A Website for Basic Christian Doctrine

How did Jesus Christ grow His Church?

By Jeremy Cagle

There are hundreds of ideas floating around right now about how the church of Jesus Christ should grow.  In our day and age, Christian leaders are obsessed with finding new ways to get their membership roles to sky-rocket and their offerings to go up and their baptismals to run over with new converts.

To prove this, here are a few of the latest church growth strategies out there.  One is to give lost people what they want.  To meet their “felt needs,” if you will.  Concerning this method of church growth, Robert Schuller writes,

Historical theology has too often failed to interpret repentance as a positive creative force . . . Essentially, if Christianity is to succeed in the next millennium, it must cease to be a negative religion and must become positive.1

At another time, Schuller went on to say,

I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence, counter-productive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.2

In other words, the church is supposed to make people feel welcome and happy and accepted; not convicted and broken and guilty for sinning.  The worst thing you can do, according to Robert Schuller, is make people feel bad.

You should give people what they want to hear.  You should minister to them the way that they want to be ministered to.  Go out into your neighborhood, take a survey, and ask what everyone would like to see in a church and then give it to them.  If they want an indoor basketball court, then give them an indoor basketball court.  If they want a coffee shop next to the Sanctuary, then give them a coffee shop next to the Sanctuary.  If they want a Saturday night rock-n-roll service, then give them a Saturday night rock-n-roll service.  But, whatever you do, give the guests first choice in the selection of the ministries of the church.

This method of church growth started with Robert Schuller in California.  It was then picked up by Rick Warren in Anaheim, California3 and Bill Hybels in South Barrington, Illinois4 and Andy Stanley in Atlanta, Georgia.5

A second church growth strategy that is popular today is to try and become like the lost.  As the thinking goes, if you want people to come to your church, then you must become like the people you are trying to reach.  You must dress like they dress.  You must talk like they talk.  You must drive the kind of car they drive.  You must listen to the kind of music they listen to.  To reach out to lost people, you must try and become like lost people.  You must have some kind of common ground whereby you can draw unbelievers in.

One classic example of this method is the one adopted by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington6 and director of the Acts 29 Network.7  Known as the “Cussing Pastor,”8 Driscoll has made quite a name for himself by saying a lot of solid Biblical truth from the pulpit while at the same time using a decent amount of vulgarity.  In one of his books, Driscoll talks about his approach to ministry this way,

I had grown facial hair, started cussing again (I stopped for about 15 minutes, after I got saved) and briefly considered taking up smoking. But I had asthma which kept me form achieving my full cool potential.9

In other parts of the book, Driscoll mentions how one of his pastors at Mars Hill occasionally shows unedited R-rated movies in the church10 and how they sponsor secular bands to perform concerts in their worship center.11

Why does he do that?  R-rated movies in the church?  Secular bands performing concerts in the same place where people worship God?  Cussing in the sermons?  He does that because that is what the people in his community do.  They cuss, so he cusses.  They love going to secular rock concerts, so he loves going to secular rock concerts.  They watch R-rated movies, so he watches R-rated movies.  He wants to become like the lost people that he is trying to reach.  He wants to act like the goats in order to help them turn into sheep.

A third church growth strategy that is popular today is to entertain people.  As the thinking goes with this method, the church has developed a nasty reputation for being boring.  It has become notorious for giving long, dry sermons and for playing outdated music.  So why not spice things up a little bit?  Why not make church fun instead of boring?  Why not entertain people while they worship?  Why not hold their attention with games and skits and contemporary music instead of putting them to sleep?

While this thirst for entertainment is usually pretty subtle, it has been taken to ridiculous extremes.  On May 13, 1991 the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “Mighty Fortresses: Megachurches Strive to be All Things to Parishioners.”  In the article, one reporter said:

To perk up attendance at Sunday evening services . . . [This particular church] staged a wrestling match featuring church employees. To train for the event, 10 game employees got lessons from Tugboat Taylor, a former professional wrestler, in pulling hair, kicking shins and tossing bodies around without doing real harm.12

Why a wrestling match?  Why are pastors and church employees taking lessons from Tugboat Taylor instead of studying the Word of God?  Why are Christian leaders learning the pile-drive instead of teaching on repentance and faith and the cross?  They are doing it to entertain people.  They are doing it to draw people in by amusing them.  People do not want to hear about serious things, so these churches are reaching the masses by diverting their attention to trivial things.

And there are many other church growth strategies out there that could be mentioned as well but it all leads to the question: How do we grow the church of Jesus Christ?  How do we bring more people in through the doors of our house of worship?  To ask this another way: How did Jesus Christ grow His church?  What example did He leave for us to follow?

Did Jesus give people what they wanted?  Did He go around Galilee taking surveys of lost Jews to see what would best minister to them?  Did He try to become like the unbelievers in Jerusalem?  Did He dress like the Pharisees, talk like the tax collectors, and teach like the Sadducees?  Did Jesus entertain the crowds of people who followed Him?  Did He admit that the Old Testament was a bit dry and boring and spice it up a little bit?

We find the answer to all of these questions in John 6.

In John 6, Jesus is having a conversation with some men who have come to Him looking for food.  The first part of the chapter gives the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves of bread and two fish (vv. 1-14).  Actually, if the women and children were counted along with the men, the number would have been more like 15,000-20,000.13  Verse 4 says, “Now, the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near” implying that this enormous crowd was heading to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast.  If that was the case, then every man would have brought his family with him, doubling or even tripling the number that was recorded in this chapter (v. 10).

The second part of the chapter tells us what happened the day after the feeding.  A small portion of the crowd followed Jesus to a local synagogue in Capernaum because they wanted some more bread from Him (vv. 22-66).  For the sake of time, we will not be able to look at all of this interaction but verses 53-55 say this:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, 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 who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”

Speaking to a crowd of Israelites at a synagogue in Capernaum, a well-to-do city,14 Jesus tells them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood if they want to go to Heaven.  “Eat My flesh” and “drink My blood” are references to believing in Jesus.  You believe in Jesus when your soul consumes Him like your body consumes food.  Your inner man takes Jesus in and lives off of Him just like your outer man takes food in and lives off of it.  But this reference to eating and drinking is also given with the intention of offending these people.  Jesus said this to make them think for a minute about what it would cost to follow Him.

Drinking and eating blood was strictly forbidden for the Jewish people.  Leviticus 17:10-12 says,

“And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, “No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.”

You could eat flesh if you were a Jew but you were not allowed, under any circumstances, to drink blood. God would cut you off from His people if you did that.

And with that in mind, Jesus tells these men, “You came to me looking for a free meal but I’m telling you that if you want eternal life, you are going to have to drink My blood” (see v. 26).  “You are going to have to live off of Me just like you live off of bread.”  “You are going to have to stop thinking that you are good enough to save yourself from the consequences of sin.”

For Jesus Christ, church growth was going to happen with one method and one method only.  He was not going to take surveys and then follow the findings of the surveys.  He was not going to dress and talk and act like the unbelievers in Israel.  He was not going to entertain people with games and cool music and wrestling matches.

For Jesus Christ, church growth was going to happen as He and His followers loved people enough to tell them the truth.  The church can only grow when Christians tell the lost world that they are in sin and that there is a Savior for sin.  As it is often said: “Missions is one beggar telling another beggar how to find bread.”  That is how the Body of Christ grows: sinful forgiven beggars tell sinful unforgiven beggars where to find forgiveness.

And if that means that you offend people by calling them sinful, then you offend people by calling them sinful.  If that means that you hurt their feelings by telling them that they cannot go to Heaven on the basis of their good works, then that means that you hurt their feelings by telling them that they cannot go to Heaven on the basis of their good works.

That is exactly what Jesus does here in John 6.  That is the approach that He uses.  This crowd failed to understand what Jesus had come to do.  He fed them the day before, along with thousands of others (vv. 22-25), so they come to Him to be fed again and Jesus says to them, “Don’t do that.”  And when they misunderstand Him, He offends them to get the point across.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, 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.”

It would be hard to think of anything more offensive to a Jew than telling Him that He had to drink blood to get into Heaven but that is exactly what Jesus does here in John 6.  He intentionally insults His audience to get the point across.  And if we have to do the same thing today, then so be it.  We must follow the example of our Lord.

With all of that said, the offense continues in John 6:60-66.  In fact, the offense continues to the point that many of Jesus’ disciples leave Him at the end of these verses.  They just walk away from His ministry and never come back.  Here are five reasons why.

1. The Disciples Leave Jesus because His Teaching is Hard.

John 6:60 says,

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”

There are several places in the Gospel of John where the word “disciple” refers to more than just the 12 disciples.  The word “disciple” in Greek meant “learner” or “follower”15 and it is used many times in the New Testament because Jesus had more than 12 “followers.”  Although they were definitely the ones that we hear the most about, there were others.

John 4:1 mentions some of these other disciples when it says,

Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John . . .

John 7:3 says,

Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing . . .”

These statements about Jesus’ “disciples” refer to anyone who followed Him for any length of time.  There were times when the Lord only traveled around with His closest 12 disciples but there were other times when He had multitudes with Him and they also carried the name “disciple.”

John 6 describes one of those times and verse 60 says that many of these disciples were saying, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”  The word for “hard” in Greek is skleros. It meant “hard, rough, thick.”16  It could mean “harsh” or “offensive.”17  The word for “it” in Greek could also translate “Him,” so that verse 60 might read:

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a harsh statement; who can listen to Him?”

“Who is going to put up with this?” they ask each other.  “Who is going to believe in a man who says that you have to eat His flesh and drink His blood if you want to have eternal life?”  “That’s tough to swallow!”  “That is hard to believe!”  They are preparing to leave Jesus because His teaching is skleros. It is dry and unpleasant.  It is rough.

Millions of church-goers today leave Jesus because His doctrine is hard to believe.  They come to Him because they want something from Him and, when they do not get it, they leave.  They want their needs met and when He does not meet those needs, they walk away.  They may show up to church and attend from time-to-time but their minds and their souls have checked out when it comes to Jesus Christ.  As John MacArthur writes in his commentary of the Gospel of John,

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.18

He is right.  People like a warm-and-fuzzy Jesus but they cannot tolerate a harsh one.  Yet that is exactly what Jesus was.  At times, Jesus Christ was downright harsh.  Let me read to you a few of the harsh things that Jesus said in the New Testament.

In Matthew 10:22, He said:

You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.

In Matthew 10:34-36, Jesus said:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.

Matthew 23:25 gives one of Jesus’ pronouncements against the Pharisees:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.

Matthew 23:27 also quotes Jesus as saying:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.

Luke 14:33 quotes Jesus as saying:

So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

In John 15:20, He said:

Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

There were times when the words of Jesus were downright scary.  They were skleros. Dry.  Hard.  “You will be hated by all because of Me.”  That is not a very pleasant thought.  “You must love Me to the point that it seems like you hate your own family.”  “You cannot be My disciple if you do not give up all of your possessions.”  “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”  Those thoughts are not much better.  And yet it all came from the mouth of Jesus Christ.  It was all spoken by the Son of God.

You cannot separate the pleasant Jesus from the unpleasant Jesus.  You cannot have a Savior of love without having a Savior of hard, offensive truth because Jesus Christ is both.

John 6:53-55 is another one of those unpleasant teachings that came from Jesus’ mouth and this crowd of disciples picks up on that and says, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”  “Who is going to believe all of this stuff about eating His flesh and drinking His blood?”  “We certainly can’t.”  “It is too skleros. It is too hard.”

2. The Disciples Leave Jesus because They are Offended.

John 6:61 goes on to say,

But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?”

Earlier, the Lord offended those who were against Him in verse 41.  Now He offends those who are for Him in verse 61.

The phrase “conscious that His disciples” could be translated “knowing in Himself”19 or “When Jesus knew in Himself” as the King James Version has it.  The New International Version says, “Aware that His disciples were grumbling about this . . .”  The disciples did not grumble out loud here.  They grumbled quietly to themselves.  They did this to each other, not to Him.

But Jesus was aware of it because He knew what was in their hearts.  He knew about it in Himself.  They did not have to say a word.  As God in human flesh, Jesus knew every thought that man ever had.  Nothing took Him by surprise.  Nobody hid one over on Him.  As Matthew Henry put it, “Thoughts are words to Christ.”20  The disciples might as well have said their complaints out loud because Jesus heard them clearly.

He even tells them so by saying to them, “Does this offend you?”  The word for “offend” in verse 61 is skandalidzo from which we get our English word “scandalize.”21  “Does this scandalize you?” Jesus asks them.  “Does this surprise you like a scandal would?”  “Does what I said shock you?”

In First Corinthians 1:23, the Apostle Paul uses this Greek word to say that the Gospel is a “stumbling block” to the Jews.  It gets in their way.  It causes them to trip and fall.  That is also the idea here in John 6.

In verse 61, Jesus asks these men if His words shock them enough to stand in the way of following Him.  He says, “You guys claim to be My disciples but is this where you leave Me?”  “Is this a stumbling block to you?”  “Is this where our relationship ends?”  Not only do these men leave Jesus because His teachings are hard but they leave Jesus because His teachings are scandalous.  His teachings were so offensive that they caused problems.

It is easy to lose sight of this important truth in our day and age.  I was talking with a pastor several years ago who reminded me of this when he said, “Most Christians today just don’t want to offend anybody.”  “They’re cowards.”  “They’re too afraid that people won’t like them so they don’t say anything offensive to anybody.”

Charles Spurgeon once put it this way:

We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitfields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears. We have dire need of such. Whence will they come to us?22

We have dire need of men who “breathe terror in our foemen’s ears.”  Just think about it, when was the last time that you visited a church where the message was Biblical and it got under your skin?  When was the last time that you were counseled by a Godly friend who made you mad because what they said was right?  When was the last time that you read a Christian book that made you put it down and walk away because it convicted you of sin?

We Christians are often about as offensive and scandalous as a teddy-bear.  Our teaching is usually about as dangerous as a marshmallow.  But what was the teaching of Jesus Christ like?  What kind of effect did He have on the people who heard Him?  Here in this passage, Jesus is as offensive as a rattle-snake.  He is as dangerous as a scorpion.

And other passages show us the same thing.23  Jesus was so offensive at times that His own disciples had trouble following Him.  He caused riots.24  He created political and religious turmoil.25  He was a stumbling block to the audiences that heard Him.26  He made them trip and fall over His teaching.

Adrian Rogers once said that “The problem with today’s preachers is that no one wants to kill them anymore.”  That cannot be said about Jesus.  There were occasions when His preaching was skandalidzo. It was offensive and His followers left Him over it.

3. The Disciples Leave Jesus because They are of the Flesh.

John 6:61-63 tells us what happens in the next few verses.

But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

In the progression of the text, Jesus has told these men what they must believe if they are to be saved and they are offended by that.  So He calls them out on it and says, “Does this offend you?”  “I tell you the truth, if you are offended at Me saying that you must eat My flesh and drink My blood, what are you going to think when I ascend into Heaven?”  “What are you going to say when you see Me crucified and resurrected and ascended to the right hand of My eternal Father?”

Remember, these men were professing to be Jesus’ disciples.  In verse 25, they even called Him “Rabbi.”27  In a sense, they were coming to Jesus to learn from Him and He tells them rather bluntly, “If you can’t follow Me now, you won’t be able to follow Me then.”  “If you can’t follow Me when I tell you how great I am, how are you going to follow Me when I show you how great I am?”  “If you can’t follow Me when I tell you that I have come down from Heaven, how will you follow Me when I ascend into Heaven?”

The “ascension” that Jesus is referring to here is mentioned in Acts 1:7-11.  There it says,

[Jesus] said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And as they were gazing intently into the sky while He was going, behold, two men in white clothing stood beside them.  They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

After Jesus was crucified and resurrected, He spent some time teaching His disciples (the ones who stayed with Him).  After that period of time, He ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of God until it was time for Him to return to the earth.

And all of that is brought up here in John 6 to tell this crowd that if they cannot follow Jesus now, then they will not be able to follow Jesus then. If they cannot follow Jesus when He tells them that He is divine, then they will not be able to follow Jesus when He shows them that He is divine.

Then the Lord says something unusual in verse 63.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.

The phrase “the flesh counts for nothing” has two negative words around it for emphasis in the original Greek.28  It could be translated, “The Spirit gives life, but the flesh really doesn’t count for much.”  The English Standard Version translates it, “The flesh is no help at all.”  The King James Version says, “The flesh profiteth nothing.”

In regards to eternal things, the flesh is worthless.  The Spirit can give you life but the flesh can do nothing for your soul.  When you die, you will keep your spirit but your body will rot in the grave.  It will be useless to you in eternity.  Exercising may help you in this life but it will not help you in the next.29

Jesus says this in verse 63 to give these men another rebuke.  They are so caught up with the statement about eating flesh and drinking blood that they miss the entire meaning of what the Lord is saying to them.  He is not talking about cannibalism.  He is not telling them to literally eat His body and drink His blood.  There is a deeper spiritual meaning behind His words but they cannot see it because they are too fleshly.

They are too caught up in physical things to think about spiritual truths.  They just want more food.  They just want their bellies filled.  In verse 26, Jesus reminds them:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

They were not following Him because they wanted to learn from Him.  They were following Him because they wanted to be fed by Him.  They only came to Him for material things.  So Jesus rebukes them.  These men ought to have known that Jesus had a deeper significance behind His words.  After all, they were His “disciples.”

John 6 occurs towards the end of Jesus’ second year of ministry30 and His second year of ministry is when the Lord collected most of His followers.31  At this point in time, some of these men must have been following Jesus for several months, maybe even a year.  By now, they have heard most of His parables.  They have listened to most of His sermons.  They have seen His miracles and they know the kind of Teacher that He was.  They knew that Jesus gave stories with deeper spiritual truths behind them.  They knew that Jesus spoke with integrity and they should have recognized that here.  To miss it was sheer stupidity.

Jesus was not talking about cannibalism in John 6.  A man who did the miracles that Jesus did and lived the way that Jesus lived would never tell others to literally eat His body and drink His blood to get into Heaven.  Of all the people who should have known that, Jesus’ disciples were at the top of the list.  So Jesus rebukes them.

He tells them, “If you men were thinking about the Spirit, you could understand what I’m telling you and you could have life.  But you are only thinking about the flesh.  You are only thinking about the things of this earth.”  And, because of that, they will eventually leave Jesus.

4. The Disciples Leave Jesus because They do not Believe in Him.

All of John 6:61-64 reads,

But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.

These men were confused and offended and of the flesh because they did not believe.

The reason Jesus did not say in verse 64 that “none of you believe” is because Jesus’ true disciples did believe in Him.  Peter, who was among this crowd, later says in verses 68-69:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.

Peter believed and so did all of Jesus’ 11 closest disciples except for Judas.  So Jesus only refers to some of this crowd, not everyone, when He says, “But there are some of you who do not believe.”

I knew someone in college who was a lot like these men before He came to Christ.  He was an engineering student who thought very analytically about everything.  When I first met him, he was lost but he began to take an interest in one of our Bible studies.  He would sit through the lesson and listen and then approach the leaders afterwards with questions about what he was reading in the Bible.

The way he would ask the questions was interesting.  When he was alone, he would read through the Scriptures and put a written post-it note on every page where he had a question. Then, when he found someone who could answer the question, he would open his Bible to the note and ask.

But I remember this friend telling me over and over and over again that he could not believe the Gospel message because he could not know it completely.  He could not fully understand how Jesus Christ can be fully man and fully God.  He could not comprehend how God could die for his sins.  He could not grasp how the he could be so sinful and yet still go to Heaven.

Finally one of our leaders told him that there are some things in the Bible that we will never understand completely.  There are things that can be understood and we must believe them but we must leave the mysteries in God’s hands.  In other words, my friend’s problem was not with his head but with his heart.  He wanted to know everything before he could believe it and, once he repented of that intellectual pride, the Lord saved him.

Here in John 6, these men were struggling with that same kind of problem.  They do not really believe that Jesus is the Bread of Life (vv. 35, 48) because they do not understand how that could be so and this was nothing more than intellectual pride.  These men liked to follow Jesus around because He could draw big crowds and because He said some really interesting things.  But they were not following Him because they believed that He was the One that God had sent to save them from their sins (vv. 38-40).

And when Jesus said that He was exactly that, they were put off.  And, because they did not believe in Him, they did not understand Him.  And, because they did not understand Him, they were angry with Him and were preparing to leave Him.

Verse 64 ends by saying, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.”  Jesus was God as well as Man and He knew what was in the hearts of men.  He knew about the Samaritan woman’s sin before she ever told Him.32  He answered Nicodemus’ questions before he ever asked them.33  He knew this crowd’s motives before they ever revealed them.34  Now it says that Jesus knew from the beginning who was going to believe in Him and who was going to betray Him.  He knew from the beginning who was going to be true and who was going to be false to Him.

The reference to betrayal here is obviously a reference to Judas Iscariot but it is not the purpose of this article to discuss that in detail.35

5. The Disciples Leave Jesus because the Father has not Granted Them.

John 6:65 says,

And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”

“Granted” is kind of a loose translation of the Greek word didomi. A literal translation of didomi would be “gives.”36  The verse could translate, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to me unless he has been given to Me from the Father.”

“For this reason I have said to you” refers back to John 6:44.  There Jesus told the disciples:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him in verse 44.  And no one can believe in Jesus unless the Father grants it to him in verse 64; unless the Father gives him the gift of faith.37

These men do not believe in Jesus and they are offended at Jesus and they are fleshly towards Jesus and they find Jesus harsh because the Father has not enabled them to believe in Jesus.  They are still dead and blinded in their sins.  They are without life because the Giver of life has yet to give life to them.

Everyone is born spiritually dead to God and, in order for them to be made spiritually alive, God must raise them from the dead.  God must make them live.  God must resurrect their souls.  Salvation is not God plus man.  Salvation is God plus nothing.  Just as you would not ask a corpse to help you do work around the house, God does not ask spiritually dead men what they think about Him before He gives them life.  He just gives them life.  He enables them to believe.  He gives them the gift of faith and they believe and they live.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

But God does not give that gift to everyone.  The Father does not enable all to believe and that is exactly what Jesus is referring to in John 6:65.

Jesus tells this crowd that He knows that the Father is not enabling them because they are not going to stay with Him.  They are repulsed by Him and, because of that, He knows that “no one can come to me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”  Their lives showed exactly where their hearts were.  They were acting like unbelievers, so Jesus rightly deduces that they are unbelievers.  They leave because the Father has not granted them the gift of faith.

CONCLUSION

It has been said that this crowd is going to leave Jesus but it has yet to be seen, so it would be good to conclude with that.  John 6:66 says,

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.

They did not like Jesus’ teaching and they were offended at Him and they were fleshly and they were unbelieving and the Father had not enabled them to believe, so they left.  They turned from Jesus and they walked away and they never came back.

“As a result of this” shows that this was a definite moment in time.  Because of this specific teaching at this specific moment, many of Jesus’ disciples left Him and never returned.  They “withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore,” meaning that they stopped following Jesus.

Jesus was constantly on the move during His ministry.  He was always travelling from one place to another and, in order to be His disciple, you had to be willing to do the same.  In order to follow Him spiritually, you had to follow Him spiritually.  But these men in verse 66 chose to stop doing that.  They chose to go back to their former way of life.  They had had enough of the travelling and the listening and the obeying, so they left.  This message pushed them over the edge.

As a matter of fact, verse 67 makes a reference to “the twelve” implying that everyone left but the 12 disciples.  Jesus’ words and the way that He handled this situation in John 6 were so offensive to this audience that He was left with only 12 men.  He had 15,000 people the day before and now He has 12.

How is that for a church growth strategy?  Most of us would consider this type of ministry a disaster.  How many churches today would hire a pastor who did that?  He started off with thousands and, in one day, He went down to a dozen.

But notice what you do not read in John 6:67.  The verse does not say, “Jesus ran after these disciples and said to them, ‘I’m sorry that I offended you, will you please forgive Me?’”  The verse does not say, “Jesus immediately apologized and said to His disciples, ‘I know why you are leaving, it is because I didn’t meet your felt needs.  Here is some bread.’”  It does not say, “Jesus, with tears in His eyes, responded to them, ‘It’s because I was too negative, isn’t it?  Let me encourage you.  Let me take a moment to lift you up.’”

Jesus did not give these men what they wanted.  Jesus did not do His best to become one of them.  And Jesus did not entertain them.  He simply offended them and let them leave.

This is a method for church growth that most Christians would consider bizarre.  After all, how do you grow a church like this?  How in the world could you ever build a ministry by making people mad at you?  But that is exactly how Jesus Christ chose to grow His church.  He told the people the truth that they needed to hear and He told it to them the way that they needed to hear it and He let them leave if they wanted to leave.

We have to be brave enough to do the same thing today.  If we call ourselves Christians and say that our church is His Body, then we must preach what Jesus Christ would have us preach.  We must proclaim the message that He would have us proclaim.  And if it makes people mad and drives them away, then so be it.  People left Jesus, too.

Our job is not to make Jesus attractive and friendly and nice.  Our job is to make Jesus known.  And if people choose to leave Jesus, then there is nothing more for us to say.  We are ambassadors of Christ38 and ambassadors do not change the message, they just repeat it.

Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life Who was broken and bruised and killed for the sins of the elect.  Those who believe in Him and accept His offense and come to His cross where God’s wrath was satisfied can have their sins forgiven and live forever in paradise.  Those who refuse to do that will go to Hell and Jesus Christ will not apologize for that.  He will not change His message to make it more accommodating.  He will not dilute the truth to make it more positive and less threatening.

And the chilling reminder is that, if we try to change the message, then we are not His true disciples.  If we try to soften the words of our Lord, then we are no better than this fickle crowd in John 6.

In fact, if we change the message to make it more appealing to the lost world, we are cowards.  To change any message simply so people will like you is to fear men more than God.  And shame on us if we do that!  Shame on us if we are ashamed of our Savior!  Shame on us if we would rather hear people say “Job well done!” than hear Jesus say it!

No church that professes to be Christian should take the edge off of the Gospel when evangelizing the lost.  No church should be fearful when people get angry over the harsh words of the Lord.  No church should be shocked when it takes time to grow.  That should be expected.  It happened to the Son of God 2,000 years ago.  It will happen to us today.

Jesus’ disciples dropped down from thousands upon thousands to 12 in one day because Jesus was offensive.  He was scandalous.  And, if they left Him, they will leave us.  But if we are faithful, God will bless that.  And He will grow His church in His time and in His power and for His glory.

  1. Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (Nashville, Tenn.: Word, 1982) 104. []
  2. Quoted in Richard Stengel’s “Apostle of Sunny Thoughts” in TIME Magazine Vol. 125, No. 11 (March 18, 1985). []
  3. For more information about Rick Warren and his church, see www.saddleback.com as of 11/9/12. []
  4. For more information about Bill Hybels and his church, see www.willowcreek.org as of 11/9/12. []
  5. For more information about Andy Stanley and his church, see www.northpoint.org as of 11/9/12. []
  6. For more information about Mars Hill Church, see www.marshill.com as of 11/9/12. []
  7. For more information about the Acts 29 Network, see www.acts29network.org as of 11/9/12. []
  8. This title was first unofficially given to Mark Driscoll in Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2003) 133-134. However, to be fair to Driscoll, it is not a title that he relishes. []
  9. Confessions of a Reformission Rev.: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) 50. []
  10. Ibid., 157. []
  11. Ibid., 127. []
  12. R. Gustav Niebuhr, “Mighty Fortresses: Megachurches Strive to Be All Things to All Parishioners” in The Wall Street Journal (May 13 1991) A6. []
  13. John MacArthur, John 1-11 in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006) 224. []
  14. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. by Ronald F. Youngblood (Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 ed.) 245-246. Capernaum was always called a “city” in the Bible (Matt 9:1; Mk 1:33) and it had its own synagogue (Mk 1:21; Lk 4:31-38) which held an important position in the ancient world. “The [Capernaum] synagogue was a center for the Roman system of taxation; for it had a permanent office of taxation (Matt. 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), and itinerant tax collectors operated in the city (Matt. 17:24).” []
  15. Joseph H. Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996) 386. The Greek word is matheteis and it means “a learner, pupil, disciple.” []
  16. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. by Colin Brown, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986 ed.) 153-154. []
  17. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John in The Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. by D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991) 300. []
  18. MacArthur, 269-270. []
  19. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume V (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1960 ed.) 113. []
  20. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979 ed.) 1541. []
  21. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Volume 2, 707. []
  22. C. H. Spurgeon Autobriography, Volume 1 (Carlisle, Penn.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005 ed.) v. []
  23. For a taste of this, read Jesus’ woes to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13-33. []
  24. Lk 4:14-30. []
  25. Jesus united the Pharisees who were against Roman control in Israel with the Herodians who were for Roman control in Israel. He actually created political turmoil against Himself. Mark 3:6 says, “The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.” []
  26. 1 Cor 1:23. []
  27. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1061. Rabbi was “a title of honor and respect given by the Jews to a doctor (teacher of the Law).” []
  28. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995) 340, footnote 150. []
  29. The Apostle Paul says something to this effect in 1 Corinthians 9:27. “But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” []
  30. Robert L. Thomas & Stanley N. Gundy, A Harmony of the Gospels (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978) 101, 327-328. []
  31. Consider what Mark 3:7-8 says about this time period: “Jesus withdrew to the sea with His disciples; and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and also from Judea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumea, and beyond the Jordan, and the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon, a great number of people heard of all that he was doing and came to Him.” []
  32. Jn 6:15-18. []
  33. Jn 3:1-3. []
  34. Jn 6:26. []
  35. For more information about Judas Iscariot, see John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men (Nashville, Tenn.: W Publishing Group, 2002) 181-198. []
  36. Thayer, 146. []
  37. See Ephesians 2:8-9 quoted below. []
  38. 2 Cor 5:20. []