Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Many Disciples Quit Following Jesus
JESUS is teaching in a synagogue in Capernaum about his part as the true bread from heaven. His talk is evidently an extension of the discussion that began with the people when they found him on their return from the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, where they had eaten from the miraculously provided loaves and fishes.
Jesus continues his remarks, saying: “The bread that I shall give is my flesh in behalf of the life of the world.” Just two years before, in the spring of 30 C.E., Jesus told Nicodemus that God loved the world so much that he provided his Son as a Savior. Thus, Jesus is now showing that anyone of the world of mankind who eats symbolically of his flesh, by exercising faith in the sacrifice he is soon to make, may receive everlasting life.
The people, however, stumble over Jesus’ words. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they ask. Jesus wants his listeners to understand that the eating of his flesh would be done in a figurative way. So, to emphasize this, he says something still more objectionable if taken in a literal way.
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,” Jesus declares, “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.”
True, if Jesus were here suggesting cannibalism, his teaching would sound most offensive. But, of course, Jesus is not advocating literally eating flesh or drinking blood. He is simply emphasizing that all who receive everlasting life must exercise faith in the sacrifice that he is to make when he offers up his perfect human body and pours out his lifeblood. Yet, even many of his disciples make no attempt to understand his teaching and so object: “This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?”
Knowing that many of his disciples are murmuring, Jesus says: “Does this stumble you? What, therefore, if you should behold the Son of man ascending to where he was before? . . . The sayings that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you that do not believe.”
Jesus continues: “This is why I have said to you, No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” With that, many of his disciples leave and no longer follow him. So Jesus turns to his 12 apostles and asks: “You do not want to go also, do you?”
Peter responds: “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.” What a fine expression of loyalty, even though Peter and the other apostles may not have fully understood Jesus’ teaching on this matter!
Although pleased by Peter’s response, Jesus observes: “I chose you twelve, did I not? Yet one of you is a slanderer.” He is speaking about Judas Iscariot. Possibly at this point Jesus detects in Judas a “beginning,” or an outset, of a wrongful course.
Jesus has just disappointed the people by resisting their attempts to make him king, and they may reason, ‘How can this be the Messiah if he will not assume the Messiah’s rightful position?’ This, too, would be a matter fresh in the people’s minds. John 6:51-71; 3:16.
◆ For whom does Jesus give his flesh, and how do these ‘eat his flesh’?
◆ What further words of Jesus shock the people, yet what is he emphasizing?
◆ When many quit following Jesus, what is Peter’s response?