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In our constant attempt to meet the needs of the Christian community for sound theological material, we are making available this translation and commentary on the sixth chapter of John. Our reasons for doing so are to bring the powerful light of Scripture to bear upon two rather distinct issues. First, Jesus’ words in John 6 are vital for our understanding of the doctrine of God’s election of the saints. John 6:38ff is one of the clearest expositions of the Lord’s doctrine of salvation that we have. Hence, the proclamation of the truth will go far to correct the many errors, both within as well as outside of, the Christian community. Secondly,. John 6:48ff is an important passage in dealing with sacramental theology, specifically the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in regards to transubstantiation and their entire doctrine of salvation. It is hoped that this literal translation (done by Ministry Director James White) and commentary will be helpful in the ministry of the saints.
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John it a fascinating piece of literature – seemingly woven together with great purpose. It is twice the length of the average Johannine chapter. It narrates two great miracles (the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus’ walking on the water) and ties these together to form the introduction to a very important Christological dialogue. This dialogue then ends in the confession of faith of the true disciples of Jesus.
1. After these things Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberius). 2. And a great crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs which He was doing concerning the sick ones.
Commentary: Much of Jesus’ ministry is connected intimately with the Sea of Galilee. John gives what it probably the official “Roman” name for the body of water, though this name appears infrequently. The town of Tiberius (named for the Emperor) had born that name for only a few years at the time of Jesus’ ministry, hence the secondary mention of the name by John. John tells of a large crowd that follows Jesus, presumably by land rather than by sea, because of Jesus’ healing abilities. No mention is made of their being sick amongst this crowd; they seem more attracted by the possibility of a miracle than by anything else.
3. And Jesus went up into the mountain, and there He was sitting with His disciples. 4. Now the Passover was near – the Feast of the Jews.
Commentary: There it possibly some imagery in verse 3 that is reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew (5:1). Seemingly the Lord and His disciples have arrived by themselves, and have gone up into “the” mountain alone. If Jesus was wishing to privately speak to the disciples John does not mention it. What he does mention, however, is the fact that the Passover was near. Bearing in mind the non-Jewish character of his audience, John mentions that the Passover is the feast of the Jews – an item that would be surely unnecessary were his audience primarily Jewish. John may just be placing the events in their historical setting. Or, he may be attaching importance to Jesus’ actions in what is going to follow. Is Jesus setting Himself up as the bringer of the true Passover? If the Passover was near, why were these people not going up to Jerusalem? Was Jesus pointing to Himself as the fulfillment of the Passover? The next chapter begins with the Feast of Tabernacles – which would be nearly six months after the Passover itself. Hence, there seems to be a time gap between the two chapters, and a real purpose behind John’s mentioning of the Passover Feast.
5. Then when Jesus raised up His eyes and beheld that a great crowd was coming to Him, he said to Philip, “Where will we buy bread in order that these may eat?” 6. But this he said testing Him, for He Himself knew what He was about to do.
Commentary: John pictures Jesus seeing the multitude coming to Him from a distance. It would seem that He realizes that they will be hungry, for they would have traveled a long distance. The synoptics, however, indicate that a period of teaching intervened, and by the time the teaching was over, it was too late for them to return to their homes – hence the need for food.
Philip seems the best choice for the Lord’s question, as Philip was from Bethsaida, and if this took place “across the sea” from Capernaum, Bethsaida would be somewhat close by. Hence, turning to the local boy, Jesus asks about sources of food in the neighborhood. But John is quick to point out that Jesus knew all along what He was going to do – the question was to test Philip’s understanding of His own person and His power.
7. Philip answered and said to Him, ‘Two hundred danarii would not be sufficient to buy bread in order that each might receive a little portion.” 8. One of his disciples, Andrew, brother of Simon Peter, said to Him, 9. “There is here a little boy who has five barley loaves and two fishes; but what is that amongst so many?”
Commentary: Philip’s response is one of surprise – the entire apostle band’s treasury probably did not contain enough money to purchase such a vast amount of food, even had such supplies been available. Not catching onto the Lord’s purpose as yet, Andrew (who seems to have been one observant person, always bringing people to Jesus) brings to the Lord’s attention the seeming only source of sustenance – a young boy who had five barley loaves (poor man’s food) and two little fishes. But even Andrew has to add, “but what is that amongst so many?” He does not yet know the sufficiency of the little in the hands of Jesus.
10. Jesus said, ‘Have the men recline.” Now there was much grass in the place. Therefore the men reclined, their number being about 5,000. 11. Therefore when Jesus received the bread and gave thanks, He gave unto the ones reclining; likewise also from the fish; howsoever much they wished.
Commentary: John roots this, the most popular of Jesus’ miracles (judging by the inclusion of this story in every gospel) firmly in history – Jesus gives mundane commands (Luke the historian notes that they were to be grouped by 50’s) and John remembers visual details – there was much grass in the place. The image is striking – a cool spring day – a large group of men and women – well over 5,000, reclining upon the green grass, the harried disciples wondering what in the world their Lord was going to do now. One can see John’s smile as he writes (or dictates) this part of his book – what a longing he must have had to be there again.
Jesus took the bread, and, as was His custom, He gave thanks for it. Unfortunately the exact wording of this prayer is not given to us – we might wonder just how Jesus gave thanks over those little loaves and dried-up fishes. John attaches importance to this act, for he mentions it again in v. 23.
In typical style, the miracle it narrated without flash and fancy. It is simply stated that the food was distributed to the ones reclining – each one taking his fill. The miracle is implied rather than directly stated, though the fact of the miracle is not left in doubt.
Doing a two week series answering those who constantly assert that the Gospel of Mark presents a "simply human Jesus" over against, say, John. Here are the first two installments.