John 6 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

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(Read all of John 6)
4. And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.

[And the Passover was nigh.] "It is a tradition. They inquire and discourse about the rites of the Passover, thirty days before the feast."

From the entrance of these thirty days and so onward, this feast was in the eyes and mouth of this people, but especially in the fifteen days immediately before the Passover. Hence, perhaps, we may take the meaning of these words, the Passover was nigh.

From the entrance or beginning of these thirty days, viz. "From the fifteenth day of the month Adar, they repaired the ways, the streets, the bridges, the pools, and despatched all other public business; they painted the sepulchres, and proceeded about matters of a heterogeneous nature."

"These are all the businesses of the public: they judged all pecuniary faults, those also that were capital, and those for which the offenders were scourged. They redeemed devoted things; they made the suspected wife drink; they burnt the red heifer; they bored the ear of the Hebrew servant; they cleansed the lepers, and removed the covers from the well," that every one might be at liberty to drink.

The Gloss is, "And some that were deputed in that affair went abroad to see if the fields were sown with corn, and the vineyards planted with heterogeneous trees."

9. There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?

[Five barley loaves.] Compare 2 Kings 4:42, and see Chetub.: where the masters enhance the number of men fed by Elisha to two thousand two hundred. "Every hundred men had their single loaf set before them." The Gloss is, "Twenty loaves, and the loaf of the first fruits, behold one-and-twenty; the green ear, behold two-and-twenty: these were all singly set, each of them before a hundred men; and so behold there were two thousand and two hundred fed." By the same proportion, in our Saviour's miraculous feeding the people, one single loaf must serve for a thousand.

12. When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.

[The fragments that remain.] It was a custom and rule, that when they ate together, they should leave something to those that served: which remnant was called peah. And it is remarked upon R. Joshua, that, upon a journey, having something provided for him by a hospitable widow, he ate all up, and left nothing to her that ministered. Where the Gloss: "Every one leaves a little portion in the dish, and gives it to those that serve; which is called the servitor's part."

Although I would not confound the fragments that remain with the peah, nor would affirm that what was left was in observation of this rule and custom; yet we may observe, that the twelve baskets full of fragments left at this time answered to the number of the twelve apostles that ministered. It is otherwise elsewhere.

24. When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.

[They also took shipping.] They had gone afoot from Capernaum to the desert of Bethsaida, Mark 6:33, by the bridge of Chammath, near Tiberias. But they sail back in ships, partly that they might follow Jesus with the greater speed; and perhaps that they might reach time enough at the synagogue: for that was the day in which they assembled in their synagogues.

27. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

[For him hath God the Father sealed.] The Jews speak much of the seal of God; which may not be impertinently remembered at this time. "What is the seal of the holy blessed God? R. Bibai, in the name of R. Reuben, saith, Truth. But what is truth? R. Bon saith, The living God and King eternal. Resh Lachish saith, Aleph is the first letter of the alphabet, Mem the middle, and Tav the last: q.d. I the Lord am the first; I received nothing of any one; and beside me there is no God: for there is not any that intermingles with me; and I am with the last."

There is a story of the great synagogue weeping, praying, and fasting; "At length there was a little scroll fell from the firmament to them, in which was written, Truth. R. Chaninah saith, Hence learn that truth is the seal of God."

We may easily apply all this to Christ, who is "the way, the truth, and the life," John 14:6: he is the express image of his Father, the truth of the Father; whom the Father, by his seal and diploma, hath confirmed and ratified; as the great ruler both of his kingdom and family.

28. Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

[What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?] Observe, first, the rule about workmen or labourers: "It is granted by the permission of the law, that the labourer shall eat of those things wherein he laboureth. If he works in the vintage, let him eat of the grapes; if in gathering the fig trees, let him eat of the figs; if in the harvest, let him eat of the ears of the corn," &c.

Nay further; "It is lawful for the workmen to eat of those things wherein he worketh; a melon, to the value of a penny; and dates, to the value of a penny," &c.

Compare these passages with what our Saviour speaks; "Labour (saith he) for that meat which endureth to everlasting life." Now, what is that work of God which we should do, that might entitle us to eat of that food? Believe in Christ, and ye shall feed on him.

31. Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.

[Our fathers did eat manna.] I. They seek a sign of him worthy the Messiah; and in general they seem to look towards those dainties which that nation fondly dreamed their Messiah would bring along with him when he should come; but more particularly they expect manna.

"Ye seek me (saith our Saviour), not because ye did see the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled." Were all these so very poor that they had need to live at another man's charge? or should follow Christ merely for bread? It is possible they might expect other kind of dainties, according to the vain musings of that nation. Perhaps he was such a kind of slave to his belly that said, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God," Luke 14:15.

"Many affirm that the hope of Israel is, that Messiah shall come and raise the dead; and they shall be gathered together in the garden of Eden, and shall eat and drink, and satiate themselves all the days of the world....and that there are houses built of precious stones, beds of silk, and rivers flowing with wine and spicy oil." "He made manna to descend for them, in which were all manner of tastes; and every Israelite found in it what his palate was chiefly pleased with. If he desired fat in it, he had it. In it the young men tasted bread, the old men honey, and the children oil....So it shall be in the world to come [the days of the Messias]: he shall give Israel peace, and they shall sit down and eat in the garden of Eden; and all nations shall behold their condition; as it is said, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry, Isaiah 65:13."

Alas, poor wretches! how do you deceive yourselves! for it is to you that this passage of being hungry while others eat does directly point.

Infinite are the dreams of this kind, particularly about Leviathan and Behemoth, that are to be served up in these feasts.

II. Compare with this especially what the Jews propound to themselves about their being fed with manna: "The latter Redeemer" [that is, Messiah; for he had spoken of the former redeemer, Moses, immediately before] "shall be revealed against them, &c. And whither will he lead them? Some say into the wilderness of Judah; others, into the wilderness of Sihon and Og." [Note that our Saviour the day before, when he fed such a multitude so miraculously, was in the desert of Og, viz. in Batanea, or Bashan.] And shall make manna descend for them. Note that. So Midras Coheleth: "The former redeemer caused manna to descend for them; in like manner shall our latter Redeemer cause manna to come down, as it is written, 'There shall be a handful of corn in the earth,' Psalm 72:16."

32. Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.

[Moses gave you not that bread from heaven.] The Gemarists affirm that manna was given for the merits of Moses. "There were three good shepherds of Israel, Moses, Aaron, and Miriam: and there were three good things given us by their hands, a well, a cloud, and manna: the well, for the merits of Miriam; the pillar of the cloud, for the merits of Aaron; manna, for the merits of Moses."

Contrary, therefore, to this opinion of theirs, it may well be said, Moses did not give you this bread: i.e. it was by no means for any merits of his. But what further he might intend by these words, you may learn from the several expositors.

39. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.

[Should raise it up again at the last day.] So also verse 40 and 44, the emphasis lies in the last day.

I. They looked (as hath been already said) for the resurrection of the dead at the coming of the Messiah. Take one instance: "R. Jeremiah said, 'When I die, bury me in my shirt, and with my shoes on, &c.; that when Messiah comes I may be ready dressed to meet him.'"

Apply here the words of our Saviour: "Ye look for the resurrection when Messiah comes; and since ye seek a sign of me, perhaps ye have it in your minds that I should raise some from the dead. Let this suffice, that whoever comes to me and believes in me shall be raised up at the last day."

II. This was the opinion of that nation concerning the generation in the wilderness. "The generation in the wilderness have no part in the world to come, neither shall they stand in judgment."

Now as to this generation in the wilderness, there had been some discourse before, verse 31; viz. of those that had eaten manna in the wilderness. "But that manna did not so feed them unto eternal life (as you yourselves confess) as that they shall live again, and have any part in the world to come. But I, the true bread from heaven, do feed those that eat of me to eternal life; and such as do eat of me, i.e. that believe in me, I will raise them up at the last day, so that they shall have part in the world to come."

45. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

[And they shall be all taught of God.] Isaiah 54:13: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord." The 'children of Israel,' 'of Jerusalem,' and 'of Zion,' are very frequently mentioned by the prophets for those Gentiles that were to be converted to the faith: taught before of the devil, by his idols and oracles; but they should become the children of the church, and be taught of God.

The Rabbins do fondly apply these words of the prophet, when by thy children they understand the disciples of the wise men. "The disciples of the wise men multiply peace in the world; as it is written, 'All thy children shall be taught of God, and great shall be the peace of thy children.' Do not read, thy children; but thy builders."

But who were there among mortals that were more taught of men and less of God, being learned in nothing but the traditions of the fathers? He must be taught of the Father that would come to the Son; not of those sorry fathers: he must be taught of God, not those masters of traditions.

51. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

[The bread that I will give is my flesh.] He tacitly confutes that foolish conceit of theirs about I know not what dainties the Messiah should treat them with; and slights those trifles, by teaching that all the dainties which Christ had provided were himself. Let them not look for wonderful messes, rich feasts, &c.; he will give them himself to eat; bread beyond all other provisions whatever; food from heaven; and such as bringeth salvation.

As to this whole passage of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ, it will be necessary to premise that of Mark 4:11, 12: "I speak by parables; and all these things are done in parables; that seeing they may see, and not perceive," &c. Verse 34: "Without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples."

And what can we suppose in this place but parable wholly?

I. There was nothing more common in the schools of the Jews than the phrases of 'eating and drinking' in a metaphorical sense. And surely it would sound very harsh, if not to be understood here metaphorically, but literally. What! to drink blood? a thing so severely interdicted the Jews once and again. What! to eat man's flesh? a thing abhorrent to human nature; but above all abhorrent to the Jews, to whom it was not lawful to eat a member of a living beast, nor touch the member of a dead man.

"Every eating and drinking of which we find mention in the book of Ecclesiastes is to be understood of the Law and good works," i.e. by way of parable and metaphor. By the Capernaite's leave, therefore, and the Romanist's too, we will understand the eating and drinking in this place figuratively and parabolically.

II. Bread is very frequently used in the Jewish writers for doctrine. So that when Christ talks of eating his flesh, he might perhaps hint to them that he would feed his followers not only with his doctrines, but with himself too.

The whole stay of bread, Isaiah 3:1. "These are the masters of doctrine; as it is written, 'Come, eat of my bread,' Proverbs 9:5." "Feed him with bread, that is, Make him take pains in the warfare of the Law, as it is written, 'Come, eat of my bread.'"

Moses fed you with doctrine and manna, but I feed you with doctrine and my flesh.

III. There is mention, even amongst the Talmudists themselves, of eating the Messiah. "Rabh saith, Israel shall eat the years of Messiah." [The Gloss is, "The plenty and satiety that shall be in the days of the Messiah shall belong to the Israelites."] "Rabh Joseph saith, 'True, indeed: but who shall eat thereof? Shall Chillek and Billek [two judges in Sodom] eat of it?' We must except against that of R. Hillel, who saith, Messiah is not likely to come to Israel, for they have already devoured him in the days of Hezekiah." Those words of Hillel are repeated, fol. 99. 1.

Behold, here is mention of eating the Messiah, and none quarrel the phraseology. They excepted against Hillel, indeed, that he should say that the Messiah was so eaten in the days of Hezekiah, that he was not like to appear again in Israel; but they made no scruple of the scheme and manner of speech at all. For they plainly enough understood what was meant by eating the Messiah; that is, that in the days of Hezekiah they so much partook of the Messiah, they received him so greedily, embraced him so gladly, and in a manner devoured him, that they must look for him no more in the ages to come. Gloss upon the place: "Messiah will come no more to Israel, for Hezekiah was the Messiah."

IV. But the expression seems very harsh, when he speaks of "eating his flesh" and "drinking his blood." He tells us, therefore, that these things must be taken in a spiritual sense: "Doth this offend you? What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?" That is, "When you shall have seen me ascending into heaven, you will then find how impossible a thing it is to eat my flesh and drink my blood bodily: for how can you eat the flesh of one that is in heaven? You may know, therefore, that I mean eating me spiritually: 'for the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life.'"

V. But what sense did they take it in that did understand it? Not in a sacramental sense surely, unless they were then instructed in the death and passion of our Saviour; for the sacrament hath a relation to his death: but it sufficiently appears elsewhere that they knew or expected nothing of that. Much less did they take it in a Jewish sense; for the Jewish conceits were about the mighty advantages that should accrue to them from the Messiah, and those merely earthly and sensual. But to partake of the Messiah truly is to partake of himself, his pure nature, his righteousness, his spirit; and to live and grow and receive nourishment from that participation of him. Things which the Jewish schools heard little of, did not believe, did not think; but things which our blessed Saviour expresseth lively and comprehensively enough, by that of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.