Summary: What else can one say: Jesus is the bread of life. Three words, actually verbs, pop out this week for me. All three (καταβαινω, πιστευω and εχω) where likely memorized in the first weeks of Greek 101. John employs them powerfully here to make three points: Jesus came down to earth; Jesus came down to earth that we might believe; Jesus came down to earth that we might belive and thus have life. Here. Now. Also, this week I include a quote of the Small Catechism to solve a thorny issue...
καταβαινω ("descend" or "go down"; it appears seven times in chapter 6: 16, 33, 38, 41, 42, 50, 51, 58 in various forms). The use of this word throughout John and especially John 6 reminds us that John is an incarnational Gospel (as are all the Gospels!). While John 6 pushes this in a new direction, the idea of God moving toward earth, coming down, has occured already in John: The Spirit descends at Baptism (1:33); Jesus refers to Jacob's dream where angels descended at "Bethel," foreshadowing Jesus; Jesus also "goes down" to heal an official's son (4:47) and lastly, Jesus simply said he descended from heaven (3:13).
One could simply be reminded that Jesus in John's Gospel is not an eagle like philosopher above it all; Jesus is not some gnostic or docetic savior; rather he is a flesh and blood, incarnate Son of God. Yet I think it worth pressing the point further. John 6 is all about the Eucharist; and the Eucharist is the summation of all things. In this case, the Eucharist is the summation of all other downward movements by God. It includes the Spirit empowering, it includes heaven's gates opening; it includes healing of mortals. In Jesus, Bethel (house of God) becomes Bethlehem (house of bread). Jesus is full divine yet fully flesh (σαρξ)
σαρξ ("flesh"; just about every verse in section 6:51-63) Jesus says two puzzling things: First, that σαρξ is useless; but that on the otherhand, we must eat of his σαρξ. I do not think John's Gospel is anti-flesh; yet it wisely points out the limits of flesh. So why does Communion help? As Jesus says,"It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." Jesus words make his flesh, the Communion, have life and Spirit! To put it another way, courtesy of Luther:
"It is not the water indeed that does them, but the word of God which is in and with the water, and faith, which trusts such word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is simple water and no baptism. But with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Ghost, as St. Paul says, Titus, chapter three: By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ, our Savior, that, being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying." http://bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php#baptism
πιστευω ("believe"; the word appears 85 times in John's Gospel). This might just be the most important word in John's Gospel. Worth noting is that faith only appears as a verb: It is always an action. In otherwords, "Faith" doesn't exist in John's Gospel, but believing does. It is not by intellectual assent that we live, but fully trusting in God. Sadly, it often takes us to get to that moment where all hope has been lost that we actually begin to trust...
Grammar: Present tense and εχω
I have written this many times on my blog. But here is the deal. The present tense means something is happening right now and on-going. Jesus says, "the one who believes is having eternal life." It does NOT read "the one who believes will have eternal life." It simply says, "the one who believe HAS eternal life." Eternal life begins here and now in a relationship based on believing in Jesus Christ.