[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)



      If the view that I have adopted concerning the time of the healing of the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda is correct, John leaves a whole year of the ministry of Christ, that between the Lord's second passover and the third, which is named in the present chapter, to be supplied from the other Evangelists. That year was one of activity. Following the chronological table of Andrews, given in the Appendix, and referring to the three preceding Gospels, we trace the Savior from the passover in April to Galilee in the latter part of the month, where he enters vigorously upon his ministry, as though the fierce opposition from the religious authorities at the capital of the nation had only incited him to a more determined effort to win Galilee to the gospel. Making Capernaum his home, from thence he made the circuit of the province, teaching and healing. At an early period of the year occurred the miracle of the first draught of fishes in the Sea of Galilee. Immediately after it four fishermen, James and John, Andrew and Peter were called upon to leave their nets and follow him; the next Sabbath he healed a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue of Capernaum; shortly after Peter's wife's mother was cured of a fever; and then followed many miracles of which the details are not given. Shortly after a leper was healed in a "certain city;" then one palsied who was let down through the roof, whose healing offended the Scribes because Jesus said to the paralytic: "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Next comes the call of Matthew, also called Levi, the publican, who left the receipt of custom to follow the Master, and then on a Sabbath the Pharisees were greatly offended because on that day he healed a man with a withered hand, and "they took counsel with the Herodians against him how they might destroy him." On this account he drew himself off into retirement for a season but was still sought by the multitudes. After a night of lonely prayer on a Galilean mountain he called the twelve Apostles, probably in the summer of A. D. 28, and soon after preached the wonderful sermon, known as the Sermon on the Mount, which has for fifteen hundred years been the basis of the moral systems of the world. Soon after he returned to Capernaum where he healed the servant of the centurion, and the day after went to Nain where be raised the dead son of a widow as he was on the bier being carried to the tomb. About this time John, who was now in Herod's prison, sent disciples to Jesus to inquire of him concerning his mission, probably not so much to satisfy John himself as to direct his disciples to Christ. Afterwards, in the house of a Pharisee, a sinful woman anointed his head with ointment and washed his feet with tears, giving occasion to an impressive lesson. Then follows a circuit of Galilee, preaching and healing, in which he was attended by the twelve and certain women whom he had healed and who ministered to him of their substance. During this circuit he preached much, uttered many parables, and left many precious words of which we have a record. In the autumn he stilled a tempest as he crossed the Sea of Galilee to Gadara, and there healed the demoniacs. On his return to [95] Capernaum he attended Matthew's feast, healed the woman with the issue of blood, raised the daughter of Jairus, healed two blind men, and sent out the twelve to preach the coming kingdom. This probably occurred in the winter and later in the season occurred the murder of John the Baptist, the return of the twelve from their preaching tour, the news of Herod's desire to see Christ, and then, probably in the latter part of March or early April, the Savior retired from Herod's jurisdiction to a desert district belonging to Bethsaida, where the five thousand were fed.

      This summary of the history of the year demonstrates its intense activity, the growing influence of Christ, and the growing intensity of the hatred of his enemies.


      This miracle is the only one recorded by all the Evangelists, and as the details vary somewhat, a study of all the accounts (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17) is needful to get the entire history. At Jerusalem, in the last chapter, Christ revealed himself as the Giver of life; here in Galilee he shows himself as the Support and Guide of life.

      1. After these things. If I am correct in regarding the feast at which the miracle of Bethesda was wrought, the passover, this incident is about a year after. We are aided in locating it by the account of Matthew. He declares that Christ had just heard that John the Baptist was put to death. It is agreed by the most judicious scholars that John was beheaded about the third year of Christ's ministry. This began some months before his first passover, when he cleansed the temple; the miracle of Bethesda was at his second passover and in the second year of his ministry; this passover season (see verse 4) was in the third year. The date of this miracle tends to confirm the view that the feast of John 5:1 was the passover. Jesus went over the Sea of Galilee. Matthew (14:13) says that he went because he heard that Herod had slain John. He wished to have a season of retirement, probably for reflection, and he went out of Herod's jurisdiction. Mark indicates (6:30) that he retired for rest. Luke adds a fact that helps us to understand the reason. He says, "Herod sought to see Jesus." The news of the death of the Baptist, of the design of Herod to see him, the return of the Twelve from their mission (Luke 9:10), and the need of rest all co-operated to cause him to seek the wilderness over the sea. Sea of Tiberias. Another name of the Sea of Galilee at that time better known to Gentile readers.

      2. And a great multitude followed. When the death of the Baptist occurred the popularity of Jesus was at its height in Galilee. Great multitudes follow him wherever he goes, and so throng him that he has no leisure even to eat. From every part of the land they come to listen to his teachings and to be [96] healed. Nor may we ascribe this concourse merely to curiosity and selfishness.

      3. And Jesus went up into a mountain. The mountains on the eastern shore of the sea rise to the height of nearly two thousand feet above the level of the water. The region was uninhabited, and therefore a quiet place for communing with his disciples, and rest.

      4. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh. This statement gives us a note of time and shows that the country was green with the freshness of spring. It was not far from April 1st, and the trees were in full leaf. The proximity of the greatest of the festivals that were celebrated at Jerusalem (the passover, which began that year A. D. 29, on April 17th), would give occasion for a large increase of visitors around Galilee, as the crowds gathered for the journey. The gathering at such a time of a crowd of 5,000 men, attracted by so famous a teacher, is not incredible. The mention of the passover is an aid to the chronology of the Lord's ministry. The feast named in John 5:1 could hardly be that of Purim, for then he would not have left Jerusalem before the passover, it following only about a month later. If that feast was a passover, we have now reached a period of two years from the passover at which he cleansed the temple (2:13). It is clear that the feast, now so near at hand, was not attended by the Savior, the only one that he seems to have omitted during his ministry. Perhaps the plots to kill him when last in Jerusalem explain his absence. "His hour was not yet come."

      5. When Jesus lifted up his eyes and saw a great company. The other historians tell us that he was filled with compassion. They were destitute of teachers. They had no guides but the blind Scribes and Pharisees. They had no spiritual food but man-made traditions. Let us never forget that our Lord is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. He never changes. High in heaven at God's right hand he still pities the ignorant and them that are out of the way. Whence shall we buy bread? He had spent the greater part of the day in teaching and healing. As the evening came his disciples came to him asking him to dismiss the multitude that they might return to the villages and procure food, and probably as a result of their importunity he asked this question of Philip.

      6. He himself knew what he would do. He was in no perplexity as to what would be done, though he asked the question. He often asked questions for the sake of their moral effect upon others. [97]

      7. Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them. This sum is mentioned mainly because it was an estimate of how much it would cost to give each one a little (John 6:7). Some have supposed that this is the amount of money they had in their common treasury, but it seems rather to be mentioned as a sum beyond their ability to pay. It was equal to $30, or £6, 5s.; a large amount of money then, since a denarius, or "penny," was the hire of a day's labor. The penny, or denarius, was about seventeen cents, and was equivalent to about one dollar now, so that the whole sum would reach $200.

      8. One of his disciples, Andrew, . . . saith. The answer of Andrew is to the question of the Savior reported in Mark 6:38. He bade them to examine and report what food they have, and Andrew replies that a lad has five loaves and two fishes.

      9. Five barley loaves and two small fishes. The loaves here were of barley-meal made into small, thin cakes, baked hard on the side of the oven, so as to be broken. Probably this was the whole stock of provisions then at the command of the disciples--no more than enough for one meal to them. The fishes were salt and dried, and used for a relish, according to a common custom of the country. Plain common food. Barley was the food only of the lower classes. It was a very small amount, as is shown by the fact that a "lad," a "little boy" in the Greek, carried them. What were they among so many?

      10. Make the men sit down. We learn from Mark that they sat down in companies. Our word parties, in its convivial acceptation, is, as nearly as possible, a reproduction of the original term. The multitude was to be arranged in a suite of parties, no doubt semicircularly adjusted, after the form of Roman triclinia, or Grecian symposia. Such a semicircular or three-sided style of parties had become common among the Jews, being adopted from the Greeks and Romans; and hence the frequent reference, in the New Testament, to reclining at meals. There was much grass there. It was in Nisan, "the month of flowers," and the slopes were rich with the soft green of the spring grass. About five thousand. Thus there was one loaf to every thousand men. Matthew adds, "besides women and children," of whom there were doubtless many. It was customary then, as now, in the East, for men to eat alone, reclining, and the women and children by themselves, sitting. It was easy to number the men, who were arranged in companies of hundreds and fifties; but not the women and children, who perhaps sat around promiscuously. [98]

      11. When he had given thanks. It was held by the Jews, that "he who partakes of anything without giving thank acts as if he were stealing it from God." The prayer of thanks was always pronounced by the father of the family; and Jesus never neglects it, nor ought any Christian.

      12. Gather up the fragments that remain. God does not allow wastefulness. Nature wastes nothing, not an ounce of matter. It is the waste of man that causes want. There is food enough for all. The waste of our nation is appalling;--$800,000,000 per year on liquor; $50,000,000 on tobacco, besides all the extravagance of life. Christ bids us save; save the fragments. It is by wasting the fragments that the great wastes occur.

      13. Filled twelve baskets with the fragments. Only one basket in the beginning, but twelve after all were fed. Baskets were taken by Jews on journeying, to carry their provisions, etc., that they might not have to depend on Gentiles, and so incur the risk of ceremonial pollution.

      14. Of a truth this is that prophet. The long expected prophet, foretold Deut. 18:15, 16, and referred to by the delegation sent to visit John the Baptist (John 1:21). This expected prophet was to be the king of Israel, the head of the kingdom of God on the earth. In other words they said: "This is the Christ."

      15. Perceived that they would come and take him by force, and make him a king. Convinced that he was Christ, they sought to proclaim him king, to raise his standard, and establish his government. This miracle worked up to the highest pitch their enthusiasm in behalf of the recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Might not this, indeed, be taken as the commencement of his reign? Hitherto his acts had been those of individual beneficence. But here was a public act, performed in the sight of thousands, and of which thousands had shared the benefit. Who so fit to be their king as he who could banish want and labor from their borders, and revive the good old times when their fathers were fed by bread from heaven? To escape their well meant efforts Jesus retired to a mountain alone. We learn from Mark that he went to pray. [99]

      16. When even was come his disciples went down to the sea. They were sent down. See Matthew and Mark. The disciples were probably ready to join the people in an enterprise which would fulfil their remaining carnal expectations regarding the Messiahship of their Master. Hence our Lord dismissed them, sending them where they would feel the need of his presence.

      17. Entered a ship. A fishing boat large enough to carry a dozen persons, but not too large to be propelled by oars. To Capernaum. Mark says to Bethsaida, but this was on the way to Capernaum. Mark names the first landing place, but John the end of the journey.

      18. The sea rose by reason of a great wind. Sudden gusts are common on the Sea of Galilee. Prof. McGarvey reports one that caught his party on the same sea. The winds rush down from the mountains of Lebanon or up the Jordan Valley. Thompson says he encountered one of such fury that no rowers could row a boat across the lake.

      19. Rowed five and twenty or thirty furlongs. About three or three and a half miles. The lake is here about six miles wide. They were about the middle of the lake. It was about three o'clock in the morning. They had toiled nearly through the night, but could make no headway against the wind and waves. Walking upon the sea. The words, "walking on the sea," are common to the Evangelists, and can have no other meaning here than that the Lord walked bodily on the surface of the water.--Alford. We may see in it something like an anticipation (not unconnected, it may be, with the intensity of that crisis in his life) of that spiritual body of which we see another manifestation in the transfiguration, and which became normal after the resurrection, reaching its completeness in the wonder of the ascension.--Ellicott. They were afraid. Mark says, They cried out in fright. They regarded the appearance seen through the darkness an apparition and thought it a harbinger of evil.

      20. It is I; be not afraid. This is the gospel message of peace, on the ground--the simple ground--"It is I." Christ's presence is peace to the soul.--Jacobus. How often has he to speak this word of encouragement, even to his own! almost always when they are brought suddenly, or in an unusual way, face to face with him! It is I. Literally, I am. The same language used by Jesus in Jerusalem (John 8:58), for which the Pharisees would have stoned him, and in the Old Testament to designate Jehovah (Exodus 3:14). Here I should prefer to give it this meaning: Christ says not merely, "It is I, your Friend and Master;" he says, [100] at least implies, it is the "I AM," who is coming to you, the Almighty One who rules wind and waves, who made them, and whom they obey.--Abbott.

      21. He went up . . . into the ship. John says, "they willingly received him;" and, on account of the wind abating, they came at once to port. Christ's getting in the ship was their salvation. He can both calm the tempest round us, and carry us safe to heaven. Immediately the ship was at the land. Unless the word "immediately" has more latitude than is common with us, this implies another miracle.


      1. He who could make the grain grow could also multiply the loaves.

      2. Our duties and our privileges are not measured by what we can do of ourselves, but by what God is willing to do through us. We cannot turn the machinery of the factory, but we can let the water on to the wheel. We cannot push the steamship across the ocean, but we can let on the steam for the engine to do it.

      3. By feeding the hungry bodies of men we often get access to their souls. This has been well illustrated in the famines of India and China.

      4. Jesus had bidden the disciples to cross the sea. It ought to have comforted them, to remember that he himself had constrained them to enter into the ship. They were evidently in the path of duty. How, then, could any evil befall them? It is a great comfort to us when we can feel sure that we are doing the will of God; for, whatever trouble may threaten us, we can trust Jesus to bring relief in the storm.

      5. We often learn more of faith in one month of darkness and storm, than in years of sunshine. When God would prepare us for higher work, for sweeter peace, for clearer light, he brings them by an increase of faith, and increases our faith by trying our faith.

      6. Jesus sometimes leaves us alone, that we may know ourselves and our own weakness, but he never leaves us out of sight.--Quesnell.

      7. There are often "contrary winds," even in the way of duty. We must expect them, and not be discouraged, nor turn out of the way.


      The reader should note the progressive revelation of the divine majesty of Christ as unfolded by John. In the temple at his first passover, he asserted his authority over his "Father's house;" at his second passover he demonstrated his power over diseases and gave intimation of his coming dominion over the grave; in his miracle of the loaves and fishes he revealed the secret that his hand gave the increase of the earth and seas, while the quelling of the storm on Galilee showed that the winds and the seas obeyed his voice. In the discourse that follows he proclaims himself the Bread of life. [101]

      After the feeding of the 5,000 the apostles embark in their boat; Christ goes up into the hills to pray; the people linger awhile for his return, then conclude that he has returned to Capernaum, and go back to Capernaum themselves; on the following Sabbath morning he enters the synagogue; their astonishment at his approach is great; they break out in questioning, How did you get here? His answer diverts them from mere astonishment to a serious consideration of spiritual truth: "Ye are seeking me, not because of the evidence I have given of my divine commission, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled. Labor not for the meat (food) that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life."--Abbott. This gives occasion for one of the remarkable discourses that occur so frequently in John's gospel. There is no reason to believe that we have more than a condensed report. The whole discourse can be read in five minutes, and it is likely that the Savior occupied much more time in its delivery.

      22. The day following. The day after the miracle, when five thousand were fed, and after the night storm on the sea of Galilee. "The people who had stood on the other side and been fed," remained awhile because there were no other vessels, and the more willingly, because they raw that Jesus had not gone with his disciples.

      23. There came other boats from Tiberias. Tiberias was the largest city on the sea, built by Herod, and named after Tiberius Cæsar. Herod Antipas usually occupied it as his capital. It was a place the Lord never entered, though often near it. It is explained that vessels came from there to the place where Christ had fed the five thousand, by which many of them returned to Capernaum. Others had probably dispersed to the neighboring towns and villages, but Capernaum was "on the other side of the sea."

      24. Came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. As they did not see the Lord longer on the eastern shore, they sought him at the place where he made his home. These seekers were deeply impressed by the miracle of the day before, and were among those who would have made him king. They were eager to again And him, follow him, be fed by him, and partake of his glory. [102]

      25. Rabbi, when camest thou hither? While they had come to Capernaum seeking him, they were astonished to find him there. He had not crossed the sea with his disciples; he had not come with them; how and when did he come? Of course they had not seen him walking the waves in the darkness.

      26. Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles. The Savior reveals to them the true motives which induced them to seek him. They may not have been aware themselves of the fact that they were led by selfish purposes, a desire of temporal benefits. They followed him, not because they saw in him "that prophet who should come into the world," but because he supplied their lowest needs. Henry says: "Not because he taught them, but because he fed them; not for love, but for loaves. Thus do all who seek in religion secular advantages and follow Christ for the sake of secular preferments." People are more clamorous for earthly bread, than anxious concerning food for their souls.

      27. Labor not for the meat that perisheth. The Savior does not prohibit laboring for food, but making the acquisition of food and worldly things the leading object of life. He means: Do not manifest a chief anxiety for bodily food, for the food that perishes with the using, but rather seek the meat that endureth to eternal life. The food of the soul; the Bread of Life. He had discoursed with the woman at Sychar of that which imparted eternal life to the soul under the similitude of water: he here speaks of the same things under the similitude of food. Our Lord bids us work for the food of eternal life. How few are doing it! This food he declares that the Son of Man will give. Him hath the Father sealed. Sealing is the mark of approval, of authority. A legal document must bear the seal of the State to give it force. The Father had commissioned, authorized, and stamped his seal upon the work of the Son. His miracles were a divine seal. In the East a document was always authenticated by the seal of the maker, instead of by the signature of a name, as with us.

      28. What shall we do, that we might work the works of God. These seekers of Christ are eager for more information. He had bidden them work for the food of eternal life. What works then shall they do that they may please God and receive the divine gift? The word work had impressed their minds. They had been painfully keeping the law and the rabbinical precepts in the hope that thus they should do the works of God. If, however, there was something more, if [103] Jesus had requirements that would impart to them a share in the kingdom, they wished to know of them. Their question shows a teachable disposition.

      29. This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. They are startled by hearing that to please God the first requirement is faith in Christ. This is "the work of God" that pleases him. "Without faith it in impossible to please God." It is not works, but one work, that is required, a faith that will enable them to lay hold upon, follow in all things, and appropriate to the souls, him who is the Bread of Life. From such faith would spring a Christlike life. Pharisees, Romanists and Pagans have ever sought to "do the works of God" by pilgrimages, penances, vows, and mortifications. So Luther thought to do as he climbed on his knees up Pilate's staircase at Rome, and heard the words coming to him like the voice of God: "The just shall live by faith."

      30. What sign showest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? He had pointed to himself as the object of faith, making his claim such as had never been made by mortal man. He had spoken of his seal, or sign. They ask now for a sign. The miracle of the day before had excited their surprise, but had not yet satisfied them that eternal life was to be found by believing in him as the Son of man sent by God. What mighty work can he do that will carry conviction?

      31. Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness. He may have fed a few thousands on the day before, but what was that to the feeding of the whole host of Israel for forty years in the wilderness? Is he as great a leader as Moses in whose time the manna fell? The sign they suggest shows that Christ had read their hearts when he said that they sought him because of the loaves and fishes.

      32. Moses gave you not that bread from heaven. It was not Moses, with whom they were disposed to compare him, that furnished the manna in the wilderness, but the Angel of the Lord. This Angel of the covenant is supposed, from Malachi 3:1, to have been Christ. If so, not Moses, but "the prophet like unto Moses," was the dispenser of the bread from heaven, that sustained old Israel while journeying to the Promised Land. He still feeds the Israel of God on its way to the heavenly Canaan. My Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. The true bread is not the manna. That perished like all earthly food. The true bread is for the soul instead of the body. It satisfies the soul's hunger and keeps it alive. The Father gives it by sending the Son, the true Bread of Life. Of the true bread the manna was a type. [104]

      33. The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven. He here defines the marks of the true bread: 1. It comes from heaven; 2. It bestows life upon the soul and sustains it; 3. It is for the world, not for a single race. The manna did not last longer than a single day; all who ate it died; it was for a single nation. These things are not true of the bread of God. God feeds his people, not with bread made on earth, but prepared by his own hands from heavenly materials.

      34. Lord, evermore give us this bread. One cannot fail to see the resemblance to the case of the woman of Sychar. There the emblem is water, here bread; there Christ offers water that will permanently satisfy the soul's thirst, here food that satisfies its hunger; there the woman asks for this water, here they ask for this bread, not yet fully comprehending what it is. Like Ponce de Leon, who sought the fountain of immortal youth in Florida, they thought that this food would literally make them immortal and eagerly clamored for such a boon.

      35. Jesus says, I am the bread of life. They ask for this bread. He answers, It is here; I am that bread. The work of God is that you receive it by believing upon him whom he hath sent. He that cometh to me shall never hunger. He that cometh shall not hunger; he that believeth shall not thirst. It is thus shown that faith is the power that brings us to Christ. We come to him by believing. They who thus come will have their souls satisfied, and they who abide with him shall not hunger or thirst more. "Coming" and "believing in" are clearly equivalent to "eating" and "drinking."

      36. I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. They had asked a work in order that they might believe, which was a confession of their unbelief. They ask for the bread of life, but they can only partake of it by believing in him. He therefore points out the one obstacle to obtaining what they had just asked for.

      37. All that the Father giveth me will come to me. Christ here, as elsewhere, shows that the power is of the Father. The Jews may reject him, but all whom the Father gives, of every race, will come to him. The whole body of believers, Gentiles as well as the Jews, are given to the Son by the Father. Christ is God's gift to men, but the believers are his gift to Christ. "The gift of the Father must not be understood of a predestinating decree. Here, and in other passages, when we read of God giving his Son to his people it is the moral and spiritual state of the heart that is thought of under the word. This state of heart by which they are induced to listen to the voice of Jesus is due to God alone." [105] Schaff. I will in no wise cast out. Every one that cometh is sure of a hearty welcome. No suppliant, however humble or despised, is rejected.

      38. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will. Christ will refuse none who come to him; all such are given by the Father and he came to do the Father's will. He did not come to choose such followers only as were congenial to him, nor to follow his own inclinations, but to do the Father's will, which was that he should save the world. All was to be subordinated to this purpose.

      39. That of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing. He would not cast out any one coming to him, for such were given of the Father, and his will was that the Son should lose none of those given, but should raise every soul at the last day. Whoever receives the Son hath life eternal, and at the last day the Son raises such because they have eternal life. Those "given," "come" to Christ, but they must "abide" in him, if they would continue to live.

      40. This is the will of the Father. The will of the Father is paramount. That will is that "every one who sees the Son and believes upon him," thus coming to, following and abiding in him, feeding upon him as the soul's food, should have eternal life, and that in the resurrection day Christ should raise him from the grave. These verses show, 1. That there is not any secret decree of election. The will of the Father applies to every one who believes upon the Son. 2. The condition of eternal life is a faith that leads to and appropriates Christ; that makes him the Lord of the soul. 3. Christ hath brought to light immortality. He is "the resurrection and the life." He says, "I will raise him at the last day." He is the life of the world, and in eternity all will praise him as the true Bread of Life that came down from heaven.


      1. Too many seek Christ for the loaves and fishes. Persons often choose a church to improve their social condition, or to secure a professional practice, or to build up a trade. It is said that A. T. Stewart, when starting in business, carefully selected out a church that he thought would furnish him patronage in business. Such motives are sordid and carnal.

      2. The Lord has made it needful that we should labor for food, but this should not be the great object of life. The body and its food will perish; the soul can abide forever. We should work to procure the food that will enable it to enjoy eternal life. [106]

      3. God hath sent down the Bread of Life from heaven. Nothing else will satisfy the soul. It may feed on the husks of pleasure, or applause, or show and pride, and yet perish with hunger. Why should ye seek that which is not bread and satisfies not?

      4. "If any man be idle and gluttonous, and careth for luxury, that man worketh for the meat that perisheth. So, too, if a man by his labor should feed Christ, and give him drink, and clothe him, who is so senseless and mad as to say that such an one labors for the meat that perisheth, when there is for this the promise of the kingdom that is to come and its good things? This meat endureth forever."--Chrysostom.

      5. That is food which sustains life. Bread, as the great life sustainer, is called the staff of life. To the hungry nothing is so precious. Once a hungry Arab on the desert sought a spring of which he knew to quench his thirst. As he rose he saw a bag, dropped by some traveler, and he joyfully exclaimed, "Here is food." Eagerly he tore it open, and then in bitter disappointment he cried, "Alas, it is only pearls!" Nothing will feed the soul but Christ. To the hungry soul he is more precious than the gems of Golconda.

      6. To feed on the Bread of Life we must come to Christ. We come by hearing and believing upon him. The evidence of our real belief upon him is the surrender of our lives to his will. Those who thus believe, he will never cast out; he invites all such to his arms; they feed upon him by faith and make his life their life. They have eternal life for he will raise them at the last day.

      7. Bread is a dead thing in itself; the life it supports it did nothing to originate. But the bread from heaven brings with it the life it afterwards sustains.--Hanna.


      At this point our Lord's discourse is interrupted. Hitherto he had been addressing the multitude; now for the first time we read "the Jews," which, as already explained, means adherents of the ruling party which was violently hostile to Christ. Whether these Jews were among the multitude hitherto addressed in this discourse we cannot tell. If so, they had not made themselves prominent and were lost in the crowd. It may be that the regular discourse in the synagogue ended with verse 40, that these official "Jews" were not present, but were soon informed of what he said, and came with their objections. Or, they may have been in the synagogue and kept silence to this point. They may have been sent from Jerusalem to watch Jesus. Mark 3:22 and 7:1 distinctly intimate that Scribes came from Jerusalem to Galilee, and the phrase "the Jews" seems to convey a kind of official meaning. Since the term "Jews" describes, not Galileans, but natives of Judea, it is applied by John, almost without exception, to those connected in some way with the authorities at Jerusalem, and since also, we learn from the passages just cited that officials came from Jerusalem to take note of the words and acts of the Galilean prophet, it is probable that these "Jews" were representatives of the authorities at the Capital. If this view is correct, of which there can hardly be a doubt, it shows the jealousy with which the Sanhedrim watched over Jesus during his entire ministry in Galilee, as well as Judea. [107]

      41. The Jews murmured. They found fault and tried to raise discontent among those who had listened willingly to Christ.

      42. Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph? If he was Joseph's son, how could he have come from heaven, or be bread from heaven? Their argument is that he was human born and, hence, only a man. They were, no doubt, ignorant of the miraculous conception, and Christ never refers to it in his teachings. He did not bear witness of himself.

      43. Murmur not among yourselves. The reply of Jesus is a rebuke. These men were not honest inquirers but cavilers.

      44. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him. Two elements are concerned in coming to Christ, the human will and the divine drawing. No man comes unless he wills to come. It was the charge of Christ against the Jews: "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life" (John 5:40). In Matthew 23:37 he exclaims to Jerusalem: "How often I would have gathered your children . . . but ye would not." A man can refuse to come and God does not compel, but he says "whosoever will, let him come and partake of the water of life freely." This is the human side. On the divine side God "draws," not so as to coerce the human will, but to induce the desire to come. "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation." It is the drawing power. It draws by its manifestation of the love of God, by its revelation of the crucified Savior, and his adaptation to the needs of the soul. God often mellows the human heart by his providences so that it becomes a fit soil for the Word, and by the gospel, the sword of the Spirit, his providence, the invitations of the Spirit, he "draws" men. If our will consents, and we yield to the drawing, we come. If we "will not," and refuse to be drawn, we do not come. The ball that I hold in my hand is "drawn" to the earth by attraction but is kept away by another force. So, too, the sinner may be "drawn" by the influence that the Father exerts, but, under the influence of other forces, refuse to be drawn to Christ.

      No man comes to the Son unless he yields his own will and is drawn by the love of the Father. I will raise him. The Father draws the soul to Christ; then the Son takes up the work and will raise him from the dead. [108]

      45. It is written in the prophets, They shall be all taught of God. Christ makes more explicit how the Father draws. It is by teaching men. All taught of God, who "have heard and learned of the Father," come to the Son. It is what they learn from the Father that makes them willing to come.

      46. Not that any man hath seen the Father. Men do not learn of the Father by seeing and hearing him personally, but they learn the Father's will and words from the Son.

      47. He that believeth. Here he returns to his former subject and affirms that belief in himself is the source of life.

      48, 49, 50, 51. I am that bread of life. The multitude had spoken of the manna given to their fathers. They had all perished, for it was not the bread of life, and could not communicate life, but the true Bread was that which came from heaven, the appropriation of which would impart immortality because it had life in itself. He is that Bread. If a man eat of this bread, he shall live forever. He now goes one step further, and declares that that bread is his flesh.

      52. The Jews strove among themselves. They could not comprehend what had just been said, and they discussed how Jesus "could give his flesh to eat."

      53. Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. The Jews had already stumbled over the statement that his flesh must be eaten, but the Savior, as was his custom (see the case of Nicodemus and the woman of Sychar), reiterates his statement in still stronger language. Not only must his flesh be eaten, but they must drink his blood if they would [109] have life, a startling statement to those who had not learned the lesson of the cross, and one that has caused no little discussion in the Christian world. Let us seek his meaning. He had revealed himself already as the Life. In some way he would give immortality to those who partook of his life. He had declared himself to the Samaritan woman as the giver of the Water of life, and in this discourse, as the Bread of life. He had plainly taught that the partakers of himself, the Water of life, the Bread of life, should have eternal life. But how shall that Bread be eaten, or in other words, how shall mortals so partake of Christ as to receive the life he had himself, and thus have eternal life? The answer is that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, but how? Those who accept the doctrine of transubstantiation assert that this is done in the Lord's Supper; that the bread and wine are literally transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ, and thus his flesh and blood are eaten and drunk. Others affirm that his language is parabolic, and that he means that the emblems that represent his body and blood must be appropriated. I believe that he means that every man must become a partaker of the benefits of his death, his slain body and shed blood, by an appropriation of them to himself, in order to live. It is only after his death that his flesh can be said to be eaten. The flesh of animals we eat is dead flesh, but this is living Bread; not dead flesh, but living Flesh. It is, then, not literally eaten, but is otherwise appropriated so that the living flesh of the Son of God becomes the sustenance and the life of those who partake of it. At death he shed his blood to wash our sins away; in his resurrection and ascension his glorified flesh was raised and ascended to heaven. As Alford says: "I cannot see how anything short of his death can be meant. By that death he has given his flesh for the life of the world." How shall one, then, eat his flesh and blood? Verses 47 and 48 show that the Bread of life is appropriated by believing. There must, then, be such a belief, not merely in Christ as a divine teacher, but in his death and resurrection, as will induce us to be planted in the likeness of his death and raised in the likeness of his resurrection. We eat the bread on our tables because we believe it to be bread and that it will sustain life; he that believeth upon the crucified Lord enters into the fellowship of his sufferings, is crucified with him by repentance, buried into his death, raised in the likeness of his resurrection with the new life to walk in newness of life. See Rom. 6:1-8.

      It is shown in verse 63 that it is not the literal flesh eaten that makes alive, but the spirit and the words of Christ are endowed with spirit and life. It is said, Heb. 4:12, that the word of God is quick (alive, living) and powerful. By the appropriation of the words of Christ, faith in the crucified and risen Savior, and the incorporation of the will and life, as expressed in his word, into our lives, we are made alive.

      55. My flesh is most indeed. Is food indeed. The body does not feed upon [110] it, but the soul. Its hunger and thirst are satisfied, and by the appropriation of this, it becomes endowed with the vital principle of the Bread of life.

      56. Dwelleth in me, and I in him. By this eating one enters into. Christ and partakes of his life. See Rom. 6:1-8.

      57. The living Father. The Father who is the fountain of life. He sent Christ endowed with his life. So Christ endows with life those who "eat" him. It was the meat of Jesus to do the will of the Father. We eat Christ, our meat, by making his will the will of our lives.

      58. Your fathers did eat manna. That food might sustain life for a season, but could not impart it, for it was dead food. The Bread from heaven is endued with life, and hence, gives eternal life.

      59. These things said he. This ends the discourses in the synagogue. There is a third discourse to his disciples. Synagogue. See note on the Jewish synagogue at the close of this chapter.

      60, 61. Doth this offend you? His disciples could not take in what had just been said. They expected an earthly king, not a crucified Savior. Hence they murmured and were offended.

      62. What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend? He points out a still greater marvel than eating his flesh and blood. He came from heaven and he will return there. This passage is remarkable as furnishing the only instance in which the Lord spoke in specific terms of his ascension during his earthly ministry. It is true that he often speaks of his return to the Father, but he does not explain whether it is a spiritual return or in what sense it was meant. Here he speaks positively of his ascension, and his words must be regarded a prophecy of his ascent from the heights of Olivet, in the presence of his disciples. [111]

      63. It is the spirit that quickeneth. These words we may paraphrase as follows: "I shall ascend to heaven so that my flesh cannot be literally eaten; the flesh literally profits nothing. It is the spirit that makes alive. The spirits of men must eat, or partake of me, and be thus quickened by my spirit. My words are spirit and life, and he who feeds upon them makes them his soul food, governs his life by them and will be made alive." He had spoken "in parables" to the Jews, but explains to his disciples his meaning as was his custom. See Matt. 13:10, 11.

      64. There are some of you who believe not. Had no living, appropriating, trusting faith.

      65. Except it were given him. See, for explanation, verses 44, 45.

      66. Many of his disciples went back. They were of the unbelieving. Their faith was not strong enough to accept the great doctrine of eating his flesh.

      67, 68. To whom shall we go? Christ, apparently sad that these had turned away, asked the twelve whether they would go also. Peter, always prompt, even impetuous, answers: To whom shall we go? The world may well ask this question. If it turns from Christ, to whom shall it go? He only has the words of eternal life.

      69. We believe . . that thou art the Christ. It is worthy of remark that the same confession made at Cesarea Philippi is here made by Peter.

      70. One of you is a devil. Is "diabolical" comes nearer the idea. I chose you and one has fallen away. The shadow of sorrow is still upon his spirit. The word in Greek is diabolos, not daimonion.

      71. He spake of Judas Iscariot. At that time none knew of whom he spoke. [112] The words were well calculated to cause each one to examine himself. Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. The Revision reads, "the son of Simon Iscariot," which is the proper rendering of the Greek. Simon, the father of Judas, is called Iscariot as well as his son, which shows the word is not a surname but evidently designates place. They were men of Kerioth, a place in Judah named in Joshua 15:25. Some have endeavored to identify the father of Judas with "Simon the Canaanite," one of the apostles, others with "Simon the leper," who lived at Bethany, but there is just as much warrant for identifying him with Simon Barjona, or Simon the Galilean Pharisee, or Simon, one of the brethren of our Lord. The name was a very common one and we have nothing particular about this Simon except that he was the father of Judas and a man of Kerioth.

      In this remarkable chapter there are given three discourses of the Savior, or three separate sections of one discourse. The bread with which the five thousand had been fed furnishes the text, as the water of the well of Jacob did when he discoursed of the Water of life. An examination of his words will show the gradual development of his thought. He announces:

      1. Verse 33, the Bread of God, which cometh from heaven, and giveth life to the world.

      2. In verses 48 and 50 he declares: "I am the Bread of life." . . . This is the bread which cometh down from heaven that a man may eat of it and not die.

      3. Verses 51-56 show that the Bread of life must be eaten by becoming partakers of his flesh and blood, or by becoming the kindred of Christ and dwelling in him and having him abide in us.

      4. Verse 63 shows that eating his flesh and drinking his blood are not literal acts, but are symbolical expressions. The literal flesh profiteth nothing. The words of Christ are spirit and life. The spirit of man is quickened (made alive) by feeding upon those divine words which are endued with life.


      1. "Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." The "Word became flesh and dwelt among men." That Word is the Bread of life of which, if a man eat, he shall have life, and "he hath given his flesh for the life of the world." Yet the flesh in itself "profiteth nothing." "It is the spirit that quickeneth." Christ's words "are spirit and life." He who feeds upon his words shall live. Thus the lesson is brought out that we are made alive by hearing, receiving into our souls, incorporating into our being as life principles, the words of Christ. It is thus he is eaten. The spirit of man thus feeds upon the spirit of Christ.

      2. A common life only exists in the most Intimate union. Christ hath the life of, because he is in the Father and the Father in him. So, too, Christ must be in us and we must be and abide in Christ in order to be partakers of his life.

      3. The ordinances appointed by Christ symbolize the intimate union of his disciples with the Lord. They believe upon him, are baptized into him (Rom. 6:3) and thus put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) and henceforth dwell in him [113] (Rom. 8:1) and are new creatures in Christ Jesus. In the Lord's Supper the disciples partake of the symbols of his flesh and blood, and by faith enjoy "the communion of his body and blood."

      4. We may not always understand the words of Christ; they may be too deep for us; but we can receive them in loving trust as the words of our Lord. If we were to turn from Christ where could we go? Not to Buddha, or Mahomet, or to the philosophers and theorists. When the children ask for bread they give them a stone. None other than Christ can feed to the soul the Bread of life and give it rest. He only has the words of eternal life.


      It will be of service, in understanding the incidents at Capernaum, as well as the many passages of the New Testament which refer to the synagogue, to have a comprehensive idea of this peculiar Jewish institution. It is not known when the synagogue originated, but it is certain that, when the temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and the remnant of the nation carried into captivity, the knowledge of the word was preserved by establishing in every community of Jews a place where the law was read and taught to the people. When the nation was again established in their own land, as their institutions emerge into the clearer light of the period near the beginning of our era, the synagogue is found existing in, not only the towns and cities of Palestine, but in every foreign city where there was a Jewish population. In them the Savior, in the earlier portion of his ministry, was a frequent teacher, and Paul in his missionary tours to foreign cities always first sought the synagogue of his own race.

      It was a kind of Jewish local church, and permitted the worship of God on every Sabbath at places far away from the temple. Wherever ten Jews could be found it was permitted to, organize one. In it on the Sabbath the Scriptures were read, prayers were offered and instruction was given. No priest was required, there was no professional clergy; there was, however, a "Ruler" with his "elders," there were subordinate officers, and there was a regular prescribed course of reading. At one end of the synagogue was an "ark" or receptacle where the roll of the law was sacredly preserved and from which it was taken with the most profound reverence. On an elevated platform sat the "Ruler of the synagogue" and the elders; prayers were offered, and after these two lessons were always read, one from the Law, and one from the Prophets; these lessons might be read by any competent person who was designated by the ruler for the duty, and the reader might add his comment. When the Lord appeared in the synagogue at Nazareth he read from Isa. LXI, and then sat down to deliver his sermon, or comment. Any scholar in the law who might happen to be present could be called on for the comment, as there was no appointed preacher, and hence it frequently occurred that when Paul entered a Jewish synagogue in some Gentile city he was invited to deliver the address. The character of the address was more conversational than the modern sermon. Questions were not out of place, objections could be made, and often in the reports of discourses in the New Testament we see the marks of these interruptions. [114]

      The synagogue, in Its organization, in many respect's like the Christian congregation, had also the power of discipline, but its penalties were not entirely spiritual. Scourging could be inflicted upon delinquents, and hence the Savior, in Matt. 10:17, speaks of his disciples being delivered to the synagogues to be scourged.

      The following account of an attempt of the students of Newton Theological Seminary to reproduce the worship of the synagogue in the time of Christ, given by J. H. Garrison, will aid the reader to a correct understanding: "About a score of the young men performed this service. They were appropriately rigged with the conventional uniform, and went through their various parts with becoming reverence. The Law and the Prophets were read in Hebrew and translated by an interpreter into the vernacular of their hearers, which was the custom of the Jews in their synagogue service, after the Hebrew ceased to be the language of the people. The chanting was very good, perhaps much better than that heard in the average synagogue in the time of our Savior. The Law from which they read was a veritable Hebrew scroll, secured from a Rabbi in Germany. Various readers were called out from their number, and while one was reading several others carefully scrutinized each word to see that the reading was correctly done. Every action indicated the greatest reverence for their sacred Scriptures. When the portions of both the Law and the Prophets were read, a speaker was sought for, and the messenger of the ruler of the synagogue had no little trouble in finding some one to address the people. When he found one at last who agreed to 'say on,' according to the invitation extended to Paul and Barnabas, the preacher took his seat in front of the congregation and proceeded to exhort his brethren to faithfulness in the observance of the law of their God. He evinced no little feeling when he alluded to their Gentile oppressors. The address, which was in English, being ended, he asked for questions. A number were asked, indicating by their character, and by the answers, the tendency of the Jews to split hairs on fine points of their law, at that period of their history, a characteristic which is brought out prominently in the gospel narratives. Some further responsive chanting, and a prayer, closed this interesting and instructive service, which was witnessed by a large audience. It explained how Paul would have an opportunity to speak in the Jewish synagogues wherever he went, and brought out very vividly that scene in the synagogue at Nazareth when Jesus read the wonderful prophecy concerning himself, and, when all eyes were fastened upon him, proceeded to announce its fulfillment that day. For the reader was sometimes, though not always, the speaker. The reading of the Scriptures was the main thing in the synagogue service; the speaking was only incidental. It may be safely questioned whether the reading of the word of God has the prominence in our Lord's day service that it ought to have." [115]

[NTC3 95-115]

[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)

Send Addenda, Corrigenda, and Sententiae to the editor