Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 6.35,41-51
Proper 14 - Year B

Other texts: 

Our text from last week (John 6:24-35) was primarily a dialogue.

Our text this week is primarily a monologue by Jesus.

The same outline is in next week's lesson (Proper 15).

The outline changes slightly in Proper 16, (vv. 56-69), which is a dialogue with the disciples.

JESUS SPEAKS (vv. 35-40)

Only v. 35 is part of the pericope, but I will briefly look at the whole paragraph.

This speech comes as a result of the crowd's request: "Sir (or Lord), always give to us this bread" (v. 34).

The crowd is asking Jesus to do something for them -- which is usually understood as a proper understanding of the good news -- it is God acting for us. However, Jesus' response puts the action back onto the crowd -- which is usually understood as Law or works righteousness or Pelagian or semi-Pelagian heresies!

First of all, he indicates that he is the bread they desire: "I am the bread of life." This is the first of the "I AM" (ego eimi) sayings with a predicate nominative. Twice earlier we have seen ego eimi without a predicate nominative -- translated in NRSV with, "I am he" (4:26) and "It is I" (6:20). Both have footnotes indicated that the Greek is "I am". Other ego eimi verses without a predicate nominative are: 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5, 7.

However, usually when we think of the ego eimi" sayings of Jesus, they are the ones with a predicate nominative. I will include them here in case someone wants to center on these "I AM" sayings.

6:35 -- I am the bread of life (see also 6:41)
6:51 -- I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
8:12; 9:5 -- I am the light of the world
10:7, 9 -- I am the gate for the sheep
10:11, 14 -- I am the good shepherd
11:25-26 -- I am the resurrection and the life
14:6 -- I am the way, and the truth, and the life
15:1, 5 -- I am the true vine.

The first answer to the crowd's request that Jesus give them this bread is that Jesus is this bread and he has already been given to them.

The second answer uses present tense participles ("coming" & "believing") which imply continuous actions -- "keep on coming" "continue to believe." The aorist subjunctive is used as the secondary verbs ("hunger" & "be thirsty") which generally imply a time in the future (beyond the time of the main verbs): "they will not hunger" "they will not be thirsty". This could imply, as our experiences usually attest, that coming to and believing in Jesus doesn't necessarily immediately result in no more hunger or thirst; but that day of satisfaction will come some time.

The main verbs of this second answer occur later in this discourse.

Jesus also turns the crowd's request around. They had asked Jesus to give them this bread. Jesus talks about God giving everything to him (vv. 37, 39). The neuter singular pan ("every-thing") is used in both verses. I'm not sure what the antecedent to "thing" might be. The masculine singular pas ("every-one") is used in v. 40.

There is an emphasis on "the will of God" in these verses (see 38, 39 & 40). It is defined as:

Everything [pan] which God gave Jesus should not be lost
but Jesus will raise it [neuter] on the last day (v. 39)
Everyone [pas] seeing the son and believing in him
might have eternal life
and Jesus will raise him [masculine] on the last day (v. 40)

I don't know what the relationship is between the thing and the person that Jesus will raise on the last day. Since these verses are not part of the lesson, I won't worry about it too much either.

THE JEWS RESPOND (vv. 41-42)

Who are "the Jews" in John? There are three different ways that Culpepper (Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel) suggests that John uses "the Jews". They can be the Jewish people in general. They can be Judeans. They can be authorities hostile toward Jesus [p. 126].

Who are they in our text? There seems to be a shift with v. 41. Prior to this, the people are simply called "the crowd" (ochlos -- vv. 2, 5, 22, 24). Now they are called "the Jews." They "were complaining" (gogguzo -- an imperfect, indicating continuous action in the past) in v. 41, which escalates into "were disputing" in v. 52 (machomai is more often translated "quarreling" or "fighting" [Ac 7:26; 2Ti 2:24; Ja 4:2]. It is also an imperfect).

With both these verbs, the fighting is among "the Jews." They are not complaining or quarreling with Jesus or the disciples, but among themselves. It is likely that this presents the situation at the time of John. The Jews were divided over Jesus. My guess is that "the Jews" in these verses refers to the Jewish people in general -- some who believed in Jesus and some who didn't -- not "the Jews" as "the authorities hostile toward Jesus."

"The Jews" and gogguzo connects this scene with the Jews who "complained" in the wilderness (same verb in the LXX). Only John has placed the feeding miracle and the subsequent discourse within the context of the Passover (v. 4). The Passover was a time to remembering the Exodus. During the wilderness travels, God provided the people with manna in the wilderness (Ex 16:1-36; Num 11:7-9; John 6:31, 49), yet the people complained about it (Num 11:1-6), so that God would not allow any of the complainers into the Promised Land (Num 14:26-30). There is a whole lot of complaining after Jesus has fed this crowd (John 6:41, 43, 61), and some (even disciples) will not (cannot?) listen to his words of eternal life (and thus enter the "promised land"?).

The Jews complain in v. 41: "He said, 'I am the bread which has come down from heaven.'" However, Jesus has not yet in the discourse described himself as the bread which has come down from heaven, but only as "the bread of life." John is not trying to write an accurate, "blow-by-blow," historical account. He is proclaiming truths about Jesus. I have suggested that the genre of the gospels is very similar to the genre of sermons -- using historical events as the foundation for a contemporary proclamation of the gospel. John is writing a sermon. He uses traditional stories and ideas about Jesus, but he uses them as the foundation for his proclamation to people in the late first century. As I will not later, he is proclaiming the Christ of faith, more than the Jesus of history. That is, he is proclaiming what we believe about Jesus more than a history or biography of Jesus.

For example, the issue of Jesus having come down from heaven is repeated in vv. 42 & 51. It is a theme that John wants to emphasize. A key element of the Christian faith in John is the origin of Jesus. Where did he come from? Understanding that Jesus was with God and has come down from God is nearly synonymous with faith in John. "The Jews" understand his origins to have been from Joseph and Mary. Others see him as only coming from Nazareth. These are people who have an improper or inadequate faith.

Jesus indicates that Jesus has been sent by God (v. 44), that he is "from God" (v. 46) and that he has come down from heaven (v. 51). These are elements of proper faith. For John, that is a central theme in his "sermon" about Jesus.


"No one is able to come to me unless the father who sent me would draw them" (v. 44a).

What does it mean to be "drawn" to Jesus? This word, elkuo, is used five times in John. The other verses are below.

Being drawn by God is like a fish being hauled in a net to shore. We are usually uncomfortable with such a picture. The fish (and us?) can be dragged to where we don't want to go. There is no free will in this picture. It is not like fishing with a hook where the fisherman entices the fish with attractive bait to choose the hook

To illustrate the idea of being drawn to God, I've thought of the image of bugs being drawn to a light. However, there are some problems with that picture. That instinct can lead to the bug's death when they are drawn to a "zapper" or get too close to a candle. In addition, the light does no work to draw the bug. The bug puts forth all the effort in being drawn. In the image of "hauling" fish, the fish do nothing. It is the fishermen who do all the work.

Some other images I've used:

God is like a Peterbuilt / tractor / spaceship and we are like the trailer / implement / disabled ship. God hooks up to us and pulls us to Jesus, where Jesus promises to raise us up on the last day. Without the power of the tractor, the trailer goes nowhere. Without the power of God, we are helpless to come to Jesus.

How does God hook up to us and pull us to Jesus?

In the next verse Jesus quotes Isaiah 54:13a: "They shall all be taught by God." He then adds, "Everyone who has heard from the Father and learned comes to me." The method presented here that what God uses to draw people to Jesus is education. The Greek word translated "disciple" (mathetes) is related to the word "to learn" (manthano -- both related to "mathematics"). Disciples are learners.

Without the power of God, we would be like the disciples in 6:60: "This word (logos) is difficult; who can hear ("accept" in NRSV, but the same Gk word as in v. 44) it." The question isn't, "Why did some people refuse to believe or stop believing in Jesus?" The declaration is that it was a real miracle that anyone continued to believe.

I heard a former Muslim speak about his conversion to Christianity. One of the major things that attracted him to Christianity was that it is so absurd. God who is born and dies! Salvation that begins by declaring that you can do nothing to save yourself! It either had to be true or the people proclaiming and believing it were crazy. Why does anyone believe this stuff? It's a miracle from God.

In most communities we can suggest all kinds of reasons why there are people who don't believe in Jesus Christ, why there are people who are not involved in a Christian church, why there are members who don't regularly attend their church. Perhaps a better approach is to be amazed that there are so many people who continue to believe and are regular in their church attendance and involvement. That's the real miracle! Why are those people in church on August 10? Can we bold enough to say that God has drawn them to that place of worship, to that place where they can be taught, and hear and learn from God's Word?

A couple different questions that I have asked in sermons are: "How are you Christian?" and "How did you get here?" Jesus' answer in our text is that we are Christians -- and, I would also say, we are gathered together this morning, because God has brought us here. While we may have gotten to church in a car or pickup, somehow it is God who draws us to Jesus.

This text indicates that God-directed education is necessary for faith. This is somewhat different from a "blind-faith" -- believing without thinking. As an advertising poster I've seen says: "Jesus came to save us from our sins, not our minds."

On one hand, the image being a trailer attached to God's Peterbuilt can rub us independent, free-willed people the wrong way.

On the other hand, there can be great confidence in that picture. It means that God is in charge of taking us down the road of life. It means that God is in charge of our eternal existence. It means that we can be confident that where God is going, we will certainly follow. I read recently this short quip: "If God is your co-pilot, you need to trade places."


There are two benefits that are mentioned often in chapter 6. Four times Jesus says that he will raise up (anistemi all are future tense) people on the last day (vv. 39, 40, 44, 54). This same verb is used in chapter 11 of the resurrection of Lazarus (vv. 23, 24) and in chapter 20 of Jesus (v. 9).

Four times "having eternal life" is mentioned (vv. 40, 47, 54, 68). In every case, the verb (echo = to have) is in the present tense! Eternal life is a present possession. The resurrected life occurs sometime in the future. I don't believe that for John "eternal life" means the same thing as our resurrected life after death. (NOTE: that in vv. 40 & 54 both phrases occur.)

Eternal life comes through

(1) seeing and believing in Jesus (vv. 40, 47)
(2) eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood (v. 54)
(3) (by implication) listening to Jesus' words (v. 68)

Simply defined, "eternal life" is living in relationship with God. That relationship begins now through seeing and believing, through eating and drinking (all present tense verbs), and it never ends. Death does not separate us from God. The relationship begins now and continues forever. It is eternal.


Perhaps as a polemic against the Jewish faith, which is based on God saving the people through the Exodus, Jesus presents himself as something much better and more powerful than the manna the ancestors received in the wilderness.

These verses (vv. 48-51) might also be used to talk about the need for one's own faith in the present. We don't rely on what God did for our ancestors (or even what our ancestors might have done for God) in the past.

Rather we need to be aware of what God is doing in the present:

I'm not sure what "this" refers to in the first quote, but katabaino = "coming down" is in present tense in that verse and aorist when referring to Jesus in the second quote. There was a particular moment in history when Jesus "came down" from heaven, but what is the "this bread" which continues to come down? Could it be anything else but the bread of Holy Communion?

We also need to be aware of our individual response to God's present activity.

In both cases "eat" is an aorist subjunctive. The subjunctive would indicate that eating is a possibility that occurs sometime after the "coming down" event mentioned earlier in the verses. The aorist indicates that it is not a continual eating, but episodic -- at particular times in the future.

Similar to a saying about horse and water, these verses seem to indicate that God can make us come to Jesus, but God can't make us believe or trust. God can present us with the bread of life from heaven, but God can't make us eat. We need to receive what God gives us, but we might say that God makes us want to receive it.

However, rather than raise such questions about non-believers or non-eaters, I think that we need to claim the promise for every individual who eats -- they will not die. They will live forever. Or, perhaps better, declaring to the congregation -- those who have been drawn by God to the worship service: "You will not die. You will live forever."

Perhaps most simply stated, these verses proclaim that for us who believe, we have to give God all the credit. God brought us to Jesus. God gave us our faith in Jesus. God gives us eternal life now. Jesus will raise us up on the last day. Those are good things to proclaim in a sermon -- a sermon from John or from each of us.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901