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The Sovereignty of God
TCE replies: 01 October 2005
sorry for the long delay in replying.
If you haven't visited our home page for some time then you're probably not aware of the change in emphasis we have had to make in response to e-mails (as explained on that page).
But since we started this reply before we had to make this decision we felt honour bound to complete it - and apologise for the length!
We also pray that this is not too late to be useful to you.
TCE: Amongst the problems in understanding this teaching of Jesus is our view of the Sovereignty of God.
Scripture makes it clear that God, as the Creator, has the perfect and complete right to do with His creation as He sees fit. This concept certainly angers many men who are unwilling to bow before their Creator. Few truths are more hated by men than the fact that God reigns over the universe and can simply do as He pleases with it. But few truths are more clearly taught in the Bible, either. For example, God is called the 'King' over and over again in Scripture. He who is a king rules over his kingdom. In the same way, He who is the King of the universe rules as Sovereign over all that exists. The authors of Scripture certainly understood this:
Wherefore, David blessed the LORD before all the congregation: and David said, Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. (1 Chronicles 29:10-1l)
The LORD is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land. (Psalm 10:16)Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle ... Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory. (Psalm 24:8, 10)
For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding. God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness. (Psalm 47:7-8)
But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation. (Jeremiah 10:10)
Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen. (l Timothy 6:15-16)
The king of an ancient nation was the supreme authority. The king's word could not be challenged; his plans could not be questioned. So it is with God. While many today do not like the concept of an 'ultimate authority' (preferring our own supposed 'personal freedom'), the Bible is clear on the fact that God, as the Creator and King of all that exists, is sovereign over all creation. He will accomplish everything that He intends, and His purposes cannot be frustrated or deterred by anything - including the will of man! There are many passages that teach this truth. The Psalmist wrote:
But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. (Psalm 115:3)
Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. (Psalm 135:6)
Understanding that God is sovereign is a common theme of the 'wisdom writer' of the Proverbs, as well. Note these passages:
There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand. (Proverbs 19:21)
Man's goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way? (Proverbs 20:24)
Hopefully, Christians know exactly what that means - but we cannot hide from Scripture which declares:
I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me ... I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:5, 7)
The term evil that is used here is placed in contrast with the term peace so many people conclude that it most probably means calamity or distress, but the intention of God in uttering these things is clear: Whether it be peace and prosperity, or calamity and disaster, God is in control of what takes place. This is absolutely necessary if anything is going to have meaning and purpose, and we have already seen that all things are purposeful. God is working out His will in the world even if we are not sharp enough to figure out exactly how God will be glorified in each separate event that takes place:
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.' (Isaiah 46:9-10)
The true God is able to 'declare the end from the beginning' long before the end has even come into view and to speak of that which is going to take place. How can He do this? Because His counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure. He is the Sovereign King of all that is. This majestic God demands worship that is undertaken in truth.
While there are many who are willing to confess a kind of general sovereignty of God, few are willing to go as far as the Scriptures go in describing the control of God over one particular area - the very actions of men themselves. When the truth of God begins to impinge upon man's supposed freedom, men begin to rebel with intense hatred. The Bible, however, is clear on the subject. For example, when Abimelech took Abraham's wife at Gerar, Jehovah kept him from sinning in the matter. The Bible is clear that God said to Abimelech in a dream:
'Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. (Genesis 20:6)
It is clear from Scripture that God can do whatever He wants:
'The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will' (Proverbs 21:1)
'A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps' (Proverbs 16:9).
John 6v52 - and those represented in the 'parable of the sower'
Here is a God who is not simply taken up with the 'big things' but is involved in each and every happening on earth and in the heavens above. God is the Creator of all things, including time and all the actions therein and His providential activity in this world is the result of His eternal plan and decree. What a tremendous God! How dare we even question His ways?
God is sovereign, and He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says God is not the author of evil. It speaks of evil as a 'mystery.' In 2 Thessalonians 2:7 it talks about the mystery of iniquity. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah said, 'The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?' He asked that question, 'Who can understand it?' And that is one reason we each need God in our lives.
To answer any question of interpretation, we must break the passage down and begin looking at it point-by-point, keeping in mind this basic rule of interpretation:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Therefore, we should take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.
We should take the Bible exactly as it says unless there is some indication in the text and in the context that tells us we cannot take it literally.
What happens to Papal bread & wine if left?
You express the concern that: 'the disciples back then, that self-desctructed, just because of a misunderstanding, but also allowing, probably billions of Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, and Lutherans, to self-destruct, just because He left His teaching, unclear enough'
Did those who disbelieved have any excuse? I believe those who heard the passage are all clearly and thoroughly represented in the 'parable of the sower' (Matthew 13:10ff.):
 And the disciples came and said to Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables?'  Jesus answered them, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.  'For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.  'Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  'In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,
'You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
 For the heart of this people has become dull,
With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.'
 'But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.  'For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.  'Hear then the parable of the sower.  'When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.  'The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;  yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.  'And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.  'And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.'
The Sovereignty of God fully allows for those who wilfully refuse to understand and for every variety of hearer in the parable. So how can we question why some do not fully understand and accept Christ when His very teaching spoke of those who 'do not understand ... and the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart', or those who 'hear[s] the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful'? Now, if we look at the evidence from the account preceding this 'difficult' revelation of Jesus what do we find?
First notice the order of emphasis in the passages preceding the discussion concerning 'eating' His 'flesh' and drinking His 'blood' (John 5:16-6:26):
v16-17 - the Jews persecuted Him and tried to kill Him;have 'crossed over from death to life';
v18-23 - Jesus made it clear He was fully God, equal to the Father, and all judgement is in His hands;
v24-31- those who hear His Word and believe
v33-40 - John and the Scriptures testify to Jesus but those who don't believe refuse to allow 'His Word to dwell' in them and give them life;
v41-47 - the Jews who rejected Him loved the praise of men rather than God and would accept an imposter (just as Roman Catholics accept a false Jesus) rather than believing Moses who testified of Jesus;
6:1-4 - The Jewish Passover Feast was near;
v5-14 - the miracle of the loaves and fishes caused the crowd to begin to say, 'Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world';
v15-25 - again He proved He was God by walking on the water and 'the crowd realized' Jesus had not got on the other side of the lake by boat, and asked him, 'Rabbi, when did you get here?'; when they find Him, they address Him as 'Rabbi' (v25), perhaps expecting that He will teach them some new thing. But their question, 'When did You come here?' is almost a petulant 'Why did you leave us?' Food for their bellies is really more important than anything He can teach them. How true this is of much introverted, narcissistic modern-day religion, even that which often calls itself 'evangelical': 'What can I get out of this?' 'Will it save my skin?'
Jesus now addressed the error of expecting miracles ('food that spoils') and pointed them to 'food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you' [Incidentally, ask Roman Catholics to address the problem of their bread and wine which is supposedly transformed by 'transubstantiation' in their churches, but which does not 'endure,' but behaves exactly as normal bread and wine in that it moulds and rots and goes sour if left after services!]
Jesus pointed out the difference between those who believe and those who doubt God very early in this passage: (v27) The food which passes away and the food that stays on into eternal life are opposites and constitute the theme of Jesus' remarks. As with Nicodemus (John 3), Jesus brushes their question aside and unmasks their real motive. They have come seeking Him, not because the gift of food has been a sign through which they have glimpsed the glory of God, but because they ate and 'were filled.' Here Jesus uses a very earthy term, literally meaning they were 'satisfied with food as animals with fodder.'
Jesus makes it clear that belief is the Work of God (v27-29). As tasty and nourishing as the loaves and fish may have been, this is food which perishes. The whole digestive process, so necessary to sustain physical life, is part of an order that passes away. Death is its inevitable end. How foolish then to make this food the end of all labour. Jesus does not despise the fleshly needs of human existence. If so, He would never have come in the flesh, nor fed these people. But He is speaking of an earthly system that will pass away. This is another reason why He cannot possibly be talking about literally eating His flesh and drinking His blood!
The people 'seemed' to want to please God: (v28-29) 'What should we do in order to perform the works of God?' They ask Him what they need to do to do God's works and find his favour. The people are not asking how to do miracles but how to please God. Nevertheless Jesus' answer surprises them. They used the word 'works,' plural, because they thought in terms of working for salvation. They still had little concept of grace as a gift. Jesus answers in the singular: 'work of God'. Notice that 'to believe' is the work of God. Believing is the foundation on which all else builds. They are speaking about the exterior person. He is speaking about the inner person. The strength within always determines the strength without. The people know that he is making a Messianic claim. So they want to see a sign.
However, there Jesus emphasises the food which 'endures to everlasting life' (v27). It feeds the deepest centre of human existence, the spiritual self, and continues to satisfy. This food is not a reward that can be earned, but is given by the Son of Man, whose origin is in heaven, but who is identified with all men. He is the authentic Source of this everlasting bread because the Father approves what He does. He bears the seal of the Father's ownership.
Still these people do not understand who it is that has fed them, nor the meaning of this gift. They only seem to hear the phrase 'labour for the food' and assume there is more work they must do. What can they do to please God? They are caught in the old legalisms, slaves of the flesh - it is no wonder that works-orientated Roman Catholicism fell for the false interpretation! But the food that Jesus shares is given by the Father. It is a work of grace, food that cannot be earned, only received. So it is the response of faith, believing in the One whom the Father has sent, receiving what He has to give; that is the 'work of God.' The Greek word John was inspired to use for 'believe' is pisteuo, an active verb, not the form pistis, a passive noun.
(v30-32): What miracle will you do? Neither the feeding nor the teaching can satisfy these people. They clamour for an even greater sign. The flesh always cries out for some final visible proof, a last climactic argument, which will wrap it all up and make belief inevitable. 'What miracle will you do?' This is a strange question for people who have just seen Him do one (v10-14), but they seem set on diminishing its importance by presenting one they consider equally great or greater: Our fathers ate manna in the desert; (cf. Exodus 16:4, 15; Numbers 11:8; Psalm 105:40). These are the same people who witnessed the feeding of the five thousand! They are not shy in demanding a sign even greater than that. They think they will see and then believe. But hardened, carnal eyes and hearts can never understand and accept what can only be grasped by the Spirit. They remind him of the manna in the desert. They say that Moses gave manna to their fathers. They are trying to manipulate Him to feed them just like Moses fed their forefathers. But they are also insinuating the inferiority of Christ's miracle of the loaves to those of Moses: 'Moses gave our forefathers bread from heaven - not to feed a few thousand, but millions - and not once only, but daily throughout their wilderness journey.'
Jesus corrects his questioners' exegesis of the Tanakh - they think 'he' refers to Moshe, but Jesus says its antecedent is my Father, God ( ...'Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.  'For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world').
Now Jesus uses again those crucial words, 'most assuredly' ('truly, truly....'). If they do not hear what He says now, they will continue in darkness and death. Even the physical bread given in the wilderness, to which they refer, was not Moses' doing, but God's. And that gift which sustained physical life was a sign, a promise, of the 'true bread' that the Father is now giving. The 'true bread' is the bread of God - bread that comes directly from Him, not even by the hand of Moses. This bread is personal, 'He who comes down' (v33), not an impersonal law. It comes continuously, not sporadically. And the life that is in the Father, which He shares with the Son, is given to the whole world, not a particular race or chosen few. This is a sweeping statement of Jesus' mission made to people who have a 'parochial' expectation of the Messiah's coming.
'Jesus said to them, 'I Am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 'But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.'
How did the 'thief on the cross' get the promise of Paradise from Jesus?
(v34-36). Here is a massive clue to His meaning about 'flesh' and 'blood' and the answer to your worries about 'the disciples back then, that self-desctructed, just because of a misunderstanding, but also allowing, probably billions of Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, and Lutherans, to self-destruct, just because He left His teaching, unclear enough'. Those who come to Him will not 'hunger,' and those that believe in Him will never 'thirst'! It is coming to Jesus and believing in simple faith in Him that saves - not any kind of sacrament! Do not fear that any will ever be lost who were chosen by God - He is Sovereign and He knows those who are His. Always remember the 'thief on the cross' (Luke 23:32-43) as the perfect ('minimum') example of the requirements for eternal life:
 Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him.
 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, 'Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!'
 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, 'Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  'And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.'
 And he was saying, 'Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!'
 And He said to him, 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.'
We learn that:
one thief demanded from Jesus in the very manner of the unbelievers under discussion!;
the second thief admitted he was a sinner;
the second thief portrayed simple belief in Jesus (not even using words like 'Lord' or 'Saviour'!)
Jesus declared that the second thief would indeed be with Him in heaven that very day!
the second thief was NOT baptised;
had NOT done any 'good works' to 'merit salvation' (as Rome and cults of the world demand!);
was NOT a church member;
was NOT offered Paradise after a time in 'purgatory';
he did NOT receive any 'sacraments' from a 'priest' (let alone 'last rites'!);
HE WAS SAVED BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH ALONE!
The seeking after good works of 'correct' sacraments for salvation
Thus the importance of 'bread' and 'wine' in non-existent 'transubstantiation' is irrelevant to the fate of a true believer but very indicative of the sinful nature of those who want to embrace a 'work' rather than seek salvation by faith alone. If you show this argument to your friend and he reacts violently towards the seeking after good works of 'correct' sacraments for his salvation, then he is certainly showing that his heart is in the same place as those who tried to debate with Jesus in John 6 - and no amount of scholarly knowledge will save him from this false premise!
The figure of baptism was very early mistaken for a reality, and accordingly some of the Church Fathers speak of the baptized person as truly born again in the water. They supposed him to go into the water with all his sins upon him, and to come out of it without them. This indeed is the case with baptism figuratively. But the carnal mind soon turned the figure into a reality. It appears to the impatience of man too tedious and ineffectual a way to wait on God's method of converting sinners by His Holy Spirit through the truth, and therefore they have effected this much more extensively by the performance of external rites. When, according to such thought, the rite is observed, it cannot be doubted that the truth denoted by it has been accomplished. The same disposition has been the origin of Transubstantiation. The bread and wine in the Lord's Supper are figuratively the body and blood of Christ; but they have been turned into the real body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Lord, and the external rite thus become salvation!
So this crowd, so enslaved to the flesh, continues to make its demand, still not understanding what Jesus is saying. How glibly they call Him 'Lord,' without submitting to His authority, but expecting to gain a favour. They are hungry to have this 'bread from heaven,' which they still assume will be a continuous supply of physical bread. They have neither heard nor grasped that the One standing before them is the source of that life.
So Jesus openly declares His identity. He is the 'I Am,' who met and called Moses at the burning bush, the One, as John has earlier affirmed, by whom 'all things were made.' He is 'the food which endures.' Sooner or later any serious dialogue with Jesus will bring us to the place where we must deal with who He is. The revelation of His identity is also His invitation. As He opens His heart, He invites anyone who hears to come and believe in Him, not to satisfy a physical appetite nor to assume that we can earn this bread. That would be false pride. We can only come as beggars, hungry and needy, if we are to accept the 'true bread' which only He, the 'I Am,' can give. The inclusion of thirst here seems to underline the total fulfilment of all our needs. However, no sooner has the invitation been given than Jesus speaks sadly of their unbelief. They have seen Him and what He has done, but only with physical eyes. So they have failed to understand even the meaning of His invitation (v36): You have seen but still don't trust. Jesus makes it clear that this refusal to trust in the miracles they have seen - which prove that He is from God - makes their sin all the greater (compare 15:24; 20:29).
v37: 'Everyone the Father gives me will come to me … whoever comes to me I will certainly not turn away': This is as forthright a statement of the paradox of pre-destination and free will as can be found. The Father has given certain people to Jesus by His sovereign grace. How do you find out if you are one of them? The Spirit quickens us so that we have free will and can choose to come to Jesus. I have Jesus' word that He will not turn me away. Some claim that New Testament faith is exclusivist, but here we see that Jesus is available universally (cf. Romans 10:11-13). It is God's sovereign grace that invites us, chooses us, and marks out the way of this pilgrimage into faith. The initiative is His! We respond! He knows who are His and when to enlighten us. There is a response that we make, a journey of massive variety and fraught with struggle, from indifference and unbelief to faith and acceptance. But none of us can excuse our unbelief.
v44: 'No one can come to me unless the Father … draws him' is another insight into the framework of free will (cf. v37: 'All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away'). Here we see the perfect harmony of the Father and the Son. Eight times in this chapter Jesus speaks of His having 'come from heaven.' The Son is eager to please the Father, for the will of the Father is His will. So whoever the Father draws and gives to the Son, He receives and keeps. The salvation of those who are drawn and believe is assured. In verses 39-54 Jesus speaks of keeping these till the end, of 'raising these up at the last day' four times. It is not our feeble hold on Christ that is our assurance of salvation, but His sure grip on those who believe. It is the 'Jews' (v41-47), the term used for those who constantly oppose Jesus, who now murmur against Him. It is the same noise of unbelief their fathers made in the wilderness. This crowd is becoming more and more aware of the staggering implications of what Jesus has been saying. How can this nondescript, ordinary appearing Man make the absurd claim that He is 'bread from heaven'? What blasphemy! Why, this is only the 'son of Joseph.' The miracle of Jesus' birth is unknown to the general populace, but He had asked them to judge Him on the miracles He performed. Jesus met their anger and unbelief head on. Only those who have been 'taught by God' are drawn and sent to the Son. The everlasting, patient Teacher is God Himself (Psalm 71:17; 119:102, Isaiah 54:3; Jeremiah 32:33). It is only the humble, teachable ones who hear and understand what the Father says. His teaching opens and prepares them for the coming of the One whom He has sent. So they believe and obey and discover in Him eternal life. What an indictment that the very people who assumed they knew what God had said, because they had pored over the Scriptures, discussed every jot and tittle - had not been taught by God! Their rejection of the One whom He sent meant they had read, but never understood. Why should we expect them to understand what He now revealed to them?
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