Jesus Explains Why “Seekers” Reject Him: Exegesis of John 6:1-71 (Part 3)

Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2

not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. (John 6:46)

Here is a statement clarifying what Jesus meant by saying those who “heard” and “learned” from the Father come to Him. He is being careful to avoid the implication that he is saying there is some separate way to approach the Father apart from the Son. It is not that someone hears and learns from the Father separately from the Son, then as a result of that they come to the Son. He is making the connection that if one hears and learns the words of the Son, they are thereby hearing and learning from the Father. What about all the times in the book of Exodus where Moses is said to have seen the Lord face to face? (Exodus 33:11) Or when Abraham spoke with the Lord about Sodom and Gomorrah? (Genesis 18) I think Jesus is making the claim that this was Him revealing the Father in the Old Testament. And if this seems like a stretch to say that Abraham and Moses were seeing and speaking with Jesus Christ, John 12:37-41 plainly states that when Isaiah has his vision of the LORD in Isaiah 6, he was really seeing Jesus Christ.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. (John 6:47-48)

Once again, Jesus brings the discussion back to the fact that only those who believe have eternal life. It is important to note the grammar in the term “believes”. This is a present active participle. The present tense can used to indicate a continuous action, as opposed to a simple past act or event. So Jesus is not saying that those who professed faith in me one time 10 years ago have eternal life, but those who continually believe in me have eternal life. Saving faith is a persevering faith that continually clings to Jesus Christ until the end. The book of Hebrews says, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Heb 3:14) And Jesus also teaches elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22) Many places in the Gospel of John, it will be said that some of the crowd “believed” in Jesus (John 2:25, John 8:30), but the word believe here is in the aorist tense. This tense can refer to a point in time action, that occurs in the past, but doesn’t continue into the present. This current crowd of John 6 could be said to have entertained belief in Jesus, but when they receive new revelation about who Jesus us and what he came to do, they reveal their unbelief. And once again, Jesus makes the point clear, this is not about physical bread, but it is about Him.

Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. (John 6:49-50)

Jesus makes a contrast between the bread the Israelites ate in the wilderness and the bread which he gives. In the former, the people still died, but in the latter those who eat of it will not die. This is designed to strike the reader as amazing. So is Jesus saying that we will never physically die if we eat of this bread? Yes and No. Jesus is not saying that those who have faith in him will physically remain alive in the sense that they will be immortal in this body, but He is teaching that for those who believe in Him, death is not an issue. For those who have true faith in the Son of God, death is no longer a problem. Because of Jesus’ resurrection in which he conquers and vanquishes death and the grave, those who are united to him have conquered death and the grave. And even though they have to suffer the temporary failing of their physical body to sustain physical life, the spiritual life they have in Christ will never cease for even one moment. Dying will only be like falling asleep and waking into the life of Christ which he has at the right hand of the Father. The resurrection power and life of Jesus that flows into the spirit of a believer is so powerful, that there is no sense of talking about death in the same way ever again. Those in Christ can speak of death as the glorious entrance into true life, rather than the ending of life. Many African-American churches capture this truth beautifully when they call a funeral a “home-going service”.

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 6:51)

Jesus is now bringing together many of the things he has previously said into one sentence. He is bringing together the idea that he is “the living bread” (vs. 37), he “came down from heaven” (vs. 38) and eating this bread results in eternal life (vs. 40). But then he adds a statement that makes the connection of the bread to Jesus more explicit then he has up to this point. He makes the shocking statement that the bread which he will

give for the life of the world is His flesh. This is much stronger language than Jesus used previously when he said that He is the bread that came down from heaven, or that he is the bread of life. Jesus is saying that his own flesh is the bread that gives life. The crowd reacts with as much shock as we would hearing a human tell us that eating his flesh will give us eternal life.

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52)

As can be seen, the Jews reacted to this statement in shock and opposition. They question the sanity of someone saying that a human can allow other people to eat his own skin. And who wants to eat the skin of another human being? Is Jesus promoting cannibalism here? The crowd is now being pushed further into disputing and grumbling than they were when Jesus said he had come down from heaven. How does Jesus respond?

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53)

You might have expected Jesus to back down and say, “You don’t understand, I am talking about the spiritual eating of my flesh, not the literal eating of my flesh”. But he doesn’t do this, but instead adds that they must also drink his blood! What is going on here? Is this “vampire” theology? The literal drinking of the blood of Jesus Christ and the eating of his flesh is necessary to have eternal life? By this point the Jews are going nuts and disputing with one another. In the same way that they couldn’t understand how Jesus could make the claim that he “came down from heaven” back in verse 38, they also can’t understand how Jesus could make the claim that he is going to give out his own physical flesh to eat like he gave out the five loaves for the crowds to eat. But Jesus doesn’t back down.

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:54)

It is important to note that this verse is parallel to verse 40 which said, “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40) In verse 40 looking and believing on the Son results in eternal life and being raised on the last day. In this verse, feeding on His flesh and drinking his blood results in eternal life and being raised on the last day. This is important to note because many Roman Catholics use these verses to prove that Jesus is teaching their doctrine of transubstantiation and the Mass. They teach that the substance of the bread and wine in the Mass turn into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ and use these texts to prove it. But from the context of John 6 as a whole, would it really make sense that Jesus is talking about literal and physical eating of his flesh? Look back to verses 26-35. Remember how we discussed that Jesus was moving the crowd from focusing on the the literal bread they ate on the other side of the sea and the literal manna the people of Israel ate in the wilderness, to faith in Himself as the bread of life. Here Jesus is doing the same thing. He is moving the people from their focus upon a literal eating of his flesh, to the matter of coming to him in true faith. Jesus continues…

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:55-58)

Jesus keeps pounding home this point that the bread and drink which gives life is his flesh and blood. He doesn’t back down from this idea, but continues to connect eternal life with the eating of His flesh and the drinking of His blood. At this point it is helpful to look at another place in the teaching of Jesus where he refers to his flesh and blood in connection with salvation: the institution of the Lord’s Supper.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:26-28)

Notice that as in our current text in John 6, this text in Matthew contains the idea of Jesus holding up bread and saying that they should eat it, because it is his body. Jesus is telling his disciples in effect to eat his flesh. In the same way he takes the cup of wine and says drink this because it is my blood. Again, in effect he is telling his disciples to drink his blood. Notice that Jesus doesn’t hold up the bread and say, “This represents my body”, but he holds up the bread and says “This is my body”. Luke adds the line “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) to point to the idea that this is also a remembrance of Christ’s work on the cross. There is a lot of debate between various denominations over exactly what the Lord’s Supper means and how we are to understand it. I do not want to enter deeply into that debate in this paper. Suffice to say that I think there are two extremes to be avoided. The first extreme would be that of the Roman Catholics, who say that the bread and wine in the Mass are transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ, and those who eat and drink are actually eating and drinking physical flesh and blood. The other extreme would be that of those who say that the Lord’s supper is a bare remembrance of Christ and the elements of bread and wine have no significance other than to remind us of what Christ did. My view is that there is something more than simply a mere eating of plain bread and wine, but that there is less than a literal eating of Christ’s physical body and blood.

Returning to our text in John 6, Jesus is pressing upon the crowd the necessity of faith in Him by using the image of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. This is offending the crowd because once again they are thinking in terms that are earthly and bound by the limited human thinking. Just as earlier they objected to Jesus saying he “came down from heaven” because Jesus grew up as a baby and therefore in their mind he could not have come down from heaven. But they were thinking of the idea of coming down from heaven in a literal way, that Jesus was saying that he floated down from the sky as an adult. In the same way, they are thinking that Jesus will peel off his skin and drain his blood into a cup so that they can eat an drink them. Jesus also continues to connect this bread that he gives with the manna that was given in the wilderness during the time of the Exodus from Egypt. But the difference is that back then those who ate of the bread died, but those who eat of the bread he will give will live forever.

Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:59-60)

Here John informs us that Jesus was giving this teaching in the synagogue. It says that his “disciples” heard this teaching and said that it was hard to accept. This was not necessarily the crowd, although they were included in this, but also those who had been following Jesus previous to the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 are offended and scandalized by these teachings of Jesus. Don’t forget that this was the same group of people that were prepared to defy the Roman Empire and make Jesus King because they saw the signs that he did. This is the same crowd that sailed across the sea to find Jesus. But now these same people are ready to walk away from Jesus. And remember, why is it that they are not coming to Christ in true faith? They are not being given or drawn by the Father.

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. (John 6:61-63)

Jesus knows that his disciples are not happy with the teachings that he came down from heaven and that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. How does Jesus respond to this grumbling? He once again raises the bar! He then challenges the disciples if they would believe if they saw Him ascend to heaven, where he was before. Do you think this would help those who already rejected the idea that Jesus came down from heaven? No. This is exactly parallel to Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3 where Jesus says, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (John 3:12-13) In the same way that Nicodemus couldn’t be brought to spiritual truth through the earthly analogies of birth and wind, these people are not being brought to true faith through the analogy of bread. And what is Jesus’ explanation in both cases as to why they cannot see or believe in his words? It is because they just need to properly use their unbounded free-will and start accepting what he is saying? No! In both cases Jesus attributes the problem to the “flesh”.

In John 3:6 Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”. Here he also attributes the root problem to the flesh. He says that the flesh profits nothing. Jesus is repeating a theme that finds it expression throughout the New Testament, that you are only able to understand and accept spiritual things if you are first given a spiritual nature. Your first birth as a child of Adam is of the flesh, or sin nature. We are born corrupted and bound by sin, and the result is that we are blind, deaf and have no appetite for the spiritual truth that comes from the lips of the Son of God. The problem with Nicodemus, this crowd in John 6 and all those who reject Jesus Christ, is that they are born in the flesh and are slaves of sin. They are unable and unwilling to come to Christ in true repentance and faith. Jesus clearly teaches here that it is the Spirit that gives life. This means that the Holy Spirit must impart to a dead sinner the ability to see, hear and desire spiritual truth coming from Jesus Christ. Until this change takes place, and the Father draws them to the Son, the words of Christ will continue to be folly and a scandal to them. (See Romans 8:7-8 and 1 Corinthians 2:14-15). Just as the crowd ate up the physical bread which Jesus gave to them on the other side of the sea because their physical bodies created within them an hunger and appetite for that bread, so also in order for them to come to Jesus in true faith, the Spirit of God must create in them a hunger and appetite for the words of Jesus. And it is clear in this situation that the Spirit is not creating this hunger within them, but they instead have no appetite for the words of Christ.

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.” (John 6:64-65)

Jesus now directly connects their unbelief with the fact that the Father is not granting them the ability to believe. This is similar to what he does back in verse 36 when he says that they have seen him and yet do not believe. Back in that verse he is talking only about the crowd, but here he not only speaks of the crowd, but also of Judas Iscariot, who would eventually betray him. Think about this for a moment! Jesus is not only attributing the unbelief of the crowd to the fact that the Father has not granted them faith, but also he attributes the betrayal of one of the 12 Apostles to this same fact. Judas betrays Jesus Christ because he is never drawn by the Father or granted faith by the Father.

Once again, just to drive this point home so that is it crystal clear to those reading this. What is Jesus’ answer in John 6 to why the crowds see his miracles and hear his teachings but do not come to have true faith in him? Hopefully you have seen that the plain meaning of this chapter is that they are not believing because the Father has not given them the ability to believe. Coming to the Son in true faith requires that the Father “give” (vs.37), “draw” (vs. 44) and “grant” (vs. 65). By nature, humans will never accept the things of God or the words of Christ, no matter how many miracles they witness. Man is dead in trespasses and sins, their wills and desires are enslaved by Satan, and they only have the ability to perform that which their flesh or Sin nature allows them to perform. The nature we are born with is an unbelieving nature that cannot and will not accept the words of Christ unless God first overcomes that nature by His power and implants and new nature into the dead sinner. As Jesus teaches in these verse, unless the Father “grants” a sinner the ability, they will never come to the Son. That is why this crowd and his disciples are not accepting his words, because the Father has not granted them the ability to come to Jesus.

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.” (John 6:66-69)

Don’t miss the stark contrast of verse 66 with the rest of this chapter. These people started out as Jesus seekers, who were willing to rebel against the Roman authorities and sail across a sea in search of Jesus, but now they all walk away. And Jesus has given us a clear teaching throughout this chapter of why this crowd was not coming to him in true faith. The reason is because they were not given, drawn or granted by the Father. They were still stuck in the flesh, and the appetites that the flesh produced in them were not for Jesus himself, but only a desire for physical bread, works and signs. When Jesus did not cooperate with their corrupt desires for miracles, works and physical satisfaction, they walk away. This is the state of the natural man who is born of the flesh. They will never accept the words of Christ. This is why a supernatural action of the Holy Spirit is required to bring the person to Christ.

After the crowd leaves, Jesus turns to his 12 Apostles and asked them if they are going to leave as well. Peter’s response reveals that he has become convinced that the words of Jesus hold eternal life, and there is no other source of life other than Christ. We know from the gospel of Matthew that Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Holy One of God came not from him, but from the Father drawing Peter to Christ when it says, And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 16:17) Peter’s confession of who Jesus was came as a result of the drawing and granting of the desire for Christ that was given to him by the Father. Peter had a hunger and thirst for Christ and the words that he spoke that caused him to realize that there was no other source of life but in Jesus.

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 6:70-71)

Here we see that just because one is “chosen” by the Son, doesn’t mean they are also drawn by the Father. This is exactly what is going on in the case of Judas Iscariot. Jesus looks upon the 12 Apostles that he hand picked, and declares that one of them is a devil. From what we have learned thus far in John chapter 6, it would be true that all 12 of them would be devils, unless the Father draws them to himself. But the fact remains that Judas ends up betraying Jesus and this is evidence that the Father did not give him or draw him to the Son. Those who are not given or drawn to the Son can still be “chosen” and accomplish the purposes of God. Judas was chosen to be one of the 12 in order to be the one who would betray Christ. Jesus is teaching us that the reason why even one of those within his own inner circle do not believe in him is because it has not been granted by the Father.

Conclusion

So what is the main point of John chapter 6? The main point is to answer the question of why people don’t come to Jesus in true faith. Why is it that a large crowd of people can follow Jesus around because of his miracles, yet they don’t accept his teachings and end up walking away? Why is it that the sinless Son of God can stand before a group of people and speak his word, and this same group walks away in unbelief and disgust? And why is it that Peter declares that he is going to stay because he believes and knows Jesus is the Holy One of God? I think we have seen a clear answer to these questions. The answer is that unless the Father gives, draws and grants, no one is able to believe in Jesus Christ. The fallen nature of humanity is in such a spiritual state that unless God grants it, they will never come to true faith in Jesus Christ. If the Father does not draw a person to the Son, then the person will simply react to the Word of God with arguing and grumbling.

And as we have further noted, this is not simply a matter of saying John 6 teaches that the Father was drawing every single person in this group to the Son, but the individuals did not choose to cooperate or

respond to the drawing. Instead, we learned that the reason they were not believing in Christ was that they were not being drawn at all. This drawing of God that we learn about in John 6 is a powerful move of the Holy Spirit which will certainly accomplish the will of the Father. Jesus is certain that all those whom the Father gives to him will come to him and cannot fail to come to him. Jesus teaches us that he has come down from Heaven to accomplish the will of the Father. He did not come down to try and accomplish the Father’s will, but leave the actual accomplishment up to the free-will choice of man. Jesus Christ teaches us that we should not be surprised if people grumble and complain when they hear the truth about Christ, because this will always be the reaction of sinful men unless the Father draws them to the Son. Or to connect this idea to the miracle at the beginning of the chapter, by nature men do not have an appetite or hunger for the bread that comes down from heaven, so they are not willing to come to Jesus and feast upon Him. They had a physical hunger for literal bread, so they ate all they wanted, but they had no desire or hunger for the bread of life, therefore they did not want Jesus. Only the drawing of the Father will create within the fallen sinner this hunger and thirst for Jesus Christ. By nature we have diseased and disordered appetites that delight in miracles, signs, and works, but we do not have a nature that has an appetite for the words that come from the mouth of the Son of God.

Of any chapter in the Bible, I believe that here in John 6 is the strongest teaching of “reformed theology”, especially the ideas of unconditional election and irresistible grace. Jesus clearly teaches that those given to Him by the Father will believe in Him (unconditional election) and that the drawing of the Father will certainly never fail to bring a person to true faith in Christ and will raise them on the last day (irresistible grace). As I said at the beginning, look at any “non-reformed” author and try to find them walking through a text like John 6 verse by verse with a consistent exegesis that stays within the context of the chapter. In over 7 years of searching I have never found one. They simply chop the chapter up into parts, bringing in other unrelated verses out of context and explain away what they known would be the plain meaning of the text if they let the text speak for itself. The issue isn’t Calvinism or what John Calvin taught, but what did Jesus teach. I assert in the strongest terms that in the whole gospel of John, but especially here in John chapter 6, Jesus taught what are commonly called “the doctrines of grace” or “Calvinism”. I challenge any non-reformed person to prove me wrong by offering a consistent exegesis of the entirety of John chapter 6.

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