Conversing with Jesus | Part 5
John 6 contains a powerful narrative that gives great insight into the most testified sign of his ministry: the feeding of the 5,000. The account here is unique from the other gospels because it records Jesus’ post-miracle conversation with the crowd on the other side of the lake. Over the next several posts, we will be diving deeper into the fallout between Jesus and the crowd in that exchange. Studying this can inform and improve our own conversations with Jesus.
"When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’… Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life."
- John 6:60; 66-68
As the discourse between the crowds and Jesus unfolds in John 6:32-59, it becomes clear that Jesus is not going to make them more bread. Instead, he makes increasingly radical claims which invite challenges from the crowd. When faced with these criticisms Jesus doubles down on his statements, bringing the conversation to a breaking point.
The word for “difficult” in Greek is σκληρός, which could be rendered “stubborn” or even “offensive.” The crowd’s reaction to this adversity is to give up. They exclaim, “Who has the ability to hear it?” (a literal reading of the Greek here). His teaching has reached a point where they cannot even bear listening to him anymore, and he’s certainly not going to give them what they want, so they walk away.
Their objection seems reasonable and accurate. Jesus’s teaching is difficult. If that’s all there was to say, then they would seemingly be justified in their response of walking away. But the crowds’ own words condemn them: the teaching is “hard” not “impossible.” A few verses later, we are introduced to the ones who are able to accept it, to the ones whom the crowds thought did not exist, to the 12 disciples.
What, then is the difference in the two groups? An understanding of their need.
The crowd refuses to move past their own desire in fulfilling their physical need, to acknowledge their greater spiritual need. Compare that with the response of the disciples, who stayed because Jesus was fulfilling a much deeper need—“the words of eternal life” (v. 67).
Though they undoubtedly began following for their own reasons, these 12 recognized their greater need—a need for a relationship with Jesus himself.
We also come to Jesus for our own reasons: loss, pain, and all kinds of unmet desires. These are not our ultimate need, however. In drawing us to himself, Jesus takes our small temporal needs and uses them to show us our true need. At first, his unyielding words may upset us as they did the crowd, but what he tells us is never impossible for us to believe. Belief is difficult because it requires us to let go of our vision of what our greatest need is for the real greatest need—restored relationship with God through Jesus. Seeing this, we will proclaim with Peter “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68).