“Therefore many of his disciples, when they heard this, said: ‘This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were murmuring about this, said to them: ‘Does this stumble you? What, therefore, if you should behold the Son of man ascending to where he was before?”
– John 6:60-62
These words Jesus said to his disciples after telling them something very shocking. Though he explained his apparently shocking speech, many thereafter refused to walk with him and instead, returned to their old ways. (John 6:66) Many, but not all.
What did Jesus say that was so offensive? And why would Jesus even say shocking speech to a crowd of spiritual babes? An examination of his words reveals the wisdom of his conduct that day. And we, today, can take the experience as an object lesson that can expand our spiritual horizons and draw us closer to the Father.
The Crisis in Capernaum
The previous day, Jesus had fed a crowd of about 5,000 with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish. (John 6:1-13) Many of those who ate and were satisfied went looking for Jesus the next day, following him in their boats across the sea of Galilee to Capernaum.
“So when they found him across the sea they said to him: ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ Jesus answered them and said: ‘Most truly I say to you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate from the loaves and were satisfied. Work, not for the food that perishes, but for the food that remains for life everlasting, which the Son of man will give you; for upon this one the Father, even God, has put his seal [of approval].”
– John 6:25-27
These Jews were impressed to follow Jesus, not because of his teachings, but because Jesus had satisfied some material need. Jesus wanted more from his followers. He wanted them to look beyond the flesh and reach out for spiritual realities. However, these Jews did not understanding Jesus’ intention. Instead, they asked him what fleshly works they could perform to gain the Father’s favor:
“Therefore they said to him: ‘What shall we do to work the works of God?’ In answer Jesus said to them: ‘This is the work of God, that you exercise faith in him whom that One sent forth.’”
– John 6:28-29
Jesus here reiterated that he was speaking of spiritual things. But again they dragged his words back to earth:
“Therefore they said to him: ‘What, then, are you performing as a sign, in order for us to see [it] and believe you? What work are you doing? Our forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’”
– John 6:30-31
Seeing that they were not getting his point, Jesus changed his tactic and used their own illustration as a means to get through to them:
“Hence Jesus said to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father does give you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Therefore they said to him: ‘Lord, always give us this bread.’ Jesus said to them: ‘I am the bread of life. He that comes to me will not get hungry at all, and he that exercises faith in me will never get thirsty at all. But I have said to you, you have even seen me and yet do not believe. Everything the Father gives me will come to me, and the one that comes to me I will by no means drive away; because I have come down from heaven to do, not my will, but the will of him that sent me. This is the will of him that sent me, that I should lose nothing out of all that he has given me but that I should resurrect it at the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone that beholds the Son and exercises faith in him should have everlasting life, and I will resurrect him at the last day.”
– John 6:32-40
In spite of this effort, these fleshly-minded Jews still did not get the point. They were not open to a spiritual message. Their reply showed that their interest in Jesus’ teachings was minimal at best. Instead of seeking to understand Jesus’ words, they used his words as an opportunity to prove themselves more righteous than Jesus, intimating that he was either lying or delusional:
“Therefore the Jews began to murmur at him because he said: ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’; and they began saying: ‘Is this not Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it that now he says, “I have come down from heaven”’?”
– John 6:41-42
By this time, Jesus was beginning to grow tired of their resistance. Yet he made another attempt to explain his words by means of their illustration:
“In answer Jesus said to them: ‘Stop murmuring among yourselves. No man can come to me unless the Father, who sent me, draws him; and I will resurrect him in the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by Jehovah.’ Everyone that has heard from the Father and has learned comes to me. Not that any man has seen the Father, except he who is from God; this one has seen the Father. Most truly I say to you, He that believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the wilderness and yet died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread he will live forever; and, for a fact, the bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.”
– John 6:43-51
Instead of hearing the spirit of Jesus’ words that he is the living bread, the Jews dug their resistant heels in further by making a ridiculous literal interpretation:
“Therefore the Jews began contending with one another, saying: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’”
– John 6:52
Of all that Jesus said, these Jews heard only what they wanted to hear. Like so many people today, they heard only what they could use to get out of the responsibility of worshiping with spirit and truth. (John 4:24)
Seeing that these Jews were not rightly disposed to truth, Jesus boldly used their own words to make his point. He wanted to draw out the true intentions of those who were listening so that only those whose spirit drew them to the Father (John 6:43) would gain entrance into the kingdom of the heavens:
“Accordingly Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life, and I shall resurrect him at the last day; for my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He that feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in union with me, and I in union with him. Just as the living Father sent me forth and I live because of the Father, he also that feeds on me, even that one will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It is not as when your forefathers ate and yet died. He that feeds on this bread will live forever.’ These things he said as he was teaching in public assembly at Capernaum.”
– John 6:53-59
And the response from some was just as he expected:
“Therefore many of his disciples, when they heard this, said: ‘This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?’”
– John 6:60
This one “shocking” phrase was more powerful to these fleshly minded Jews than all the words of life and truth that Jesus had previously taught them. Yet, Jesus did not consider this to be a loss for the kingdom. Instead, he used this as an opportunity to expand the horizons of the disciples whose minds were disposed to truth:
“But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were murmuring about this, said to them: ‘Does this stumble you? What, therefore, if you should behold the Son of man ascending to where he was before?”
– John 6:61-62
Here, Jesus was telling them that if they could not comprehend something as simple as an illustration that was clearly explained, how could they possibly understand a spiritual reality when they come face-to-face with it. He was teaching them to open their minds to possibilities beyond their current understanding so that they can receive even greater truths. He went on:
“It is the spirit that is life-giving; the flesh is of no use at all. The sayings that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you that do not believe.’ For from [the] beginning Jesus knew who were the ones not believing and who was the one that would betray him. So he went on to say: ‘This is why I have said to you, No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.’”
– John 6:63-65
Jesus was not saying that the Father selects which ones can come to Jesus. That would mean the Father is partial, which we know He is not. (Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35) Jesus was saying that those who come to him must come on the terms set forth by the Father – with spirit and truth (John 4:24), being led by spirit. (Romans 8:14)
So while this occasion caused many who were not spirit led to become manifest, his true disciples were not stumbled:
“Owing to this many of his disciples went off to the things behind and would no longer walk with him. Therefore Jesus said to the twelve: ‘You do not want to go also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered him: ‘Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life; and we have believed and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’”
– John 6:66-69
Jesus’ true followers were not stumbled. They recognized that Jesus had taught them so much, especially that they had been given everlasting life. (John 6:47)
Jesus taught that the Law Covenant mediated by Moses had come to an end, along with its burdensome customs. (Matthew 5:17; Romans 10:4) He taught that men were no longer servants or slaves of God, but faith sons of the Father of All. (Galatians 3:26) He taught that mankind was a brotherhood (Matthew 23:8); that we should love not only our family and our neighbors, but also our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44); and so many other things. In fact, practically everything Jesus taught was new and revolutionary. And those who could not put up with his teachings were left behind.
Being Guided By the Spirit of Truth
We asked in the introductory paragraphs, Why would Jesus even say such shocking speech to a crowd of spiritual babes? The reason is two-fold: (1) to manifest their intentions, and (2) to expand the spiritual horizons of those with good intentions.
There was so much that Jesus wanted his apostles and disciples to know.
“I have many things yet to say to you, but you are not able to bear them at present.”
– John 16:12
And while he certainly ‘pushed the envelope’ on occasion, he was careful not to go so far that his true followers were harmed. But it is true that whenever someone expands his horizons, that person is being taken out of his comfort zone. And that can be quite uncomfortable. How will such a person react? Like the faithless, fleshly minded Jews, or the stunned but humble apostles?
Today, spiritual men and women understand what Jesus was saying. They are not stumbled at hard to understand or perplexing statements. Unlike the faithless Jews who were stumbled at Jesus’ words, spiritual people today recognize that there is much they do not know, and they trust that the Spirit of Truth will do its work on their behalf.
We no longer have Jesus with us in the flesh to speak his truths and explain his teachings. But we have something just as helpful in the Spirit of Truth:
“However, when that one arrives, the spirit of the truth, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak of his own impulse, but what things he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things coming. That one will glorify me, because he will receive from what is mine and will declare it to you.”
– John 16:12-14
Clearly, the Spirit of Truth is here to expand our horizons – our spiritual vision. He would guide us into the truths that Jesus was unable to speak. That means that we will be exposed to new and different ideas and the Spirit of Truth, which is better described as the ‘conviction’ of truth, would work with our spirit to bear witness to its accuracy. He allows us to experience the ‘ring of truth’ in wise sayings. (See The Bestowal of the Spirit of Truth.)
When we maintain a circumscribed world of what we accept as truth, the Spirit of Truth cannot do any work on our behalf. There is no room for new truth. (See Expanding Our Spiritual Vision.) If we limit our world of truth to what we have already learned, we are no longer learning. – we are simply re-processing old data. But know that when we step out of our little world of truth, we will unquestionably experience discomfort. Will we ‘go off to the things behind’ or will we move forward in our faith with the Spirit of Truth as our guide?
An examination of Jesus’ teaching methods show that he used illustrations, not concrete facts, to teach his followers new truths. Likewise today, when we seek to expand our horizons – our spiritual vision – the best method to do so is by way of illustrations where we use our imaginations to comprehend spiritual truths. Our imaginations are a gift from the Father. It is the means by which we exercise faith. Paul tells us:
“Faith is the assured expectation of things hoped for, the evident demonstration of realities though not beheld.”
– Hebrews 11:1
If we cannot actually ‘behold’ the things we ‘hope for,’ how else can we exercise faith except by way of our imagination? We are also told:
“Keep your minds fixed on the things above, not on the things upon the earth.”
– Colossians 3:2
How can we apply that scripture except by the use of our God-given imagination? Surely Paul is not telling us to just become stargazers!
Unfortunately, so many Christians today have become ‘institutionalized’ in their religious thinking. They are locked inside of old teachings and old dogma, and cannot, or will not, come out, notwithstanding that Jesus freed us almost 2,000 years ago. Jesus taught that his wonderful truths would be expanded by the Spirit of Truth. And John wrote that our anointing continues to guide us into new truths:
“And as for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to be teaching you; but, as the anointing from him is teaching you about all things, and is true and is no lie, and just as it has taught you, remain in union with him.”
– 1 John 2:27
In keeping with this counsel, we recently published an article “Heavenly Contemplations - Part III – Unfolding the Universe.” Even though the information in the article is presented, not as dogma or doctrine, but as mere possibilities, illustrations, and imaginations, some are stumbling over it. Many of the ideas in the article are outside of their comfort zone and the discomfort it creates is great.
As such, out of respect for the sensitivities of some of our visitors, we have edited out the portion of the article that some are finding to be a stumbling block. As Paul counseled:
“All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful; but not all things build up. Let each one keep seeking, not his own [advantage], but that of the other person.”
– 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
At the same time, we are pleased that many others are fascinated with the possibilities of the universe and the potential natures of the Father and the Christ, and that they accept the principle of not judging a teaching as false when there is no basis to do so, especially when the teaching does not conflict with any other Bible teaching.
Overall, we see three potential reactions to new spiritual ideas that do not conflict with known truth: (1) we can be quick to reject it because it does not fit into our current world view; (2) we can accept that there are things that we do not know and though we do not understand it at present, we leave open the possibility that we may understand more about it in the future; or (3) we can remember that Jesus told us there would be more truth to learn and then trust the Spirit of Truth to work on our behalf.
As for us, we take the third option. We will continue to introduce new ideas for our visitors to ponder and we will let the Spirit of Truth do its work, while at the same time respecting the sensitivities of our audience. We believe this is the way Jesus taught and we can imagine no greater teacher or teaching method.