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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « "I've Been Reading...": Quotable Quotes from Excellent Books, Issue 3 | Main | Exposition of Revelation 5:9 - Particular Redemption »

    Images of the Savior (26 – His Feeding the Five Thousand)

    Jesus then said unto them, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven; for the bread of God is the One who descends from heaven and gives life to the world”. – John 6:32-33

    In this remarkable account, we see our Savior signifying through a gloriously bountiful act of generosity the eternal life and joyful feasting in the presence of God that he would soon provide for those whom the Father had given to him, by the offering up of his own body for their life and sustenance; and in the process, we are confronted with an image of Christ the Savior as the perfect fulfillment of the tabernacle imagery of the table of the bread of the presence (Exodus 25:23-20); as the end and goal of the celebratory feasts of the Jews, and that of Passover in particular (note John 6:4), which looked ahead to the joyful feast of the end times, in the presence of God (see Isaiah 25:6-12); and also, as the true fulfillment of the manna that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years. Moreover, we have this wondrous sign expounded to us in great wisdom by the very words of Jesus, as he explains to the Jews its true meaning and significance. Let us then be richly instructed in these eternal truths, as we look to the account at hand.

    First, let us notice the event itself. It is at once apparent that the outstanding characteristic of this great sign is the lavishness with which Christ provided the necessary substance of life; which may be seen (to quote from Studies in John) both “by the numbers for whom Christ provided (five thousand adult males could indicate as many as twenty-thousand persons of any age or gender), as well as the degree to which he provided for them (they all ate to the point of complete satisfaction, and there remained twelve large baskets full of fragments)”. However, we must take care that our minds do not become so absorbed with the grossly material wonder of this occurrence that we fail to see the vastly greater feast of spiritual truths that it held forth at the same time, lest we too come under Jesus' damning indictment, “You seek me not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the bread and were filled” (John 6:26). O Father, preserve us from that spiritual myopia which delights only in the things that may now be seen, and fails to look beyond all of your physical gifts to the hand from which they flow! Never allow our souls to be content until they finally come to rest in the One from whom every good gift comes down (James 1:17), the One who has lavished upon us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3)! In pursuance of which goal, let us note the ways in which this sign shows forth Christ as the fulfillment of the table in the tabernacle, of the passover feast, and of the manna from heaven; and finally, let us observe a few of Christ's sayings at this occasion.

    It is of utmost significance that the tabernacle, signifying God's presence, could not be entered until one had passed the altar of burnt offering in its courtyard. It is as if this arrangement were meant to say, “If one would come into God's presence, and be continually sustained by his life-giving nourishment, he may only do so on the basis of sacrificial blood. The lamb had to give its life on the altar, in the place of the death-deserving worshiper; and only then would he have access to God, which is just to say, only then would he have true life. For man was created for nothing other than fellowship with God, and to know God is his true and abiding life (John 17:3); in fact, the essence of the death to which he was subjected, in consequence of his sin, was the severance of all fellowship with his Creator (Genesis 3:8, 24). So too, when Jesus returns to reward the evil deeds of those who oppose him with eternal death, that death will be nothing but “eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord” (II Thessalonians 1:9). So then, we may with some confidence suppose that the tabernacle arrangement suggested this: first, life had to be given through the blood of the sacrificial lamb, which would enable the worshiper to enter the presence of the God whom to know is to live; but then, this spiritual life had to be continually sustained by God's own vivifying presence; to which principle the table of the bread of the presence clearly pointed, signifying the ongoing sustenance of life, even as bread nourishes physical life; and the sustenance of life in particular by God's continuing presence, even as the bread was called that of the presence. Let us observe then, first of all, that Jesus is the One who gives us life by the shedding of his own blood, as the true sacrificial Lamb of God, in order to reconcile us to God; and also, that he sustains the life which he has given, by constantly mediating to us the presence of the life-giving God, a ministry which he will perform throughout eternity, dwelling in our midst as the anti-type of the Jewish tabernacle (Revelation 21:3).

    Next, let us note how this sign holds forth to us Jesus as the fulfillment of the Passover Feast of the Jews. It is not an insignificant detail which John records for us, that this sign took place “near the Passover Feast” (John 6:4) – even as it is no insignificant detail that Jesus' last supper and crucifixion likewise took place in conjunction with the Passover Feast. But what did this Passover Feast signify? First, it looked back to how the blood of the passover lamb preserved the people from the judgment of death, which came upon all the Egyptians, and how God, following their marvelous deliverance, brought them out from the land of Egypt to a land which signified a place of eternal fellowship with God himself. But second, it looked forward to when Jesus, the true Lamb of God, would give up his body for the life of his people; and then, following that marvelous deliverance, he would bring them to a land where he might feast in fellowship with them forever; which Jesus himself signified to his disciples, during his last supper with them, solemnly assuring them that he would complete the feast which he had begun when they were all gathered together again in the Kingdom of his Father (Matthew 26:29). So Jesus both gives us life, when we through faith eat of his body and drink of his blood; and he also promises a day when he will consummate that life with an eternal feast, in which the results of his sacrifice will be eternal joy in the life-giving presence of God. Even as we feast upon him now, and are quickened in fellowship with God; so in eternity we will feast on him forevermore, or rather feast on the blessed results of his offering up of his body, and that is, the joy of eternally restored fellowship with him.

    Finally, we see how clearly this sign holds Jesus forth to us as the fulfillment of the manna. For it was apparent from the beginning that this provision of manna in the wilderness was symbolic of more than just physical bread, being called “corn of heaven,” and the “bread of the angels” (Psalm 78:24-25), even though it is evident that angels, being spiritual, have no need for physical food. This manna, then, was more than just the substance of physical life, but taught the people that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word which comes from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3) – whose final Word, which brings the light of life to all, is none other than Jesus Christ (John 1:1-4; Hebrews 1:1-3). Now, let us consider this manna: first, it came after God had redeemed his people from the enemy, saving them through the baptism in the Red Sea (I Corinthians 10:1-5), by which he also judged all those who were opposed to him; which is evidently a type of the true means by which he preserves the life of his children, bringing them safely through the waters of his judgment, by baptizing them into Christ, upon whom all his judgment was poured out. Christ passed through these waters of judgment so that all who are in him, having passed through death together with him, might be given life indeed (Romans 6:3-4). Now, having so given the children of Israel life through their baptism unto Christ, he sustained that life throughout their journey to the promised land with bread from heaven. We may learn then, even as Jesus proclaims himself to be the true bread which came down from heaven for the life of the world (John 6:32-33), that his sacrificial body is at once the only means by which life may be given at all; and as well, the means by which that life continues to be sustained in our journey upon this earth. In baptism, we become joined to his death, and are raised with him to imperishable life; and in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, our life is continually sustained by this same body and blood, which ever gives life to those who feast upon it by faith. And as we noticed before, this body and blood of Christ, being that which gives life and nourishes it throughout our pilgrimage home, is also that which will provide us with the substance of eternal feasting in fellowship with God, when we have crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land where God himself dwells among us. All this Jesus was demonstrating to the crowds when he brought down bread from heaven and proclaimed himself to be the true Bread, which gives life to the world. Will we then be as the hard-hearted Jews who took comfort rather in the course substance of physical nourishment, and so despised the true riches of the eternal, life-giving and life-sustaining, joy-producing and fellowship-enabling, body and blood of Christ, who offered himself up as a spotless sacrifice, in order to bring us to God (I Peter 3:18)?

    We trust that it will not be so; but if it is not so, let us assure ourselves that this is only because we are among those whom the Father has eternally given to the Son, so that he might give to them life, which is only the true knowledge of God. Why is it that the Jews were hardened, save for a few disciples who clung to him when all else forsook him (John 6:66-71)? Why is it that today, we have nourished our souls upon the body and blood of Christ, when many around us prefer the enticements of gross physical substance? It is simply because of this: the Father has willed that it should be so. We are no more able to come to Jesus and feast upon his body and blood than those crowds of Jews, unless it be granted to us by the Father (John 6:44, 65); but praise God, all those whom the Father gives to the Son will indeed come, and of those who come, the Son will not lose one, but will forever sustain the soul of each with life, joy, and fellowship with the Father, all of which flows from his own broken body that he lifted up on the cross as a life-giving sacrifice, well-pleasing to God (John 6:37-40)! Is this not great cause for humility? Let us praise the eternal Son of God, who offered himself up for our eternal life and joy, and the Father who drew us to the foot of the cross, where we might feast upon him in faith. Let us praise God for the eternal reward of our faith, and let us praise him as well for the very faith which brings us that reward; for they both flow alike from the hand of the God who sent us every good gift that the heavens could hold, when he sent us his Son to bring us back to him.

    Posted by Nathan on June 2, 2007 11:46 PM

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