Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
~ John 6:60
For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
~ John 6:33
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
~ Jeremiah 13:23
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
~ Matthew 16:17
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
~ John 12:32
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
~ John 5:24
Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?
~ Zechariah 1:5
Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.
~ John 8:51
To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious,
~ 1 Peter 2:4
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
~ Revelation 2:7
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
~ John 15:1
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
~ Romans 8:2
Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John 6:41-71, by J.C. Ryle.
Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began complaining about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus replied, “Do not complain about me to one another. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God–he has seen the Father.) I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Truths of the weightiest importance follow each other in rapid succession in the chapter we are now reading. There are probably very few parts of the Bible which contain so many “deep things” as the Sixth Chapter of John. Of this the passage before as is a signal example.
We learn, for one thing, from this passage, that Christ’s lowly condition, when He was upon earth, is a stumbling-block to the natural man. We read that “the Jews murmured, because Jesus said, I am the bread that came down from heaven. And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that he says, I came down from heaven?” Had our Lord come as a conquering king, with wealth and honors to bestow on His followers, and mighty armies in His train, they would have been willing enough to receive Him. But a poor, and lowly, and suffering Messiah was an offence to them. Their pride refused to believe that such an one was sent from God.
There is nothing that need surprise us in this. It is human nature showing itself in its true colors. We see the same thing in the days of the Apostles. Christ crucified was “to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness.” (1 Cor. 1:23.) The cross was an offence to many wherever the Gospel was preached. We may see the same thing in our own times. There are thousands around us who loathe the distinctive doctrines of the Gospel on account of their humbling character. They cannot tolerate the atonement, and the sacrifice, and the substitution of Christ. His moral teaching they approve. His example and self-denial they admire. But speak to them of Christ’s blood–of Christ being made sin for us–of Christ’s death being the corner-stone of our hope–of Christ’s poverty being our riches–and you will find they hate these things with a deadly hatred. Truly the offence of the cross is not yet ceased!
We learn, for another thing, from this passage, man’s natural helplessness and inability to repent or believe. We find our Lord saying–“No man can come unto me, except the Father who has sent me draws him.” Until the Father draws the heart of man by His grace, man will not believe.
The solemn truth contained in these words is one that needs careful weighing. It is vain to deny that without the grace of God no one ever can become a true Christian. We are spiritually dead, and have no power to give ourselves life. We need a new principle put in us from above. Facts prove it. Preachers see it. The Tenth Article of our own Church expressly declares it–“The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God.” This witness is true.
But after all, of what does this inability of man consist? In what part of our inward nature does this impotence reside? Here is a point on which many mistakes arise. Forever let us remember that the will of man is the part of him which is in fault. His inability is not physical, but moral. It would not be true to say that a man has a real wish and desire to come to Christ, but no power to come. It would be far more true to say that a man has no power to come because he has no desire or wish. It is not true that he would come if he could. It is true that he could come if he would. The corrupt will–the secret disinclination–the lack of heart, are the real causes of unbelief. It is here the mischief lies. The power that we lack is a new will. It is precisely at this point that we need the “drawing” of the Father.
These things, no doubt, are deep and mysterious. By truths like these God proves the faith and patience of His people. Can they believe Him? Can they wait for a fuller explanation at the last day? What they see not now they shall see hereafter. One thing at any rate is abundantly clear, and that is–man’s responsibility for his own soul. His inability to come to Christ does not make an end of his accountableness. Both things are equally true. If lost at last, it will prove to have been his own fault. His blood will be on his own head. Christ would have saved him, but he would not be saved. He would not come to Christ, that he might have life.
We learn, lastly, in this passage, that the salvation of a believer is a present thing. Our Lord Jesus Christ says–“Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that believes on me HAS everlasting life.” Life, we should observe, is a present possession. It is not said that he shall have it at last, in the judgment day. It is now, even now, in this world, his property. He has it the very day that he believes.
The subject is one which it much concerns our peace to understand, and one about which errors abound. How many seem to think that forgiveness and acceptance with God are things which we cannot attain in this life–that they are things which are to be earned by a long course of repentance and faith and holiness–things which we may receive at the bar of God at last, but must never pretend to touch while we are in this world! It is a complete mistake to think so. The very moment a sinner believes on Christ he is justified and accepted. There is no condemnation for him. He has peace with God, and that immediately and without delay. His name is in the book of life, however little he may be aware of it. He has a title to heaven, which death and hell and Satan can not overthrow. Happy are those who know this truth! It is an essential part of the good news of the Gospel.
After all, the great point we have to consider is whether we believe. What shall it profit us that Christ has died for sinners, if we do not believe on Him? “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life–and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36.)
Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Few passages of Scripture have been so painfully twisted and perverted as that which we have now read. The Jews are not the only people who have striven about its meaning. A sense has been put upon it, which it was never intended to bear. Fallen man, in interpreting the Bible, has an unhappy aptitude for turning food into poison. The things that were written for his benefit, he often makes an occasion for falling.
Let us first consider carefully, what these verses do NOT mean. The “eating and drinking” of which Christ speaks do not mean any literal eating and drinking. Above all, the words were not spoken with any reference to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. We may eat the Lord’s Supper, and yet not eat and drink Christ’s body and blood. We may eat and drink Christ’s body and blood, and yet not eat the Lord’s Supper. Let this never be forgotten.
The opinion here expressed may startle some who have not looked closely into the subject. But it is an opinion which is supported by three weighty reasons. For one thing, a literal “eating and drinking” of Christ’s body and blood would have been an idea utterly revolting to all Jews, and flatly contradictory to an often-repeated precept of their law. For another thing, to take a literal view of “eating and drinking,” is to interpose a bodily act between the soul of man and salvation. This is a thing for which there is no precedent in Scripture. The only things without which we cannot be saved are repentance and faith. Last, but not least, to take a literal view of “eating and drinking,” would involve most blasphemous and profane consequences. It would shut out of heaven the penitent thief. He died long after these words were spoken, without any literal eating and drinking. Will any dare to say he had “no life” in Him? It would admit to heaven thousands of ignorant, godless communicants in the present day. They literally eat and drink, no doubt! But they have no eternal life, and will not be raised to glory at the last day. Let these reasons be carefully pondered.
The plain truth is, there is a melancholic anxiety in fallen man to put a carnal sense on Scriptural expressions, wherever 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 principal thing, and labors to keep sacraments and ordinances in the second place. Happy is that Christian who remembers these things, and stands on his guard! Baptism and the Lord’s supper, no doubt, are holy sacraments, and mighty blessings, when rightly used. But it is worse than useless to drag them in everywhere, and to see them everywhere in God’s Word.
Let us next consider carefully, what these verses do mean. The expressions they contain are, no doubt, very remarkable. Let us try to get some clear notion of their meaning.
The “flesh and blood of the Son of man” mean that sacrifice of His own body, which Christ offered up on the cross, when He died for sinners. The atonement made by His death, the satisfaction made by his sufferings, as our Substitute, the redemption effected by His enduring the penalty of our sins in His own body on the tree–this seems to be the true idea that we should set before our minds.
The “eating and drinking,” without which there is no life in us, means that reception of Christ’s sacrifice which takes place when a man believes on Christ crucified for salvation. It is an inward and spiritual act of the heart, and has nothing to do with the body. Whenever a man, feeling his own guilt and sinfulness, lays hold on Christ, and trusts in the atonement made for him by Christ’s death, at once he “eats the flesh of the Son of man, and drinks His blood.” His soul feeds on Christ’s sacrifice, by faith, just as his body would feed on bread. Believing, he is said to “eat.” Believing, he is said to “drink.” And the special thing that he eats, and drinks, and gets benefit from, is the atonement made for his sins by Christ’s death for him on Calvary.
The practical lessons which may be gathered from the whole passage are weighty and important. The point being once settled, that “the flesh and blood” in these verses means Christ’s atonement, and the “eating and drinking” mean faith, we may find in these verses great principles of truth, which lie at the very root of Christianity.
We may learn, that faith in Christ’s atonement is a thing of absolute necessity to salvation. Just as there was no safety for the Israelite in Egypt who did not eat the passover-lamb, in the night when the first-born were slain, so there is no life for the sinner who does not eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood.
We may learn that faith in Christ’s atonement unites us by the closest possible bonds to our Savior, and entitles us to the highest privileges. Our souls shall find full satisfaction for all their needs–“His flesh is food indeed, and His blood is drink indeed.” All things are secured to us that we can need for time and eternity–“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Last, but not least, we may learn that faith in Christ’s atonement is a personal act, a daily act, and an act that can be felt. No one can eat and drink for us, and no one, in like manner, can believe for us. 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. We feel benefit when we have eaten and drunk, we feel strengthened, nourished, and refreshed; and, in like manner, if we believe truly, we shall feel the better for it, by sensible hope and peace in our inward man.
Let us take heed that we use these truths, as well as know them. The food of this world, for which so many take thought, will perish in the using, and not feed our souls. He only that eats of “the bread that came down from heaven” shall live forever.
Many Followers Depart
Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him to come.”
We learn from these verses that some of Christ’s sayings seem hard to flesh and blood. We are told that “many” who had followed our Lord for a season, were offended when He spoke of “eating his flesh and drinking his blood.” They murmured and said, “This is an hard saying; who can accept it?”
Murmurs and complaints of this kind are very common. It must never surprise us to hear them. They have been, they are, they will be as long as the world stands. To some Christ’s sayings appear hard to understand. To others, as in the present case, they appear hard to believe, and harder still to obey. It is just one of the many ways in which the natural corruption of man shows itself. So long as the heart is naturally proud, worldly, unbelieving, and fond of self-indulgence, if not of sin, so long there will never be lacking people who will say of Christian doctrines and precepts, “These are hard sayings; who can hear them?”
Humility is the frame of mind which we should labor and pray for, if we would not be offended by scriptural teaching. If we find any of Christ’s sayings hard to understand, we should humbly remember our present ignorance, and believe that we shall know more by and bye. If we find any of His sayings difficult to obey, we should humbly recollect that He will never require of us impossibilities, and that what He bids us do, He will give us grace to perform.
We learn, secondly, from these verses, that we must beware of putting a carnal meaning on spiritual words. We read that our Lord said to the murmuring Jews who stumbled at the idea of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing–the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.”
It is useless to deny that this verse is full of difficulties. It contains expressions “hard to be understood.” It is far more easy to have a general impression of the meaning of the whole sentence, than to explain it word by word. Some things nevertheless we can see clearly and grasp firmly. Let us consider what they are.
Our Lord says, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” By this He means that it is the Holy Spirit who is the special author of spiritual life in man’s soul. By His agency it is first imparted, and afterwards sustained and kept up. If the Jews thought He meant that man could have spiritual life by bodily eating or drinking, they were greatly mistaken.
Our Lord says, “The flesh profits nothing.” By this He means that neither His flesh nor any other flesh, literally eaten, can do good to the soul. Spiritual benefit is not to be had through the mouth, but through the heart. The soul is not a material thing, and cannot therefore be nourished by material food.
Our Lord says, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” By this He signifies that His words and teachings, applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, are the true means of producing spiritual influence and conveying spiritual life. By words thoughts are begotten and aroused. By words mind and conscience are stirred. And Christ’s words especially are spirit-stirring and life-giving.
The principle contained in this verse, however faintly we may grasp its full meaning, deserves peculiar attention in these times. There is a tendency in many minds to attach an excessive importance to the outward and visible or “doing” part of religion. They seem to think that the sum and substance of Christianity consists in Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, in public ceremonies and forms, in appeals to the eye and ear and bodily excitement. Surely they forget that it is “the Spirit who gives live,” and that the “flesh profits nothing.” It is not so much by noisy public demonstrations, as by the still quiet work of the Holy Spirit on hearts that God’s cause prospers. It is Christ’s words entering into consciences, which “are spirit and life.”
We learn, lastly, from these verses, that Christ has a perfect knowledge of the hearts of men. We read that “He know from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.”
Sentences like this are found so frequently in the Gospels that we are apt to underrate their importance. Yet there are few truths which we shall find it so good for our souls to remember as that which is contained in the sentence before us. The Savior with whom we have to do is one who knows all things!
What light this throws on the marvelous patience of the Lord Jesus in the days of His earthly ministry! He knew the sorrow and humiliation before Him, and the manner of His death. He knew the unbelief and treachery of some who professed to be His familiar friends. But “for the joy that was set before Him” he endured it all. (Heb. 12:2.)
What light this throws on the folly of hypocrisy and false profession in religion! Let those who are guilty of it recollect that they cannot deceive Christ. He sees them, knows them, and will expose them at the last day, except they repent. Whatever we are as Christians, and however weak, let us be real, true, and sincere.
Finally, what light this throws on the daily pilgrimage of all true Christians! Let them take comfort in the thought that their Master knows them. However much unknown and misunderstood by the world, their Master knows their hearts, and will comfort them at the last day. Happy is he who, in spite of many infirmities, can say with Peter–“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” (John 21:17.)
After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!”
Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?” (Now he said this about Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.)
These verses form a sorrowful conclusion to the famous discourse of Christ which occupies the greater part of the sixth chapter. They supply a melancholy proof of the hardness and corruption of man’s heart. Even when the Son of God was the preacher, many seem to have heard in vain.
Let us mark in this passage what an old sin apostasy is. We read that when our Lord had explained what He meant by “eating and drinking his flesh and blood,”–“After this, many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer.”
The true grace of God no doubt is an everlasting possession. From this men never fall away entirely, when they have once received it. “The foundation of God stands sure.” “My sheep shall never perish.” (2 Tim. 2:19; John 10:28.) But there is counterfeit grace and unreal religion in the Church, wherever there is true; and from counterfeit grace thousands may, and do, fall away. Like the stony ground hearers, in the parable of the sower, many “have no root in themselves, and so in time of trial fall away.” All is not gold that glitters. All blossoms do not come to fruit. All are not Israel which are called Israel. Men may have feelings, desires, convictions, resolutions, hopes, joys, sorrows in religion, and yet never have the grace of God. They may run well for a season, and bid fair to reach heaven, and yet break down entirely after a time, go back to the world, and end like Demas, Judas Iscariot, and Lot’s wife.
It must never surprise us to see and hear of such cases in our own days. If it happened in our Lord’s time and under our Lord’s teaching, much more may we expect it to happen now. Above all, it must never shake our faith and discourage us in our course. On the contrary, we must make up our minds that there will be apostasy in the Church as long as the world stands. The sneering infidel, who defends his unbelief by pointing at them, must find some better argument than their example. He forgets that there will always be counterfeit coin where there is true money.
Let us mark, secondly, in this passage, the noble declaration of faith which the Apostle Peter made. Our Lord had said to the twelve, when many went back, “Will you also go away?” At once Peter replied, with characteristic zeal and fervor, “Lord, to whom shall we go? you have the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that you are that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The confession contained in these words is a very remarkable one. Living in a professedly Christian land, and surrounded by Christian privileges; we can hardly form an adequate idea of its real value. For a humble Jew to say of one whom Scribes, and Pharisees, and Sadducees agreed in rejecting, “You have the words of eternal life; you are the Christ,” was an act of mighty faith. No wonder that our Lord said, in another place, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah–for flesh and blood has not revealed it unto you, but my Father who is heaven.” (Matt. 16:17.)
But the question with which Peter begins, is just as remarkable as his confession. “To whom shall we go?” said the noble-hearted Apostle. “Whom shall we follow? To what teacher shall we betake ourselves? Where shall we find any guide to heaven to compare with you? What shall we gain by forsaking you? What Scribe, what Pharisee, what Sadducee, what Priest, what Rabbi can show us such words of eternal life as you show?”
The question is one which every true Christian may boldly ask, when urged and tempted to give up his religion, and go back to the world. It is easy for those who hate religion to pick holes in our conduct, to make objections to our doctrines, to find fault with our practices. It may be hard sometimes to give them any answer. But after all, “To whom shall we go,” if we give up our religion? Where shall we find such peace, and hope, and solid comfort as in serving Christ, however poorly we serve Him? Can we better ourselves by turning our back on Christ, and going back to our old ways? We cannot. Then let us hold on our way and persevere.
Let us mark, lastly, in this passage, what little benefit some men get from religious privileges. We read that our Lord said, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil.” And it goes on, “He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.”
If ever there was a man who had great privileges and opportunities, that man was Judas Iscariot. A chosen disciple, a constant companion of Christ, a witness of His miracles, a hearer of His sermons, a commissioned preacher of His kingdom, a fellow and friend of Peter, James, and John–it would be impossible to imagine a more favorable position for a man’s soul. Yet if anyone ever fell hopelessly into hell, and made shipwreck at last for eternity, that man was Judas Iscariot. The character of that man must have been black indeed, of whom our Lord could say he is “a devil.”
Let us settle it firmly in our minds, that the possession of religious privileges alone is not enough to save our souls. It is neither place, nor light, nor company, nor opportunities, but grace that man needs to make him a Christian. With grace we may serve God in the most difficult position–like Daniel in Babylon, Obadiah in Ahab’s court, and the saints in Nero’s household. Without grace we may live in the full sunshine of Christ’s countenance, and yet, like Judas, be miserably cast away. Then let us never rest until we have grace reigning in our souls. Grace is to be had for the asking. There is One sitting at the right hand of God who has said–“Ask, and it shall be given you.” (Matt. 7:7.) The Lord Jesus is more willing to give grace than man is to seek it. If men have it not, it is because they do not ask it.