John 6:51-52 – “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.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
All throughout this chapter, Jesus has been revealing himself to the Jews.
He is using a natural principle (eating bread to sustain physical life), to explain to them what is occurring in the spiritual realm (believing on him will produce and sustain spiritual life).
But they don’t seem to be grasping this concept. Whose fault is that?
Is it the fault of Christ? Certainly not! We can be sure that the words of Jesus were not null or void (Isaiah 55:11). His words were anointed by Holy Spirit and empowered to bring about faith which results in eternal life to every person in the world (I John 2:2).
Is it the fault of the religious leaders in the synagogue? The answer would have to be ‘partly’. Since they were the religious leaders, the common people looked to them for spiritual guidance. When they rejected the teachings of Jesus, their followers were much more likely to do the same.
Is it the fault of each individual? Yes, absolutely! Each one of the people present heard the words of Jesus. Some of them had even experienced the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Each one of them had the opportunity to choose eternal life or spiritual blindness.
Sadly, most of this assembly opted for spiritual blindness. As a result, they misinterpreted the words of Jesus. They completely missed the concept that the flesh of Jesus would be the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover lamb; his blood provided atonement for sin and resulted in eternal life. Instead, they assume that if the flesh of Jesus is the bread of life, they must resort to cannibalism to enter into it!
The transition from speaking about ‘bread’ to ‘flesh’ seems to be an abrupt one to English speakers. However, according to scholars, it was not like that for the original group in the synagogue that day. The Hebrew word for ‘bread’ means ‘flesh’ in Syriac and Arabic. The listeners would have understood the play on words.
If you are reading this blog, odds are that you have already accepted Christ as your savior; you already know him as the bread of life. But there is another point to be made from these verses that we don’t want to overlook.
Consider this: Holy Spirit was present on that day, at that time, to quicken the hearts of the Jews to receive the gospel. But when they didn’t respond, they lost that particular opportunity.
The same is true for us. When we hear the words of God and our spirits are quickened to receive them, it is vital that we don’t wait – we need grasp onto that word/promise immediately. If we don’t, we run the risk of missing out/losing what God wants to do in our lives (Matthew 4:18-22). Jesus puts it this way:
Luke 8:5 –A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.
Luke 8:12 -Those by the wayside are they that hear; then comes the devil, and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.
Notice that some of the seed the farmer scattered did penetrate the soil. It sort of hung out there in the open field. This made it an easy target for scavengers. Spiritually speaking, when Holy Spirit quickens a word or a promise to us, we need to get that thing planted in our hearts immediately, or the enemy can steal it from us. For example:
- If you are experiencing back pain while listening to a sermon, and someone gives a word that God is healing back pain, don’t wait until later to claim that promise. No matter where you happen to be at that exact moment, immediately exercise your faith and claim your healing, before Satan has a chance to steal that blessing and replace it with doubt (Matthew 2:12).
- If you are in a service and Holy Spirit is moving, ask him for a spiritual gift right then. Don’t wait until you get home or until you think about it for a while; you have to flow with the move of God.
- If there is an area of your life (relationships, finances, etc) that is dead and you hear a word of God promising resurrection, don’t wait! Immediately act upon the word God is giving you, so God can restore life to that situation (Mark 5:39-42).
John 6:53 – 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.”
Let’s talk about life and blood for a moment. There are numerous passages in the Old Testament that forbid the Israelites to eat the blood of animals. There wasn’t a single Israelite who did not know this. Consequently, unless they were being obstinate, there was NO WAY they could interpret the words of Jesus literally. They HAD to know he was speaking spiritually.
Leviticus 17:10-11 -And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel… that eats any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul.
(See also Genesis 9:4, Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-24, Ezekiel 33:25, Acts 15:29, etc). God is very clear about the reason for not eating blood: the life of the animal is in its blood. God accepted the life (blood) of certain animals as atonement rather than requiring the life (blood) of the soul that actually sinned. Again, this basic truth was known to every Israelite. It was demonstrated over and over, each time they brought a sin offering to the temple, and especially each and every Passover.
It really didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that Jesus was speaking about himself as the fulfillment of the Passover sacrifice, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29) by shedding his life (blood) in our place.
But as is true of many of the teachings of Jesus, they are plain to those who truly desire to understand and confusing or hidden to those who do not.
John 6:54-55 – “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
Jesus received a physical body upon his incarnation for the express purpose of giving that life to be crucified for us; his life in exchange for ours. With his blood he purchased a buffet of privileges for us:
- Pardon for sin.
- Acceptance with God.
- Adoption as a son/daughter.
- Access to the throne of grace.
- All the promises of the covenant.
- Eternal life.
- Much, much more!
These benefits are way beyond anything we could ever deserve! Most of us can hardly even comprehend all that God has made available to us. How can we appropriate these benefits for ourselves?
First, we need a spiritual appetite. We need to be hungry for the presence and power of God in our lives. We can work up spiritual hunger by searching the scriptures, by worshiping and spending time in his presence. Jesus has assured us that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we shall be filled (Matthew 5:6).
Second, we receive or claim the promises/benefits by faith in Christ. In the natural realm, a hungry person can starve to death at a buffet, if he refuses to partake/ingest what is being offered to him. In the same way, God has set a table before us which contains all of his goodness and grace, but it is of no use unless we receive it by faith.
Third, we must continually feed upon him. We need (and desire) physical food multiple times a day in order to thrive. In the same way, we need to regularly feed upon Christ and his benefits so that our spiritual man can grow, increase in strength, come to maturity and bear fruit.
John 6:56-57 – “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.”
Jesus has revealed to the Jews the divine order of life. God is our living Father. He has life in and of himself; he is the great I AM.
Jesus Christ is also the great I AM, and has life in and of himself. However, when he was incarnated on earth as our Mediator, he lived by the Father (John 5:26).
In Matthew Henry’s Whole Bible Commentary, Mr. Henry describes it this way: “He [Father God] that sent him [Jesus], not only qualified him with that life which was necessary to so great an undertaking, but constituted in him the treasury of divine life to us; he breathed into the second Adam the breath of spiritual lives, as into the first Adam the breath of natural lives.”
True believers receive this divine spiritual life by virtue of their union with Christ. Therefore, the person who spiritually feeds on Jesus lives by the life he provides, just as Jesus lived by the life his Father provided.
John 6:58-59 – “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.”Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
This is the conclusion to the deep, profound and wonderful sermon which Jesus gave at Capernaum.
As you recall, it began with a crowd of people seeking Jesus for the physical loaves and fish he could provide for them. Jesus chastised them for seeking nothing more than an easy meal; he instructed them to seek spiritual food through him, the bread of life.
They rejected this idea, claiming that the manna provided to Israel in the wilderness was superior to any ‘bread’ that Jesus could provide.
But Jesus shows that he provides something far more excellent that physical food. He is spiritual food; he intended to sacrifice himself (his blood) to atone for their sins and those who have faith in him will have eternal life.
John 6:60 –When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
In this verse, the term ‘disciple’ is used in a wide sense to mean all people who more or less followed Jesus. The group would have included true believers as well as many who did not believe but were curious. It would also have included those members of the religious community who sought to work against him. In short, it does not refer exclusively to the 12 apostles.
The bottom line is that these people were happy to follow Christ, as long as they agreed with everything he said. But when they heard this sermon, it became a stumbling block in their road of faith. As a result, many of them made the decision to stop following Christ.
They claimed that these truths were a ‘hard’ saying. In this context, ‘hard’ could also be translated offensive or disagreeable. To be clear, it was not hard/difficult to hear or understand; it was simply hard for them to accept. The Jews were offended that this man placed himself above Moses, that he called himself the bread of heaven, and that he insisted they needed to be saved by his atonement.
John 6:61-62 – 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?”
Notice that John specifically says Jesus ‘knew in himself’ that there was grumbling among his followers. This indicates that there was no external source for this information; he was able to discern this through divine omniscience.
He then addresses the issue head-on, by confronting their attitude. Did they find his teaching/doctrine regarding the bread of heaven offensive? If so, they weren’t going to like what would happen in the future!
If they were looking for proof that his words were true, they wouldn’t have to wait very long. Soon he would be crucified, spilling his blood as he promised. Then he would be raised to life on the third day and eventually he would ascend back up into heaven where he came from – and there would be many witnesses to that fact. Perhaps then this obstinate group would believe!
John 6:63 – “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.”
Jesus testifies to this crowd that they have absolutely no reason to find his doctrine offensive. The words/teachings he imparted to them were spiritual; they had the power to quicken and nourish their souls. This would result in eternal life.
By contrast, their doctrines and views were all earthly/fleshly, pertaining only to the support of the physical body. Despite their great respect for the manna that came under the watch of Moses, it did not bring everlasting life to their ancestors; all of them died and were buried. Neither would it help them to satisfy their innermost wants and desires, even if it was still available.
Therefore, these people should stop and reconsider their choices.
John 6:64 – “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.)
Again, John points out that Jesus was divine/omniscient because only God has knowledge of the secrets and motives found within the heart of every individual. Only God can discern who believed in Jesus as Messiah, and who just followed him out of curiosity.
Jesus reveals that many of his current followers would not profit by his teaching, because they failed to mix it with the faith/belief necessary to produce change in their inward man.
Hebrews 4:2 – For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
This brings up the topic of unbelief, which was the chief sin of the Jews. Evidence of their gross unbelief is found all throughout scriptures (Deuteronomy 1:32, II Kings 17:13-16, Luke 24:25, Luke 22:67, John 3:12, etc).
In this situation, the crowd might have argued that they heard the words of Jesus, but were not spiritually quickened/made alive. However, the fault was not with the words of God, but with their unbelief, which caused them to despise the words of life and prevented them from obtaining its benefits.
Is there unbelief lurking in our hearts and minds? My guess is that we are a lot like the earthly father of the child in Mark chapter 9, who confessed to a mixture of belief and doubt. This makes sense, since our faith is never perfect. But there are steps we can take to limit/dispel unbelief and build up our faith.
- We can feed upon the word of God. We already know from this passage in John that the words of God bring spiritual life to each individual. When we feed on the word, it builds up our faith (Romans 10:17). When faith is increased, unbelief is decreased.
- We can meditate on past battles in which faith gave us the victory. Think back in your life, and find an instance when God healed you, or provided for you, or otherwise answered a prayer which seemed impossible. As you remember and meditate on how God moved mightily on your behalf, your faith will increase (Joshua 4:4-8). When faith is increased, unbelief is decreased.
- Listen to testimonies of others who have been delivered. The scriptures tell us that God is impartial; what he has done for one of his children he will do for another (Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11). When you hear a testimony of someone who has been healed of cancer, let that fact build up your own faith, then ask the Lord to heal you too! When faith is increased, unbelief is decreased.
- Run to the Lord in prayer and ask for help, just like the man in Mark 9 did! We can be sure that God will never turn aside anyone who calls out to him for deliverance. He will help you get rid of that unbelief!
John 6:65-66 – 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.
What does Jesus mean when he says no one can come to the Father except it has been granted or given to them by the Father?
The words of Christ are not like ordinary words. The scripture/gospel is inseparably intertwined or joined together with Holy Spirit. It is the unseen power of the Spirit which imparts life into the words. Thus, the gospel becomes both Spirit and life to those who will receive it (verse 63).
God gives or grants people the opportunity to come to Christ when they hear the living gospel message. God then allows each individual to make a choice to accept or reject Christ.
This statement is consistent with other teachings of Jesus. In the parable of the sower (Mark chapter 4), we are told that the farmer sowed the exact same seed at various locations in his field, with different results.
In each case, the seed was viable – it was capable of sprouting and bringing forth a 100 fold crop. It was the condition of the soil that determined the amount of harvest (the wayside, the stony ground, the soil choked with weeds or the good ground).
Spiritually speaking, the word of God is always 100% viable, because it is intertwined with life from Holy Spirit. It is always capable of resulting in salvation in the life of every person who hears it. When someone hears the word and does not come to Christ, it is not because God did not draw him. It is because they control the conditions of their hearts, and they have chosen to harden their hearts, or to allow the cares of this world to choke out the word, or (like many of the disciples of Jesus in Capernaum), they have no spiritual roots so they fall away when persecution comes or when they find the doctrines of Christ offensive.
John 6:67 – So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”
Clearly, the apostles had been with Jesus long enough to be considered a separate group at this point; John refers to them as ‘the twelve’ without any further explanation.
At the conclusion of this incredible sermon, many are choosing to reject the gospel. Jesus uses this situation as a test for the twelve. They have a choice, just like the crowd. So Jesus calls them out. Will they also choose to leave him?
It should be noted that Jesus knew what was in the hearts of the disciples, just as he knew what was in the hearts of the crowd. When Jesus calls them out, he does it for their benefit (not to gain knowledge of their intentions). When they openly avow to continue following Christ, it further strengthens their faith and commitment to him. Thus, this ‘trial’ was beneficial to the twelve.
John 6:68 – Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”
As we frequently find in the gospels, Peter is the natural leader and spokesman of the twelve. He characteristically makes a very fervent and ardent declaration to Jesus – leaving him is not an option; for there is no other place to go.
In other words, the twelve (or the eleven) are firmly convinced that Jesus is the Messiah. They know that the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees and other religious leaders are corrupt and unable to lead the Jews into eternal life. Even though the doctrines of Jesus are difficult to understand and sometimes shocking, they are the only means of salvation.
John 6:69 – “… and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
At this point, there was no possible way that Peter (or any of the twelve) understood the whole plan of salvation. However, we find that they have put their faith in Christ and they have submitted themselves to him in all things. For them, there is no turning back.
The fear/respect of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalms 111:10); as they place their faith in Christ and adhere to his words they grow in both knowledge and understanding of spiritual things.
The same is true for us. There are principles/promises/doctrines in scripture that we may not fully understand, but as we commit ourselves to the Lord and his word, he will teach us by his Spirit (John 14:26). Anyone who earnestly seeks knowledge from God will get an answer.
John 6:70-71 –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.
Jesus declares that one of the twelve is a devil, but at the time, he did not say which one. Indeed, it does not appear that the disciples even suspected Judas of betrayal. They continue to treat him as a brother and they continue to allow him to be the treasurer of the group. When they are at the last supper and Jesus says someone is going to betray him, the eleven are looking around asking Jesus ‘Is it I?’ This is further evidence that they did not know at this time that Judas was the betrayer.
This brings up a question that many of us have pondered from time to time: Why did Jesus allow Judas into his inner circle? Why make him an apostle?
One reason is that Judas was actually and important witness for Christ. He was with Jesus day in and day out for three years. If Jesus had been anything different in private than he was in public (a hypocrite), Judas would have known it and reported it to the religious leaders, who would have paid good money for any reason to condemn Jesus.
Another reason is that the betrayal of Jesus was actually a fulfillment of prophesy. If Judas had not betrayed him, some prophesies would have remained unfulfilled.
It also shows that Jesus had true knowledge of the human heart; he could discern the character of Judas long before it was fully developed.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
Like the father in Mark chapter 9, we too have a mixture of belief/faith and unbelief/doubt in our lives. But there is hope for us – there are things we can do to increase faith and banish unbelief (see above).
Let me encourage you with this thought: Jesus says that even faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain (Matthew 17:20). So don’t be intimidated by the enemy. Stand your ground in Christ! Resist the devil and he will flee from you (James 4:7).
Let me offer you some relief:
Jesus calls upon us to spread the good news of the gospel to a lost and dying world. However, we need to keep in mind that only Holy Spirit can quicken that word in the heart of the hearer and bring them to salvation.
For this reason, we should not be discouraged if everyone we speak to does not accept the message. It is not our job to convict them of sin; it is simply our job to be sensitive to the leading of Holy Spirit, speaking as he directs us. The outcome of that exchange is out of our control.
Let me offer you some strength:
Some of the early followers of Jesus abandoned their faith because the doctrine of Christ was offensive to them. It was not compatible with their own views, or the prevailing culture of that day.
Even today, many of the doctrines of scripture are offensive to the people in our culture. For this reason, you might be tempted to back down or compromise the doctrines of scripture. But let me encourage you to stay strong in your beliefs! Keep your light shining brightly for Christ. Share the gospel at every opportunity. Soon Jesus will return, the whole earth will see the truth, and you will be vindicated for your belief in Jesus!