"Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?"

Ordinary 21B

John 6: 60 71

Introduction

We come now to the closing portion of the chapter we have been walking through, pausing to meditate on the immensely rich contents. In the International Three-year Lectionary, this reading (actually verses 60 — 69) is coupled with verses from Joshua 24.

With boldness and clarity, Joshua, followed by others of the twelve tribes of Israel, declares his allegiance to the Lord God, who has been ever-present and faithful to the people of Israel in leading them from slavery to freedom. In like manner, Peter speaks for the twelve who were symbolic of those ancient tribes: he acknowledges the God who is source and sustainer of life for all, in the words and person of Jesus. (Mary Betz)

Some Notes On the Text

Verse 60

Earlier in chapter 6, the learned authorities and others had expressed their displeasure at what our Lord had explained to them:

  • I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.

John 6: 35

  • I am the bread that came down from heaven.

John 6: 41

  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.

John 6: 56

In verse 60, we are told that even some of his disciples (not the Apostles) were reacting negatively: many of them said, "This is a hard teaching", meaning hard to accept, not so much, hard to understand. They were most likely referring to verses 53 — 58, but could have been referring to the whole discourse. "Who is able", they added, "to agree with what he is trying to say?"

In fact, they found the teaching of Jesus unacceptable precisely because it was not in accord with their expectations. In other words, it was not what they wanted to hear!

Verse 61

In the text we read, "But Jesus knew in himself" that they were grumbling about the 'hard teaching'. 'To know one's self' reflects Semitic Greek, and its purpose is to indicate the supernatural knowledge Jesus had (see also 1: 47 — 48, and 2: 25). (Newman and Nida)

In response, Jesus said to those grumbling,

Does this make you want to give up your faith?

Verse 62

Our Lord continued by asking the grumblers a kind of question but did not complete his sentence. It went something like: "What, then, if you were to see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before…..?"

J. C. Ryle helps to enlighten us a little on the impact of this question:

(What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend.) This means, "What will ye think and say of my ascension into heaven?" What will your feelings be, if you behold this body of mine going up to that heaven from whence I came down? Will you not be much more offended?" (See John 3: 12.)

The first thing, we must remember, that the Jews "murmured" about, was our Lord's saying that He "came down from heaven." 'The second thing was, His saying that He would "give them His flesh to eat." Both times our Lord's human body was the subject. — Here our Lord asks them what they would think if they saw that same body "ascending up" into heaven. Even then, after His ascension, they would have to "eat His flesh, and drink His blood." if they desired eternal life. What would they think of that? Would they not find it even more difficult to receive and believe?

(Where He was before.) This is an expression which Socinian can explain. It is a clear assertion of the "pre-existence" of Christ

(Socinian: a Unitarian, denying the doctrine of the Trinity and deity of Christ.)

Verses 63 and 64(a)

Without waiting for an answer, or even a fair question, Jesus continued:

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.

As we know, God's Spirit frequently appears as the source of life in both the Old and New Testaments. This concept is given particular emphasis in the Gospel of John. For example, it is God's Spirit which brings about the new birth (3: 5, 8), and the Spirit is life-giving water (7: 38 — 39).

In our translation above, Jesus said, "....the flesh counts for nothing". In the Old Testament "flesh" is often used as a description of mortal man in contrast with God, who is life-giving Spirit. That is clearly the meaning in the present context. Thus it may be clearer if we translate it as, "Man's power is of no use at all", or "People themselves cannot do this". (Newman and Nida. UBS)

Our Lord, clearly, is not negating his earlier comments about needing to be united to his flesh and blood. Sadler has a particularly good explanation of this verse: Sadler On John 6: 63.

Verses 64 (b) and 65

Although the core of this discourse has been completed, Jesus found it necessary in verses 61 - 63 to deal with a little audience "feed-back". He added his final remarks:

For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him".

Why did our Lord refer to some who did not believe, and in fact suggest that some would betray him? He was well aware, from his astute observations, the difficulties different groups of people were having. It seems he felt the time had come to confront them with a serious flaw in their religious system.

Ryle has some helpful comments:

(There are some of you that believe not.) The connection of this sentence with the preceding verses seems to be this: "The true account of your murmuring and thinking my sayings 'hard' is your want of faith. You do not really believe Me to be the Messiah, though you have followed Me and professed yourselves my disciples. And not really believing in Me, you are offended at the idea of eating my flesh and drinking my blood."

Jesus knew from the beginning who... believed not. This is one of the many places which declare our Lord's Divine knowledge of all hearts and characters…….

When it says "from the beginning," it probably means "from the beginning of His ministry, and from the time when the unbelieving 'many' before Him first professed to be His disciples." Of course our Lord, as God, knew all thing's "from the beginning" of the world. But it does not seem necessary to suppose that this is meant here.

(Who should betray Him.) We should not fail to notice in this expression our Lord's marvellous patience in allowing one whom He knew to be about to betray Him to be one of His Apostles. It was doubtless meant to teach us that false profession must be expected everywhere and must not surprise us. How much we ought to tolerate and put up with, if our Lord tolerated Judas near Him! The pain and sorrow which the foreknowledge of the conduct of Judas must have caused to our Lord's heart, is a circumstance in our Lord's sufferings which ought not to be forgotten.

Verse 65

Jesus then repeated an earlier declaration:

This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.

This is indeed very plain talk from our Lord as Ryle similarly interprets:-

(And He said, "Therefore said I, etc., etc".) The connection of this verse seems to be as follows: "There are some of you that believe not, and that is the reason why I said to you that no man can come to Me unless the Father gives him grace to come, and draws his heart to Me. The Father has not given you grace, and drawn you to Me, and therefore you do not believe."

(See also Sadler On John 6: 65)

Verses 66 and 67

At this point, not only had a lot of the general observers and Pharisees left Jesus, but many of his disciples also "turned back and no longer followed him". It was a sad moment for our Lord as they in fact were deserting him. They had been drawn by the Father to Jesus: now they turned their backs on him.

Jesus then spoke to the Twelve, or rather earnestly inquired how they felt about still being his chosen twelve:

You do not want to leave me too, do you?

Verses 68 and 69

Simon Peter, as usual, took the lead and answered on behalf of the Twelve:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

(…..you are the Holy One of God.)

Knecht sums up the situation:

Peter, the head and mouthpiece of the Church, made this beautiful answer in the name of the rest: "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (who but thou canst lead us unto life?) Thou hast the words of eternal life, words of eternal truth which lead men to eternal life. And even if we cannot understand the mysterious words which Thou hast spoken, still we do not doubt them, but believe them, because we have believed and, through faith, have known that Thou art Christ the Son of God. Thus the apostles stood the test splendidly. They remained true to our Lord, openly confessed Him to be the Son of God, and placed themselves in opposition to their unbelieving fellow countrymen.

Our Lord is clearly much re-assured; so much so he gave them a warning to ensure they did not become misled.

Verses 70 and 71

Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!

(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the twelve, was later to betray him.)

For more in-depth commentary see Ryle On John 6: 68 71.

Conclusion

Despite the length of our notes, we have barely scratched the surface of this complex Gospel document. It is a great treasure of the Church and deserves our best efforts to unpack its riches.

There are two very decisive warnings in this passage and we need to be aware of them. First, there is in the early part of the text (verses 60 — 64), the familiar situation of our Lord's followers drifting or even deliberately turning away because they are not hearing the doctrine they want from him. This is a dire warning to Christians to take the greatest care in discerning the presentation of our Lord's teaching as recorded in the Gospels principally, but also the rest of the New Testament.

The second warning is even more severe. Having heard his closest disciples, through St. Peter (verse 69) declare that they will remain his followers because he "alone" has "words of eternal life", Jesus feels moved to alert them to an ever-present danger. Even the most elite, the closest to him, can fall victim to the devil and become overtaken within by him. His closest associates will not realise he is possessed until the damage is done. Even a Peter can let the smoke of Satan into the Holy Sanctuary! Sadly the Church in our day is tottering on collapse because of a line of deceitful collaborators who have abused their authority and conspired to take over control themselves, for their own power-crazed ambitions. They need to remember that Jesus has declared in detail how he will deal with devils; when he is ready!

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