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John 6:35-71: Jesus’ Own Church Shrinkage Seminar
Jesus fed at least five thousand men, not including women and children, during the second of three Passover Feasts mentioned in the Gospel of John. This was another miraculous sign that he performed before a multitude of people who then believed that he was indeed “the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14).
This was Jesus’ golden opportunity to be a megachurch pastor. With one sign, he added 5,000 men plus their families to his followers. But he knew that almost all of them followed him for the wrong reason, “not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill” (John 6:26).
First Church Shrinkage Saying: Bread from Heaven
So with a huge captive audience following him, he set out to sift the weeds from the wheat by continuing to feed them with their felt need: food. Jesus really grabbed their interest by offering them “bread from heaven” that “gives life to the world” (John 6:33). “That’s great!” they said, “Give us this bread always!” (John 6:34)
But at the start of his seminar in John 6:35-71, Jesus dropped his first bomb: “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (v 41) So the Jews were confused and grumbled against him, thinking that the only food that came down from heaven was the manna in the wilderness. How can this mere man be from heaven?
Again, Jesus’ reply was another bomb: “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v 51) The Jews actually thought that Jesus wanted them to be cannibals, so Jesus repeated with emphasis, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (v 54).
So for the Jews, Jesus’ seminar boiled down to this: He is a man who came down from heaven, and to have eternal life, they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood! Obviously, most of them took his words as “a hard saying” (v 60); more than merely hard, Jesus’ words were “harsh” and “unpleasant.” They were also “offended” (v 61); they were “scandalized” by his unpleasant words, much like many today who are offended by politically incorrect words.
The result of Jesus’ seminar? Church shrinkage: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (v 66). Asked if they would also desert him, Peter answered for the Twelve, “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” (vv 68-69).
For the true disciples who believed in him, Jesus has the words of life. But for those who did not believe or only pretended to believe, his words are hard and offensive. His claim of divinity, and his strange, unpleasant sayings about eating his flesh and drinking his blood drove most of his followers away. After this seminar, only a handful of disciples remained with him.
Second Church Shrinkage Sayings: Eternal Life is ALL of God Alone
But if Jesus was a pastor of an evangelical church today, would he drive people away with his teachings? To be sure, Christians on this side of the cross believe that he is the divine Son of God and that his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood is not to be taken literally. But what about his other sayings? How would evangelicals today react to those other teachings in this seminar? Unfortunately, the answer is that most would reject them, and like the Jews, even vehemently hate them.
The first saying that most Christians today would vigorously protest against is this: “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (v 37). God the Father has elected and given to him all those who would come to him in faith before the creation of the world. He knows all of them, including the twelve apostles whom he chose. But he also knew those who are not his, including Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve whom he knew would betray him (vv 70-71). In fact, Jesus very harshly tells those who reject him that they do not believe because he “knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe” (v 64).
More than this, the Father and the Son made a covenant with each other: the Father would send him to the world from heaven to give eternal life to the elect, and the Son willingly obeyed (vv 38-40).
How will evangelicals grumble against Jesus when they hear this? They will say, “It’s not fair! Then, we’re all just like robots without free will. Do you mean that God even predestined those who wouldn’t be saved? And what’s the use of evangelism?” What would Jesus say to these grumblers?
By no means! … “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy… So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Rom 9:14-18).
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? (Rom 9:20)
Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people (Acts 18:9-10).
Second, Jesus claims this: Out of all that the Father has elected, “I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (v 39). The Father is immutable, and so it is impossible for the status of a person according to his eternal decree to change from elect to not elect. Thus, Jesus is certain that no one will be lost. Since this is so, he can assure all believers, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (v 38). Until when will believers stay believing? Notice that they will never be cast out. Also notice that all believers will be resurrected on “the last day,” whether dead or alive on that day (vv 39, 40, 44, 54; see also 1Thess 4:16-17).
But evangelicals will surely argue: People, then, will be complacent with their spiritual walk because they are “eternally secure.” But Jesus will answer them:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).
Just as I was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, you too will walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4).
The Father chose you in me before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and blameless before him (Eph 1:4).
You have been renewed in the spirit of your minds, and have put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:23-24).
The third saying of Jesus that will draw a howl of protest is this: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (vv 44, 65). This means that no one has the power of his own will to believe unless the Father “draws” him. Behind and before a Christian’s willing decision to believe is the mysterious, invisible “drawing” by the Father.
But most evangelicals reject this harsh saying of Jesus: Didn’t I make my own “free will” “decision for Jesus?” What harsh words would Jesus then say to them?
This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent (John 6:29).
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God… no one does good, not even one (Rom 3:10-12).
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot (Rom 8:7).
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).
If this is so, man is in an untenable state. How then can God overcome man’s inability and unwillingness to come to Jesus? When the Spirit of the Father “draws” a person to Jesus, it means that he is actually “forcibly dragged” to come to him. How does the Father “draw” a person to Jesus? It is through the Holy Spirit who gives him a new heart, so that he desires and inclines himself to repent and believe, as Ezekiel 36:26 says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” The Spirit makes him a “new creation.”
This means that when the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection to an elect person, that person is powerfully transformed from an enemy to a friend of God, from a hardhearted rebel to an obedient believer, and from death into life.
hile Jesus was meeting their felt needs such as food, healing, and other signs and wonders, his followers numbered in the many thousands. But Jesus’ seminar in John 6:35-71 was full of these harsh and unpleasant words that offended both unbelieving Jews and pretentious disciples. So they grumbled, protested and eventually rejected him violently by crucifying him.
Thus, Jesus blew his chance to start a Willow Creek, Saddleback, Lakewood, CCF or GCF, or JIL, VCF, or some other multi-site church or megachurch. Because of his harsh, unpleasant and offensive teachings, his disciples dwindled down from thousands of so-called “seekers” to a mere 120, even after 3-1/2 years of preaching and teaching all over Judea and Samaria.
Would you be preaching and teaching what Jesus and the apostles preached and taught knowing that the end result would be church shrinkage, not church growth?