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Sermon: John 6:60-71: True and False Disciples

Reading of God’s Word

“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 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. 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.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘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.’ Jesus answered them, ‘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.” (John 6:60–71, ESV)

Introduction

Most of John 6 (at least vs. 22 onward) is an account of Jesus teaching people about his true identity, his true origin, and his true mission. The response that he received from people was mainly grumbling.

When Jesus claimed to be the bread of life, come down from heaven, not to do his own will but the will of the Father who sent him – which was to lose no one or nothing of all that the Father had given to him, but raise it up on the last day (see John 6:35–40, ESV) – we are told that  “the Jews grumbled about him” (John 6:41, ESV).

The phrase “the Jews” is used in this passage, and throughout John’s gospel, to speak of the crowds of Jewish people in general. Of course not all of the Jews grumbled against Jesus. Jesus himself was a Jew. His closest disciples were Jews. But when John uses the phrase “the Jews” he is typically referring to the Jews who, in general, rejected his claims.

And that is important to understand if we are to grasp the significance of the passage that is before us today. Here we see that, not only did the Jews grumble; but even his own disciples began to grumble against him as they listened to his teaching.

Notice this: when we envision those following Jesus in John 6, we are to think of three groups of people.

The broadest group are the the Jews in general – the multitude or crowd. They are by far the most numerous. They are by far the most confused. And they are the first to abandon Jesus after they are confronted with his teaching – his claims concerning his identity, origin, and mission.

But there is another group. They are called “disciples” in verse 60, which simply means follower. This one is apparently smaller. Apparently they walked with Jesus more closely than the crowed. They must have walked with him for a longer period of time, and they must have known him more intimately – otherwise they would not be classified as disciples, or followers, of Jesus. But as we will see, many of them went the way of the crowd, abandoning Jesus after they were confronted with his teaching. They too grumbled (vs. 61).

There is third group presented in John 6. They are true disciples – true followers – who posses true faith. This is their creed:“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.’” (John 6:68–69, ESV)

This third group is much, much, smaller. Certainly there were others who said, ‘Amen’ to Peters confession, But John 6 hones in upon the 12 – that most intimate core of Jesus’ followers. And we learn something surprising in John 6 – that there was “a devil” even amongst the 12. Jesus knew about it from the beginning. Though the 12 would go on following him, only 11followed truly. And though the 12 would go on believing in him, only 11 believed truly.

Perhaps it is best to say it this way: It is possible to be a disciple of Jesus, but not a disciple. It is possible to follow Jesus, but not follow him. It is possible to believe, but not truly believe.

To say it another way, John 6 makes it clear that there is a difference between the appearance of things, and the reality of things. Things look a certain way to the human eye, which is only able to perceive externals, but they look much different to the eye of God, who sees all things, even the hidden things of the human heart.

Some Who Appear to be Followers of Christ Prove Not to Be

This passage is teaching, that it is possible for some to appear to be followers of Christ and yet prove not to be in the end. 

We read in verse 60, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” Verse 61:  “But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’” (John 6:61, ESV)

These people are called disciples, not because they were true disciples, but because they had followed Jesus rather closely. But they, like the crowd, grumbled about Jesus. They found it difficult to accept his claims. They said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” The phrase, “who can listen to it?”, means who can hear this teaching and accept it as true?

The question that comes to my mind is, what, in particular, were these disciples of Jesus troubled by? A lot was said by Jesus as recorded in John 6. The question is, what, of all that Jesus said, troubled these so-called-disciples?

I supposed we could say that the way Jesus spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood offended them. It’s true that this way of talking would have been offensive to the Jews, but there must be more to it than that. These were intelligent people. Certainly they could understand that Jesus was using metaphorical language here.

Perhaps they were offended by the doctrine of election that Jesus presented. He taught that some were given to the Son by the Father; that they were the ones who would come. Indeed, no one could come to faith in the Son unless the Father drew them to the Son. And it was those given and drawn who would be raised un on the last day.

Or maybe they were offended that Jesus claimed to have life in himself – “I am the bread of life.” That is quite a claim! Or perhaps they grumbled about Jesus’ claim to be from above. 

My view is that it was probably a combination of these things. When we read in verse 60, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” I take this as a reference to the totality of Christ’s message. It was all hard to understand and accept.

That being said, the trouble seems to focus on Jesus’ claims concerning his origin.

Time and again in John we see that Jesus Christ claims to be from above, from heaven, and not of this earth, as we are. 

John 1:1, 14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14, ESV)

John 3:13: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”

That claim is intensified in John 6.

John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38, ESV)

John 6:41: “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” (John 6:41, ESV)

John 6:50–51: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”” (John 6:50–51, ESV)

Jesus Christ is claiming to have a divine and heavenly origin.

This, I believe, is what the people were most offended by.

Think of it! This is really a most incredible thing to claim – to be from above, from heaven – to have existed with the Father before coming to earth. And yet that is what Jesus claims.

As great as the prophets of old were, none had claimed anything like this. They were men. They were godly men, but they were men. They were of the earth. They were born as you and I were born. But Christ claims to be from above. The virgin birth is not mentioned here, but the idea is behind it all. The doctrine of the incarnation is not expressly stated here, but the idea is present. Jesus was Divine. He was more than a man. He was the God-man, having both the nature of God and the nature of man united in the one person.

Here is why I believe that this was the main offense: Look at what Jesus says in response to their grumbling.

Verse 61: “But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?’” (John 6:61–62, ESV)

How does Jesus respond to their complaints concerning his claims to have a heavenly origin. He says, what if you were to see me ascend to the same place that I descended from – would you believe me then?

This, of course, is what Jesus would do.  He would live and die and raise again. He would walk upon the earth for 40 day in his resurrection body, proving himself risen from the dead. And then he would ascend to the Father.

Acts 1:9-11: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”” (Acts 1:9–11, ESV)

The point that Jesus is making here in John 6 is that he would ascend to Father because that is where he descended from first.

He, as the eternal Son of God, had existed with the Father from eternity past. He, as the eternal Son of God, came to earth and took on human flesh. Jesus Christ, in his human nature, was born and had a beginning. But when we speak of the divine nature of Jesus Christ, we must speak of him as eternal – having no beginning and no end. He was truly from above, from heaven.

This is why Jesus can say in John 8:58: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the man, was born.  But the eternal Son of God, was never born. He is eternally begotten of the Father.

If this is confusing to you I would encourage you to memorize questions 7-9 and 24-25 of our Catechism:

Q. 7. What is God?

A. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. (John 4:24; Ps. 147:5; Ps. 90:2; James 1:17; Rev. 4:8; Ps. 89:14; Exod. 34:6,7; 1 Tim. 1:17)

Q. 8. Are there more gods than one?

A. There is but one only, the living and true God. (Deut. 6:4; Jeremiah 10:10)

Q. 9. How many persons are there in the Godhead?

A. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one God, the same in essence, equal in power and glory. (1 Cor. 8:6; John 10:30; John 14:9; Acts 5:3,4; Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14)

Q. 24. Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect?

A. The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was and continueth to be God and man, in two distinct natures and one person, forever. (Gal. 3:13;1 Tim. 2:5; John 1:14; 1 Tim. 3:16; Rom. 9:5; Col. 2:9)

Q. 25. How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man?

A. Christ, the Son of God became man by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul; being conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and born of her, yet without sin. (Heb. 2:14; Matt. 26:38; Luke 2:52; John 12:27; Luke 1:31,35; Heb. 4:15; 7:26)

It’s true that these so-called-disciples of Christ could have been offended at whole host of things mentioned in John 6, but the main thing seems to be Jesus’ claims concerning his origin. He claimed to be from above. And claiming to be from above meant that he was something other than a mere man. The rest of John makes it clear that Jesus claimed to be divine – God incarnate, God in the flesh. I believe this was the offense.

Verse 66 simply says, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:66, ESV)

They apostatized. They walked with Jesus for a time and then renounced him.

Some who appear to be followers of Christ prove not to be in the end. 

Some Who Appear to be Followers of Christ Do Indeed Believe Truly and From the Heart 

But notice also that some who appear to be followers of Christ do indeed believe truly and from the heart.

Jesus, seeing that multitude had left, and that many of those who appeared to be his followers left, turns to the 12 – the inner core of his band of disciples, and said, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67, ESV)

This is a big moment.

From a worldly perspective Jesus’ once successful movement has just been decimated. Thousands had turned their backs on him in a relatively short period of time.

And now he turns to his most trusted friends, saying, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67, ESV)

Verse 68: “Simon Peter answered him, ‘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.’” (John 6:68–69, ESV)

Notice that Peter speaks on behalf of the group. Notice that he calls Jesus Lord. And notice what he, and most of the others, think about Jesus. They believe, and know, that he is the Holy One of God. They believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life. Therefore Peter asks a most appropriate question: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Where else would we go, Lord? No one else has life. No one else has come from God as you have. This is our belief. This is what we know to be true.

This is a most impressive confession of faith.

Notice the role this confession of Peter plays in John’s gospel.

What was John’s goal in writing?

He tells us in 20:30: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but 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.” (John 20:30–31, ESV)

In John 6 we see virtually everyone abandon Jesus, but his small band of disciples remain. They confess, through Peter’s words, “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.” (John 6:68–69, ESV)

The effect upon the reader is this: we are urged to go all in with Peter and the others. Though the whole word reject Christ, we are to remain. We are urged to know and believe that Jesus is the Holy One God, and that he alone has the words of eternal life.

If we believe that really and truly, then how could we possibly walk away?

The Decisive Factor is Divine Initiative 

And so we have this situation – many have turned their backs on Jesus, very few have remained.

A question that we must ask is why? What is the difference between those who walk away and those who remain? What is it that distinguishes the two groups?

Our most natural inclination would be to assume that those who remained simply made a better choice than those who walked away.  And while that is certainly true – these people did make real choices, some decided to stay, others decided to walk away (and those who remained made a better choice than those who did not) – more is revealed in this passage. More is said concerning the difference between those who remained and those who walked away. Jesus reveals more concerning what distinguished those who remained from those who apostatized.

Notice that, according to the scriptures, the decisive factor is Divine initiative.

Another way to say this is to say that it is God who ultimately determines who comes to Christ and who does not.

Trust me, I know that this is an unpopular thing to say. But I’m not sure how I could possibly claim to be faithful to the scriptures as a Pastor if I refuse to say this. It is just so plain in the text. It is a central feature in this passage, and in the whole of John 6. One cannot honestly teach this text and ignore this fact.

It has already been clearly stated in John 6. See verse 35-37.

Here Jesus says it again.

Verse 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.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’ After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (John 6:64–66, ESV)

“No one can” – δύναμαι – “to be able to do or to experience something—‘can, to be able to.’” (Louw Nida 74.5

“Come” – In John 6, to come to Jesus is to believe in him unto salvation.

“Granted” – δίδωμι to give an object, usually implying value—‘to give, giving.’ Ex. “he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples” Mt 14:19. (Louw Nida 57.71)

Jesus knows who are his! He knows who are his from amongst the crowd, the disciples, and the 12. Though Judas would go on walking with Jesus for a time, and though the other disciples did not know of his treacherous heart, Jesus knew.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’” (John 6:70, ESV)

The Proof is in the Perseverance 

Another question comes to mind. How do we know? How do we lay ahold of a sense of assurance? How do we know that we know Christ truly? Jesus knows! God knows! But how do we know who it is that belongs to Christ?

The answer: The proof is in the perseverance.

Notice that John – the same John who wrote this gospel – deals with this question in another letter.

1 John 2:3-6: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3–6, ESV)

1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” (1 John 2:19, ESV)

So can you have assurance? Can you know that you know Christ? John says yes! We gain a sense of assurance by walking in Christ’s ways, by keeping his commandments, by abiding in him.

See chapters 17 (Perseverance) and 18 (Assurance) of our Confession!

Application and Conclusion

Think of how this effects the way we do ministry!

Do you agree with Peter’s confession?

If election is true, why do the scriptures warn against falling away? The threat of apostasy is real! Persevere!

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warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

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