Last week I recommended a three-part series of sermons which highlight three of Jesus’ promises in the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 (see last week’s reflection for more details). The theme for the first sermon was “The Bread of Life Satisfies,” based on John 6:35. This week you might emphasize Jesus’ promise at the end of John 6:40. There Jesus says, “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.” You might call this sermon, “The Bread of Life Raises.”
A major theme in John’s Gospel is how Jesus came to give life, especially eternal life. You see this promise throughout the book, including in chapter 6. But in the Bread of Life discourse Jesus says more. Four different times (verses 39, 40, 44, 54) He explicitly promises to raise (ἀναστήσω) His people on the last day. This promise of resurrection is central to the Christian faith. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, the goal of the Christian life is the resurrection of the dead and life in the world to come. This reading invites you to address a few foundational questions about the nature of this resurrection.
He will raise from what?
The short answer is death. But this is more than the moment our hearts stop beating. Ever since the Fall, death has cast its shadow over every aspect of life in this world. Our relationships, our intellects, our communities, our bodies, our emotions, our wills—nothing is exempt. The entire human existence has been darkened by self-inflicted death and despair. Poet-theologian Martin Franzmann captures this in his rich (if difficult to sing) hymn, “O God, O Lord of Heaven and Earth.” On a “deathward drift” since birth, we have, “...housed us in this house of doom, where death had royal scope and room.”
The people in the text experienced this in their hunger pains, but also in their grumbling and refusal to believe in Jesus. Remember that many disciples walked away from him after His teaching in this chapter (verse 66). Like the dwarfs in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, they were imprisoned in their own minds and could not accept Jesus’ hard saying.
In this part of the sermon you could be brutally honest about the human condition. While God kindly allows seasons of human flourishing and joy, life on this side of Jesus’ return is always burdened by death and decay. We are victims, to be sure. But we are also guilty of turning away from God in toward ourselves (incurvatus in se). In this sense, Jesus promises to raise us from ourselves.
We are victims, to be sure. But we are also guilty of turning away from God in toward ourselves (incurvatus in se). In this sense, Jesus promises to raise us from ourselves.
He will raise to what?
A full, physical, bodily resurrection. Jesus is not explicit in these verses, but the Scriptures are clear that Jesus promises more than a disembodied “spiritual” existence after death. He has promised to raise our perishable, mortal bodies to immortality (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58).
Much has been written on this in recent years. See, for example, this post by Jeff Gibbs, this article by James Ware (pages 129-139), and this encouragement for preaching by Glenn Nielsen (pages 23-29). Each of these is trying to help fill a gap in our preaching and teaching by emphasizing the bodily resurrection as the object of Christian hope.
He will raise whom?
The message to your hearers is Jesus will raise them. But the text gives us more. Jesus answers this question three different times in three different ways. First, in verse 40, Jesus promises to raise all who come to Him and believe in Him. Resurrection by faith, you might say. But lest we think of faith as our responsibility, Jesus gives us a second answer in verse 44. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” The theology here is important. All are called to come to Jesus. All are commanded to believe in Him. But when we do, it is always the work of the Father. This leads to His third answer. In verse 54 (which is technically part of the reading for next Sunday), He puts it like this: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6:54). Those who believe in Jesus also believe what He says about His body and blood. While this text may not be explicitly about the Lord’s Supper, it is hard to miss the connection for Christians who have witnessed Jesus’ passion and resurrection. Making a big deal of the debate about whether John 6 refers to the Lord’s Supper is probably not helpful for a sermon. Instead, simply proclaim the promise that all who eat and drink the supper in faith will be raised on the last day for the full and final feast.
Those who believe in Jesus also believe what He says about His body and blood.
He will raise when?
Each time Jesus mentions raising in John 6, He is clear about when this will happen—"on the last day” (ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ). Your goal in this sermon, then, is to help your hearers look towards and anticipate the day of Jesus’ return. That is when He will, “...raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life” (Luther’s explanation of the Third Article). Christians always live with the end in view.
But this changes how we live now, too. We live as “people ahead of time” (Richard John Neuhaus in Freedom for Ministry). Raised already in our baptism (Romans 6:1-4), we walk in newness of life here and now. Which means part of your work in this sermon is to invite your hearers to live ahead of time as those already raised with Christ even as they await the promised resurrection on the last day.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 6:35-51.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 6:35-51.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John John 6:35-51.