|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
6:60-65 The human nature of Christ had not before been in heaven, but being God and man, that wondrous Person was truly said to have come down from heaven. The Messiah's kingdom was not of this world; and they were to understand by faith, what he had said of a spiritual living upon him, and his fulness. As without the soul of man the flesh is of no value, so without the quickening Spirit of God all forms of religion are dead and worthless. He who made this provision for our souls, alone can teach us these things, and draw us unto Christ, that we may live by faith in him. Let us apply to Christ, thankful that it is declared that every one who is willing to come unto him shall be made welcome.
Verse 62. - If it does put difficulties in your way, then how will it be if you behold the Son of man ascending up to where he was before? This unfinished and ambiguous sentence and query have been variously interpreted. Some have argued that our Lord here simply refers to the "resurrection;" that he told his hearers they would have an opportunity of observing that, after death, he would return to where he was before, that is, to the conditions of earthly life. The striking antithesis between "descending from" and "ascending" almost compels the repudiation of this view. Did Christ, however, mean to ask them whether, under the new condition of things, all ground of offence would not be taken away? or to imply that their faith would have to be put to a still greater strain, and that they would stumble at length irretrievably? Lucke, De Wette, Kuinoel, Meyer, chiefly urge the latter, and on the ground:
(1) That in John's Gospel the death of Christ is always looked at as his real glorification, and that therefore by ἀναβαίνειν, he was referring in his euphemistic fashion to his death in the true Johannine phrase as a going to God (cf. John 13:3, a return to the Father; 14; 16:5, 28).
(2) That John does not describe the Ascension as a physical fact. Meyer does not allow that John 3:13 and John 20:17 are sufficient with this phrase to justify such a reference to the great event referred to by Mark, Luke, and Paul, and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Against Meyer and those who agree with him it should be noticed that ἀναβαίνειν is never used for "death" of Christ. The phrases, ὑπάγειν τῷ Πάτρι, and ἔλθειν, etc., are used for this purpose. Moreover, when a phrase was wanted to denote the twofold idea of uplifting on the cross and ascension to the skies, ὑψωθήναι, is the word twice used in the Fourth Gospel (John 3:14; John 12:32-34). Moreover, if death could be realized as such a θεωρεῖν of glory and fulness of life, the offence of the cross, and scandal of participation in and dependence upon the flesh and blood of Christ, would be reduced and not augmented. To Meyer's objection that these Galilaean disciples would not see the ascending Christ, and therefore the supposition would be tantalizing, it is sufficient to reply
(1) that, in a similar sense, there was no reason to suppose they would see the Lord suffer and die upon the cross;
(2) that, as Christ Jesus was evidently "set forth as crucified" among the Galatians (Galatians 3:1), so these Galilaean disciples, through the vision of the apostles, would verily see the Son of man suffer, die, and ascend. Apart also from the inappropriateness of the word ἀναβαίνειν convey the subtle thought of the transfiguration of death as such, there was not, apart from resurrection and ascension to glory - which is the additional matter to which our Lord referred - any justification of the phrase, whereas it coincides decidedly with the expressions used of the pre-existing glory of the great Personality who, though calling himself "Son of man," yet consciously refers to his existence before the world was (cf. John 8:58; John 17:5, 24; Colossians 1:17). Again, the ἀναβαίνειν of these words stands in imposing antithesis to the repeated use of καταβαίνειν of the previous discourse. He had been sent "from heaven," "sent by the living Father," he had "come down from heaven," "to give himself and his flesh for the life of the world" and he now leads his disciples to suspend their murmuring at the form of his discourse. They may behold and see a greater marvel yet, such a losing of his humanity in God and glory, that they will be able to apprehend more fully what he means by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Of course, there might be some who are so entirely obtuse to the conception of this close identification with him during the time of his manifestation in the flesh, that they will be still more powerless to receive the spiritual interpretation when, for believing minds, the idea would become clear. John recorded this discourse a generation after the mighty effects of the Resurrection and Ascension had been produced. We know that long before he presented these outlines the ideas presented in it had been widely diffused. St. Paul had spoken of Christ as "the second Man from heaven," as invested and clothed in a "spiritual body," as "the last Adam," as "a life-giving Spirit," and the Epistle to the Hebrews had represented him as "having passed through the heavens that he might fill all things. Whence came such august ideas about the Man Jesus, if not from himself? The offence of the cross has never ceased, and Athenians and many since have mocked at the story of the Resurrection and Ascension; but notwithstanding this, there is an ever-increasing multitude who from the day of his ascension till now have been finally convinced. They have understood, as they would never have done without such help, that it was possible, since he had passed through these heavens that he might fill all things, to hold the most entire and intimate communion with him, both as the God-Man and as the Paschal Lamb. Moreover, the prince of this world has been cast out and judged because Christ has gone to the Father. He has been lifted up, and is drawing all men to himself. When the Son of man in the continuity of his Person shall be beheld as ascending into the glory from which he in his Divine nature descended, then those who stumbled at the idea of intimate life-giving participation in himself will "come to see that the words can only be understood spiritually" (Moulton). The ascension of the humanity to the life and glory of the pre-existent Deity of the Son of God was a conception firmly grasped by St. Paul (Ephesians 4:10; Philippians 2:6-9), and must have been based on the Lord's own words. It is only by the exaltation of the man into God that we are able to participate in the Divine humanity. Weiss, unfortunately, cannot believe that there was any reference to the visible ascent to heaven, but simply to the termination of his earthly labours. The question, then, of ver. 62 is left to find its own answer and to give its own suggestion. But the interpretation here offered is strongly confirmed by -
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
What and if ye shall see the son of man,.... Meaning himself then in a state of humiliation, and was taken for a mere man, though the true Messiah, and Son of God:
ascend up where he was before? for Christ was, he existed before his incarnation, and he was in heaven before; not in his human nature, but as the word and Son of God: and he intimates, that when he had done his work, and the will of his Father, for which he came down from heaven, by the assumption of the human nature, he should ascend up thither again; and which would be seen, as it was, by his apostles; and which would prove that he came down from heaven, as he had asserted; see Ephesians 4:9; and that his flesh and blood were not to be eaten in a corporeal sense; in which sense they understood him: and he hereby suggests, that if it was difficult to receive, and hard to be understood, and was surprising and incredible, that he should come down from heaven, as bread, to be eat and fed upon; it would be much more so to them to be told, that he who was in so mean and lowly a form, should ascend up into heaven.
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