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The bread of life: the incarnate Lord put to death and ascended again to heaven
In John 6, then, it is the Lord come down from heaven, humbled and put to death, not now as the Son of God, one with the Father, the source of life; but as He who, although He was Jehovah and at the same time the Prophet and the King, would take the place of Victim, and that of Priest in heaven: in His incarnation, the bread of life; dead, the true nourishment of believers; ascended again to heaven, the living object of their faith. But He only glances at this last feature: the doctrine of the chapter is that which goes before. It is not the divine power that quickens, but the Son of man come in flesh, the object of faith, and so the means of life; and, though, as plainly declared by the calling of grace, yet it is not the divine side, quickening whom He will, but faith in us laying hold of Him. In both He acts independently of the limits of Judaism. He quickens whom He will, and comes to give life to the world.
The Lord in contrast with Judaism: earthly blessings and a new position and doctrine
It was on the occasion of the Passover, a type which the Lord was to fulfil by the death of which He spoke. Observe, here, that all these chapters present the Lord, and the truth that reveals Him, in contrast with Judaism, which He forsook and set aside. John 5 was the impotence of the law and its ordinances; here it is the blessings promised by the Lord to the Jews on earth (Psalm 132:15), and the characters of Prophet and King fulfilled by the Messiah on earth in connection with the Jews, that are seen in contrast with the new position and the doctrine of Jesus. That of which I here speak characterises every distinct subject in this Gospel.
The Prophet, Priest and King in respect of Israel
First, Jesus blesses the people, according to the promise of
that which Jehovah should do, given them in Psalm 132, for He was
Jehovah. On this, the people acknowledge Him to be "that Prophet,"
and desire by force to make Him their King. But this He declines
now — could not take it in this carnal way. Jesus leaves them, and
goes up by Himself into a mountain. This was, figuratively, His
position as Priest on high. These are the three characters of the
Messiah in respect of Israel; but the last has full and special
application to the saints now also, as walking on the earth, who
continue as to this the position of the remnant. The disciples
enter a ship, and, without Him, are tossed upon the waves. Darkness
comes on (this will happen to the remnant down here), and Jesus is
away. Nevertheless He rejoins them, and they receive Him
joyfully. Immediately the ship is at the place to which they were
going. A striking picture of the remnant journeying on earth during
the absence of Christ, and their every wish fully and immediately
satisfied — full blessing and rest — when He rejoins them.*
The Son of man in humiliation here
This part of the chapter, having shown us the Lord as already the Prophet here below, and refusing to be made King, and also that which will yet take place when He returns to the remnant on earth — the historical framework of what He was and will be — the remainder of the chapter gives us that which He is meanwhile to faith, His true character, the purpose of God in sending Him, outside Israel, and in connection with sovereign grace. The people seek Him. The true work, which God owns, is to believe in Him whom He has sent. This is that meat which endures unto everlasting life, which is given by the Son of man (it is in this character we find Jesus here, as in John 5 it was the Son of God), for He it is whom God the Father has sealed. Jesus had taken this place of Son of man in humiliation here below. He went to be baptised of John the Baptist; and there, in this character, the Father sealed Him, the Holy Ghost coming down upon Him.
The true bread from heaven set before faith
The multitude ask Him for a proof like the manna. He was Himself the proof — the true manna. Moses did not give the heavenly bread of life. Their fathers died in the very wilderness in which they had eaten the manna. The Father now gave them the true bread from heaven. Here, observe, it is not the Son of God who gives, and who is the sovereign Giver of life to whom He will. He is the object set before faith; He is to be fed upon. Life is found in Him; he that eats Him shall live by Him, and shall never hunger. But the multitude did not believe in Him; in fact, the mass of Israel, as such, were not in question. Those that the Father gave Him should come unto Him. He was there the passive object, so to say, of faith. It is no longer to whom He will, but to receive those whom the Father brought Him. Therefore, be it who it might, He would in no wise cast them out: enemy, scoffer, Gentile, they would not come if the Father had not sent them. The Messiah was there to do His Father's will, and whomsoever the Father brought Him He would receive for life eternal (compare John 5:21). The Father's will had these two characters. Of all whom the Father should give Him, He would lose none. Precious assurance! The Lord saves assuredly to the end those whom the Father has given Him; and then every one that should see the Son and believe on Him should have everlasting life. This is the gospel for every soul, as the other is that which infallibly assures the salvation of every believer.
A new dispensation: resurrection and eternal life
But this is not all. The subject of hope was not now the
fulfilment on earth of the promises made to the Jew, but being
raised from the dead, having part in everlasting life — in
resurrection at the last day (that is, of the age of the law in
which they were). He did not crown the dispensation of the law; He
was to bring in a new dispensation, and with it resurrection. The
Jews* murmur at His saying that He came down from heaven. Jesus
replies by the testimony that their difficulty was easy to be
understood: no one could come unto Him except the Father brought
him. It was grace that produced this effect; whether they were Jews
or not made no difference. It was a question of eternal life, of
being raised from the dead by Him; not of performing the promises
as Messiah, but of bringing in the life of a widely different world
to be enjoyed by faith — the Father's grace having led the soul to
find it in Jesus. Moreover, the prophets had said they should all
be taught of God. Every one, therefore, who had learned of the
Father came unto Him. No man, doubtless, had seen the Father
excepting Him who was of God — Jesus; He had seen the Father. He
that believed in Him was already in possession of eternal life, for
He was the bread come down from heaven, that a man might eat
thereof and not die.
The death of Christ as the believer's life
But this was not only by the incarnation, but by the death of Him who came down from heaven. He would give His life; His blood should be taken from the body which He had assumed. They should eat His flesh; they should drink His blood. Death should be the believer's life. And, in fact, it is in a dead Saviour that we see the sin taken away which He bore for us, and death for us is death to the sinful nature in which evil and our separation from God lay. There He made an end of sin — He who knew no sin. Death, which sin brought in, puts away the sin that attached to the life, which there comes to its end. Not that Christ had any sin in His own Person; but He took sin, He was made sin, on the cross, for us. And he who is dead is justified from sin. I feed, therefore, on the death of Christ. Death is mine; it is become life. It separates me from sin, from death, from the life in which I was separated from God. In it sin and death have finished their course. They were attached to my life. Christ, in grace, has borne them, and He has given His flesh for the life of the world; and I am freed from them; and I feed on the infinite grace that is in Him, who has accomplished this. The expiation is complete, and I live, being happily dead to all that separated me from God. It is death as fulfilled in Him that I feed upon, first for me, and entering withal into it by faith. He needed to live as man in order to die, and He has given His life. Thus His death is efficacious; His love infinite; the expiation total, absolute, perfect. That which was between me and God exists no longer, for Christ died, and it all passed away with His life here on earth — life as He had it before expiring on the cross. Death could not hold Him. To perform this work, He needed to possess a power of divine life which death could not touch; but this is not the truth expressly taught in the chapter before us, although it is implied.
The One who died as the object of faith
In speaking to the multitude, the Lord, while rebuking them for
their unbelief, presents Himself, come in the flesh, as the object
of their faith at that moment (v. 32-35). To the Jews, in laying
open the doctrine, He repeats that He is the living bread come down
from heaven, of which if any man eat he should live for ever. But
He makes them understand that they could not stop there — they
must receive His death. He does not say here, "he that eats me,"
but it was to eat His flesh and drink His blood, to enter fully
into the thought — the reality — of His death; to receive a dead
(not a living) Messiah, dead for men, dead before God. He does not
exist now as a dead Christ; but we must acknowledge, realise, feed
upon, His death — identify ourselves with it before God,
participating in it by faith, or we have no life in us.*
Life by Christ through feeding on Him
Thus it was for the world. Thus they should live, not of their
own life, but by Christ, through feeding on Him. Here He returns to
His own Person, faith in His death being established. Moreover,
they should dwell in Him (v. 56) — should be in Him before God,
according to all His acceptance before God, all the efficacy of His
work in dying.* And Christ should dwell in them according to the
power and grace of that life in which He had gained the victory
over death, and in which, having gained it, He now lives. As the
living Father had sent Him, and He lived, not by an independent
life which had not the Father for its object or source, but by
reason of the Father, so he that thus ate Him should live because
The Lord's ascension again to heaven: the food of faith during His absence
Afterwards, in reply to those who murmured at this fundamental truth, the Lord appeals to His ascension. He had come down from heaven — this was His doctrine; He would ascend thither again. Material flesh profited nothing. It was the Spirit who gave life, by realising in the soul the mighty truth of that which Christ was, and of His death. But He returns to that which He had told them before; in order to come to Him thus revealed in truth, they must be led of the Father. There is such a thing as faith that is ignorant perhaps, although through grace real. Such was that of the disciples. They knew that He, and He only, had the words of eternal life. It was not only that He was the Messiah, which they indeed believed, but His words had laid hold of their hearts with the power of the divine life which they revealed, and through grace communicated. Thus they acknowledged Him as the Son of God, not only officially, so to speak, but according to the power of divine life. He was the Son of the living God. Nevertheless there was one among them who was of the devil.
Jesus therefore, come down to earth, put to death, ascending again to heaven, is the doctrine of this chapter. As come down and put to death, He is the food of faith during His absence on high. For it is on His death we must feed, in order to dwell spiritually in Him and He in us.
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