Messiah; Metaphorical Manna or Life without Leaven?

John 6:52-65

“The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever.’ These things He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.‘”

I came down to my local eatery to have a cup of coffee, a couple of eggs and to write. When I write, local, I mean local. It’s less than 300 steps from my front door to the front door here. It’s somewhat strange to have victuals and libations this close for northern New England, 20 miles from even a small city but I am grateful. Often times I walk but this morning despite the sun shining brightly it is bitter cold. The kind of cold that permeates dense denim like a few thousand freezing needles penetrating my pants– I decided to drive. Warming up my pickup proved to be futile but I did try. As I sat, hoping for heat, the radio was tuned, as always, to a local Christian radio station. In the first few moments of waiting for warmth I was echoing an amen. But giving up on warmth for a moment, I departed for the warmth of a cup of coffee a mere minute away. But in that minute my echoing amen became, no, no, no!

At first the pastor preached on possessions and our penchant for them. He was correct in his comments. Generally speaking, we have the most material wealth than any other generation in history. I only see television in this darling little diner but while here, I saw a commercial for a car that “unparks” itself remotely, with the push of button, from tight spaces. Certainly that must have something to do with the new world order and the coming Antichrist.

Forgive my sarcastic cynicism but it’s true, we worry the most when we have much. Nevertheless the pastor changed course and said that the world cannot be saved. He reiterated his verbally proclaimed treatise by saying that there is no saving the world. Doubling down he continued by saying that the world is doomed. My journey of a few hundred feet came to fruition and it was time for for this hot coffe and my turn to try to turn the tides of these dubious dogmas. Even if I had not reached my destination, I would have shut him off. I have heard the arguments over and over and since I am in the middle of John’s gospel account and examining examples in Isaiah, I agree with his initial assessment but couldn’t disagree more with his latter assumption.

Here’s why: “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance.” This is in agreement with his first proclamation. But why is the context of the most quoted verse of all time always ignored?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.”

How then do shepherds of the Word of God keep on claiming that the world cannot be saved but goes to hell in a handbasket? I immediately thought that the world is going to hell the minute I saw that commercial of the car that can un-park itself. Didn’t Jesus say somewhere at sometime that “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Forgive me, I forgot, the context of this verse is that Peter was the first Pope. I was cheeky the last time I wrote but today it’s the sarcasm that is off the charts. Therefore let me use it to our advantage; did Jesus say that hell wouldn’t prevail over his congregation because he was going to rescue them in a rapture? Or are gates defensive in nature, thus the congregation storms the gates of hell? Be thoughtful about this– when you hear or read that verse, do you picture Satan swinging a gate at the church or do you see the church prevailing over hell? Gate are only meant for two things, keeping out or keeping in. Jesus said that they would not prevail. The church ends up crashing gates. Jesus saves the world. I did not say this Jesus did.

The question is what does this have to do with today’s text? Answer: here, we utilize the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics, where; Context is king, Author’s Aspirations to his Audience are apex, Genre is the general, Expository Exegesis of Examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. We’re in the middle of the context of John’s gospel account, seeing the seven supernatural signs, the seven symbolic statements of “I am,” the seven sections of the divine discourse and all of these are replete with imagery, symbolism and metaphors. Admittedly it is difficult to distinguish the metaphorical meanings from the straightforward. Nevertheless, context is king and exploring examples enlightens as does attempting to ascertain the author’s aspirations to his audience. When Jesus says that God loves the world and sent his Son to save it, we don’t have to dig deep to see symbolism, it’s straightforward. Yet when Jesus says that we must eat his flesh, perhaps we should see the symbolism. Especially when the people clear out and the dust settles and Jesus says, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”

Yes, it’s difficult, it’s almost as if Jesus completely contradicts himself, first claiming it’s his flesh that is life then seemingly switches, saying that the Spirit is life. That is if one doesn’t consider the continuing context of the signs, symbols and sayings of Jesus. This is why the CAGED method, or any other healthy hermeneutical tool, is extremely important.

This is why I shout sarcasm at the mega-church pastors as they pontificate about wealth and health on their platforms. Ripping verses out of context creates all kinds of dubious dogmas. Literally, it is written in the Bible: “Judas went and hanged himself; go and do likewise; what you do, do quickly; there is no God.” Obviously this is an extreme case with horrible results but the principle remains the same– ripping verses out of context leads everyone astray– and they are supposed shepherds.

Lately my missives have been too massive to even be called missives. My intent is not to teach but to train how to learn. I write to promote self-study, using a healthy hermeneutical method, by giving sometimes, somewhat sloppy examples. I want to provide death by a thousand little cuts to our tawdry taught traditions, presuppositions and preconceived notions. The biggest one is that Jesus can’t save the world. Sometimes it’s better to start small, getting back to one’s roots and remember the reason for which they write.

Therefore for time’s sake I will skip the review of the continuing context except the highlights. Jesus fed the multitude, they wanted to rapture him and make him king, Jesus sent the disciples away from them and he headed up the mountain alone. Then Jesus walked on water and the disciples and Jesus came to Capernaum where the multitude found him and he took the opportunity to sort out the people with a divine discourse, quoting and fulfilling Isaiah and offering them the true bread of life, his flesh– an obvious allusion to the cross.

If you are a regular reader of my missives you know that I always remind myself to “keep it simple stupid.” I don’t want to miss the proverbial forest for the trees. We shouldn’t have the same reaction as the people present to the divine discourse, full of symbols and allusions because Jesus continues to explain after they disperse. We are given a greater revelation than they were given.

“The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’ Jesus therefore said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died, he who eats this bread shall live forever.’ These things He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum. Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?'”

While not explicitly stated, we see the switch. Jesus stops speaking to the multitude and then speaks to his followers. We don’t know how many disciples were there at this point but it is clearly more than the 12, considering the context. Also considering the context, we see that the multitude questioned the “how” but many disciples couldn’t even listen to Jesus anymore. Notice; “Many therefore of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?'”

Jesus could have said, “it is a metaphor, you morons!” But he didn’t. Notice something that keeps coming up in the entirety of John 6 and the divine discourse other that cannibalism– I mean, bread. Remember how this part of the ministry of Jesus began; “Jesus therefore lifting up His eyes, and seeing that a great multitude was coming to Him, said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?'” Bread is the most common thread, or sublime string but second is the following: “He said to His disciples, ‘Gather up the leftover fragments that nothing may be lost…All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out…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…No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day…the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me.'”

I’m no genius– far from it, I am not even a smart man. A true genius is able to explain the complex simply. A smart man is able to share the truth in simplicity. I have to remind myself to keep it simple stupid. I have to constantly consider the context, aspirations of author, genre, examples and then divide rightly. Calvinism, Catholicism, Charismatism, Dispensationalism, Postmillennialism, Premillenialism, Pretribulationalism, Amillenialism, Preterism, Arminianism and the like are merely modes and models. They are ways of summary, bullet points that often times miss the mark and the mark of the beast.

Today’s text should be a great argument for Calvinism and the Tulip acronym: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. I am not writing to debate Calvinism but to promote our acronym– CAGED. Jesus was not arguing for Calvinism but he was the greatest Jew of all time teaching first-century, Galilean Jews, Just before the Passover that they must eat his flesh, which is the bread of life. Context is king; timing, location, audience relevance and the like must be considered when coming to a conclusion and dividing rightly.

Jesus is in Exodus, figuratively speaking. Jesus is not only bread but unleavened bread. “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”

Jesus is separating the sheep from the goats. Jesus is also in Isaiah, figuratively speaking. For time’s sake we won’t explore this example today but reserve the right to return in the future, Lord willing. Nevertheless we see that Jesus quoted Isaiah and tells the people present that they are fulfillment, being taught by God. The question is, what is God teaching them by saying that they must eat his flesh? At first they grumbled because Jesus claimed to come down from heaven, missing the very first promise of the Messiah; that he would be born of a woman.

Next they grumble about eating his flesh, which is the bread of life. Like the manna it came down from heaven but the likeness ends there. Jesus is juxtaposed to the manna because the fathers ate the manna and died but the flesh of Jesus brings life to the world. Yet as we have seen in Zechariah and the curse of the flying scroll, with life comes death. The people present refused the offer of permanent peace and eternal life. Even most of his disciples did not understand.

To them Jesus said, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe. For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

See the sublime string. The father gives Jesus a kingdom, dominion and the world. Even the devil knew that Jesus wanted the world. Why else would the temptation be so great? But Jesus resisted the devil and defeated him on the cross, in his flesh (bread). For this obedience, the father gives Jesus the world.

Lord willing, we are about to see a further explanation of this and the role of the Spirit as we continue.

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