41 Then the people began to murmur in disagreement because he had said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his father and mother. How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43 But Jesus replied, “Stop complaining about what I said. 44 For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up. 45 As it is written in the Scriptures, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has ever seen the Father; only I, who was sent from God, have seen him. 47 I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. 48 Yes, I am the bread of life! 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.”
52 Then the people began arguing with each other about what he meant. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they asked.
53 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Jesus says, “they will all be taught by God.” More than just saying it, he is also quoting Isaiah:
“I [God] will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace.”
And this idea of people being taught directly by God is not unique to these two passages. Check out these others:
Jeremiah 31.33-34: “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord.
Jesus talking to Peter in Matt. 16.17: “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being.”
Paul discussing himself in Gal. 1.11-12: “Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.”
Paul writing to and about the church in Thessalonica in 1 Thes. 4.9: “But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another.”
As we begin to see in our John passage (and will see more fully tomorrow), the people listening to Jesus were quite disturbed by the idea of eating his body. They weren’t up for cannibalism and failed to understand the importance of what Jesus was saying. He was talking about his coming sacrifice of his body for our benefit and he was also talking about how this gets applied to us directly – without mediation – how we are fed directly by Jesus. We are taught directly by God.
This really is the very foundation of my own theological understanding, that each person is taught by God directly. This is what Paul was telling the church in Thessalonica: ‘you don’t need me to tell you, God has taught you.’ Paul says this by calling them a name in Greek: theodidaktoi – “the taught-by-God ones.” And this is who we are. All of us. We either learn it from God directly or we don’t know it at all. The role of teachers and pastors is not to tell you, but help open your spiritual ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to you, to encourage you to open your heart to being taught by God. This is so important to me, I made sure I would never forget it:
All religious/faith/theological understanding is about negotiating two things: perceived truth and revealed truth. What we think is true versus what God tells us is true. Notice I haven’t used any capital t’s yet. Why? Because there is only one Truth and that is the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fulness of God revealed to humans and also the fulness of humanity revealed to humans. He is the God-man and the only capital-t Truth. Everything else (which includes our understanding of Jesus) exists in the negotiation between what we think is true and what God teaches us is true.
Wait a minute, you might say, what about objectivity? Is this all relative and subjective? Not quite. There is an objective Truth. His name is Jesus. But everything else is subjective because we are subjective creatures and everything we think, everything we know, everything we think we know resides within our understanding, which is altogether subjective. This might make it sound like there is an insurmountable barrier between us and truth. But there’s not. Our subjectivity is not a negative quality or something God has to get around to teach us. It is the nature of how we understand because all our learning is relational – by design. We were created for relationship with God (and with each other) and a primary quality of this relationship is God teaching and us learning (and also us learning in community in ways that respect the primacy of each learning from God).
Another thing we find is that God is very selective in what to share with each of us. When we get to the end of John, we will read this exchange between Peter and Jesus:
21.20-22: Peter turned around and saw behind them the disciple Jesus loved—the one who had leaned over to Jesus during supper and asked, “Lord, who will betray you?” Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”
I am pretty sure this is an essential part of Jesus revealing God’s nature to us, that God has a basic “none of your business” policy that applies to things that are, well, none of our business. What do I mean? Just this: God only reveals things to us that directly relate to us personally. God won’t convict me of your sin, or tell you how I should conduct my life. There are exceptions to this, but they relate specifically to people we are doing life with (e.g., pastoral ministry, prophetic words in small groups) and even then the scope is very limited. For the most part, God reserves the right to teach each of us directly. Because God’s words are spirit and life and the goal is for all of us to be theodidaktoi.
If you think about it, this has far reaching implications for how we deal with each other, especially with people whose theology or ‘lifestyle’ we disagree with. We will often find that what God has taught one is not what God has taught another. God will even forbid one person to do something that another person is allowed to do. Even clear cut commandments have to be taught to us by God. The Ten Commandments include prohibitions on killing and lying, but God directed the Israelites to do a lot of killing not long after issuing this command and those who hid Jews and lied to Nazis were doing the opposite of sinning. I know we desperately want a definitive, black and white set of rules to follow. But what God wants is relationship with us. God wants to teach us, to lead us, to grow us, not to leave us alone to our own devices, especially not our own religious devices.
Eat the body of Jesus. Learn directly from the Bread of Life. Be a theodidaktos. You may as well, because if God hasn’t taught you, you don’t know yet.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.