We are at a point now where many disciples are turning away from Jesus. It is not just the hard-hearted people that are rejecting Jesus. Even disciples who have been following Jesus are turning away. Why these disciples turning away? What has happened to cause them to turn from following Jesus? We are going to look at John 6:60-71 and consider why these disciples are leaving and the warning it means for us so that we do not turn away from Jesus.
Reaction of the False Disciples (6:60-66)
Rather than inspecting their hearts and listening to Jesus’ call for a life bound up in him, the disciples complain even more. Please notice that those who are grumbling are not merely the Jews in the synagogue. It is his own disciples that cannot handle this teaching. They say among themselves, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (6:60). This phrase means that what they have heard is hard to tolerate, not that it is hard to understand. They are not saying that what Jesus said is incomprehensible. Rather, they are saying that Jesus’ words are unacceptable. We verify this understanding by seeing Jesus’ response. Jesus does not say, “Did I say something too hard?” Jesus says, “Does this offend you?” Jesus’ teaching is not too hard. The problem is that they do not want to receive it. Again, I want to make the point that the text is not talking about the unbelievers of the world. These are followers of Jesus who will not accept what Jesus is teaching. Jesus is requiring more of his disciples than they are willing to give. Being a disciple of Jesus is more than casually looking for him and eating what he gives. Remember that this is how this crowd formed. They saw the miracle and they have come looking for Jesus the next day so that they could be fed bread again. Discipleship is not casually looking for Jesus and enjoying some physical blessings. For these people, it is okay when he fed them and healed them. But it was not okay with them when he told them what to do. Discipleship is not saying that we are followers or belonging to a group. Just because you say you are a Christian and just because you attend a church does not make you a true believer and disciple of Jesus. Jesus does not accept a superficial following of him. Jesus expects faith, obedience, and trust in him in the face of difficulty. Jesus is the only answer for your life. So many people will not accept that Jesus is all you need. Even people who claim to be Christians cannot see their idolatry, elevating the things of this world so that they honor and serve those things instead of seeing Jesus as the true bread of their lives.
Jesus knows what is going on their hearts. We saw this back in John 2:23-25 where we were told that Jesus knows what is in the heart of humans. Jesus knows that his disciples are grumbling about his teaching. Once again Jesus does not simplify his message but calls for his audience to have a deeper faith. If his audience cannot handle him being the bread of life sent by the Father from heaven, then how much more difficult if Jesus were to speak about his preexistence! What if you were to see Jesus return to the position that he formerly had! Jesus is speaking about his ascension and glorification back to his eternal throne. If you cannot consider me as your only bread, you can never consider me as God in the flesh who is returning back to his throne.
In verses 63-65 Jesus explains why they are grumbling and turning away from following him. Back in John 3:6-8 Jesus introduced the flesh/spirit contrast. Jesus returns to this concept as he instructs the audience as to why they are refusing him. You need the life-giving Spirit. The flesh is no help at all. Life is given by the Spirit, not by your flesh. We have seen this idea a few times in this chapter already.
28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28–29 ESV)
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 ESV)
Further, Jesus seems to be referencing the prophecy in Ezekiel 36:22-32. Verses 26-27 are key to our understanding.
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26–27 ESV)
God was going to give his people a new heart and a new spirit. The stony heart of stubbornness would be replaced by a heart that was soft, like flesh. They will have responsive hearts. God will cause his people to walk in his statutes and keep his rules. Ezekiel is picturing the new life that will come when the Messiah comes and brings salvation, forgiveness, and a restored relationship with God. Jesus is saying that life is not found in their external, heartless law-keeping. Life is found in the heart that is responsive to the Lord, with the laws of the Lord written on their hearts. This is Jesus’ answer to why these disciples are unwilling to see Jesus as the bread of life and have their lives be consumed by Christ. Listen to what Jesus says in verse 63. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” The words of Jesus are what brings the life-giving Spirit to you. Rejecting the words of Jesus means that you do not have the law of God written on your heart. This is what makes the prophecy of Ezekiel and the words of Jesus so amazing. God said that he would put his spirit within them. Jesus says that this would occur through his words. We saw this in the last section where Jesus said that no one could come to Jesus unless the Father draws him and the explanation of that was Jesus saying that they all will be taught by God, hearing and learning from the Father (6:44-45). Jesus teaches that the Spirit gives life, just as the prophets declared. Jesus explains that the Spirit is giving life to us through the words and teachings of Jesus. We cannot underestimate the power of the words of Jesus. Let the words of Jesus rest in your heart and you will desire him and want to consume your life with him. He is that wonderful and glorious. But if we do not have this love to consume him, then it shows that we are merely practicing external righteousness which does not give life. Jesus and his words alone give life.
False disciples of Jesus do not cling to God’s word. They do not recognize how wonderful it is to consume Christ. If we do not respond to the bread of life by desiring him, consuming him, and having his law in our heart, then we are being alerted to the fact that we are not true disciples but false disciples. The words of Jesus are the vehicle of the transformation of the heart from stone to flesh that gives us life and spirit. Notice that verse 65 continues this same thinking. Verse 65 reminds us back to what we learned in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” Remember how Jesus explained what this meant in verse 45: They all will be taught by God. God’s word works on your heart and draws you to Christ. You do not come to faith on your own power, but by the power of the word of God.
The second proof is the parenthetical given in verse 64. Jesus knew from the beginning who the one was that would betray him. Judas was the betrayer and he heard all the same messages from Jesus and saw all the same miracles from Jesus. What made him different from the rest of the apostles? He did not allow himself to be taught by God. He was hard-hearted and the teachings of Jesus did not change him. How easy it is to not allow the words of Jesus to transform our hearts and transform our lives! We can listen and listen to the words of Christ and it do absolutely nothing to us. It is so sad to see this but it happens regularly. Therefore we end up without true, saving faith, not enjoying Jesus as the bread of life, and remain lost in our sins. We see this in verse 66. Listen to the sad reality. “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66 ESV) The point is not that the world did not respond. The point is that many of his disciples turned back. Many of his disciples did not walk with him any longer. Will we turn away realizing the cost of discipleship? Will eating, drinking, breathing, and living Christ be too much for us? Many disciples walk away from this call. What they wanted, Jesus would not give. What Jesus offered, they would not receive.
Reaction of True Disciples (6:67-71)
Jesus now turns to his twelve apostles and asks if they want to leave also. Is it too much for you like it is for the rest of these disciples? Peter’s answer is a wonderful statement of faith, showing God’s law has been written on his heart. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68–69 ESV) Where else are we supposed to go? There is nowhere else to go and there is no one else to go to. Jesus has the words of eternal life. Listen to Jesus is everything. We have listened to the words of Jesus and know that he is the Holy One of God. No one else can satisfy like Jesus. Life is not found anywhere else. True disciples understand this. No matter how challenging Jesus can be, there is nowhere else to go. Jesus is the Holy One of God. Jesus is our only hope.
What are some steps that we can take to see Jesus as the bread of life and let God write his law on our hearts? First, pray. Pray to God for a softening of your heart. Prayer is so important to the Christian walk. Pray to God the words a father declared to Jesus. “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Tell God your weaknesses and your struggles. Second, read God’s word with intent. Mindlessly reading the scriptures will not affect the heart. Take small portions of God’s word. Read those words and reflect on what you have read. Think about how those words affect your life. Pray those words to God. We have to bring the word of God from our eyes to our hearts. This is the only way to see that Jesus has the words of eternal life. It is the only way that we will come to true, saving faith. It is the only way that we will appreciate that he is the bread of life. It is the only way to be taught by God.
Would we go back to our former way of life? Are we going to reject the challenge of Jesus and go back to our empty way of life? The former way of life is a way that has no meaning, no lasting joy, and no lasting value. It is a life that put a bandage on your deepest needs, but does not resolve or satisfy your life’s needs. Jesus says to drink of him and he will satisfy your thirst. Feed on him and he will satisfy your hunger. How could we go back? See Jesus as the answer to your every need.