. We don't earn salvation in any sense - it is all of grace. And God must receive all the glory. Much of the paper "Once Saved, Always Saved?" is relevant to this topic and should be read in conjunction with this present paper ("A Paper on Faith").
In "Once Saved, Always Saved?" I quoted from D. A. Carson ("Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension"). I believe he sees the balanced truth in this area better than most. Here I'll quote from another of his works (Vol. 8 of the "Expositor's Bible Commentary" [Zondervan, 1984] under Matthew 13:13) where he deals with the same topic. He is discussing the Parable of the Sower. "Biblical writers in both the OT and the NT have, on the whole, fewer problems about the tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility than do many moderns. This is not because they fail to distinguish purpose and consequence [result], as many affirm (e.g., Moule, "Idiom Book," p. 142), but because they do not see divine sovereignty and human responsibility as antitheses [thoughts in opposition]. In short they are compatibilists and therefore juxtapose the two themes with little self-conscious awareness of any problem (cf. Gen. 50:19-20; Judg. 14:4; Isa. 10:5-7; Hag. 1:12-14; John 11:49-52; cf. Carson, "Divine Sovereignty"). ... Thus, even though he [Mark in Mark 4:11, 12] records Jesus' answer in terms of election [which tends to put all the emphasis on God's role], Mark does not thereby mean to absolve the outsiders of all responsibility. How could he, in the light of the interpretation of the parable of the sower he records (4:13-20), his record of John's [John the Baptist's] demand for repentance (1:4), and much more? Matthew has taken up these themes in greater detail because he wishes simultaneously to affirm that what is taking place in the ministry of Jesus is, on the one hand, the decreed will of God and the result of biblical prophecy and, on the other hand, a terrible rebellion, gross spiritual dullness, and chronic unbelief. This places the responsibility for the divine rejection of those who fail to become disciples on their own shoulders while guaranteeing that none of what is taking place stands outside God's sovereign control and plan."
This may be an appropriate place to mention that God has set things up in such a way that His perfect will (when it comes to individuals) isn't always accomplished; He leaves some room for people (and angels) to determine their own destiny. See, e.g., 1 Tim. 2:3-6; Acts 17:30, 31; 2 Pet. 3:9. [2 Pet. 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." "All" refers, at least for the most part, to Christians who need to repent. These words come across in a more powerful way when it is recognized that they are aimed (at least for the most part) at Peter's Christian readers. Two commentators that I recommend on this verse are: R. J. Bauckham (Volume 50 of the "Word Biblical Commentary") and D. J. Moo ("NIV Application Commentary" on 2 Peter and Jude). I doubt that the unbelief and rebellion of God's people ever fits in the category of being in His perfect will."]] (40) For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life [Compare, for example, John 1:12, 13; 3:15, 16, 36; and 5:24-26. Contrast John 6:36. Believing (having faith) in the Son is something we do as we respond to His grace and continue on in His grace.], and I Myself will raise him up on the last day [cf. John 6:39].' (41) Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, 'I am the bread that came down out of heaven.' [See verses 32-35.] (42) They were saying, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, "I have come down out of heaven"?' [[They were thinking that the fact that Jesus had been born of Mary (and of Joseph, so they thought) proved that He had not "come down out of heaven." But, as John has already demonstrated in 1:1-18 (and other verses), Jesus was born of the virgin Mary - He was deity, God the Son, who had become the God-man. Jesus undoubtedly knew that His opponents would not have accepted it if He had stopped to discuss His virgin birth, etc. with them. Besides that, God the Father determined what information was to be revealed and when and to whom it was to be revealed. Many things were not revealed to the apostles until after Jesus was raised from the dead.]] (43) Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do not grumble among yourselves [cf. John 7:12]. (44) No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him [[Compare John 6:65 ("And He was saying, 'For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father' ") and John 12:32. See above under John 6:37-40. What Jesus went on to say in verse 45 helped show what He meant here in verse 44. Verse 45 shows a lot about what Jews the Father chose to draw to His Son and how He drew them. It shows that He drew those who were true believers, which they had demonstrated by submitting to Him and His word and learning from Him (cf., e.g., John 5:37-47). Under 6:37 I pointed out that the Father also drew many others to Christ, including many Gentiles.
It was easy for the Father to draw such people to Christ (since they were submitted to Him and His word), and it was appropriate that He would draw them - they were His people, true believers. He used His word, which prophesied of Christ Jesus and showed the Jews of their need for new-covenant salvation, to draw them to Him. I'll quote a sentence from what Merrill C. Tenney says here ("Expositor's Bible Commentary," Vol. 9 [Zondervan, 1981], page 76), "Verse 45 indicates that God would do his drawing through the Scriptures and that those who were obedient to God's will as revealed in the Scriptures would come to Jesus." The Father also used His ministers, especially John the Baptist, to point the Jews to Christ; He used miraculous signs (which were all the more important in that God's word had prophesied that He would do these signs); and, significantly, He drew by His Spirit.
Above, under verse 39, I quoted from my "A Paper on Faith"; John 6:44, 45, 65 are discussed in that paper too. These verses from John chapter 6 are discussed there (along with quite a few other verses from the New Testament) under the heading "Some Verses that Have Been Used to Try to Show that God Just Gives Saving Faith." God's drawing people to Christ is very different than His giving saving faith to people. Faith is something we do in response to God's grace, which includes His drawing.
I'll quote part of what Gerald L. Borchert says under verses 43-48 ("John 1-11," pages 268, 269), "Solutions to such problems [Borchert has been speaking of the debates Calvinists and Arminians have over the interpretation of these verses (which applies to other verses too)] normally is best found in a modified Arminian-Calvinistic position that maintains the biblical tension of the divine and human aspects of salvation found in the text. Salvation is never achieved apart from the drawing power of God, and it is never consummated apart from the willingness of humans to hear and learn from God. To choose one or the other will ultimately end in unbalanced, unbiblical theology. (Borchert has a footnote, "As I argued in "Assurance and Warning," in most texts there continues to be an unresolved tension that must be recognized. At times one aspect needs to be stressed, and at other times the other aspect should be stressed.") Such a solution will generally not please either doctrinaire [dogmatic] Calvinists nor Arminians, both of whom will seek to emphasize certain words or texts and exclude from consideration [explain away] other texts and words. ...."
One thing we need is for both sides in this dispute (and in many other theological disputes) to humble themselves and seriously consider the possibility that they could be out of balance (the biblical balance) and to seek God for the balanced truth - Christians can really unite around the balanced truth; how precious is the balanced truth of what the Scriptures teach! We may not know exactly where the balanced truth is on this particular topic (I don't believe the Bible tells us exactly where the balance is; it doesn't answer every question), but we should be able to see that we are out of balance if we are and to see that the truth includes acknowledging God's sovereignty and man's responsibility to do the things required of them as free (somewhat free after the fall) moral agents. The word faith (when it is understood in a broad sense) pretty well covers what God requires of us - you could say repentance and faith.]]; and I will raise him up on the last day [cf. John 6:39, 40, 54]. (45) It is written in the prophets, "AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD." [See Isa. 54:13; cf. Jer. 31:34.] Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. [See under verse 44.] (46) Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. [[Compare John 1:18. If people (fallen man) could have an intimate, life-flowing relationship with God on their own and were able to see Him as He is, they wouldn't need the new-covenant salvation that can only come through the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, the Lamb of God, "the One who is from God" and who "has seen the Father."]] (47) Truly [Amen], truly [amen], I say to you, he who believes [in Christ and the One who sent Him] has eternal life. [Compare John 6:29, 35, 37, 40, 51, 58; 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24-26; and 11:25, 26. The believing here is continuous action (present "tense" in the Greek); we must, of course, continue to believe in Christ to continue to partake of eternal life in and through Him.] (48) I am the bread of life [cf. John 6:27, 32, 33, 35, 40, 47, 50, 51, 53-58]. (49) Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died [See verses 30-33, 58.]. (50) This [referring to the true heavenly bread, not the manna of old] is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die [cf. John 6:27, 32, 33, 35, 40, 47, 48, 51, 53-58]. (51) 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 [The Greek behind "and the bread also" is "kai ho artos de". I'll quote part of what Marcus Dods says regarding the meaning of these words here, starting with "and" ("Expositor's Greek Testament," Vol. 1 [Eerdman's, 1974 reprint], page 757), "...linked to the foregoing by a double conjunction ["kai" and "de"], 'and besides' indicating...a new aspect or expansion of what has been said." J. H. Bernard mentions that this construction "introduces a new point, hitherto unmentioned" ("Gospel According to John," Vol. 1, page 208). The NEB translates, "Moreover, the bread..."; the Amplified Bible has, "and also the Bread...."] which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.' [[What Jesus says with the first words of this verse ("I am the living bread that came down out to heaven") repeats a dominant theme of verses 26-50. The second set of words ("if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever") is right in line with what He has been saying in verses 26-50, but here in verses 50, 51 He specifically mentions the eating of this bread of life for the first time. Eating is symbolic language that goes along with the symbolic language of referring to Jesus and new-covenant salvation as the living bread. ((I had a footnote: I'll quote a sentence from what J. Carl Laney says here ("John," page 130), "Eating is a metaphor for appropriation and assimilation (cf. Ezek. 3:1-4; Rev. 10:8-11).")) Eating this living bread means the same thing as believing in Christ and appropriating full salvation through, and in union with, Him by faith.
With the last words of this verse (starting with the word "and"), Jesus adds a very important detail to what He has been saying: He goes on to refer to His all-important atoning death, which He hasn't specifically mentioned so far in chapter 6. His atoning death was a central feature of God's plan of salvation that enabled Jesus to become living bread that would give life to the world (to all who would appropriate that salvation/life by faith). In offering Himself to die (to die physically) as the Lamb of God (in accordance with God's plan of salvation), He was giving His flesh for the life of the world (cf., e.g., John 1:29, 36; 2:19-22; 3:14, 15; 10:11, 15, 17, 18; 12:31-33; Heb. 10:1-20, 29; and 1 Pet. 2:24, 25).
It could be relevant (many commentators believe that it is relevant) that these things recorded in John chapter 6, including the words spoken by Jesus, took place near the time of Passover (John 6:4): A year later, at Passover, on the very day the sacrificial lambs were being slain in the temple, the Lamb of God was slain at Jerusalem - He is The Passover Lamb. We must partake/eat of the spiritual bread/food that has resulted from His atoning death to be saved. Jesus goes on to speak of partaking/eating of Him and the fruit of His atoning death in verses 53-58. It must be understood that Jesus' hearers, even including His disciples, did not understand His atoning death (or His resurrection) yet.
I'll quote part of what F. F. Bruce says here ("Gospel of John," page 158), "To give one's flesh can scarcely mean anything other than death, and the wording here points to a death which is both voluntary ('I will give') and vicarious ('for the life of the world'). ...we may think of the voluntary and vicarious self-offering of the Servant of the LORD in Isa. 52:13-53:12. The Servant's death was to bring blessing to 'the many' (Isa. 53:11f.), from Israel and the Gentiles alike (cf. Isa. 49:6); so Jesus takes the widest view of those who are to benefit by his death: he will give his flesh 'for the life of the world.' ...."]] (52) Then the Jews [cf. John 6:41] began to argue with one another, saying, 'How can this man give us His flesh to eat?' [As it so often happened, Jesus' hearers understood His words in a literal sense when He was speaking in a non-literal, figurative sense. "Their mistake lay in thinking of a physical eating" (Marcus Dods, "Expositor's Greek Testament," page 757).] (53) So Jesus said to them, 'Truly [Amen], truly [amen], I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man [On "Son of Man," see John 6:27.] and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. [[Right in line with what Jesus had been saying in verses 26-52 (and with what He would go on to say in verses 54-58), He was speaking here of the need to have faith in Him and partake (by faith) of the salvation/eternal life that He came to give, a salvation that required Him to die as the Lamb of God, bearing the sins of the world (see under verse 51). "The only possible meaning is the spiritual appropriation of Jesus Christ by faith (verse 47) .... Life is found only in Christ" (A. T. Robertson, "Word Pictures in the New Testament," Vol. 5, page 111).
God had commanded the Jews to not eat the meat of (clean) animals with the blood still in it, and they certainly were not permitted to eat (drink) blood (cf. Gen. 9:4; Lev. 3:17; 7:26, 27; 17:10-14; and Acts 15:19-21, 29). Eating the flesh or drinking the blood of humans would have been considered far more abominable. (It is no wonder that the Jews who thought Jesus was speaking of literally eating His physical flesh and literally drinking His blood would have been offended.) This information, by itself, is enough to convince me that Jesus was speaking here, as He so often did, in a non-literal, figurative sense. His blood was literal and physical, and the new covenant was ratified on the basis of His shed blood, but the drinking of His blood (and the eating of His flesh) is non-literal, figurative language.
I'll quote part of what William Hendricksen says under verses 53-58 ("Gospel of John," Vol. 1 [Baker, 1955], page 243), "In the history of theology attempts have been made again and again to conceive of this eating of the flesh of Christ and drinking of his blood in a physical manner. Such interpretations crumble before the following arguments:
a. The passage in which Jesus, by implication, urges the eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood is clearly a mashal. (Hendricksen defines a mashal on page 124, "a paradoxical saying, a veiled and pointed remark, often in the form of a riddle.") Such veiled sayings always require a spiritual interpretation; see pp. 124, 125.
b. If these words be interpreted in a strictly literal fashion, the only logical conclusion would be that Jesus advocated cannibalism. No one dares draw that conclusion.
c. Verse 57 clearly indicates that the phrase 'eating my flesh and drinking my blood' means 'eating me.' It is, accordingly, an act of personal appropriation and fellowship that is indicated. Cf. also 6:35 which shows that 'coming to me' means 'believing in me.'
d. We are told that those who eat Christ's flesh and drink his blood remain in him and he in them (verse 56). This, of course, cannot be true literally. It must be given a metaphorical interpretation (intimate, spiritual union with the Lord). Similarly, the result of such eating and drinking is said to be everlasting life. ...
The section 6:53-58 is a summary of Christ's teaching with reference to the bread of life. Nearly every clause and phrase appears elsewhere in this Gospel. [Hendricksen goes on for a page illustrating this fact and further discussing the meaning of this passage.] ...."
I'll quote a sentence from what John Calvin said under this verse ("Gospel According to St. John," Part 1 [Eerdmans, 1993 reprint], page 169), "This sermon does not refer to the Lord's Supper, but to the continual communication which we have apart from the reception of the Lord's Supper."]] (54) He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. [[Note the parallel with verse 40, "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." Jesus dealt extensively with receiving eternal life through submitting to Him in faith in John 6:26-58 (as He did in many other passages); see verses 27-29, 32, 33, 35, 40, 47, 50, 51, 57, 58. And He specifically mentioned raising believers up on the last day, which goes with having eternal life, in verses 39, 40, 44. I'll quote a sentence from what F. F. Bruce says here ("Gospel of John," page 159), "... In his strange words...we recognize a powerful and vivid metaphor to denote coming to him, believing in him (cf. verse 35), appropriating him by faith."
I'll also quote part of what A. T. Robertson says under verse 54 ("Word Pictures," pages 111, 112), "Some men understand Jesus here to be speaking of the Lord's Supper by prophetic forecast or rather they think that John has put into the mouth of Jesus the sacramental conception of Christianity by making participation in the bread and wine the means of securing eternal life. To me that is a violent misinterpretation of the Gospel and an utter misrepresentation of Christ. It is a grossly literal interpretation of the mystical symbolism of the language of Jesus these Jews also misunderstood. Christ uses bold imagery to picture spiritual appropriation of himself who is to give his life-blood for the life of the world ([verse] 51). It would have been hopeless confusion for these Jews if Jesus had used the symbolism of the Lord's Supper. [No one (not even the closest disciples) knew anything about the Lord's Supper at that time.] It would be real dishonesty for John to use this discourse as a propaganda for sacramentalism. The language of Jesus can only have a spiritual meaning as he unfolds himself as the true manna."]] (55) For My flesh is true food [[Jesus spoke of the same true "food" in verse 27 ("the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you"), and He spoke of the same true food, using the word "bread," in verses 32-35, 48, 50, 51, and 58; cf. verses 41, 42. In verse 32 Jesus spoke of Himself as "the TRUE bread out of heaven." Note that Jesus goes on to speak of "TRUE drink" with the last words of this verse (verse 55).]], and My blood is true drink. [By mentioning His blood, Jesus put even more emphasis on His atoning death.] (56) He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. [[What Jesus said in verses 53-56 conveyed the same message as what He said in verses 26-51 about His being the bread of life and the need to believe in Him to appropriate the salvation/eternal life He came to bring, but His using the words "flesh" and "blood" here in verses 51-56 emphasized His all-important atoning death. (As I mentioned, Jesus didn't specifically refer to His atoning death in this discourse until verse 51.) The fact that Jesus went on in verse 58 to mention the need to partake (eat) of the "bread which came down out of heaven," which spoke of the need to partake of the new-covenant salvation that was available only in and through Him, as in verses 26-51, confirms that He is speaking of the same thing here in verses 53-56, but using the words flesh and blood instead of bread. So too, Jesus' speaking of our abiding in Him and He in us in this verse is typical language for partaking of new-covenant salvation through union with the Lord Jesus Christ by grace through faith (cf., e.g., John 15:4-7; 17:23; Col. 1:27; 1 John 2:24; 3:24; and 4:15, 16).
I'll quote part of what A. T. Robertson says under this verse ("Word Pictures," page 112), "The verb "meno" (to abide) expresses continual mystical fellowship [Person to person fellowship by the Spirit] between Christ and the believer as in 15:4-7; 1 John 2:6, 27, 28; 3:6, 24; 4:12, 16. There is, of course, no reference to the Lord's Supper (Eucharist), but simply to mystical fellowship with Christ."
I'll also quote a paragraph from what F. Godet says under verses 56, 57 ("Commentary on the Gospel of John," Vol. 2 [Zondervan, 1969 reprint of the 1893 edition], page 37), "By drinking by faith at the fountain of the expiation [atonement] obtained by the blood of Christ and by nourishing oneself through the Spirit on the life realized in His flesh, we contract a union with Him through which His person dwells in us and we in it. This dwelling of the believer in Jesus is for his moral being, as it were, a transplanting...into the new soil which the perfect righteousness and the holy strength of Christ offer him: renunciation of all merit, all force, all wisdom derived from what belongs to himself, and absolute confidence in Christ, as in Him who possesses all that is needed in order to fill the void. The abiding of Christ, which corresponds to this abiding of the believer in Him, expresses the real effective communication which Christ makes of His own personality ('He who eats me' ver. 57). This mutual relation being formed, the believer lives: why? This is what ver. 57 explains."]]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of John chapters 5-8 in Part 5, starting with John 6:57.
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