Missed the Boat, the Metaphor and the Messiah

John 6:28-40

They said therefore to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ They said therefore to Him, ‘What then do You do for a sign, that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'” Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.’ They said therefore to Him, ‘Lord, evermore give us this bread.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.‘”

I didn’t start writing missives to disprove dogmatic dispensationalism, on the contrary, in my earlier missives, before beginning on this platform, I defended dispensationalism. The goal of my missives is, and always has been, to promote daily devotion to the Word of God and self study. Yet on all christian platforms, the doubling down of dispensationalists has hit a fever pitch and they reach millions of christian and even non-christians. Originally my motto was nothing more than mining for gold, considering the context. As I continued to develop my missives’ mission statement, I was also teaching teenagers and came up with the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics; Context, Aspirations, Genre, Examples and Divide. I saw that the young people needed a tool to remember how to approach, read, study and recall God’s Word. Of course by the time I showed them the CAGED method, my work and travel schedule wouldn’t allow me to teach them any longer. The truth is, I began this blog on this platform for them– since they knew me and were used to me, I thought we could keep in touch this way. To my knowledge, not one of them reads these missives. Therefore, I write to anyone willing to read and appreciate you that do. You could be doing a million different things but you have chosen to read my ramblings– I appreciate that. I think of this as I write and try to point out some of the biggest mistakes we make when reading the Bible.

The conclusion of my soliloquy is this: it is not about me or even the CAGED method per se, but it is absolutely about keeping things in their context when reading the Bible. Within the context is the author’s intention, the historical context, the genre in which a speaker spoke or an author wrote. One context may be loosely connected to another but many are intrinsically interwoven. If a New Testament author quotes the Old Testament it is incumbent to read the Old Testament passage (it’s the main reason I use the NASB because O.T. passage are in all caps). Yet the most important thing when reading the Bible is to keep reading. I know it’s difficult in our busy lives but they are the words from our creator and redeemer. Ignore chapter and verse breaks as much as possible and read as much content as you can before your mind goes blank. I’ll tell you the truth, in my case, it’s usually around 12-15 chapters. The good news for me is that I have no problem with reading the shorter books in one sitting.

Today’s text is another example of how important it is to consider the context, drawing it out, using exegesis rather than reading things in, using eisegesis. Believe it or not, today’s text is quite tricky if one isn’t paying attention. The reason: Jesus is doing what he always does– not answering direct questions directly. A lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings come from people reading the questions made to Jesus but missing the response, thinking that Jesus actually answered the question directly.

Watch; “They said therefore to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'”

Many pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers misconstrue this passage not because of what Jesus said but because of the question. See the context without the question, notice; “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Whose work is it? If I were teaching teenagers this would be what I would call a pop quiz. To be sure the multitude wanted to know how they could work the works of God. Yet as he very commonly did, Jesus shifted the focus from the egocentric people to God. They wanted to do the work of God but Jesus tells them that the work of God is to believe in Jesus.

Jesus didn’t answer their question directly but subtly shifted the focus from the works of man to the works of God. Couple this with the continuing context of Jesus feeding them, a multitude of people, from two small fish and five barely loaves; walking on water; being in a place where they thought he couldn’t be and it’s easy to see the symbolism. It’s not about them it’s about God. In the same way that we don’t understand, they didn’t understand.

“They said therefore to Him, ‘What then do You do for a sign, that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'”

Maybe they did understand better than we understand– don’t believe that for a second. Yet they saw that Jesus shifted the focus from their wonder about work to God’s work. Their initial, yet ignorant, response demonstrates this– “What work do You perform?” They, hearing Jesus but ignoring what they have seen, expect a great work from God so that they can easily believe. Nevertheless the multitude tips their hand to their misunderstanding of the meanings. Like the mega-church pastors, they quote a piece of a passage but don’t consider the context. They ripped this verse out of context. Notice that they wanted proof from Jesus that he was doing the works of God. However, they saw the miracle of multiplication of two fish and five loaves. On top of this, they found Jesus in a place that they didn’t think he could be. For them, this was not enough. They even evoke Moses and the manna, not equivocating the manna with their feeding but thinking that the manna was much more of a miracle and from Moses. Ironically, they misunderstood the imagery and symbolism and their history, actually ignoring their history. As we will see, their history included great works of God but was also supposed to be a history that was rightly recalled, recorded and retold from generation to generation.

Let’s pause and ponder here on the ironic imagery. Look again at the text; “They said therefore to Him, ‘What then do You do for a sign, that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness…” They even go so far as to quote Scripture to the Author of Scripture. Understand the irony, hard hearts and utter ignorance and hypocrisy. Jesus had fed them and this is why they sought him yet they expected more from him. Remember that they, according to the dogmatic dispensationalists’ definition of “harpadzo” (spelled phonetically), wanted to rapture Jesus and make him king. This, as Jesus said, was not because of the miracle or seeing God’s wonderous working but because they were hungry and he fed them. This is imagery of which Jesus uses to explain his workings but they miss the point, taking Jesus too literally. But I am getting way ahead of myself.

Like the Pharisees, the multitude saw signs and even recalled a tiny piece of the historical narrative, albeit from a poetic genre, of their fathers but it wasn’t enough to convince them. They remember the miracle of manna, yet they made no comment about their fathers’ grumblings. They ironically pointed out the bread but not the attitudes of the people. They were like an ancient mega-church, ripping a verse out of context and wrongly applying it.

This is why reading the entire narrative is extremely important, as is ascertaining the aspirations of the author. They ripped a verse out of context and it is very easy for us to do the same, especially in our mega-church, dogmatic dispensationalist, prophecy pundit, speaking in strange tongues, cultural climate. Perfect example; speaking in tongues and the last days: the Bible has a different definition of both and their connection than we see in our modern times. Tongues were xenoglossy– actual dialects and languages, they were for unbelievers not believers, ie. the doggedly dogmatic Judaisers and were a signal and sign that the last days of the Judaic eon were at hand. Acts 2, Acts 10:45-46, Isaiah 28 and the capstone; “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, ‘BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,’ says the Lord. So then tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe, but to unbelievers; but prophecy is for a sign, not to unbelievers, but to those who believe.”

This is where I have some slight agreement with dispensationalist thought, though the majority who speak in tongues are dispensationalists. Nevertheless dispensationalism refers to the different dispensations of the Lord working in the world. The most obvious example being the time of the Law and the time of grace; pre cross and post cross. Nevertheless, as Paul points out, even before the Law sin reigned and after the cross the temple still stood, for a little while. We have to be very careful with labeling dispensations. Example; tongues came when the Holy Spirit came but were not necessarily necessary after 70 AD because Jerusalem had been sacked and the people dispersed– judgment came. Have you noticed that the early Christians in Jerusalem sold their property? They understood the teachings of the apostles; Jesus was coming soon, on the clouds of heaven, to judge that land and that generation.

Think about the sin of Ananias and Saphira; they not only withheld some of the proceeds from selling their property, they also had insider information. They didn’t sell their property to give the money away, they sold it because they knew it would be worthless in a few years. You may think that I am reaching, reading things into the context but consider the context. Why would they sell and give some of the money away? Peter said, “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” The gift of tongues was one last straw to jerk Jerusalem to repentance before her destruction. We don’t see this because we don’t keep reading and we rip verses out of context, like the multitude who had their bellies filled.

As always, the people put their faith in Moses and a piece of a passage but held too tightly to traditions and the Talmudic teachings. Hypocritically I look at them and think, Just listen to Jesus! But 1 Corinthians 10 reminds me that they are a microcosm of myself. Honestly, who is worse; the one with the completed Scripture at his fingertips and has the Holy Spirit who gave gifts or the ones indoctrinated by the Pharisees and Sadducees, yet with the Messiah in their midst? I guess I would call it a draw. We’re all like the disciples in the storm– we’re all in the same boat, sinfully and stubbornly speaking.

“‘What work do You perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'” Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.'”

Jesus understood their hearts and their interpretations– this is made evident by his response. Ironically, of course, the people were quoting Psalm 78. Also ironically, they were looking at Jesus like Moses, as a leader but not in his fullness. They expected more from Jesus than a simple, single meal but many meals, like manna. Watch how they completely missed the meaning in Psalm 78.

Listen, O my people, to my instruction; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not conceal them from their children, But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done…That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, That they may arise and tell them to their children, That they should put their confidence in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments, And not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not prepare its heart, And whose spirit was not faithful to God. The sons of Ephraim were archers equipped with bows, Yet they turned back in the day of battle. They did not keep the covenant of God, And refused to walk in His law; And they forgot His deeds, And His miracles that He had shown them. He wrought wonders before their fathers, In the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; And He made the waters stand up like a heap. Then He led them with the cloud by day, And all the night with a light of fire. He split the rocks in the wilderness, And gave them abundant drink like the ocean depths. He brought forth streams also from the rock, And caused waters to run down like rivers. Yet they still continued to sin against Him, To rebel against the Most High in the desert. And in their heart they put God to the test By asking food according to their desire. Then they spoke against God; They said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? Behold, He struck the rock, so that waters gushed out, And streams were overflowing; Can He give bread also? Will He provide meat for His people?’ Therefore the LORD heard and was full of wrath, And a fire was kindled against Jacob, And anger also mounted against Israel; Because they did not believe in God, And did not trust in His salvation. Yet He commanded the clouds above, And opened the doors of heaven; And He rained down manna upon them to eat, And gave them food from heaven. Man did eat the bread of angels; He sent them food in abundance.”

I hope that you are thinking, “wow!” I don’t even know where to begin in comparing the generation in the wilderness, who did not make it to the promised land, to the generation of Jesus, who did not make it to the promised land. As an aside, that’s the irony of dogmatic dispensationalism, thinking that the promised land is Palestine/Israel. What would you rather have, Jesus or the west bank? The Holy Spirit or the Gaza Strip? The love of the Father or the Negev? Salvation or bread? Forgiveness or water? Eternal life or meat in your pot? I’m with you, I like to think that I love Jesus more than meat, the Spirit more than bread and the Father more than drink but after an honest examination…oh how I need Jesus.

Paul certainly knew this passage and our penchant for personal pleasures. “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, that we should not crave evil things, as they also craved…Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.”

Yes, I had to throw that last part in about the ends of the ages. 1 Corinthians was fairly early, mid-first-century letter written to a immature, fledgling church, founded by Paul, right nextdoor to the Jewish synagogue. “After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth…But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. And when they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.’ And he departed from there and went to the house of a certain man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next to the synagogue.

Why does this matter? We take a long view of Scripture, unlike the generation of Jesus. I’ll be the first to admit that my parents should have named me Jacob “Israel” Judah. I am just like their descendants but the second step, after the bread of life, in becoming unlike them is to have my mind changed by the Spirit of the Scriptures, taking the long view, considering the continuing context and seeing the sublime string. Look again at today’s text juxtaposed to Psalm 78 and 1 Corinthians 10 and then keep reading the context of John.

I have argued that there are no parables in John’s gospel account, but that is not absolutely true. There are no parables proper, where Jesus says, “listen to this parable” or “hear this parable.” Nevertheless metaphorical meanings, symbolism and imagery abound. In Psalm 78 we not only see metaphorical meanings but the promise of parables and “dark sayings of old.” In 1 Corinthians 10 we see the metaphorical meaning of the rock that gave forth the water, that it was Christ. We also see the grumblings of the people and then we read in John’s gospel account, after Jesus explains that he is the true bread out of heaven; “The Jews therefore were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven.'”

Go back to the beginning of their questions and see the irony. “They said therefore to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.'” Wanting work for themselves to do, Jesus tells them that God’s work is for them to believe in him. Jesus tells them that it wasn’t Moses that gave bread out of heaven but that God gave them true bread and true food– Jesus the Messiah. But they couldn’t stomach that.

Like the Pharisees, Charismatics and prophecy pundits they wanted a sign and wonderous work from Jesus. This is (you guessed it) utterly ironic considering the context of the Scripture which they quoted. Jesus gave them a meal but Moses fed them 5 days a week and twice on Friday for forty years. They wanted a “real” sign and they quote a little, tiny piece of Psalm 78 but missed themselves in the metaphorical mirror of Scripture– “in their heart they put God to the test By asking food according to their desire.” A couple thousand years later and they are running over the same old ground. A couple of thousand years later and we’re running over the same old ground, and what have recieved but our due recompense? I take full responsibility for my sins and the effect that they have had on my generation. I knew better; I can’t lie and pretend that I was tricked into the “American Dream” and then some. I knew that the christian must be mission minded but I wanted things and stuff. Nevertheless, I will not take responsibility for the health, wealth and happiness, prosperity preachers of the mega-church persuasion. My opinion: look no further than Covid19 to see the error of their ways. Moving on; because if I have to confess everything, this would be a 40 volume encyclopedia.

“Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.’ They said therefore to Him, ‘Lord, evermore give us this bread.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.'”

Can one work they way to salvation? Can one work their way out of salvation? The answer to both questions is a resounding no. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that everyone destined to be raised up on the last day will be raised up on the last day.

The problem for the multitude is that which Jesus had said, is saying and was about to say when he said, “I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” This is the pivotal point in this part of the divine discourse. God’s will is for Jesus not to lose anyone who believes but they don’t believe.

All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.'”

It’s not about the Law, the temple and certainly not because one is a blood descendant of Jacob. Again I can’t escape the irony of the prophecy pundits. Over and over and over again, we are told by the prophecy pundits that we must bless Israel because of Genesis 12:3; “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Talk about a verse ripped out of context. This was said to Abram, even before Jesus (“no man has seen the father “) changed his name to Abraham, much before their was an Isaac and much more before their was a Jacob. Surely God knows the future but Jacob wasn’t the fulfillment, Jesus was. Romans 4, Galatians 3 and today’s text couldn’t be more clear. Add in the preaching of John the Baptist and Paul’s repeated claim that there is “no distinction between Jew and Greek,” and dogmatic dispensationalism must be called into question.

The problem I have with dogmatic dispensationalism is simple; I agree with them on most things– but their eschatology and promises are horrible. They are promising that we are “at the finish line,” and “Jesus will be here soon,” and “we are escape artists; we’re escaping.” What happens when we don’t? How many people will lose faith because they were promised a rapture rescue soon but it doesn’t come? We take a long view and assume that we are in it for the long haul. Let’s give Jesus the last word and see if we see a rapture before the resurrection, two distinct people with two distinct plans or the world waxing worse and worse. Or do we see Israel as intended, all nations, including Israel, who are called by God and who will be raised imperishable by Jesus, once and for all?

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world. I am [Ego Eimi; YHWH] the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you, that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”

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