When Jesus loses students.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 January 2019

John 6.59-71.

So Jesus gave this big ol’ lesson on being the living bread who wants to save us—and expects our response to be a deep commitment. You gotta eat the living bread. And no, this doesn’t mean holy communion; this means really being one with Jesus. Really following him.

Tough teaching for a classroom of people who only wanted Jesus to overthrow the Romans for them, then give ’em free bread. Tough teaching for Christians nowadays, who only wanna live worry-free lives, then go to heaven and live in mansions. God did all the work of saving us, so they figure he can do all the work of everything else in Christendom. These folks don’t wanna actually do anything for God; they want cheap grace and passive Christianism. There’s not much difference between our motives.

But there is a big difference in our responses: The Galileans left.

Whereas Christians nowadays will say yes and amen, and pretend we’re all for the idea… then go out and demonstrate by our lifestyles we don’t believe a word of it… but be back in church every Sunday morning acting as if we do. Lemme keep being blunt: Both these behaviors are forms of apostasy. The only difference between the Galileans who left Jesus, and the Christians who pretend we’re still on board, is our rank hypocrisy. The Galileans at least had the balls to admit they were outa there.

Anyway back to the text, where the Galileans are on the fence about Jesus… so Jesus gives the fence a shake.

John 6.59-66 KWL
59 Jesus said this while teaching in the Kfar Nahum synagogue.
60 So, many of his students who heard him said, “This word is hard. Who can listen to it?”
61 Innately knowing his students kvetched about this, Jesus told them, “This upsets you?
62 So what about when you see the Son of Man rise to where he previously was?
63 It’s spirit which makes you alive; flesh gets you nowhere.
The sayings I tell you are spirit—are life 64 but some of you don’t believe me.”
For Jesus knew from the beginning some didn’t believe—and one was his betrayer.
65 Jesus said, “This is why I told you nobody can come to me
unless they were given me by the Father.”
66 As a result of this lesson, many of his students went home and no longer followed him.

See, Jesus doesn’t want lukewarm followers. He wants us to be fruity. He wants people who connect with him, abide in him, pick up their crosses and follow him. Anybody who doesn’t wanna: It’d be best if they went home.

Sheep who don’t follow.

Every time I say this—every time—I get criticized for being too hardcore. I get called a legalist, a person who’s promoting works righteousness, a person who doesn’t understand how God’s grace works. Since God does all the work of salvation, how dare I claim we Christians have to do any work whatsoever? These people said the sinner’s prayer, so they’re saved. Who am I to tell ’em otherwise?

Who am I? Somebody who’s trying to tell people the truth. It’s false grace if I’m lying to them to make them, or myself, feel good. Or to make the gospel sound easier, simpler, or something other than what it is.

The gospel is this:

Mark 1.14-15 KWL
14 After John’s arrest, Jesus went into the Galilee preaching God’s gospel, 15 saying this:
“The time has been fulfilled. God’s kingdom has come near. Repent! Believe in the gospel!”

God’s kingdom has come near, so repent and believe. Anybody who tells you otherwise (i.e. “for God so loved the world…” Jn 3.16) has only told you part of it, like the eternal-life part. Where do we spend eternal life? In God’s kingdom. With Jesus. Starting now, not after we die.

Jesus died to make his kingdom available to absolutely everyone. But we still gotta respond to the gospel by repenting and believing. We still gotta follow Jesus. Turns out he expects his followers to actually follow.

And when people won’t follow, it’s basic logic: They’re not followers. They’re not his sheep.

Would they like to become his sheep? Awesome!—they can. God will graciously include them in his kingdom. But if they’re not at all interested in following Jesus… well, you can’t be a follower who doesn’t follow. That option doesn’t exist, much as Christians would like to pretend it does. Jesus doesn’t provide it.

Claiming there’s an option where Christians don’t have to follow Jesus, don’t have to quit sinning and obey Jesus’s teachings, don’t have to understand orthodox Christian teachings and believe in Jesus, don’t have to get baptized and pray and go to church and read bible… well, they may claim they’re embracing salvation by grace not works, but really they’re practicing irreligion—and proving by it they’re not Christian. Doesn’t matter what they call themselves.

They’re the reason there are such things as churches who don’t pursue a relationship with the living God—who just preserve the denomination’s traditions. I don’t care how worthy any of our traditions are: Jesus trumps them all. It’s like throwing out your medicine so you can devote what’s left of your short life towards decorating your syringes.

Jesus’s response to that idea is basically, “If you can’t handle that, you’re never gonna handle it once you find out I’m God.” His reference to “see the Son of Man rise to where he previously was” is of course about how he originally came down from the tenth heaven to become human. (And he went back there to mediate for us.) In Pharisee understanding, only God can come from and go to the tenth heaven, the highest heaven; it’s God’s heaven. It’s why Jesus’s regular statements about coming down from heaven bothered people so much: Only God (and angels) could come down from heaven, so either Jesus meant he was divine… or he was nuts.

With his last statement, the students chose “nuts,” and left.

Twelve left.

Apparently this left behind nobody but the Twelve. Talk about clearing a room.

John 6.67-69 KWL
67 So Jesus told the Twelve, “Don’t you also want to go?”
68 Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Master, to whom will we go?
You have lessons of life in the next age, 69 and we believed, and came to know you’re God’s saint.”

One of the many reasons Simon Peter was Jesus’s best student: He was quick to say stuff like this. He, and the rest of the Twelve, were fully aware Jesus was authentically God’s man, and fully aware he was the only one who could explain God to them. Jn 1.18 Or to anyone. You wanna know about life in the age to come? You go to Jesus. Nowhere else.

Jesus was fully aware his lesson in synagogue was gonna polarize people. Either they already realized, like the Twelve had, they needed to be with Jesus, would follow him anywhere, and would stick by him no matter how weird he got. Or they’d realize they wanted no such thing, and Jesus’s “You gotta drink my blood” lesson was just the excuse they needed to declare him crazy and walk away.

Still true. Plenty of us Christians are just as willing to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Plenty of other Christians will follow him so long that he never really challenges us.

But he will. The Holy Spirit definitely will. That’s why they hide from the Holy Spirit in churches which never teach about him, and claim he doesn’t do miracles anymore. Why they embrace teachers who water down or explain away Jesus’s challenges till the weirdness—and the power!—is all gone. All Jesus’s commands are turned into “Old Covenant thinking,” or only apply to the future—to the End Times, to heaven. “What would Jesus do?” isn’t based on what he did in the gospels and currently still does, but on an imaginary, idealized, soft ’n fluffy Jesus who just wants them to be happy and wealthy. And conveniently thinks just like they do.

The Twelve already made up their minds about Jesus long ago. They saw who he was. They knew there was no going back.

Well… eleven of them, anyway.

John 6.70-71 KWL
70 Jesus answered them, “Didn’t I select the 12 of you?—and of you, one’s a devil.”
71 He spoke of Judas bar Simon the Iscariot, for this one of the Twelve was later to turn him in.

“Iscariot” isn’t a last name; it’s like Nazarene or Magdalene, indicating what city Judas bar Simon came from. That’d be Keriot, a Judean city—which means he wasn’t from the Galilee. Some have claimed Judas was the only non-Galilean in the Twelve; since we don’t know where everyone in the Twelve came from, we can’t rightly say this. Anyway since there are a lot of Judases out there (including another student in the Twelve, Judas Maccabee in the apocrypha, and Jesus’s brother Jude), “Iscariot” regularly followed Judas’s name.

Judas began following Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, and Jesus grew to trust him enough to put him in the Twelve. But by this point, Judas had become one of those Christians who—like many hypocrites today—stopped believing, but never stepped away.

Why? Likely money. Plenty of other Christians have likewise sold out to Mammon. I’ve known of many a Christian who stopped believing what they taught, but would never ever say so… because they worked for their churches, and might lose their jobs! And lest you think, “Oh, they stopped believing in Jesus,” or stopped believing the bible, or embraced some other heresy: Nope, not even. The Holy Spirit was growing them by leaps and bounds. Problem is, he was taking them farther than their bosses or board members or church members were comfortable. And rather than challenge people with their new ideas, and risk their jobs, their comfortable income, their nice houses with the big mortgages… they stifled the Spirit.

Putting God on mute has a tendency to ruin your relationship with him. And your Christianity. It can shrivel and die quickly.

Judas was in charge of the purse. And he grew far too comfortable holding it—and dipping into it from time to time Jn 12.6 —to step away from Jesus along with the Galileans who left him.

Jesus knows there are such people in his church. People who would leave over Jesus, but won’t leave because all their friends are at church, or their membership gives ’em standing in the community, or their job depends on their attendance, or their family would disown them. Whatever reason keeps ’em in.

Why’d he permit Judas to stick around, instead of blatantly outing him and booting him? Determinists imagine Jesus was manipulating him: In order to get himself crucified, he needed Judas to turn him in. In fact Jesus needed no such thing; he could’ve turned himself in, or been in some other easy-to-find place where the cops could find him. Jesus kept Judas around because—devil or not—he loved him, and wanted to save him. And there was always a chance Judas might come around. Pity he didn’t.

How about us? Any chance we might come around? There’s still hope, y’know.

Christ Almighty!