As a consequence of his miracles and particularly the super-abundant meal of bread and fish he had just given the crowds, Jesus was attracting a good number of disciples. But after the feeding of the 5,000 his teaching scandalized them. How could he claim that he “came down from heaven” (6.59) and promise eternal life to those who ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’ (6.54)?
If they are offended by his claim to have come down from heaven, Jesus says, what will they think when they “see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before” (6.61)? The supreme glory of Jesus’ ascension will surely confound them.
And why are they so shocked at the apparently crude demand that people eat his flesh and drink his blood? Such physical things are just “flesh” which “counts for nothing” (6.62). They needed to go through and beyond these outward matters to concentrate on the Spirit who “gives life”.
Although it had seemed that Jesus’ teaching was so hard, Jesus proceeds to declare that “the words I have spoken to you are Spirit and they are life” (6.63). “The words” (plural) are a composite whole and are equivalent to the word “teaching”, so the verb “are” is actually in the singular. Jesus’ words give life, even eternal life (6.63, 68). God’s word was the means of creation in Genesis 1 and it is by word that God reveals himself through the prophets and in the Scriptures. God’s word therefore creates and reveals.The supreme divine word is of course Jesus himself as the ultimate Word of God. As believers in Jesus we believe in God’s word written and in God’s Word incarnate. He creates new life, eternal life in all who will follow him in faith. He also reveals the Father and makes him known (1.18). Without the revealing and life-giving word in Jesus, God our Father remains a distant unknowable and irrelevant power on high.
The many (6.60-66)
Back in the desert wanderings after the Exodus from Egypt, Israel had been guilty of grumbling. Now Jesus’ claim to be the bread from heaven caused grumbling among the crowds of his disciples (6.41, 43). And in 6.61 Jesus shows that he is aware of their grumbling and speaks into that situation. Grumbling and complaint don’t only characterise our current ‘Blame Society’, but in this negativity we follow in the footsteps of Old Testament Israel and the crowds who were attracted to Jesus by his miracles. Jesus knew that some of his apparent followers didn’t actually believe and that one of them would even betray him (6.64).
The Twelve (6.67-71)
Would even Jesus’ intimately close little in-group of the twelve disciples also want to desert him? Jesus had spent a whole night in prayer before carefully choosing these particular men to be his special disciples (Luke 6.12-14). He would depend on them not only for friendship and support during his time on earth, but also for carrying on his life-giving saving work after his ascension back to the Father. Jesus loved the Twelve quite particularly. We therefore specially notice the emphasis on “the Twelve” in these verses (6.67-71). Indeed in the Greek the final words in 6.71 tragically stress that Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray him, was “one of the twelve”.
Some years ago the then Principal of All Nations Christian College prophetically declared to the whole college in a worship time, “One of you will deny Jesus”. We were all shocked and searched our souls. We asked ourselves whether it lay in our hearts to betray Jesus and deny our Christian faith. We realised our fearful weakness and absolute dependence on the Father’s enabling grace and power (6.65). And we reminded ourselves of Peter’s response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (6.68). Nothing, nobody else can rival the life-giving grace of Jesus. He stands unique in his love and glory.
Editor’s note: Please continue to pray for Elizabeth Goldsmith, who is having to take things very quietly at the moment until she can renew the medication she is taking – Martin and Elizabeth greatly appreciate your prayers!