There are books galore on the topic of leadership. It would take you an eternity to read them all because new books about leadership are being written and published every day. Have you ever read a book on following, or becoming a good follower? I’ve never read, nor have I ever seen a book on that subject. So I typed “books on following”, and “books on being a follower” into the web browser of my computer. What I received in response was books on leadership. I then typed, “how to be a follower” into my web browser and was given many YouTube sites telling me how to become a follower of someone’s social media site, such as Facebook, Twitter, and others. With the click of a button or an icon, I can instantly become someone’s follower, and receive updates. With the click of another button or icon, I can also instantly “unfollow” a person. It’s as simple as that! There are also many online courses being offered which will give you tools and techniques proven to increase the number of your followers.
In this age of social media, “following” has taken on a new meaning. The number of one’s followers is a sign of popularity. Gaining new followers can easily become an obsession, as well as a source of personal pride and competitiveness. A friend of mine recently told me that he goes to social media sites mainly to get information. He’s interested in keeping up-to-date on certain people and organizations. What immediately comes to your mind when you think of the words “following” and “follower”?
During the lifetime of Jesus Christ on this earth, followers were often referred to as “disciples”. In this passage of Scripture, John 6:60-71, we are going to study the effect that Jesus’ conversation had on His followers, and observe how Jesus responds to the situation.
I. THE VERBAL REACTION OF MANY (verse 60)
In verse 60 of John, chapter 6, we find the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ conversation with His crowd of followers. “Many, therefore, of His disciples, when they heard this, said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ ” The word “disciple” is the Greek word “mathetes”, which literally means “learner” or “pupil”, and the teacher was called a “didaskalos”. The corresponding Hebrew words that were used during that period of time were the “talmid” and the “rabbi”. In the first century, when you wanted to find out more about a person, and learn from him, you followed him around. There may have been several motives for doing so, such as curiosity, entertainment, a desire to join the crowd, as well a personal commitment to that person.
For example, since you’ve come to this site and are reading this article, you may be a blogger yourself, and have your own blog site. Let me ask you a question. Can you follow a blog site without truly being a follower of that site? I would say that the answer to that question is “yes”. You can click the “follow” button or icon for a number of reasons. You may have read one article, liked it, and clicked the “follow” button because you wanted to get email alerts when new articles are added to the site. You may have clicked “follow” because you want your name and photo added to the list of other followers in the hope that readers might check out your site as well. It’s a form of advertising. Or you may have read several articles and are eager to continue to learn, grow spiritually, and share what you have learned with others. Those are just a few possible motives. As you can see, there are many possible reasons for following, and not all those reasons demonstrate long-lasting commitment.
Verse 60 says that “many“, not “all” of his listeners, had a negative attitude about the teachings that Jesus had just expressed to them, and they put their attitude into words, saying, “This is a difficult saying; who can listen to it.” The Greek word translated “difficult”, literally means “hard”. The word does not mean “hard to understand”, but “hard to accept” once you understood it. You might say that Jesus’ words were “offensive” – His teachings were opposed to their own personal beliefs and prejudices. Therefore they rejected His whole conversation. True disciples wouldn’t react in that way. A true disciple would be willing to listen, to learn, and to believe in Him because of who He is, even if the teaching might seem, at first, to be offensive. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, made the following statement: “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand so that you may believe, but believe so that you may understand.” The Lord Jesus has already given this crowd of followers plenty of reasons to believe in Him and trust Him.
Bible expositor, Alfred Barnes, tells us the doctrines that were apparently offensive. First, that Jesus was superior to Moses; secondly, that God would save all that He had chosen, and those only; thirdly, that He was the bread that came from heaven; and fourthly, that it was necessary that an atonement should be made, and that they should be saved by it. Barnes goes on to say, “These doctrines have always been the most offensive that men have been called on to believe, and many, rather than trust in Him, have chosen to draw back to perdition.”
When these so-called disciples said, “Who can hear it?”, they meant, “Who can put up with it?”. “Who can listen to His words any longer without losing their patience and responding with outbursts of anger?”
II. JESUS’ RESPONSE TO THE CROWD (verses 61-65)
The mumbling and grumbling has started again, and verse 61 tells us that Jesus is aware of it. Now He is faced with a choice. Is the Lord Jesus going to politely back away from the conflict? Is He going to give excuses for His offensive words? Is He going to say something like: “I didn’t mean to . . . what I really meant was . .That didn’t come out right . . . what I was trying to say is . . . I’ve had a lot on my mind lately . . . I didn’t sleep well last night , , , Maybe we should start this conversation all over again.” Do those excuses sound familiar? Have you ever used any of them yourself? Be honest!
The other choice would be to stand His ground, give further evidence of the truth of His statements, and then move along in the same direction, full-speed ahead.. This is the course of action that Jesus pursues in spite of their opposition. It’s full-speed ahead! He begins by asking them a question: “Does this cause you to stumble?” He’s letting them know that He hears what they are saying, and He also knows the condition of their hearts. The word “stumble” is the Greek word “skandalizei”. We get our English word “scandalize” from that Greek word. Jesus is saying, “Are My teachings offensive to you?” “Do they go against what you want to believe?” He is also leading into what He is about to say next. His second question, found in verse 62, is “What then if you should behold the Son of Man ascending where He was before?” Jesus is not telling these followers that they will see His ascension into heaven because Acts 1:6-13 tells us that only the eleven apostles watched that happen. Jesus is speaking hypothetically. One of the statements that offended some of these followers was that Jesus claimed that He had come down from heaven. Now He’s saying, “What if you saw me ascend to heaven – the same place that I told you I came from?” “Would that offend you all the more?” You might say, from Jesus’ response, that He is separating the chaff from the wheat!
In verse 63, Jesus explains His purpose for saying those things to them, and He also reasserts His authority or right to say them. “The spirit gives life; the flesh accounts for nothing, The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” I don’t personally think that Jesus is speaking about the Holy Spirit here, even though the beginning of His statement is also true of the Holy Spirit. He’s clarifying His analogy by saying that He’s referring to the spirit of man, not his physical flesh. A man’s spirit is his source of life, and God gives him that spirit. His listeners were very familiar with Genesis 2:7, which says, “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The Greek word translated “spirit” here in verse 63, is pneuma, which literally means “wind” or “breath”, and is sometimes used to refer to the Holy Spirit as well. Jesus is speaking to them in Hebrew (Aramaic), and the word Jesus probably used is ruach, which also means “wind” or “breath”. So there is nothing lost in translation between the two languages. The Scriptures describe Jesus’ death on the cross with the words “He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30; Matthew 27:50).
Now, in verse 64, Jesus “hits them with a bombshell” when He says to the crowd of followers, “There are some of you who do not believe.” He’s implying, “You know who you are, and I know who you are also. You can’t hide anything from Me.” The apostle John goes on to explain the basis for Jesus’ words: “For He knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray Him.” As God, Jesus was all-knowing, but having taken the form of a man, He temporarily laid aside the use of that attribute. It was the Father who had revealed that information to Him. Jesus has “opened the exit doors even wider” for those who weren’t truly His followers, and don’t want to be His followers because they don’t really believe in Him.
Preacher and author, Henry Drummond, was once asked to address a meeting at the exclusive West-End Club in London, England. He began with these words: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the entrance fee into the kingdom of God is nothing, but the annual subscription is everything.” There were many in Jesus’ audience who wanted to be part of the club but didn’t want to pay the subscription fees. Jesus had quite a following that day, but very few genuine followers.
What Jesus then shares, in verse 66, defies their understanding, and hurts the foolish pride of many of His listeners. He reiterates what He said in verse 44, when He says in verse 65: “no one can come to me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” Jesus is telling them that faith is a gift. It’s impossible for us to believe by our own enabling. Only God can draw a person to Himself. He’s also implying that hearing His words doesn’t necessarily lead to faith.
III. THE DESERTION (verses 66-67)
Then it happens. Hundreds of these followers turn away from Jesus and begin to walk away, wanting nothing more to do with Him. Verse 66 says, “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore.” The Greek word literally means “the majority”. There were more people leaving Him than there were of those who were staying with Him.
Have you ever felt sadness because people who were close to you didn’t come through for you? Did you ever feel a sense of abandonment by the majority of those around you because of something you said or did? How would you feel if over half of the friends on your social media sites decided to “unfriend” you at the same time because of something you said or did? What would be your reaction if most of the followers of your blog site decided to “unfollow” you on the same day because of something you wrote? Would you feel a twinge of sadness and abandonment? I certainly would! God gave each of us emotions and, even if we don’t always express them, we feel them deep down inside and it hurts! The Lord Jesus had a human nature like ourselves, with the same emotional makeup that each of us possesses. Let’s see how He responds to what was happening to Him at that moment.
IV. JESUS QUESTION TO THE TWELVE (verse 67)
Verse 67 gives us Jesus’ initial response. “Jesus said therefore to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you’?” I personally believe that Jesus said those words to the twelve disciples with sadness in His heart, and I think that sadness was evident to them by His facial expression and by the way He spoke those words. This should come as no surprise to us. The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). This was probably one of many times that Jesus was saddened and grieved at people’s rejection of Him and His words. In this case, Jesus is hoping to receive some encouragement from the twelve.
V. PETER SPEAKS FOR THEM ALL (verses 68-69)
Simon Peter was quick to respond, in verses 68 and 69, saying, “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.” I don’t know whether Peter could have said it better, and that’s just what Jesus needed to hear at that sorrowful moment in His life. Peter affirmed who Jesus was, attested to the truth of Jesus’ words, and expressed his faith in Him. Peter was also speaking on behalf of the other eleven disciples, assuming that they all believed as he did.
VI. JESUS’ RESPONSE TO THE TWELVE (verses 70-71)
In verse 70, Jesus corrects Peter’s words, but I think there is much more to Jesus’ words than just correcting a misconception on Peter’s part. It reads, “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ “ The verse indicates that He is speaking those words, not only to Peter, but to all twelve of the disciples. Why would Jesus say such a cutting remark? In those days, calling someone “a devil” was pretty strong language. Was Jesus just releasing His frustrations or did He have a specific purpose in mind?
I don’t personally think that Jesus’ emotional state changed from sadness to anger in verse 70. I believe that Jesus said those words with sadness in His heart, in His eyes, and in His words. As He looked around at the twelve, His eyes may have lingered at the face of Judas as He said the word “devil”. It may have been similar to the look on Jesus’ face when He turned to look at Peter after the cock crowed and Peter had denied Jesus three times.
The Lord Jesus loved Judas and wanted him to come face-to-face with his own greed. He gave Judas the responsibility of being the keeper of the money box (John 12:4-6; John 13:21-29) to show him how easily he gave into the temptation to rob from it. As we shall see, Jesus will wash Judas’s feet, pray for him, and show him honor. It saddened Jesus that one who was in such close proximity to Him on a daily basis for three years, would be so distant from Him in his heart. The Lord Jesus had chosen Judas to be one of the twelve, showed him love and concern, revealed Himself to him by His life and miracles, and offered him eternal life. He even gave Judas the power to heal diseases and cast out demons when He sent the twelve out two-by-two to proclaim the Gospel. (Luke 9:1-11; Matthew 10). But it was all in vain. Judas hardened his heart again and again.
In verse 71, the apostle John adds the following personal comment: “Now he meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.” He said those words because he, Peter, and the other disciples had no idea that Judas was not a true follower of Christ. Judas played the role so well that none of the other disciples noticed any differences. John was as shocked as all of the others, and wants to make that known to his readers.
Are you a genuine follower of Jesus Christ? Have Jesus’ words, in this passage of Scripture, caused you to consider whether or not you want to be identified with Him and follow Him? Have you turned away from Him in the past? Many in that crowd walked away from Jesus because they didn’t want to acknowledge that He was the Messiah, the King of heaven and earth; they didn’t want to believe in His teachings. They didn’t want to acknowledge their own sinfulness, and didn’t want to turn the control of their lives over to Him. Do you feel an emptiness inside and a need to know God? He wants to reveal Himself to you as you read and study His Word. It’s not too late to turn around and choose to follow Him and become obedient to His Word.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, and your life bears witness to your commitment to Him as your Lord and Savior, do you feel sadness as you look around you at those who refuse to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ and respond to Him by repentance and faith? Are you willing to ask God to give you a greater compassion for the lost, and a burden to pray for them consistently and confidently, trusting God to change their hearts and draw them to Himself? God wants to turn that sadness into joy in answer to your believing prayers. We can never pray enough for those who don’t know the Lord.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED