John (Part 19): Bread of Life (part 3)
Two points should be made clearer before we move on. First, I will provide another illustration (or differing detail) of the difference between Faith Electionism and Arminianism to ensure we can see the difference. The Arminian example is of a person in the room incapable of seeing the painting because that person is blind due to a fallen condition caused by sin. God heals the person’s blindness (reverses the result of sin) so that the person may see the painting and appreciate or reject it. The Faith Electionist is not blind. The Faith Electionist has left the room and therefore cannot see the painting. God brings the painting to the faith electionist, bringing it into his line of sight, so that he may appreciate or reject it. Both could not see the painting, but in one case, God does something to the broken person to reverse sin-caused brokenness (without benefit of the atonement) while in the other case, God doesn’t fix the person but rather just ensures revelation. I believe the prevenient grace of the Arminian is at odds with the necessity for the atonement in applying grace, whereas the revelatory grace of the Faith Electionist is consistent with the general revelation we find in Romans 1, which doesn’t depend on the atonement to be given.
The second point of clarification regards the Calvinist example in which Person B is left unregenerated. I mentioned that when considering why God doesn’t touch Person B to life, the Calvinist merely says that God is God and can do whatever he wants. Some Calvinists may bristle at this thinking I am putting forward a straw man argument. I disagree. I do think it is an abbreviated argument, but not a false one. It is abbreviated because the Calvinist may start with other arguments but would, I think, wind up back to this point.
Let me repeat the Calvinist’s problem of love. If redemptive election is truly God’s choice devoid of condition, why would a God of infinite love choose to refuse extending that love in all cases? John Piper begins his answer to the problem by stating, “God wills not to save all, even though he ‘desires’ that all be saved, because there is something else that he wills or desires more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all.” In other words, Piper states that sometimes, things which God wills to see done conflict. And when they do conflict, God prioritizes and acts accordingly. I agree. But based on this understanding of prioritization, Piper goes on: “The answer the Reformed give [to the problem of love stated earlier] is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy.” In other words, Pipers says that the manifestation of God’s glory in wrath and mercy is the higher priority item (has more worth) than redeeming all of humankind. In still other words, God’s glory in mercy plus wrath exceeds God’s glory in just mercy.
This answer, I believe, has a fundamental problem in how we view God. The Christian understanding of God is as the infinite and only necessary (independent) being. God depends on nothing else other than himself. However, according to Piper’s statement, since God must have the greatest glory and the greatest glory can occur only when God is expressing wrath against sin, sin (something apart from God) must necessarily exist so that God may express his wrath and thereby achieve the greatest glory. That God would depend on the existence of sin in order to heighten his glory is a view of God incompatible with the biblical picture.
There is a second objection to Piper’s answer. Again, as a reminder, Piper says that God doesn’t save all because there is greater value in the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy. How should we understand the “glory of God”? Piper says that the glory of God is “the infinite worth of God made manifest.” Again, I agree. The “infinite worth of God” is the essence of God: infinite truth, goodness, and beauty. And how it is “made manifest” is in its expression by faith, hope, and love. In other words, then, we can redraft Piper’s definition with these clarifications and state that the glory of God is God’s truth, goodness, and beauty expressed in faith, hope, and love.
We also find that the Bible tells us of the expressions of faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these is love (I Cor 13:13). Further, the greatest love is defined in the Bible as the total giving of self (John 15:13). Further yet, God speaks of his love by saying that it was proved in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). So all of this discussion of love in the Word of God is consistent. Love is the greatest expression of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. We see it expressed in its highest form through the giving of self. And God, accordingly, did just that—gave of himself so that we could be redeemed. Recognizing all these elements, we may further refine our definition of the glory of God in this way: God’s glory is his truth, goodness, and beauty expressed in faith, hope, and love, with love as the preeminent means of that expression.
But now after our refinement, we must circle back to consider Piper’s answer to the problem of love. He said that God’s greatest glory must limit love in order to reveal wrath. But God’s greatest glory is the expression of love! Therefore, Piper is saying that God’s greatest expression of love is in limiting his love. Huh? We suddenly realize after reviewing our understanding of terms, Piper’s statement makes no coherent sense. If God’s greatest glory comes through expressing his truth, goodness, and beauty in love, you simply cannot say that expressing wrath must limit love because it is of greater value. Piper’s answer proves to be incoherent.
There is yet a third objection to Piper’s answer. Again, Piper argues that God must manifest God’s glory in wrath; therefore, he can’t redeem everyone so that he can show his wrath against those he sends to hell. The problem with this logic is that it flies in the face of another tightly held doctrine of Calvinists – the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement. According to it, God’s wrath, because of our sin, was poured out on Christ, our substitute. But if God’s wrath against sin was made manifest in the atonement, what prevents God from saving everyone? Piper answered that God cannot save everyone so that he can show his wrath against those who are condemned to hell. But God did show that wrath already on Christ. Therefore, Piper’s answer does nothing to solve the Calvinists’ problem of a God of infinite love that nevertheless limits his love for no apparent reason. The Calvinist’s answer is inconsistent with its other dogma.
Thus, there is no “greater glory” argument to justify God’s unconditional choosing of some but not others. It boils down to a simple, vague, unsupported statement that God can do whatever he wants. But from God’s revelation, the implications of that boiled-down argument are heretical. God acts only according to his essence.
Last time we took issue with the Calvinist’s ordo salutis in placing regeneration prior to faith. Regeneration is being born in Christ, inheriting Christ’s righteousness. Justification is God’s declaration of righteousness (faithfulness to the covenant). Therefore, there is a logical order from regeneration to justification. But Paul states that we are justified by faith. Calvinism inserts faith between regeneration and justification. But this creates a problem in that we have no logical reason to say we are justified by faith if regeneration has already provided the logical reason for justification.
In the Faith Electionism ordo salutis, regeneration precedes justification, and that is logical for the reasons already given. But faith must precede regeneration. Only in this configuration can we logically say that we are justified by faith, since faith is required for the regeneration. Now let’s return to John 6 to see whether Jesus agrees.
We had come to verse 37 in John’s Gospel. It reads, “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me.” Of course, the Calvinist understands this as a simple sequential statement that the Father gives, and then those given will come to Jesus. And in that understanding, the Calvinist sees the Father giving as regeneration, while the coming to Jesus is faith. Therefore, regeneration precedes faith. We’ve discussed this impossibility for regeneration to precede faith, and so is there another way we should be reading this statement?
Some people argue that it is in reverse order for emphasis on the coming to Christ. For example, imagine the lobby of a movie theater. People are in line paying for a ticket at the window outside, after which they come in the door and then hand the ticket to the usher. While this is going on, people who have just finished watching the movie are exiting through the exit doors in the lobby. As someone is leaving, another person tries to slip in the opened exit door to gain entrance without paying. But the alert manager sees his attempt, hurries over, takes him by the arm, and escorts him back out. As he does this, the manager says, “You’ll not get in here without paying. Everyone who sees the movie will pay for admission.” What does the manager mean by saying this? Is he saying this in sequence so that you see the movie first and then pay? Obviously not. He could have said it in sequence: “Everyone who pays for admission will see the movie.” But for emphasis he reversed the order. Perhaps this is what Jesus did in his statement, saying that the Father will give all those who come to Jesus.
But let’s look at the context. This chapter discusses Jesus as the Bread of Life. We have already mentioned that the metaphor and miracle point to the idea that just as physical bread (food) provides physical life, spiritual bread (Jesus, the bread from heaven) provides spiritual or eternal life. The eating of the bread, we have said, is the coming to Jesus—faith. Therefore, from the order of the illustration, it would appear that faith precedes the eternal life (regeneration).
If, then, our logical consideration indicates a faith-regeneration order and the context of the chapters seems to suggest a faith-regeneration order, then verse 37 should not be interpreted as suggesting a regeneration-faith order.
Are we then left with seeing it in reverse? Should we understand it to mean “Everyone that comes to me will be given to me by the Father”? I don’t think that is right either. That reading would make it difficult to find support in the context as well.
We need to spend a little more time with the context we are being given. We have already talked about this passage containing several allusions to the OT, especially concerning Moses and the Israelites’ exit from Egypt to travel to the Promised Land. Let’s review a list of these references.
1. 6:1-2 Jesus crossed the sea, and the crowd followed
a. Moses led the Israelites through the Red Sea
2. 6:3 Jesus went up a mountain
a. Moses climbed Sinai (Ex 19)
3. 6:4 Passover, a Jewish feast, was near
a. First Passover (Ex 12)
4. 6:5 “Where will we buy bread?”
a. “Where can I get meat?” (Nu 11:13)
5. 6:9 Fish and bread
a. Quail and manna (Ex 16)
6. 6:14 “This really is the Prophet”
a. Prophet like Moses (De 18:18)
7. 6:15 Jesus again withdrew to the mountain
a. Moses climbed Sinai again (Ex 32)
8. 6:18-21 Stormy sea; Jesus brought rest
a. All God’s promises fulfilled (Josh 23)
9. 6:31-32 Direct reference to Moses and manna
a. Moses and manna (Ex 16)
Although some of these would seem a stretch if the only potential allusion in the passage, but since the chapter has so many, I am fairly confident that these were all intended. But there is still additional OT allusion. Why does Jesus designate twelve specific disciples? Most scholars believe that the number is intended to correspond to Israel’s twelve tribes. And what is especially interesting from an emphasis point of view is that these twelve are first called “the Twelve” right here in chapter 6.
Additionally, let’s consider the twelve baskets left over. Everyone was full at the beginning of verse 12, and so I doubt we are merely to get some nice little lesson that Jesus provides for his disciples. Everyone is full. Jesus and the disciples already ate. It was not to eat more. Jesus said specifically, “Collect the leftovers so that nothing is wasted.” Now why is Jesus concerned about these leftovers – this remnant? Wait…remnant? Hmm. Another OT allusion? The OT is full of talk about God keeping a remnant.
Jeremiah 23:3 “I will gather the remnant of My flock ….”
Micah 2:12 “I will indeed gather all of you, Jacob; I will collect the remnant of Israel.”
Zechariah 8:12 “For they will sow in peace: the vine will yield its fruit, the land will yield its produce, and the skies will yield their dew. I will give the remnant of this people all these things as an inheritance.”
Now, did all the people from OT times die and go to hell? No. Were they saved differently since Jesus had not yet come? No. They were saved by the same trust in God for providing a way for us to be redeemed. We have been shown Christ, so we must believe in him—the way. Before Christ came, people still had to believe in God’s provision for a way. And Christ’s atonement was still the way by which these people were redeemed. In other words, these who believed in God’s provision were given by God to be regenerated—born again—in Christ. Here is meaning (in part) to John 6:37. The Father gives this remnant—the saved of the OT—to Christ to be his children. No longer are they the children of Adam with their inherited death from sin. They are given to be born again as children of Jesus with a new inheritance of eternal life.
But this is not all. Remember that in Faith Electionism God must first provide revelatory grace in order for us to see and believe. Thus, the Father gives—not in regeneration—but those who, in the revelation/response pattern, come to Christ in faith.
Here is where the context is significant. Christ has claimed to be the bread of heaven—one with the Father in purpose of salvation. The people do not believe. But Jesus counters with the fact that the Father giving and Jesus receiving is a combined act. The point is that they are both intent on the same thing.
In his further explanation, Jesus makes it clear as to what he is talking about. Read these lines in parallel:
6:37 Everyone the Father gives me will come to me
6:44 No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him
6:45 Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to me
In 6:44, the Father acts in revelation drawing. In 6:45, believers respond in faith to Jesus. This work of Father and Son is together what Jesus is speaking about for both OT saints and NC believers. All who believe will not be refused (cast away).
In verses 41 and 42 we find that the crowd didn’t accept this. This is the first real indication of their rejection. They had initially been curious; after the miracle they were accepting (of their idea); in discussion they questioned; and now after Jesus reveals his purpose, they rejected. Notice that all along John had been calling them “crowd” (6:2, 5, 2, 24) or “people” (6:5, 10, 14). But upon their rejection, he called them “Jews,” his code word throughout his Gospel for those of the old covenant who would not accept him.
These people bristled at Jesus’ claim to be from heaven. They would have accepted him as king if he would not have distanced himself from them, saying they needed a savior. They would not let their status as the covenant people of God slip away from them, although not realizing it was already gone.
As we move into verses 43 through 51, we will notice that these verses rephrase and repeat what Jesus said earlier. Usually when we notice that sort of thing we should be looking for a chiasm, and that is in fact what we get.
6:32 My Father gives you the real bread from heaven
6:33 Bread is One from heaven and gives life
6:35 I am the bread of life – no one hungry/thirsty
6:36 You’ve seen me and do not believe
6:37 Everyone Father gives comes
6:38 From heaven to do Father’s will
6:39-40 Will: (1) lose none – raise up; (2) see/believe have life – raise up
6:41 Jews complain
6:42 Son of Joseph
6:43 “Stop complaining”
6:44 Father draws – raise up
6:45 Written in prophets: God instructs
6:45 Everyone listens/learns comes
6:46-47 Son has seen Father; anyone who believes has life
6:48-50 I am the bread of life – eat it and not die
6:51 I am the bread from heaven – eat and live forever
6:51 Bread I give is my flesh
The central point of this chiasm is the Jews’ insistence that Jesus is merely the son of Joseph. This whole section illuminates God’s plan of rescue through Jesus, and yet the Jews reject that enlightenment. Later we will read that the Twelve accept it (with the exception of Judas). So then, the total picture in chapter 6 provides an OT look at how God provided for Israel (as Jesus provided bread and fish for the crowd) but still the nation as a whole did not entrust itself to him (as the crowd rejected Jesus); only the remnant (as pictured by the Twelve) would enter everlasting covenant relationship.
In verses 52 through 58 Jesus provides a summary of the metaphor concerning the bread of life. This summary is prompted by the misunderstanding of the Jews as they wonder in verse 52 how Jesus could possibly mean that they are to eat his flesh. The Jews had made a little progress in their understanding. In verses 30-31, they seemed to have moved from a total physical outlook of the miracle and what it could mean for the nation’s benefit to a king of spiritual expectation by looking to heaven. But they still wanted a tangible self-benefit even from heaven. They still could not wrap their minds around the idea that Jesus’ benefit for them was in everlasting life (restored broken relationship).
In the six verses of Jesus’ summary, he mentions “life” (or some form of it like “lives” or “living”) six times. This emphasis is to clarify his point and his mission. In contrast to their thoughts of the physical food they ate, Jesus says that “real” food is the spiritual food that he offers in himself. By this he draws the parallel again that as the temporal food gives temporal life, the real food from heaven gives eternal life. He stresses that this eternal life places him in them and them in him. He is talking about relationship. Everlasting life means everlasting relationship (as we discussed earlier). Here Jesus emphasizes that relationship. He describes God in verse 57 as the living Father. He is living because of his faith-hope-love Trinitarian relationship. Then in the same verse, Jesus says that he himself lives because of the Father. In other words, he has relationship because, in the same sense he has been talking about, he eats and drinks of the Father: he does and says what the Father tells him to do and say. And then Jesus says that they too may have life (relationship) with God because of him.