Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Gospel of John and Moses: V

Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” John 6:14

“Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” John 6:31-33

“I am the bread of life…” John 6:35a

John Chapter Six begins with Jesus going away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus goes up on a mountain and sits down with His disciples. The Gospel writer tells us that the Passover…was near. A large crowd follows Him, over five thousand men; Jesus feeds them with five loaves and two fish. People observe what Jesus does and say, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world”, a reference to the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy. Because we read in John 6:15, “So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone”, we infer that Jesus came down from the mountain in order to feed the people.

Jesus re-crosses the Sea of Galilee that evening; the next day Jesus explicitly teaches that He is the Bread of Life – to the dismay of many of His listeners, including many of those who had been followers of His up until that point in His ministry, for in response to the Bread of Life teaching we read, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore”, John 6:66.

The Mosaic – Exodus motif cries out to us in John Chapter Six. Consider the setting of the first movement of the chapter: Jesus crosses the sea; Jesus goes up a mountain; Jesus comes down a mountain, Jesus miraculously feeds the people; and by the way, the thought of Passover is introduced in verse 4. Then, of course, we have the explicit teaching of Jesus the following day that He is the Bread of Life in contrast to the bread that Moses gave.

In Exodus Moses leads the people across the Red Sea; Moses goes up a mountain; Moses comes down a mountain; the people are miraculously fed; and, of course, the Passover launches the entire endeavor. While not to read too much into the idea that the people wanted to make Jesus king, we also see in Israel in the Wilderness that the people had a continuing inclination to be like the surrounding nations.

In John Six the going up the mountain, coming down the mountain, and going up the mountain once more may not only echo Moses at Sinai, but it may also echo Yahweh, who is not only on Sinai but who also descends to fill the Tabernacle. Jesus is not only a picture of Moses, He is God incarnate. (Note also Jesus’ statement in John 6:62 about ascending to where He was before). He is God and He is the Son of Man. It is the motif that informs us, that sets the backdrop and context for the Gospel events and teachings, we need not press the details too closely insisting on mirror images.

In John Chapter Three the Wilderness is evoked by the serpent being lifted up in the wilderness; in John Chapter Six the Wilderness is evoked from the event of the feeding of the 5,000 to the explicit teaching of the Bread of Life in verses 26ff.

Jesus comes to the Jews of His day as Moses and Yahweh came to the Israelites of Egypt and the Wilderness; and just as Moses and Yahweh were rejected by the majority, so Jesus is rejected. Perhaps there is a penumbra of this in John 1:11, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him,”? But Jesus does not just come to the Jews of His day, He comes to all of us who live in all generations – and He is rejected by many of us; and so perhaps there is yet another penumbra in John 1:10, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.”

In the Wilderness of this world, in the Wilderness of life, Jesus comes to us and bids us partake of Him, bids us live by and through Him. He comes to us as the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life – He comes down from heaven to us as the Son of God and Son of Man. We, as the Israelites in the Exodus, may be tempted to be as the peoples around us, we may be tempted to succumb to the spirit of the present age, we may be tempted to return to Egypt or adopt the ways of Canaan; do we say with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the holy One of God,”? John 6:68 – 69.

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