In or out?
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 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. 64 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.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Our Heavenly Father,
We are but frail and finite and fallen people, but we come to you as the infinite, glorious, and righteous Lord.
You are our hope, our strength, our shield. We rejoice that we can come to you in worship.
You are the Almighty. You can do all things and you work all things according to the council of your will.
May we marvel at your greatness and praise you for the grace of your gospel which you make available through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lord, we pray for our continued sanctification as your people and as your church.
We pray that your gospel be clearly proclaimed this morning.
We pray for everyone here that we would trust in Jesus as Lord and savior.
Lord God, may we follow your perfect will, may we be disciples who make disciples. May our lives and our words make you known to others. Lord, we pray that you would use us to be your hands and feet in the world.
Lord, may our hope be in the gospel and not in ourselves, our strength, our talents, our resources, our possessions, our families, our spouses, our jobs. May it be in you and you alone.
Lord, we continue to pray that through the unrest and disagreement and strife, through politics and uncertainty, through the struggles with this pandemic, we pray for revival in our nation and for a season of gospel fruit. Lord, we pray that you prepare the fields for harvest that your Church can reap a harvest of disciples to Christ. May we pray for that and be part of that.
Lord, we pray for our time in your word. May we again be challenged and encouraged by the truths of your Most Sacred Scripture. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Introduction – what’s popular isn’t always good
What’s popular isn’t always good.
I think of some of the mega-churches throughout America.
It’s easy to think that they’ve really figured it out, like they really must be doing something right.
But they’re often just appealing to worldliness.
It’s not rocket science. Mega churches have figured out that you need to preach a motivational, self-help message that focuses on prosperity themes of God wanting to bless you because you’re good without ever really doing any deep digging into the meaning of passages or theology and downplaying sin. Mega churches have figured out that people are drawn to high production value and catchy music. They’ve figured out that people will tolerate a theologically shallow church that has good youth programs.
Yes, there are some large churches today and throughout church history which have been very good. But they’re the exception, not the rule.
What’s popular isn’t always good.
In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, the Apostle Paul warns Timothy:
the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
It’s not just megachurches. It’s a whole Christian segment of Christian culture. We see it in many of the best-selling “Christian” books which display a similar theological shallowness.
It’s easy to get on board with those things. There’s no risk to it. It asks very little of you. You can take or leave Biblical ideas based on preferences.
But Jesus did not preach an easy-listening message. He didn’t come to pander. He didn’t come to be a people pleaser.
He came into the world and taught repentance. He taught that life was found in him.
And the things that he said in our passage from last week were not easy to accept.
And so in this week’s passage, as we finish up chapter 6, we’ll see the response to Jesus’ teaching. And in this passage, we’ll see the response from three groups to Jesus.
To give a very brief reminder for last week’s passage. Last week, we were talking about Jesus’ teaching on himself as the “Bread of Life.” And the point was that Jesus is the true bread from God who has come from heaven, and it is through consuming this bread that humanity can have eternal life. The passage also talks about faith and believing in Jesus which becomes synonymous with consuming the bread.
And with that, we come to this closing section of this chapter. And the first of the three groups who respond to Jesus are false disciples.
Verse 60. Still in the aftermath of everything that Jesus has said.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
The word “disciples” is used here. The Greek word for disciple is “mathetes” which refers to a student, or pupil, or adherent. We tend to attach a lot of theological baggage to that word. This verse is not referring to the twelve, but to an audience of people who had come to follow Jesus.
And these disciples say to Jesus “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
What is the hard saying?
There are several aspects to what Jesus has communicated which would be challenging to their sensibilities.
Jesus has said that eternal life is through faith in him.
Jesus has said that his flesh is true food and that his blood is true drink and he has also said that a person must eat his flesh and drink his blood.
There have been the rebukes Jesus has given to the crowd, which may not have been well received.
Jesus cut against the grain of their own expectations for the Messiah which could have driven some people away.
Jesus has made divine claims in continually talking of himself as one who has come from heaven, and he’s also made claims that he is greater than Moses.
And so when they say it’s a hard saying, after hearing all that Jesus has said, they’re not saying that the words themselves are hard to understand, but that his teaching is hard for them to accept.
The crowd has acknowledged the difficulty of Jesus’ teaching, and Jesus response:
“Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
Another challenging statement.
I think D.A. Carson’s explanation of these verses is helpful.
There are two interpretations for what Jesus is saying.
One is that “if you think what I’m saying is hard to accept, how will you begin to accept the resurrection when that happens?”
The other interpretation of this verse is that Jesus is saying the opposite. That his teachings might be hard to accept, but seeing the risen Christ will actually make it easier to believe in him.
So which view is correct?
I think it depends on the person.
I think for this group to whom Jesus is speaking, it’s the first interpretation. That they’re not convinced in the authenticity of who Jesus is after hearing him teaching, explaining his ministry, seeing his signs, and that nothing will convince them.
If his teachings are confounding to the group, to an even greater degree, his crucifixion will be.
And indeed, the cross is difficult.
1 Corinthians 1:18-19:
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
Paul will say a few verses later in verse 23:
but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,
The idea of the cross is crazy in the eyes of the world. The idea that a dead man could live again is crazy. And the idea that humanity would even need Jesus to die for us is equally absurd.
And for the crowd to whom Jesus is speaking, if they can’t handle his teachings, they will struggle with his resurrection which is far more radical, far more scandalous, far more unfathomable, and far more unpredictable.
But again, I take that phrase both ways that it’s also referring to the resurrection as the supreme faith builder for those who follow Jesus. We’ll get back to that idea at the end.
With either interpretation, when Jesus talks of himself as the Son of Man ascending, I take the ascension to also have a double meaning.
I think it’s referring both to Jesus “ascending’ in the sense that he was lifted up on the cross when he was crucified.
It’s a similar idea to when Jesus refers to being lifted up in John 3:14:
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up
I also think when Jesus talks of his ascension, he’s referring to when he ascended into heaven after the crucifixion. As he says in our passage: the Son of Man ascending to where he was before.
Jesus came from heaven.
And that is truly a unique thing that Jesus can claim compared to other religious figures. Not only that Jesus would be in heaven, but that he had come from heaven.
Jesus came from heaven. As the opening of this gospel tells us, Jesus was in the beginning with God and in fact was God (John 1:1-3).
John 1:18 says: No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Jesus is fully God and man and came from heaven into the world so that men could go to heaven. That points to his sovereignty, authority, and divinity.
As the passage continues, we learn more what false discipleship looks like.
Verse 63-64. Jesus says:
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.
Let’s unpack this. Jesus has said that it is by the Spirit that we are given life.
That’s already been established in this gospel.
When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said that he baptized with the Holy Spirit in 1:33.
When Jesus talks to Nicodemus, he says in 3:5-6:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
We are born again through the Spirit.
Jesus says “the flesh is no help at all.”
It is not a naturalistic change that happens. It’s a Spiritual change.
1 Corinthians 2:12, Paul says:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
Paul will also say in verse 14:
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned
Life comes from the Spirit, and the Words of Christ point to the Spirit and the regeneration and new life that is offered.
It’s easy to accept a teaching here or there from Jesus. It’s easy to accept some moral values that he gives us.
It’s hard to accept that a person must be born again and that his gospel allows us to become a new person, Spiritually.
Even what Jesus had said in the previous section about being the bread of life who’s flesh we must eat and blood we must drink is heavily Spiritualized language.
But the words of Christ point to life.
Jesus points out that there are people in this group who do not believe.
64 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.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Because of sinfulness and unbelief, Jesus is fully aware that there will be many who reject him.
And we see the response of the crowd.
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
They walk away.
Just as people today can be drawn to various aspects of Christianity, or religion, there are also those who turn away from the gospel because they don’t like its teachings, or demands, or exclusivity, or savior.
This group turns away, not because Jesus lacks grace, but because they don’t like what Jesus has to say.
But what’s popular isn’t always right.
The false disciple can go one of two ways.
Either, they will walk away from Christ because they don’t accept the truth of Christ, who he is, what he did, and why he came.
Or the false disciple will continue to seek out churches and pastors who tell them what they want to hear.
I’ll remind us again of 2 Timothy 4: having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
That’s why we must all be students of the Bible and know the Word of God and use that to guide us in doctrine and to consider what we believe about God, theology, and the gospel in light of scripture.
We must come to Jesus for who he is.
There’s the famous hymn “Just as I am”
Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy blood was shed for me
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come! I come
And the point is that God accepts us for who we are.
We need to trust in Jesus for who he is.
So that’s our first group. False disciples.
To reference the Parable of the soils, where the farmer sows his seed and some lands in good soil and produces a great yield, but other seed falls among thorns, or is scattered and eaten by birds, or falls in poor soil.
They’ve heard the words of Christ, but the word did not take root.
And that brings us to our second point and our second group: true disciples.
In this passage, we see that false disciples struggle with Jesus’ teachings and walk away from Christ. True disciples receive his teachings and have reverence for Christ.
This crowd has seen the eternal God, they have the light of the world, they have the truth in their midst, they have one who has seen God with them, they have the one who provides living water and the bread of life, but they don’t like what he has to say and so they leave him.
Verse 67: 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
It’s a rhetorical question.
All throughout this passage, John has been pointing to the divine knowledge Jesus has.
Verse 61, when Jesus is talking to the false disciples: Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling
We see his knowledge again in verse 64: Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him
And we’ll actually see it at the end of the passage in verse 70 when Jesus refers to Judas as his betrayer: Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
So Jesus is clearly aware of what’s what. Also in verse 70, Jesus says that he had chosen the twelve disciples.
And so when he asks them if they also want to go, he knows that they’re not going to. He knows exactly what will happen.
He doesn’t ask that in a sense of being insecure or needy.
It’s more like a challenge.
Are you with me?
Peter responds. When the disciples are together as a group, it’s generally Peter who speaks up and answers on behalf of the group in the gospels.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
The disciples never have a perfectly worked out theology, and they still have much to learn during the ministry of Jesus.
We see that even in some of the wording Peter uses.
For instance, the phrase “the Holy One of God” is interesting, because that phrase seems to actually speak to Peter’s lack of theological acumen.
That is not a phrase used in the Old Testament and it’s used one other time In the New Testament, and it’s a man who’s possessed by a demon who calls Jesus “the Holy one of God.”
Despite the novelty of the title, it’s appropriate. Jesus indeed is the Holy one of God.
For Peter and the disciples, they’re still learning about who Jesus is but they’re following him. And that’s how the entire Christian life goes.
We too become his followers, but we don’t have it all figured out.
Peter responds in faith and makes three affirmations. We’ll talk about these briefly.
- Jesus is the only one to whom we can go who has the words of eternal life.
Again, that is what we have seen again and again throughout this gospel.
That’s the reason why John wrote this gospel. The thesis statement of this whole gospel is found in chapter 20:31:
these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Jesus is the savior of the world. He is the christ. He is the holy one of Israel. He is the word who became flesh. And it is Christ and Christ alone through whom we have the promise and assurance of eternal life.
- Peter speaks of belief in Jesus.
we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
They do see truth in who Jesus is.
They believe in Jesus, who he is, and the message that he came to bring into the world.
- The final affirmation Peter makes is to the identity of Jesus.
Again, while the title “Holy One of God” is not common in the Bible, it’s no less true.
Jesus is God on earth in whom we have the promise eternal life through faith in him. He has been sent by the father. He is perfectly holy and righteous.
What do you believe?
Are you with the crowd who walked away? They couldn’t get on board with his teachings, his ministry, and his gospel.
Or are you with his true disciples who know that Jesus has the words of eternal life and that he is the Holy One of God?
That is the most important thing that a person can know.
So we’ve seen true disciples and false disciples.
It’s the third kind of person. A fake disciple.
The first group left Jesus, the second group is the twelve who stays with Jesus. But the passage concludes:
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Judas will be important later in this gospel, but here he is introduced by name.
He had already been alluded to in verse 64, when speaking of Jesus’ divine foreknowledge:
Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him
And the passage ends by telling us that it would be Judas who would betray Jesus.
In that, we see the sovereignty of God’s plan. It was no surprise in the divine plan that Jesus would be betrayed. In fact, it was part of the divine plan.
We talked about perseverance and eternal security a few weeks ago. And the Bible is clear that a person cannot lose salvation. Judas was not saved and then lost it. It’s that he was never saved to begin with.
Just because someone is around the church does not mean that they’re walking with the Lord, serving the Lord, or that they truly know the Lord.
Judas isn’t the only example in the Bible of a person who pretends to be faithful but is actually just a predator out only for his personal gain.
1 John 4:1 warns us about false prophets:
do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Matthew 7 talks about the wolves in sheep’s clothing. People who pretend to serve Christ but are doing just the opposite.
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 24:11 says that many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
Sometimes it’s people who exploit the church to prey upon the church. I see some of these high profile pastors who fall from grace and some of the horrendous abuses that happen in churches and I wonder if they were ever truly walking with the Lord.
But that’s for the God to know and to decide.
But what the Bible does teach is that there are those in churches who wish to bring harm and seek their own personal gain. Judas would go on to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
Another important lesson from Judas is that a person can be in the very inner circle of Christ, one of the 12, and not truly be saved.
Just because you were baptized, just because you prayed a sinner’s prayer, just because you go to church every week, just because you know the Bible, that is not your salvation.
Jesus had said in verse 40:
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
That is where salvation is and if your hope is anything else, or anyone else – including in yourself or your perceived goodness – then you are not in Christ.
No matter how close to Jesus someone is, there is no hope of eternal life without faith.
The fake disciple might speak the right churchy language and go through the motions, but he or she does not actually believe in Jesus.
The true disciple, the false disciple, and the fake disciple.
I’m reminded of a verse earlier in this passage when Jesus was talking.
In verses 61-62, Jesus had said to the whole group: “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
He was challenging them with how they would respond to the cross.
For many, the cross is foolishness, the cross is a stumbling block.
But to those who are being saved, it is the power of God.
To those who believe in Jesus, it is the place of greatest victory, the place where Jeus said “it is finished,” the place where sin was defeated.
What is your response?
Hebrews 12;2 points to Christ’s death on the cross:
2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Which type of disciple are you?
Again, the world wants to rely on works and our goodness. The Bible says we cannot.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:4:
far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
We look to Jesus as Our Holy One of God, we believe in him and the death he died to sin and the life to which he was raised, and in that we have eternal life, to the glory of God.