When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 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. 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.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 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.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Jesus offended both the crowds and many of His disciples with His teaching. They could not see past the literal meaning of the words to see their figurative use. They took Jesus saying you have to eat His body and drink His blood in a literal wooden sense. This repulsed them. What! We are supposed to be cannibals!
They found the saying hard. And instead of asking for an explanation they grumbled among themselves. If they had asked Christ for an explanation He would have given it. Christ always explained His parables to His disciples when they did not understand.
Christ asked them if they took offense toward His teaching. In doing so, He offered them the opportunity to engage and ask questions. Instead, they refused to submit to Christ’s doctrine. They refused to understand it. They preferred to grumble.
They refused to hear the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone. If we judge Christ’s doctrine by our feelings, His words sound strange to us as well.
When Christ refers to His ascending, He refers to His crucifixion. Christ is telling them if they found the doctrine of grace offensive. They could not accept His crucifixion and His exaltation.
Christ will return to where He was before his incarnation. Jesus hid His divine nature by His flesh. All they saw was a man like themselves. But here He gives them a pick behind the veil. He calls them to see His glory. His resurrection reveals His power. His resurrection proves He is the Son of God.
Jesus tells why not everyone who hears His teaching benefits from it. It is because the Spirit is the one who gives life. By saying this Jesus is offering them further understanding, which they refuse. He clarifies His statement that He is not referring to physical flesh and blood. “the flesh is no help at all.” Augustine said Jesus implies the word “alone.” “The flesh alone is no help at all” Our spirit must accompany the flesh.
The context supports this understanding. Christ refers to a way of eating. He is not excluding every kind of usefulness of the flesh. Christ is saying we must not separate the flesh from our spirit. When we separate the flesh from the spirit it is useless.
Christ knew some did not believe. There was only a pretext of belief. Many profess to belong to Christ but refuse His doctrine. If having Christ as our teacher is to benefit us, we must be ready to listen to Him.
Christ’s knowledge of who were faux followers was peculiar to His Divinity. We do not have that ability. Since we do not know the hearts of men, we are to delay judgment until impiety reveals itself by outward signs. We know a tree by its fruits. (Matthew 7:16)
Christ reminds them of what He has already said: “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Faith is an uncommon and remarkable gift from God. Not everyone everywhere receives the gospel. That should not surprise or discouraged us.
This reminder should humble every follower as well. Our belief is a gift from the Father. Our belief is not our own. We are just like other men, wondering in the darkness. It is God’s grace alone that allows us to believe. We do not turn toward Christ of our own evil will. We turned to Christ because the Father gave us the ability to do so. Faith is an uncommon and remarkable gift from the Father.
Many of His disciples turned and went back. It is amazing that Christ shows them the way to eternal life and they walk away from it. They found it repulsive. Without the grace of God, we all would do the same.
This sermon should serve as a model to us as a church. Christ did not sugar coat the truth. He even spoke the truth in an offensive manner. He did not try to attract a following by catering to cultural desires and expectations. He did not try to keep them by feeding them again. He did not let them make Him a king. He did not fulfill their expectation of what the Messiah was to be.
But we do everything we can to market Christ and the church. We fill the church with live rock bands, light shows, and entertainment. We preach topical sermons that people want to hear. We try to fill the seats. We don’t want the church to feel churchy. We think we have to attract as many people as possible. In doing that, we try to make the church like the world.
Christ did not try to meet men’s expectations or satisfy their desires. He spoke the truth and often. And sometimes, as in this case, in an offensive manner.
Many may think it would have been better if Jesus had not preached this sermon. He could have kept many of His follows if He had not preached it. But Christ thought different. It is necessary, then and now, to understand what had been foretold about Christ. He is the stone of stumbling, (Isaiah 8:14.)
Do people today reject the truth because they find it repulsive? Or, do they reject the truth because they have never heard it? Does the church offend people with the truth? Or does it avoid the truth to attract as many as it can?
Jesus asked the twelve if they were going to leave as well. Peter’s response was, “We have nowhere else to go.” Christ alone had the words of life.
Salvation is by the grace of God alone. It comes to us through faith alone. And that faith must be in Christ alone.
Do we avoid offending people by speaking the truth, by repeating the words of Christ? We did not choose Him. He chose us. Salvation is a monergistic work. That is, it is by Christ alone. We play no part in our election. Praise be to God.