There is a hardness at times to the recorded conversations of Jesus. His sayings are sometimes difficult for at least two reasons, the first being the hardship for His audience of discerning His message and the second being that they are difficult to digest even when understood. Make no doubt about it that there are teachings from the Bible that even many Christians still have a difficult time accepting.
One of the themes of Jesus’ conversations through John’s Gospel account is the inability of man to perceive heavenly things without being spiritually enabled. It’s as if Jesus was “throwing out a bone” with His statements that only the Holy Spirit could pick up on were He present in or impressing upon the listening party. Being born again, partaking of living water, and feasting upon the Bread come down from Heaven are all concepts that function as stumbling blocks unless and until those hang-ups are removed within the individuals. It has little to do with the difficulty of His sayings and everything to do with the ability on their parts to perceive the spiritual nature of what He is saying.
Verses 31-33 compare Jesus with the manna provided to the Israelites in the wilderness. The people, in completing their thought of “What sign or work will you do that we may believe?” from v. 30 have now associated a continual provision of physical needs as the necessary grounds for their belief in Christ. What we are seeing here is their stipulation of belief, conditions being laid down for a sufficient foundation to respond to in faith. That humans decide what God ought to do to woo them and win their faith is not how God operates, but when disbelief is present, people often like to try handing Him the rules as they see them.
Whether or not we could see it when we became aware of the story of the Israelites being fed manna in the wilderness back in Exodus 16, there was a foreshadowing to Christ in the manna that became apparent when He related to Himself as the Bread which had come down from Heaven. This whole conversation would keep hammering upon the picture of His identity as the Bread of Life, the resource that they needed for fullness and true spiritual fulfillment.
Just as the Samaritan woman in John 4:15 would say, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw,” the people would respond to Jesus’ statement in v. 33 with their response in v. 34, “Lord, give us this bread always.” The difference in the scenario of the latter part of John 6 is that the people didn’t end up believing and flocking to Him as did those in Samaria; they departed from Him to follow Him no more (John 6:66).
C.H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher of the 1800’s, was quoted as saying, “The same sun which melts the wax hardens the clay. And the same gospel which melts some persons to repentance hardens others in their sins.” We will soon see even in John 6 that the positive response of any person to the gospel has everything to do with their eternal predestination by the Father (Romans 8:30). This is not to say that God has predestined some to glory and some to damnation; rather, it is to say that all people would move to their own destruction were God not show mercy to any of them in His elective purposes.
The term “hardening,” which Romans 9:14-18 discusses, is the result of a lack of God’s determined intervention in a person’s life (think of His mercy as restraint or prevention, a blocking off of a certain path). When God hardened Pharoah’s heart (see specifically Exodus 7-13), He set up the circumstances to be persistently adverse towards the Egyptians and yet left Pharoah’s heart unrestrained, thus causing a hardening towards God and His people.
Each of the plagues should have brought about humility and brokenness, but what actually came forth was a great unwillingness to yield to God despite the unprecedented calamity that obviously came from God and not chance circumstances. These concepts certainly apply to the passage of John 6 in the people seeing unprecedented miracles only to feel that the grounds for belief were insufficient.
Moving on, notice that Jesus’ response to their continued desire for bread begins with the words, “I am.” They completely missed Him as the focal point of His words; He wasn’t unclear in distinguishing Himself from food, but they were not listening. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” They were not convinced that He was the solution to their problems but perhaps at best the carrier of the solution to their problems.
The miraculous signs of Jesus ironically were not the real fix people needed; being fixed temporally by way of a miracle was meant to shine the light on a deeper spiritual need and a perfect solution to that need in Jesus Christ Himself. As this conversation further develops, we may begin recognizing that Christ doesn’t make the sayings easier, but harder. He doesn’t back down from making further statements that keep reiterating the same point: He is the Bread of Heaven come down from the Father who brings eternal life to those who accept Him. Though they would emotionally spiral, He would not give way to their perplexity.
Where then was the tripping point? When Jesus declared Himself to be what they truly needed, rather than further physical blessings, they “complained about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ And they said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven ‘?’” We see then that the greatest problem they have with His offer is that they see Him as merely a man like them, having earthly parents in Mary and Joseph; likely, therefore, they believed that Joseph was the father of Jesus, a child of scandalous origin rather than the Holy Son of God born of a virgin. Who was He to make Himself out to be from Heaven? They saw Him as gifted, but not necessarily The Gift of God.
If we watch the crowd that Jesus speaks to, we will notice a downward progression taking place: imploring (6:34), complaining (6:41), and quarreling (6:52). Eventually v. 66 would be the culmination of their emotional response by desertion. The reason for this departure, despite numerous healings and an immense feast drawn from only five loaves of bread and two fish the previous day, is embedded in Christ’s words in vv. 44-45:
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”
We will focus on three words from v. 44: can, unless, and draws. “Can” speaks to ability or capability; it comes from the Greek word dunamis, which is where the modern word “dynamite” comes from. It is speaking of power; dynamite has the power to move rock and earth, but the drawing power of God has the power to move people to repentance and faith.
Secondly, we will look at the word unless. In the Greek, it generally comes across under two words, “if not” which we translate as “unless.” The word “unless” is a condition of regeneration: no one can come to God unless God pulls them in to Him, like a magnet attracting metal. Jesus said this to a group of people who stood around Him, confounded as to why He wouldn’t give them what they wanted and how He could say that He was from Heaven or that He was that Bread. It was as if He were speaking behind a glass wall; they could see Him but they couldn’t receive Him without the work of God in their hearts.
Finally, the word “draws” (Greek “helko”) is a dragging motion. It might be easiest to think of a bucket drawing water from a well, or a magnet attracting metal to itself. It is often an offensive idea to many people even in the church to think that they would have to be “dragged” into following Jesus. We should recognize the idea of being pulled by attraction into Christ is an act of mercy, not an act of belittlement.
James 1:14 may help shed some light on the idea of being pulled by attraction to Jesus when James speaks about the issue of temptation: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” The temptation to sin and an attraction to Christ share some similarity in that the deep desires within us are enticed to pursue what we think is in our best interest at any given point in time.
If you’ve ever heard the Calvinistic term “irresistible grace,” the phrase is not referring to some kind of choice against one’s will to embrace the grace of God; rather, as God causes us to see the beauty of Christ beside the ugliness of our own sin, we are moved to choose what seems best to us. In that moment, we have been enabled to see clearly and to pick in alignment with this perception.
Should the Father choose not to remove the “blinders,” every person when left to themselves will pick what seems best to them, and Christ will never make sense as the best choice. The idea of submission to God never leaves a good taste in our mouths because of sin, not because it isn’t good. As Jesus said, though, no one can come to Him unless the Father draws Him; we must never forget this statement in ministering to a child or an adult, whether they be family or a complete stranger.
Now, without an inclination to see Christ as the Bread of Life, all any person will see Him as is a conundrum as it relates to their felt needs. This is exactly what takes place in this group; nevertheless, Jesus speaks the most difficult words as His last authoritative words to them:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven– not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.’”
At this point of the passage, either Jesus is recommending the cannibalism of His own body to His audience or He is referring to spiritually partaking of Him as the fulfillment of their needs.. We as believers know that He is not advocating cannibalism, but they could no longer bear the difficulty of His sayings. Why would He speak like this? It seems so counter-intuitive to winning people over in evangelism. The Lord knew their hearts and He knew that all that the Father had given to Him would come to Him, no less and no more. The more intense the words and the calling, the more the process of spiritual filtration would inevitably occur.
If someone offers health, wealth, and prosperity, there is no question a large crowd will form; were they to offer pain, oppression and uncertainty as a result of following, the crowd would certainly thin out. Jesus spoke as He did because even if He spoke to them as to children, it would not have pierced their hearts. The signs were obvious and yet all we continue to read about in this passage is a hardening of hearts in response to blessings.
The Christian life is full of difficulty along the path to glory and we will see many people rise and fall over the course of a lifetime in following Jesus, and that’s got to be one of the hardest parts of the path. Eager interest in Christ today may wane into apathy and rejection tomorrow if not for the steadying hand of God in a person’s life.
Is our attraction primarily to Jesus, to the removal of the negatives (mercy) or the addition of the positives (grace)? Followers of lesser things than Christ will not endure in their journey if the only thing keeping them close to God is blessing or ease. One of the greatest things about following Jesus is that He will go with us through the ups and downs of life, and though difficulties arise and moments of despair attend our way, the anchor of Jesus Christ will hold us fast in the billowing waves. Sadly for many, that’s not the offer they’re looking for.
We need to remember today that God loves us, that He is working out an eternal plan, and He is guiding every one of His children towards glorification. Speak truth to your heart, not emotional interpretations of your circumstances, whether they be healthy or poor. Finally, remember that effectual ministry is built upon the work of God and not merely the winsomeness of man; our ministering in particular ways is God-designed, but there is no hope of any heart-change outside of the work of God in His timing.
God’s blessings upon you today.