(Photo by Pilgrimsarbour)
Saturday, August 08, 2009
More Discussion on the Hard Sayings of Jesus in John 6
(Photo by Pilgrimsarbour)
This post is a response to Dave Armstrong's post on the plausibility of a literal interpretation that the body of Christ is physically present in the Eucharist, as well as other issues seen in John 6. Dave's post deals specifically with John 6:44-66, but I will be bringing in other sections of the chapter for additional context and clarification.
In this section of John's gospel Jesus is preaching to the multitudes after having miraculously fed them. Earlier in the chapter beginning with verse 22, we see Jesus discoursing on His role as the "bread of life." Like the manna in the desert, the Father has given the people the true bread of life, Jesus Himself. At question here is what did the people understand about what Jesus was teaching them, and what didn't they understand. The Jews grumbled against Him for saying that He had come down from heaven, so they understood that He was speaking of Himself in a divine, pre-existent way as the bread that the Father gave to the world (vv. 41-42). They also got riled when He spoke of eating His flesh, thinking that He was advocating cannibalism (v. 52). But it was after He told them that no one could come to Him unless the Father had granted it to them to do so that "many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him" (v. 66). This "hard saying" was, shall we say, the last straw.
We shall briefly look, in turn, at each of the following issues presented in this text:
1) What are we to understand about the parabolic teaching style of Jesus?
2) Who believes Jesus, who does not, and why?
3) What does Jesus mean when He says that He is the bread of life?
4) What does Jesus mean when He says that we are to eat his flesh and drink his blood?
Within the context of what the people could or could not understand about what Jesus was saying, Dave said...
Jesus certainly would have explained what He meant in order to clear up the misunderstanding (and the abandonment), rather than simply reiterate and emphasize the same point more and more strongly: as the passage records (emphasis mine).
But I think the Scriptures lead us to a different conclusion. Jesus spoke to the multitudes at all times in parables:
34 All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: "I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world" (Matthew 13:34-35, emphasis mine).
Jesus explains to His disciples the reason why He teaches the crowds in parables in Matthew 13:10-13:
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?" 11 And he answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand" (emphasis mine).
Luke puts it similarly but a bit more starkly when he says, "...To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand" (Luke 8:10, emphasis mine).
Scripture indicates that when Jesus speaks to the crowds He uses parables, but when He speaks to His own He elaborates clearly the meaning of the parables. When He taught in the temple his plain speaking caused the Jewish leaders to conspire to harm Him (Luke 6:6-11; John 8:48-59). His discourse with Nicodemus, for example, is spiritual language to illustrate literal truths, but Jesus doesn't leave Nicodemus "hanging" like He does with many of those in the crowds. Instead He presses him to keep asking questions so that he might finally understand what Jesus is teaching him. The import of this scene is that Jesus clearly wants Nicodemus to understand Him.
It is not Jesus' intention that everyone will understand what He is saying because it is not His intention to save every human being. Only those who were "appointed to eternal life" (Acts 13:48) would understand and believe Him. If anyone has a saving knowledge about the kindgom of heaven it's because it was given to him by the Spirit. And what he has will increase. But those to whom life is not granted, "even what he has will be taken away." This also ties in with what the Bible has to say about the Spirit hardening and softening hearts.
Moreover, it seems clear that the disciples that Jesus takes aside for the purpose of explaining the meaning of the parables are the chosen twelve, and perhaps some others that belonged to Him "...For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe..." (John 6:64). The other "disciples" mentioned are followers who gave up after awhile as they wrestled with the "hard sayings" of Jesus. Not only were the bread of life, and the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood hard sayings, but the immediate context indicates that the people stopped following Him when they heard that in order to be saved they had to first be drawn to Jesus by the Father:  And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:65, emphasis mine).
The following is reproduced in part from a previous post.
We shall now take a look at John 6:33-40 and the question of Jesus as the bread of life and what He means by eating His flesh and drinking His blood.
33 "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
In verse 35 Jesus reveals that He is the One of whom He spoke in verse 33. Here Jesus clearly equates not being hungry, that is, "eating," with coming to Him. Not being thirsty is equated with believing in Him. Later, He says in verse 51:
51 "If anyone eats of this bread, (comes to Me) he will live forever. And the bread (Myself) that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" (parentheses mine).
The clear intention of Jesus here is to speak of the sacrifice of His body on the cross as an atoning work for sin. I do not see this as a reference to the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist. Intertwined with these sayings about the bread of life are statements about who it is that will come to Him. Verse 37 says it clearly:
37 "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out."
This verse well summarises Paul's teaching in Romans (and elsewhere) about God's eternal decree, as well as the preservation and resurrection of the saints, while verses 38-40 reaffirm it.
Finally, it's striking to note that of all four gospels, John is the only one that does not record for us the institution of the Lord's Supper. If chapter 6 is truly teaching about the Eucharist, how could John neglect to tell us about the institution of this important sacrament which would have taken place a year after the events recorded in chapter 6? It's an argument from silence, I admit, but it is nonetheless compelling. In answer to the questions raised at the beginning of this article, then, John 6 tells us that:
Q1.) Who and What is the bread of life?
A1.) Jesus is the bread of life, eternal God Himself. Eating His flesh is a picture of someone who comes to Him, and drinking His blood is a picture of someone who believes in Him.
Q2.) How do we come to Christ?
A2.) Only those who have been appointed to eternal life by the Father will come to Him (eat) and will believe (drink).
Q3.) Who will continue as His disciples?
A3.) "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." John 6:34
Q4.) What happens to us after we die?
A4.) "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
Verse 33 sets the tone for how we are to understand what Jesus is teaching regarding the bread of life. For these reasons, I am compelled to conclude that John Chapter 6 is not teaching the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.