John 6:60-65: When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
Here, first of all, we learn the truth of the preceding, which is that spiritual things can only be understood by those who discern them by the abiding mind of Christ, which is to say, the indwelling Holy Spirit giving enlightenment to those who are in communion, or union, with the Triune God. Without being born again, none will understand even the more easily comprehended statements of truth contained in Scripture; oh, they may understand the language, and even be able to define the doctrine under consideration, but they will not believe it in a saving (evangelical) manner. Therefore, we have the disciples who have followed Jesus up to this point in His ministry plainly saying that what He has communicated to them is too much for them to accept, which leads us to our next observation.
That next observation is this: One can learn from someone, and follow them, without completely committing themselves to that form of teaching which they are hearing. This is how the term “disciples” is used in v.60, which shows us that there are disciples who follow up to a point, but turn away at the things they do not agree with. In other words, to state the obvious, there are disciples and there are disciples. In the former sense, one could call the demons of James 2:19 disciples, in that they know about God, and have that belief of those things of God revealed to them by His sovereign decree, yet they are without, and indeed, unable to even desire, that knowledge of God which is salvific, and it is because of their nature. They are followers of doctrine without commitment to that doctrine of life, for God has not granted to them that regeneration, faith, repentance and justification which only comes through an active, ongoing belief of the sort that a new nature imparted gives, and we know, all of these things of active faith are given as gifts of God. As such, just like the Jews in this dialog with our Lord; they cannot come to Him, for it has not been granted (them) by the Father. Since, as we have studied in this gospel, regarding regeneration (the first part of salvation applied by the Spirit), as well as the accompanying and subsequently exercised gifts of faith, repentance, holiness, and all other graces we are imbued with of and by our sovereign God, it is the Spirit who gives life; no understanding of the flesh (by which we mean the base nature under the fallen headship of Adam), no matter how much knowledge is accumulated, can gain that life that is sovereignly, freely bestowed upon believers by our good and gracious God’s will. The eating of His flesh and the drinking of His blood are metaphors of partaking of that spiritual life which is gained through union with Him, and must be understood as such. We must beware of adding or putting a carnal (fleshly) meaning to the words of our God if we find any of them hard to understand, knowing that He will, indeed, give us the understanding of that which He alone owns the rights. This is how the term disciple is used in the positive sense: life has been given, the fear of God is thus inherent, and as a child has the capacity to learn fresh things they have not yet been taught, so we are to humbly sit at the feet of He who is our salvation and our life – indeed, Jesus both admonishes us to be such trusting children before our heavenly Father, and gives thanks to the Father for giving us to be such, that we may learn from our Lord (Matthew 18:1-4; 11:25-30; cf. Luke 10:21-34).
J.C. Ryle gives some great insights for this portion of Scripture:
“It is useless to deny that this verse is full of difficulties. It contains expressions “hard to be understood.” It is far more easy to have a general impression of the meaning of the whole sentence, than to explain it word by word. Some things nevertheless we can see clearly and grasp firmly. Let us consider what they are. Our Lord says, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” By this He means that it is the Holy Spirit who is the special author of spiritual life in man’s soul. By His agency it is first imparted, and afterwards sustained and kept up. If the Jews thought He meant that man could have spiritual life by bodily eating or drinking, they were greatly mistaken. Our Lord says, “The flesh profits nothing.” By this He means that neither His flesh nor any other flesh, literally eaten, can do good to the soul. Spiritual benefit is not to be had through the mouth, but through the heart. The soul is not a material thing, and cannot therefore be nourished by material food. Our Lord says, “the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” By this He signifies that His words and teachings, applied to the heart by the Holy Spirit, are the true means of producing spiritual influence and conveying spiritual life. By words thoughts are begotten and aroused. By words mind and conscience are stirred. And Christ’s words especially are spirit-stirring and life-giving” (Ryle, J.C. – The Gospel of John – italics in original).
John Calvin notes this important spiritual perception for v. 60:
60. This is a harsh saying. “On the contrary, it was in their hearts, and not in the saying, that the harshness lay. But out of the word of God the reprobate are thus accustomed to form stones to dash themselves upon, and when, by their hardened obstinacy, they rush against Christ, they complain that his saying is harsh, which ought rather to have softened them. For whoever shall submit with true humility to the doctrine of Christ will find nothing in it harsh or disagreeable; but to unbelievers, who oppose themselves with obstinacy, it will be a hammer which breaketh the rocks in pieces, as the Prophet calls it, (Jeremiah 23:29.) But since the same hardness is natural to us all, if we judge of the doctrine of Christ according to our feelings, his words will be just so many strange and incredible statements. All that remains for us, therefore, is, that every one commit himself to the guidance of the Spirit, that he may inscribe on our hearts what otherwise would never have even entered into our ears.” Who can hear it? “Here we see the awful wickedness of unbelief; for they who impiously and basely reject the doctrine of salvation, not satisfied with excusing themselves, have the hardihood to put the Son of God in their room as if he were guilty, and to declare that he is unworthy of being heard… But that which they, through their rage and fury, cannot endure will not only be tolerable to modest and teachable persons, but will support and comfort them. Yet the reprobate, by their obstinate slanders, will do nothing more than bring down on themselves more dreadful condemnation” (Commentary on John – Volume 1, John Calvin, 1509-1564 –italics in original).
A final point to consider is one that we have gone over since our study of chapter 2 of this gospel, which is that our Lord knew in Himself that His disciples were grumbling about Him, which is also augmented by the fact that He knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him. Here, we have again the fact of the divine knowledge, which is not to say that it is simply that knowledge of our Lord He had as the preincarnate Word, but that which was imparted to Him through the ongoing perfect communion He had with the Father through the Holy Spirit; remember, we learned, in chapter three of this study of John’s gospel, that our Lord was given the Holy Spirit by the Father without measure (John 3:34). We also learned that this was a fullness of the presence and companionship of the Comforter and Counselor that Jesus enjoyed that was specific to His ministry as the Messiah, or Christ, which none other had, or will, ever enjoy as fully. Though, as God the Son from everlasting, He had all knowledge of all things, He set aside His prerogative to exercise His divine nature and attributes (Philippians 2:5-8), relying completely upon His close communion with the Spirit, and so the Father through the Spirit, in order to exercise His offices of Prophet, Priest, and King; in order to not only be the sacrifice for our sins, but to tell others of the purpose for which He came, and to be that perfect Mediator of the New Covenant by which His people would surely be saved to the uttermost (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 5:8-9; 7:25; 9:13-15; 10:10, 14). Therefore, we are speaking of the knowledge our Lord acquired as a man offering perfect obedience to the Father (John 5:19-20; 8:29; 15:10b), by the impartation of that knowledge to Him through the Spirit, and in this, He has no need that any man should tell Him aloud whether or not they had great complaints against His doctrine, or even which one it was that would betray Him, for this knowledge was granted to Him by the Father through the Spirit; additionally, we often think this knowledge came to our Lord spontaneously, but we are told that he increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man, which tells us, in addition to the statement from Hebrews that He learned obedience through the things which He suffered, that, as a perfect Man, He was learning from the Scriptures He had, the Scriptures He quoted, which were the Hebrew Scriptures.
This is really getting somewhat into Christology (the doctrine of Christ), which, in this gospel, we can do at any time (it is the most obvious Christocentric gospel of the four gospels), but we do not wish to go that much into this most important doctrine at this particular juncture of our study (Christology is a study unto itself, which we will go into apart from this study of the gospel according to John); what we will say, however, adding to the few short things we have mentioned regarding this important doctrine, is that it should be obvious to us that our Lord often quoted the Scriptures (Matthew 12:3-8; Mark 10-12; 12:26-27), and that, joined with the knowledge that He was asking and answering questions among the teachers in the temple at the young age of 12, He continued His study of the Scriptures all His life, up to the point where He did that which most glorified the Father by His taking the sins of His sheep. So, our Lord did the hard (and in His case, perfect, and supremely joyous work, for such was a part of His doing that which always pleased the Father) work of studying the Scriptures, and in His study, the knowledge imparted to Him was a perfect understanding of His Person and ministry, inclusive of that which would occur during the course of His ministry, such as what people would think and say, by the Holy Spirit imparting such to Him. We are not saying that our Lord had no special revelation imparted to Him about people by the Spirit, but that much of what He knew of them was directly through the Spirit giving Him perfect understanding of the Scriptures He studied.
This brings up a most necessary application: If it was necessary for our Lord to grow in His knowledge of the Scriptures, as a man (without the imposition of an understanding with the limitations of a corrupt nature, or in our case, the remaining corruption of our flesh), how much more necessary is it for us to read, meditate upon and study the Scriptures, that we may learn to walk in the ways that are pleasing to our Lord and Father?
SDG – Bill H.