Study Notes 8-19-12

This section covers John 6:48-54 and begins with Christ’s reaffirmation that He is the Bread of Life.  I regret that I didn’t record audio from today’s lesson, I simply forgot to do that, but hopefully these notes are sufficient for those who might have missed the lesson today.

6:48 I am the bread of life.

It is perhaps significant that Christ repeats this again and again. And it got me thinking once again about the importance of what He’s saying.  I see an obvious parallel between His desire to feed His sheep and the instructions He left with Peter at the end of this gospel.  He said to Peter:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” [16] He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” [17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.  –  John 21:15-17

When Christ repeats something it means that its important, in fact, that was a sign of emphasis during New Testament times.  They didn’t bold or italicize words, they simply repeated them.  And what He says to us here three times He also tells Peter three times, namely that He is the Bread of Life, and that Peter (and the church) was to feed on Him and to pass that food along to others constantly and faithfully.

How Does This Look in Your Home?

But what does this look like in practice?  In your life, are you feeding on Christ, and what does that look like?  What it ought to look like is a constant devotion and passion for the Word.  You ought to be immersing yourselves in the Word as much as possible.  Those whom you love, you spend as much time with as possible, and the same is true with Christ.  That means stoking the passions of Scripture reading.  It means spending more time in prayer.  It means meditating on and memorizing Scripture.

6:49-50 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 

Much of this I have covered earlier, but Christ repeats it here again for a reason, namely to bookend this discussion by getting back to his earlier analogy about the nature of fulfillment and eternal life.  As Ryle says, “We must never be ashamed of repetition in religious life.”

At first Christ had given the example of manna, but had then explained the nature of salvation, and now He comes back to explain once again (with the fresh thought of His teaching on God’s sovereignty in mind) how what He said earlier fits into the discussion on His role in their salvation.

One thing that Christ adds here that He hadn’t mentioned earlier, is that, “the bread that I will give for life of the world is my flesh.”

This is simply another way of stating, “mankind can only achieve life through me.  Through my life, death and resurrection I will achieve righteousness and justification and finally glorification for humanity.”

Does He mean all of humanity?  Surely not, for that contradicts what has been said elsewhere (in fact just earlier in His explanation of God’s sovereignty).  But rather the word “world” is used to represent mankind as a race.  He is obviously not advocating universalism.

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

I wanted address this particular verse separately.  Christ concludes this section by alluding to His flesh being the life He is giving (an elusion to the cross).  Ryle says, “The thought here is only an expansion of the one contained in the 35th verse…The meaning is that the soul of the man who feeds on Christ by faith, shall never die and be cast away in hell. There is no condemnation for him. His sins are put away. He shall not be hurt by the second death.”

But first let me look at one other thing, namely the nature of the claim as it relates to His person.

Dealing With the Claims of Christ

So many people in our day say that Jesus is a nice man, a good man, in fact.  They say that He was a great teacher, maybe, or that He was even a prophet (as Islam says).  But as C.S. Lewis said, “He has not left that open to us, nor did He mean to.”

Look at His words here.  He says, “I am the living bread…from heaven!”  He says He is from Heaven!  Then, He goes on to say something even crazier (if we are to think of Him merely as a good teacher) and states, “If anyone eats…he will live forever.”  He’s saying that He has eternal life.  You eat of this bread and you’ll live forever!  Do those sound like the words of a “good teacher?”  Do those sound like the words of a sane individual?  No.  If Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, the very Deity Himself, then He must be a lunatic because these statements are about as far fetched as any you’ll ever read.

In the course of your work week, or your trip to the store, or your gathering with friends, if someone brings up the fact that they think Jesus was a good teacher, or a good godly man, then you take them to John 6:51 and ask them if these are not the very words of God incarnate.  Because they aren’t the words of a finite man – at least not one we’d consider sane.

We must take Jesus for what He is.  We must realistically deal with these claims and come to grips with the Person of Christ.

6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Once again the Jews get stuck on the metaphor rather than on the meaning of the metaphor.  Their spiritual ignorance is not astounding, for we have seen earlier that they did not have an understanding of the things of God.

For this very reason we must not be surprised when Roman Catholic leaders or television personalities like Pat Robertson who are supposed to be evangelical church leaders advocate for this or that shocking position, or fail to understand the gospel. We must not be surprised when they say things that are quite contrary to scripture.

Why just this week Pat Robertson said to a lady who had adopted children that she shouldn’t be surprised if a man didn’t want to marry her because her kids could “grow up weird” or even dangerous.  Russell Moore rightly condemned Robertson and helps us understand these types of comments better.  He said, “This is not just a statement we ought to disagree with. This is of the devil.”

There are two possibilities why these supposed leaders – like the Jews of Jesus’ day – don’t understand the gospel.  The first is that they are believers who have been led down a path of man-centered doctrine to a point that they now no longer put a priority on the gospel and have deadened their senses to the teachings of grace.

The second, and perhaps more obvious, is that their fruit reveals their deadness. One who is still dead in sin, will surely not understand the things of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:13).  Jesus told us that in order to see the kingdom of God, we must be born again.  “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (John 3:5-6).

In other words, they are not followers of Christ; His Spirit has not quickened them. They are, in fact, part of the church of Satan.  For whoever is not under the control of the Spirit is surely under the control of Satan (Eph. 2:1-3).  Therefore, they will say and do things that are, of course, completely ignorant of what Christ and the Scriptures would say or have us do.

Augustine says that these men are completely unable to hunger for the bread and makes a great connection between the righteousness of Christ, and hungering for Christ, “This bread, indeed, requires the hunger of the inner man: and hence He saith in another place, ‘Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’ (Matt. 5:6). But the Apostle Paul says that Christ is for us righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30).  And, consequently, he that hungers after this bread, hungers after righteousness, – that righteousness however which cometh down from heaven, the righteousness that God gives, not that which man works for himself.”

What a great connection between our thirst for the righteousness of God, and Christ being our ultimate satisfaction for that righteousness.  Augustine explains a bit further, “God’s righteousness here means, not that wherein God is righteous, but that which God bestows on man, that man may be righteous through God.”

So these men were unable to hunger after Christ the way He was calling them to, and Ryle sums up what I’m saying: “Fallen man, in interpreting the Bible, has an unhappy aptitude for turning meat into poison.  The things that were written for his benefit, he often makes an occasion for falling.”

6:53-54 So Jesus 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 you. [54] Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Early Church Historical Background

It was said by the Roman authorities of the early church that they were cannibals and atheists (among other things).  They were called cannibals because they participated in the Lord’s Super where they “at of the body and drank of the blood of Christ.”  Now of course we know this is simply an ignorant falsehood, but it was such a prevalent misunderstanding in the early days of the church that it was a main point of accusation and was one of the false reasons Christians were martyred by Roman Caesars. The reason they were called “atheists” was because they didn’t worship the pantheon of Roman gods.

Catholic Misunderstanding of the Passage

The Romanists (Catholics) have taken this verse incorrectly to mean that whoever participates in the Lord’s Super is saved.  They couldn’t be further from the truth.  As Carson says, “…if its primary reference is to the Eucharist we must conclude that the one thing necessary to eternal life is participation at the Lord’s table. This interpretation of course actually contradicts the earlier parts of the discourse, the least verse 40. The only reasonable alternative is to understand these verses as a repetition of the earlier truth, but now in metaphorical form.”

And so it seems obvious that Christ is not talking about a literal eating and drinking.  Though, as Ryle points out:

The plain truth is, there is a morbid anxiety in fallen man to put a carnal sense on Scriptural expressions, where he possibly can. He struggles hard to make religion a matter of forms and ceremonies, of doing and performing, of sacraments and ordinances, of sense and of sight. He secretly dislikes that system of Christianity, which makes the state of the heart the principle thing, and labors to keep sacraments and ordinances in the second place. Happy is the Christian who remembers these things, and stands on his guard.

So when Ignatius (as representing the Papists) says that the Eucharist is “the medicine of immortality”, Carson is right to respond that this view is “ruled out of court.”

A Correct Interpretation of the Passage

So what does Christ mean here?  Perhaps Augustine summed it up best in the Latin phrase, “Crede, et manducasti” which is to say, “believe, and thou hast eaten.”  The full context of what Augustine said is this, “For to believe on Him is to eat the living bread. He that believes eats; he is sated invisibly, because invisibly is he born again. A babe within, a new man within. Where he is made new, there he is satisfied with food.”

I’d further point out that each of Christ’s statements in this chapter are miniature gospel messages.  The amazing truths of the gospel are contained in each vignette.  Here Christ said that by eating His flesh and blood we will have life – not just life here on earth, but eternal life.  “Eating,” means partaking, it means believing in His bodily sacrifice for our sins.  Then it says that not only will we have eternal life, but that our bodies will also be raised up on the last day.  This is a complete gospel.  Take part in My sacrifice by believing in Me and you will have eternal life spiritually and bodily.

Rightly commenting on this verse the puritan Thomas Goodwin said, “Christ is as meat that man feeds on, chews, and digests, and whose stomach works on continually. The man lives on Him everyday; that is the application of faith.”  And Ryle adds, “We need food every day, and not once a week or once a month, and in like manner, we need to employ faith every day.”

Some Examination of American Christianity…Paying Lip Service to Christ

This passage, and Augustine’s commentary in particular, has brought to my mind the nature of our devotion and hunger for Christ here in America.  Christ is calling us to feast on Him, to seek His kingdom first, and says that He is all we’ll need to be satisfied. He is saying that He is sufficient for our life here and in the hereafter. Without saying it, He is ordering our priorities for us – priorities that we often pay lip service to, but don’t actually obey.  I’ve been calling our class to holiness, and we’ve been discussing how to further pursue holiness each day.

And so, I’m sure you’d agree with me, that it is a bit of a snare to us that we often fear getting too spiritual. We fear giving up a certain way of living, or some certain things we do.  For we find freedom in those things.  They may not seem like sin to us, but they may be distractions from a more satisfying life – the life of a Christian. Some might say that I go too far, or that these words might cause some to stumble into asceticism.  However, I’m clearly not advocating that!  The problem the American Christian Church finds in its body is not asceticism, but rather worldliness. We are far less like the Puritans and far more like the Catholics who (mostly) aren’t even Christ followers at all.  They simply play at church (you’d know what I mean if you ever attended a local Catholic service – they have no clue what they’re talking about, aimlessly wandering around in the dark, quoting scriptures completely out of context, mashing them together with other, as if its some kind of children’s rhyming game).

I fear that in today’s world, you might not know the difference between a Catholic and a Baptist if you were to talk with most of them.  Ah, but you say that we know the truth!  So we have the truth on our side. Well, I suppose that’s correct.  But if our outward life doesn’t conform to the holiness God demands of us, then how are we to tell the difference?  And what good is all that knowledge without any fruit. Your knowledge is rotting you from the inside out.

But I won’t let most American Christians off that easy because most Protestant Evangelical Christians in America today only think they have the truth on their side because they know that they are saved by faith and grace, and they don’t have to pray to a priest.  But if you ask them why, they can’t cite a single passage in Scripture, they can’t tell you how this came about, or why the distinction was made in the first place (much less the historical circumstances leading to the rediscovery of these truths in the 16th century).  Most American Christians would rather preach to you that their “free will” is intact than that God is sovereign (foolishness that’s nowhere found in the Bible).  In other words, having the truth doesn’t matter much when you don’t actually know the truth (Heb. 5:11-6:1).  We’ve lost that in America.  We need to get back to a frame of mind that is more humble, and more dedicated to the study of Scripture.  We must devote our entire lives to understanding and teaching these truths to our children and others.

The Importance of the Bodily Resurrection

One of the things that gets lost in the discussion of this great portion of Scripture is the fact that now 4 times Christ has mentioned the bodily resurrection.

This is something (the resurrection) that many of the Jews – particularly the Sadducees – were adamantly against. Paul gives a great deal of time in 1 Cor. 15 to discussing this, and we find that it is extremely important for understanding the plan Christ has for us.  This, if nothing else, shows His sovereignty over His creation.

He is, in affect, saying that God has complete power over life and death.  He will create spiritual life in whom He wishes, and He will raise those people (His creation) to an entirely new kind of bodily life at the resurrection.  There is no part of life on earth or in heaven that God does not control.  There is no part of the scope of redemption – spiritual or bodily – that He does not sovereignty reign over.

Ryle paraphrases, “It is though our Lord says, ‘this bread that cometh down from heaven is bread of such a nature that he that eateth of it shall never die. His soul shall not be hurt by the second death, and his body shall have a glorious resurrection.”  Note the dichotomy between the soul and the body in Ryle’s statement.

This entire discourse has been about salvation, both the nature and the method (and also the benefits) of salvation.  Throughout the discussion Christ has been emphasizing the sovereignty of God.  There is no getting around verses like 37 and 44 here.  In explaining all of this to these people (who are getting more than they even dreamed of asking for), Christ wants them to know that from all eternity He and the Father and the Spirit have had a plan for them.  This isn’t plan B, so to speak.

And in doing so, Jesus is explaining that the resurrection will play an important part in our future.  Christ will grant to us not only spiritual redemption, but also bodily redemption. What God does, He does completely.  He is not content to allow our bodies to remain in the ground rotting in remembrance of past sins and their resulting death.  He will wipe all of that away with the resurrection of the body.  Sin and its traces will be wiped off the face of the earth and all will be renewed.  There will be no sin and no death, and no reminder of the slavery to which we once were held captive!

Paul says this in 1 Corinthians:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. [21] For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. [22] For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. [23] But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. [24] Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. [25] For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. [26] The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:20-26

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