Jesus has just told a crowd of his followers that they need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. How did the crowd feel about this bizarre teaching? I think they felt disappointment, confusion, frustration, and maybe some disillusionment. Just the day before he had miraculously fed a crowd of 5000+ people, and they want more. I can imagine the people, after hearing Jesus say “eat my flesh and drink my blood,” thinking, “What?!?! This is not what I came to the synagogue today hoping for.” Look at verse 60.
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’”
Disciples? Yes, followers, learners. Does this mean any of the Twelve disciples were upset? Probably. Wouldn’t you be? No matter if you take Jesus literally or figuratively, this is a hard teaching. If you take him literally, he’s either a zombie, a vampire or a cannibal. But he is not speaking literally; he is speaking figuratively. Jesus is saying that abundant life and eternal life are only possible by a belief that shows itself through giving him control of your life, through choosing his ways, not our own. That’s a hard teaching too!
How will Jesus respond? Will he say, “Well, just take a baby step toward me. I’ll make it easy for you. I’ll make it comfortable. Really, it’s not a big deal.” Uh…no. Look at verses 61-65.
“Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him’.”
Again in verses 62 and 63, Jesus is somewhat mysterious and theological. He makes no bones about the fact that he, The Son of Man, can ascend to heaven. Did the people understand what he was talking about? I think they at least had a clue, as we’re about to find out in their reaction to him.
Before we hear their reaction, notice that Jesus talks about the Spirit. The Spirit gives life, he says, and the flesh counts for nothing. Now Jesus is decoding his previous seemingly bizarre comments for them. He is giving them a major clue that when he said, “eat my flesh, drink my blood,” he was not talking about his actual body and blood. He is saying that it is the Spirit who gives life. We, therefore, need his Spirit in our lives, and then we will have the life of Jesus in us.
As we read in verses 64 and 65, Jesus already knew that his disciple Judas would betray him. But he makes a statement about how no one can come to him unless the Father has enabled him. He already said a few things like this last week, and I didn’t talk about them.
Look at verse 37, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
Also verse 39, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.”
Finally, verses 44-45, ““No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.”
While there are certainly numerous opinions about how to interpret his teaching, I understand Jesus as referring to the reality that our salvation is not something that we alone, by ourselves, in our own efforts, can achieve. God is involved. We believe that, and thus we show that our belief is genuine, by choosing to give him control of our lives. By releasing our desires to him and aligning our hearts, minds, and choices to him. We believe God has acted to enable all people to believe in him that way. We then respond by choosing to give our lives to him.
How will the people in the crowd respond? Jesus has attempted to clear things up for them, giving them an opportunity to respond by believing in him and giving him control of their lives. Look what some of them do in verse 66.
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
Many of his disciples no longer followed him? Does this mean some of the Twelve turned away? It seems Jesus is wondering. Look at verse 67:
“’You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve.”
How will they answer? We’ll find out in the next post.