The Gospel of John, Jesus' fourth sign, Final
Nov 23, 2019
Everyone seemed to lack understanding of Jesus’ insistence that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have aionian life. This included Jesus’ disciples as well, for we read in John 6:60,
60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen [akouo, “hear, hearken”] to it?”
The Greek word akouo should be interpreted according to its Hebrew equivalent, shema, which means “to hear” or “to obey.” The word shema indicates that one does not truly “hear” unless there is a positive response. Even Jesus’ disciples were getting indigestion from this word and were unable to assimilate it or to act upon it.
The Disciples Grumble
John 6:61-64 gives Jesus’ response to their doubts:
61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe….”
If the disciples could not understand spiritual things, it was because they were yet fleshly. Paul ran into the same problem of carnality in the church of Corinth. When talking about the various factions and divisions in the church, 1 Corinthians 3:2, 3 says,
2 I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, 3 for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?
Differences of opinion and even differing revelations will always be evident among us this side of our own ascension. The question is how we deal with those differences. Do we appeal to fleshly men to choose a side and condemn the other? Or do we appeal to the divine court to give us all a ruling from God, as Moses often did?
When we make such an appeal, do we have the patience to wait “until the Lord comes” to bring the truth to light? (1 Corinthians 4:5). More often than not, men lack such patience and are unable to maintain unity during the interim when God remains silent. In other words, carnal men tend to take their case back into their own hands and make their own ruling.
Jesus wondered if the disciples would be able to handle the truth about His ascension. Recall from John 3:13 that Jesus had said,
13 No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, even the Son of Man.
In John 6 He claimed to be the manna that had descended from heaven. If they had trouble understanding how He descended, how would they be able to understand His ascension? At least with the manna they had an example of descending. But the manna did not ascend again, and without such a sign, this would be even more difficult for them to comprehend.
Flesh and Spirit
In John 6:63 (quoted earlier) Jesus distinguished between flesh and spirit. His words were spirit and not to be taken in a fleshly manner. Though He had fed the multitude with “flesh,” the meaning of that miracle (as a sign) was spiritual. Fleshly things prophesy of spiritual truths, but if we are unable to interpret these things, it is because we are yet donkeys when we ought to be sheep.
A clean animal chews its cud (Leviticus 11:3). It eats grass (“all flesh is grass,” Isaiah 40:6), and when we, as sheep, read the Bible or hear a sermon, it is just grass until we meditate upon it (“chew the cud”) and convert it to spiritual food.
Likewise, a clean animal has a cloven hoof, because such people stand on a double witness which establishes all truth. Rather than accepting a man’s word, they meditate and wait for the Holy Spirit to confirm the word to them. Hence, they are taught by God Himself, and the man delivering the word remains a mere agent.
Even if his word is the truth from the very throne of God, he has no right to impose it upon anyone by force or threats. If he does so, he creates servants and slaves, and such people are children of the bondwoman, “born according to the flesh” (Galatians 4:29). They may be believers, of course, but their faith has been imposed upon them from the outside through the power of flesh, rather than coming from the inside through the power of the Spirit.
But as Paul says in Galatians 4:28,
28 And you, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.
The grumbling disciples were careful to eat clean physical food, but they did not yet understand how the law was spiritual (Romans 7:14). By not really understanding the spirit of the law, they lacked the ability to eat clean spiritual food.
They were treating Jesus as if He were just another rabbi whose disciples were expected to memorize and submit to his particular “yoke,” or teaching. The rabbinic method begat many children of the flesh, many Ishmaels, many children of the bondwoman (Hagar-Jerusalem). But Jesus wanted them to chew their cud so that His words might be transformed to spirit in them. In that way, the disciples would no longer feed the flesh with grass but would feed their spirits with true spiritual food.
John 6:64, 65 continues,
64 … For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
When John wrote these words, he understood that Jesus was referring primarily to Judas, who would later betray Him. He thus shows us that Judas was an unclean disciple, a spiritual donkey who lacked the ability to chew the cud. No doubt Judas thought he had faith, but when his faith was tested, he failed. So is it with all who do not understand how to chew the cud and or what it means to divide the hoof (a double witness).
Those who are able to understand the principle of clean spiritual food are those who are better able to hear His voice, to eat His flesh, and to drink His blood. Yet even this ability depends upon the sovereignty of God, because God must initiate this ability in order for them to respond to the word by faith (Romans 10:17).
Fortunately for us, our Sovereign God has decreed through the New Covenant that He will indeed teach all men and will write His law upon our hearts. John 12:32, 33 says,
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself. 33 But He was saying this to indicate what kind of death by which He was to die.
Hence, to paraphrase this, Jesus says that if He would indeed be crucified, “lifted up” between heaven and earth as the great Mediator between God and men, the result will be that He “will draw all men” to Himself. Obviously, not all are drawn to Him in their lifetime on earth, but the day will come when every knee bows and every tongue professes Jesus Christ as Lord to the glory of God (Philippians 2:10, 11).
John 6:66 says,
66 As a result of this, many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.
As a result of what? It is because no man can come to Christ unless it has been granted him from the Father. Yes, it is true that many disciples withdrew from Christ because they could not eat His flesh and drink His blood. But their lack was because God had not yet granted them the ears to hear or the eyes to see.
John 6:67-69 says,
67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
John suggests that Judas himself did not truly believe, but the answer above came from Simon Peter. Even though his faith was shaky, the Father had initiated something in his heart, along with the other disciples (except for Judas). His faith would grow until it reached a climax on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ crucifixion.
So it is with all of Jesus’ disciples, including those of us who claim to follow Him. Disciples are divided according to the cause of their faith. Those who think that their faith was initiated in their own hearts and minds will fail the test in the end. Those whose faith is a response to God’s action in their heart will succeed in the end—even if, like Peter himself—they fail along the way. So Jesus concludes in John 6:70, 71,
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” 71 Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.
A “devil” is an accuser, just as “Satan” is an adversary. Both terms portray an adversarial relationship. Judas ended up betraying Jesus by siding with Christ’s adversaries. A similar conflict has emerged today, where Jesus’ disciples again betray Him by siding with His adversaries.
The two sides are represented by Simon Peter and Simon Iscariot. Which “Simon” are you? Simon means “hearing.” That seems to be the underlying issue. Do we “hear” spiritually, like Simon Peter? Or do we “hear” only carnally, like Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot? Are we children of the flesh, born of Hagar, the earthly Jerusalem? Or are we children of the spirit, born of Sarah, the heavenly Jerusalem?
This is a difficult statement; who can hear it?
This ends the fourth sign in the Gospel of John.
This is part 7 of a series titled "Jesus' Fourth Sign" To view all parts, click the link below.