The Words of Eternal Life
There is an episode in the ministry of Jesus where He has been followed to a remote area by a vast multitude (Jn 6:1-14). They were enamored with Him because of His miracles, and they traipsed after Him without the forethought of taking enough food. So Jesus miraculously multiplies a few loaves and fish to feed the crowds. This builds a crescendo moment in His ministry as His astounding power convinces the people that He is the foretold Prophet of Scripture. In their crazed fervor they intend to “take Him by force to make Him king” (Jn 6:15).
But Jesus is not trying to grasp the shifting breezes of popularity. In our own culture we see athletes, celebrities, politicians and others enjoy seasons of white-hot fame and adoration only to swiftly tumble into the oblivion of has-been status. Jesus wants to reach into the hearts of men and women on a far deeper level: He wants to convince them that He is the necessary link between mortality and eternal life. And they are missing this message, for their interests do not rise above earthly concerns. Thus, the stage is set for a confrontation which Jesus initiates the following day.
When Jesus slipped away in the night (walking on the sea to His storm-tossed disciples – Mt 14), the hungry multitudes swarmed back to Capernaum frantically searching for their newfound caterer. “Rabbi, when did You come here?” they ask, chiding Him for having departed without informing them. At is at this point Jesus calls them out: “You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled” (Jn 6:26). They prove Jesus’ accusation by asking, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do?” (6:30). And then prompted by their bellies, they remind Jesus that “our fathers ate the manna in the desert …” (6:31). Hint. Hint. “We want more of that bread You gave us yesterday. Moses gave Israel bread for forty years; You only gave us bread for one day.”
Jesus turns the tables on them and challenges their notion of bread, as He did the Samaritan woman about living water not drawn from a well (Jn 4:10-15). He says things like:
►“For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” – 6:33.
►“I am the bread of life” – 6:35, 48.
►“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” – 6:51.
Jesus connects this spiritual bread with life, specifically eternal life which commences on the day of judgment: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (6:40; see also vv. 39, 44, 54). God provides to all the daily bread that sustains the body, but Jesus is focused upon what will animate our souls on the last day.
As Jesus expounded upon this, “the Jews … quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’” (6:52). This is so typical of minds out of tune with spiritual truth. They simply don’t have the mental creativity or curiosity to think in metaphorical language. When they run into a conundrum they throw up their hands in consternation instead of seeking a deeper meaning or asking Jesus for clarification.
At this point, just a day after the euphoria of the seafood banquet, “many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (6:60). Knowing their murmuring, Jesus pushes them even harder: “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?” (6:61-62). In other words, “I am speaking simple truths to you and you cannot handle it. What would you do if I revealed the fullness of My preexistent glory?” If we are offended by some aspect of divine truth, we would do well to ask ourselves if we are wiser than God. The revelations of God in Scripture are the tip of the iceberg, the mere ABCs of heavenly truths. We should revel in them, not reject them, knowing from Whom they have come.
But not only do Jesus’ antagonists fail the test, “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (6:60, 66). These are disciples, not the carnival crowd drawn to the midway in search of amusement. It seems that the more serious adherents had hoped that Jesus would exert His power and charisma to take the nation by storm – hopes that have now been dashed by their hero.
There’s only one group left to challenge: “Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’” (6:67). And bless his pea-picking heart, Peter hits a bullseye: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6:68). This is what Jesus had meant all along. To eat His flesh and drink His blood is to live by the words of Jesus, to conform our will to His, to adopt His character as our own, to say with Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). We must follow that path wherever it leads, for it is the only path there is.