“Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” John 6:60,66
Jesus had been doing some huge things in this chapter – healing diseases, walking on water, multiplying loaves and fish… and the crowds were pressing in. They couldn’t get enough. They were asking, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do?” (John 6:30). They saw miracles, had their fill of food and were ready for more.
But then Jesus started speaking some truth. He pointed out that there were spiritual things more important than physical – that He was the spiritual food and drink they needed, the very bread of life sent from heaven to save them. (v. 35-40). The Jews put much emphasis on the outside, physical form, so this was hard for them to take in. Feathers were ruffled.
Jesus knew there were those among the crowd who did not believe and would never believe. He spoke the truth perfectly. But still, “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” (v. 66). Instead of running after them or becoming softer in His message, He turned to His remaining twelve and asked, “Do you also want to go away?” (v.66).
Ouch. Of course Jesus wasn’t trying to turn anyone away, but He most certainly wasn’t going to compromise any truth to make them stay.
We can present the gospel as beautifully and articulately as humanly possible, and people will still reject it. If Jesus Himself had people turn and walk away, we certainly should never be surprised by it. I imagine His face as they left, as He watched them go. He knew of course there was unbelief among them, but I think there still must have been great sadness in His eyes.
I imagine a crowd turning and leaving en masse when they became confused and offended. One person raises an objection, a fist in the air, and suddenly they all like sheep are “quarreling among themselves” (v 52) almost willfully misunderstanding His words. They too easily walk away from the man whom earlier they had been chasing down. It’s too hard, too unfamiliar for them. They go back to what they knew before.
Now think on the remaining twelve. He turns and asks “Well, what about you? Do you want to leave too?” He isn’t trying to polish His words or rephrase His message. He’s getting up and opening the door for anyone who may be ready to bolt.
Maybe the disciples were frozen. They had been given pieces of the puzzle, but it wasn’t complete yet. They didn’t fully understand what was to come. Jesus knew however, what was to come. If they couldn’t handle this situation, they certainly wouldn’t be able to stand by Him in the days to come.
But then something very encouraging happens. Simon Peter boldly chimes in and answers his Lord. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (v. 68)
Where would they go? Back to the legalism of the Jews? To the idolatry of serving other gods? To rejection of any religion?
Simon Peter chose to believe. Jesus had chosen him and now he was choosing Jesus right back.
When the crowds are turning their backs and walking away, Jesus turns to us and asks “And what about you?”
He leaves it entirely up to us. It’s both a beautiful and tragic thing.
“Let us be eager to leave what is familiar for what is true.” Francis Chan