Eat your heart out, Ridley Scott. The Exodus has already been recreated, only it was done for a real, and it was far more important.
As we’ve seen over the last two blog posts, Jesus claimed that the Exodus was happening again – but better – and it demanded a simple response: belief in Jesus. But we find ourselves in the same baffling situation that we’ve been thoughout this section of John: the Jews rejected Him.
If you’ve not already been struck by the surprise of their response, take a look at this. The Jews’ reaction hit its peak early in John 6, and it was downhill from there. Having declared Jesus to be the Prophet1 and prepared to make Him king2, they chased Him across the region and yearned for more. When Jesus offered ‘true bread’, they responded positively (v343).
But when Jesus explained his offer, they became increasingly unhappy. From grumbling and doubt (vv41-42) to dispute and down-right denial (v52), the trajectory continued downward. And it wasn’t just randomers in the crowd – it was His disciples who said those concerning words in v60, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” From 5000 men in v10, the crowd shinks expontentially to just twelve after a final devastating desertion:
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
Should I bother?
The question which hung over us in chapter 5 is still hanging over us in chapter 6. Why did Jesus’ own people reject Him? Why did the experts choose to abandon their God? If Jesus really was who He said He was, why didn’t He get a better response?
The reason this question matters is because Jesus’ offer was a demanding one. To follow Jesus is not easy. You only need to think about Christianity for a short while before you realise that it will involve numerous changes, a loss of popularity, and even persecution. If all this is undertaken for the sake of an ‘eternal life’, you want to be confident that the offer is going to hold true.
But Jesus didn’t even manage to retain a crowd of 5000. In fact, this was a crowd which saw Him miraculously feed them. If Jesus’ words turned them away, why would I choose to bet my life on them?
Responding like the Exodus generation
The answer comes with another look at the Exodus. The allusions to that famous time in the Old Testament aren’t only to clarify the nature (and scale) of Jesus’ offer. They also shed light on the role that the crowd are playing. They follow in the footsteps of the nation of Israel.
Just like that grumbling generation4, the crowd in this passage grumble (v41). In fact, that grumbling Exodus generation disputed with God so much that they were sentenced to death in the wilderness5. Jesus’ alluded to that outcome in v49:
Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
But such a cue proved of no benefit to those listening. And, following in the footsteps of their fathers, they chose to abandon their hope of life too.
In fact, Jesus even goes as far as to say that they respond this way because they weren’t chosen6.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (v44)
This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father. (v65)
When looking at that generation in the 1st Century who rejected Jesus, it would be easy to doubt the effectiveness of Jesus’ words. But Jesus says that they were simply acting in line with the original Exodus generation; they were never meant to be a part of His people.
His words didn’t fail.
Jesus’ words still work
But the apologetic in this passage isn’t only understanding their negative response. Jesus frequently spoke of the legitimacy and effectiveness of His offer. While it is true to say that coming to Jesus requires a work of the Father, the offer is a genuine one – and one that works.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (v37)
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. (vv39-40)
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (v47)
If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever (v48)
It means that Peter’s reaction at the end of the chapter isn’t just profound and beautiful. He becomes a model of right response to Jesus.
So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
We’ll keep hitting hard teaching the longer we spend looking at the Bible. God doesn’t hide the truth; He reveals it. And sometimes that will be tough. But Jesus’ words remain the words of eternal life – words that work, which are powerful and effective. Rather than copying the generation that spurned them, or becoming discouraged that they rejected Him, we should be encouraged by the clear message of this chapter: Jesus’ offer is a genuine one. He offers eternal life, and His words work.
In spite of the difficult teaching Jesus spoke in this chapter, Peter correctly saw that there are simply no alternatives. When offered the perpetually satisfying “eternal life” bread, why would you settle for that mouldy loaf in the back of your cupboard? Jesus doesn’t promise an easy life. But He does promise the kind of satisfying eternal life that we see in John’s gospel. Keep coming to His words – keep reading – and you’ll get to see even more of what that life looks like.
More on John’s gospel will be published each Wednesday evening, with a bonus blog article thrown in on most weeks at some point before the next Wednesday. Feel free to share posts using the buttons below, and you can subscribe to the blog by using the sign-up form on the right.
- This isn’t undermining Jesus’ identity as God – there are various points even within this chapter that include Jesus’ divine claim. The declaration that Jesus was the Prophet alludes to Deuteronomy 18:15, where God would provide another prophet just like He provided Moses for the Exodus generation ↩
- See vv14-15 ↩
- ‘They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”‘ ↩
- See for example Exodus 16:2 ↩
- See more examples of their grumbling, even while God was providing for them, in Numbers 11:1-6, and 14:1-4. This last episode was so bad, God promised that He wouldn’t allow that generation to ‘see the land’ – i.e. a promise that they would die in the wilderness – Numbers 14:20-23 ↩
- There isn’t really space to engage this hot topic within this blog post. Suffice to say that Jesus seems to clearly state that God has chosen people to come to Him; everyone who is chosen will come to Him (v37) and it is impossible to come to Him unless you are chosen (v44). Nonetheless, that doesn’t detract from the genuine offer repeated numerous times in the chapter: anyone who wants to come to Jesus will be welcomed in (again, see v37). The Bible’s extended discussion of this topic can be found in Romans 9. If this is a particularly hard teaching to accept, can I encourage you not to respond like the Jews (v60), but to keep coming back to Jesus to see what He says in His Word, the Bible. As Peter is recorded as saying at the end of the chapter, Jesus is the only one who “has the words of eternal life” (v68). ↩