If the title to the sermon shocked you, image the effect it had upon the people who heard Jesus say these things. Actually, Jesus probably meant to shock them. Hearing what he had just told them, many of the disciples of Jesus responded, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”
It was not the twelve primary disciples who said this, but some others who had been following Jesus. By asking the question, “Who can listen to it?” they actually meant, “Who can accept this?” So offended were they by what Jesus said that they left Jesus and no longer followed him in his teachings.
What was it that Jesus said that caused so much offense to his listeners? Let’s read his words and see if we also will be offended:
Jesus told the crowd of Jews, “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 yourselves” (John 6:53 NAS).
As I said, it was almost as if Jesus was going for the shock effect. These are exceedingly strong words and this is an extremely bold statement. What was it that could have made him say such a thing? Besides that, what did he mean by it? On the face of it, it sounds grotesque.
But this is one of those instances where it is not good to just take this statement alone and create a teaching out of it. Jesus did not say these words without a previous context. We need to go back in the story to see what was happening.
Jesus Christ – Superstar
At this time in the ministry of Jesus, he was extremely popular. Wherever he went, large crowds followed him. This was also the case when he spoke these words. In the second verse of John 6, it says a “great multitude” was following Jesus.
As you might suspect, the level of commitment of the people in this crowd varied a great deal. Some of them were merely curious about what was going on, while others were more devoted to the teachings of Jesus. Some of these were even devoted enough to be called disciples of Jesus. Of course, Jesus had his twelve inner circle of disciples, but many others in this crowd were known as disciples as well.
On the day before Jesus spoke the words that offended many of these disciples, he was at the Sea of Galilee. We are told that the multitude was following him because they were seeing the signs that he was performing on those who were sick. In other words, Jesus had been healing the ill and the infirm. It is understandable why this would attract a great crowd.
John calls these healings “signs.” The reason for this was because Jesus did the healings not only because he loved the people and felt pity for them, but also so that the people would realize that he was the long awaited Messiah—the Savior who was to come. His actions were the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy that indicated this. In other places, they are called “attesting miracles,” testifying to the fact that he was the Christ.
However, even though the miracles of Jesus were signs, to many of the people, they were merely amazing feats—nothing more than that. Jesus healed them, and they were glad of that. They also liked seeing him heal others. For these people, Jesus put on an amazing show.
Set the Table for 5000
With this great multitude following him, Jesus went up on a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee. There he sat down. As he turned around and looked over the scene below, he saw all of these people who had been following him.
He asked Philip, one of his twelve disciples, “Where are we going to buy bread that these may eat?”
I will not go into the details of this story, but this is the account of the feeding of the five thousand. In a manner never before seen, Jesus used the lunch of a small boy, multiplied his five barley loaves and two fish, and fed this great multitude. The people got not only a bit of food to stave off their hunger, but they were able to eat as much as they wanted.
Crossing the Sea of Galilee
That night, the twelve disciples got into their boat to cross the sea, which even though it is called a sea, is really just a large lake. This is also the same account where during the night, Jesus came walking to them on the water when they were about four miles from land.
The multitude, whom Jesus had fed, had not seen Jesus leave. The next morning (I suppose that it was about breakfast time), they went looking for him. They knew that Jesus had not left with the twelve disciples on the night before, but they did not know what happened to him. They at last decided that Jesus must have found a way to cross the lake, so they got into other boats to go and look for him. They found him in a town called Capernaum.
“Rabbi, when did you get here?” they asked him. They could not work out in their minds how he could have gotten to that side.
Jesus was quite short with them when he answered. “You are not looking for me because you saw the signs of the Messiah, but only because yesterday I gave you all bread so that you ate your fill.”
We Came To Get Some More Bread
Again in the text, we have the subject of signs. The feeding of the five thousand, like the other miracles that Jesus performed, was meant not only to alleviate a difficult situation (in that case the hunger of the people), but also to demonstrate that Jesus was the prophesied and expected Messiah.
I think that at this point, Jesus was a little frustrated with these people. They were following him because they liked seeing his miracles, but they refused to recognize that these were truly signs—actions to demonstrate to them and to give them evidence that he was the Messiah. These were attesting miracles, meant to attest to the fact that he was the Christ.
These people did not see this. They only were happy that Jesus fed them, but now their stomachs were hungry again. They were ready for the next miracle.
Because of this, Jesus continued: “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His mark” (John 6:27 NAS).
The Work of God
This statement of Jesus’ at least got them to think a little beyond the rumbling in their bellies. “What should we do that we may work the work of God?” they asked.
Jesus answered, “This is the work that you should do—believe in him whom God has sent.”
By this time, the people at least knew that Jesus was referring to himself when he spoke of the person that God had sent. So they asked Jesus, “What are you going to do for a sign, to demonstrate to us that you are the Messiah. What work will you perform?”
Perhaps still thinking a little about their need for a breakfast, the people continued, “Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness and it is written in the Scriptures, ‘He gave them bread to eat that came out of heaven’.”
We Need More Proof
Let’s stop and think about this a little. For some considerable time, the people had been following Jesus wherever he went. They followed him because they saw the signs—the attesting miracles. They had seen him heal the sick and even raise a boy who was at the point of death. Just the evening before, Jesus had fed a crowd of more than five thousand people with a mere handful of food.
Now, as if they had not yet seen enough, these same people are asking Jesus what sign he would perform so that they could believe in him. Added to that, they quoted Scripture to Jesus telling of the bread that came out of heaven to feed the Israelites in the wilderness hundreds of years before. This, to them, represented the kind of sign that they were looking for—a sign that would conveniently also provide them with the little breakfast.
Do you see why I think that Jesus was becoming a little exasperated with them? He had just yesterday fed them with miraculous bread and even gave them some fish with their meal, and yet they had the cheekiness to ask for a sign like a provision of bread so that they could be convinced that he was the Christ—this on top of all of the other signs that they had already seen.
Bread For the Hungry, and Water For the Thirsty
With great patience, Jesus continues to teach them. “Moses may have given you bread from heaven,” he told them, “but it is my father who gives the true bread from heaven. The bread that comes from God is that which will give life to the world.”
This at least got them interested. “Sir, give us this bread always,” they responded.
Jesus went on to explain to them what he meant. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst…for I have come down from heaven.”
It is interesting that in this statement of Jesus, he mentions not only bread from heaven, but also that he quenches all thirst. Thirst was not a topic in this conversation, but it brings to mind another talk that Jesus had had with someone else—perhaps not many days earlier. That conversation centered around the fact that Jesus was the source of “water of life.”
The Woman at the Well
This talk took place at a well outside of a city of Samaria. As Jesus sat alone in the shade next to the well, a woman from the city came to draw water. The conversation between Jesus and this woman began with the woman coming to the well for water, and Jesus asking her for a drink.
The woman inquired of Jesus who he was. Jesus told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give shall never thirst; but…shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14 NAS).
The woman was interested in this. She thought that Jesus was talking about literal, liquid water. She thought that if she had this “living water,” she would never have to come to the well to draw water again.
Of course, Jesus was not talking about literal water, but about the water of life that he gives. As this conversation continued, he spoke of this to the woman, who gradually came to understand what he was saying. Not only did she come to understand, she also came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
The Woman Understood What the Disciples Did Not
The conversation that Jesus had with this woman was so similar to the one that he was now having with the people looking for bread, I think that as he was talking to these people, the situation must have brought to his mind his recent talk with the Samaritan woman at the well. However, in the case of the people looking for bread, the outcome was not to be quite so positive.
These people instead began to grumble about the fact that Jesus had referred to himself as “The bread that came out of heaven.”
As Jesus did with the woman, he tried to explain to the people what he meant. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate bread in the wilderness, and they died. I am the bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-49, 51 NAS).
Unlike the woman at the well, the people looking for bread did not understand the depths of what Jesus was saying. They thought that he meant that they should literally eat his flesh! If they had been willing to hear Jesus out, they would have known that he was not saying that.
Interestingly, this was not the case with the woman at the well of Samaria. Even though this woman had not seen previous miraculous signs by Jesus, and even though she was known to be living a life that was shameful, she was patient and listened intently to what Jesus was telling her. Gradually, she came to understand what Jesus meant by his words. Once the woman began to understand that Jesus was not talking about the water in the well but about spiritual water, Jesus told her, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Here also, with the people next to the Sea of Galilee, after Jesus said to the people that to have true life, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he explained to them that he was speaking in a spiritual sense. He said to them, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63 NAS).
However, unlike the woman at the well, they had not been willing to hear Jesus to the end of his explanation. These people were not interested in spiritual bread. It was their stomachs that were hungry, not their inner hearts—not their spirits. They just wanted something to eat now!
The Believers Come and the Unbelievers Withdraw
When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well of Samaria, the result of their conversation was that she came to believe that he was the Savior who had come to them. She ran back into the city and told others whom she had met. Based on the words of the woman, many from that city also came to believe in Jesus.
Then, when they convinced Jesus to stay in the city for a few days, they told the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One indeed is the Savior of the world” (John 4:42 NAS).
The results with the crowd on the shores of the Sea of Galilee were much different. Because the people were not willing to learn what they needed to hear from Jesus, many of them who formerly considered themselves disciples of Jesus now withdrew from him and no longer walked with him.
Perhaps it is possible to see why they did this. After all, Jesus had said some very difficult things. It seems like his words were almost designed to separate those who truly were willing to put their trust in him from those who merely were looking for something to eat, and from those who followed him only to see the sideshow.
However, despite the difficult words, not everyone left. Jesus next turned to speak to his twelve closest disciples. They had witnessed all that had gone on. They had also heard these words. I don’t think that they quite understood all that Jesus was saying. These words were also difficult for them.
Jesus asked them, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”
If it is possible to feel sorry for Jesus, I do here. Jesus did not assume that even the twelve would stay with him. He asked them a question. It was even a poignant question. He had come to the world to redeem the people and it is heartbreaking when they turn away from him and reject his offer. It is like offering someone you love deeply a great gift that has cost you dearly, and they throw it in your face.
“You do not want to go away also, do you?” he asked the twelve.
I am so glad Peter answered. These words of Jesus had also been difficult for them to hear, yet Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 NAS).
What is Our Confession?
That was Peter’s confession. What is yours? What is mine? Many of the teachings of Jesus have lately come under attack, and because some of the teachings of the Bible do not square with what we are seeing in society, many today have withdrawn from Jesus and no longer walk with him.
My own confession is that there are many things contained in the Scripture that I do not yet understand, but like Peter, I have come to know that Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God. He alone provides the words of eternal life.There is no one else who speaks these eternal words of life. Where else would I go? I have given him everything.