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"Verily, verily" (8)

P Coulson, Forres

John 6.22-58

One of the primary truths of John’s Gospel is that the Son of God came to the world, and particularly to the nation of Israel, to reveal the Father. Of all the wonderful works of the Saviour, eight specific miracles are recorded by John, each of them a sign to the nation that, if they were to know their God, they must receive and honour His Son. We have seen in previous articles something of the importance of the events of ch.6 which details the fourth and fifth signs to Israel in the feeding of the 5,000 and the Lord walking on the sea. Four times over in this chapter the Lord Jesus uses the words, "Verily, verily", and He concludes the first of these statements (vv.26-27) by saying of the Son of man, "him hath God the Father sealed". True sonship displays the character of the father, and we might have expected the Lord to say that the one whom "God the Father sealed" was the Son of God. But no, the Lord uses the title "Son of man", a title used only by Himself of Himself. The only record we have of others using this title of the Lord is when men quoted His own words, as in 12.34 for example. As the Son of man, the Lord Jesus was the fullest and most perfect example of all that God intended man to be, displaying in all His ways the character and features of ideal manhood. All that He displayed, He was. He was not a Reflector of all the glory of perfect manhood, but the Revealer of it as the unique Son of man. Equally, He was not a Reflector of the character of the eternal God but the Revealer of the same, for He was as essentially divine as He was human. As He spoke of the "everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give you: for him hath God the Father sealed" (v.27), the Lord Jesus was showing that the miracle of feeding the 5,000 and His subsequent walking on the sea were not works to glorify Himself as a man amongst men, but signs by which His revelation of the Father were approved and certified by God Himself. If one who is undeniably Man is doing works that are undeniably divine, He must Himself be God and, therefore, the Messiah of Israel. The Son of man had the confirmatory seal of God the Father upon His works and by His works.

"Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (vv.28-29). If these verses stood alone we might conclude from them that God requires from His people one particular work, that of believing on the Son. However, favour with God (and salvation in particular) is never on the grounds of works, but by faith. The subsequent verse and the ensuing discourse give us explanation of the Lord’s response. It is always important, of course, to read Scripture in its context. When the Lord Jesus stated that "This is the work of God" He was referring to the miracle of the 5,000 being fed. God the Father had done a great work, through the Son of man, and it was for this purpose, "that ye believe on him whom he hath sent". By such means the Father "sealed", or "authenticated" the Son of man, and even as the Son revealed the Father, so the Father glorified the Son. This explains why "They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?" (v.30). Evidently the crowd was ready to accept that the miraculous feeding was a work of God, but if it was a work of God, what could this man standing before them do to demonstrate His own power? The emphasis in v.30 is on "thou" - "What sign shewest thou then…what dost thou work?". The failure of the Jews to see the Father revealed in the Son was compounded by their misunderstanding of the source of the manna given to their fathers in the wilderness. It was to correct that misunderstanding that the Lord Jesus uttered another "Verily, verily".

The Jews, ever seeking signs in their unbelief, wanted to see the Lord do something that was unequivocally of Himself. Effectively they said, "When Moses stood forth to lead the nation, he called down bread from heaven. We acknowledge we have seen a work of God in the feeding of the 5,000, but what can you do yourself?". "Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world" (vv.32-33). In their quotation from Psalm 78.24-25 the Jews thought that the "he" referred to Moses, but the Lord taught them that the "he" referred to God Himself. Moses was the mediator of the blessing and instrumental in its delivery, but the source was God. By it God "sealed" Moses in the sight of the people and, in a more wonderful way, the Lord Jesus now stood before them as the antitype of that manna. Moses had mediated in the work of the manna but he never multiplied bread in his own hands. He was as dependent on the manna for his own sustenance as were the people themselves. But the Man who had multiplied the bread and the fish could not only supply physical food in a limitless way, He could also meet the deep spiritual need of His people if they would but accept Him. The spiritual food was not something He gave but something He was in Himself: "I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst" (v.35). Just as the Lord had demonstrated His superiority over Jacob in ch.4 when He gave the woman to drink of living water, so He demonstrated His superiority over Moses in ch.6. Moses called down physical food for the people, but the Saviour would prove to be the true bread of heaven to all who would feed upon Him and appropriate Him for themselves. The deliberate unbelief of the Jews is clearly seen as they turn from saying, "Lord, evermore give us this bread" (v.34), to murmuring at Him because He showed them that the bread they sought was Himself (v.41). (The word "Lord" is the same form of address used by the Samaritan woman in ch.4 and is better read here in v.34 as "Sir".)

Unbelief is a terribly debilitating condition. The word "unbelief" literally means without faith, and the faithless attitude of the Jews led them to increasingly wild and irrational thought. When a person rejects truth that has been clearly revealed, they will then seek to justify their position by the means of any argument, however absurd. There is no lack of evidence of this today, sadly, and some believers will perform all kinds of mental and verbal gymnastics to try and explain why they will not bow to the plain instruction of the Scriptures. The rejection of the Lord by the Jews after the clear manifestation of His deity and humanity in John 6 led them to ask the absurd and undignified question, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (v.52). His words and deeds declared Him to be the Son of God, the Revealer of the Father, but to them in their wilful unbelief He was "Jesus, the son of Joseph" (v.42).

In the third "Verily, verily" of the chapter the Lord had stated with unambiguous simplicity, "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life" (vv.47-48). To any open mind it was evident that the Lord was neither speaking of literal bread nor of physical sustenance. To faith it was clear that in the Lord was life, everlasting life, and those who received Him by faith would appropriate that everlasting life. The life to be found in Him would be at the cost of His own life in sacrifice (v.51) but, instead of falling before Him in worship, the Jews "strove among themselves". The murmuring and the striving were all too reminiscent of the attitude of their fathers in the wilderness (Ex 16; Num 20).

In the final "Verily, verily" of this very full chapter, the Lord Jesus repeats a vital point that the Jews had failed to grasp in His preceding statement. "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead", emphasised the temporal nature of the bread from heaven, even though it was "angels’ food". They were more impressed with their defective recollection of the physical manna than they were with the revelation of the true bread from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Saviour concluded His discourse with the stark contrast between those who received the physical manna and those who received the One of whom the manna was but a type. "Your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever" (v.58).

To be continued.


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