In John 6, Jesus laid some hard, heavy, and profound teachings upon the hearts and minds of the disciples – not just the Twelve – but to all who were following him at the time. We might do well to remember that earlier in chapter 6, Jesus had basically accused many of those so-called “followers” of only tagging along because of what they thought Jesus could give them – what he could do for them. Why? Because earlier (John 6:1-15), Jesus fed the 5,000 and they were duly impressed. Who wouldn’t want to be around someone who could do that? They liked it. It benefited them. They wanted more. So they followed him.
But Jesus knew their hearts and how the heart of man is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9; cf. Psalm 64:6). Thus, he knew their real motives. That’s why he tells them in verse 26:
“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
He then uses that fact as a jumping-off point to tell them about the Bread of Life that could sustain them eternally. Of course, we know that it is he who was (and is) the Bread of Life – and only by believing in him could they and would they receive real life (John 6:29, 47-48).
Jesus then developed this idea of receiving him as the Bread of Life by telling those half-hearted disciples that they must eat his body and drink his blood (it’s teaching like that, by the way, that led many in the Roman Empire to level the charge of cannibalism at the early church). This was and is a truly amazing notion, and I think that we can appreciate that on that side of the Cross – without 2,000 years of Christian tradition and teaching on the subject – it would have been pretty hard to swallow. So we can understand why many responded:
“This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60)
Again, Jesus knew this is what they were saying and thinking. He knew that this was a massive shock to their systems, so he reminded them that his words were (and are) life (John 6:63).
And yet, again, he also knew their hearts (John 2:24-25) and he knew the real reason why they were following him around. But he also realized that some, even if a minority, would accept this hard teaching and remain with him and in him (John 15:1-8).
But alas, verse 66 of John 6 is the bearer of the sad news:
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Discipleship was (is) hard. Following after Christ means picking up crosses and denying one’s self. It includes hard teachings. It wasn’t all giant picnics on the countryside and incredible, crowd-pleasing miracles performed by Jesus. Following Jesus included some tough ideas, ideas that run contrary to how unregenerate man (and our dark world) think. So they turned away.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of Discipleship Is Hard