I would invite you to open your Bible to John’s Gospel chapter 6, as again we look at this important theme of spiritual defection. As you remember from last time, the subject is introduced to us at the end of chapter 6, in verse 66, John 6:66, it says, “As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”
One of the saddest verses in all of the gospel record, “Many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” That really is the theme of this chapter. That’s sort of the culminating commentary on what occurred throughout the prior 65 verses. We meet, in this chapter, spiritual defectors, those who walk for a while with Christ and then leave.
These kind of people are also described for us in Matthew 13, as those who receive the Word like rock ground. And for a little while, there’s an emotional response but no real fruit is ever produced, and when difficulty or persecution comes, they abandon their original commitment and wither and die.
They are also described as weedy soil or thorny soil. Where the Word of God is planted, and again there is some kind of response, but the noxious weeds of the love of this world and the love of riches and it’s deceitfulness, chokes out the truth and no fruit is ever born.
In both cases, it looked good superficially. There was emotion, there was some level of commitment, but there was no real life. This same kind of spiritual defection is described on several occasions in the epistle to the Hebrews, where people are warned with warnings about holding fast their profession, from the beginning to the end, and not hardening their hearts and defecting.
It is also the same issue that is being described in 1 John chapter 2, verse 19, and this is a most important verse. First John 2:19 says, “They went out from us.” And John is writing about some people who were a part of the community of believers, a part of the church who left. He then describes them by saying this, “But they were not really of us.” It was all very superficial. It was stony ground or thorny ground. They were disciples who withdrew and walked no more with Jesus.
He says, in verse 19, “If they had been of us, they would have remained with us.” One of the characteristics of true believers is continuity, faithfulness, endurance to the end, perseverance. “But they went out,” he says, “in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.”
These people who are spiritual defectors never were believers. They never really were of us, although they were with us. This is a sad reality, obviously. Inconceivable to me to imagine anyone getting close enough to the Christian gospel to understand it, spending time in the hearing of the Word of God and with believers, seeing the power of God and the expression of spiritual life firsthand, and then turning their back and walking away from it. But it happens all the time.
And the question comes up, “What is it that marks these spiritual defectors? How are we to understand them? And the answer comes in a number of ways in this sixth chapter, because here, in this chapter, we meet a group of spiritual defectors, and the final comment on them is that sixty-sixth verse. They are the many disciples who withdrew and were not walking with Jesus anymore. They turned their back on Him and walked away. They’re like those who forsook the apostle Paul, among whom was Demas, who had forsaken him, having loved this present world.
But what kind of people are they? What is it that draws them initially, and how is it that they fall short of genuine saving faith and therefore perseverance?
Well, we started to answer that by moving into the chapter, and let me just review briefly. First of all, we noted in verses 1 and 2 that the spiritual defector is attracted by the crowd. You remember in verse 2 it says, “A great multitude was following Jesus, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.” The crowd was following Jesus, and they wanted to go where the crowd went. They wanted to be there for the big event whatever it was. Whatever drew the crowd, whatever congregated the mob, they wanted to be where the action was.
And there are people still drawn by that. There’s a crowd of people gathering. Sometimes it’s at a crusade, as they’re called today, in a stadium, or a large auditorium. Sometimes it might even be in a church. I imagine that there could be some people here tonight, and certainly people here on Sunday morning who are here for no other reason than they see this massive crowd gather every Sunday, and they want to find out what is going on here. People are always attracted by a crowd.
Secondly, we noted that they are fascinated by the supernatural. Verse 2 tells us that they were seeing the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. And that leads into a most notable sign and that was the feeding of the 5,000, as it is called, though there were certainly far more than that. There were 5,000 men, probably at least that many women, and then 10,000 children wouldn’t be unimaginable – maybe even more, somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 people. And Jesus created food for all of them. And we remarked that these were thrill seekers who wanted to get in on the supernatural events, particularly if they somehow related to them personally. And you will remember that many unbelieving people were healed. In fact, Jesus basically banished disease form Palestine. And there was no spiritual qualification to get healed; He healed everybody.
And so, they were sort of cashing in on the power. And then, of course, when He fed them all, they thought that they were on the brink of a permanent welfare state where they would never have to do anything to gain their food except show up and it would all be provided for them. The Jews were commonly interested in signs and even frequently asking Jesus for more signs.
These spiritual defectors also thought only and always think only of earthly things. Verses 14 and 15, “When therefore the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is of truth the Prophet who is to come into the world.’
“Jesus, therefore perceiving they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.” When they saw the power of Jesus Christ, when they saw the supernatural power of Jesus Christ, the divine power of Jesus Christ, it didn’t draw them to the spiritual dimension; it drew them purely to the physical and military and political dimension. And they saw in Him a king who could lead them to overthrow Rome. And so, they wanted to get Him and take Him by force and make Him a king and have Him do all of His miracles on the Romans, only make the miracles of judgment.
Instead of worshiping Him, instead of falling at His feet and acknowledging Him as God, instead of repenting of their sin and embracing Him as Messiah and asking Him to cleanse them from their iniquities, they sought to push Him into the fulfillment of their earthly political and material enterprise. They wanted the Romans out of their way. It would mean economic prosperity for them, and it would mean freedom for them, and they hated that repulsive occupation of Rome in their nation. They wanted Jesus to fulfill their earthly enterprises.
They really weren’t interested in saying, “Thy kingdom come”; they were saying, “Our kingdom come.” They weren’t interested in saying, “Thy will be done”; they were interested in saying, “Hey, put that power to work to fulfill our will.” And we have, certainly, in Christianity, in our time today, in our own country, all kinds of people following the crowd toward Jesus, all kinds of people fascinated by the claims to supernatural power, all kinds of people who are thinking only of Jesus in terms of their earthly enterprises. They want Jesus to fix their life, and fix their marriage, and take away their anxiety, and solve their felt needs, and make them more successful, and elevate their comfort level, and help them score a touchdown and things like that.
Fourthly, we noted that these defectors, these part-time, short-term disciples have no desire for true worship. They have no desire for true worship, really no heart for God, no love for God. The little incident from verses 16 to 21, which is so matter of factly reported, is the story about Jesus walking on the water. And it is reported without any fanfare, without what would seem to me to be appropriate adjectives at least to extol the immense reality of this incredible miracle of walking on water. But it is reported rather matter of factly. And when you think about it in the terms of the power of God, it is a rather matter-of-fact thing for God to do.
But we note, and I mentioned this to you last time, that the parallel passage to this one in John 6 is Mark 4 – or Matthew 14; it’s also in Mark 4. But in Matthew 14, when the disciples saw this, and they realized that Jesus was walking on the water, and they realized who He therefore was, it says in Matthew 14, “They worshiped Him.” They worshiped Him. They were in a mode of worship when Jesus did miracles. But sham and false believers never do that. They look at Jesus as a sort of a utilitarian genii who is supposed to supply for them what they need. There’s really no awe, and there’s no wonder, and there’s no adoring praise.
And then fifthly, as we looked at the characteristics of these defectors, we noted that they are seekers of personal prosperity only. And this flows right out of the prior points. But in verses 22 to 27, they showed up again for breakfast. Jesus had made dinner, created it out of nothing – loaves and fish – and they showed up the next morning, on the other side of the sea, expecting breakfast. All they wanted from Jesus was a welfare state.
In verse 26, He said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” You just want another meal. They wanted personal gain, and they utterly ignored the eternal. Verse 27, He says to them, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.” You ought to be much more concerned about what is eternal than you are about what is temporal.
So, just summing up, defectors are drawn by the crowd, typically. They kind of jump on the bandwagon if there’s a movement around. They are fascinated by the supernatural and attracted by it. They are thinking only of earthly things. They have no desire for true worship, that is to abandon themselves to the worship of God, and they are seekers of personal prosperity. And I mentioned last time, and I mention again, that is largely the kind of stuff that is being offered to people in the name of Christianity today: follow the crowd, be attracted by the supernatural, Jesus will deliver earthly goods and earthly prosperity, and there’s very little about true worship.
And number six, these defectors make demands on God. They make demands on God. This also is characterized particularly of the health, wealth, prosperity charismatic emphasis of today. They make demands on God. In verse 28, “They said to Him ‘What shall we do that we may work the works of God?’” And what they’re demanding is power. They want power. “Give me the power,” they say. “I want the power.” They’re no different than what we saw in Acts 8. Simon the magician, who wanted to buy the power that Peter had. They want the power.
And I always think of this when I watch these frenetic, overdressed evangelists on television, stomping and screaming all over the place, promising people the power. And then people, in a mindless acquiescence to an altered state of consciousness, wanting so desperately to get the power, they will do anything that is suggested to them – even fall over in a faint. They want the power, and that’s what they ask Jesus for.
Look, we don’t want to keep having to ask you for this stuff, just give us the power so we can make the loaves and fish multiply. Now, we don’t need all these spiritual speeches, just give us the power. They’re already wearied with Him because they showed up for breakfast, and breakfast was not forthcoming. And then He gives them this speech about they ought to be looking for eternal food, and they decide, “Let’s not deal with Him, let’s just get the power and we’ll take care of it ourselves.
May I tell you, dear friend, you will never have the power of Jesus Christ at this level in your life. Anybody who promises you that is lying. You will never have the power to do miracles, raise the dead. You will never experience that power. That is the power of Jesus Christ that was granted only to the apostles and those who followed in the apostolic age to establish His messiahship. But this is a sad situation when people want the power more than they want the person, isn’t it?
“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’” I’m not giving you the power, but I will give you salvation if you believe in Him.
We can’t promise anybody the power of Jesus to raise the dead, and give sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf, and to raise the lame, and heal the sick, and cast demons out of unbelievers, and walk on water. But we can offer to everyone salvation of they believe in Him.
And they’re further irritated by this. “They said therefore to Him, ‘What then do You do for a sign?’” Okay, You’re not going to give us the power; then You feed us. That’s what they’re really saying. “Do another sign that we may see and believe You.” They are so shallow and so crass. “What work do You perform?” And I suppose what they’re saying is, “Top the food miracle that we had last night.” And again, they’re demanding something. They’re demanding God to do something: give us the power, and if You won’t give us the power, then act powerfully again and top the miracle of last night. Maybe they were wanting a month’s food. “What are You going to do? Show us Your credentials.” They imply that He hadn’t given ample evidence of His power.
In verse 31, “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” And they bring up the manna. And you remember what I told you last time; they say, “Well, You think that was a big deal You did last night? You gave us one meal. But Moses – Moses delivered manna day after day after day after day after day. Can You do more for us than Moses did? Are You more powerful than Moses? Prove it.” They were still trying to get all the food they could get.
Yes, God had provided manna in the wilderness for a long time, but Moses didn’t do it. It was God Himself who did it. He said to them, in verse 33, “The bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world.”
They still didn’t get it. “They therefore said to Him, ‘Lord, evermore give us this bread.’” They thought He was saying, “There’s some bread I could give you that if you eat, you’ll never need to eat again.”
They said, “We’ll take that bread, just deliver us from this daily battle for our own bread. Give us powerful bread that ends our hunger. Top the miracle of Moses.” Very self-seeking. Defectors come into the Christian faith today, and they just put all kinds of demands on God. And if God doesn’t deliver what they want, they’re gone.
I remember talking to someone in our church who had rejoiced on the phone with me and said, “I just had the privilege of leading my neighbor to Christ.”
And in a few days, the neighbor came back and said, “Jesus didn’t work,” because this neighbor had asked for several things, and they weren’t delivered.
There’s a very simple pattern to these people. They’re drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the supernatural, think only of earthly things, have no real desire for worship, seek personal prosperity and make demands on God. And when they’re not delivered, they’re gone.
Number seven in the list, and we’ll get back to where we left off. They seek no personal relationship. They really seek no personal relationship.
In verse 35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life’” - now, what He was saying was, “I’m what you’re looking for. It’s me; I’m the bread of life” – “‘he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.’” They had no interest in a personal relationship with a living Messiah. They weren’t interested in believing in Him.
And then Jesus launches into what is really, in some ways – of course it’s a theologically notable passage, a benchmark passage starting in verse 36 – but in some ways, it is a somewhat sad soliloquy. If you look at it this way, in verse 37, Jesus says this, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me” – stop right there for a minute. Why does He all of a sudden say that? Who’s He saying that to? He’s just said to them, “I’m what you’re looking for. I am that bread that comes down out of heaven, the true bread” – verse 32 – “I am the bread of God which comes down out of heaven and gives life to the world, and the life that I give is eternal life. I am that bread of live, and if you’ll just come to Me, you’ll never hunger. If you’ll believe in Me, you’ll never thirst. But you won’t” – verse 36.
And then comes this soliloquy, which is almost a defensive soliloquy. It’s almost something that Jesus says to regain His balance out of the sadness of what He’s facing. It kind of comes like this, “Well, I’m just going to have to rest on the sovereign purposes of eternal God and know that all that the Father gives Me will come.” And here is Jesus Himself resting in the sovereign purposes of God. It’s a tremendous insight. “You may not come, and you may not believe, and you may not have a personal relationship with Me, but all that the Father gives Me will come to Me.” And like any of us who goes out to preach the gospel and to proclaim the truth of Christ, and to call men to faith, and to call them to a relationship to Christ, who is brokenhearted and saddened and grieved over their unbelief, we back up and regain our balance on the solid footing that all that the Father draws will come, don’t we? And it is that that propels Jesus into this soliloquy.
And He says, “For I have confidence that all that the Father gives Me shall come to Me. And the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” He reminds Himself that this is all the Father’s plan anyway. And the Father has to draw before anyone will come. And when the Father draws, they’ll come, and He’ll receive. And the Father will do His will.
In verse 39, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose none, but raise him up on the last day.” And Jesus recognizes that these people have no interest in a personal relationship with Him. None.
You heard one of the testimonies tonight by Steve, and he said that he was in a church. Of course, in the church that he was in, there’s a lot of talk about God and Christ and the Holy Spirit and all of that, but there was no interest in a personal relationship with Christ. And these people had no interest either, but Jesus finds comfort in the sovereign purpose of God, that the Father will draw and will give to Him those He draws, and He’ll receive them, and He’ll keep them, and He will raise them.
Verse 40 sums it up, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” And Jesus finds His confidence – His balance, as it were – in the midst of this tension between Himself and these defecting disciples, by reminding Himself of the purposes of God – the inviolable purposes of God – which will, in the end, come to pass.
How are we to understand these defectors? They’re drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the supernatural, think only of earthly things, have no desire for worship, seek personal prosperity, make demands on God, and aren’t interested in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Number eight in the list of characteristics of these defectors, verses 41 to 44. And I think that this is something that you inevitably will find true, and I draw it by implication out of this passage. They speak privately against the truth. They speak privately against. Or to put it another way, when they’re away from the true disciples, they mock the faith, either by what they say or how they live. Here they were, following Jesus all around and saying, “We want to make You king. Show us how to do Your works. Show us how to receive this eternal bread.” It all was very superficial, because when they got away from that scene, it was very different.
Verse 41, “The Jews, therefore, were grumbling about Him because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven.’” They were one of those interesting Greek words gonguzō; they were murmuring – mumbling, murmuring grumbling, speaking privately and quietly against Jesus. When they were with the believers, they didn’t do that. When they were with those who didn’t believe, they mocked.
Verse 42, “They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, “I have come down out of heaven”?’” They’re laughing; they’re jesting; they’re making a joke of it.
You know, it would be very interesting to hear the conversations of people in our church who are here – some of you who are here regularly, and superficially you’re a part - but to hear your conversation Monday through Friday, when you’re with the unbelievers. Because typically, those who are not true disciples, those who are defectors, who are maybe here still, but potential defectors who will one day walk away, will inevitably find themselves at ease with those who scorn the faith. And when they get away privately, they mock the truth.
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur’”- do not mumble, grumble - “‘among yourselves.’” He knew what they were doing. He knew exactly what they were doing. He’d shattered their hope for free food; it was that superficial. And they were upset and not at all interested in repentance; that’s why you have to preach repentance and contrition. Not at all interested in obedience and submission; that’s why you must preach that. They wanted to just dine, that’s all.
And so, when they got away from the environment and outside the hearing of Jesus and those close to Him, they mocked. No true lover of Jesus Christ would ever do that. They understood. They understood enough to be responsible. But when they rejected the truth because of their unbelief, and when it became apparent to them that what they were hoping to cash in on was not going to be delivered, they mocked.
And from then on – this is quite remarkable – from then on, from this moment on, what Jesus says to them now becomes more difficult. Instead of making the truth simpler, once their response was one of mockery, He began to make it more difficult; He began to hide it from them.
When the truth was rejected commonly through the ministry of Jesus and it was mocked, Jesus invariably made the truth more difficult and very often did that by speaking in – what? – parables. He doesn’t argue. He doesn’t try to prove Himself. He simply returns to His confidence in God’s sovereignty in verse 44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Water can’t flow uphill. Evil trees can’t bear good fruit. Bitter fountains can’t yield sweet water, and no one gets saved without a sovereign, gracious calling from God. And again, Jesus leans on sovereignty. They are marking defectors, but God, nonetheless, will fulfill His saving purpose.
Number nine in the characteristics, defectors have no hunger for divine reality. They have no hunger for divine reality. Verse 45, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me,” Jesus said – quoted directly, by the way, from Isaiah 54:13 as a sort of a representative quote from the prophets. What was said in verse 45, “They shall all be taught of God,” is also said by Jeremiah, Joel, Micah, Zephaniah, Malachi – they all taught the same thing.
Those who come are the ones who have been taught by God; that’s what He’s saying. The Bible has said that. The prophets have said it, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” When the Father chooses, the Father teaches. And when the Father teaches, they learn. And when they learn, they’re drawn. And when they’re drawn, they come. And when they come, I receive them. And when I receive them, I keep them. And when I keep them, I raise them. And the Father’s purpose will unfold. This is the great truth of the doctrine of election.
Verse 46, “Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven so that one may eat o fit and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh.”
And here He launches into this tremendous statement about salvation. “The Father, whom you haven’t seen, will draw you. If you will believe, you will have eternal life. I am the bread of life. It is Me in whom you must believe. And if you believe, you will never die; you will live forever.” And He goes on even to mention His cross He will give for the life of the world, His own flesh. If a person wants to be saved, it’s only a matter of believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. They don’t have any interest in that at all. They have no interest in the end, in divine reality. They come around; they sniff a little, look a little, admire a little, analyze a little philosophize a little, eulogize a little, handle and maybe even commend. That’s all.
The key thing is in verse 51, “If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever.” That’s the key. But they don’t really have any interest in eating. What do we mean by eating? Personal appropriation of Christ and His work by faith; that’s what we mean. Personal appropriation of Christ’s work by faith. In verse 51, He speaks of His death. And one must believe in Jesus Christ, believing that He is who He is and believe that He died as a sacrifice for sin to have eternal life. And that’s eating: personal appropriation by faith.
How did they respond? Verse 52, “The Jews, therefore, began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’” What they’re saying is, “This is ridiculous. What’s He talking about, cannibalism? There’s not enough of Him to go around.” Now they’re just mocking. They know He’s talking about spiritual realities, but they’re mocking Him again. They really had no interest in divine things. They didn’t really live for the kingdom; they weren’t really concerned about what was heavenly.
The defector doesn’t want divine things, doesn’t even understand them. They didn’t even comprehend what Jesus was saying - the magnitude of it, the power of it, the reality of it; they didn’t get it. All they could do was mock it in their supposed proud assessment. They demonstrated themselves to be fools. The natural man understandeth not the things of God. All they were left with was mockery. They had no interest in divine things.
You meet people like that even in the church. Their conversation is rarely ever, if ever, about divine things, and when it is, it may well only be an echo of what you said or someone else said. But then, on the other hand, a true believer’s greatest interest is in things above and not on things on the Earth.
So, defectors are drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the supernatural, thinking only of earthly things with no desire for true worship, seek personal prosperity, make demands on God, seek no personal relationship with Christ, speak against the truth when they’re among unbelievers, and have no interest in divine realities.
Number ten, and we’re moving to the end here, they have no deeply felt hunger. No deeply felt hunger for true salvation. Do you remember the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 who came to Jesus and said, “What do I do to get eternal life?” He really didn’t demonstrate a great hunger for salvation from sin. He just wanted to make sure he didn’t miss eternal life. He just didn’t think he had everything he needed. He didn’t think he had the abundant life, and he wasn’t sure whether he was going to be okay after death. He just wanted to make sure he was taking care of the present and the future at the maximum level. But he went way without salvation because that’s not what he really wanted. He didn’t want salvation; he didn’t want deliverance from his sin. He didn’t have a deep ache in his heart; he didn’t know he was starving spiritually and thirsting spiritually. =
And that’s the point that Jesus makes, starting in verse 53. And this is a passage that certainly could be studied on its own; we’ll just look at it broadly. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of the Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.’” What in the world is He saying? Is He talking about a Catholic mass, where somehow how the bread and the cup is transubstantiated into the actual body and blood of Christ? Or is He talking about a Lutheran communion service, where it is somehow spiritually – “consubstantiated” is the term they use into the body and blood of Jesus Christ in an actual eating of the very flesh and the drinking of the very blood of Jesus?
Of course not. Of course He’s not talking about that. What He is simply saying is eating the flesh of the Son of Man means you have to accept that God is incarnate in Jesus Christ. You have to take in the reality of the incarnation, and you have to take in the reality of His sacrificial death. That’s what drinking His blood means. You have to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, personally appropriate the reality of His righteous life and His substitutionary death, accepting His perfect sinless life and accepting His shed blood as a sacrifice for sin.
And verse 54 says, “When you do that” – eating His flesh and drinking His blood – “you have eternal life, and I will raise you up on the last day.” And here is the great cry for a hungry soul, a thirsty soul, for His flesh is the true food, and His blood is the true drink. “And 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 eats Me, he shall also live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; but he who eats this bread shall live forever.”
These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. He was calling them to recognize that they had a hungry heart that needed food, a thirsty heart that needed to be satisfied. “If you’ll accept Me as God in human flesh” – that’s the flesh – “and if You’ll accept My death, My blood, the atoning sacrifice for sin, if you will believe in your heart that this is the Son of the living God who lived a perfect life and died a substitutionary death and rose again, you have taken in Jesus Christ.” This is a call to receive Christ. “As many as received him, to them gave He the authority to become the sons of God” – John 1:12.
Salvation, then, is giving up my life and embracing His. It is taking in Christ by faith, acknowledging the reality of who He is and what He did. This is really an invitation to receive Christ. And only the hungry eat, and only the thirsty drink.
But, you see, the defector is not hungry for real salvation. He is not starving in sin and hungry for righteousness. He’s full of the world; and more than that, full of himself or herself. Satisfied, fed with the prevailing food of the world around which perishes. And the idea of starving, of a hungering, gnawing ache in the heart isn’t there.
When someone really comes to Christ, they come out of an aching hunger. “Blessed are those,” Jesus said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “who hunger and thirst after” – what? – “righteousness.” Eating is a graphic figure to convey the personal appropriation of these realities. I can look at Christ, and I can like what I see and extol it. But it’s no good unless I take it in. And this hunger is unmistakable, I believe. It’s unmistakable. When a sinner loves his sin, when a sinner is stuffed full of the world and the flesh, and happy with all the husks that he shares with the pigs, self-satisfied and full of the food that perishes, he’s not seeking true salvation. And the thought of the true bread is ridiculous and repulsive and nauseating, and he mocks it and disdains it in his self-satisfied bloatedness, and he pushes Christ away.
But once a person is broken over sin, awakened to his lost condition, his purposelessness; once he senses the void and the gnawing hunger of his soul for God, then he cries out to be fed, and He takes Christ and confesses Him as Lord and Savior and says, “He’s my life; He’s my bread.”
And by the way, this eating is personal; there’s no proxy. Each has to do it for himself or herself. He gave His life for the world He says, but only those who come and eat receive that life.
Well, we come to the climax in verse 60, “Many, therefore, of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’” The word “disciples” – mathētēs – means learners, followers. Not necessarily true believers. Not necessarily. And they said, “This is a hard statement,” literally. And what they mean by that is objectionable, offensive.
They’re saying, “What He is saying is we don’t have spiritual life and He is the only source of spiritual life. And if we’re going to have spiritual life, we have to take Him. But He is in the process of repelling us, because He won’t feed us breakfast, and He won’t give us the power so that we can feed ourselves. And all He ever does is remind us of what we don’t have, and that He is everything.”
And now what He is saying is incomprehensible to their mocking hearts. These words, then, are unacceptable to them. And they’re like many – drawn by the crowd around Jesus, fascinated by the supernatural, but they just can’t think of anything but earthly things, and they have absolutely no desire to worship Him, seek only personal gain and demand what they want from God, with no desire for any true relationship with Him, do not understand His truth, and have no felt hunger for repentance and salvation, and are not the least interested in His death for sin. “We’re not going to listen to this,” they said.
Verse 61, “Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled” – again, the word “murmur” implying mocking – “said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble’” - have these words become fatal to your following Me? Don’t you believe that I came down from heaven? Don’t you believe that I am the true and living bread that gives you eternal life? Don’t you believe in My life as the Son of Man? Don’t you believe in My death for you? Don’t you believe that?
Verse 62, “‘What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before?’” – if I just leave right now, if I just take off and go back into heaven, will you believe Me then? Will that do it?
Verse 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. But there are some of you who do not believe.’” And, you know, the rhetorical question in verse 62, “If I should leave, would that convince you,” they didn’t affirm that. That’s not what they wanted. That’s the last thing they wanted. How are they going to get free food if He left?
“‘It’s not really that you need some kind of supernatural proof; it’s the Spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing, and you’re just stuck on the flesh, and that’s why you will not hear My words, and that’s why you don’t believe. You’re just fleshly.’ For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.’” Omniscience. He knew it all along. He knew who the defectors were. He knew who the betrayer was.
By the way, Judas didn’t leave with this group; he stayed. He stayed all the way to the very end, hoping that he would cash in eventually. But Jesus had to deal with that all the time. He knew who the defectors were, and He knew who Judas was.
Verse 65, “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.’” This is a remarkable statement. Again He leans on the sovereign plan of God as an expression of response to the pain of rejection. He feels the hurt; He feels the pain, but He leans confidently on the sovereignty of God, who will grant life to whomever He wills.
And with that, we find ourselves at verse 66. “As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” He rested in the sovereignty of God, but that didn’t ease the pain. It’s quite remarkable. There was still pain in His heart, and Jesus evidences it in verse 67, “He said to the Twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’” This is the mystery of it all. He could weep over the city of Jerusalem; He could be heartbroken over rejection in this occasion – a rejection so penetrating that it could cause Him to feel a compelling loneliness. Just knowing who the defectors were, and knowing that Judas was one grieved His heart.
And I think, in verse 67, you’re sensing a real brokenhearted Jesus. I don’t know how that all fits in with the purposes of God, but I know He suffered the real pain of rejection by these short-termed disciples.
And Peter – we chide Peter because he’s so insensitive sometimes, but here there’s a sweetness about Peter. When Jesus says, “You don’t want to go away also, do you,” there’s some real agony in that statement. “You don’t want to leave Me, do you?”
Sweet Peter here responds, “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.” It took us all the way to chapter – all the way to verse 68 of this chapter before we met a real disciple – didn’t it? – really, except for the mention of those who passed out the food in the miracle of the feeding.
We finally find some real disciples who say, “We haven’t got anywhere to go. You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God,” the messianic title. Here are the ones who do think of heavenly things. Here are the ones who do seek to worship, who genuinely desire a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who understand His life, and who, with a heart broken over their sins, desired to repent and experience salvation. Bless them, because they comfort the Lord in this hour.
It would be kind of nice, I guess, if the chapter ended there, but it doesn’t. It ends with the haunting reality again of spiritual defection. Verse 70, “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?’ Now, He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot” – Iscariot means from the village of Kerioth – “for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray Him.”
And the chapter ends with the prototype defector. The prototype defector, who stayed the longest, saw the most, heard the most; saw it all, heard it all, but never, ever came to a place of commitment to Christ. Judas is the perfect closing illustration of the defector, of whom Jesus said, “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Nonexistence is better than eternal hell.
Judas, he was drawn by the crowd. He was fascinated by the supernatural. He was thinking always of earthly things. He had no real desire to worship Christ; He sought only personal gain. He demanded what he wanted, and he made himself treasurer somehow, and got to steal out of the bag. Never had a true relationship with Christ, had no understanding of divine truth, no hunger for salvation. And Judas is not a solitary figure in the history of the church. Every church has its Judases, and there have been millions who have given Jesus a kiss of betrayal.
Obviously, this is a heartbreaking thing to realize, and I just hope and pray with all my heart that there is no Judas here who will walk away into the darkest and bleakest night of eternal judgment, having defected from Jesus Christ.
Father, this is such stark truth, such penetrating reality, that it shakes our souls when we realize that this is common even today, Your church, the church that carries Your name, is filled with short-term disciples who will walk away. There are many Judases, many who, like the branches in John 15, are attached but never bear fruit and thus must be cut off and burned. It is inconceivable; it is unthinkable that anyone would come close enough to understand the truth, and to hear the offer of the bread of life, to be given the opportunity to open their heart and to receive Christ as the One who lived the sinless life and died in atoning and sacrificial death, and then turn and walk away. But, Lord, it happens all the time.
I pray, Lord, that You’ll bring great conviction upon the heart of any who are not true disciples, who are not marked by perseverance, who are not lovers and worshipers of You from the heart, who do not desire, above all things, an intimate and real relationship with Christ, who do not hunger for righteousness and long for that full salvation. O God, I pray that You’ll convict their hearts and bring them to the knowledge of Christ, lest they go away to receive that greater punishment because they have literally trampled the truth.
Father, help us to be discerning as well, as we mingle among those who name the name of Christ in our various environments, those who claim to be Christians and help us to listen carefully and watch. And help us to be discerning enough to see those folks who may not be Christians, who may not be real disciples, who are potential defectors, who may abandon Christ at any time. And may we graciously, but with admonishment and warning call them to true faith.
And we pray, Lord, that You would be honored and glorified in the application of this truth through us. We pray in Christ’s name, amen.
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