The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity — Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 22, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 6:56-69

6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

6:59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

6:61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?

6:62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

6:63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

6:64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.

6:65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

6:66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

6:67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

6:69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the dramatic conclusion to John 6. We see the wheat separated from the chaff, the sheep from the goats (stubborn unbelievers).

The first three verses were covered in last week’s exegesis.

Jesus spoke these words in the synagogue at Capernaum (verse 59).

Many of His notional disciples heard the words of Jesus and said they found His teaching about being the bread of life from heaven ‘difficult’ (verse 60), or ‘hard’ in Greek. They found it offensive.

John MacArthur explains:

Sklros, find that word in medical language It means stiff, dried out, inflexible, hard.  Consequently in the figurative sense, this word is used as a word for harsh, unpleasant.  It’s objectionable It’s offensiveIt’s not hard to understand It’s hard to accept that Jesus is the only way, that this man is from heaven, that he is the messiah, and the messiah will shed his blood Really, it’s this that caused me a number of years ago to write a book called Hard to Believe It’s hard to believe.  The message is inflexible

MacArthur adds that this teaching of Jesus, among others, is why CNN stopped inviting him on their shows (e.g. Larry King). MacArthur talked about what He said rather than what He did:

I wrote another book, thinking about this, called The Jesus You Can’t Ignore.  I wish more people would read that book because that’s the Jesus they ignore.  It’s the Jesus that speaks that they – by the way, that’s why you don’t see me on CNN anymore Because I don’t talk about the works of Jesus I talk about the words of Jesus It’s not that they don’t understand it.  It’s that they do understand it, and it’s offensive.  It’s offensive. 

Jesus was aware of the false disciples’ resistance and and asked if they found what He said offensive (verse 61).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that fallen man creates stumbling blocks preventing him from understanding the eternal truth. This is problematic, because our Lord might just leave us to our own devices, in this case, the sin of unbelief:

See how people by their own wilful mistakes create offences to themselves: they take offence where there is none given, and even make it where there is nothing to make it of. Note, We may justly wonder that so much offence should be taken at the doctrine of Christ for so little cause. Christ speaks of it here with wonder: “Doth this offend you?” Now, in answer to those who condemned his doctrine as intricate and obscure (Si non vis intelligi, debes negligiIf you are unwilling to be understood, you ought to be neglected) …

Henry says that Jesus would have explained further if only these disciples asked Him humbly to do so:

Now, when they found it a hard saying, if they had humbly begged of Christ to have declared unto them this parable, he would have opened it, and their understandings too; for the meek will he teach his way. But they were not willing to have Christ’s sayings explained to them, because they would not lose this pretence for rejecting them–that they were hard sayings.

This lack of humility from ‘intelligent’ men is common to all who reject Jesus, contrasting them with the believers:

Thus the scoffers at religion are ready to undertake that all the intelligent part of mankind concur with them. They conclude with great assurance that no man of sense will admit the doctrine of Christ, nor any man of spirit submit to his laws. Because they cannot bear to be so tutored, so tied up, themselves, they think none else can: Who can hear it? Thanks be to God, thousands have heard these sayings of Christ, and have found them not only easy, but pleasant, as their necessary food.

Jesus asked a further question, referring to His Ascension: if these disciples found this teaching of the bread of life from heaven difficult, how much more so would they find His return to His heavenly home (verse 62).

MacArthur reminds us that only the faithful witnessed the Ascension. The unbelievers were not there:

Verse 62.  “What then if you see the son of man ascending to where he was before?”  What if you saw me go back to heaven?  Could you then believe that I had come from heaven?

And by the way, if you did believe that I actually came from heaven, then you would believe my words So that became the issue What if you saw the ascension?  Sadly, they walked away before it happened The faithful were there when he ascended Right?  Acts 1 …  When they saw him go back into heaven, two angels appeared on the mount, and then Jesus went up into the clouds and went back into heaven They had no question about where he’d come from when they saw him go back So would you believe if you saw me go back?

Jesus told the assembled that our flesh is useless; instead the Spirit gives us life and the teachings of Jesus are both Spirit and life (verse 63).

MacArthur says:

It all comes down to this.  Believing what he said.  Right?  Believing his words.  Faith comes by hearing We’re begotten again by the word of truth The word in us itself is the power of God unto salvation In the 12th Chapter of John, Verse 49, “For I didn’t speak of my own initiative, but the father himself who has sent me has given me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak I know that his commandment is eternal life.  Therefore, the things I speak I speak just as the father has told me.  Life comes by the spirit through the words that come from the father through the son.”

Then Jesus said that there were those present who did not believe — and also His betrayer — which He knew from the start because of His divine nature (verse 64).

MacArthur says:

The horrible word in Verse 64 is really not just a word, but a phrase, “Who do not believe.”  Unbelief is the great tragedy of all tragedies It’s the worst word in the theological vocabulary Unbelief.  It doesn’t say they didn’t understand.  Salvation is not a question of intelligence It’s a question of faithBelieving.  Believing. 

Again, as in John 6:37 and John 6:44, Jesus said that no one can come to Him except through the Father (verse 65). This is proof that we cannot determine in the first instance whether we can be His followers. God Himself determines that happy circumstance. That said, once called, we have a duty to heed His Son’s words and follow His ordinances.

Henry tells us:

There he had said that none could come to him, except the Father draw him; here he saith, except it be given him of my Father, which shows that God draws souls by giving them grace and strength, and a heart to come, without which, such is the moral impotency of man, in his fallen state, that he cannot come.

When Jesus said that God gave Him the souls to save, many disciples turned away and no longer followed Him (verse 66).

MacArthur says that the false disciples loved the miracles but hated the teachings:

Well, Verse 66 is the final word on these false disciples As the result of this, many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore.  And what was it they refused?  Not the works of Jesus, but what?  The words.

He says that this is common to ministry today, including his own:

The notable statement in this section is in verse 66 where it says that many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore.  And the original language indicates this is the final decision They were over it, whatever it was that drew them to him

I can’t comprehend the pain that our Lord suffered over the defection of these disciples, these students of his who turned their back finally and went away, but I do know in some small measure this difficult reality in ministry Biblical ministry, gospel ministry, certainly pastoral ministry has a sadness to it that never goes away, and frankly, it accumulates the longer you do it, and it is the heartbreaking reality that people come, and people hear, and people stay, and sometimes people actually profess, and then they turn their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ and eternal life and plunge back into their sin and leave.

I’ve seen it constantly in all the years of ministry, both here and beyond.  It’s not rare.  It’s not rare.  Normal is what it is It’s the nature of ministry to see people who come and hear and stay for some measure of time, and leave and turn their backs on the gospel.  It is the most painful of all spiritual experiences It is the most discouraging of all.  Not just because you don’t get a return on the investment you made.  Not because they forsake the preacher.  Not because they forsake the people, but because they forsake the Lord The only hope of salvation, the only hope of heaven.

Jesus must have been grieving as He asked the Twelve if they also wished to desert Him (verse 67).

Henry says that the question Jesus posed was more complex than it may appear. The departing false disciples did not really know Him as well as the Apostles:

He saith nothing to those who went back. If the unbelieving depart, let them depart; it was no great loss of those whom he never had; lightly come, lightly go; but he takes this occasion to speak to the twelve, to confirm them, and by trying their stedfastness the more to fix them: Will you also go away? (1.) “It is at your choice whether you will or no; if you will forsake me, now is the time, when so many do: it is an hour of temptation; if you will go back, go now.” Note, Christ will detain none with him against their wills; his soldiers are volunteers, not pressed men. The twelve had now had time enough to try how they liked Christ and his doctrine, and that none of them might afterwards say that they were trepanned into discipleship, and if it were to do again they would not do it, he here allows them a power of revocation, and leaves them at their liberty; as Joshua 25:15; Ruth 1:15. (2.) “It is at your peril if you do go away.” If there was any secret inclination in the heart of any of them to depart from him, he stops it with this awakening question, Wilt you also go away? Think not that you hang at as loose an end as they did, and may go away as easily as they could. They have not been so intimate with me as you have been, nor received so many favours from me; they are gone, but will you also go? Remember your character, and say, Whatever others do, we will never go away. Should such a man as I flee?Nehemiah 6:11. Note, The nearer we have been to Christ and the longer we have been with him, the more engagements we have laid ourselves under to him, the greater will be our sin if we desert him. (3.) “I have reason to think you will not. Will you go away? No, I have faster hold of you than so; I hope better things of you (Hebrews 6:9), for you are they that have continued with me,Luke 22:28. When the apostasy of some is a grief to the Lord Jesus, the constancy of others is so much the more his honour, and he is pleased with it accordingly. Christ and believers know one another too well to part upon every displeasure.

When reading this today, it occurred to me how many blessings Jesus has given me through my lifetime, from childhood onward. Anyone who is thinking of deserting Him after many years of doctrine and churchgoing should reflect on their lives beforehand. I would reckon that many would drop to their knees in thanksgiving to Him and abandon such an dreadful idea.

Returning to the question Jesus asked, one cannot fault Peter’s better moments of spontaneity, such as his declaration of faith in verses 68 and 69. One can imagine that his words emerged immediately and boldly.

MacArthur says that Peter used one of the Jewish terms of faith in God:

Isaiah uses this term for God more than any other Old Testament writer It’s his favorite name for God, the holy one of Israel.  The Jews knew that phrase So when Peter says, “You are the holy one of God who is the holy one of Israel,” they were affirming his equality with God They had believed the necessary truth about his person, and they were willing even eventually to swallow the necessity of his death.

MacArthur asks us to consider where we stand in faith:

We believe.  We’re not going anywhere.  We want your words.  I know why people leave They don’t like the words I know why people stay They say with David, “Oh, how I love your law.  Your words are my delight.”  They can’t hear enough. What group are you in?  That’s the question Lord, we thank you that you have given us such a potent picture in scripture of this matter of true and false discipleship.  Wheat and tares

Regrettably, the Lectionary editors omitted the closing verses from this chapter, John 6:70-71, so important that they must be included here, because they involve Judas:

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.

Henry says that Judas did not look any different to the other Apostles and that Jesus had invested him with the same spiritual gifts of preaching and healing that He temporarily gave the others:

Many that are seeming saints are real devils. Judas had as fair an outside as many of the apostles; his venom was, like that of the serpent, covered with a fine skin. He cast out devils, and appeared an enemy to the devil’s kingdom, and yet was himself a devil all the while. Not only he will be one shortly, but he is one now. It is strange, and to be wondered at; Christ speaks of it with wonder: Have not I? It is sad, and to be lamented, that ever Christianity should be made a cloak to diabolism

In the most select societies on this side heaven it is no new thing to meet with those that are corrupt. Of the twelve that were chosen to an intimate conversation with an incarnate Deity, as great an honour and privilege as ever men were chosen to, one was an incarnate devil. The historian lays an emphasis upon this, that Judas was one of the twelve that were so dignified and distinguished. Let us not reject and unchurch the twelve because one of them is a devil, nor say that they are all cheats and hypocrites because one of them was so; let those that are so bear the blame, and not those who, while they are undiscovered, incorporate with them. There is a society within the veil into which no unclean thing shall enter, a church of first-born, in which are no false brethren.

MacArthur reminds us of Judas’s death:

He figured finally after three wasted years, he’d get as much cash as he could and sold Jesus out for the price of a slave The guilt was so profound, he hanged himself Plunged into an eternity that is incalculable.  The Bible says he went to his own place, the place prepared for the devil and the angels and apostates and unbelievers.

One presumes that the Lectionary editors did not want to offend or frighten anyone by going all the way to the conclusion of John 6. Yet, our Lord, knowing what would happen during His final Passover, must have been wracked with tension and sadness. He is all human — able to feel pain and strong emotion. He is also all divine, which includes omniscience, the ability to know all men’s hearts. It is, indeed, a holy mystery.