John 6: Neither/Nor
by TJ Nickel 4/17/2008 / Bible Studies
Much has been made about the sixth chapter of John's gospel. It has been misunderstood and misused for centuries.
John 6 is actually quite direct in its meaning. Here are the characters:
1. Jesus, who is one with the Father, is God in flesh, and yet isn't seen as such
2. The 12, who follow Jesus after his statements to qualify #1, one of whom follows so that he might betray Jesus
3. The Others, who look to Jesus to help them get to the Father, who want lessons and ways and call him a Prophet and Rabbi, who see Jesus' eventual words and explanations to be blasphemous, idolatrous, ridiculous, incomprehensible, offensive, too difficult, or insane.
There is no systematic process of salvation outlined. The use of "whom the Father gives" or like statements have nothing to do with getting to an objective understanding of the means to salvation as they regard a settlement to the dispute between Calvin and Luther.
The chapter produces only the following: God walked in flesh as Jesus, and to miss Jesus as God is to be one of The Others who attempt to use Jesus to get to the Father, for they cannot subject themselves to getting to the Father through Jesus. They put him on the side, they look at him as a ladder, they want his direction as a teacher, but they refuse him when they realize what he is saying: "I am God walking the earth in flesh before you, stop looking to anything else, I'm standing right in front of you offering you the bread of life, sit and consume me without trying to pay attention to your preconceived notion of who the Father is, who God is, and realize God is standing before you."
And the many followers reduce to 12 at these words, eleven who realize his words are right and that there is no other place or person to follow - here stands God, and one who stays so that he may betray God.
The message of this chapter is plain. If you want to know God, look to Jesus. Stop splitting him out from the other persons of the trinity in such a way as to define God in ways that Jesus does not represent. Stop making him a part of the whole in such a way that he doesn't represent the wholeness of God in flesh. Stop seeing his humility as a mode of operation existing only in the person of Jesus that isn't also embodied in the Father. There may be such differentiation in modes or characteristics or qualities of the different persons of the trinity, but for sure, if we attempt to define them and work out a systematic theology based on such separations as we define them, we will screw it up horribly and will, like The Others, end up worshipping a god that Jesus doesn't reflect, to whom Jesus stands as a stumbling block toward. It is best we drop all such idols, and see Jesus as God, fully and without such preconceived notions of the Trinitarian makeup of our Lord, for Jesus is our offering, our bread of life, our way to the Father, our "image of the invisible God" to bow down before in worship.
Any time we begin seeing the Father (or the Holy Spirit) as the end or higher person of the Trinity, and we attempt to make Jesus a lesser, we miss it all. Jesus shows a humility that reinforces this desire in The Others so as to draw it out of them. He uses their means of understanding God and attempts to turn it on its head, and The Others refuse to have their worlds turned upside down. Instead, they walk away from Jesus. In doing so, they walk away from God.
Because of this, I also do not see any building of a hierarchy of the saved in John 6. The kingdom of God may be made up of those who walk in different nearness to the King for a variety of different reasons, but The Others, in this chapter of John 6, are not those of lesser nearness, but those who reject the Kingdom, for they are looking to a god that is incongruent with the Lordship of Jesus. This is not to say they will not later repent, but is only to say that John 6 is not describing the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus does this in many other places in the Bible. This just isn't one of them. This is about his Lordship, his Deity, his Personage, and the difficulty in following him.
Jesus' words to end the chapter answer any such question of both his "oneness with the Father" and outright reject any such systematic theology of salvation (election or free will) argumentation. Jesus chose the 12, and yet one is a devil. Here, Jesus chooses and not the Father. His claim to Lordship is here placed in a context for the 12 in a way not offered to The Others. Jesus chooses, and by using these words he reinforces that "he and the Father are one." Jesus chooses a devil. This is not about salvation, about a drawing of the elect, or a drawing of the elect and non-elect to their callings in life it is about Jesus' Lordship.
We attempt to separate him out. 'Jesus is humble, but the Father is not humble. Jesus bore the sins of the world and became sin for us, but the Father remained holy.' Arguments such as these create a polytheistic theology in a believer, which when challenged, results in the scene described in John 6. Jesus says to us who separate him so, "I and the Father are one. Stop splitting me in such ways. I am the invisible God made visible. If you are going to split me into pieces like you are, you are making a huge error if you do not place seeing me (in the above examples) as so humble I became sin over and above seeing me as not humble and holy. I am holy, and I may have no need for humility, but you, if you place your focus on these, will mess it up entirely and you will end up no longer seeing me as Lord. When I challenge this in you, you will hold dear to your vision of God the Father and will reject me as the Others did in John 6. Let go of that, consider it if you must, but don't let that become your theological lens in which to see me. It will drive a wedge between us. I can give you knowledge of such things when I come for you at death and raise you to live with me eternally in heaven. I can give you such things at that time, when you will be better prepared to not make them into a god before me. If you place them first, above, and before me, the process towards repentance is much more painful and difficult, and many simply refuse it."
John 6 is about Jesus' claims to oneness with the Father. It has been used as fuel for the fire in the discussion concerning free will for too long. It is used as an explicit argument of sovereignty that should be utilized to interpret the implicit arguments of freedom in the great debate. Rules such as the explicit/implicit rule above are important in the process of knowing Scripture. However, such a rule follows the first rule - the Bible is literature and needs to be read as such. The chapter is misused when the literary context is thrown out in order to hold onto the kernel of a fact; and by doing so the interpreter finds themselves like the disciples in Mark 8, missing the point of it all.