Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

96. “Taught of God” (John 6:37-47)

It seems likely that in the synagogue at Capernaum Jesus delivered a formal address besides taking part in the discussion which centred round his teaching about himself as the Bread of Life. The address itself (verses 37-47) had a perceptibly different theme.

He began with pronouncements of a startling predestinarian character: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me . . ." The Greek here is puzzling. As literally as possible it runs thus: "All (neuter) that the Father giveth me he did lead to me." The first phrase seems to refer primarily to the twelve (17:11, 12). But immediately, and throughout this passage, there is generalisation to include all who are "taught of God" and brought to Christ: "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 at the last day" (v.37, 39).

These words (and v.65 also) declare, in the most unequivocal fashion imaginable, a doctrine of election such as receives little emphasis in these days-and indeed little credence, in some quarters.

Yet, remarkably enough, in this very context Jesus went on to put equal emphasis on the vital importance of the right response made by an unfettered free will: "him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (v.37). This saying would be meaningless if the "coming" were not the result of individual decision. Again: "this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life" (v.40). Free response as a disciple is plainly implied here.

Contradictory ideas?

There are those who have succeeded—to their own satisfaction, at any rate-in producing a tidy reconciliation of these two ideas, which seem to be so hopelessly inconsistent with one another. Neither Jesus, here in John 6, nor Paul in Romans, makes any sort of attempt to demonstrate the consistency of these apparently contradictory principles. Yet presumably they are reconcilable in the purposes of heaven, even if not by limited human thinking. One has yet to encounter a better attitude to this bewildering problem than that which says: "The Bible teaches me to believe in the foreknowledge of God and His will to predestine certain individuals to redemption and glory; therefore I believe it. The Bible also teaches me, what I also know well enough from personal experience, that I am a creature of free will, endowed with the power of making my own decisions. Then, even if I have difficulty in reconciling these principles, I shall humbly and thankfully go on believing in them both, confident that one day, when I no longer see through a glass darkly a clearer understanding of all such problems will be vouchsafed to me.''

The same superficial contradiction is traceable here in the words of Jesus. "This is the Father's will . . . that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing." Yet at the end of his ministry Jesus was to say: "Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition" (17 :12). It would certainly appear that the Father's will regarding Judas, one of those given to Jesus by Him, came to be frustrated

One way of avoiding this impasse is to assume that Judas never was given to Jesus by the Father. But such an approach only solves one problem by creating a greater, for then it is necessary to conclude that Judas was deliberately chosen in the first place for a fate so black that Jesus himself said: "It were better for that man that he had never been born."

There is no great harm in leaving such enigmas unsolved.

Another Unsolved Problem

These verses present another problem of a very different character-one not perceptible to the reader of the English version unless he be unusually alert. In the Greek text of the words quoted, there are quite unaccountable switches of gender. "All that the Father giveth me" is neuter! "Him that cometh to me" is, of course, masculine. "Lose nothing" is, again, neuter, as also: "but should raise it up at the last day." But "everyone which seeth the Son" is masculine, once again. The same phenomenon is even more marked in John 17. So far as one is aware, no explanation with any degree of convincingness about it has yet been offered of this strange feature.

The claim made by Jesus to have "come down from heaven" (v.38) need not worry those who have good Bible-based convictions that Jesus had no personal pre-existence in heaven. This is just one of the idioms characteristic of John's gospel. As was observed in the previous study, the description of the manna as "bread from heaven" (v.31) cannot reasonably be read literally. The expression clearly means "of divine origin", or "supplied by heaven," and in this sense it is highly appropriate to Jesus also (inv.50,51,58also).

"My Will-Thy Will"

The careful reader will observe that the identical verse makes personal pre-existence of Jesus an impossibility: "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me." Unless it be conceded that in certain respects the "will" of Jesus-that which he wished to do—was at times different from the "will" of the Father, these words border on the nonsensical. This is not to suggest (God forbid!) that Jesus ever did anything but the will of his Father. But, apart from anything else, the record of Jesus in Gethsemane is sufficient to Illustrate the point that is being made here: "0 my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Ml. 26 :39; cp. Jn. 5 :30). Notwithstanding that clear expression of a difference of "will", Jesus meekly endured that which was appointed for him.

At this particular time in Capernaum the Father's will was that His Son should "lose nothing" of all that had been given to him (v.39). This emphasis reinforces strongly the idea, already elaborated, that in the strong tide of reaction after the feeding of the 5000 Jesus was in danger of losing not only many of the multitude who had followed him eagerly but even the loyalty of the twelve also.

Drawn by the Father

Far from willing that any should be "lost", the Father (Jesus declared) was actively drawing men to him. Indeed, without this pre-disposition imparted by God, any real acceptance of the leadership of Christ is impossible. Again there is echo of the discourse to the woman of Samaria. True worshippers worship the Father in spin! and in truth, and such the Father seeks (4:23).

The classic example is that of Lydia at Philippi. She had a Bible and in Paul she also had the finest expositor in the world. But the Lord opened her heart to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul (Acts 16 :14 RV). Instruction in the truth of Christ is a vitally essential element in bringing any man to him, but it is not the only thing needful.

Here, then, are facets of Christian experience very different from the mystical emotionalism beloved of modern "come to Jesus" evangelists. "No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him. It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God" (v.44, 45). The two ideas expressed in these words are often taken to be identical rather than complementary —that the only way in which a man is drawn to Christ is by being taught. It is, of course, evident (although the modern conversionist assumes otherwise) that instruction in Christ is an absolute necessity. But clearly, as much dispiriting experience has shown, there is need also for the valve of a man's will to be set the right way; and here, according to the copious witness of Scripture and much impressive personal experience, God is often-maybe always—silently at work to incline a man's disposition to the receiving of the message (see Notes).

The Witness of the Prophets

In underlining the absolute need of all for instruction and understanding concerning himself, Jesus referred to what was "written in the prophets." Yet in the summary of what he said, John quotes only from Isaiah 54:13. So it is reasonable to enquire what other Scriptures Jesus used at this time to reinforce the point he was making. Although it is not possible to be sure about this, there is fair probability that Jeremiah 31 and Hosea 11 were also used powerfully in this part of the Lord's argument, The Isaiah and Hosea passages, especially, are beset with many obscurities, but in all of them there is a singular aptness about the context.

In Isaiah 54, the apparent withdrawing of divine favour from Israel (v.7,8) is compared to the plight of a ship in a storm: "O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted" (v.ll). Yet the prophet is emphatic that "this is as the waters of Noah unto me." In other words, the seeming tribulation of God's people is designed for their salvation. Thus the twelve, with the previous night's experience on the waters of Galilee still fresh in mind, were bidden see themselves as being saved for God's New Creation at a time when the unworthy multitude was being discarded. The present crisis in the Lord's ministry did not mean that the bottom had fallen out of his work: "My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed."

But the worldly efforts of those who would fashion their own salvation by rebellion against the Romans must have no place in this God-provided righteousness: "Behold, they may stir up strife, but not by me" (v.15). Strife against the Romans (Jn. 6 :15), strife amongst themselves (6 :52), were alike out of tune with the ministry of Jesus.

The next chapter begins with Isaiah's familiar offer of the Lord's free salvation: "Come ye to the waters. . . come ye, break (bread) and eat; yea, come, buy wine and fatness (or marrow) without money and without price" (55 ,1) It is an offer of freely provided water and bread, which somehow transform into wine and flesh of the highest quality. This is exactly the theme of Christ's discourse: "and the bread that I will give is my flesh . . . Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you."

Jeremiah's prophecy of the New Covenant links with that of Isaiah, just quoted, and has the same theme. Amid his threnody of woe and spiritual castigation the prophet weaves a winsome appeal: "The Lord appeared to me from afar, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee" (31 :3). "After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts . . . and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and everyman his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord" (v.33,34). This New Covenant, brought to men through God's "drawing" and "teaching" was to be ratified by Jesus in symbolic Bread and Wine: "This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Mt. 26:28).

Although Hosea 8, 10 are chapters with many Messianic overtones (Study 223), chapter 11 does not read like a prophecy of Messiah, yet for all it obscurity, phrase after phrase lights up when read against the background of the momentous events of John 6. "I taught Ephraim to go, taking them by their arms (Ephraim was the Northern Kingdom including Galilee); but they recognized not that I was healing them. I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love: and I was to them as they that take off the (Roman) yoke on their jaws, and I laid food before them (the 5000). . . the Assyrian (and Caesar) shall be his king, because they refused to return (to Me). And the sword shall fall in his cities. . . because of their own counsels (it did, in A.D. 70). And my people are bent on backsliding from me (many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him). . . How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? (God's people doomed to become another Sodom and Gomorrah). . . my compassions are kindled together (he was moved with compassion toward them because they were as sheep not having a shepherd). . . for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee (Peter: We have believed and are sure that thou art the Holy One of God; Jn.6:69)."

Is it at all possible that the aptness of these Scriptures is accidental?

Taught of God

Jesus went on to be yet more explicit about the process of divine education: "Everyone therefore that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me" (v.45). Thus the complete sequence is set out:

The Father draws him.
He is taught of God.
He hears, i.e. gives heed to the message,
He learns (he "sees", i.e. appreciates Christ; v.40).
He comes to Christ as a disciple ("believe into', v.40, implies baptism),
"Everlasting life" (v.47).
"I will raise him up at the last day."

That expression: "heard from the Father" is very emphatic. Literally, it is: "from beside the Father." It is matched by the similar description, in the next verse, of the Son as being "from beside God" (see Notes). Once the forceful Johannine idiom is recognized for what it is, such passages cease to be available as a springboard for any doctrine about the pre-existence of Christ.

Allusion to Moses

Here the allusion is, once again, to Moses and Israel in the wilderness. The people verily heard "from beside God" the declamation of the Ten Words at Sinai. And there in the mount, in a much more intimate and personal way, Moses had the Law of God communicated to him. As Israel heard the Divine Voice, and thereafter were content to receive God's Word through the medium of Moses, so now in a much more fundamental sense "every man that hath heard from beside the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto me."

"Not that any man (save he which is from beside God) hath seen the Father." Here the allusion to the wilderness is being continued. The people of Israel did not see the Divine Glory in the way that Moses saw it in the mount. Yet, in truth, it was only in a very limited sense that Moses beheld God's Glory, by comparison with the fulness of the intimacy with the Father which was normal with Jesus and which he was then making known to his own.

John 1:18 is in itself adequate commentary here: "No man hath seen God at any time (not even Moses); the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father (and not hidden in a cleft of a rock, to glimpse the receding Glory), he hath declared him."

This discourse culminated in the same climax as the discussion on Bread of Life. There it was: "Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." Here: "He that believeth hath everlasting life." The equation makes very evident that by "believing" Jesus intended something much more deep and comprehensive than a mere intellectual assent to certain Biblical propositions. "Eating his flesh and drinking his blood" goes further than that. It involves, it demands, a transformation to an outlook on life which is in all things Christ-guided, Christ-controlled, Christ-empowered.

And its outcome, emphasized by repetition (v.39, 40, 44, 54), is a resurrection at the last day. Clearly, Jesus was not speaking here of the process of resurrection, involving coming out of the grave, being brought before Christ the Lord, hearing judgment pronounced, and then being made immortal-not that, but the outcome of the process: an eternal union with Christ in his kingdom. This is New Testament usage in a fair number of places (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:21, 42, 50; Lk. 20:35; Phil. 3:11; Heb. 11:35).

Notes: John 6:37-47

I will in no wise cast out. In the Pentateuch this word is often used of Israel casting Gentile nations out of Canaan Then, is Jesus here preparing the way for the rejection of Israel and the acceptance of Gentiles? And would that explain his strange use of neuter pronouns?
Come down from heaven. Or is the allusion not to manna but to Moses coming down from mount Sinai; Cp. on v.46?
Lose nothing. This has been linked with the Lord's insistence (v. 12) that no fragment of the Bread be lost. Literally: "that everyone whom he gave to me I may not lose away from Him"
Seeth the Son, goes on beholding the Son-an allusion to Num. 21 :8 or to Ex. 34 :30?
Draw him. Consider 4:23; 12:32; (21 .-11;) 10:29. 15:16, 17:6; 18 :9, and with these contrast 1 :11,12;3.19; 12:48
On the remarkable problem of this difficult verse, consider Jas 1 :5, 1 Th 3 :12,13; ;Jude 24; Heb. 13:21;2Th. 3:5;Ps. 119:18,32-36; Lk. 24:45; 1 Kgs. 8 .58

Learned of the Father: ''from beside." This use of para with genitive comes in 1 :14;7 :29;8 :38,40; 9 :I6:33, with reference to Christ; and in 1 6 with reference to John the Baptist

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