Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE SAVIOR SAID HARD THINGS”

John 6.60-71 

I want to bring to your attention the aftermath of our Lord Jesus Christ’s interactions over the span of two days with both the multitudes and the twelve men He called to be His apostles.

Remember where things began in the narrative of John chapter six on what seems to have been a Thursday afternoon? It was the Northeast of the Sea of Galilee, not too far from the shoreline, but elevated a bit as the ground rises to meet the East wall of the looming Golan Heights. The Lord and the twelve were weary, the twelve expecting to get some much-needed rest. However, a large crowd gathered because of the miracles the Master had been performing, and many among those gathering were diseased. Of course, the Lord ministered to them. As time passed it became obvious the multitude were also hungry, so the Lord worked a miracle and fed 5,000 men, and additional women and children, with five barley loaves and two fishes supplied by a boy. Then He dispatched the twelve to Capernaum on the Northwest shore in the only fishing boat available.

“Great,” the twelve must have thought as they launched, “Two more hours before we can get some sleep.” But it wasn’t two hours to the far shore. It was closer to ten hours of hard rowing against a stiff wind with little progress as they struggled mightily to do what their Master had directed them to do. But they couldn’t do it. Their backs and arms were screaming and burning from the effort. And then they saw Him walking toward them on the water. A miracle! Then another miracle, when Peter stepped out of the boat with Him. And then a third miracle for no one but them to see, when Peter and the Lord stepped into the boat, and they all were instantly at their destination at the break of day. Thousands saw the one miracle, while the twelve saw three more miracles.

The Lord and His men were somewhere in the area on that second day when several fishing boats landed on the beach. It seems the boats had come up from Tiberias early in the morning to the far side, picked up some who miraculously had been fed the afternoon before, and brought them across to Capernaum. That’s when several of the passengers from the other side noticed the Lord with His disciples and wondered how He had gotten to Capernaum without a boat. I can imagine the disciples, even as drained as they were, glancing at each other knowingly and, without words, recognizing, “That’s a story to tell at another time.”

However, a conversation did begin in which the Lord Jesus Christ countered the questioners’ mention of the manna that was fed in the wilderness to the children of Israel who were led by Moses. He clarifying to them that Moses did not provide that bread, verse 32. Instead, He stated, it was given by God, His Father who gives true bread, that true bread being He which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, verse 33. Long story short, the Lord Jesus Christ was contrasting the physical with the spiritual, the external with the internal, death versus life, rebellion with submission, self will versus God’s will, and along the way stated that He was the bread of life; twice. What the Savior said to those men that day, and extending into the night after they had attended the synagogue, was impossible for some of them to accept and challenging for anyone to understand completely, even if they were willing to accept what He said.

We are now arrived at our text for today, showing us the reaction to what our Lord had said, despite the context in which He said it, after miraculously feeding 5,000 men the afternoon before. When you arrive at John 6.60, I invite you to stand with me for the reading of God’s Word: 

60  Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?

61  When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?

62  What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?

63  It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

64  But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.

65  And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.

66  From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

67  Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

68  Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

69  And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

70  Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?

71  He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. 

We have here an account of the impact of our Lord’s comments on those who heard Him. They said, “This is an hard saying,” the word hard translating , a word meaning dried, rough, harsh.[1] In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ had some very tough words for His audience. Some were offended by those words and others were edified by them; some driven from Him by what He said and how He said it, and others brought nearer to Him.

Are you surprised the Lord Jesus would speak that way to anyone? So were they, apparently. Let us consider both groups of individuals: 

First, THE REACTIONS OF THOSE OFFENDED 

We take it for granted that our Lord’s religious opponents were against Him. They stood against both Him and His doctrine. But here we see that even those who had been His disciples ended up turning away. Three observations in connection to those who were offended by our Lord’s words:

First, their murmurings. Murmuring typically is what people do when they are offended. But remember, from the parable of the sower in Matthew chapter 13, that only one of the four soils was receptive to the seed of the Word. The other three types of soils were unreceptive, representing people who get offended, such as we have here. Those in the parable who typify soil that is unreceptive to the seed of the Word, the murmurers, are the ones who did not like what they heard. Their description of His words as “an hard saying” shows it. You ought to look up the number of times the children of Israel murmured, and what the LORD did when they murmured.[2] As well, the offended oftentimes are so convinced of their own reasonableness they think it impossible that anyone else should disagree with their appraisal and like what the Savior said. “Who can hear it?” they muttered, with the implication being that if they did not approve what He said no one should approve what He said. Isn’t it just like murmurers to engage in such a discontent recruiting campaign to ensure that others agree with their persuasions?

Now take note of the Lord Jesus Christ’s response to their murmurings. He begins by confronting them with a question in verse 61: 

“Doth this offend you?” 

Observe the directness of our Lord. He knew the thoughts they entertained, even if their murmurings were whispers He did not hear. So He puts into words what they likely had not yet articulated in their minds. They were offended. What He had said and how He had said it loomed as obstacles in their minds. They could not reconcile what they had heard Him say and it came to the point that they had to trust in His truthfulness, which they were unable to do. I am guessing they had no answer to His first question, so He confronted them with a second question, verse 62: 

What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” 

If you have a problem with what I say, to paraphrase, “How will you react when you see Me ascend back up to heaven?” When instructing others you must proceed from the known to the unknown, and our Lord was seeking to proceed from the known physical world to unknown spiritual realities. But He knew perfectly well that this would only prove that no one learns his way into heaven. Therefore, He makes a crucial statement of fact in verse 63: 

“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” 

The best teacher, teaching spiritual truths all day long, can instruct the best student and still nothing will be accomplished by mere learning. What must happen is the bringing to spiritual life of the student. Thus, the words of the Savior were not for instructing sinners so they would know, but for enlivening sinners so they would pass from death to life. That this boils down to the essential of saving faith from the sinner’s perspective is clear from what He goes on to say in verse 64: 

“But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.” 

The first sentence is what the Lord Jesus Christ said to His audience, stressing where they faltered; at faith. The second sentence is John’s commentary about the Savior and those He was speaking to. The culmination of Christ’s declaration to them of their complete inability in the spiritual realm is found in verse 65: 

“And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” 

Does our Lord Jesus not seem to say here that what He is telling them is that they are so spiritually incompetent, so utterly incapable, that they cannot even come to Christ “except it were given unto him of my Father”?

The reaction to this final comment by those who were murmuring is recorded in verse 66: 

“From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” 

Isn’t that, in a nutshell, what happens to someone without saving faith, what happens to someone who finds the truth unpalatable, what happens to someone who becomes frustrated upon the discovery that learning cannot replace the miracle of the new birth? When came the time that they must trust Christ, that they could proceed only by faith, they stumbled. People grieve, and then they leave. Rather than considering that there is something wrong in them, they think there is something wrong with Christ, or something wrong with what was said, or something wrong anywhere else but in themselves, and so they walk. Our great challenge as believers is to make sure, insofar as it is possible by God’s grace, that we are not at fault, for not reflecting well on the Savior when the slings and arrows come our way, as someone’s justification for turning their back on the Savior. 

Now, THE REACTIONS OF THOSE EDIFIED 

Many went back, but, thanks be to God, all did not; even then the twelve stayed with Him. Though the faith of some is overthrown, yet the foundation of God stands sure. One of the things this episode in the Lord’s ministry shows us is that He was not willing to compromise the truth to keep His followers. Sometimes the truth hurts. And sometimes the truth is packaged in an unpalatable wrapping. And sometimes the person conveying the truth proves to be more a hindrance than a help. Not to belabor the point, but it is clear from this episode that the truth was most important to our Lord Jesus Christ, as it should be. Observe here,

The affectionate question which Christ asked of the twelve in verse 67: 

“Will ye also go away?” 

Notice that there is no record of Him saying anything to those who turned away and left. Does the Apostle Paul’s advice to the Corinthians, “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart,” have any application here?[3] Can you lose those you never had? Our Lord does take this occasion to speak to the twelve, not so much to learn if they are leaving but to confirm them, and by reinforcing their steadfastness all the more to fix them in place: “Will ye also go away?” Three comments are appropriate at this point: First, it was the apostles’ choice to leave or to stay. Christ detains no one against his will. His soldiers are volunteers, not conscripts. The twelve had now had time enough to consider how they liked Christ and His doctrine. None of them could ever say that he was forced into discipleship. If they had it to do over again, they would do the same. Thus it is with all who know Christ and serve God, both in the Old Testament and in the New. Next, it would have been dangerous for them to depart. Though there is no constraint to force anyone faithfully to follow the Lord, there are consequences for decisions made and choices that are executed. Make no mistake about that. Remember that there was a time Nehemiah asked himself, “Should such a man as I flee?”[4] Every person should ask himself that question, since, as Matthew Henry wrote,

 “The nearer we have been to Christ and the longer we have been with him, the more mercies we have received from him the more engagements we have laid ourselves under to him, the greater will be our sin if we desert him.”[5] 

Third, the promises of God are sure: 

Romans 8.28:          

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” 

1 Corinthians 10.13:           

“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” 

Philippians 1.6:       

“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” 

Were these explicit truths known to the twelve when their Lord asked them “Will ye also go away?” Certainly not. But the character of their Master informed them, provoking their reply.

To His affectionate question, Peter responded with faith. Speaking for the others in verses 68-69, he said, 

“Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

Peter’s confession deserves a sermon all its own, so allow me three brief observations: 

“Lord, to whom shall we go?” 

Does this not speak to the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ? He is the only Savior of sinful men’s souls. When a person refuses Jesus Christ, he only kicks the can down the road a few feet, since the soul that sinneth shall surely die. And when a lost soul dies, he wakes up in Hell, awaiting the Great White Judgment of Jesus Christ. Therefore, everyone who does not deal with the Savior here will deal with having to face Him there. And then, of course, there is an eternity in the lake of fire. There is simply nowhere else to go and no one else to turn to but Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. Peter recognized this truth. 

“thou hast the words of eternal life.” 

Did Peter suggest here that the Lord’s words were not hard, tough to receive, and impossible to completely understand? Not at all. Here we see the essential difference between those who left and those who stayed. Those who stayed recognized that as challenging as His words were, He had the words of eternal life. So, when offered the most precious gift in existence, do you complain about the packaging it arrives in? Peter’s analysis is most accurate: “thou hast the words of eternal life.” 

“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.” 

If the first phrase shows a recognition of the Savior’s uniqueness to men, and the second phrase shows a recognition of the Savior’s offering to men, this final phrase reveals His identity as the Object of faith for men. Here Peter is stating his conviction that they not only believe, but also know for sure, that their Lord is the Christ (which is to say Israel’s promised Messiah) and also the Son of the living God. Islam declares that Allah has no son. That may well be. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel, the God of the Bible, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, does have a son, and His name is Jesus!

Then the Lord issues a timely warning. 

70  Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?

71  He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. 

Despite Peter’s confidence about his convictions and the convictions of the others, the Lord points out that even among those who stood the test, who stuck through the trials, and who did not depart when all the others did, there was still one among them who would betray Him in the end. Is there an application to our situation today? Yes. There are several applications. You and I can, in our way, be much like Peter and have utter confidence about the Lord and how solid we imagine others to be, only to be devastated when they fail us in the end and turn away from the Lord. But it happened to them, it happened to the Savior, and it will certainly happen in your life as it has happened in my own life. Also, recognize that Peter’s faith was not 100% accurate in every detail. But this is not a serious problem so long as his faith is fixed on Christ and not the reliability or trustworthiness of his eleven companions. It is Christ who is to be trusted, and no one else. 

What do we take away from this message from God’s Word? Several important realizations seem obvious to me, and I hope to you.

First, there are truths that are hard, blunt, abrupt, and jarring that we must nevertheless deal with and that we are responsible for acting upon. And at times, the truth might be presented in a manner that is somewhat unpalatable. Okay, so what do you do then? What you cannot understand or reconcile concerning the truth you take by faith.

Second, for someone who is contemplating turning away from a consideration of Christ and the Gospel, where would you go? What is the alternative when it comes to preparing for eternity? After all, there is only one Savior and only one Gospel. There is no place else to go unless you are willing to go to Hell. Who has ever been well served by turning away from Christ, for whatever reason?

Third, even should you choose to remain loyal to the Savior and the cause of Christ with your band of brothers and sisters, understand that there may very well be among even the most loyal believers those who will betray the Savior someday. Just make sure the betrayer isn’t you. You and I can do little about others. But we can diligently look after the welfare of our own eternal and undying souls, and this is done by steadfastly looking unto Jesus, the Author, and Finisher of our faith.

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[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 234.

[2] Exodus 16.2; Numbers 14.2, 29, 37; 16.41, 49; 1 Corinthians 10.10

[3] 1 Corinthians 7.15

[4] Nehemiah 6.11

[5] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), [email protected]

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