Feeding of 5,000 & Feast of Tabernacles

feeding-5000

Andreas Köstenberger illustrates, “a parallel between Jesus’s first sign (at the wedding of Cana) and the feeding of the five thousand, as He provided abundant wine there, so He here provides abundant bread, [and] bread and wine, in turn, symbolize the eschatological Messianic banquet.”[1] The following day, the people became hungry again and went looking for Jesus, wanting more signs (food), but as Köstenberger demonstrates, “Jesus discerns the people’s true motives, [and] rather than opening their eyes to God’s reality in Jesus, they ask for a sign authenticating Jesus’s authority.”[2] Leo Percer explains, “when Jesus says, ‘I am better than manna from heaven, for I am the living bread, and no one comes to Christ unless first drawn by God,’ He is not talking about the Eucharist or communion; He is talking about oneness with God and being united with Christ.”[3]

Jesus was pointing to Himself as the true bread from heaven, so when the Jews asked Jesus to duplicate Moses’s provision of manna in the wilderness, He is quick to point out it was not Moses, but God who provided the manna. Köstenberger explains, “It is not so much that Jesus gives certain gifts – He Himself is the gift, [and] only He can satisfy people’s hunger, and only He can quench their thirst, not merely for material food and drink, but for spiritual sustenance.”[4] God had come down from heaven, essentially answering the prayer of Isaiah,[5] and not to just feed the people, but to make atonement for their sins, yet despite witnessing Jesus with their own eyes, and being mindful of Old Testament prophecy, the Jews still did not believe in the Son, sent by the Father.

The idea of eating Jesus’s flesh and drinking His blood to a modern reader of John’s Gospel, without context, would seem rather strange and to many, it would probably be terrifying. Many have misunderstood Christianity, since its inception. The Romans thought Christians were cannibals because of the Eucharist and also believed Christians were incestuous because they referred to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. This made Christianity sound more like a cult, so only a proper exegesis will help explain what Jesus was referring to during the Last Supper and in John’s Gospel. When Jesus says, “the bread is His flesh, which He gives for the life of the world,”[6] Frank Gaebelein demonstrates, “This verse introduces the concept of Jesus’ vicarious death, the sacrifice of his body for the sins of the world.”[7]
Also, as Leon Morris highlights:

Many commentators speak as though the word “flesh” self-evidently marked a reference to Holy Communion. It, of course, does nothing of the sort. The word is not found in the narratives of the institution, nor in 1 Corinthians 10 or 11 in connection with the sacrament. Nor is it common in the Fathers in this sense. The usual word in sacramental usage is “body.” The last words of the verse bring before us once more the truth that the mission of Jesus is universal. He did not come to minister to the Jews only. When he gave his flesh it would be “for the life of the world.”[8]

However, Köstenberger demonstrates, “John’s later audience will no doubt detect Eucharistic overtones in Jesus’s words, especially since John’s is the only Gospel lacking an account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper… [Ultimately,] John’s point is Jesus’s work reveals He is the definitive source and giver of all true spiritual life.”[9] Thus, when partaking of the elements, one is simply remembering and honoring the sacrifice Jesus made to restore fellowship between God and His children. “His body given for us and His blood poured out for us” has profound meaning, as Gordon Fee explains, “The Lord’s Supper that Christians celebrate is in fact a continuation of the Last Supper that Jesus ate with his own disciples, probably a Passover meal at which He reinterpreted the bread and wine in terms of His body and blood soon to be given over in death on the cross.”[10]

This restored fellowship came only through Christ and after the bread of life discourse, even Jesus’s disciples said, “This is hard teaching. Who can accept it?” During the early part of Jesus’s ministry, many were attracted to Him because of His signs and teachings, but now true allegiance was being tested. Even the twelve were perplexed as they watched the defection of many of Jesus’s followers. Then, Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”[11] Peter, always the vocal one, had the perfect response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”[12] This event marks a turning point in Jesus’s ministry as John demonstrates a division and conflict not only between Jesus and the Pharisees, but also amongst Jesus’s followers.

Andreas Köstenberger demonstrates how John presents, “Jesus as the fulfillment, even the replacement of [Passover and the Festival of Tabernacle.] His body is the temple;[13] He is the light of the world and the living water to which the Festival of Tabernacles pointed;[14] and He is God’s Passover Lamb.[15][16] Josephus, a first century historian, describes the Festival of Tabernacles as the holiest and greatest feast of the Jews, as it follows closely after the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, the 10th of Tishrei). Leo Percer further explains, “The harvest feast lasted seven days, culminating on the eighth day, when the people celebrated God’s provision during the wilderness wanderings. The pouring of water symbolized rain, but has come to be associated with purification and eschatological/Messianic hopes.”[17][18] Köstenberger then shows how the evangelist links, “Jesus’s signs with the two previous major periods of miraculous activity in the history of God’s people: the ministries of Moses and Elijah/Elisha.”[19]

While Jesus does attend the festival, he does not go with His brothers, who challenge Him in doubt, nor does He go publicly; instead, He goes privately and gets up halfway through the ceremony and begins teaching in the temple, with mixed reactions from those listening. At this point, as Köstenberger illustrates, “the entire narrative builds towards the climax of verse thirty-seven, where Jesus, on the last and greatest day of the festival, stands up and announces in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’”[20] Jesus was proclaiming He was the fulfillment and He had come to heal and restore that which was broken.

D. A. Carson adds, “Jesus kept quiet and out of sight until the time came for this dramatic pronouncement, and then its audacious authority prevented the temple guards from carrying out their assignment… [and while] the water and light of the Tabernacles rites pass into memory, year after year; His claim to provide living water and light for the world is continuously valid.”[21] The Old Testament background to Jesus’s interaction with the Jews at this Feast came from the image of living water found in Numbers 28:7, Isaiah 58:11 and Isaiah 12:3. Wandering in the desert for forty years made water a necessity for survival, so when Jesus says, “anyone who believes in Him will have rivers of living water,” it had deep implications of not mere survival, but overflowing abundance. Köstenberger also shows these passages point to Jesus being the dispenser of the Holy Spirit, through whom those who come to Him for salvation will be abundant blessings to others.[22]

Bibliography

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Percer, Leo. Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Four Presentation, “Escalating Conflict – Family Issues (John 7:1 – 8:59).” (Video). 2012, 25:13, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789642_1  (accessed September 20, 2016).

_________. Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Four Presentation, “Escalating Conflict – Religious Issues/Signs 4 and 5 (John 5:1–6:71).” (Video). 2012, 17:47, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789642_1 (accessed September 20, 2016).


[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 83.

[2] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 84.

[3] Leo Percer, Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Four Presentation, “Escalating Conflict – Religious Issues/Signs 4 and 5 (John 5:1–6:71),” (Video), 2012, 17:47, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789642_1 (accessed September 20, 2016).

[4] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 85.

[5] Isaiah 64:1-12

[6] John 6:51

[7] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 77.

[8] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 331-332.

[9] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 87.

[10] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 549.

[11] John 6:67

[12] John 6:68

[13] John 2:21

[14] John 7:38-39; 8:12; & 9:5

[15] John 1:29, 36

[16] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 64.

[17] Leo Percer, Liberty University. NBST 615, Week Four Presentation, “Escalating Conflict – Family Issues (John 7:1 – 8:59),” (Video), 2012, 25:13, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_327810_1&content_id=_13789642_1 (accessed September 20, 2016).

[18] Zechariah 14:16-19

[19] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 83.

[20] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 92.

[21] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 321.

[22] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 92.

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