"Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?"
John 6: 60 — 71
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
Earlier in chapter 6, the learned authorities and others had expressed their displeasure at what our Lord had explained to them:
John 6: 35
John 6: 41
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!
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,
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:
(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:
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:
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:
Jesus then repeated an earlier declaration:
This is indeed very plain talk from our Lord as Ryle similarly interprets:-
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:
Verses 68 and 69
Simon Peter, as usual, took the lead and answered on behalf of the Twelve:
Knecht sums up the situation:
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
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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