Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said; This is an hard saying, who can hear it?

JOHN 6:60

In the world of men we find nothing approaching the virtues of which Jesus spoke in the opening words of the famous Sermon on the Mount. Instead of poverty of spirit we find the rankest kind of pride; instead of meekness, arrogance; instead of mourners we find pleasure seekers; instead of hunger after righteousness we hear men saying, “I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing”; instead of mercy we find cruelty; instead of purity of heart, corrupt imaginings; instead of peacemakers we find men quarrelsome and resentful; instead of rejoicing in mistreatment we find them fighting back with every weapon at their command!

Into a world like this the sound of Jesus’ words comes wonderful and strange, a visitation from above. It is well that He spoke, for no one else could have done it as well; and it is good that we listen, for His words are the essence of truth.

Jesus does not offer an opinion for He never uttered opinions. He never guessed; He knew, and He knows! His words are not as Solomon’s were, the sum of sound wisdom or the results of keen observation. He spoke out of the fullness of His Godhead, and His words are very Truth itself. He is the only one who could say “blessed” with complete authority for He is the Blessed One come from the world above to confer blessedness upon mankind!

Best of all, His words were supported by deeds mightier than any performed on this earth by another man.

It is wisdom for us to listen![1]

Unable to swallow Jesus’ teaching any longer, these disciples, when they heard His words, said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” It finally dawned on them that following Jesus meant far more than merely hanging around Him, hoping to see and experience the physical benefits of His power. The adjective sklēros (difficult) literally means “rough,” “withered,” or “stiff.” Figuratively, it describes something harsh, unpleasant, or hard to accept (cf. Matt. 25:24; Acts 26:14; Jude 15). Here it and the parallel statement who can listen to it? describe Jesus’ statement not as incomprehensible, but as unacceptable. They rejected His words as objectionable and offensive. Like those who dismissed Jesus’ teaching outright, they were scandalized by His claim to have come down from heaven (vv. 33, 38, 41–42, 50–51), His contention that He was the only answer to mankind’s spiritual need (vv. 33, 35, 40), and His call for them to eat His flesh and drink His blood (51–57). In reality, however, what shut them out of the kingdom was not Jesus’ teaching being unacceptable, but rather their being unbelieving and unaccepting.

Their reaction is typical of false disciples: as long as they perceived Jesus to be a source of healing, free food, and deliverance from enemy oppression, the self-serving disciples flocked to Him. But when He demanded that they acknowledge their spiritual bankruptcy, confess their sin, and commit themselves to Him as the only source of salvation, they became offended and left. Like countless other false disciples throughout the history of the church, they followed Jesus for what they thought they could get from Him. True disciples, on the other hand, come to Christ poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3), mourning over their sin (5:4), and hungering and thirsting for the righteousness that only He can supply (5:6). Our Lord left nothing to doubt when He identified the elements of true discipleship:

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23–25; cf. Matt. 10:34–39)

False disciples do not follow Christ because of who He is, but because of what they want from Him. They have no problem viewing Him as a baby in the manger at Christmas; a social reformer with a broad message of love and tolerance; the ideal human everyone should emulate; or a source of health, wealth, and worldly happiness. But they are unwilling to embrace the biblical Jesus—the God-man who fearlessly rebuked sinners and warned them of eternal hell, and that salvation from that hell comes only through believing His words (John 5:24). Those who resist or reject Jesus’ teaching fail the test of true discipleship that He Himself laid down in John 8:31: “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine’ ” (cf. 15:8). Continued obedience to the words of Jesus Christ always marks true disciples (cf. 1 John 2:3–5). [2]

60 The initial response of Jesus’ followers was that what he had been saying was “a hard teaching.” It was “hard” not so much because they couldn’t understand it but because they found it offensive. The claims that Jesus was greater than Moses (vv. 32–33), that he had come down from heaven to bring life to all who believe (vv. 38–40), and that by eating his flesh and drinking his blood a person would live forever (v. 54) were so far-reaching that many of those who heard found them incredible, to say the least. These assertions were difficult to accept because they were so inconceivable. It is one thing to listen to sound moral teaching and respect the teacher, but what can be said about a person who makes such grandiose claims regarding his relationship to God and the significance of his own person and ministry! Those who did not believe could arrive at only one conclusion: if Jesus were not demented, he was at least a paranoid suffering severe delusions of grandeur.[3]

[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 269–270). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 451–452). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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