Will we wander and die during visitation or go into Jesus-centred identity during visitation?
“Do you still not understand?” Mark 8: 21
I am convinced that to understand the true meaning of the Gospel disclosed by the New Testament writers, we have to get a grasp and revelation of the account of Israel’s Exodus. Even more so, I believe the Exodus will have special spiritual significance in the life of the Church in these early years of this new millennium. Perhaps the Exodus is the key moment in all of Israel’s history. It is central to their existence and understanding of the one true God and their role as His chosen people. I am a deep believer that it was with the Exodus in mind, the Gospel writers understood the emergence of Christ and His powerful victory on earth. In fact on the mount where He was transfigured and the disciples saw His glory, it is recorded that He spoke with Moses and Elijah regarding His ‘departure’ or ‘exodus’.
I believe that there are vital revelations deeply ingrained in the Exodus for the New Testament people of God. And to add to that, they will bear special significance and power in the imminent move of God that is about to break into the Western nations. At the time of writing there is a fresh excitement of imminent revival. It is as though Christ in His great compassion is about to feed the thousands, and cause a genuine move of the miraculous from the provision of His Kingdom. There are many signs beginning to take place among the hungry of heart. However, this move is about more than feeding the masses, good though that is. I believe God is speaking in the midst of this stirring, however only some may choose to listen to His voice. What is in my heart is in connection to the following question from Jesus.
“Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8: 21)
This is a monumental question from the Lord, after His disciples had just witnessed the feeding of the four thousand. Previously, they had seen the feeding of the five thousand, and so we must understand that their faith for this kind of miracle was not what was being questioned. Rather, Jesus was questioning their lack of insight into the signs and their deeper meaning. To get further insight into these events we have to look at John 6, where John the beloved disciple gives his own account of the feeding of the five thousand. He is the only Gospel writer who provides us with an explanation by Jesus of these unique feeding miracles. The two feeding miracles are closely connected. The message and meaning are the same, and yet each one is specific to those who witness them and are fed.
John recalls that after the first of the two miracles, Jesus is followed by the people. Jesus sees their hearts and knows that they are following because of what has just happened, not for who He is. Their cry is “give us a sign and we will believe…” In other words, they partake of His miraculous provision for their earthly needs, but will not see the miracles as manifestations of a spiritual truth. Jesus is the true ‘Bread of life’, which He embodies. He gives them eternal life through union with Himself. Jesus thus warns them for their lack of understanding in John 6: 49 & 50, and likens them to the early children of Israel who ate the miraculous manna from heaven in the wilderness AND STILL DIED! However, Jesus states that He is the true Bread of heaven, of whom men may eat and never die. But this is not the only thing Jesus is conveying here. He goes on to make further startling and even offensive statements to those around.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” John 6: 56
Jesus is here giving the ‘deeper meaning’ of the feeding miracles. He is actually calling those that are pursuing His benefits, to go deeper and to partake of Him. To eat the miracle bread is one thing; to eat of Him is the real deal! In other words – it’s a very awesome and deeply spiritual issue. It is not enough that we enjoy His awesome signs and visitation (although we are to rejoice when they happen!) but it is more an issue of experiencing the heart of visitation, through identifying with Him and becoming part of Him spiritually. To find that deeper meaning and experience in Christ is what it truly is to become His body – the one loaf.
1. The ‘deeper meaning’.
Every move of the Spirit has one issue at the very heart of it. Despite their unique characteristics in each generation, whether the great awakening in England during the 1700s, the Welsh revival of 1904, or the Hebridian revival of the 40s & 50s, or even modern renewal / revival movements of the recent years in the USA and UK, the key issue has always been one grasped by some, and missed by others. It is the issue of a deep knowing of Jesus and our joining to Him, and He to us. Yet in the midst of outpouring the words, ‘Eat my flesh…’ are still as costly and offensive today as they were when originally spoken. Our soulish appetites still long for the peripheral activities of God, rather than the heart of Him who provides. Yes, it is God who moves in supernatural ways, and we rejoice in His great power, but if we do not become a ‘Jesus person’, or become a ‘Jesus people’, we can still die in our vain wandering in a kind of spiritual wilderness when in fact we were called like Israel to ‘go in and possess…’
The Lord in Deuteronomy 8: 3, spoke regarding His miraculous power given for His people, and yet gave them the ‘deeper meaning’ of the bread given for them.
“And feeding you with manna… to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Lord…”
The mouth that spoke this to the children of Israel is the same mouth of the one God-man who spoke after the feeding of the five & four thousand, and the meaning is the same.
2. A deeper meaning still.
In the same chapter of John, the allusion is made to the forefathers of Israel who ate of this provision from heaven, and died in the wilderness. This people were uniquely called of God to an apostolic type ministry, led by Moses. They were called out of Egypt, to prove God’s delivering power. They were called through the wilderness, to know of the leading of the Angel of the Lord. They were called to be a priestly people of a unique Kingdom, carrying the Ark of the Presence. But the ultimate purpose of all of this was to go into the land of promise, dispossess the nations, and establish God’s true reign. What an awesome calling and destiny, and yet they failed because they could not fully identify with the Lord God, His righteous ways, His purpose, and the unique role they had in pointing ahead to the Messiah of God – Jesus! Paul in 1 Corinthians 10, warns the Church of the same tendency at work in them. He says:
“They all ate the same spiritual food… Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them.” (V3 – 5)
By the way, neither did Moses and Aaron go in! Despite their apostolic-type calling, they disobeyed the Lord.
The sober warning is this. God is now about to bring a fresh move of His glory, power and presence into the Church again. Jesus is the One providing a new outpouring of grace. The people of God today are knowing of heavenly manna. However, Jesus, will not fail to enter that promise with His people, in the way Moses did. His intention is that those that are ’in Him’ will go in too. Therefore, whatever He is now pouring out is for that one aim alone, to create a ’Jesus people’ who will no longer wander aimlessly in the wilderness and die, but rather go in! Jesus people are those that eat of Him, and DO NOT DIE! They, in their union and identification with Him, go where He goes. His destiny is theirs. This is the deeper and ultimate meaning of revival in every generation, and definitely today’s! Young person don’t miss it at this point, it is central to the Spirit’s work. People may make of revival-type things what they will but the Spirit of God has this central issue in His heart – to create a Jesus generation. ‘Jesus people‘ go in! They are of a resurrection kind and they do not wander or die. Don’t miss the meaning of His outpouring – it has deep purpose in it!
3. Eating Him means identification not isolation.
This issue is not just a matter for the individual in becoming a ’Jesus person’ but it is a corporate one. It is about a people embracing Christ and His Kingdom as a unique body of called-out ones on the earth. This is not so much an ecumenical ‘all are involved‘ kind of calling where anything goes; in fact it is a particularly unique and exclusive one. Yes all are welcome but because of Christ’s demands for our soul, our life, our all, it is a very particular thing to become a ‘Jesus people’. Yes, Jesus prayed for unity among His congregation, but centred solely around a fellowship with and in His dynamic person. We have been guilty of watering down the uniqueness of the man Jesus. We have preached mental assent to Christ in order to get people ‘saved’ rather than the original concept of becoming His and joining Him in His exodus. God forgive us!
One of the key moments in a disciple’s life is the moment of his calling to follow. That’s how it was in the life of Andrew & Peter, Phillip & Nathanael. It was deemed so important that John in his Gospel (Chapter 1: 35 – 51) gives a lengthy account of their time of forsaking all to follow Christ. Andrew, after hearing John the Baptist’s words, ‘Look the Lamb of God’, goes to find his brother Simon Peter, and ceases from being John the Baptist’s disciple and becomes a dedicated pursuer of Jesus. The same is true of Phillip who goes to find Nathanael. They both leave all to follow. What is the meaning of this? It is simple. For them, believing in Jesus meant identity with Him, and it was all or nothing for them. They became a ’Jesus people’. They became the ’ekklesia’ (called-out ones) of God, in Jesus. For them this was eating the bread of Him who came to bring eternal life. Yet today, things are often different. ‘Becoming a Christian’ is about a mental assent to the right thing or doctrine. “Jesus Christ is my saviour, He died for my sins; I am forgiven and am going to heaven.” And then the individual remains the same, isolated, and never enters ‘into God’. They fail to eat His flesh and drink His blood until He is in very union with them. Their identity in and with the Master is not grasped.
Some have said because of the influence of this western-type individualistic centred message, “Faith in Jesus is a personal thing. I don’t need to come to meet with God’s people. I can have my faith where I am. “ I was confronted with these words when visiting Poland, after one young lady had had dramatic experience of Jesus, only after which the enemy came and robbed her with the following deception. She believed that because her new ‘faith’ was a personal issue of forgiveness and granting access to heaven alone, that she did not need to become a key member with God’s people. She could not grasp the costly demands of identity with Jesus the Master, and all that faith in Him meant. I was deeply troubled by these words and did not know how to answer them. I did not want to come up with the spiritual clichés of how we need to meet together as the Church etc. I wanted God’s answer, not only for that situation but for wherever we proclaim the Gospel. After days of seeking, the truth suddenly came alive in me. I began to see that to the early disciples believing in the Gospel was not just a matter of personal forgiveness (though we have that). I became aware that our Gospel preaching in the West had become focused on the individual benefits from God to us, and it had produced an ‘individualistic salvation’. I became aware that the first century concept of the Gospel was in stark contrast to the one today. We preach justification without identification, and we teach baptism as symbolic of ‘new life’ without emphasising the individual’s immersion into Jesus and His body. The results of this are disastrous, and are sadly evident in churches across the UK, USA & other neo-western countries today.
We have missed the essence of our salvation, which is in the account of the feeding of the thousands – i.e. the Bread of Life must be eaten and recognised for who He is, so that we become part of that one body / loaf. To see God’s miraculous power alone is great, but insufficient if we fail to become a true ‘Jesus person’ and join with a true ‘Jesus people‘, of whom all are inseparably linked to this glorious God-man. This is what that young lady in Poland had failed to see. Again, with the words of Jesus I ask: “Do you still not understand?”
4. The Bread of Presence.
The amazing thing about the command to ‘eat the flesh’ of Jesus is that it contains not only an experience of identity with Him, but also a knowing of Him with us, “…and I in him” – (John 6: 56)
So there is a remaining in Him on our part, but also of Him in us on His part. When we eat bread in the natural we eat and enjoy its taste. It goes down into our digestive system, giving of its nutrients, and if you like, it becomes a part of us. This is the case with those that eat the flesh of the Son of Man. It is a guarantee of His presence – always. The bread to be kept in the tabernacle in Exodus was called, ‘the Bread of Presence’, and the bread we eat in communion is a celebration of the same reality – our union with Him, and He with us. It is to be experienced, tasted and known. Whilst many have said that feelings are not what following Christ is about, I find the deeper I look into what Jesus’ life and message was about, the more I see that it was all about a true & living experience that is entered into through faith. This is what He called men into. Praise King Jesus!
5. Finally… Mark’s insight on the issue.
And so now we return to Mark’s account in chapter 8 of the second miracle of this two-part act from Jesus. As in the first miracle, there are similar themes:
- Belief and unbelief.
- Obedience and disobedience.
- Signs in and of themselves versus signs that penetrate the heart and lead to Christ.
- Wander and die during visitation or go into King-centred identity during visitation.
Mark puts the emphasis on Jesus’ questions to His followers. ‘Are you hard of hearing? Are you blind? Do you still not understand?’
What are they not getting? Firstly, there is significance in bread. There is bread which contains yeast, causing it to rise. In the Exodus, God commanded Israel to make bread without yeast in order to have a quick escape from Egypt. They would not have time to wait for the yeast to grow. So to Israel yeast was a sign of holding onto former ways, worldliness, disobedience and sin. Jesus is saying here that those who are identified with Him and are one in Him, are like a loaf without yeast, for He is not of Egypt but of the land of promise. The people that went in to the land were those who believed, obeyed, captured the heart of God’s activities and were those who took into the new land His Kingly rule and presence. They are those who will not hold on to former things but embrace His ways. Therefore the manifestation of Herod and the Pharisees sinfulness is like yeast in the people of Israel that did not enter the promise. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. God’s Old Testament congregation Israel was now leavened, yet Christ had come to form a new people of God – His called out ones, in whom no yeast dwells – they are to know Him! In other words, the deeper meaning of the visitation and outpouring of the Spirit is the light of Christ’s righteousness that shines through those who embrace the heart and depth of what’s happening. Unrighteousness and unbelief cannot enter into the promise of God. Jesus people do, because their Master has already stepped into the promise!
So today’s application is simple: The unrighteous do not believe or go after identity with Jesus, but they want to keep the supernatural provision. The righteous believe, they gladly lay down all for this union with Jesus, and they experience His Kingdom reign and know fruitfulness. They in their allegiance will go in. Do we now understand?
Finally, Christ also puts an emphasis on the number of baskets left over and the connection between the two events. Here is a glorious ministry of Jesus to the Jew and Gentile. Scholars agree that the first was to a Jewish audience, the second feeding to both Jew and Gentile.1 Now in God’s new day of visitation, through His Son, Gentiles become part of the congregation of God, with Jews, to go into the promise land and carry the Kingdom. The One new man is a reality through Him. This is what the Spirit is now calling for in this fresh move of His Spirit. Hence in Mark 8 the mention of only one loaf in the boat after the miracle. Out of the Jew & Gentile He forms a ‘Jesus people.’
So this is the meaning of the Bread of Heaven.
- It is to be eaten – that is absorbed into our spirits, through identification with Jesus, and by the Holy Spirit’s entrance into our hearts. Remember, you are what you eat. No yeast in this bread.
- It’s meaning is also exclusively Jesus-centred not ‘sign-centred‘. Yet out of this union, great Kingdom demonstration is evidenced.
- It’s meaning is about a body of people, who embrace the above, who in fellowship and apostolic movement form God’s new people. Thus they are called to inherit and dispossess nations. We are to be led by the Angel of the Lord who is the Lord Jesus. We are now to carry the Ark of His presence in our hearts. We are to experience supernatural signs of power but also grasp their significance. They are signs of the Kingdom! HOWEVER, we are not to die, for those in Christ do not die but live, they know, they do, they are – I.e. they ‘go into promise‘. This is a King-centred move of the Spirit – let’s not forget it.
David Ravenhill has in recent years written timely words for these days of visitation we live in:
‘How could Israel ever forget this incredible sight as they stood there on the banks of the Red Sea? They watched the entire Egyptian army being swallowed up by the mighty torrents of water cascading down upon them. God was unleashing His mighty hand of judgment against those who had helped impose Israel’s forced captivity of oppression and slavery… As wonderful as this experience was, it was merely the beginning – the first step in God’s plan and purpose for His people. Even as they celebrated, God had His goal in mind – to “bring them and plant them in the mountain of (His) inheritance.” (Exodus 15: 17) His purpose was to have people passionately in love with Him, a people who shared His heart for others who were in slavery and bondage.
This then, was the first stage in God’s plan to bring Israel out of their bondage; through the wilderness of testing, growth and preparation; and into the land of promise, where they would dwell in the very presence of God… God’s plan was to bring His people into Zion and establish them in a life that revolved around His presence… The same thing is true for the Church… His ultimate goal is to gather all nations to Himself.’ 2
So one more time, with the words of Jesus, I repeat, “Do you still not understand?” He’s moving again out of His great compassion, grace and favour. He is visiting His people but His deep callings remain the same, and if anything, during times of revival the intensity and power of those deep callings increase.
Jesus has come as ‘Emmanuel – God with us’ to reveal a deep and great mystery for all ages, that despite satan’s assault on mankind, God can and will have a people for Himself. They as one new man will demonstrate what the early disciples became through their association with Jesus. The Jewish disciples of a Jewish Jesus accomplished what their ancestors did not, not because of their own ability but because of their identity in and with this glorious God-man, who is greater than Moses and succeeds where even Moses failed. Let’s not make the mistake of disassociating the power of God from the God of power. He moves in signs and wonders in order to reveal His heart, and for us to share in His heart. Today the prophetic call is the same and to this end. Today the apostolic mandate and mission is the same and to this end.
In the challenging words of Bob Gladstone, ‘A new Jesus people are arising…’
Will you become part of the new ‘Jesus people’?
1 William Lane, NICNT on the Gospel of Mark (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974) Comments on Mark 8 account of feeding of 4000.
2 They drank from the river and died in the wilderness, David Ravenhill (Destiny Image 2000) Quote taken from Chapter 6: P67 & 68