John 6 – Wisdom calls to the feast

Erkki Koskenniemi
Milla Koskenniemi

We have seen that John often takes different paths than synoptics. Now, in the sixth chapter, the paths unite to a great extent. John and Mark writes first about feeding miracle (Mark 6:40-52) and then about Jesus walking on the water. Gospel of John repeats the same events than the Gospel of Mark: Jesus is required to give a sign (Mark 8: 11-13), Peter confesses his faith in Christ (Mark 8:27). Like Mark (Mark 8: 31-38) and John, the path of Christ now turns clearly towards shame and degradation. We can be almost certain that John has known Mark's Gospel or at least the auricular tradition behind it.

The sixth chapter is astonishing for one who remembers that John does not write in his Gospel about Jesus setting the Holy Communion. The evangelist does not even once speak directly of Holy Communion. Yet the sixth chapter is impossible to understand in any other way than that it constantly refers to the Holy Communion.

Scholars have not been able to explain why John speaks only implicitly about both the Holy Communion and about the baptism. Perhaps he trusted his predecessors writings - first of all Mark’s Gospel - and wanted to write to those people who already had the necessary basic knowledge. Or he did not want to spread the secrets of God's kingdom to anyone to see.

The sixth chapter can be understood when reading the fifth chapter. By the end of the fifth chapter, Jesus talks about how Moses already proclaimed him. Although the Jews could not find this testimony, the work and personality of Christ can be seen in the Old Testament. This is related to the feeding miracle and to how Jesus walked on the water.

Feeding miracle 6:1-15

A few hundred years ago, the idea that Jesus really fed thousands of people was too much for the learned. First of all, it would have been a miracle and against the laws of nature, and "miracles doesn't happen". Secondly, it was thought that Jesus was something else, and something more than a bread-maker. Thus, the miracle was explained to be non-existent - that Jesus did not actually increase the number of breads, but gave a great example for people who then shared their own bread to the hungry.

In reality, the reader of the feeding miracle should open the Old Testament and this time 2. Kings 4: 42-44. The chain of events, and even the words, are almost entirely the same as in the Gospel of John. Now we also understand that people considered Jesus to be a prophet because of the miracle: the great deeds of God can be seen among His people. We understand what this meant at a time when people eagerly expected the Kingdom of God to come in a visible way.

It is sad that along the success came the wrong conclusion and going astray. People saw the miracle and recognized it as a God's deed - but they rejected Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus is not a "messiah of bread". We should not seek him only for getting help for our problems in life. The goal of the miracles was to reach people's heart and to conquer it.

God appears to people 6:16-21

In the Old Testament, the manna miracle and a miraculous salvation, when the Red Sea split into two and the people of Israel were saved and liberated from Egyptian slavery, were related. This is how the scriptures testify of Christ who repeats these two miracles. Here connection to synoptics is clear.

John's story is not just about the miraculous passage of Jesus, but also a “landing miracle" - even though they had rowed 5 to 6 kilometers, the boat immediately came ashore when Jesus arrived.

The words of Jesus are amazing. "I am" remind us of God's reply to Moses when Moses asked God's name: "- I am who I am". (Exodus 3:14) This story does not tell just about taking shortcut over the lake. It is a story of the revelation of the Almighty. And it was exactly what the first chapter told about.

Jesus, the bread of life 6:22-59

We are already used to the fact that John does not tell stories of miracles just because miracles are exciting and interesting. The works of Jesus always point to a deeper and the larger issue. In this case: The feeding miracle is followed by a discussion about the bread of life. The shocking feature of the story is that after the great miracle, Jesus is misunderstood and abandoned.

From this interesting and rich story I raise only some central issues. When Jesus talks about the bread of life, the story has at least three layers:

1) The feeding miracle had just happened, and there the bread was just ordinary bread. Jews thought that the bread of life is ordinary bread that never ends.

2) In the background lies Proverbs chapter 9 (especially verses 1-6) that tells about the feast of Wisdom. We remember that in the prologue of the Gospel of John, Wisdom = Logos = The Word became flesh and lived in the midst of people. In this way, Jesus Christ is precisely the personified Wisdom, who calls people to abandon wrong paths, and to enter the path of wisdom and insight.

3) In the background lies the supper of the new covenant, the Holy Communion. John does not talk about it directly, but clearly enough. Speech on eating Christ's flesh and eternal life refers to the Holy Communion. This is already evident in verse 11, where the choice of words are almost identical to that when Jesus sets the Holy Communion.

The feeding miracle was, according to Jesus' teaching, just a side issue. He was not to be seeked only for bread. His real mission was to bring God's grace to the people. The core of all is the death of Christ: Jesus dies for the sins of the whole world and lets his blood pour out for the atonement of the sins of the world. Thus He himself becomes the bread of life. Wisdom calls to His feast, that is, God calls people out of the darkness to live in His light. Whoever is a guest in this feast has moved from death to life.

The real highlight is in verses 52-59. It recaptures the most crucial truth of the Gospel of John: People have the perfect salvation in Christ and in Him alone.

The people of Israel grumbles in the wilderness 6:60-71

The feeding miracle did not create faith, but on the contrary, it destroyed it. The crowd had flooded to see Jesus, but now the same people were heading in the opposite direction. Jesus' speech about the bread of life had offended and expelled people. Jesus knows that no one can come to him on their own. Holding them back is useless. Even the twelve disciples hesitate what to do. As according to Mark in Caesarea, now according to John in Capernaum, Peter bravely and decisively confesses his faith in Christ.

Just as Israel once rebelled against Moses, so the people were now against the savior sent by God. Everyone are invited to the Wisdom’s feast, but only a few want to come. And among those who want to come, hides a black shadow of betrayal. The Messiah-secret, emphasized by Mark, is also existent in the Gospel of John. Nonetheless, God's plan is being implemented just as our Lord planned it.