You Have the Words of Eternal Life
You Have the Words of Eternal Life
One of the great joys of my life to officiate weddings. Sure, there is a lot of pressure to get things right, but one aspect I love so much is standing beside a groom when the bride comes down the aisle. I have seen guys come undone in that moment, trying to pull themselves together for the rest of the ceremony. When this couple makes vows to one another I never sense any doubt or hesitancy when they say these things. Why? Because they find great joy in that person and believe that this person will fulfill what they are saying.
Jesus is calling us to a particular posture toward him, one of great joy, and we have joy-filled faith in him by because of the truth of his Word. So, we ought to look to Jesus with soul-satisfying faith and treasure his Word.
Don’t Look for Mere Temporary Pleasure, Labor for Food that Leads to Eternal Life (6:22-27)
The crowd wakes up to find that Jesus and his disciples are gone. They decide to get in boats and cross the Sea of Galilee and find Jesus in Capernaum. Since they know Jesus did not get into the boat with his disciples, they are curious how he got there, but like many times in the Gospel of John, Jesus sees past their question in order to get into a more profound topic. Jesus says they were not following him because they saw signs (cf. v. 2), which should have led them to a particular belief about his identity (Son of God, Son of Man, Messiah, God incarnate), but in order to get some more free food.
In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the white witch gives Edmund some Turkish delight so that he will bring his siblings to her and she can accomplish her plan of vanquishing the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. However, he later comes back alone because he really wants his fill of Turkish delight. The white witch meant to use that food to achieve something higher, but all Edmund saw was the food. Jesus is doing what he does to point to his identity, but here people are only seeing the physical food, which they think they can get more of.
As in John 4 when Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14) so here Jesus tells the crowd to labor for food that will never perish, not temporary food. The only source of this eternal food is Jesus, the sent One endorsed by the Father, shown in his fulfillment of all OT messianic promises and prophecies.
Every good and every perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation (James 1:17). Life and breath and everything comes from God, and he richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). But these things we have in this life (family, job, food, drink, exercise, rest, etc.) are meant to point us to God and the eternal life he gives, a life dedicated to worshipping him (Ps. 73:25-26; 1 Peter 3:18). Yes, enjoy God’s gifts in a non-idolatrous way, but don’t just seek God’s gifts, God himself is the greatest gift he gives to us!
Do the Work of God, Believe in Jesus (6:28-29)
The crowd responds by asking what they must do to be doing the works of God. This seems like an adventure in missing the point, which is often seen in John (Nicodemus, John 3; Samaritan woman, John 4), mistaking spiritual truth with physical reality.
They are prepared, they say, to do whatever work God requires of them to be right with him, displaying their ignorance in that they could ever do works that would merit God’s favor (cf. Rom. 3:28). Jesus responds and sets the record straight: What God requires is faith. Faith specifically in the One whom he has sent, Jesus the Messiah. No work we do can reconcile us to God, we must have faith in the finished work of Jesus.
Nothing we do can merit favor with God, we must trust in Jesus’ accomplished work on our behalf. This kills despair and defeat in the face of sin, and it also destroys our pride and self-reliance. Look to Jesus in faith to be saved. Look to Jesus as a Christian to respond rightly to sin and continue growth in the gospel. Next Jesus gets into detail about what this faith looks like.
Partake of True Bread, Let Your Soul Be Satisfied with Jesus (6:30-40)
The Jews now ask Jesus what sign he will perform so they can see it and believe in him (even though he just performed a miraculous sign of feeding so many [6:14]; note that John 1-12 is often called the book of signs, from turning the water to wine in John 2 to raising Lazarus in John 11, and in the end many don’t believe [12:37-40]). Some were even wondering if he was the prophet like Moses (John 6:14; cf. Deut. 18:15, 18), but they want more. They then appeal to the OT when the people ate manna in the wilderness (Exod. 16:1-15; cf. Ps. 78:24; 105:40; Neh. 9:15).
Jesus points away from Moses to God as the provider of manna in the OT, and says that now God is providing the true bread to people, namely, the One he has sent. This bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, and the people respond with earnest desire for this bread (cf. John 4:15).
Jesus then pulls out one of the main punchlines of this teaching: He is the bread of life. The expression “I am the bread of life” is the first of seven similar claims. The other six are: I am the light of the world (8:12), the gate (10:7, 9), the good shepherd (10:11, 14), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way and the truth and the life (14:6), and the true vine (15:1, 5). Whoever comes/believes in him will never hunger/thirst. Saving faith includes coming to Jesus to have the hunger and thirst of our soul’s satisfied.
Have you ever been sick and couldn’t eat for a time? Have you ever fasted? Then you know those moments when you taste food again and the taste is incredible and satisfying. You come with expectations, you leave with joy. If you have been in athletics or borne the heat of a summer day hiking or biking or doing some activity with friends and family, you have felt thirst. When I listened to the audiobook of the Return of the King and heard of Frodo and Sam journeying across the wasteland of Mordor, Tolkien described it so well I literally felt thirsty as I listened to it. We come to Jesus in faith, a faith that says you are the only one who can satisfy my longings for joy (Ps. 16:11; 73:25-26).
Jesus is doing the will of the Father, he will give life, and not lose any of those the Father gives him, and he will raise them up on the last day in the resurrection. Eternal life is found in looking to the Son in soul-satisfying faith.
Again, the call is to come to him in salvation by believing in Jesus as our Savior (John 3:16) and Lord (Rom. 10:9-10) and Treasure. All of the Christian life is a fight to remind ourselves of the truth so that we see and savor God as precious and satisfying above all. We expel sin from our lives not by mere duty, but by the power of a new affection that we have for God. The Christian life is a fight to see, by means of the Word, prayer, the church, godly friends, and other means, that God is supremely satisfying. Look to him!
Don’t Grumble, Eat the Flesh and Drink the Blood of the Son of Man (6:41-59)
The Jews, increasingly, are going to dislike and reject Jesus’ teaching. They complain because they know this guy, he is Joseph and Mary’s son, how is he from heaven? Jesus instructs them not to grumble.
This could possibly be an allusion to the OT grumbling of Israel. If we read the Pentateuch closely, we will see that grumbling is something that God abhors since that grumbling was a sign of unbelief (Exod. 15:24; 16:1-3; 17:1-7; Num. 11:1; 14:1-38 ; cf. Ps. 95:7-11; Heb. 3-4).
The Father will draw a people to himself and Jesus will raise them up on the last day. He cites Isaiah 54:13 to say that those who learn from the Father will come to him as the bread of life. Those who ate manna in the OT died, but if they partake of the bread of life (Jesus, specifically, his flesh) they will live forever. Jesus does not mean that they literally partake of his flesh, but rather this is a visceral way of saying that someone must believe in him as the bread of life (faith=partaking; 6:47). Regardless, they are put off by Jesus’ message.
This is a classic case where we need to read verses in context to understand the full meaning, otherwise we will mistake Jesus for saying something else (e.g., sacrament of the Lord’s Supper). We also need to recognize that Jesus’ teachings will challenge our thinking on a number of levels and will often go against the grain of culture and all it espouses. Our calling is to know the Word of God, the symbols it gives to us, like this one, the story it tells, the doctrine it gives us, and the demands it makes of our lives. Above all, we must follow Jesus in exactly the way he told us to.
Don’t Be Offended, Only Jesus has the Words of Eternal Life (6:60-71)
Throughout the narrative the crowd has gone from joyfully pursuing Jesus to increasing disagreement, disgust, and rejection. They grumble again, noting this is a hard saying, but Jesus does not back down from those supposed disciples. Instead, he states that if they take offense at this saying, what will they think when they see Jesus on the Cross, the beginnings of his “ascending” to the place where he was before (cf. 3:14)?
What has to happen in a heart is that Word of God and the Spirit of God penetrate in such a way that we see God’s Word as speaking truth. Jesus knows who will and who will not believe, as it is granted by the Father.
After saying all of this, many who did follow him walk away. He then asks the twelve if they intend to leave, to which Peter rightly responds “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God.”
Have you ever felt that way? Where else would we go? If I have an advanced math question where else would I go besides Adam Hammett? If I have a question about my or my parents’ prescription medicine, where else would I go but to my friends Thad Franz or Justin Cole or Jeff Bates? If I have a plumbing issue, where else would I go but to Paul Mitchell? If I want to have an ethical/philosophical issue resolved or want to know the best restaurant in an area, where else would I go but to Josh Kira? If we want life, where else would we go besides Christ and his Word.
Do not be offended by the words of Jesus, embrace them, abide in them. It is in the words of God contained in Scripture that we find life. All of Scripture, OT and NT, testifies of Jesus as the climax and culmination of every covenant, every promise, and every prophecy.
So many in John are referred to as “believing,” but in the course of the narrative they demonstrate that they are not truly believing (the word is seen 98 times in John, displaying both true and inauthentic belief). We are called to be of those who believe that Jesus is the holy One of God in accordance with the scriptures, as Jesus’ disciples did. We must persevere in these truths and proclaim it to others and disciple others in it by means of immersing ourselves in the truth of God’s Word, no matter what it will cost us.
Look to Jesus with soul-satisfying faith and treasure his Word. The call is for us to believe in Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Treasure for our salvation. Repentance and faith initially in salvation is turning from idols for satisfaction to Christ who infinitely satisfies. The call is to continually see and savor Jesus Christ as ongoingly better than anything this world offers. This requires looking to the Word increasingly and ongoingly so it is the soundtrack of our lives.
Can I encourage you to get a plan to read through the Bible every year or two. Choose a book to study in-depth and get to know it inside and out. Memorize Bible verses.
Where else will we go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. Immerse yourself joyfully in the Bible (Ps. 1), pray that you would see what is there and treasure it, encourage one another in these things, and, as a result, let’s live in soul-satisfying faith in Jesus all the days of your life.
Jeremy Kimble is Assistant Professor of Theology at Cedarville University and the author of '40 Questions About Church Membership and Discipline' (Kregel, 2017).