Scripture Reading: John 6:60-71
As the crowds would begin to depart, Jesus would turn to His disciples and give them an opportunity as well. “Do you also want to go away?” might strike us as a bit of a strange question, since they’d now been with Him for a while, well before the whole event of the feeding of the five thousand occurred.
Why would He ask such a question? John 6:60-61 indicates where their hearts were before the mass exodus: “Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can understand it?’ When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’” The word for “offend” implies shock or anger; it comes from the Greek word skandalizo, in which we derive the word scandalous. We must remember that though the disciples followed Jesus, there were sayings of His that were hard for them as well. The dividing line of this difficulty for His disciples, as well as every person who claims they are a follower of Christ, is whether or not there will be persistence in following Him or deviation on account of confusion or disagreement.
“What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?” If all of this was hard to take, certainly it would be hard for them to fathom that Christ would die, resurrect, and not much later ascend back into Heaven as it records in Acts 1. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” What Jesus is connecting here is that these words that He speaks are spiritually discerned, though the words are naturally observed by all who hear. He has spoken many things already, difficult as they were, to the Jews and to His own disciples who heard the same things. Jesus equates these words of His both to spirit and to life; they tell the truth and if heard for what they are, are perceived through the work of the Holy Spirit.
No one can perceive what Christ says in a deep sense of understanding and security without the Holy Spirit’s enabling; it is the Spirit of God who confirms truth to the heart (see Romans 8:16). Consider, therefore, that without such confirmation the reading of Scripture and the hearing of the word of God is an entirely different experience for those devoid of His presence. There will always be some degree of uncertainty in examining the Bible without the supernatural act of God reverberating the veracity of His word within the heart of the regenerate.
“‘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 would betray Him.” The word know will come up so often in the Gospel of John that we may be prone to overlook it for as much as it shows up. Jesus inherently knew who those who did not believe, and Judas Iscariot was always one of those people (His allusion to Judas is displayed in both v. 64 and v. 71). We might be tempted to think that He would not choose a disciple that He knew was not drawn by the Father, lacking belief, but it was not lost on Him.
What can we learn from the selection of Judas Iscariot as a disciple? Even those who have had immense closeness with Christ, seeing a multitude of works done by the power of the Holy Spirit and hearing words spoken with the authority that comes from Heaven, are still just as capable of disbelief despite all that is seen. There is not a person on this planet today, no matter how well read they are in Scripture, who has seen as much evidence for Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God, as those who lived and ministered with Him. They saw the impossible being done and they saw a Man full of grace and truth, who handled Scripture like no one else. The only beings that have seen more of God than those who lived day to day with Jesus Christ were the angels, and even some of them would not maintain their obedience despite their witness of His glory.
Without God working in the heart, there is no amount of evidence that will ever win a person over to Him; arguments and logic may be how God engages certain types, but the desire for Christ can only come from the activity of God. “And He said, ‘Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.’” It gets very hard to deny this necessary precondition to faith the further we listen to the words of Christ; ignorance is one thing, but when it does become clear as to what He is saying, rejecting certain teachings often takes place to maintain harmony with others we respect or to avoid inconsistencies in how we have learned to interpret Scripture. The foundation of faith according to this verse is that the Father must first grant the ability to come to Christ before that will ever truly take place. No matter how free the offer of the gospel is, the chasm separating man from believing in God can only be spanned by the Father’s will; no one truly believes until God gets a hold of their heart.
“From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” A disciple is a follower, a pupil, a student, a learner from and of a particular teacher. It does not imply that a person is convinced of what they learn that they should follow another person. Belief is not ingrained in the meaning of discipleship; if one believes, they must by nature follow, but if one follows, it does not necessarily translate into belief. In reality, people are often followers of Jesus before they are ever believers, and that is far more appropriate than the paradigm of conversion and discipleship thereafter. The disciples of this passage, also appropriately labeled “followers,” followed no more. Therefore, they were no longer disciples; we ought to be wary in our discernment that the Scriptures never did imply that they believed, but that they listened to Christ for a season.
“Then Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also want to go away?’” Sometimes the proving of an individual isn’t so much in doing what we can to keep them, but seeing what it would take to get them to walk away. Those who are committed to Christ will have difficulties in this life, but they will also have a difficulty in defecting despite their hardships. This is not a reflection of the character inherent to them; they are acting in alignment to a new nature and the Holy Spirit of God who has made His home within them. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10:
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
A Spirit-indwelt believer cannot depart from God without taking Him with them, and because of this, find that there is often a wrestling within that occurs should they deviate from obedience. If they were of one accord within, a desire to disobey and a slavery still to sin, they would succeed in defecting. The pressures of life and the hardness at times of following Christ reveal the excellence of the power of God in keeping His own until the day of glorification.
“But Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” Peter’s verbal testimony came from the Holy Spirit’s testimony within him. He recognized that there was no other place that he could go, no matter how hard it might get. We know that when Christ would be betrayed, it would be Peter who would deny Him three times, and after Jesus’ resurrection would attempt to go back to a life of fishing but to no avail. God would not let him succeed in resuming the life God had called him out of. God, in His grace, gave Peter confidence that Jesus was the Son of God and in this confidence He would confess that Jesus was both the Messiah and the Son of God.
“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.” It is likely that Jesus says this in response to Peter because Peter had assumed that all of those close disciples of Jesus were all believers. “To whom shall we go…we have come to believe and know…” The truth was, when Peter said “we,” he had declared an assumption that because of their close association to Christ there was spiritual life in them all. Proximity to God is not the same as spiritual life.
Don’t we run into this same problem today? Just because we go to church and claim Christ does not mean we are believers in our heart of hearts; it means to our peers that we are followers, but God knows our hearts. If anyone places their faith in anything outside of Jesus, including attending church, knowing Scripture, giving or sacrificing in any fashion, or even believing in their own sincerity, they are yet to be saved. Spiritual life starts with faith in Christ alone.
The spiritual barrier of New Testament times has not disappeared; pray that God would help us to discern our own hearts and to carefully examine His word, making sure that what we tell others is in line with the intentions of God’s word. Pray that we would be marked by discernment.
Lord, grant that we walk circumspectly, attendant both to ourselves and to the souls of those around us. Guide our minds to thoughts of You and fill our hearts with a praise for Your glory. Give us a joy in You and flush out the selfishness and self-seeking to which our hearts are so easily given. Help us in discerning ourselves before You in light of Your word. Lay hold of us in the depths of our souls that we might be lovers of You and not merely people who look the part. Lord, we need wisdom tremendously in these days, so please give us wisdom in accordance with Your grace. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.