67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. – John 6:60-66 ESV
Jesus’ discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum had left His listeners confused, disturbed, and even angry. And John indicates that when Jesus had finished “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:59 ESV). This comment by John regarding Jesus’ disciples is not a reference to the 12 men Jesus had chosen to follow Him. This was how John differentiated between the people who followed Jesus because of His miracles and “the Jews” who refused to believe that Jesus was anyone special.
The first group believed Jesus had supernatural powers, just as the Old Testament prophets had. Which is why some thought he might be a prophet sent from God. Others strongly considered the possibility that He might be the long-awaited Messiah. But none of them would have believed that He was God in human flesh. Yet, throughout His brief, but impactful, speech in the synagogue, Jesus had repeatedly claimed to have been sent to earth by God, His Father.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” – John 6:38 ESV
While Jesus’ invitation to eat His flesh and drink His blood had left the people scratching their heads in confusion, it was His claim to have God as His Father that turned many of them from followers into scoffers.
“As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” – John 6:57 ESV
He was boldly claiming to be divine, having been sent by God, and in possession of the key to eternal life. This was too much for some of His followers to handle. So, they walked away. But none of this surprised Him. Before they made their decision to leave, Jesus informed them that He already knew their state of unbelief.
“But there are some of you who do not believe.” – John 6:64 ESV
And John adds the note: “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV). Jesus knew who His true disciples were. And as John indicates, Jesus even knew that there was one among the 12 disciples who would prove to be a betrayer and not a believer.
Anyone could follow Jesus, but only those who were called by God and empowered by the Spirit of God would see Jesus for who He truly was. That is why Jesus had said, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63 ESV). Without the regenerating work of the Spirit, no one could understand and accept the words coming from the lips of Jesus.
Jesus had come to offer Himself as the bread of life, destined to provide spiritual nourishment to those with a hunger for righteousness. He came to pour out His blood so that those who thirsted for righteousness might be satisfied. Many in the crowd that day had come to see a miracle. They had hoped Jesus would provide them with another free meal. Their minds were stuck on material things. Their hopes were focused on worldly matters. If they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, it was only because they were longing that He might set them free from Roman oppression. They were looking for a human savior who would provide them with temporal relief from their physical suffering, whether that meant subjugation to Rome, hunger, disease, illness, or poverty.
But Jesus had come to offer them eternal life. He had made that point perfectly clear.
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV
“For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – John 6:33 ESV
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life…” – John 6:40 ESV
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” – John 6:47 ESV
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” – John 6:51 ESV
But the crowds could not understand what Jesus was saying. His offer of eternal life made no sense to them because they refused to believe that He was the Son of God. It was His divinity that made His offer of eternity possible. It was because He was the Son of God that He could make the offer of eternal life because He was the author of life.
He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:2-4 ESV
John began his gospel with the presentation of Jesus as the Son of God and the co-creator of the world. As part of the Godhead, Jesus had played an integral role in the creation of all life on earth. So now, Jesus was claiming to be God and in full possession of the divine power to not only bestow temporal life but eternal life on all those whom God gives Him. In the preceding chapter, Jesus made the bold claim:
“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 6:21 ESV
The Jews believed that God had the power to raise the dead. But only God possessed that kind of supernatural power. And yet, here was Jesus claiming to have the very same capacity to bestow life, not just on the physically dead, but on the spiritually dead. And this claim was more than some of His followers could handle, so they walked away.
But as the crowds dispersed, Jesus turned to His 12 disciples and asked them a probing question: “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67 ESV). The structure of the sentence in the Greek reveals that Jesus was not in doubt about their commitment, but that He was seeking their confirmation of that commitment. He wanted to hear from their own lips what He knew to be true in their hearts. And Peter spoke for the group when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 ESV).
With these words, Peter was acknowledging that he and his fellow disciples believed all that Jesus had said concerning Himself. They had heard what He had said concerning eternal life and believed His words to be true. He was the Holy One of God, having been sent from heaven with the words of eternal life. But there was still much that Peter and his companions did not understand concerning Jesus. In fact, it would be some time before Peter made a second confession regarding Jesus. On that occasion, Jesus asked His disciples who the people considered Him to be, and they had responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14 ESV). But when Jesus had asked them “But who do you say that I am?”, Peter had spoken up and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).
At that moment, Peter had expressed his belief that Jesus was the Messiah and, not only that, the Son of God. And Jesus revealed that this epiphany on Peter’s part had been made possible by God.
“For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17 ESV
The truth is, the disciples were on a journey of discovery. Their understanding of who Jesus was would continue to expand with each passing day. But they would tend to view Jesus through their own particular lens of understanding. They couldn’t help but bring their own personal perspectives and longings to bear. While they recognized and believed that Jesus had “words of eternal life,” they were still longing for Him to set up His kingdom in this life. They were hanging their hopes on Him being the Messiah and that He would one day reveal Himself to the world and restore Israel to its former glory. That is what would later prompt James and John to approach Jesus and ask Him to do them a favor.
“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Mark 10:37 NLT
They were looking for places of honor in what they believed would be His earthly kingdom. But Jesus warned them that He would have to drink the “bitter cup of suffering” before His kingdom could be established. He would have to die before He could reign. He would need to suffer before He could be glorified. And Jesus foreshadowed their own suffering, which would take place after His ascension and they began their ministry on His behalf.
“You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering” – Mark 10:39 NLT
There was much that would have to happen before the Kingdom would come in all its glory. And Jesus warned that even among the 12, there was one who did not share Peter’s belief that He was the Holy One of God.
“Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. – John 6:70-71 ESV
Little did Peter know that Jesus would have to be betrayed. The Holy One of God would have to be brutally crucified. In order for the Son of God to be the Savior of the world, He would have to allow His body to be broken and His blood to be spilled, so that some may have eternal life.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.