Notes on John 6:59-71

John 6:59-71
The Lord had now concluded in the synagogue at Capernaum His discourse, the main topics of which were His incarnation and atonement, as the indispensable food of faith, let men despise them as they might; and let them cry up the manna or aught else, which had neither such a divine and heavenly source nor such an everlasting effect but must leave men to the after all; for in Him, and none else, was life. “These things he said in [the] synagogue, teaching in Capernaum. Many therefore of his disciples on having heard said, This word is hard: who can hear it? But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmur concerning this, said to them, Doth this offend you? If then ye behold the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the Spirit that quickeneth the flesh profiteth nothing. The words which I have spoken1 to you are spirit and are life; but there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from [the] beginning which were they that believed not, and which was he that should betray him. And he said, On this account have I said that no one can come unto me unless it hath been given him from the2 Father.” (Ver. 59-65.)
A most serious form of unbelief now betrayed itself, not among those of Judea or elsewhere only but the disciples, many of whom murmur, stumbling tit His words. If they found hard His descent from heaven or His dying, what if they beheld the Son of man going up where He was before? It was implied in Psa. 8; 80, 110, as well as Dan. 7. But Jewish will had long turned only to Israel's hopes in their land and liked not a higher aspect, any more than a lower. The cross and heaven were equally out of their field of vision. Hence the Lord here confronts them with His own ascension as a most unpalatable truth. Yet is it one which fitly follows His death, as it falls in with His coming down to be a man in incarnation. He is gone up a Savior in righteousness, having glorified God to the uttermost about sin, as surely as He came down to serve in love. All hang together here, as in fact it is while He is thus ascended on high that faith feeds on Him in life and death here below. But disciples murmuring at His words of humiliation He told of His exaltation, sad to say to still deeper offense. Had they been true, had they known and loved the truth, it had been their joy; but they valued the first man rather than the Second, and were more and more offended.
Such is the flesh even in disciples. It profits nothing. It is the Spirit that quickens, and this by and in Christ, never apart from Him, still less to His dishonor. Hence His words have a power essentially divine and of divine efficacy; they are spirit and life, as He says Himself of what He had just spoken in His discourses, stumble as men might; and few words have been more disastrously perverted to this day, idolizing the sign to the shame of Him who was signified to have thus come and died in supreme love, who blesses faith accordingly. But alas! “there are some of you who do not believe.” Not to believe is fatal to any, most inconsistent withal in a disciple. Christ must be all or nothing. If all, His words are to the believer no reproach but a delight and have power all through, yea increasingly as He is thereby better known. Jesus knew their unbelief, not by observation or experience but from the first. He is God, and none the less because He became man; and this is our evangelist's constant thesis. Yet did He distinguish between such as did not believe and him who should betray Him; but who ever gathered it save now from His own words? Who had ever seen grace in Him falter in His ways with all? How solemn is the patience of divine love! On the other hand those who believed had no ground of boasting, for though they did cleave to Jesus, none could come unto Him, except it had been given to him from the Father. It was sovereign grace in God.
“From that [time] many of his3 disciples went away back and walked no more with him. Jesus therefore said to the twelve, Do ye also wish to go away? Simon Peter4 answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go away? Thou hast words of eternal life; and we have believed and known that thou art the holy One5 of God. [Jesus]6 answered them, Did I not choose you the twelve? One of you is a devil. Now he was speaking of Judas [son] of Simon Iscariot7; for he was about to betray him, being one of the twelve.” (Vers. 66-71.)
Thus the warnings of the Lord precipitate the departure of unbelievers, while they knit the faithful more closely to Himself and bring out their sense of what He is to their souls. The cause lay in their own will which gave Satan power. Yet the Lord does not hesitate to let the twelve know that, while one confessed for all that He was the Holy One of God, one of themselves should betray Him. What a contrast with all but Himself, unless it be with such as have learned of Him! How different those who seek to draw disciples after them! Still His words would confirm His own, even all that were real. The more free, the more are they bound. He only is worthy, He is the Holy One.
I am aware that a learned but self-confident German pronounces the “Holy One” not Johannean. But this was a rash and ignorant judgment. It is a title given to our Lord once in his first Epistle as here once in his Gospel. He is the only writer in the New Testament who ever uses it of the Lord in relation to the saints. It is therefore more characteristic of John than of any other apostle. Mark and Luke tell us of evil spirits tremblingly owning Him thus. Well might they quail before the Holy One who is destined to deal with them in judgment. How blessed to bear one saint confess for all their faith in Him in this very character, cleaving to Him and His words of eternal life with confidence! How gracious to hear another comforting the babes of God's family with the reflection that they had received unction from the Holy One and knew all things! Antichrists might go out from among those who bore Christ's name, but they were not of the family of God: if they had been, they would surely have remained as Peter did here, as Judas did not when the last crisis came. First or last they went out that they might be made manifest that none are “of us” —of the family. For God's children the Holy One is the spring of every joy and of all peace, of repulsion for unbelievers, of terror for demons. The babes rebuke the pride of mere unbelieving human intelligence which denies the Father and the Son, yea, that Jesus is the Christ, and perishes away from Him who alone has life and gives it to every believer. So it is in the Gospel as in the Epistle.
But we see here also the vast moment of walking with Him, of open identification with Him in this way before men as well as God, the danger and ruin of going away. Faith, however weighty, is not all: one has to walk with Him here below. Where else are words of eternal life? Without may be religion, philosophy, present ease, or honor and power. With Him are those who think of and act for eternity.
Yet even the apostolate, as the Lord here shows, gives no sure ground to build on—nothing but Himself. So, His most honored servant lets the Corinthians (too enamored of gifts) know, that he might preach to others, yet, if he kept not his body in subjection, himself must be a reprobate. The Son of man, in life and death appropriated by faith, alone sconces eternal life now and resurrection at the last day.