During the first part of Jesus’ ministry many people were attracted to Him. Some indeed wholeheartedly but certainly some only loosely. As John 6 progresses we see Jesus put this crowd following Him to the test. His claims about who He is and what He has come to do are becoming clearer, they are rising to the surface, and because of it we see a sifting taking place between those who are true and those who are false. In John 6:60 we read, “When many of His disciples heard it, they said ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” After hearing their question we should ask our own. What did they hear from Jesus that was so hard? Answer: all Christ had to say to them in chapter 6.
In the beginning of John 6 Jesus performs a great miracle in taking a young boys lunch and making it into a meal for a multitude. That same multitude, right after the miracle and for sometime after, seeks to make Him king because He seems (to them) to be someone who can truly take care of their needs. But Jesus didn’t come to meet physical needs, or to merely meet materialistic expectations, or to be the political leader they wanted Him to be. He came to meet the deepest need of man, the eternal satisfaction of the soul. This is why He worked the wonder of feeding the 5,000, to show that by being able to feed them physically for one evening, He is truly able and willing to feed their souls forever. He takes time to explain this to the crowds clearly telling them He was the very manna from God, the true bread of heaven that gives life to the world. In v27 He called them to labor for the food that endures to eternal life. He spoke about this heavenly food in v33 saying the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven. Then in blazing clarity Jesus says in v35, “I am the Bread of life.” Again in v41, “I am the Bread that came down from heaven.” After some grumbling Jesus makes a statement in v44 about God’s sovereign grace saying the only ones who’ll sink the teeth of their souls into the Bread of life are those whom the Father draws. In v50 Jesus remarks those who eat this bread will not die. In v51 we see another moment of blazing clarity in when Jesus says, “The Bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” Upon coming to v52 we see a shift in the crowd. They had quietly grumbled about His teaching earlier in v41, now they are openly disputing about it in v52. And by the time v60 comes around it is no longer just the crowd who is having trouble with Jesus’ teaching, it’s His very own disciples.
That they said “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” doesn’t mean that they didn’t understand these things Jesus had just taught. They got it that Jesus was speaking metaphorically and not literally about Him being the true manna from heaven, and eating His flesh and drinking His blood. They understood these to be claims of divinity. They understood the necessity of sovereign grace to reveal divine truth to sinful man. Most commentators say that by saying these were hard words they meant they were severe words, offensive words even, words that they found hard to accept, words that were more than they could endure. In his commentary on John’s gospel John Calvin comments here saying, “The hardness wasn’t in the teaching of Christ, but the hearts of those who heard it.”
So, Jesus knowing these things said in v61-65, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.) And He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Jesus doesn’t say anything here to help ease their grumbling or soften His teaching. If anything His words here call them out and therefore probably increase their grumbling. He says if they had seen His ascension to glory, where He was before He came to walk among them, they would believe and wouldn’t grumble. Why then do they grumble at His teaching? The answer is simple but it is difficult for us to hear: they grumbled in v60 because His Word isn’t enough. This then is why Jesus in v63-65 says only the Spirit, not the flesh, can give life. The words He has spoken are that very life-filled vocabulary and because they respond to it with unbelief shows that, though they have followed Him for a time, they are false. This doesn’t surprise Jesus, as v64-65 remind us, He knows the hearts of men. Then we see a sad scene after this rebuke in v66. “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”
I wonder how v60-66 hits you.
When many others would have changed or altered their message to make it less offensive, Jesus doesn’t. Here we see false converts, those who followed for a time but turned back and left Him in the end. They had been interested in Jesus not for who He is or for what He teaches but for how they thought they could use Jesus for their own purposes. They’re false because when Jesus’ teaching doesn’t fit with their preconceived ideas and agendas they leave Jesus.
This sounds an awful lot like today doesn’t it? Perhaps this sounds an awful lot like you. I meet with a group of pastors once a month for fellowship, prayer, and study and at our last meeting one of them told us he had been preaching through the book of Romans and found that his congregation responded in a way that saddened him. During the series he said there were two times when people left the church. He said they left when he covered the sinfulness of man in chapter 1, and he said even more left when he covered the sovereignty of God in chapter 9. What happened? Why did they leave? The clear teaching of the Word of God didn’t fit into their predetermined box. Rather than submitting to what the Word says and living underneath it these people left and found another church that didn’t preach things foreign to what they already believed to be true.
Be challenged, most of you will say v60-66 doesn’t describe you, but ask: are you deceiving yourself? What this crowd in John 6 wanted Jesus would not give. What Jesus offered they would not receive. Does that describe you? If so, you have every reason to fear the wrath of God because regardless what you say you are, you’re lost and you too are a false convert. Or perhaps you truly do believe in Jesus but have come to the point where you’re frustrated with the teaching of Jesus, or have become frustrated with the Christian life because it isn’t as easy as you thought. If this is you, may I ask you a question? When did Jesus ever promise a life of ease in following Him? When did Jesus ever say His teaching was simple? Too many Christians in our day are coddled by the church and not encouraged to grow up and press on toward maturity. Too many of us are content and comfortable in our faith, and because of this we shy away from anything or anyone who’ll rock the boat too much.
Is this the kind of faith you’ve bought into?
Let’s be real for a moment – the idol of comfort is one of the great sins of the American church. We love to be comfortable. If we thought about it long enough, we would see that we’ve unloaded all of this into our spiritual lives and have come to believe that Jesus exists to make us more comfortable in this life. That He exists for us rather than we for Him. Passages like this, where Jesus intentionally disrupts the comforts of others and does nothing to alleviate discomfort make me want to say – if the Jesus you’re following never makes your life uncomfortable, you’re not following this Jesus in John 6.