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Podcast: The true identity of Jesus: I am the bread of life

I preached at Crossroads International Church in The Hague last Sunday on Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life in John 6, as part of a series on the true identity of Jesus. After the service I got chatting with Alexandra, who is Dutch, and who asked whether I was worried that people might miss the serious content because they were distracted by the jokes. I said that I was more concerned that people might miss the jokes because they were distracted by the serious content.

But her comment reminded me that my sermons can be heavy-going, especially for a multinational audience. So here’s a re-recording of the sermon without the jokes, for people to get confused by at their leisure.

The central point I wanted to make is that, when we read John closely, we find that his more vertically oriented, theological presentation of the person of Jesus is not as out of step with the historical narrative of the Synoptic Gospels as we might have thought. Well, at least, as I might have thought.

Comments

I noticed your verbal distinguishing of “life of the age to come” and “eternal life”. If I understand your proposals, “life of the age to come” can be experienced (or perhaps “tasted” would be a better way of putting it) “under the sun” (I Jn 5, for example ) while “temporally eternal life” is post-resurrection.

Assuming I have got that right, do you reckon that your hearers understood the distinction, or would accept it? This would not go down well in most of the US evangelical congregations I have experienced.

[ca. 1.00] “There were perhaps around 40 different gospels in the first two or three centuries”

Of course, only if you include the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, which are ALL later than the Canonical gospels.

“Lunch” (loaves - 2 Kings 4 - Elisha), “breakfast” (manna - Numbers 11 - Moses) and “evening meal” (“bread of life” - John 6 - jesus himself)

You say that the Jews “turned down Jesus’ offer of eternal life”. Obviously it is rather difficult to interpret this in mere “narrative-historical” terms.

It is improper to liquidate the Mosaic Law as the “broad road”. If fact, with its detailed perscriptions, it was quite narrow. The problem, that Jesus clearly pointed out, was that it was NOT the authentic road: all God’s Law, in essence, could be stated as “love God and love thy neighbour”. But that was precisely the point that the Jews had completely missed. Or perhaps gradually lost.

BTW, how do you interpret, in context, John 6:62?

BBTW, would you care to provide a serious comparative analysis of the “bread of life” (John 6) vs the Last Supper (Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22, 1 Cor 11; cp. John 13)?

Of course, only if you include the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, which are ALL later than the Canonical gospels.

Of course. That’s why I said “in the first two or three centuries”.

You say that the Jews “turned down Jesus’ offer of eternal life”. Obviously it is rather difficult to interpret this in mere “narrative-historical” terms.

Not necessarily, if John had something like Daniel 12:1-3 in mind: an age to come for restored Israel when some dead righteous Jews would be raised to share in that “life of the age”.

The problem, that Jesus clearly pointed out, was that it was NOT the authentic road: all God’s Law, in essence, could be stated as “love God and love thy neighbour”. But that was precisely the point that the Jews had completely missed. Or perhaps gradually lost.

That’s hardly true for John’s Gospel. The Jews failed to believe in the one whom God had sent.

BTW, how do you interpret, in context, John 6:62?

When the issue of suffering comes up (Jn. 6:51-59), the disciples find this a hard saying (6:60; cf. Peter’s response to Jesus’ saying about the Son of Man in Matt. 16:22). So Jesus identifies himself with Daniel’s “one like a son of man”, who represented faithful Jews persecuted by Antiochus Epiphanes. He is that symbolic figure, come down from heaven as it were, who will suffer, and who will be seen ascending to where he was before, to be likewise vindicated and glorified by God.

BBTW, would you care to provide a serious comparative analysis of the “bread of life” (John 6) vs the Last Supper (Mt 26, Mk 14, Lk 22, 1 Cor 11; cp. John 13)?

Not now.

That’s why I said “in the first two or three centuries”.

Would you put the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha on the same level as the Canonical gospels, as a witness to Jesus?

… if John had something like Daniel 12:1-3 in mind: an age to come for restored Israel when some dead righteous Jews would be raised to share in that “life of the age”.

Any idea when John says or suggests it would happen that “some dead righteous Jews would be raised” etc.?

That’s hardly true for John’s Gospel. The Jews failed to believe in the one whom God had sent.

I see. So, first, when John does not mention what the Synoptics uniformly witness to, viz. the Great Commandment (Matt 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28), does it mean for you that John “trumps” the Synoptics? If not, what, then?

Second, aren’t you ignoring John 13:34-35?

When the issue of suffering comes up (Jn. 6:51-59), the disciples find this a hard saying (6:60; cf. Peter’s response to Jesus’ saying about the Son of Man in Matt. 16:22).

Can you please indicate clearly where the “issue of suffering” would “come up” in John 6:51-60? Or in the whole of John 6, for that matter.

He is that symbolic figure, come down from heaven as it were, who will suffer, and who will be seen ascending to where he was before, to be likewise vindicated and glorified by God.

Can you please explain what do you mean when you say “He is that symbolic figure, come down from heaven as it were”?

Here are some Dictionary suggestions fo the “as it were” part, BTW

Not now [comparative analysis of the “bread of life” vs the Last Supper].

Is there any problem?

Would you put the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha on the same level as the Canonical gospels, as a witness to Jesus?

It’s not the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha that we’re talking about. It’s the New Testament apocryphal texts. The non-biblical texts of the second temple period do not bear witness to Jesus (unless we include Josephus), but they give us a much clearer picture of his mental world. They are less important than the Old Testament writings, but I think it is foolish not to take them into account.

Any idea when John says or suggests it would happen that “some dead righteous Jews would be raised” etc.?

I was thinking specifically of Jesus’ words about raising up those who have been given to him, who believe in him, who will et his flesh on the last day (Jn. 6:39-40, 44, 54). It seems likely that Jesus identifies his disciples, who will be persecuted and who will lose their lives, with the righteous dead who are raised for vindication and life in Daniel 12:2-3.

So, first, when John does not mention what the Synoptics uniformly witness to, viz. the Great Commandment…, does it mean for you that John “trumps” the Synoptics? If not, what, then?

I’m not sure I follow you here. I think John did—as a matter of historical fact—trump the Synoptics. The church’s theological tradition is largely Johannine. But it’s not just about the Great Commission. There is no proclamation of a coming kingdom in John, expressed in the language of Old Testament prophecy. The Great Commission presupposes the notion of kingdom as divine intervention to judge and restore his people.

Second, aren’t you ignoring John 13:34-35?

Yes, Jesus taught his disciples to love one another, because this would sustain them as a community in the face of the world’s hatred and would demonstrate to the world that they are his disciples. But that is not why he called them. That is not the mission. In the Synoptics the mission is made much clearer: to proclaim the coming kingdom of God, to call Israel to repentance, and to announce to the nations the significance of what is happening in Israel. But even in John we have a clear statement of purpose:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31)

Can you please indicate clearly where the “issue of suffering” would “come up” in John 6:51-60? Or in the whole of John 6, for that matter.

To eat Jesus flesh and drink his blood appears to be a reference to the Lord’s Supper, at which Jesus interpreted the bread and cup in terms of his coming death. The disciples participate in this meal until the parousia because they will have to share in his suffering. The Lord’s Supper establishes a fellowship of martyrs.

Can you please explain what do you mean when you say “He is that symbolic figure, come down from heaven as it were”?

My suggestion is that Jesus knows that Daniel’s son of man vision referred to the crisis provoked in the second century BC by Antiochus Epiphanes. If he saw this “one like a son of man” as a heavenly figure, he is perhaps making a rhetorical proposal: that symbol of vindication faithfulness has come down from heaven, it is now me, and you will see me return to heaven. So the “descent” of the Son of Man is symbolic or figurative, but the ascent of Jesus as a new Son of Man is real.

Is there any problem?

No, just too big a task at the moment.