Last week we saw that Jesus did not sugar coat the truth He was teaching.
• In fact, he illustrated His role in salvation in a way that was even more divisive.
o “feeds on my flesh”
o “drinks my blood”
Today we look at the response of the Jews to the truths Jesus’ taught in His Bread of Life discourse.
• Our aim is to figure out why Jesus’ words were considered to be “a hard saying”.
• We will determine if the Jews understood or did not understand what Jesus was saying.
• Our title, from James Boice, reveals the pruning affect Jesus’ sayings ultimately had.
1) OFFENDED BY JESUS WORDS
John 6:60–61 (ESV) — 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?
We are introduced here, for the first time in this discourse, to those called “his disciples”.
• Thus far, we have seen that this discussion began with many who were partakers of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000.
• Later, John simply refers to the audience as Jews.
• At some point the scene moved to the synagogue.
• And now we are told that some of the crowd/Jews present were disciples of Jesus.
• Now whether or not their faith in Jesus was a saving faith or a spurious faith we will quickly see.
Bu for now, let’s address some of the obvious questions regarding the “hard sayings”.
• (1) What are the sayings that were hard?
• (2) What does it mean to be hard?
• (3) Why were they hard?
(1) The Hard Sayings – what were they?
Most of the smart guys – Kostenberger, MacArthur & Boice – agree about what they might have been.
• Jesus’ heavenly origin and incarnation (vv. 33, 38, 31)
• Jesus’ demand that he, not Moses’ manna, is THE bread of life (vv 33, 35, 48, 50, 51)
• That eternal life was contingent on Jesus’ death on the cross (vs. 51)
• The symbolism of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood (vs. 53)
• That God played such a primary role in salvation as compared to mankind’s role – gives and draws (vv. 37, 44)
With this information in mind, we can now look at the 2nd question.
(2) The Hard Sayings – what does it mean to be hard?
The Greek word skleros in our text means “causing an adverse reaction because of being…unpleasant” – BDAG.
• John MacArthur takes this to mean in our context that the crowd/Jews/disciples took “Jesus’ [sayings] not as incomprehensible, but as unacceptable.”
• And therefore, “they rejected His words as objectionable and offensive.”
• In other words, “hard saying” does not mean difficult to understand.
• In fact, I could find no lexicon that indicated that the words “hard saying” meant “difficult to understand.”
• Andreas Kostenberger agrees saying, “‘hard saying’ does not mean ‘hard to understand’, but ‘offensive.’”
• The TDNT describes “skelros” and its related words as ultimately signifying “the hardening of unbelievers.”
Understanding the meaning of this word is huge as we seek to answer our 3rd question.
• Knowing that Jesus’ sayings were not hard to understand narrows the scope of possible answers.
(3) Hard Sayings – why were they hard?
In answer to this question, we can certainly say that what we have learned thus far tells us that they understood, at least on some level, what Jesus was saying.
• Yet, if this is so, we are left with the puzzle of why their understanding led to rejection and being offended instead of acceptance of Jesus’ sayings.
• Though understandable, was it because Jesus sayings weren’t clear enough?
• Or, was it due to something present or missing in the listeners?
• We will come back to this question momentarily when we deal with verse 63-65.
2) YOU THINK THAT’S OFFENSIVE?
John 6:62 (ESV) — 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
In John 6:38, Jesus made the following statement – John 6:38 (ESV) — 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
• He told the Jews that He had come from heaven at the directive of the Father.
• In other words, He was in the presence of the Father.
• Now Jesus suggests to the Jews that if they are offended by His sayings, they will be offended even more when they see Him return to the Father.
• This is, most believe, no doubt due to the fact that His return to the Father goes through the cross – on which He “will give for the life of the world [His] flesh” (vs. 51).
• Just as He taught Nicodemus – John 3:14 (ESV) — 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
• D.A Carson sums this up as follows, “If the disciples find Jesus’ claims, authority and even his language offensive, what will they think when they see Jesus on the cross, his way of ‘ascending’ to the place where he was before? That is the supreme scandal.”
Now back to our 3rd question, why were Jesus’ sayings offensive?
3) JESUS KNOWS WHY THEY ARE OFFENDED
Remember, the problem was not a lack of understanding.
• We have seen that they were offended precisely because they had a certain level of understanding of Jesus’ words.
• We then wondered why their understanding led to rejection and being offended instead of acceptance.
• In verses 63-65, Jesus solves this puzzle for us.
John 6:63–65 (ESV) — 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.”
Jesus gives us 3 reasons for why they would take offense at His words.
• (1) They are living in the flesh not the Spirit
• (2) They aren’t believers
• (3) The Father has not granted them to come to Him (vv. 37, 44)
We have already looked at these concepts individually in past lessons.
• So to understand the big picture of how they relate to our question, we will look at the implications of all of them taken together.
Why rejection and offense instead of acceptance?
• Andreas Kostenberger makes a great point when accounting for Jesus words in vv. 63-65.
• He says Jesus’ point is that “human reason [the flesh] unaided by the Spirit is unable to discern what is spiritual”.
• In other words, those dead in sin can’t “get” the spiritual truth of Jesus’ words.
• But wait…we have said that “hard saying” did not mean “difficult to understand” but “objectionable and offensive”.
• We seem to be contradicting ourselves by implying that they did not understand the spiritual truth of Jesus’ words.
• And since a spiritual or “heart” understanding is really the intent of Jesus words, how do we account for this apparent contradiction?
o BTW – is this “heart understanding” really the only intent of Jesus’ words?
o It can be argued God is also hardening the hearts of those who reject him.
o See ESV Study Bible notes on Matt 13:12-13 and John Macarthur says of Jesus’ words that they were “both an act of judgment and an act of mercy. It was “judgment” because it kept them in the darkness that they loved, but it was “mercy” because they had already rejected the light, so any exposure to more truth would only increase their condemnation” – John MacArthur.
We need to look to Jesus’ words elsewhere to give us a solution.
• Mark 4:33 (ESV) — 33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it [they were capable of a certain level of understanding].
• Matthew 13:10–17 (ESV) — 10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “ ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
These verses, taken with what we have learned in our lesson today (and past lessons), demonstrate a distinction between an “understanding of the heart” vs. a purely cognitive “understanding of the mind”.
• This would mean that the answer to our apparent contradiction is that they didn’t “understand with their heart” but fully understood and could think and reason on the implications behind Jesus’ words.
• In their depravity they lacked the moral ability to understand spiritually (they weren’t born again).
• Therefore they understood as fully as they were able, and importantly, as fully as they wanted to.
• They were coming to Jesus’ words as judge, seated on their throne, mistakenly believing they were in an autonomous, neutral stance (a law unto themselves).
• This is why they were so offended – they were being asked to put Christ on their throne!
• D.A. Carson describes their understanding as being characterized by having, “wrong motives, be it worldly materialism or political interests, [and being] unwilling to yield control of their lives to follow Christ.”
• This is reminiscent of the “Saving Faith and Spurious Faith” lesson.
Also, it might be helpful to remember the “Heart, Will and Mind of Belief” lesson.
• There we described the hovering flight of a humming bird.
• We learned that to hover, to fly like it was made to fly (i.e., in fellowship with God via a saving faith), it must move its wings with two motions – up and down and back and forth.
• But to just fly, as any bird can do, all that it needed was the up and down motion.
• The unbelievers could “understand with their minds” (fly), but they did not have the ability to hover (“understand with their heart”).
Jesus understands this dynamic fully and so ends his encounter with the crowd the way he started.
• In verse 64 He tells us that, “there are some of you who do not believe”.
• This parallels verse 36 where He said, “you have seen me and yet you do not believe”.
• And in verse 65 He attributes this unbelief to the Father, “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
• He makes the same attribution in verse 37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me”.
The point here is that Jesus believes that those that have ears to hear and eyes to see, those with the “heart of understanding” and a saving faith are those that have benefited in a special way from a work of God.
• Ezekiel 36:26–27 (ESV) — 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
• It is only these folks that can understand with the heart, as in believe and entrust themselves to, the words of Jesus.
• These are the folks that consume Jesus’ words as Jeremiah advocates.
• Jeremiah 15:16 (ESV) — 16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts.
• (These are, by the way, my two favorite Old Testament verses).
• Thus we see why John tells us that Jesus’ words are “spirit and life” (vs. 63).
• And with this, Paul agrees – 1 Corinthians 15:45 (ESV) — 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
There are enormous implications to these truths which deserve further consideration if we had the time; here are a few:
• The unbeliever is held fully responsible for rejecting Christ even though they cannot understand with their heart.
• This underscores the importance of speaking Jesus words, the Gospel, to the unbeliever because it is his rejection (on his own understanding) or acceptance (on a born again understanding) of the words of “spirit and life” that determine his eternity.
• The mind’s understanding alone does not produce saving faith.
• What then is the role/relationship of evidential apologetics in evangelism?
• Jesus knew that many that heard His Bread of Life discourse would not believe in Him (vs. 64).
• What is the purpose of heaping more judgment on them and hardening their hearts further by speaking truth?
4) THE AFTERMATH – SUCCESS OR FAILURE
John 6:66–71 (ESV) — 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.
We finally come to the end of chapter 6.
• And it ends with a scene that is a complete contrast to the scene at Pentecost.
• Instead of many believing, most turn and leave and “no longer walked with him”.
• Only 12 remain and even one of those is simply a stubborn hanger-on possessing only a spurious faith.
• Was Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse a success or failure?
If it was a failure, we need to reevaluate the God we worship.
• If it was a success, we need to redefine what we call successful evangelism.
• Jesus did not soften His message to produce fake converts and pad His numbers.
• He spoke the truth and left the rest up to the Father.
• And whether men chose to believe or reject, He had fulfilled His mission in obedience to the Father.