This is natural because some of the people knew Him from His youth. They were thinking, ‘isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph and whose father and mother we know? How can he now say that he has come down from heaven’? So, they despise what He is saying because it doesn’t make a bit of sense to them. They and wondering how He could make such a claim. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day’.”
What He is saying here is you do not have the power to come to the Father. That is something that the Father must grant to you. At the same time, it does not eliminate the idea that all who come to Him, He will receive. The idea of believing and the idea of being called are two sides of the same coin. “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God’. Everyone who has heard and learned of the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone who 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,” and again, present tense, “eternal life. I am the bread of life.” There is a parallel to the early statement, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” Now, we are introduced to a new dimension in this verse. First of all, we saw that He moves from the obvious.
Bread on a hillside; that is the obvious. The next level is the symbolic; “I am the bread of life.” He is now saying that the manna that comes down from heaven is, in fact, Me. I am the living Manna. I am the living bread that comes down from the hands of the Father. Just as it was the Father who gave you manna in the wilderness, My Father is now giving you living bread so that now if you eat of this you will never die, in the ultimate sense. You will be raised on the Last day. Now, we go from the obvious, the bread on the hillside, to the symbolic, “I am the bread of life” and now we go to the third dimension, a dimension further in.
This will alienate even some of His own disciples when He says this. This is the spiritually mystical. You must eat my flesh and drink my blood. Now He is saying this bread must be consumed. First it was the literal bread. Then it was the spiritual bread, which comes down from Heaven, but now, in the third dimension, He is saying you must consume this bread. By the way, it is in the ‘aorist’ tense, which means a singular event of appropriation; you must take this and eat.
It is the imagery of receiving Christ. “I am the living bread that came down out of Heaven, and if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” You can imagine how they received that. Sounds almost like cannibalism. “Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat’? So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves’. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.
For My flesh is true food and My blood true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in him’.” He is saying here, and of course, He is not talking about cannibalism in the literal sense, but it is an image of eating and drinking, which is one of consuming, it is one of receiving. And so, when we think about the Lord’s Supper, we have an idea, an image here, of consuming.
It is a sacramental picture of what it means for us to receive His life, by feeding on Him and drawing our life from Him. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats of Me, he will also live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” These things were said in a Synagogue, while He taught in Jerusalem. You can just imagine the uproar that would have taken place.
One of the things that helped me, when I saw The Gospel of John, was that the visual caused me to see the tensions and the resulting opposition much more clearly. Several times you see them literally picking up stones to stone Him. You could just see the tension that was involved when He was communicating these things to the people. As a result, this is going to alienate people. In fact, many of His own disciples, as it says in verse 60, thought it “Is a difficult statement and who can listen to it?”
You see, the people wanted to follow Him to get the handout and now Jesus sharpens the edge of His teaching when the crowd gets too large. He is not looking for a big crowd. What He is looking for is people who will be followers of Him and take Him seriously enough to pursue Him, that is also why I don’t bother with how many see my posts or read my sermons.
In verse 61 we see, “But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before’?” You see, full glorification is a composite. It is a composite of three things. It is a composite of Jesus’ death, which is the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. So, the Glorification includes not only the Cross but then His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. So, He says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”
It is an image, here, of drinking Him and eating Him, and it is an image of receiving Him by receiving the Spirit. The idea of the spirit of God, then, is that we receive the life of the Son by means of the power of the Holy Spirit after we put our trust and faith in Him. But He goes on to say, “’There are some of you who do not believe’. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him from the Father’.” I must be honest with you, Jesus said things that do not actually draw a crowd.
I promise you, if people preached this way today, they would have empty churches. Just stop and think about it. He was not trying to please or entertain. He was, in fact, teaching in such a way that He knew that many people would be divided. He also knew this, and this is the important thing, that no one is going to be able to grasp this mysterious truth unless the Father reveals it.
You have to understand that this is a major theme. ‘They are called by My Father and they cannot grasp this mystery unless My Father reveals it’. So it is with us. If you really analyze the mystery of the Gospel, you have to realize that it really is quite strange. You are putting your eternal destiny in the hands of a carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago. It sounds totally absurd and preposterous.
And then if we think about the idea of feeding from Him and living with Him, and we think about the unique doctrines that He claims, that it is not a matter of your works but it is a matter of His work for you and that you can do nothing but offer up empty hands to receive this free gift. That is a hard thing and it goes completely contrary to human nature because it is our natural disposition to say, ‘what can we do for you’? ‘What can we do in exchange for that’? Everything He says, everything He teaches, is contrary to our own expectations and it was contrary to the Jewish expectations.
Every time He speaks they are thinking of Him on the material level and He is speaking on a different level; a spiritual and, indeed, a mystical level because when we stress what Christianity is about we discover it is dealing with incomprehensibles. It is dealing with things that the mind can not really grasp. It is dealing with revelations and God, in dealing with revelations, always carries us beyond the ceiling of our own comprehension. It is not irrational, it is of a higher nature.
It reveals the mind of God and I claim, therefore, that only if God reveals this to us can we receive that revelation, just as the Scriptures are revelations from God, so the Spirit of God must break through into the human heart and give us the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. The other breakthrough you are going to have is that the eyes of your heart are enlightened, as Ephesians one shows us. Only when that happens, when you get a spirit of wisdom and of revelation, will you grasp the spiritual truth. This is not stuff where you can just read the Gospels and suddenly know.
It requires more than that. It requires an openness to the Spirit of God and a willingness to receive what He has for us. That open heart, then, enables us to be in a position where the Spirit of God can speak to our spirits and reveal and illuminate that truth. It is not something that you and I can pull off. That is why, by the way, when I share the Gospel the pressure is off.
It is off because I am not responsible for the outcome. I have to tell you that I used to have the idea that unless a person signed on the dotted line that I failed when I witnessed to someone. It put tremendous pressure on me. A lot of people just did it out of guilt, of course, and wanted it for pride, like having spiritual scalps on their belt. But, my thinking is that I discovered that evangelism is really a part of a larger process. Only God knows who was involved in your conversion.
But, I promise you it is more than you may think. People that you don’t even know have prayed for you and they will never know the impact that they had. There are people involved who prayed for us and some shared with us and some manifested a quality of life to us. One might plant and another might water, but God is going to be the One who is causing the growth. When I realized that, I was free to be myself and share the good news when I have the opportunity and not try to club them over the head.
Then, I look to God for the outcome because, to be frank with you, we are utterly impotent to change another person. I can’t even change myself and if I can’t change myself, how am I going to change another person? Never make it your agenda to change another human being. It is the power of God that makes it possible.
But, what I see here is the mystery; the mystery that surrounds the life of Christ. He is saying that all the things that I do, whether it is the miracle of the wine in Cana or the miracle we see of the new birth that Jesus describes to Nicodemus, or the healing of the nobleman’s son, or the miracle of the living water that He was offering, or the idea of taking a person who has been paralyzed and making him walk by giving an oral command, it is impossible to comprehend it all.
Remember what He told that man to do? “Take up your pallet and rise.” The point is that you can’t rise. Yet that very word, that very command, had the power of fulfillment. So it is, as well, here, with the feeding of the multitudes. All these things, in their various ways, point to the true mystery, which is the incarnate God; the God-man who fulfills all the old messianic prophecies and the One who is “the way, the truth and the light.” He is all these things and He has a unique message. It is not just a message of God but it is a message that He is the way to the Father. His message is always related to Him.
I sometimes quote this sermon that Ghana gave, at Christmas of 1930, “Even if it was found that Jesus of Nazareth never lived, the Sermon on the Mount would be true for me.” While that might sound all pleasant and nice, it is actually utterly false. Even on the Sermon of the Mount Jesus talks, unabashedly, about Himself. He can not separate Himself from His teaching. If He never existed or wasn’t who He claimed to be, it would be false. It would not be true for me.
When people say they like the Sermon on the Mount and it is a beautiful passage, I think to myself, have they read it lately? It is a frightening passage. Actually, it reveals things about Jesus that are terrifying in many ways and causes us to recoil. He is saying that “many will call to Me on that day.” The worst words you could ever hear from Him would be, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” The worst words you could ever hear Him say would be, “I never knew you.” Just as the very same Jesus says that the best words you can hear are “well done, good and faithful servant and enter into the joy of your master.” He Himself is saying that the best and worst words you can ever hear have to do with your relationship with Me. That is pretty strong stuff.
Now, the disciples, as we conclude, struggle and wrestle with this. In fact, in verse 66, we see, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” Remember that they had these different levels. You had the ‘curious’, on the one hand, those who wondered what was He going to do next, and then you had the ‘convinced’, and they were certain He was who He claimed to be and then there were the ‘committed’. You could still have that intellectual conviction without being personally committed to Him. The issue of commitment is illustrated here with Peter’s response.
So, many of them were not walking with Him anymore and He said to them, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” Simon Peter answered Him and this is one of Simon Peter’s greatest words, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” In other words, he is saying he has no other option. That, to me, may well be a motive that you may have to come to.
When everything else is stripped away, once you came to Christ you admitted that everything else was bankrupt. When you admit that, even though you don’t feel you can understand Him or things are falling apart, you realize you have no other place to go. Sometimes, that is the only thing that keeps us there. Now, may I invite you to believe that Peter was no more aware of what Jesus meant than many of the people who actually left? I think he was confused by this word, too.
The difference between Peter and the twelve, and the many who left was that they were so committed to Him that they saw no other way. They didn’t understand Him, but they would still follow Him. Frankly, that is what God wants us to do. He is more interested in us committing to Him and following Him than He is in our understanding Him. There will be a lot of things that He teaches and shows us that we will not understand. We are dealing in the realm of pure mystery here in many ways.
So, Peter goes on to say, “We have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” It is interesting because in the Synoptic Gospels this phrase, “the Holy One of God,” is actually used describing demons who acknowledged His authority and position.
It is an Old Testament title, ‘The Holy One of Israel’. Peter is given a revelation of Jesus’ identity. Remember earlier he said something like that? What did he say? He said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Now he says, “You are the Holy One of God.” So, God the Father revealed these things to him. Jesus answered, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, because he was the one of the twelve who was going to betray Him.
So, as we tie this chapter together, we realize that there are going to be times when you have no other options. It may be the only thing that keeps you there. There will be other times when we are motivated by love or gratitude, or by our identity in Jesus Christ, or by our perspective or purpose. All of these are good things. Sometimes, though, it will be this negative one that holds us there.
As we conclude, we can ask ourselves, how are we fed by God? The whole thing is the imagery of being fed by Him. Feeding on Christ, to abide in Him, to rest in His presence, to walk by the Spirit, to practice His presence, all these are dynamic images of a process to invite us to practice His presence and to draw our life and our sustenance from Him on an ongoing basis.
So, when the miracles stopped, or when He started talking about hard things, they weren’t interested in that. They weren’t interested in the giver. They were only interested in the handouts. In a very real way, I fear that we can do a more sophisticated number on that; we can call ourselves Christians but we can actually use these things for our own particular agenda. We create our own image and then we want God to baptize our plan. When He doesn’t show up in the way we have in mind then we get upset with Him. There is this way of trying to feed on the wrong thing. Clearly, without the signs, none of these people would have been following Him. By the way, that is the reason why Jesus commits Himself to a small handful. It is His focus that He has a small band of people that He really spends His time with, not a large crowd. In fact, as the Gospels go on, as you know, it all narrows. He goes from less and less public discourse to more and more of His time dedicated to small numbers, especially in view of His mounting opposition. When He knows He is going to die, He knows His mission is going to be in the hands of these few and so He focuses on the few rather than the multitudes.