The Moment of Decision
Topic: Gospels Passage: John 6:60–6:71
“THE MOMENT OF DECISION”
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 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. 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.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.
If this is your first time with us or if you have been away from us for some time, we are in an ongoing study of the Gospel of John. This morning we find ourselves at the very end of chapter 6. As we have noted along the way, John’s Gospel traces the three-and-a-half year ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ through various periods that take us from His public introduction through His death and resurrection.
The first four chapters of this book could be thought of as “the period of consideration.” In it John the writer selectively chronicles some of the major events of Jesus’ early ministry and the curious interest that our Lord’s teaching and miraculous “signs” were beginning to generate. His reputation preceded Him and had spread from Galilee to Judah, and even into the socially-avoided region of Samaria. Wherever He went people followed and crowds gathered.
Chapters 5 and 6 could be labeled as “the period of controversy” due to the fact that Jesus’ rising popularity was not always met with favor. The Jewish religious leaders, in particular, felt threatened by His claims to being the One who had been “sent from God.” Finding fault with His words and deeds, we learn that even in these early days, “the Jews” were already beginning to plot His death (cf. John 5:18).
By the time we get to the end of chapter 6, where we are this morning, a “line in the sand” had been clearly drawn, marking off those who were genuine followers of Jesus from those who opposed Him. This is a humbling passage which serves to remind us that Jesus condescended to come to earth for a Divinely orchestrated purpose, namely calling out a people for Himself and for the glory of His Heavenly Father. And while this text of Scripture may not immediately conjure up thoughts of Christmas, perhaps it should.
How natural it is for us at this time of the year to think of the Child who was born of poor parents and “laid...in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (cf. Luke 2:7). You and I should frequently revisit that scene in order to recall the incarnation of our Savior, the Eternal One who “emptied himself by...being born in the likeness of men” (cf. Philippians 2:7). But we must not forget that He did so with a goal in mind. The Scripture tells us that “Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Such an act on His part covered the indebtedness of our sin which stood as an offense against a holy and righteous God.
Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, not only came to live among us as a fellow-member of the human race, but He did so without any sin or moral stain of His own. We read in Hebrew 4:15 that “In every respect (He) has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” Because He was perfect and sinless in every respect, He—and He alone—was qualified to be the sin-bearer and Redeemer of any and all who would call upon His name. That is, in fact, the storyline of the Bible. It is also the “bottom line” of the Christmas story.
So as we enter into these final twelve verses of John 6, we are not deviating in any way from the real message of Christmas. We are, in truth, advancing the narrative that will lead to a cross and an empty tomb.
When God chose to tell His story, He did so with words. Words mean something, and in some cases they mean everything. As we see in this passage, the words of Jesus bring life to those who receive them, and they bring judgment to those who refuse them. As John has written in his prologue to this book, “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:11-12).
So, let’s begin by looking at verses 60 through 66 of John 6, for it is here we see that...
The words of Jesus leave many casualties along the way (6:60-66).
The entirety of chapter 6 has been building toward this paragraph. You recall that it began with Jesus miraculously feeding a great multitude of people with the meager contents of a small boy’s lunch. Later that same day, He rescued His disciples from a life-threatening storm on the Sea of Galilee, coming to them by walking on water in the middle of the night. Those two “signs”—which is the term John uses in referring to Jesus’ miracles—provided the backdrop for Jesus’ asserting Himself to be “the bread of life” (John 6:35), “the true bread from heaven” (cf. John 6:32). Jesus’ words were initially met with favor on the part of the people, but before long we see that they had difficulty accepted what those words seemed to imply.
In contrast, the religious elite “grumbled about him” and Jesus’ teaching (cf. John 6:41) from the very start. The more He pressed His case, the more enigmatic His expressions became to them. Over time, many of the common people who had initially embraced Him also parted company with Him. Words like “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:54) were simply too much to deal with.
That’s why we read in verse 60: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” We need to be clear that the “disciples” mentioned here refer to a wider audience than merely “the Twelve.” The word “disciple” (“μαθητηs”) refers to “a learner” or “one who receives instruction from another.” The vast majority of times it is used in the New Testament it refers to the followers of Jesus, but not always. There are always some who profess to be “disciples,” but eventually prove themselves not to have been that at all.
In this passage, they are the ones who had heard Jesus speak, had witnessed some of His “signs,” and had immediately responded to Him with enthusiasm and excitement. Many—if not most—of them had been miraculously fed on the hillside when Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fish (cf. John 6:1-14). They had declared Him to be “the Prophet,” and had even wanted to “take him by force to make him king” (cf. John 6:15). But when Jesus challenged their level of “discipleship,” many of them turned back.
But what were they now to make of “eating His flesh” and “drinking His blood?” “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” they asked. It was not that those words were difficult to understand, but they were hard—very hard—to accept. John Calvin has suggested that “The hardness was in their hearts, not in the saying.” Had not Jesus earlier told them that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him...Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” (cf. John 6:44-45). By their not “coming” to Him, they exposed what was in their own hearts.
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus responds to their “grumbling” in verses 61 and 62. He asks them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” Repeatedly in the preceding verses, Jesus spoke of having “come down from heaven.” And here once again, He makes reference to His preexistence and heavenly origin, going so far as to say that He will return to heaven. But that return would be by way of a cross. Before He could “ascend,” He must first die at the hands of sinful men and be raised by God to life again. If the people thought that “eating His flesh” and “drinking His blood” was “a hard saying,” how much more difficult to accept would this be for them?
It was “scandalous,” actually. That’s the meaning of the word, “offense” (“σκανδαλιζω”). It is sometimes translated “stumbling block” (cf. Matthew 16:23, Romans 11:9). It would “trip up” many of them. I appreciate D.A. Carson’s comments in this regard. He writes,
However offensive the linguistic expression “eating flesh and drinking blood” may be, how much more offensive is the crucifixion of an alleged Messiah! The very idea is outrageous, bordering on blasphemous obscenity, “a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). Yet this stands at the very heart of the divine self-disclosure. The moment of Jesus’ greatest degradation and shame is the moment of his glorification, the path of his return to the glory he had with the Father before the world began.
“The reason you find this so ‘hard’ to accept,” Jesus implies in verse 63, is because “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” Seeing right through their outward profession of claiming to be “his disciples,” the Lord indicates that they really didn’t know Him at all. The truth of God is never attained through “the flesh”—the intellect, the emotions or the will of human nature. “It is the Spirit who gives life,” Jesus adds. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Jesus had challenged Nicodemus with similar words during their conversation in chapter 3(:5-7), when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”
No one’s unbelief never catches Jesus off-guard. He knows those who are His and those who are not, which is why He is able to say in verse 64, “But there are some of you who do not believe.” Their actions had begun to betray them, but even before they had become observable Jesus knew what was in their hearts. Earlier John had written that “Many believed in (Jesus)...when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
Our Lord is aware of the fickle nature of men’s hearts. So, here again we are told that “Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.” And for the third time in this chapter Jesus reminds His listeners that “No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father” (cf. John 6:44). In a word, this is the Divine condition for discipleship. Apart from God’s drawing the sinner to Christ, no one would come to Christ. It is equally true that, as Jesus states, “All that the Father gives...will (most assuredly) come...and (Christ) will never cast out" (cf. John 6:37). Left to ourselves, not a single one among us has faith enough to believe the Gospel and turn to Christ. Recognizing our sinful bent, our only hope is to cry out to God for mercy and grace...mercy to forgive us and grace to grant faith so that we are able to believe.
Following Christ is never a safe and easy adventure. Jesus would later warn, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The road toward true discipleship involves “denying oneself and bearing one’s cross daily” (cf. Luke 9:23). It should not, therefore, surprise us that there will be many “casualties” along the pilgrimage from this life to the next. When faith is put to the test, there are many who fall away.
“Defections” from the faith can be subtle and build over time. They tend to begin with the seed of displeasure and discontentment until they grow into the “grumbling” that we find in this passage. Rather than giving thanks to the Lord, we become disenchanted with Him and with His people. It may start with “neglecting to meet together” (cf. Hebrews 10:25). We slowly withdraw from church...at first, excusing ourselves from those times when the Body gathers for prayer and the study of the Word. Then we begin substituting other things—sometimes “good” things—for the main gathering of the saints on Sunday mornings. And even though we have pledged to live in covenant with one another, we opt out of accountability to anyone but ourselves.
The danger with “defecting” is that we are often blinded to its deceptive nature. Human beings are “creatures of habit,” and habits are formed over a relatively short period. It may not seem like a big thing to forego our “morning devotions” for a day or two, but we should be concerned when it has been a week or more since we last met privately with the Lord. The same is true with sharing our faith. The longer we go without telling someone else about Jesus, the less reinforced we are in our own belief. Like the proverbial frog in a kettle of water that is being slowly heated, we may not realize how far we have departed until we find ourselves in a spiritually perilous condition.
Verse 66 should alert us that daily vigilance is required if we hope to finish well. “After this (or ‘from that moment,’ CSV)—many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” The phrase “turned back” translates a word (“απερχομαι”) that means “to go away,” “to depart,” and the tense of the verb suggests a fixed and final “turning away.” That prospect should serve to warn us like a flashing caution light.
Jesus’ words are “hard,” and they leave many casualties along the way. But there is another side to the story, and we see it in verses 67 through 71.
The words of Jesus lead true disciples on the road to faith (6:67-71).
Even as many were “turning back,” finding His words too “hard” to accept, Jesus pulls “the Twelve” aside and asks them in verse 67, “Do you want to go away as well?” Bear in mind that this small band, in contrast with the much larger group that was departing, were the ones Jesus had “hand-picked” to be with Him and to follow after Him. It is the first, and one of the few times that John refers to Jesus’ closest disciples as “the Twelve.”
It may strike us as strange that Jesus would pose such a question to these men who had demonstrated their loyalty to Him over the past couple of years. But remember, He was well aware what was in the hearts of all men (cf. John 2:25). So this was a “gut check” for “the Twelve.”
“It’s not too late,” He tells them. “The road is about to get even more difficult. Your faith will be tried and your perseverance tested. So, do you also want to go away?” Here was their moment of decision. He was offering them the opportunity to turn back, though to do so would bring grave results. Were they committed to following Him to the end...even without knowing all the details of what would be involved?
It is a question that everyone who professes to know Christ must inevitably be forced to answer...not once or twice, but time and again. Perhaps you are asking it of yourself even now: “Is Jesus worth it?” Worth it on His terms, and not your own? Jesus did not for long remain a baby in a manger. He grew through boyhood and youth into a man, just as He compels us to grow from the infancy of our faith into spiritual maturity. If you had been one of “the Twelve” that day, having seen and heard what they had experienced, and now watching the crowds turn away, what would your decision have been?
Speaking for the group, as he typically did, “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.” There is no doubt as to Peter’s sincerity. It repeatedly surfaces in his dialogues with the Savior. Doubtless, you recall the great confession he made when Jesus asked him forthright in Matthew 16(:13-20) who he believed Him to be. Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It was a revelation and a realization that came directly from the Father’s mouth to Peter’s ear...and Peter repeated it in answer to Jesus’ question. Apart from God’s direct intervention and enabling, there is none among us able to recognize the true identity of Jesus Christ.
Peter’s confession here is also an admission of his and the other disciples’ need to fully depend upon Jesus. “Where else would we go?” “You alone (Jesus) have the words of eternal life.” Peter then adds in verse 69, “And we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter’s statement demonstrates a settled conviction, not a single confession. It was the product of a state of mind rather than an initial flash of insight or initial act of the will.
But we know Peter would later stumble, as would the others. And that would come at the hour of Jesus’ greatest need. Three times Peter would deny having ever known Jesus (cf. Matthew 26:69-75), but later He would be given grace and be restored (cf. John 21:15-19). The larger group was right in one respect...following Jesus is a “hard” thing to do. In fact, it cannot be done apart from the Lord’s strengthening and sustaining grace for His people.
One would have thought that by recognizing Jesus to be “the Holy One of God,” that would have “sealed the deal” for Peter. But are you aware that title is attributed to Jesus only one other time in all of Scripture? Both Mark (1:21-28) and Luke (4:31-37) describe a scene earlier in Jesus’ ministry—interestingly in this same place, the synagogue in Capernaum—when Jesus healed a man possessed with an unclean spirit. Upon recognizing Jesus on that occasion, the demon cried out, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” It is the same exact phrase in both English and Greek (‘‘ο ‘αγιοs του θεου”).
Admittedly this is a small sample size, but it should give us pause to consider that our words—our grandest statements of faith--are only as valid as the Divinely-supplied faith that supports them. What both Peter and the demon said was true...remember, “Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19). But the demons’ “belief” was anything but the kind of faith that saves. That being said, I plead with us all to take great care in making certain that our professions of faith are true reflections of what actually rests in our hearts.
That observation sets us up for what follows in the final two verses of this chapter. Jesus’ reply to Peter’s confession would have likely shocked him. In contrast with the praise He gave to Peter in Matthew 16, here Jesus tells him, “Did not I choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil?” The word “devil” (“διαβολοs”) means “slanderer,” “false accuser,” “one who opposes.”
Jesus does not identify right away who that “one” was, and we cannot presume to know who Peter imagined that “one” to have been. But John the writer does tell us who it was in verse 71: “He spoke of Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him”...to “hand him over” (“παραδιδωμι”) to those who would put Him to death.
The repeated mention of “the Twelve” in this paragraph serves two purposes. In the first place it reminds us that while “many of his disciples turned back,” the few—“the Twelve”—remained. True followers of Christ will always be in the minority. As Jesus taught elsewhere, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
A second purpose for mentioning “the Twelve” is that Judas’ relationship with the others in no way assured his salvation. If anything, his nearness to Christ—daily hearing His teaching and witnessing the “signs” that He performed—only increased his level of accountability before God. Mark it down, none of us takes a single step toward a relationship with God by merely identifying with a local church fellowship or any other gathering of Christians. We may fool others, and we may even deceive ourselves, but Jesus knows for certain those who are His.
Coming to faith involves recognizing our sin as an offense against the holy character of God, turning from that sin, and entrusting ourselves to Jesus as the only One able to erase the debt we owe through His blood sacrifice on our behalf. It is He alone who has “the words of eternal life,” and there remains no one else to whom we may go.
Our Lord’s selection of Judas was not a “mistake,” as some claim. It was part of God’s sovereign plan. As verse 64 told us, “Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.” And while the choice of Judas was predetermined by God, Judas remained fully responsible for his decision and his actions. Just as we remain accountable to God for every thought we have, word we speak, and deed we do. Has that truth ever truly gripped you?
“Defectors” from the faith are still among us. Some who know Christ—those like Peter—“defect” from Him temporarily, while others who never truly know Him—such as Judas—“depart” from Him finally and completely. The preaching of the Word of God always leads to a sifting of the hearts of those who hear it. Life is a series of “moments of decision” regarding our relationship with Christ. Shall we stay with Him, or should we go?
Among those who consider themselves Christians, there are three categories of people.
- There are the “open defectors” (those like the “many” who turn back when the demands become too great and no longer walk with Jesus).
- And then, there are the “subtle deceivers” (those who, like Judas, can fool others and even themselves until the truth catches up with them. And, in time, it will It always does).
- And finally, there are the “firmly determined” (those who, like Peter, realize there is nowhere else to turn. Every other option leads to a tragic “dead end”).
We have noted before that the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel may just be the most theological of the entire book. Its inter-related scenes and themes serve not only to reveal the true identity of Jesus Christ, but force a decision on the part of those to whom they bear witness. Are you presently facing a “moment of decision” in your life? Have you turned from your sin and embraced the Savior? If not, what better time to do it than at this season when we look back and remember that “the Son of God became the Son of Man so that sons of men may become sons of God”? If you have trusted Christ, are you being tempted to turn away and “dial back” your commitment to Him and His people? If that is the case, let me strongly urge you to reconsider. “To whom else will you go?”
John 6 further serves to remind us that Jesus is in control of not only His destiny, but for the destiny of every one of us. He was not surprised when the crowds began to depart from Him on that day, and He is not caught off-guard today when those who once professed to know Him walked away. He knows who are His, and He will “lose nothing of all (the Father had) given (Him)” (cf. John 5:39).
May God be pleased to grant faith and confirmation to us, as well as grace to see with fresh eyes that in “the fullness of time...God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
It is a promise for those who are His to claim and to cling to. Therefore, together with the angels who announced His arrival, may you and I confidently declare with great joy today...
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Amen.