Most of chapter 6 in John's gospel is really a dialogue between Jesus and the crowd that followed Him. So far this is the sequence of events:
- He performs two miracles (one public and one private) to confirm His claim to be divine.
- The crowd asks for more proof, for a greater miracle.
- He promises righteousness (i.e. acceptance before God) and eternal life to those who believe. He explains that He will obtain these by the offering of His life.
- The crowd grows hostile at His "presumption" to offer them eternal life; after all, He is just a hometown boy.
- Jesus declares that the promise of eternal life and righteousness has always been and is now offered on the basis of faith.
Previously I explained that faith is accepting as true what God says, does or is going to do based on the information He gives us. This means that sometimes we are asked to believe even if we do not understand how God does something or will do something.
A good example of this faith process is seen here as Jesus offers the people the opportunity to be united to God forever by faith in Him, and He performs two visible miracles to demonstrate His ability to fulfill these promises. However, He does not explain how these things will happen, only that they will for those who believe.
Dialogue between Jesus and His disciples
So far Jesus has been having a dialogue between Himself and the crowd in general. In the final verses of chapter 6, John will telescope in to a tighter scene between Jesus and His closer disciples and the conversation Jesus has with them concerning the miracles and the reaction of the crowd.
1. The reaction of the disciples
Vs. 60 – Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, "This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?"
Jesus' disciples have only been witnesses to what has been taking place between Jesus and the crowds. However when Jesus actually claims to give righteousness and eternal life through Himself, they can contain themselves no longer and they begin to reconsider their positions.
A "difficult" or "hard" statement means stiff, dry, hard to accept or believe. The whole concept of Jesus' divinity, His ability to confer both righteousness and eternal life and resurrection through faith in Himself was just too much for them. They could not take anymore.
I want you to note the interesting process of sifting going on here. Sifting occurs when you continually refine something until you eliminate all the unwanted matter and are left with the purest element. For example, gold miners do this as they sift through all the minerals until just the few nuggets of gold are left, or researchers do this as they sift through a mountain of information to find just the most accurate and pertinent facts.
In the same way Jesus is doing this with the people who follow Him. He is continually sifting them looking for true disciples. First He sifts through the leaders in Jerusalem. Next He sifts through the crowd in His hometown of Capernaum. Here in this scene, He sifts through those who claim to be His disciples. Later on He will sift through His chosen Apostles. Even today He continues to sift through the world and the church separating the wheat from the chaff.
In this we see another recurring cycle where Jesus is continually sifting and refining His listeners through His Word, His miracles and His ministry. In the end, Jesus' sifting serves to separate those with faith from those who have no faith or those who are simply religious hypocrites.
2. Jesus' response to unbelieving disciples
Vs. 61-62 – But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, "Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?
In effect Jesus says to them, I tell you that I come from heaven and this makes you "stumble." The word "stumble" means to be killed in a trap. In other words, I say this to you and it traps and kills your faith in Me?
Of course this is the sifting process at work. The reason that His statements "trap" their faith is because their faith is in a man, not in the Son of God. His statement reveals the shallowness of their faith.
Because their faith is where it is, they cannot see how a mere man can actually give life, righteousness or resurrection. Of course it would be no problem for God to do this, but they do not yet believe in His divine nature. They have the same problem, they stumble at the same spot as the crowd did. Until now they were happy to claim Jesus as their own. He was popular, took on the leadership and even performed great signs like the prophets of old… "Jesus, He's our man! He's a winner!"
But now He makes this incredible claim and they are caught short because they are not ready to go this far in their belief in Him.
Jesus tells them that they have given up very quickly. He tells them, "What will you do with your unbelief if you see me returning to the place where I said I came from?" Of course the Apostles witnessed this after Jesus' resurrection when He ascended into heaven before their very eyes.
Vs. 63 – It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.
They cannot accept that He can actually give life because they believe that He is just a man. And He agrees with them. He is not a ghost, an appearance, just the reflection of a human being. He is a man! But, He says, it is the Spirit who gives life. Mere human flesh has no power to revive the dead or create life; only the Spirit can do this.
If I were only a man, Jesus says, I could not do any of these things. But, He claims, the Spirit does do these things through Me and the words that I speak. Therefore, this makes my words life-giving words, spiritual words if you take them in through faith. This is a reference back to eating the flesh and drinking the blood. Jesus becomes part of you as you take Him in by faith. The Spirit becomes part of you as you take Him inside of you by believing the words of Jesus.
Vs. 64-65 – But there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."
Jesus makes another divine witness of His person by claiming to know their hearts, thoughts and intentions. He tells them that He knows who follows Him and for what reason they do. This would mean that He not only knew who would betray Him but would also know when that thought would arise in his heart. Jesus was capable of knowing this and tells them that He is able.
Some people use this passage to promote the idea that God chooses and calls certain people and rejects others. This doctrine is called "Predestination."
But what Jesus is telling His listeners is that without God permitting the truth to be known, no one could know what the truth is.. that Jesus is God. The Father grants us to come to Him by revealing the truth through the miracles, teaching and witness of Jesus Christ, His Son. This is how God calls us, draws us, permits us to come to Him: by believing in His Son. Had He not done this, we would have not found Him on our own.
3. The response of the disciples
Vs. 66 – As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.
They did not go on. They would not be counted among His disciples anymore. Why? Jesus rejected them. He said that if they did not believe in Him now, they were never disciples to begin with; they were just along for the ride. Once they realized that Jesus knew that they were not disciples inwardly, they simply stopped pretending they were disciples outwardly. The result of sifting!
It does not say here, but what do you think happened to these who just quit? It seems that they went back to their old lives as fishermen, farmers, shepherds, homemakers, servants of the king, picking up where they left off before they began walking with Jesus. Is this not what we do when we stop following Jesus? We load up on hobbies, work, TV, other activities, to fill up the place that only faith and obedience to Christ can fill.
Dialogue between Jesus and the Apostles
1. Jesus questions the Apostles
Vs. 67 – So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?"
Now it is the Apostles' turn to be sifted. The leaders are against Him, the crowd is hostile and the people in the synagogue are skeptical. He is losing His disciples, so now He challenges His chosen Apostles. He points out what is happening and says, "You see the crowds leaving, does this shake your faith?" The neighbors, friends, cousins, relatives, shaky disciples are leaving because the going was getting rough. Were they going to follow suit?
2. The Apostles' response to Jesus
Peter speaks up with a faith not yet fully matured, but a faith nevertheless.
Vs. 68-69 – Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God."
Note that Peter says NO, they would not leave for two very distinct reasons:
- They have nowhere else to go where they can find "life giving" words. They could have gone back to the fishing business, back to the simple life along the Sea of Galilee. They had a place to go to but not one that offered them the life that Jesus offered. Only with Jesus did they have the "words of life."
- They believed what Jesus said, even if they did not quite understand it all yet. They had seen the miracle and heard the words and were putting the two together. Peter articulates the thinking of the group by confessing that they are in the process of knowing Him not only as a man, but as the One Jesus claims to be, the Holy One.
Peter did not know anymore than the crowd about how things were done, how Jesus would give eternal life, but based on evidence provided, he was willing to believe and trust God for what he did not know.
Sometimes we want to know everything before we believe; Jesus calls on us to believe so that we can know.
3. Jesus' response to the Apostles' faith
Vs. 70-71 – Jesus answered them, "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?" Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.
Peter had spoken for all of them and all of them, by their silence, showed their agreement with Peter. Their reward for this step of faith is yet another demonstration of Jesus' divine nature.
Jesus tells them that not only is He aware of His true disciples, He is also aware of His betrayer as well. He knows which ones have spoken the truth about their faith and which one has kept his disbelief secret.
John clarifies for the reader who the person was eventually known to be, showing that Jesus accurately revealed that He would be betrayed.
Let us quickly summarize this last section of dialogue:
- Jesus calls on the people to have faith in Him in order to receive eternal life.
- He declares that those who do not have faith are not really His disciples.
- Many who claimed to be His disciples leave Him at this point.
- Jesus calls on the Apostles for their reaction.
- Peter, in speaking for the 12, declares his belief in Jesus as the Messiah of God.
- Jesus accepts their acknowledgement of His person and gives further proof by claiming to discern the heart of a traitor among them, a claim later confirmed by Judas' betrayal.
There are some important lessons we can draw from this personal exchange between Jesus and His disciples:
We cannot judge the heart.
Jesus showed us that only God can discern the motives of the heart. Our task is to share our faith, love others and serve where and when we can in Christ's name. We spend too much time trying to figure out motives of the heart and not enough time in loving service. God judges the hearts; we have other things to do.
You cannot fool God.
If God knows the heart, you cannot fake Him out. If Jesus knew about Judas then, He knows who the Judas' are now. Judas refused to believe, refused to repent. Let's not be like him, too proud or stubborn to repent and receive life eternal from Christ.
You must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life.
Paul explains in Romans 10:17 that faith comes by hearing the words of Christ. This is how you receive and maintain spiritual life, by hearing the words of Christ continually.
Coming to Bible class, attending worship, making room for Wednesday night service, regular Bible reading, these are all wearying to the flesh because the flesh is weak and dying. Remember, it is your spirit that profits, not your flesh. The word you hear stimulates spiritual life and growth like love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, etc. These things are not gained through the flesh, but rather through the Word affecting the spirit.
People fall away because they do not feed the spirit, they do not open their Bibles at home, they do not attend regularly; soon they doubt Christ and become like those who "no longer walk with Him."
Let us eat and drink regularly what is spiritual so we can maintain a healthy and growing spirit.