It was a long and stormy night. Jesus is less than pleased with the spiritual laziness of His disciples. Peter and the others are just not grasping the importance of exercising faith instead of just sitting around waiting for the next grand show of miracles. After sailing across the sea, Jesus has led His boys back to His home base of Capernaum—that city full of spiritual rebels who He cursed back in Lesson 51. Jesus is tired of performing miracles at the moment—He’s much more interested in moving on to some serious teaching. Leading the way to a local synagogue, He does His usual deal of taking over the conversation and starts to teach. But then mayhem breaks out as a large mob of folks arrives from that crowd of 5,000 who He miraculously fed the night before. These people have been hunting up and down the shoreline for Jesus, and now that they’ve found Him, they’ve got one thing on their minds. Jesus knows exactly what that one thing is and He is less than pleased. When someone asks when He arrived at Capernaum, He replies:
“I tell you the truth, you want to be with Me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given Me the seal of His approval.” (Jn. 6:25-27)
Who cares about eternal life when you can make bread out of thin air? These folks want to know how they can get their hands on Yahweh’s power to perform miracles. Obviously Jesus found a way to get His hands on that power. It’s only right for Him to share the wealth.
They replied, “We want to perform Yahweh’s works, too. What should we do?”
Jesus told them, “This is the only work Yahweh wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.” (Jn. 6:28-29)
The way Jesus keeps turning the attention back onto Himself is getting tiresome. These people want action. Jesus obviously has a very high opinion of Himself, but if He expects them to be so impressed with Him, He’ll have to work for their applause. This time, they want something more exciting than multiplying loaves and fish. Didn’t Moses make manna rain down from the sky?
They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if You want us to believe in You. What can You do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (Jn. 6:30-31)
What a bunch of greedy brats. And notice how they credit Moses for the manna, not Yahweh. Jesus isn’t going to sit for that rubbish.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now He offers you the true bread from Heaven. The true bread of Yahweh is the One who comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”
Jesus replied, “I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in Me even though you have seen Me. However, those the Father has given Me will come to Me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from Heaven to do the will of Yahweh who sent Me, not to do My own will. And this is the will of Yahweh: that I should not lose even one of all those He has given Me, but that I should raise them up on the last day. For it is My Father’s will that all who see His Son and believe in Him should have eternal life. I will raise them up on the last day.” (Jn. 6:32-40)
In this speech, Jesus is bluntly saying that He is not a human being. He’s claiming to be a supernatural being instead—one who has come down to earth from Heaven. He keeps calling Yahweh His Father. He claims to have power over life and death—a power which the Jews know only comes from God. Notice how Jesus doesn’t say that Yahweh will be raising people up on the last day—He says that He will be doing the resurrecting all on His own. In other words, He’s claiming to have powers that are equal to the great Yahweh’s powers. Well, this is all a bit much. Jesus is clearly a flesh and blood man, just like them, so who does He think He is kidding with this guff about coming down from Heaven?
Then the people began to murmur in disagreement because He had said, “I am the bread that came down from Heaven.” They said, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know His father and mother. How can He say, ‘I came down from Heaven’?”
But Jesus replied, “Stop complaining about what I said. For no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws them to Me, and at the last day I will raise them up. As it is written in the Scriptures, ‘They will all be taught by Yahweh.’ [Isa. 54:13]” (Jn. 6:41-45)
Let’s remember that according to Yahweh’s first Covenant, it is utter blasphemy to say that there is any God besides Him. Yet Jesus is standing here claiming to be Yahweh’s equal in power and nature. The automatic protest that any serious Yahweh follower would throw out is: “There’s no way Yahweh would ever approve of You because You are claiming to be His equal!” This is why we find Jesus constantly hammering the point that He has Yahweh’s full support. Earlier in this speech He claimed to have Yahweh’s stamp of approval. Now He says that Yahweh Himself is the One commanding people to accept Jesus’ claim to be a second God. Notice how Jesus describes Yahweh drawing people not towards Yahweh Himself, but towards Jesus. Since when does Yahweh move anyone to revere and worship a created being? He doesn’t. Yahweh only draws us towards our uncreated Creators, one of whom is Jesus. We have to hear Jesus with the ears of an Old Covenant Jew to understand the outrageous offense of what He is saying. He’s claiming to be another God. This is not okay.
“Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me. Not that anyone has ever seen the Father; only I, who was sent from Yahweh, have seen Him.” (Jn. 6:45-46)
We can find several accounts in the Old Testament of humans having visions of Yahweh. But here Jesus is claiming to be the only One to have seen Yahweh as He actually is. Jesus claims to have a uniquely intimate relationship with God Almighty. Jewish minds are blowing fuses at this point. And notice how Jesus describes Yahweh as rerouting everyone who comes to Him over to Jesus. Is there no end to the insanity?
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the Bread of Life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from Heaven, however, will never die. I am the Living Bread that came down from Heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live forever; and this Bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is My flesh.” (Jn. 6:47-51)
Well, this puts the cap on it. After saying that belief in His equality with the magnificent Yahweh will result in eternal life, Jesus talks about people eating Him. Well, that’s just plain gross. These are Jews who are living under strict dietary laws. They don’t eat fat or blood. They don’t eat a whole bunch of animals, and they certainly don’t eat people. So if Jesus thinks people are going to eat Him, He has clearly lost His marbles.
Then the people began arguing with each other about what He meant. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” they asked.
So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person up at the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father who sent Me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on Me will live because of Me. I am the true bread that came down from Heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.” (Jn. 6:52-58)
It’s important to realize that these Old Covenant Jews are already familiar with the concepts of eternal life and Heaven. Jesus isn’t introducing a new idea when He talks about eternal life—instead He’s changing the terms of how to acquire that life. Before it was just a matter of staying faithful to Yahweh. Now Jesus is saying no one is going to get into Heaven unless they somehow go through Him. He’s even talking about indwelling people—another supernatural concept. This is so crazy.
Now let’s think about this. Suppose some guy named Fred gets up in your church one Sunday and announces that he’s a fourth God. Fred claims to have an intimate knowledge of Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit—in fact, he claims to be equal to Them in every way. Fred claims that he’s popped down from Heaven with a message from Jesus: salvation is no longer found through Christ alone. Now if you want to avoid ending up in Hell, you have to believe that this Fred is the Divine Being that he claims to be. And by the way, Fred claims to have Jesus backing him up 100%. In fact, he says that any true Christian will hear Jesus telling them that everything Fred says about himself is right on. What do you do? You’d be squirming in your seat feeling very uncomfortable. In your mind you’d be thinking, “There’s no way! This guy is clearly a servant of Satan!” That’s how a lot of Jews felt about Jesus as well. Today we have a popular little mantra in the Church: “God would never go against His own Word.” What do you think Jesus is doing? The Old Testament is the only “Word” these Jews have, and everything Jesus is saying is a total violation of it. You just can’t get any more blasphemous than to claim you’re another God.
So what should these Jews do? What should you do about Fred? If you’re serious about pleasing your Creators, then you need to go home and do some intense praying. At first glance, Jesus looks and sounds like a demonic nutcase. And yet He really is who He claims to be: Yahweh’s equal and personal Confidant. A second God. The Gatekeeper of Heaven. A Being who has power over life and death. But to accept any of these insane claims raises up all kinds of threatening questions. What the heck was Yahweh doing back in the Old Testament when He claimed to be the only God in existence over and over? Has Yahweh been intentionally deceiving people all this time? The prophet Samuel said that Yahweh doesn’t lie. Was Samuel wrong? What about the Torah—that most sacred of Jewish texts? The Torah is composed of Genesis through Deuteronomy—the five books of Moses. Moses said Yahweh was the only God in existence. How could a man like Moses be wrong? Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s tearing every human hero the Jews have down off of their pedestals of perfection. He’s casting a dark shadow of doubt over the sacred Scriptures. He’s even casting doubt onto the goodness of Yahweh Himself because how can a good God lie?? We’re still asking these questions today, aren’t we? We’re still going spastic over the implications of Jesus’ Divinity because we’ve spent years trying to downplay them. This guff about our Gods being “three in one” is a game we play to try and avoid the enormous theological headaches that Jesus forces us into. But avoidance is not the strategy that is going to keep us on the path of maturity. When we start avoiding tough topics, we start spiritually stagnating.
There’s nothing comfortable about Jesus. He is a theological H-bomb. When He steps onto the scene in the Gospels and starts claiming equality with Yahweh, everything we thought we knew starts getting violently shaken. Our infallible Bible starts looking very fallible. Our exalted teachers get knocked off of their pedestals. Jesus is God Almighty. But He’s not the only God. There’s also Yahweh. Then there’s the Holy Spirit. By the time Jesus ascends into Heaven, He’ll have shocked us all with the revelation that there are three Gods. No one is prepared to deal with this. We’re still trying not to deal with it today. But if we want to know truth, we must deal with it.
Whenever you find yourself squirming uncomfortably, you need to pray, not run. And as you pray, you need to remember that our Gods haven’t even begun to tell you the whole story. They have more secrets than you could ever count. While you can’t even figure out how your own body works, do you really think you know everything there is to know about Them? Of course you don’t, none of us do. We’re all just getting started and in this pursuit of three awesome, alien, Almighty Beings, we’re going to be hit with one shocking surprise after another. So we need to keep a tight grip on the Holy Spirit and ask Him to keep us on track with His truth and only His truth. We don’t want to get sidetracked with a bunch of delusions, but we also need to realize that we’re already walking around with a lot of delusions that we’re calling truth. Only God can sort out the mess for us and show us what is really true and what needs to change. Some of the changes are going to really upset us at first, yet if we are willing to trust the Ones who made us, we’re going to end up in an amazing place. Jesus once said that the Truth will set us free. Indeed it does, but only if we are brave enough to face it.
Many of His disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”
Jesus was aware that His disciples were complaining, so He said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to Heaven again? The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe Me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and He knew who would betray Him.) Then He said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to Me unless the Father gives them to Me.”
At this point many of His disciples turned away and deserted Him. (Jn. 6:60-66)
This whole speech has just been too much for most of Jesus’ followers to accept, so the majority of them up and leave. We still find this principle at work today: if you want to be unpopular, teach the straight, unadulterated truth about who our Gods are and what They want from us.
Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of Yahweh.”
Then Jesus said, “I chose the twelve of you, but one is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, one of the Twelve, who would later betray Him. (Jn. 6:60-71)
Peter and the other eleven step out on a limb here and decide to stick with Jesus. But before we get too impressed by their great faith, let’s consider what their choices are. They can either stick with miracle Man and maybe get to go on another mission trip where God performs miracles through them, or they can try to go back to their previous dull lives and be forever mocked as ex-friends of the Fruitcake. They decide to stick with the Guy who can create food, heal people, control demons, and bring the dead back to life. Is this really about faith or is it about hoping for future glory and privileges once Jesus becomes the king of Israel? There’s no question in the disciples’ minds that Jesus is heading for a throne—after all, Yahweh was very clear that His Messiah would rule as a king over Israel. Jesus is that Messiah, so clearly He’s going to end up as top dog somehow, someway. The disciples have enough faith in Yahweh to hold out for some major earthly goodies. Notice we don’t hear Jesus applauding anyone for their great faith or devotion to God.
THROWING OUT THE DIETARY LAWS
By now, Jesus is intentionally staying in the northern region of Galilee, and away from the southern region of Judea where the city of Jerusalem is. Remember that the Sadducees are the arrogant rivals of the pompous Pharisees (see Lesson 42). The Sadducees are the lords of the Temple and their stronghold is Jerusalem. After Jesus’ obnoxious behavior during His last visit to Jerusalem, the Sadducees hate His guts and are just waiting for Him to travel south again so they can kill Him (see Lesson 48). To avoid this, Jesus is staying in the north.
Now beyond Jerusalem is the turf of the Pharisees and wherever Jesus goes, the Pharisees hound Him, desperately trying to find a juicy opportunity to corrupt Jesus’ reputation in the eyes of the people. They keep thinking His disciples will provide them with some good ammo. For example, the disciples don’t wash their hands when they eat. Now the Pharisees loved to add to Yahweh’s body of laws and then constantly nitpick about who wasn’t doing things just right. According to them, not washing before you eat is a major violation. But when they try to make a big scene over this to embarrass Jesus publicly, He retaliates by saying that all of Yahweh’s dietary laws no longer apply. Say what?? Clearly Jesus must think He is a higher Authority than Yahweh Himself, if He thinks He can decide which of God’s laws no longer apply. Even Jesus’ disciples are squirming on this one. Of course when they try to protest to Him privately He calls them stupid. It’s classic Jesus.
SNUBBING A CANAANITE WOMAN
While Jesus continues to show impatient irritation towards His disciples, non-Jewish foreigners are the ones He publicly praises. After traveling far up north to the coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus is met by a desperate Canaanite mother who pleads with Him to heal her demon possessed daughter. At first, Jesus puts on an act of snubbing her. But when she persists, He publicly commends her for her great faith and grants her request.
THE SIGN OF JONAH
After that, it’s back down to the northern region of Israel for more healings, and another miraculous feeding of a mob of 4,000 people. As Jesus continues on in His travels, we are surprised to learn that the Pharisees and Sadducees are joining forces to try and take Jesus down. Normally fierce rivals, these two groups have become so desperate that they’ve decided to temporarily set their differences aside and team up. There must be some way to discredit Jesus. If He’s the God He claims to be, let’s see Him perform a sign in the sky upon command. Well, no, Jesus doesn’t take orders from these punks.
Now the Jews were obsessed with miracles. To them miracles were what logic and reason are to our scientists today. But Jesus knows that there’s no point in giving these rebel brats the sign they are demanding, because by now He’s performed countless miracles and the religious leaders are refusing to believe in Him.
Miracles don’t cure hardness of heart, and most of the people Jesus interacts with are steeped in spiritual rebellion. They’re so rebellious that Jesus is sick of dealing with them and He lets everyone know how irritating He finds them with one of those deep “wow you people are a royal pain in My side” kind of sighs.
But sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation demand a sign? I assure you: No sign will be given to this generation!” (Mk. 8:12)
Mark is the briefest of the four Gospel writers. In Matthew’s account of this same event, he adds more to Jesus’ response.
“When evening comes you say, ‘It will be good weather because the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (Mt. 16:2-4)
Jesus is being asked to perform some grand display in the sky to prove that He is who He claims to be. He retaliates by saying that since the Jews are so good at interpreting other sky “signs”—such as indicators of coming storms—why are they being such numskulls at interpreting the obvious signs all around them? Those signs are all of the miracles He is doing. After all, Jesus has been acting like a miracle machine lately. He’s cranking out the physical healings, mass feedings, and exorcisms so fast that no one can keep up, yet these clowns ask Him for yet another miracle? If their faith is based on miracles, why aren’t they responding to all the miracles He’s doing right in front of them? Because though they pretend to want “evidence” of Jesus’ Divinity, these religious preachers are really just trying to find some way to trap Him.
So what does Jonah have to do with this? Well, Jonah was thrown overboard in a stormy sea and presumed dead while he sat in the belly of a large fish for three days. But then the fish spat him out onto land and when he came strolling into public view, everyone was astounded. Imagine how surprised you’d be if some huge sea monster swam up to the beach where you were sunning yourself and spat out a live person who was totally intact and coherent? That’s quite a miracle. The Ninevites who Jonah spoke to were extremely impressed by his miraculous emergence from a fish. In the same way, many people will be astounded when Jesus comes out of His grave after three days. Jesus is hinting here about His coming death and resurrection, but of course this hint goes over everyone’s head and Jesus doesn’t bother to try and clarify.
The Pharisees and Sadducees are annoying. Really annoying. And they’re corrupting the minds of many Jews, who foolishly believe that such pompous preachers really are pleasing in God’s sight. Even Jesus’ disciples are impressed with the Pharisees and Sadducees—a point which Jesus brings up in a metaphorical way while He is sailing with His boys back across the Sea of Galilee. But of course the disciples don’t understand what Jesus is talking about because they’re never really listening to Him. They’re never focused. They’re always getting distracted by irrelevant details. Jesus is annoyed. When Jesus is annoyed, He gets crispy. It’s time for another chewing out.
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