Studies in his Life and Writings
By W. H. Griffith Thomas
Out of eighteen verses Christ is distinctly mentioned in sixteen, and even the other two relate to him. Thus at the outset we are reminded that "Christ is all." There are three chief names here which should be taken in order, for the purpose of realizing their meaning, truth, and power.
1. The Word. Christ is God's thought made audible and his will made intelligible. It is for us to listen and learn, because the message is for all men, at all times, and in all things.
2. The Light. When we receive Christ as the ''Word," we begin to see the Light of Life. He reveals sin, self, and God; he gives life, mental, moral, and spiritual; he purifies our character and conduct; he beautifies life and the world; and he gladdens all who accept him.
3. The Son. Having received Christ as "Word'' and "Light," we become sons of God (v. 12), which means restoration to the position lost by sin; nearness to God; character, obedience and dignity.
It is important to remember that all this is due to our (1) receiving ''him" (not it), a living, loving, Divine Person. (2) And it also means that we "receive" him, which is resting entirely upon him by simple trust (v. 12). (3) Most important of all is the solemn limitation of this opportunity, ''to as many as." It is for us to ask ourselves whether we have thus "received him."
The great word here, characteristic of the entire Gospel, is "witness."
After the introduction, 1:1-18, Christ is attested by John the Baptist, and two main thoughts stand out with prominence.
1. The Work of Christ. The Baptist uses three titles, and when they are put together they represent almost everything that Christ is to us. (1) He is the Lamb of God, who removes sin, bestows forgiveness, and guarantees acceptance by his sacrifice. (2) He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, bestowing new life, new purity, new power, and blessing. (3) He is the Son of God. thereby guaranteeing to us the right to become sons of God (v. 12). These three are to be kept together, and we must never think of Christ as the Lamb of God without at the same time remembering that he bestows the Holy Spirit and makes us God's children. Observe the order of these three blessings. We cannot have the second and the third without the first.
2. The Work of the Baptist. He calls himself a "voice," thereby showing his humility. And yet, although only a "voice," the fact that he was a "voice" shows that he had an important work to do. Much depends upon the tones of a voice, and we are sure that the Baptist's witness to Christ was expressed in the very best and most attractive way. A voice may be harsh and forbidding and give a wrong impression of the character behind it. So our witness for Christ may give people a false idea of his grace and glory. But if we are a "voice" in the true sense of that word, we shall at once realize that we are only his witnesses, and at the same time shall witness truly, lovingly, our lips and lives speaking for him. The Baptist was not long at work, but what he did all through was to bear witness to Christ, to point others to him.
After the attestation of Christ by the Baptist, he is acknowledged by several men, who become his disciples.
In going from New York to Chicago, or from London to Liverpool, or Toronto to Vancouver, a choice can be made of several ways. The goal is the same in each case, but the journeys vary. Here we have four ways to Christ in the life of these early disciples:
1. The Preached Word (vs. 35-39). The testimony to the Lam1> oi God attracted the two disciples.
2. The Personal Influence (vs. 40-42). Andrew brought his brother to Jesus by the power of his own invitation.
3. The Direct Appeal (v. 43). Christ approached Philip direct without any human instrumentality.
4. The Personal Testimony (vs. 45, 46). Philip bore witness to what Jesus had been to him, and invited Nathanael to do likewise. Thus, while each man came his own way, they all arrived at the one goal of a personal experience of Christ. Everything is intended to lead up to this, and it is for this reason that the Golden Text emphasizes our Lord's words: "Follow Me," which, when properly understood, include Trust and Obedience. We are first to "come unto'' him and then to "come after'' him.
The Apostle uses the word "sign" to describe our Lord's miracles, and the terms found in the other Gospels, "wonder" and "power," are never employed by John. This usage indicates that the miracles were intended to have some meaning above and beyond themselves, a special significance. There are eight altogether and it is often thought that the grouping of seven plus one suggests that each miracle or "sign" has some specific meaning. Bishop Westcott does not hesitate to say that "the sequence of these 'signs' these living parables of Christ's action, these embodiments of truth in deed can hardly be mistaken."
One way of considering them (Hutchison) is to regard the first as introductory of the Divine kingdom as a whole; the second and third to have special reference to the individual; the fourth and fifth to the Church; the sixth and seventh to the world; while the eighth is considered as the crowning event. Another suggestion is that these miracles correspond with each other by a system of introversion; the first corresponding to the eighth; the second to the seventh; the third to the sixth; and the fourth to the fifth. This method certainly indicates some striking parallels. Westcott thinks that the first two give the fundamental character of the Gospel its nature and condition. The next five are signs of the manifold working of Christ, while the last symbolizes the future in regard to corporate and individual work for Christ. Thus, it may be said that each miracle displays some special "rays" of our Lord's "glory." Westcott thinks that the correspondence and connections of these miracles with the different parts of the Gospel as a whole can be easily followed out in other directions and in fuller detail.
It is therefore suggested that, guided by various commentaries and other books, the special meaning of each "sign" and the particular aspect of "glory" manifested should be carefully considered. The following books deal with this subject:
"Our Lord's Signs in St. John's Gospel," by Hutchison, published by T. and T. Clark (valuable for detailed exegesis and doctrinal teaching).
"The Seven Signs," by Brockington, published by Elliott Stock (a spiritual treatment with analogy suggested with the seven songs of the Apocalypse).
"The Eight Signs of John's Gospel," by Madeley, published by Digby, Long & Co. (much useful, spiritual teaching, though unfortunately blended with a somewhat pronounced advocacy of conditional immortality).
"The Miracles of St. John's Gospel," by T. W. Gilbert, published by Longmans (specially teaching on eternal life).
Christ's private ministry was over and his public work was commencing. It was, therefore, suitable to start at the capital, Jerusalem, and at the most familiar feast, the Passover. The importance of this incident cannot be overestimated in understanding Christ's ministry, because it was a definite offer to the nation, and when it was rejected, Christ had nothing to do but to gather and separate his disciples.
The one thought running through the whole passage is the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ, and what he did in Jerusalem is a symbol of his attitude to the soul (Mai. 3:1).
1. Lordship claimed. We see that Christ is regarded as sent by the Father to be the Messiah and Saviour, and all through the verses this claim is to bf noted.
2. Lordship proved. This is indicated in three ways:(1) By his oversight (vs. 13-17); (2) by his foresight (vs. 18-22); and (3) by his insight (vs. 23-25).
3. Lordship exercised. We see this in the (1) cleansing of the temple, (2) working of miracles, (3) teaching. It is very significant that while the miracles were "signs" to the disciples and impressed them (v. 11), the "sign" for the outside (v. 22) was the resurrection. Miracles continually impressed those who were already Christ^s followers, just as spiritual experience confirms our faith today, but for the world the one supreme "sign" or miracle or proof is the resurrection.
4. Lordship accepted. In contrast with the Jews, it is for us to yield to Christ and to recognize his authority over us. We shall do this along familiar lines expressed by four words:(1) submit, (2) admit, (3) permit, (4) commit. When this is all true, then we shall (5) transmit.
In the first part of this Gospel (chaps. 1 to 12) five manifestations of Christ are recorded, each beginning at Jerusalem. The first of these is in 2:13 to 4:54 and included Jerusalem (2:13 to 3:21), Judaea (3:22-36), Samaria (4:1-42), and Galilee (4:43-54). So that we are now concerned with Jerusalem, including a manifestation to the rulers (2:12-22) recording the first national rejection of Christ; to the inhabitants (2:23-25) recording the first beginning of faith; and then the interview with Nicodemus in the present passage, giving the first instance of Christ's dealing with an enquirer. It is also important to notice carefully the connection between chapters 2 and 3 and the remarkable emphasis on "men" and "man" (2:24 to 3:1). It would seem as though Nicodemus were one of the people referred to in the earlier verses, those to whom Jesus did not trust himself, because of their superficial, though sincere attitude. This needed to be deepened, and the process is seen in connection with- Nicodemus.
This is a study of contrasts between earthly and heavenly aspects of life. We have the teacher of Israel (v. 10) and the Teacher come from God (v. 2). There are also the two "excepts," "except God be with him" (v. 2) and "except one be born anew" (v. 3). Then also there are the earthly and heavenly things (v. 12). All this constitutes- the passage one of supreme importance in regard to spiritual life.
1. The Necessity of Life. Christ used the word "must" (v. 7), and the absolute necessity of a new start is thereby seen. Many reasons support this contention including the awful effects of sin and the absolute impossibility of living the true life here or enjoying the true life hereafter without this regeneration. We should, therefore, emphasize in the strongest way our Lord's "must."
2. The Possibility of Life. Our Lord uses another "must" in referring to himself (v. 14), and this shows the way in which the new life becomes possible. This is one of the "heavenly things" in contrast with the "earthly," for it is because of the Divine redemption through the Cross that we obtain the new life of the Spirit in the soul. The absolute necessity of Atonement is thus added to the absolute necessity of the new birth.
3. The Condition of Life. This is seen in the reference to faith, for our Lord emphasized the importance and necessity of believing in him (vs. 15, 16, 18). Faith is the link of connection between the soul and Christ, between two "musts," for the moment we look we live, and when our faith is centered on Christ "lifted up," God's new life of the Spirit comes into our souls.
Thus, we see how Jesus is "the Saviour of the world." Nicodemus had said "we know," but our Lord showed that it is not a question of what we know, but what we are. Not knowledge, but life, is needed.
So the passage emphasizes Life, Love, and Faith. The life of the soul is provided by the love of God and faith is the link of connection.
This is part of Christ's first public manifestation, beginning at Jerusalem (2:13 to 4:54). After Jerusalem (2:13 to 3:21), having been rejected there, he went into the country, the district near Jordan (3:22-24). Then came a dispute between the disciples of John the Baptist and some Jews, and this provided the occasion for John's last testimony to Christ (3:25-36). There was no rivalry, because John fully recognized his inferiority to the Messiah (3:30). Then Christ left Judaea for Samaria. The Pharisees had heard of his success, and in going through Samaria to Galilee he would be free from this Pharisee spying.
Here we see how the Lord approached and captured this woman for himself by four steps.
1. Attracting the heart (vs. 4-9). By a simple request for a drink of water, he broke down the barriers of prejudice and predisposed her for anything else he might have to say.
2. Arresting the mind (vs. 10-15). Then he made her think by a reference to the "living water" and the "gift of God," which, as she pondered, made her desire something of which he spoke (v. 15).
3. Arousing the conscience (vs. 16-24). But there was something in her life which had to be put right before she could have this "living water," and notwithstanding her attempt to evade the pressure, our Lord drove home the arrow of conviction to her conscience, until at length she seems to have admitted the truth of his sayings, and yet in hopelessness thought that it would not be possible to know these things until some future day (v. 25).
4. Assuring the soul (vs. 25-30). Then our Lord revealed himself to her as a personal and present Saviour, telling her that she need not wait for any '' far-off Divine event." inasmuch as he was there at that moment as her Saviour and Friend. Thus there was a revelation of love for the heart, truth for the mind, sin for the conscience, and grace for the soul.
Christ at length reached Galilee on his return from Jerusalem through Samaria (4:3, 4) at the close of his first visit to the capital (2:12, 13). There is a clear connection between the first and second miracles (4:46, 54), and though this may be only chronological, marking the opening of the Galilean ministry and the return thither, it is possible that there is a deeper connection, the first miracle or "sign" being connected with marriage, and the second with home; the first with the joy of a wedding, and the second with the sorrow of a family. Christ and life's gladness, and then Christ and life's sadness. The nobleman was some officer of the royal household of Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, who was sometimes called king, and it is a story of the progress of faith.
This miracle, like others, is a parable of the Gospel of Christ.
1. The Great Sorrow (v. 46). This is seen (1) in a home; (2) among the rich; (3) about a child. An Arab proverb says that ''grief is a black camel that kneels at every one's gate."
2. The Great Saviour (vs. 47-50). His aid is (1) sought (v. 47). Then he is (2) asked (v. 49), and as the outcome he is (3) trusted (v. 50).
3. The Great Satisfaction (vs. 51-54). We can imagine something of what the father felt as he heard the words, "Thy son liveth," and his satisfaction took three forms:(1) trustful obedience (v. 50); (2) thankful joy (v. 51); (3) thorough blessing (vs. 53, 54).
4. The Great Secret. Everything is associated with the man's trust, and it is this effect of Christ on human life which links together the various incidents in this Gospel, as illustrated in every chapter. After the Samaritans are brought into personal contact with Christ through faith, we see the same element in the story of this nobleman, and it will be well for us to analyze what faith really is. (1) It starts with an intellectual perception of facts. The man knew of Christ and his works and accepted them as realities. (2) Then follows a general belief in the value of these facts. The man knew what Christ had done for others, and on this account he believed that he would do the same for him. (3) Then every^thing culminates in appropriating trust in the Person and Word of Christ. The man took Christ at his word and rested entirely upon him.
The result of his faith was the enjoyment of (1) immediate blessing, (2) clear assurance, and (3) deeper experience. Faith, therefore, rises from the acceptance of facts to a personal trust which rests on Christ himself. We start by saying, 'T may trust," and then we follow with "I must" and 'T will," and then comes "I do." Slightly to alter some well-known words, we may say that Faith means: Forsaking All, I Take Him.
No two people are alike, whether physically, intellectually, or morally. For this reason it is important to emphasize individuality and the chief value of these chapters is the variety they offer, showing how our Lord dealt with each case in a different way, though, fundamentally, there was the same need of the same Saviour.
In "Conversations with Christ," by Lucas, it is suggested that the man was not quite genuine, because his suffering had debased him. For this reason it is thought that he at once told the enemies of Christ who it was who had' healed him, but whether this is correct or not, the heart of our Lord's message to him is found in verse 11.
1. Restoration. "He that made me whole." This healing of the man, typifying the spiritual blessing of Christ, has several characteristics:(1) It was free. The man had "nothing to pay." (2) It was full. The man was "made whole." (3) It was immediate. Christ's blessings do not take long to bestow. (4) It was permanent. The trouble never came back. These four points are true of Christ's salvation.
2. Requirement. "Take up thy bed and walk." Christ not only restores, but expects his followers to grow and make progress, and the man's action is a symbol of what believers ought to do. (1) There should be obedience. Christ commands us to show in our life that we are healed. (2) There should be holiness. The "whole-ness" of the body is a fit symbol of the holiness of the soul. (3) There should be testimony. By lip and by life we should tell others of what Christ has done for us. Gratitude alone should prompt us to do this.
3. Restoration and Requirement Inseparable. "The same said unto me." This is an important point, showing that salvation and obedience are absolutely inseparable. We must never emphasize the one without the other. Inquirers about Christianity should be told that two things make up a Christian, salvation and obedience; not only birth, but growth. Christ lived and died and rose, first, to restore men to rig^ht relations with God; and then to bring their lives into harmony with the Divine ideal. This is also a hint to Christians for what God has joined together we must never put asunder. We are delivered in order to serve (Luke 1:74; 1 Pet. 2:9). Walking is often used as a symbol of our spiritual expression of life (Eph. 4:1; 5:2). These two combined and inextricably bound up constitute essential Christianity.
After the miracle and the hostility arising out of it, came Christ's vindication of himself (vs. 19-47), and in verses 19-29 we see Christ's claim to authority with its threefold, "Verily, verily."
Thus we have three pictures of Christ and three attitudes of Christians:( 1 ) In relation to the world, Christ is to be honored; (2) in relation to the individual, Christ is to be trusted; (3) in relation to the Father, Christ is to be imitated.
In the course of his vindication, Christ spoke of certain "witnesses," and when this passage is put with others, we find no less than seven distinct testimonies to him in this Gospel:(1) Himself (v. 31; 8:14); (2) John the Baptist (5:33); (3) Miracles (5:36); (4) The Father (5:37); (5) Scripture (5:39-47); (6) The Holy Spirit (15:26); (7) Believers (15:27).
The record of the feeding of the five thousand in all four Gospels indicates its importance as a crisis, and a careful study of the evangelists shows that the miracle introduces Christ in four different aspects: as the Messiah in Matthew; the Teacher in Mark; the gracious Man in Luke; and the Divine Person in John.
As every miracle is a parable, we may look at this incident as revealing some of the deepest truths of the Gospel.
1. The Revelation. A wonderful picture of Christ. (1) His consciousness. He knew all the circumstances and was purposing to do something, because he had the ability (v. 6). (2) His calmness. In both miracles the beautiful quiet and perfect rest fulness of Christ are most impressive. We are taught afresh the truth of Bushnell's words, that the character of Christ forbids his possible classification with man.
2. The Request. He associates himself with his disciples, because he wishes to teach them. (1) His consultation. He took counsel with them, regarding them as his fellow- workers. (2) His co-operation. He called them to an apparently impossible work when he told them to give the people food.
3. The Response. The attitude of the disciples is full of spiritual meaning. (1) The surrender. They were to bring their little store to him. He always uses natural means as far as they will go. He might have worked the miracle without these loaves and fishes, but he chose to receive them, and so the men were told to bring what they had to him. This means full surrender of everything, however small, for "loaves unblessed are loaves unmultiplied." (2) The service. Then, with his blessing resting on their scanty supply, they were bidden to go and feed the multitude. Christ can make much of inadequate means if only they are fully yielded to him. All that he requires is complete surrender, perfect trust, and loyal obedience. To quote Bushnell again, "Duty is not measured by our ability." Indeed, as Prebendary Webb-Peploe has said, responsibility is "ability to respond," our response to his ability.
4. The Result. The outcome was complete satisfaction of the needs of the people. They were all filled by means of Christ's miracle and the disciples' work. We can also be quite sure that the disciples themselves were still more deeply impressed by their Master's influence and power, and were led thereby to deeper, stronger faith.
The great discourse, or it may be the discussions, in this chapter followed immediately on the feeding of the five thousand. That event was evidently one of the turning-points of Christ's ministry, and the discussions with the Jews, followed by the departure of many professed disciples, show the vital importance of the occasion. For the moment we are only concerned with one section, before taking a general view of the whole.
The references to bread in this chapter are to be explained not only by the miracle, but by the fact that the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread v^^ere near (6:4). To the Jews the symbol of bread was full of spiritual meaning. The manna in the wilderness (Exod. 16:15), the bread earned by Adam (Gen. 3:19), the bread brought by Melchisedek (Gen. 14:18), the bread given by Joseph (Gen. 41:54), the unleavened bread at the Passover (Exod. 12:15), the shewbread in the tabernacle (Exod. 40:23), all occupied an important place in Jewish thought. It is therefore not surprising that Christ used this bread as a symbol of himself. When Satan met Christ in the wilderness, it might have seemed as though bread were everything, but our Lord soon showed that there was something far higher (Luke 4:4). Man is much more than physical, or else life would depend on bodily health.
1. Christ the Source of Life. The analogy fails here, because bread cannot give life to the body, while Christ is the life of the soul. We can do without many things, but for the repair of physical waste we must have food. Sin wastes spiritual strength, and for this reason we need life (6:53). Christ is our life, repairing the waste and giving new powers (6:51). In the Incarnation he was God with us; at Calvary, God for us; at Pentecost, God in us.
2. Christ the Support of Life. When life has been given, new strength comes and has to be maintained, for every part of our nature requires continual sustenance. Just as the manna did not last for two days. so our Lord's Prayer is "Give us this day our daily bread." Christ provides this, for he not only died to become the source of our life, but he lives to be its support. Day by day Christ is our life, and to us to live is Christ ( 1 Cor. 1:30; Phil. 1:21; Gal. 2:20).
3. Christ the Satisfaction of Life. There is such a thing as bare physical existence without enjoyment, but as bodily vigor implies far more than mere existence, so in spiritual things our needs are great and continuous. The supreme question for Christians is whether they enjoy their religion. It has been said that "some people have just enough religion to make them miserable." But Christ intends us never to hunger (v. 35) and to "live for ever" (v. 51). The New Testament has many suggestions expressed by words like "riches," "fulness," "abundance." Christ has fed millions and is still inexhaustible, and if only we receive him in his fulness, we shall be "satisfied with favor" (Deut. 33:23; Psa. 36:8; 65:4; 103:5; Jer. 31:14).
It will readily be seen that these discourses are the sequel of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, and the perfect naturalness of the subject will also be realized when looked at in connection with the dialogues with the Jews, for a careful consideration shows the gradual growth of the opposition and at the same time the true significance of Christ's words.
1. Discussion (vs. 25-40). (1) This was the first stage, which ended with the claim by Christ to be the Heavenly bread.
2. Dissatisfaction (vs. 41-51). (2)' The Jews murmured at this claim in view of what they believed they knew of his earthly origin and circumstances. But Christ in reply did not mitigate, but intensified his claim by saying' that the bread was his flesh.
3. Dissension (vs. 52-59). (3) This was the outcome, for the Jews now strove with one another, being horrified at the very thought of "flesh to eat." Again Christ maintained and more than maintained his position by elaborating the thoughts, and telling them once again of himself, his life and work, and the assurance of the eternal consequences to those who were united to him.
4. Defection (vs. 60-66). (4) This was too much for many of his nominal disciples, and the result was defection, for they could not possibly continue with One who had been saying such difficult, mysterious and impossible things.
5. Devotion (vs. 67-71). (4) It was then that our Lord turned to the Twelve and sought the proof of their devotion, and was assured by Peter speaking for them all that, notwithstanding everything, they were convinced that he had the words of eternal life, as the Holy One of God, and on this account they could not and would not go away.
As we review these conversations and discourses, we cannot help noticing three solemn lessons.
1. The Inevitable Result of Truth. We see this in the way in which the Jewish character was revealed and its destiny settled in relation to Christ.
2. The Invariable Attitude of Evil. The opposition to our Lord is seen to be associated with his death, and it is not too much to say that dislike, if not hatred, of the atonement, together with rejection of the One who atones, constitute the predominant features of all opposition to Christ and Christianity through the ages (1 Cor. 1:18, 25).
3. The Immeasurable Satisfaction of Christianity. This is seen all through these wonderful chapters, revealing our Lord as a personal Saviour, who dwells in a believer, is assimilated by him, and satisfies the hunger of the soul forever (vs. 35, 51, 57, 68). So that we may say in this, as in other connections, "Christ is all."1
The third manifestation of Christ to the Jews extends from 7:1 to 10:21, during which time he shows more fully and clearly than ever his Divine claims, and side by side with this we observe the development of the controversy which eventually led to his rejection by the nation. The entire section is marked by its relation to the feast of tabernacles (7:1, 14, 37; 9:1).
In the course of this discussion between Christ and the Jews, we notice in particular three solemn truths.
1. Relationship to God. The issue was becoming more and more definite. The Jews claimed to be preeminently the people of God, expecting a Messiah, and yet when the Messiah was in their midst, they did not accept him. This thought of their relationship to God had no meaning for them, except in relation to their past, and everything connected with Abraham and the covenant seemed to them to make all things sure. Their present spiritual condition counted for nothing; they only rested upon a relationship from ancient days which they considered sufficient for everything. But in strong and striking contrast our Lord emphasized the necessity of their proving themselves true children of Abraham (Luke 3:8).
2. Realization of Truth. Christ told them the simple yet sufficient way of proving the truth of his statements, "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself" (7:17). This shows that truth becomes known through doing or being willing to do the will of God. The passage teaches that, as we obey what we know, there comes into our lives an ever-increasing conviction that we are on the side of truth. This is one of the ways in which the Fourth Gospel emphasizes obedience as a condition of intellectual illumination. There is an objective doctrine and a subjective element in man, and when the two are united in simple obedience, the result is spiritual assurance. "There is no revelation possible to the rebellious, the half-hearted, or the apathetic; but when the whole man makes a true selfsurrender of himself to God, his eyes become opened to truth and he knows the doctrine" (Holdsworth, "The Life Indeed," p. 94).
3. Refusal of Christ. Notwithstanding all that our Lord said, it is clear that prejudice prevented them from accepting him and his teaching. Decision has to be faced, and in this section men are evidently making up their minds with reference to Jesus Christ. Some accept, but others reject, and the conflict of thought leads to a corresponding conflict of determination with all the results later on of open and utter opposition. Unbelief is seen here, as elsewhere, to be the fundamental sin, "Ye will not come."
It was necessary for something to be done in the face of these discussion's and their differing results (vs. 30, 31). Men always have to take sides in relation to Christ. One attitude is impossible, that of ignoring him.
This is one of the many illustrations of the striking contrast caused by Christ.
1. Christ and his enemies. His clear enunciation of truth and his assurance of a loving welcome were met by a determination to oppose and reject his offer. We see all through the story the growth of that hardness which at length culminated at the crucifixion.
2. Christ and his friends. The wonderful testimony on the last day of the feast (vs. 37-39) is a striking instance of what our Lord is willing and able to be to those who follow him. He is the perennial source of spiritual life and the perfect satisfaction of that life. Not only so, but others are blessed through those who receive him, for they become rivers of blessing (v. 38). This reference to the Holy Spirit and the condition of his coming at Pentecost, consequent upon the glorification of Jesus Christ, has its personal and spiritual counterpart, for the Holy Spirit only comes down into our hearts when the Lord Jesus Christ is on his throne there. If we will but commit ourselves to him in simple, childlike faith and surrender and admit him into our hearts, and then permit him to be our Lord, we shall soon be enabled by his grace to transmit to others the blessings of his Divine grace.
It is well known that this passage is disputed in so far as it is part of the present Fourth Gospel, but whatever may be said about its place here, there seems to be no doubt that it represents a true incident in our Lord's life. It has been well said that it is so marked "by the wisdom, holiness, and goodness of him to whom it is attributed that it could no more have been invented than any other feature in the inimitable life of Christ." In studying our Lord, we can look at his life as a whole, and consider its general effect, or we can confine attention to particular topics. Of the latter there is scarcely one more interesting than the present story, in which we see our Master's self-possession, insight and wisdom.
In this twofold attitude of one and the same Person, we notice the different expressions of the same feature. This contrast between our Lord's attitude to the man and to the woman calls for careful attention. He was the same Christ and yet was very different to the two parties.
1. The Twofold Attitude. To both he showed his wisdom, justice, and love. He manifested his wisdom to the men by showing that he knew their plot and would vanquish their claim. He showed his wisdom to the woman in his careful distinction between concern for her guilt and for the salvation of her soul. He showed his justice to the men in his refusal to deal with matters outside his province, and to the woman in his strict insistence on righteousness of life. His love was shown to the men in his endeavor to awaken their conscience to a sense of their sin, and to the woman in his careful and sympathetic dealings with her, notwithstanding that she was henceforth to live a different life.2. The Cause of this Twofold Attitude. The reason why the one Christ was so different in each case was due to the difference in the people before him. It is a solemn truth that God is to us what we are to him. If we come to him with idols in our hearts, he will answer us according to those idols, but if we come to him with penitence and sincerity, he will deal with us accordingly. The same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay, and God's relation to us always depends upon our relation to him.
The discussions at the feast of tabernacles are continued, and the section of which this is a part extends from 7:37 to 8:59 and deals with the last day of the feast of tabernacles.
Four classes of people may be distinguished: The orthodox party, represented by the Pharisees, who were mainly hostile and are usually described by John as "the Jews"; the ordinary people who came up to the feast, and who were not definitely on one side or the other; the religious officials, mainly Sadducees; the disciples of Christ.
As we review these various discussions, we are enabled to see what it is to be a true Christian.
1. Knowing Divine Truth (v. 32). We need truth because of our ignorance and error about God, about life, and about eternity. Christ himself is the truth (1:17; 14:6; 18:37), and now "truth is in Jesus" (Eph. 4:21), since he reveals God, life, and eternity. This truth is a power, for Christ promises it shall make us free. Our intellectual bondage, due to ignorance, error, and prejudice; our religious bondage, due to self -righteousness; our spiritual bondage, due to our sinfulness — shall all be removed.
2. Possessing Divine Sonship (v. 35). In time past those who were out of Christ were children of the devil (v. 44), but now we are God's children, by adoption (Rom. 8:15) and regeneration (John 1:12).
3. Enjoying Divine Liberty (vs. 32, 36). Freedom is one of the greatest privileges and blessings of the Gospel and includes liberty from the guilt and power of sin, from all merely human bondage (Gal. 5:1). And yet by a beautiful spiritual paradox it involves complete slavery to Christ. Liberty is not license. We are at once Christ's slaves and Christ's freemen. Liberty consists in the possession of God and surrender to his will. As the Episcopal Collect says, "Whose service is perfect freedom." And a hymn- writer remarks, "A life of self -renouncing love is a life of liberty."
Some think this incident follows immediately on 8:59, at the Feast of Tabernacles, but it is perhaps better to regard it as happening about three months after at the Feast of the Dedication (10:22), because of certain events which seem to have taken place in Galilee between the two feasts.
This is one of the most striking instances of the opposition to Christ shown by the Jewish authorities, and the main thought of the lesson can be seen in the contrast between the "we know" of the Pharisees (v. 24) and the "I know" of the man (v. 25).
1. Prejudice. "We know" (v. 24). All through the story we see (1) the official pride, (2) the utter formalism, (3) the deliberate bias, and (4) the absolute falsehood of those who were determined to reject Christ. This opposition was due to the will influenced by desire.
2. Reception. "I know" (v. 25). In the man we see (1) his personal humility, (2) his experimental belief, (3) his spiritual discernment, (4) his joyous confidence. All this was caused by willing obedience founded on simple trust. We can, therefore, rejoice in the assurance that comes from experience as the foundation of faith. This is invincible and unassailable, for no one can touch or set aside the reality which comes from a personal contact with Christ.
There is a close connection between this and chapter 9. Jesus continues his remarks to the Pharisees due to their conduct in excommunicating the man who had been born blind. They claimed to be the expounders of the Divine law, and in that capacity they had dealt with the man, and, if their action was true, the man had undoubtedly forfeited his proper place among God's people. But their sentence did not reflect God's judgment, and the Pharisees were not true spiritual guides, for they did not seek God's honor. Thus, the subject of verses 1 to 21 is the contrast between these false guides and Jesus himself, the true Guide. The relations of a shepherd and his sheep are used allegorically, and the subject is unfolded in three contrasts (vs. 1-6, 7-10, 11-15). The figures of shepherd and sheep would be very familiar (Jer. 23:1-4; Ezek. 34; Zech. 11:16).
As the verses are somewhat hard to divide, because the entire subject is blended gradually through the three contrasts, it will perhaps be best to look at it under the four following figures:
In this lesson we have the final metaphor expressive of the various relationships of Christ to his people.
1. The Shepherd. This was something entirely new. He had spoken in parables generally (Luke 15), but now he speaks of himself as the Shepherd. As such, he is the (1) Saviour; (2) owner; (3) friend; (4) guide of his flock. Each of these points can be seen in the lesson. And, as such, he (1) saves; (2) keeps; (3) loves; (4) leads. Each one of us ought to be able to take this home to the heart and say, "The Lord is my Shepherd" ( Psa. 23:1 ).
2. The Sheep. Almost every verse has something to say about the relation of the sheep to the Shepherd (all of which should be noted), but we will concentrate on verse 9, which tells of three things: Safety, Liberty, Satisfaction. (1) We are saved by the Shepherd, who gives his life for our redemption (vs. 11, 15). (2) We enjoy freedom through the open door of the sheepfold, and rejoice in our liberty in Christ (Gal. 5:1). (3) The satisfaction comes" from the "pasture," the spiritual food which is ours, as Christ, our Shepherd, leads us day by day.
3. The Under-Shepherds. The solemn contrast between the false shepherds and the true Shepherd conveys a definite lesson for all Christian workers. We are expected under Christ to be of help to his people, whether as a "porter" or in some other capacity. Let us take care that we are not like the Pharisees, hirelings (vs. 12. 13). Our position should be in Christ; our devotion should be shown for Christ's sheep; and our spiritual life should be marked by knowledge, sympathy, and love.
4. The ''Other Sheep" Verse 16 looks forward to the future, and it is significant that Christ already spoke of them as belonging to himself, "I have." He also said, "Them also I must bring," and yet we know that he did not, personally, in his earthly lifetime, bring a single one of them. What, then, is the meaning of this solemn "I must"? Surely, it is that they are to be brought through us, and this is the specific work of what we call missions or world-wide evangelization.
Opposition to Christ was continually growing and ripening, until at length the utterances about himself as the Shepherd, about the hireling, the wolf and the sheep, led to the inevitable clash between him and his foes, involving a severing of the true and the false in those who heard him (vs. 19-24).
The entire passage shows the contrast between those whom Christ described as "my sheep," and those of whom he said, "Ye are not of my sheep."
1. My Sheep. In the course of Christ's statements he mentions no fewer than seven separate statements of his relation to his followers. They hear his voice, he knows them, they follow him, he gives them eternal life, they shall never perish, no one shall snatch them out of his hand, no one can snatch them out of the Father's hand. And this sevenfold relationship to man is based on Christ's unique relation to God (v. 30).
2. Not my Sheep. In striking contrast the Jews are told that their inability and unwillingness to believe were due to the fact that these elements of relationship were not true of them (v. 26). Nothing could be more striking than this plain and definite contrast. Men are either Christ's "sheep" or they are not. There is no other alternative.
Now comes the close and culminating points of the great discussion. The Jews at once recognize that our Lord had asserted his deity (v. 30), and it is this claim that constitutes the reality and bitterness of the opposition.
And so the breach was complete. The Jews sought but failed to separate the good works of Christ and the Person who performed them. They would not mind accepting the works even though they were set on stoning the Worker. But Christ did not because he could not withdraw his claim, and so we have the two parties, those who would not and did not accept him, and those who would and did.
1. The Faithless. Four times the Jews had wished to take him (7:30, 32, 44; 10:39); twice they had taken up stones to cast at him (8:59; 10:31), while on an earlier occasion they had sought to kill him (5:18). The enmity aroused by his healing on the Sabbath day (chap. 5) had never really died out (7:1, 19, 25), but increased and was intensified, point by point, until at last it culminated in this hostility. It is sad to think that while he was welcomed in Samaria (chap. 4), and was not very severely opposed in Galilee (chap. 6), yet in the center of the nation, at Jerusalem, he was met with the most violent and virulent hostility.
2. The Faithful. In striking and beautiful contrast is the acceptance of him during this period of retirement beyond the Jordan, and after the effort of the Jews to take him, this acknowledgment of him and his claims must have been a delight and a true refreshment to his wearied body and mind. ''Many believed on him there" (v. 42). Here again the contrast is clear-cut and definite.
It has been well and most suggestively pointed out (H. W. Clark, in "The Christ From Without and Within") that at the end of the tenth chapter a break is made in the narrative, and the method of writing is resumed which had been dropped at the end of the fourth chapter. In chapters 1-4 the record gives various incidents about Christ, while from chapters 5-9, inclusive, Christ mainly speaks for himself, expressing his own inner life and consciousness. "Now John begins to speak about Christ once more."
At the same time we are reminded of the friendships of Christ, as we are introduced to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
1. Love's Interest (vs. 1-4). The message sent to Christ was based on his love to Lazarus. But our Lord thought first and foremost of the glory of God.
2. Love's Delay (vs. 5, 6). The force of the word "therefore" seems strange. How could Christ love Lazarus and yet allow him to die? It was because the death was seen to bring more glory to God.
3. Lovers Courage (vs. 7-10). When the time came for action, nothing could stop Christ, for he was "immortal" till his work was done.
4. Love's Purpose (vs. 11-16). The words "friend" and "glad" are significant, for Christ was about to show what he would do'. He had already raised the dead, but this would be the greatest miracle of all.
As we ponder this passage, we see the characteristics of Christ's love to Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.
1. Personal Love. It was concentrated on each of the three. Love is always and necessarily personal, whether it is the love of pity or of pleasure, love for the disobedient or the obedient. The realization of Christ's pitying love brings the sinner to repentance, while the consciousness of personal love brings joy and peace to the believer.
2. Perfect Love. Christ's love was always unselfish, self-denying, self-sacrificing. While natural affection brings pleasure and delight in the return it elicits, Christ's love was disinterested, pure, unselfish. He loved not l^ecause of what they could be to him, but of what he could be to them. True love is always ready to give itself for others. And the various references to Christ's love are inevitably and closely associated with its proof in the gift of himself (John 15:13; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2).
3. Particular Love. Christ loved Lazarus and yet allowed him to die (v. 4), because love could see far ahead and knew that the death would result in greater blessing to all. He loved Martha in an entirely different way, as is seen by the conversation (vs. 17-27). A strong and robust woman, with more strength than pathos, the conversation was characteristic of her nature, as understood by Christ. No pathos was used, because none was necessary. The supreme thought was that of instruction, and in this the wisdom of Christ's love was shown. His love for Mary was again quite different, because she was overwhelmed with her sorrow, and it may be that this fact is the explanation of the truly remarkable and mysterious words used of Christ's feelings at this time, which were, for some reason or another, those of anger rather than grief. Even his weeping seems to have been associated with the thought of Mary's overwhelming sorrow at the merely physical loss, great though it was (v. 33). Christ's love saw further and would bring sure comfort. Thus, Christ's love was different from all three. To Lazarus he was the mighty Lord. To Martha the eternal life. To Mary the Incarnate love. Thus he dealt with each according to temperament, in his kind, wise, sufficient, discriminating and satisfying affection.
4. Perpetual Love, Here and elsewhere it is clearly seen that Christ loves for all time. His love is at once persevering (John 13:1), powerful (Rom. 8:37), and permanent (Rom. 8:35).
5. Practical Love. In this and in all other passages there is an entire absence of rhapsody, nothing sensuous or glowing, but everything calm and balanced. Christ's love was ardent, and yet reverent, because it was a matter of action rather than emotion.
It is for us to receive that love (1 John 4:16), to abide in it as our home (John 15:10), to respond to it by letting God love us (John 13:35; 1 John 4:19), and then to reflect it by a life of definite, practical, unselfish, self-sacrificing love (Eph. 5:2).
In order to look at the entire story of the raising of Lazarus, it is necessary to consider the earlier verses again. After the Feast of Dedication (10:22), in December, A. D. 29, Christ retired to Perea on the East of Jordan ( 10:40), where he rested in seclusion, in view of Jewish hostility, until the message came from Mary and Martha (11:3). It was this that brought him again to Bethany of Judaea,
Resurrection is one of the great words of the New Testament, and is associated with some of the most important facts of the Gospel. Its prominence in the early Church teaching (Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:10; 5:31; 10:40; 22:8; 23:6, etc.) suggests that in some respects it is the very center of Christianity. There are four resurrections in the New Testament, and each calls for special attention.
1. The Resurrection of Christ. This was according to his own promise (John 2:19), and it is this that makes Easter Day so vital and important. Resurrection was the proof of Christ's personal character (Acts 2:24), the testimony to his power (Rom. 1:4) and the assurance of his authority (Acts 17:31). It is also the means of our resurrection- (Rom. 4:25), the pledge of it (1 Cor. 15) and the pattern of it (Rom. 6). It was the Divine assurance of the acceptance of the Atonement and is the foundation of the Christian Church, which could not be organized round a dead body.
2. The Resurrection of Believers. This will take place at Christ's coming (1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:16) and is the culminating point of redemption, which includes spirit, soul, and body in its Divine completeness. Only those who are Christ's will be raised at this time.
3. The Resurrection of the Wicked. The fact is clear from Christ's own teaching (John 5:28, 29) and it will take place at the close of the thousand years (Rev. 20:11-14). This will be for judgment, not for redemption (Rev. 20:4-6).
4. The Spiritual Resurrection of the Sinner. This means the spiritual resurrection of those who are dead in sins and therefore raised m Christ to newness of life (John 11:25, 26; Eph. 2:1; John 5:25). Their death in sins refers to moral inability, not moral insensibility, and they shall hear the voice of the Son of God' and live. The words of verses 25 and 27, though very familiar through constant use at funerals, include very much more than the thought of physical death, for they apply to life as a whole. Resurrection from the death of sin is a necessity, and this is followed by spiritual life. The two are always experienced in this order and must be kept united. The provision for this spiritual resurrection and life is in the personal presence of Christ: "I am the Resurrection and the Life." But in order that it may be realized in personal experience, it is essential that we believe it and receive him. "Believest thou this?" Faith in the personal, present, and powerful Christ is thus the secret of life here and of life hereafter. This resurrection is clearly stated to be at the present time, "and now is" (John 5:25), and is therefore a present possibility and opportunity. By faith we are united to Christ and obtain eternal life here and now (John 17:3).
So that Christ's resurrection is past; there are two resurrections still future; and one may be, and should be, in the present. The supreme question is whether we, in our deadness of sin, are ready and willing to receive into our souls the life of Christ, or, rather, Christ as our life. Faith guarantees our present resurrection. Hope anticipates our future, while love will enable us to declare the good tidings of Christ's resurrection and victory and thereby to win others to him.
After the raising of Lazarus, Christ did no more signs publicly before the world. But a twofold attitude is seen, hatred on the one side and love on the other, showing the impression made by our Lord. The effect of the miracle was so great that the Jewish authorities felt compelled to take action. The results were immediate. Observe the wonderful picture of human life in relation to Christ.
Cynicism (vs. 49-53). He suggested that it would be better to kill Jesus than to lose their position. Caiaphas was a creature of Rome and a Sadducee, and his counsel was good policy, because the continued popularity of Jesus would clash with their interests. Yet the cynicism was transformed into prophecy. The words had a deeper meaning than Caiaphas saw, something he had never contemplated. And so the Lord walked no more openly (v. 54), but went into a secluded place with his disciples. Meanwhile, as the Passover approached, the people were seeking for him in Jerusalem, and the rulers had given instructions for his apprehension (vs. 55-57).
The entire episode is a striking and sad example of human callousness.
1. The fact of callousness. Mark its extent, even to using religion. (1) In the people (vs. 46, 56). Christ evidently made no real impression on them. (2) In the Priest (v. 50). Self was his sole thought. (3) In the Council (vs. 53, 57). They had no regard for fairness, to say nothing of the deeper questions of righteousness and their duty to God.
2. The results of callousness. This decision of the Council really hastened the end of the Jewish nation, and the ultimate ruin of A. D. 70 was largely brought about by this attitude to Christ. But we can see God's love as well as his justice, for the deeper meaning of the words of Caiaphas show how different God's thoughts and ways are from those of man. What the hard-hearted high priest had unwittingly said was an exact statement of what Christ was about to- do "for" the nation and for all the scattered ones of the family of God (vs. 51, 52). Calvary was the true explanation.
The effect of the raising of Lazarus was immediate and important, and on account of the definite hostility of the Jewish leaders, Jesus withdrew again to the wilderness country northeast of Jerusalem (11:54-57). But the nearness of the Passover led people to seek for him, and the rulers took steps to make sure of his apprehension If he appeared. It is thus seen that the restoration of Lazarus was the immediate occasion of the Sadducean chief priests determining to take action, because their beliefs were thereby threatened. Then six days before the Passover, Jesus left Ephraim for Jerusalem (Mark 10:32), taking the road through Perea by Jericho, where he called Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-11) and healed Bartimaeus. The anointing by Mary is recorded also by Matthew and Mark, but is given in- another connection for a special purpose. But John gives them; event in its order.
The story is particularly remarkable for its record of different attitudes to Christ, and as these are pondered we may discover what our own is and also what it should be.
1. Contact with Christ. As we think of Simon, Lazarus, Martha and Mary, we cannot help seeing four kinds of personal, spiritual contact with Christ. (1) Simon stands for salvation, as symbolized by his deliverance from leprosy. (2) Lazarus reminds us of life, as we think of his recent resurrection. (3) Martha, in her service and activity, suggests work for the Master. (4) Mary, in her attitude and action, reveals what we understand by consecration. These four together give us the true meaning of the Christian life.
2. Criticism of Christ. This is seen in Judas, whose remarks were altogether unworthy of the occasion and did not express his real sentiment. It is often the case that men criticize from wrong motives, revealing one thing and concealing another.
3. Curiosity about Christ. This is seen in the common people (v. 9). Love to Christ was apparently not the supreme motive, but only curiosity to see Lazarus after his resurrection. Curiosity of this sort usually does not lead to anything deeper, but often tends to become dissipated in mere interest that never reaches spiritual blessing. And yet we know that, in some cases at least, the sight of Lazarus led to the acceptance of Christ (v. 11).
4. Craftiness against Christ. This is seen in the chief priests (vs. 10, 11), who were determined to take action not only against Christ himself as already decided (11:53), but also against Lazarus, through whom many of the Jews were actually believing on Jesus. This shows the awful extent to which sin will go when it is determined at all costs to oppose what it knows to be right.
As we consider these attitudes we notice the significant words: "There they made him a supper." Have we one for him? Have we a feast to give to him? li we have only a crust, no gifts, no position, little influence, few opportunities, he will as gladly accept and make use of that little as if we had great position, power, influence, and capacity. But, before we can make him a supper, we must accept the one he has made for us, the supper of salvation (Luke 14), to which he invites us and says, "Come, for all things are now ready."
This public entry into Jerusalem took place the day after the Feast at Bethany (vs. 1-12). This would correspond either with our Sunday or more probably Monday. John's account of the entry is shorter than those of the other three, but its distinctive feature is the strong feeling aroused for Jesus by the restoration of Lazarus (vs. 10, 11, 12, 17). This action of a public entry is significantly in contrast with almost all Christ's previous action. Before this he had counseled privacy, but now he courted and even excited publicity at the Passover, when crowds were present. This change was doubtless due to his intention to offer himself deliberately to the nation at the close of his ministry as he had at the opening (John 2:12-25). It was a clear claim to Messiahship, and therefore would constitute a cause for accusing him and putting him to death. The episode of the Greeks (vs. 20-26) probably occurred on the Tuesday (Mark).
1. The Revelation. There was a fivefold manifestation of himself at this time. (1) As the Seer. We notice this in the way in which he knew beforehand where the ass was to be found which was to carry him into the city (Matt. 21:1-3). (2) As the Owner. Not only did he know where the ass was, but he claimed it for his own use by calling himself "the Lord," and he knew that the owners would recognize his authority (Mark 11:3-6). (3) As the King. Twice in John's account is this thought of Kingship suggested, and the whole bearing of Christ at the entry indicates the same truth. (4) As the Prophet. The people recognized Jesus as the Prophet, the Divine Spokesman (Exod. 7:1), when he entered into Jerusalem (see John 6:14). (5) As the Saviour. This is seen in the reference to his death, when the Greeks came (v. 24). This revelation of Christ is equally applicable today, and he desires to be all this to each one of us. He is at once our Prophet, Priest, and King. As Prophet he reveals; as Priest he redeems; as King he rules.
2. The Response. The question at once arises how we are to meet this revelation and what answer we are to give to him as he makes his claim to our lives. As we look over this lesson, we see a fivefold response to the fivefold revelation. (1) Trust. This is clear not only here, but throughout John's Gospel. Christ's disciples exercised faith in him. (2) Obedience. Arising out of the trust comes the conduct of the life which carries out what he commands. (3) Consecration. This is suggested by the solemn statement that, if we would really live, we must be prepared to surrender our life wholly to Christ (vs. 24, 25). (4) Service. The trust, obedience and consecration are to be expressed in actual work or service for our Master, for all true following will necessarily be proved in this way (v. 26). (5) Praise. The joy of the multitude as Christ entered Jerusalem should be the true and constant attitude of the believer, as he praises God for all that Christ is and does (v. 13). Then, when this fivefold response is assured, we know that where Christ is his servant will be, and there will come honor from the Father (v, 26).
Although the death of our Lord brings such blessing to us, it was no light thing for Christ himself, as this episode plainly shows.
The reference to Christ's death is very important, and may be illustrated by three quotations. Denney has said that it is Calvary, not Bethlehem, which is the "center of gravity" in the New Testament. "Christ could have been Teacher, Example and even Revealer of God without the Cross" (H. W. Clark, "The Christ from Without and Within," p. 193). Forsyth remarked that the Incarnation has no religious value but as the background of the Atonement. "The real Incarnation lay not in Christ being made flesh, but in his being made sin."
These closing messages are at once a farewell to the world and an earnest appeal. Under the metaphor of light, there is a fulness of spiritual meaning.
These verses give a recapitulation of the history recorded in chapters 1 to 12. The last words of the public ministry of Christ have been spoken, and all that remained was to indicate the general results.
Note the three special testimonies: John the Baptist, chapters 1 to 3; Christ himself, chapters 4 to 10; the Father, chapters 11 and 12. Mark the references to Christ as the Light:1:4; 8:12; 9:5, and the two classes of people in relation to it.
We see here, what has been evident all through these twelve chapters, the two attitudes of Rejection and Reception.
The Sixth Chapter and the Lord's Supper
The instituting of the Lord's Supper is not recorded in John's Gospel. Yet it is sometimes urged that the sixth chapter is John's equivalent for that sacred feast. It is in that chapter that our Lord calls himself the true bread out of heaven, the bread of God, the bread of life, the living bread, and declares, "The bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world." Then he goes on to make these tremendous statements: ''Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me, and I in him."
Let us, then, make a careful inquiry as to the relation of this wonderful chapter to the Supper of the Lord. For this purpose it is essential to look at what is here found from the standpoint of those who first heard what our Lord said.
1. The discourses recorded in this chapter took place at least a year before the Lord's Supper was instituted, and on this account the hearers could not possibly know, or even imagine, what Christ was going to do twelve months afterwards.
2. The messages found here are addressed to Jews, outsiders, men who for the most part were in deadly opposition to Christ. The Lord's Supper was instituted in the presence of disciples alone and apparently was intended only for them.
3. The succession of present tenses in this chapter indicate spiritual blessings that were intended to be immediate to those who heard the words.
4. Eating and drinking are said to give life ("except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, ye have not life in yourselves," verse 53), and this is stated in so universal and unqualified a way that it does not admit of any exception.
5. Our Lord said that those who ate his flesh and drank his blood would be absolutely certain of resurrection at the last day (v. 54). This again is wholly unqualified and stated in most sweeping terms.
6. Christ gives his own explanation of "eating" and "drinking," for he says that they are represented by "come" and "believe" (v. 35), while another equivalent phrase is "behold" and "believe" (v. 40).
7. The Jews, who were forbidden by their law to eat flesh with blood in it, were naturally horrified at these very plain sayings, and yet Christ did not mitigate their intensity when he found how the Jews felt, though he clearly indicated that the mere physical eating of flesh would be of no spiritual profit, that the words were "spirit and life" (v. 63) and were intended to be understood as spiritual and yet with all the intense reality that came from so clear a use of definite physical actions like eating and drinking.
What conclusions, then, can we draw from these facts?
1. Our Lord refers to the spiritual reality symbolized in the Lord's Supper, namely, himself as the object and food of our faith. As a thoughtful writer has said, Christ witnesses in John six to the same truths which were associated with the Passover Feast and the Lord's Supper; the blood of sacrifice and the food of strength. Godet helpfully says that the sixth of John and the Lord's Supper refer to one and the same fact; in the chapter by metaphor, and in the ordinance by emblems. Thus the true idea is that of union with Christ, expressed in words in John six and in action in the Lord's Supper. Our life comes from his death and through the faith which feeds on that death. It is only the acceptance of Christ that avails for life; not even his holy character, or his beautiful teaching, or his perfect example will suffice, but it is only his death (his "flesh and blood") that must be fed on. For his death accomplished what all else could not possibly do.
It is also significant that our Lord commands us here to eat blood, though under the law blood was forbidden. That was probably intended as a confession that the life, as symbolized by the blood, had reverted to God and was no longer in man's power, so that to eat "blood under the law would have been an attempt to regain life in our own strength — an attempt by man to reach that which he had forfeited." But now, under the glorious Gospel, everything Is changed, and blood may and must be eaten. For the life, which had reverted to God, God himself has given to make atonement, and now we are commanded to take life from him. This is the Gospel of Divine grace, for under the old covenant the ordinance forbade the eating of blood, showing that there was no recovery of forfeited life by any human effort. But under the new covenant that ordinance is canceled, and now to believe in Christ is to receive life as the gift of God through his Son. It is this spiritual reality, not any outward rite that embodies it, which is to be understood in this chapter.
2. This view is in harmony with the best commentators in almost every age. Thus John Ferus, an eminent Roman Catholic preacher and writer in the sixteenth century, says that "To eat his body spiritually is from thy heart to believe... he speaketh not here (John 6:53) of the Sacrament, for not all are condemned who take the sacrament. He speaketh of spiritual eating, that is of faith in Christ." To the same effect is the modern and great authority of Bishop Westcott, who points out that the discourses spring naturally out of the position in which the Lord stood at that time. "That which is outward is made the figure of the inward." Then Westcott says: "It follows that what is spoken of eating (vs. 51, 53, 54, 56, 57, 58) — the succession of phrases is most remarkable — cannot refer primarily to the Holy Communion; nor again can it be simply prophetic of that sacrament. The teaching has a full and consistent meaning in connection with the actual circumstances, and it treats essentially of spiritual realities with which any external act as such can be co-extensive. The well-known words of Augustine, 'Believe and thou hast eaten,' give the sum of the thoughts in luminous and pregnant sentence." Westcott adds that any attempt to transfer the words to the sacrament is not only to involve the history in utter confusion, but to introduce insuperable difficulties into the interpretation of the discourses which can only be removed by arbitrary qualifications at various points.
3. All this shows the importance of distinguishing between the primary meaning and any secondary use made of it. The sixth chapter of John really refers to the atonement; and the Lord's Supper is only one out of several ways of appropriating by faith the efficacy of our Lord's sacrifice. Besides, it is clear that in this chapter Christ refers solely to spiritual eating, while in the Lord's Supper everything he said had reference to bodily acts.
4. We must, therefore, take the greatest possible care not to urge the Lord's Supper from this chapter, but to insist in every way in our power that men participate by faith in the sacrifice of Christ, without which it is impossible for them to have eternal life now or a blessed resurrection hereafter.
1 For a consideration of the Lord's Supper in the light of this chapter, see page 199.