To understand many of the bizarre things Jesus says in the Gospel books, you need to start by understanding that Jesus spends a lot of time pushing people who are content with their current religious beliefs to change those beliefs. To understand how uncomfortable this is, consider how you would react to the idea that God lies, or that He intentionally creates tumors in the brains of some babies, or that He likes Hell, or that He is the One who has helped the sadistic ISIS terrorists pull off countless torture fests without interruption. You see, once you have an understanding of God that works for you, you’re naturally going to resist having that image changed. And once you refuse to have your view of God changed, you will reject any new truths about Him that make you uncomfortable. In other words, you decide that God is only going to function as your woobie—something you value only for the comfort that it gives you. Today many Christians are in a woobie mentality with God, which is why they get very hostile to any teaching about God which makes Him seem less cuddly than a kitten.
Now you can apply the woobie mentality to God’s entire Person, or you can apply it to specific theological concepts. Take salvation, for example. Many Christians believe they are saved merely because they mouthed some scripted prayer and decided to click a mental “like” button for Buddy Jesus. Many Christians think that all God requires from us is that we acknowledge how much He love, love, loves us. It’s very comforting to view your Creator as your Powerful Buddy who never demands anything from you. Once you get into this woobie mentality about salvation, then you’re going to naturally resist teaching that casts a darker light on the salvation process. In reality, simply reveling in God’s deep love for us is really not enough to gain access to Heaven. The truth is that Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit demand that we submit to Them as the Supreme Authorities over all created things (see Salvation Q&A). That doesn’t sound like such a big deal as long as you only view God as the Maker of sunshine and flowers. But when you also view Him as the Creator of evil, pain, and sorrow, then submitting to Him takes on a different tone. When God then tells you to do something unpleasant, or when He shoves you into some hellish situation, then submitting to Him becomes a lot harder to do.
Now in the Gospel books, we find Jesus going around interfacing with a bunch of religious Jews who believe that they have salvation in the bag because they’re doing a decent amount of good works and because they occasionally pay homage to Yahweh as the only real God. Jesus then says that none of these Jews have salvation in the bag because Yahweh is changing His salvation requirements and now everyone has to start submitting to Jesus as a second Divine Being. Jesus introduces this radical new teaching in stages, and the more He talks about it, the more offensive Jews find Him. To appreciate how offensive Jesus’ teaching was to other Jews, just imagine how you would feel if the current leader of your country announced that he was a fourth God and that Jesus will reject anyone who fails to worship him as such. What would you do in the face of such a claim? As you watch news reels of some human giving long speeches about how Divine he or she is, what would your reaction be? As a Christian, wouldn’t you instantly write such a person off as blasphemous? Of course. The mere sight of a human claiming to be God’s equal would sound like such an obvious lie that you wouldn’t feel any need to ask God for His feedback. You’d make the decision all on your own, and move on.
When the Jews living in New Testament Israel looked at Jesus, they saw a man, not a God. Then they heard the man claim to be a God. So they wrote Him off as a blaspheming heretic. They didn’t bother to ask Yahweh for His feedback. They simply decided that Jesus’ claims were obviously false. After all, in the Old Testament, Yahweh clearly states that He is the only real God, and that anyone who tries to suggest that His followers worship another Deity should be executed. So when Jesus started saying ludicrous things, like Yahweh wouldn’t accept anyone who didn’t submit to Jesus as a Divine Being—well, the Jews grabbed rocks and got ready to stone the blasphemer. Why bother to check with Yahweh when the answer was so obvious? It’s not like Yahweh would ever change the rules on something as basic as salvation…or would He?
In our material, we tell you to always check with God before you decide to accept or reject teaching on spiritual matters. As Christians, we can look back in history and see what a wild curve ball Yahweh threw at the Jews. Because the reality is that Yahweh lied about being the only God in existence. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are Gods as well—not lesser Gods, but Peer Equals to Yahweh. So when Jesus came along preaching that the worship of one God was no longer sufficient, He really wasn’t just one more in a long line of delusional heretics. Jesus was telling the truth, and many Jews ended up on the wrong side of eternity because they decided to rely on themselves instead of on Yahweh to help them discern truth from lies.
Whenever someone presents you with some radical new teaching, you always need to check with the Gods you’re sure about—and for Christians, that means asking Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit what They think about what’s being said. If you’re a follower of Judaism, then Yahweh is the God you’re sure about, so when someone says that Jesus is a second God, you need to ask Yahweh what He thinks. This is where the Jews fell down: they didn’t ask Yahweh in the privacy of their own souls what He thought of this Jesus character. Jesus told the Jews over and over again that if they were to ask Yahweh for help, Yahweh would confirm to them that Jesus was telling the truth. As Christians, we understand this. We don’t balk at the idea that Jesus is a Divine Being—instead, we’re very confident that this is true. So if someone were to claim to be a fourth God tomorrow, Jesus is the One we need to turn to. Going with your gut on spiritual matters is a bad idea. Thinking that you’re wise enough on your own to sort out truth from lies is utterly foolish. On our own, all humans are spiritual imbeciles. The only way we can ever learn the truth about anything is by sincerely seeking help from our Creators and acknowledging that They are the only Authorities on truth.
So now that we understand these principles, we’re ready to get into John 6 and figure out what Jesus is talking about when He makes a long speech about life. Jesus calls Himself the Bread of life. He says anyone who believes in Him has life. He says anyone who eats Him has life. He says the words He speaks are life. What is going on here? Well, let’s get into it.
JOHN 6: JESUS TALKS ABOUT LIFE
Here’s a handy Bible study tip: the more familiar you are with the Old Testament, the easier time you’ll have with the New Testament. Why is this? Because the New Testament is filled with references to Old Testament concepts.
Consider how often Christians refer to the New Testament in daily life. Keeping running the race. New creation in Christ. Drink the cup. Carry your cross. Die to yourself. Faith without works is dead. We could be entertaining angels. Use your spiritual gifts. How many of those phrases sounded familiar to you? Those are all references to things mentioned in the New Testament. Now whenever you’re reading the New Testament, you need to realize that none of the folks you’re reading about had ever heard of a “New Testament.” The Jews who wrote the New Testament only had what you call the Old Testament. Only it wasn’t “Old” to them—it was their Bible. In their minds, it wasn’t an unfinished work; it was complete and sufficient to guide them in life.
Now Jewish society was a religious society and in New Testament Israel, that religion revolved around what we Christians call the Old Testament. The Jews who Jesus is talking to didn’t know their Scriptures well, but they knew enough to have phrases like “the Good Shepherd” make them think of Yahweh, because Yahweh is referred to multiple times in the Old Testament as a good shepherd. The Jews who Jesus talked to had a mental list of familiar Scripture passages and terms that are different than the list you walk around with today because unlike you, they had never heard of a New Testament. When the Old Testament is the only Testament you know, you’ll naturally know it better than modern day Christians who mostly focus on the New.
Now in the Old Testament, the term “life” is often used by Yahweh to refer to eternal salvation—ending up in Heaven instead of Hell. This was obvious to New Testament Jews because of their familiarity with Old Testament language. Whenever Jesus started to use the term “life” in certain contexts, everyone understood He was talking about eternal salvation. So when Jesus calls Himself “the Bread of Life,” He’s saying that He is the Source of salvation. He’s not claiming to be an edible loaf, and He’s not promoting cannibalism. He’s being metaphorical. Let’s now look at an actual passage of Scripture.
By the time of John 6, Jesus has acquired the reputation of being an amazing Miracle Worker. This chapter kicks off with Jesus miraculously creating enough food to feed a mob of 5,000 people. With such an astounding Miracle Worker in their midst, naturally the Jews are trying to keep close tabs on Him. But tracking Jesus isn’t always easy, because He has a habit of hopping in boats and sailing away from His fans. Once Jesus sets sail on the Sea of Galilee, there’s no telling where He’ll come ashore, so the Jews do a lot of scrambling around, trying to find Him. In John 6, some folks have hopped into boats and set sail themselves, determined to track Jesus down. They finally catch up to Him in a synagogue in the seaside city of Capernaum. When you hear the term synagogue, think of a gathering of men in someone’s house or at some community meeting place. Synagogues were the invention of Pharisees and only male Jews were allowed to take part in them.
When they found Jesus on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”
Jesus answered, “I assure you: You are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Don’t work for the food that perishes but for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal of approval on Him.” (Jn. 6:25-27)
Always One for blunt truth, Jesus immediately calls these fawning fans out on their carnal motivations. “You’re just here because you were wowed by My ability to create food,” He says. “You need to set your sights on much higher things. Earthly food is temporary. Salvation is eternal. You need to pursue salvation, and that’s something only I can give you.”
This is very blasphemous teaching. Yahweh is the One who grants salvation, not humans. And yet here human looking Jesus is saying that He has the power and authority to grant salvation to people. This is like your neighbor knocking on your door and saying, “Hey, you’d better start being a lot nicer to me because God has given me the authority to throw your soul into Hell if you tick me off.” As a Christian, would you really accept such a wild claim? Of course not. You’d blow the guy off, just as the Jews in John 6 are going to blow Jesus off. They really didn’t come here to talk about salvation—they came here to find out how they could get their hands on Yahweh’s power. After all, Jesus is just a man, yet He’s doing miracles. If Jesus can get those kinds of hookups, why not them?
“What can we do to perform the works of God?” they asked. (Jn. 6:28)
You’ll find that many of Jesus’ followers—including His twelve disciples—are clinging to the delusion that somehow hanging out with Jesus will lead to them getting their greedy mitts on some supernatural power. These Jews that have been chasing Jesus across the Sea of Galilee don’t hesitate to ask how they can get the ability to perform the same kinds of miracles that Jesus does.
Jesus replied, “This is the work of God—that you believe in the One He has sent.” (Jn. 6:29)
Remember that when Jews use the title of God in the New Testament, they are almost always referring to only Yahweh. So let’s rephrase these statements to hear what the Jews heard:
“What can we do to perform the works of Yahweh?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “This is the work of Yahweh—that you believe in the One that Yahweh has sent.” (Jn. 6:28-29)
The Jews want to talk about doing miracles. Jesus changes the subject to being approved of by Yahweh. Jesus once again says that Yahweh now requires His followers to believe the outrageous claims Jesus makes about Himself. Just a moment ago, Jesus claimed to have the authority to grant salvation to humans. Now He emphasizes that these Jews must accept what He’s saying in order to be accepted by Yahweh.
Well, these miracle obsessed Jews don’t want to talk about theology, they just want to see Jesus do something spectacular. So now they say:
“What sign then are You going to do so we may see and believe You?” they asked. “What are You going to perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ [Ps. 78:24]” (Jn. 6:30-31)
This reference to manna is absurd and irrelevant. Jesus has already cued us that these particular Jews are very focused on miracles involving the production of food. So they now reach for a well-known Old Testament miracle in which Yahweh caused food to supernaturally appear. That event happened shortly after the Ten Plagues on ancient Egypt. After those plagues, the Jews crossed through the Red Sea and ended up in a barren wilderness. Yahweh then caused edible flakes to rain down from the sky, which the Jews named manna. Manna had nothing to do with eternal salvation, and you could hardly argue that manna was the miracle that proved the existence of Yahweh. It was more like manna was just one in a long string of amazing miracles, none of which inspired the Jews enough to turn away from their rebellious soul attitudes.
These Jews are being foolish to think they can con Jesus into thinking He has to compete with Yahweh’s manna miracle. Instead, Jesus actually downgrades the manna miracle, fluffing it off as spiritually insignificant, since all it produced was a perishable product.
Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from Heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from Heaven. For the bread of Yahweh is the One who comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn. 6:32-33)
This conversation keeps going around in the same loop. The Jews push Jesus for food miracles, and Jesus keeps turning the focus back onto the subject of eternal salvation. Now it’s important to note that Moses didn’t cause manna to fall from the sky. Moses was just a human, and humans have no such power. But to the Jews Jesus is talking to in John 6, Moses was as revered as the apostles Paul and Peter are by Christians today.
Now in our material, we often refer to the apostle Paul as a spiritual moron, because he was. A moron is a stupid person, and in spiritual matters, Paul was very stupid. His teachings are full of lies and idiocy (see The Great Offense of Paul: Rejecting the Divinity of Christ). While he was very clever at manipulating people, when it came to spiritual matters, he was a total doofus. But when you’re talking to modern day Christians who adore Paul, it really doesn’t go over well when you call their hero a moron. Sometimes Christians send us nastygrams in which they cuss us out and call down curses on us for being so arrogant as to think we know better than the great apostle Paul. Well, here in John 6, Jesus is being equally offensive to rip on the glorious Moses. In the passage we just quoted, Jesus compares Himself to Moses. Jesus then claims to be superior to Moses because He says that Moses never helped anyone get saved, whereas Jesus is making salvation available to the entire world. Also, Moses was just a human, yet Jesus claims to originate from Heaven, which is the same as claiming that He is a supernatural Being—a Being who is greater than human. And of course Jesus keeps flaunting His great unity with Yahweh. Let’s review that passage again:
Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from Heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from Heaven. For the bread of Yahweh is the One who comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn. 6:32-33)
Jesus is using the term bread as a metaphor here. Just as earthly bread will keep your body alive, spiritual bread will keep you eternally alive. In other words, if you want to keep living on earth, you need to eat food. But if you want to “live” in eternity—which means go to Heaven instead of Hell—you’ll need to ingest Yahweh’s “Bread,” which means submitting to Jesus as the Divine Being He claims to be. This is very uncomfortable teaching for Old Covenant Jews.
Remember our example of your neighbor coming over and claiming that he had the power to throw your soul into Hell? That might scare you if you were superstitious and uncommitted to any particular system of beliefs. But if you are a Christian who is confident that you are on your way to Heaven, then you’re going to find it quite offensive that your neighbor is claiming to have the power to take that security away from you. It would sound like your neighbor is trying to step between you and God, saying “Uh-uh. You’re not going to get to Him without going through me, and I won’t accept you unless you do what I say.” This is what Jesus did to the Jews. They thought they were doing just fine with Yahweh, but then Jesus came along and said, “Actually, the rules have changed. Now you’ll never be okay with Yahweh until you go through Me, and I won’t accept you unless you bow to Me as a Divine Being.”
So is this group of Jewish men who are gathered in a synagogue actually listening to what Jesus is saying? Not yet. The offense of what Jesus is saying is about to click in, but right now the guys are just hearing that Jesus is offering to give them some fabulous perks, and they want to get as many as they can.
Then they said, “Sir, give us this bread always!” (Jn. 6:34)
Well, no, that’s not how it works. The kind of “bread” Jesus is talking about has a price tag on it. Salvation isn’t like some free flyer that someone sticks on your car window without even asking you if you want it. Jesus will only grant salvation to those who submit to Him as a Divine Being.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again. But as I told you, you’ve seen Me, and yet you do not believe. Everyone the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out. For I have come down from Heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Yahweh who sent Me. This is the will of Yahweh who sent Me: that I should lose none of those Yahweh has given Me but should raise them up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life, and I will raise those believers up on the last day.” (Jn. 6:35-40)
It’s that line about Jesus coming down from Heaven which is the real zinger in this speech. Jesus just won’t stop flaunting His credentials as a Divine Being. The import of what He’s saying here is often lost on people today because they don’t hear Jesus’ words with the ears of ancient Jews. But to Jesus’ original audience, His meaning was clear. By claiming to originate from Heaven, not Earth, He was claiming to be a supernatural Being. By claiming to be sent by Yahweh, aligned with Yahweh, approved of by Yahweh, and by claiming to possess the abilities of Yahweh—such as the power to place souls in Heaven or Hell—Jesus is claiming to be Yahweh’s Equal.
Finally, the Jews in this synagogue start paying attention. And as soon as they admit to themselves what Jesus is really saying, they reject it, of course. It’s obvious to them that Jesus is just the mortal son of some random carpenter in Galilee. He’s not a Divine Being.
Therefore the Jews started complaining about Jesus because He said, “I am the bread that came down from Heaven.” They were saying, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can He now say, ‘I have come down from Heaven’?” (Jn. 6:41-42)
Humans come from Earth. Only Yahweh and His angels can come from Heaven, and Jesus is clearly claiming to be higher than an angel. Jesus is claiming to be the same kind of Being as Yahweh. It’s just too absurd. And though He keeps insisting that Yahweh will affirm the truth of what He’s saying to any soul who asks Him, these Jews aren’t asking Yahweh. They feel they don’t need Yahweh’s input on this one: it’s a no-brainer. Jesus is delusional.
Jesus answered them, “Stop complaining among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘And they will all be taught by Yahweh.’ Everyone who has listened to and learned from the Father comes to Me—not that anyone has seen the Father except the One who is from Yahweh. That One has seen the Father.” (Jn. 6:43-46)
Notice how Jesus says no one can come to Him without Yahweh’s involvement. This is just another way that Jesus is emphasizing how He has Yahweh’s total support. Jesus keeps insisting that Yahweh is very enthusiastic about Jesus, when any rational Jew would assume that Yahweh would take great offense at Jesus. It’s simply insane to an Old Covenant Jew for anyone to suggest that Yahweh would be for the idea of a man claiming to be His Equal. But Jesus says that Yahweh is not only 100% in support of Jesus’ wild claims, He says that it’s actually Yahweh who is telling people to bow to Him. You see, Jesus is not trying to replace Yahweh, or drive Him out of the picture. Instead, He’s saying that this new requirement of everyone submitting to Jesus is all part of Yahweh’s plan. He’s saying that Yahweh will lead them all to Jesus if the Jews are sincerely seeking Yahweh. And then He once again flaunts His own Divinity by claiming to have seen Yahweh face to face.
Now in the Old Testament, we find records of Jews seeing Yahweh. Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel all saw Yahweh, so there’s nothing outrageous about claiming to have seen God. But by New Testament times, the Jews had made up a lot of absurd superstitions that they were treating as rock solid truths. In the Gospels, we find Jesus working within the current framework of beliefs, even when that framework is absurdly wrong. For example, Satan has never ruled the world, and no one thought he did in the Old Testament. But by the time of the New Testament, Satan is being glorified by the Jews and they are calling him the ruler of the world. Instead of scoffing at that idea, Jesus uses it to His own advantage (see Impressing the Devil: Jesus’ Self-Exalting Temptation Story). It’s the same with this business of seeing Yahweh face to face. How the Jews had all managed to forget that Yahweh Himself claims to have spoken to Moses face to face in the Torah is unknown. But since this was the game they were playing, Jesus uses it to His advantage. By claiming to have seen Yahweh face to face, He is once again elevating Himself as a Supernatural Being, because these Jews have all decided that no regular human can have seen Yahweh. Realizing how much Jesus is tailoring His language to make sense to His original audience is an important step in developing good discernment skills.
Jesus is now going to continue His Self-exalting speech by hammering the point that no one can acquire salvation without submitting to Him as Yahweh’s Divine Peer.
“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)
By this point in His earthly ministry, Jesus has already predicted His coming crucifixion, and that’s what He’s alluding to when He speaks of offering up Himself so that the world may live. It can’t be stressed enough how irrelevant the cross becomes once you separate it from Old Covenant theology. It’s only within the context of Yahweh’s original sacrificial system that the cross can begin to have any association with salvation. To a Christian who did not grow up practicing the rituals of Old Testament Judaism, the cross just doesn’t make the impact it was intended to make on the Jews. The whole package of Jesus dying on a cross and then resurrecting three days later is filled with significance only for New Testament Jews who are entrenched in Old Covenant theology. For anyone else, the cross simply comes across as a grand gesture of self-sacrificing love, and to view it that way is to miss much of its significance.
The entire Bible that you’re taught to cling to today is a very culturally specific book. It’s talking to ancient Jews within the context of their beliefs, and those beliefs significantly change as we progress from the Old to New Testaments. So when you find yourself confused by something in the Bible, a good place to start is to examine cultural context and think about who is being originally addressed. Don’t just say, “God is talking to me in this passage,” because He’s not. When God talks to you today, He’ll use different language and metaphors than He used with ancient Jews.
Now Jesus is really going to town with this bread of life language. The only reason He’s using bread language is because this whole conversation was started by Jews who were specifically looking for supernatural ways to produce food. Remember that it was the Jews, not Jesus, who brought up the manna miracle, and Jesus has been playing off of that ever since. He keeps minimizing the whole manna event by downgrading the manna as an edible, temporary thing. Then He exalts Himself as the superior “Bread.” Because while the ancient manna helped the Israelites stay physically alive in the desert, Jesus is “Bread” that will give them eternal life, which was Old Testament lingo for eternal salvation.
Now have you ever had someone say something to you in a creative way, but you didn’t like what they were saying, so you picked on their choice of words as a way of distracting from the point they were making? That’s what the Jews are now going to do with Jesus. They’re very offended by what He’s saying. Milking Jesus for some miracle performing tips is one thing—bowing to Him as a God is another. No one wants to bow to Jesus, and since that is clearly what He’s demanding, these Jews decide to pick on His choice of wording. After all, Jesus mentioned eating His flesh, and dining on human flesh is a huge no-no under the Old Covenant. So now these Jews try to make a thing out of what was clearly metaphorical language just so they can divert attention from Jesus’ demands for submission.
Then the people began arguing with each other about what Jesus meant. “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” they asked. (Jn. 6:52)
Well, Jesus isn’t going to stop using His bread metaphor just because it makes people squirm. Instead, He keeps going with His cannibalistic talk.
So Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves. Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day, because My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood lives in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the Bread that came down from Heaven; it is not like the manna your fathers ate only to then die. The one who eats this Bread will live forever.” (Jn. 6:53-58)
This talk about eating and drinking Jesus is a figurative way to describe living in alignment with Him. To understand the sentiment here, imagine the difference between a rebellious Christian and one who is really “on fire” for God. The first Christian blows off convictions from God, while the second fellow eagerly embraces everything God says to him. The first Christian only think about pleasing himself, while the second Christian is focused on pleasing God. When Jesus says that people must eat and drink the Son of Man in order to obtain salvation, He’s talking about your soul responding to Him with sincere submission.
Jesus demanding more than half-hearted submission from people is a theme He comes back to over and over throughout the Gospel books. Jesus makes it very clear that merely tossing out some fancy prayer won’t cut it. We have to be all in—to surrender ourselves to Him without trying to hold anything back. We must embrace our place as His slaves, not try to sidle up to Him as His partners (see The Parable of the Unworthy Servant). To these Jews who are squirming at the thought of a human claiming to be Divine, giving Jesus the kind of submission He demands is not going to be easy theologically or spiritually. In the first place, Jesus’ claims are in such contradiction to what Yahweh teaches in Jewish Scriptures. In the second place, human pride chafes at the idea of being God’s slaves.
Many of Jesus’ disciples said, “This teaching 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?” (Jn. 6:60-62)
Notice how Jesus acknowledges that His teaching is offending these Jews. But then He challenges them to consider how they’d feel if they were to see Him ascend back up to Heaven. Some of these disciples will see exactly that, and when they do, they’ll take it as proof that Jesus really was who He claimed to be. The point is that these men will have to get over their offense at some point, because Jesus isn’t going to stop being Divine just to please them. He’s God, and they’re going to have to accept it sooner or later. Jesus now goes on to say:
“The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some among you who don’t believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the one who would betray Him.) He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.” (Jn. 6:63-65)
The Jews Jesus is speaking to here do not recognize the Holy Spirit as the magnificent God that He is. Instead, they use the term Holy Spirit as an alternate title for Yahweh. Jesus is being very careful to keep Yahweh in the picture by saying that “The Spirit is the One who gives life.” The Jews would hear this saying to mean, “Yahweh is the One who grants salvation.” Talking like this is important, because before any Jew can accept that Jesus is who He claims to be, they need to hear evidence of Jesus acknowledging Yahweh as a Supreme Deity. Jesus does this often throughout His teaching: He keeps Yahweh very much on His Divine throne. But then He goes and sets up another throne beside Yahweh’s which He parks Himself on. Sincere Yahweh followers would feel relieved to hear Jesus exalting Yahweh, but then they’d feel disturbed by the way Jesus elevates Himself as Yahweh’s Equal.
Now how many real Gods there are isn’t the only major stumbling point for these Jews. In New Testament Israel, the presiding belief was that salvation was obtained through good deeds. Pharisees like the apostle Paul and their rivals, the Sadducees, all taught that Yahweh judged His followers by their external works, not by their internal attitudes. This is a fat lie, of course, but it’s what everyone was taught from the crib. Once you understand how legalistic and works driven New Testament Jewish theology was, you can appreciate the shock that it is when Jesus says “The flesh doesn’t help at all” in acquiring salvation. Once again, Jesus is directly countering a core belief of these Jews.
Now teaching that soul attitudes are more important than external deeds is a theme which we find throughout the Bible. Yahweh and Jesus both teach that humans are judged by their soul response to their Creators, not by their external works. But in passages where God is not being quoted, we often find Jewish authors promoting the idea that works are more important than faith. James, John, and Paul all teach that your external deeds are more important than your internal attitude towards God. Because this was the prevailing belief in New Testament Israel, Jesus spends a lot of time countering it (see Jesus vs. the NT Jews: What it Means to Please God). Jesus teaches that soul attitudes like submission, reverence, and humility are far more important than merely going through religious rituals. And to the crowd of Jewish men in the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus warns that they are heading to the wrong side of eternity because they are rejecting His claims to be a Divine Being. Reject Jesus, and you’ll be rejected by Yahweh—this is the dire warning Jesus hammers over and over when He’s talking to Jews in Israel.
So how are these men going to respond to Jesus’ wild claims and threats of eternal damnation? Well, many of these Jews are going to decide Jesus is just too full of Himself and they’ll ditch Him. They won’t seek Yahweh’s opinion on the matter, because they don’t care enough about really seeking the truth. Just as most of the folks who call themselves “Christians” today don’t really care about pleasing the real Gods, most of the folks who claimed to be followers of Yahweh didn’t really care about pleasing Him. They were just going through religious motions because of the culture they lived in, or because it was what their parents taught them to do. When Jesus then demands that they make a decision about His Divinity, they walk. They don’t listen to Yahweh, who is telling them that Jesus is speaking the truth.
From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?”
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of Yahweh!”
Jesus replied to them, “Didn’t I choose you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is the Devil!” He was referring to Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, one of the Twelve, because he was going to betray Jesus. (Jn. 6:66-71)
Peter sounds pretty committed when he stays by Jesus’ side. But earlier in this chapter, Peter and the other disciples saw Jesus walking on the surface of a stormy sea—something that a normal human clearly can’t do. So Peter isn’t ready to give up yet. No matter how crazy Jesus talks, He clearly has hook ups to Divine power, and if He really is the promised Messiah, then He’ll be launching some kind of coup against Rome in the future and establishing Israel as a world power (see Know Your Bible Lesson 61: The Triumphal Entry). This is what the Jews expected Yahweh’s Messiah to do, and when that happens, Peter and the rest of the Twelve are hoping to have their loyalty rewarded with top positions in Jesus’ new government (see Know Your Bible Lesson 60: Greedy Disciples). It’s not that Jesus’ disciples were only following Him in the hopes of getting earthly glory for themselves…well, maybe just a little.