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§ 178. Christ in the Synagogue at Capernaum. (John, vi.)

(1.) The Carnal Mind of the Multitude rebuked.

Christ met certain of the eye—witnesses of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand in the synagogue at Capernaum, either on the Sabbath, or on some other day.476476   Part of what occurred would have been a violation of the Sabbath; in later times there were assemblies in the synagogue on the second and fifth days of the week (Winer, Real wörterbuch. 2d ed., vol. ii., p. 637. They were surprised, and, therefore, the more gratified, at his sudden appearance, since they had left him on the eastern shore; and their pleasure was shared by others whom they had told of the miracle. Doubtless they were full of expectation that he would work new wonders to confirm his Messiahship, and gratify their carnal longings. But the higher their hopes of this kind were, the deeper was their disappointment, and the greater their rage, when he offered them something entirely different from what they sought. The miracle could produce no faith in those who were destitute of a spiritual mind; their enthusiasm, carnally excited, was soon to pass over into opposition. A process of sifting was to take place, and the discourse which Christ uttered was intended to bring it on. n.

They questioned him; but, instead of replying, he entered at once upon a rebuke of their carnal temper: “Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth/ unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man shall give unto you; for him hath God the Father sealed.” Ye seek me, not because the sign of my Divine working, which ye saw, has led you to me as the Son of God, who alone can supply your spiritual wants; but only because I have appeased your bodily appetite; and so you look to me only for sensible gifts, which I come not to bestow (i. e., such was the carnal hue of their expectations of Messiah). Strive not for perishable, but eternal food, imparting eternal life, which the Son of Man will bestow; God has sealed him to this by miracles wrought before your eyes, in attestation of his Divine calling.”


Upon this, the purer-minded among them asked him, “What must we do, then, to become worthy of the Divine favour?” They expected him to prescribe new religious duties; but, instead of this, he led them back to the one work: “Believe on him whom God hath sent.” With this faith every thing is given.

(2.) A greater Sign demanded.—The Answer: “Christ the Bread of Life.”

Then others477477   It is part of John’s manner not to distinguish individuals or classes closely in his narrations. came out; either eye-witnesses of the miracle, who (according to the nature of the unspiritual mind), still unsatisfied, and seeking greater signs, were liable, from their want of faith, to be soon perplexed even in regard to what they had already experienced;478478   For the miracle in the miracle, the Supernatural, as such, can only be apprehended by the Sense for the Supernatural. The reaction of the senses on the critical understanding can soon uproot a conviction growing only in the soil of the senses. One reasons away what he thinks he has seen; “it could not have happened so.” or persons who had only heard of the miracle from others, and who had decided from the first to see for themselves before they would believe. These demanded of Christ (v. 30) a new miraculous attestation;479479   It is to be noted, in comparing the accounts of the two instances in which the multitude were miraculously fed, that the second is followed (Matt., xvi., 1) by a demand made upon Christ for a sign from heaven. and, as the Messiah was to be a Moses with new powers, they asked that he should give them bread from heaven—celestial manna—angels’ food, according to their fancies of the millennial bliss.

Christ took the opportunity (v. 32-42) thus naturally offered to lead them from the material to the spiritual and Divine, and declared himself to be the true bread from heaven, at the same time seeking to awaken in them a desire for it. But their carnal feelings were susceptible of no such desire; and, still regarding only the earthly appearance, they took offence that the carpenter’s son should say, “I came down from heaven.” He did not attempt to reason them out of their scruples, but laid bare the source of them, i. e., their dispositions of heart and mind; of these they had first to be rid, before they could recognize the Divinity in his human manifestation (v. 43-47). “Murmur not among yourselves; no man can come unto me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him.” Seek within you, not without you, for the cause of your surprise; it lies in this: you came to me carnally, with no sense of spiritual need; and, therefore, have not the drawing of the Father, which all must follow who would come unto me aright.” It is among the prophecies that are to be fulfilled in the Messianic age that “they shall all be taught of God;”480480   John, vi., 45. This cannot be understood of the subsequent teaching of all by the bestowing of the Holy Ghost, or of the general teaching of Christianity; the thing in view in the passage was, the Divine voice in men, preceding faith, to lead them to Christ as Saviour, which was not to be restrained by any human statutes. and so, 267every one that follows the Father’s call, comes to me. (The voice of God, which testifies of the Redeemer in all needy souls and calls them, will be heard every where.) But this must not be understood as if any one could know the Father, or be united with him, except through the Son; the Son alone, derived from the Father, knows him perfectly, and can impart this knowledge to others [“Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God; he hath seen the Father”]. This preventing operation of the Holy Spirit was only intended to lead them to the Son, as their Redeemer: “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” Again (v. 48-51) he repeats the assertion, “I am that bread of life from heaven,” confirmed by the proof that none could attain a share in the Divine life, or communion with the Father, except through him; and describes himself as the true manna from heaven.

He then proceeds to tell them (v. 51) that he would give them a bread which was to impart life to the world; hence, that the bread which he was about to give was, in a certain sense, different from the bread which he was; different, that is, from his whole self-communication. “And the bread which I will give is my flesh.” This bread was to be the self-sacrifice of his bodily life for the salvation of mankind.481481   Lachmann’s text omits the words ἢν ἐγὼ δώσω v. 51, a reading which is supported by considerable authority. Omitting these words, only the general idea (the σάρξ, to be devoted for the salvation of men) would be made prominent in the passage; not, however, to the exclusion of his self-sacrifice as the culminating-point of his life devoted to God and to man’s salvation. But the omission would make the passage harsh, and unlike John’s style: the words may have slipped out of some of the MSS., from their similarity to the preceding ὃν ἐγὼ δώσω. The life-giving power, as such, was his Divine-human existence; the life-giving power, in its special act, was his self-sacrifice. The two are inseparable; the latter being the essential means of realizing the former; only by his self-sacrifice could his Divine—human life become the bread of life for men.482482   I am well aware of what Kling says against Lücke (Stud. u. Krit, 1836, 1) in regard to this division of the discourse, but my views remain unaffected. I cannot find in the words of Christ the Lutheran Realism, so called.

(3.) Eating Christ’s Flesh and drinking his Blood.—His own Explanation of this (John, vi., 53, seq.)

The Jews wilfully perverted these words of Christ (v. 52) into a carnal meaning; and therefore he repeated and strengthened them. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man,” &c. (v. 53-58). “Except ye receive my Divine-human life within you, make it as your own flesh and blood, and become thoroughly penetrated by the Divine principle of life, which Christ has imparted to human nature and himself realized in it, ye cannot partake of eternal life.”


To make the sense of his figurative expressions perfectly clear, he changed the figure again to the “bread from heaven;” as the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me,483483   To “eat him” and “to eat his flesh and blood” have the same meaning. even he shall live by me.484484   The way in which Christ himself explains his meaning by changing his words is enough to show how far removed these words are from any reference to a communication of the body of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. This is the bread that came down from heaven. But most of his disciples still lacked the capacity to understand how his words mutually explained each other. Adhering to the outward and material sense, they seized upon those expressions which were most striking, without catching their connexion, or taking the trouble to understand his figures by comparing them with each other and with the unfigurative expressions; a process which could not have been difficult even to those among them who were incapable of profound thought, accustomed as they were to the figurative style of Oriental language, and to Christ’s peculiar manner of speaking. Fastening only upon the expression, “eating his flesh and drinking his blood,” in this sense, they found it “a hard saying which they could not bear” (v. 60).

And this was true not merely of the mass of hearers in the synagogue, but also of many who had become his followers during his protracted labours in Galilee, without, however, in heart and spirit, really belonging to the circle of disciples. The foreign elements had to be separated from the kindred ones; and the very same impressions which served to attach really kindred souls more closely to the person of Christ were now to drive off others, who, though previously attracted, were not decided within themselves as to their relations to him (v. 61-66).

When he had left the synagogue, and was standing among persons who, up to that time, had been his constant attendants, he said, in view of the state of feeling above described, “I have spoken to you of eating my flesh; doth this offend you? What, then, will you say, when the Son of Man will ascend into heaven? You will then see me no more with your bodily eyes;485485   The removal of Christ’s bodily presence from the earth, and his exaltation to heaven, are united together by him. Unbelievers see only the negative side, the removal; the eye of faith in seeing the one, sees the other. but yet it will be necessary for you to eat my flesh and drink my blood, which then, in a carnal sense, will be plainly impossible.” It is obvious, therefore, that Christ meant no material participation in his flesh and blood, but one which would have its fullest import and extent at the time specified.

He then naturally passes on to explain the spiritual import of his life-streaming words: “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are 269life. It is the Spirit that giveth life; the flesh is nothing; hence I could not have meant a sensible eating of my flesh and blood, but the appropriation of my Spirit, as the life-giving principle, as this communicates itself through my manifestation in flesh and blood. As my words are only the medium through which the Spirit of life that gushes forth from me is imparted, they can be rightly understood only so far as the Spirit is perceived in them.” But this was precisely what those who misunderstood him were deficient in; and, “therefore,” said he, “I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. Only those that hear His call, and come with a susceptibility for Divine things, can apprehend my words and obtain faith in me. As I said unto you, your carnal sense is the source of your misunderstanding and unbelief.”

(4.) Sifting of the Disciples.—Peter’s Confession.

Then followed a sifting of the disciples. [From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.] As this was the natural result of his relations to them, he rather furthered than checked it; it was time that the crisis that had been preparing in their hearts should manifest itself outwardly. And the departure of the unworthy was to test the genuine disciples, and make them conscious of the true relation in which they stood to Christ. He wished them, therefore, in that critical moment, to prove their own selves; for there was one among them already upon the point of turning away, who might yet,. by heeding Christ’s injunction, have saved himself from the destruction that awaited him.

He said to the twelve, “Will ye also go away?” Peter, speaking, as usual, for the rest, bore testimony to their experience in his fellowship: “Lord, to whom can we go?” and confirmed Christ’s words by his own consciousness, in whose depths he had felt the flow of their life-giving fountain: “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” And, there fore, he was able to confess in the name of all the rest, from a conviction founded in personal knowledge and experience, that Jesus was Messiah (v. 69). But Christ warned them that there was one among them who did not share this conviction, although included in Peter’s confession. He had chosen them—drawn them to himself—he said, and yet one of them had the heart of an enemy. These words, showing to Judas that his inmost thoughts lay bare before Christ, might, had he been at all open to impression, have brought him to repent and open his heart to the Saviour, seeking forgiveness. Failing this, they could only strengthen his enmity.

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