Summary: During the 1st part of Jesus’ ministry people were attracted by His teaching. Many attached themselves to Him, some of them wholeheartedly, some loosely. Then came a time when their allegiance was tested-as it comes to test every disciple.
JOHN 6: 59-71
WHO CAN ACCEPT WORDS OF SPIRIT AND LIFE?
During the first part of Jesus’ ministry people were attracted by His teaching and flocked round Him. Many attached themselves to Him, some of them wholeheartedly, some loosely. Then came a time when their allegiance was tested. The real nature of the claims of Jesus became apparent. The true disciples were sifted from the false, and the deep from the shallow. Jesus’ claims for Himself and His claims on His followers are such that it is no longer possible to follow Him unreflectively, and without fully committing oneself. [Morris, NIC Com., 382]
Jesus revelation that He Himself was bread made the crowds grumble (6:41), the revelation that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood even offends Jesus’ own disciples. For them this is not simply a difficult teaching but is something unacceptable, a disclosure beyond their comprehension. These are the deeper things of Jesus, and only with divine help can anyone comprehend them. [Jesus points to yet another aspect that is difficult to comprehend, His ascension.] So John now tells what is happening, not among the crowd, but among Jesus’ professed adherents.
I. WORDS OF OFFENCE, 59-61.
II. WORDS OF SPIRIT, 62-65.
III. WORDS OF CONFESSION, 66-69.
IV. WORDS OF SOVEREIGNTY, 70-71.
[59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum] Verse 60 contains the reaction of many of Jesus’ disciples to His challenging declarations. Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”
“His disciples”(2: 2) indicates a much larger group than the twelve. The reference is to those who had attached themselves loosely to Jesus, but without giving much consideration to the implications. "Hard" means not so much that the saying is difficult to understand as that it is hard to accept. [Calvin comments, "the hardness was in their hearts and not in the saying."] "Hear" means "hear with appreciation, take in" (5:25). The disciples no doubt found the teaching mysterious, but it was the part they could understand rather than what they could not that bothered them.
Being fed by God is beyond our natural comprehension. It is utterly mysterious and will evoke feelings of fear and confusion and in some cases anger. These are divine things, heavenly realities that lie beyond our abilities. We should not complain or grumble about them. It is God alone who can supply divine insight. Our task is to receive them and to be open to the work of the Spirit even as He permits us glimpses into realities too deep for us.
In verse 61 we again see Jesus’ knowledge of people’s inward attitudes. But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?
We find another demonstration of Jesus’ unusual powers of knowledge (see 2:24f; 4:18). Jesus knew what was going on with His disciples. His own disciples do not like the sound of what He is saying. So He asks “does this cause you to stumble?" "Do you take offense at this?" He knew exactly what was going on with them.
If they were stumbled by that claim, much in the true Christian life would cause them to stumble also. Barclay comments: "Here we come upon a truth that re-emerges in every age. Time and again it is not the intellectual difficulty of accepting Christ which keeps men from becoming Christians; it is the height” and depth of commitment. There is mystery in religion, of necessity. But "Any honest thinker will accept the mystery. . . to this day many a man’s refusal of Christ comes, not because Christ puzzles and baffles his intellect, but because Christ challenges him and condemns his life."
The confusion, anger, and outrage of the disciples is not something unique to them, as if they have some deficit, some blindness, or some spiritual malady that makes them incapable of embracing the profundity of Jesus’ revelation. Hearts that are religiously inclined can become angry when the formulas change, when things don’t happen as predicted, when conventions become upset. It is a religious rebellion that in some fashion disguises itself as piety, as right — but in the end is darkness nonetheless. I assume that as a follower of Christ I think clearly in a world of darkness. But the truth is that I’m in darkness until I let Christ’s brilliance shines on me.
Christ may have things to say that we cannot accept. We may hear ourselves saying, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (6:60). We have built our religious structures and justified them with verses from the Bible. We have forged coalitions of people like us who are sensible, biblical, and theologically orthodox. We have a history to protect, an agenda to promote, a vision to foster, and any who impede our progress — no, God’s progress — deserve our militancy. [Burge, Gary; NIV Application Commentary, John: 215. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 2000]