John 6:35-58 in the Lutheran Confessions

Confessional excerpts are from The Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb
and Timothy J. Wengert (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me - not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:35-58, English Standard Version)

Concerning consolation Ambrose says, “Go to him and be absolved, because he is the forgiveness of sins. Do you ask who he is? Listen to him when he says [John 6:35], ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” Here he testifies that the forgiveness of sins is offered in the sacrament and ought to be received by faith. (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV:75, p. 271)

1 John 1[:7], “the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin,” refers not only to the merit achieved on the cross once for all. Rather, John states in this very place that in the work or action of justification, not only the divine nature in Christ but also his blood per modum efficaciae [in an efficacious manner] (that is, really) cleanses us from all sin. Thus, according to John 6[:48-58] the flesh of Christ is a food that gives life. On this basis the Council of Ephesus also concluded that the flesh of Christ has the power to give life. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration VIII:59, p. 626)

So there is a twofold eating of Christ’s flesh. First, there is a spiritual kind of eating, which Christ treats above all in John 6[:35-58]. This occurs in no other way than with the Spirit and faith in the proclamation of and meditation on the gospel, as well as in the Supper. It is in and of itself useful, salutary, and necessary for all Christians at all times for their salvation. Without this spiritual reception even the sacramental or oral eating in the Supper is not only not salutary but also harmful and damning. This spiritual eating, however, is nothing other than faith -- namely, hearkening to, accepting with faith, and applying to ourselves God’s Word, which presents Christ to us as true God and a true human being along with all his benefits (God’s grace, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life). These he won for us with his flesh, which he gave into death for us, and with his blood, which he poured out for us. Moreover, this faith means relying firmly upon this comfort (that we have a gracious God and eternal salvation for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ) with unshakable assurance and trust, holding on to this assurance in every difficulty and tribulation. The other kind of eating of Christ’s body is oral or sacramental, when all who eat and drink the consecrated bread and wine in the Supper receive and partake of the true, essential body and blood of Christ orally. Believers receive it as a certain pledge and assurance that their sins are truly forgiven and that Christ dwells in them with his power. Unbelievers receive it, too, but in their case as judgment and condemnation. (Solid Declaration VII:61-63, p. 604)

...the eternal life associated with justification is offered not on account of the law or the perfection of our works but through mercy on account of Christ. As Christ says [John 6:40], “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life”; and elsewhere [John 3:36], “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (Apology IV, p. 166)

In summary: “All good gifts come from God” (James 1[:17]). No one can come to Christ “unless drawn by the Father” (John 6[:44]). “No one knows the Father except...the one to whom the Son reveals him” (Matt. 11[:27]). “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12[:3]). “And without me,” Christ said, “you can do nothing” (John 15[:5]). (Solid Declaration II:26, p. 549)

...the promise of the gospel is universalis, that is, it pertains to all people (Luke 24[:47]). Therefore, Christ commanded preaching “repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name to all nations.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” for it (John 3[:16]). Christ has taken away the sins of the world (John 1[:29]); his flesh was given “for the life of the world” (John 6[:51]); his blood is “the atoning sacrifice for...the whole world” (1 John 1[:7; 2:2]). Christ said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11[:28]). “God has imprisoned all in unbelief, that he might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11[:32]). “The Lord does not want any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3[:9]). He is “Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him“ (Rom. 10[:12]). “Righteousness” comes “through faith in Christ” to all and “for all who believe” (Rom. 3[:22]). “This is the will of the Father, that all who...believe in Christ shall have eternal life” (John 6[:39,40]). Therefore, Christ commanded that the promise of the gospel must be proclaimed to all those to whom repentance is preached (Luke 24[:47]; Mark 16[:15]). (Solid Declaration XI:28, p. 645)

For the Father has decided from eternity that those whom he wanted to save, he willed to save through Christ, as Christ himself said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:6]. And, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved” [John 10:9]. Christ, the “only begotten Son of God, who is close to the Father’s heart” [John 1:18], announced the Father’s will to us and thus also our eternal election to eternal life when he said, “Repent and believe the good news,” for the kingdom of God has come near [Mark 1:15]. Likewise, he said, “This is indeed the will of the one who sent me, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life” [John 6:40], and also, “For God so loved the world...” [John 3:16]. The Father wills that all people should hear this proclamation and come to Christ. And Christ will never thrust them away from himself, as it is written, “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away” [John 6:37]. (Solid Declaration XI:66-68, p. 651)

It is correct and true when it is said, “No one comes to Christ unless drawn by the Father” [John 6:44]. But the Father does not intend to draw us apart from means. Instead, he has preordained his Word and sacraments as the regular means and instruments for drawing people to himself. It is not the will of either the Father or the Son that people not hear the proclamation of his Word or have contempt for it, nor should they expect to be drawn by the Father apart from Word and sacrament. According to his normal arrangement, the Father draws people by the power of his Holy Spirit through the hearing of his holy, divine Word, as with a net, through which the elect are snatched out of the jaws of the devil. (Solid Declaration XI:76, p. 652)


... Irenaeus says that our bodies even now are no longer corruptible when they receive the sacrament, but have thereby the hope of the resurrection. For we see that the ancient doctors spoke of the sacrament in such a way that it even bestowed upon the body an immortal nature, though hidden in faith and hope until the Last Day. Now, of course, ordinary bread cannot sustain the body eternally or make it incorruptible. For it is a corruptible food, even when Christ himself pronounces thanks over it, as he himself in John 6[:27] calls the bread which he had distributed among the people a food which perishes. Hence, according to Irenaeus’s opinion, there must be present in the sacrament something heavenly, which lives eternally and can and does give eternal life. For he speaks of the physical eating when he says that our bodies receive the sacrament, and that through this same physical eating our bodies are already incorruptible in hope. This, of course, can be nothing but the body of Christ, of which he says in John 6[:55,58], “My flesh is food indeed. He who eats my flesh will live forever.” (Martin Luther, “That These Words of Christ, ‘This is my Body,’ etc., Still Stand Firm Against the Fanatics,” Luther’s Works, Vol. 37 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961], p. 118)

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