What is it? vs I am.

As far as I can tell, supercessionism hasn’t yet been declared a heresy, and while it probably should be clearly defined as a heterodox belief, sometimes supercessionism is really hard to avoid.  Put simply by the good folks at Wikipedia, “supercessionism is the belief that the Christian Church has replaced the Israelites as God’s[2] chosen people[1][3] and that the Mosaic covenant has been replaced or superseded by the New Covenant.[4]”  It is a wildly dangerous belief that has led to violence against the Jews for two millennia.  Since the holocaust, more and more Christian theologians have repudiated supercessionism, but sometimes you read John 6 and you can’t help but think that Jesus’ rhetoric is pretty strong.

In the midst of what has been called “The Bread of Life Discourse,” Jesus pits two ways of looking at the provision of God up against each other.  Having heard the grumbling of the Jewish leadership, Jesus makes a bold and clear statement about his identity, “I am the bread of life.”  It is one of seven times that John has Jesus uses the two word phrase “ego eimi” which is a literal Greek translation of the name that God gave to Moses at the burning bush.  If you’ll recall, Moses has been called to return to Egypt to save the Hebrews from slavery, and Moses says to God, “the people will want to know who sent me, by whose authority I have come to set them free, whom should I tell them has called me?”  God replies, “Tell them that I am sent you.”

For John, it is vitally important that Jesus is God, he is just as much “I am” as the voice in the burning bush, and so seven times Jesus declares “ego eimi.”  In the next breath, here in chapter six, Jesus contrasts the certainty of who he is with the uncertainty of the Jews, reminding them that in the wilderness the Hebrews ate bread, but not the bread of eternal life.  The bread they ate was given the name manna which means “what is it?”  They were confused, untrusting, and hard headed.  In contrast, Jesus sets himself up as sure and certain.  It sounds awfully supercessionist, and it is a point upon which the preacher should spend some time, at least personally, so as to avoid leading a congregation astray.

The point of it all is faith.  The Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years for lack of faith in the God who saved them.  Those who question Jesus do so for lack of faith in a man who has taught and done amazing things in their presence.  It isn’t that one way of approaching God is better than the other, but rather that both are a call to faith, a call to trust in the God of all creation who seeks to be restored to right relationship with the whole world.  He tried through the Hebrew people.  He tried through Jesus.  In both, he called the people to a life of faith, trusting solely in God’s good provision of bread from heaven.

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