Responding to the Bread of Life is a series of posts on the reaction of the Twelve to Jesus in John 6:60-71.
Click here to read Part 1.
The Bread of Life Discourse is a Hard Saying (6:60-61)
V. 60 marks the beginning of a new section where Jesus’ disciples respond to the Bread of Life sermon at the synagogue in Capernaum. What was their initial response? “This is a hard saying.” Σκληρός (sklēros) is the Greek word for hard. It means harsh, offensive. It was a logos (saying) that divided Jesus’ hearers (6:41).
What is this harsh saying? The likely culprit is the entire discourse. Jesus rebukes the crowd at the beginning. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (6:26-27).
It is a mild rebuke. So, this part is not yet a hard saying. But Jesus pushes it further. “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (6:33, emphasis added). The crowd, obviously confused, says to Jesus, “Sir, give us this bread always” (6:34).
The crowd seems very interested. However things change quickly. Jesus tells the crowd that he is the Bread of Life (6:35). To any Jew this would have been a hard saying. Certainly they recognized that Jesus was special because they saw the signs (e.g. he had miraculously fed 5,000 the day before!).
But for Jesus to say, “I have come down from heaven,” the Jews though this was sklēros. V. 41, the Jews grumbled about him, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?”
So how did Jesus respond? “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51). Jesus’ answer is emphatic! He is telling his hearers that he alone has the words of eternal life. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6:54).
Jesus’ words quickly divided his hearers, including many of his disciples. Craig Keener aptly comments, “The language used for the dispute it provokes as it divides Jesus’ hearers (such division being frequent in responses to Jesus–cf. 7:43; 10:19) could even suggest that the disputants came to blows” (see 6:52).
To put it another way, Tom Schreiner notes:
“The language would have been shocking in the extreme to the Jews, for drinking blood violated Old Testament purity laws. The offense of the cross is thereby communicated (6:61). The only way human beings can have life is by relying on his body and blood as the only basis by which they could enjoy eternal life.”
“Who can listen to it?” Jesus’ Bread of Life sermon is one “which has the force to cause one to stumble in such a way as no longer to continue to believe.” Their reaction also confirms the trappings of their unbelief. John Chrysostom observes, “Perhaps they were making excuses for themselves since they were about to leave him” (6:66).
“But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this” (6:61). Jesus asks, “Does this offend you?” (HCSB; cf. 16:1) He, as Morris puts it, “knew exactly how it ws with them.” Many of Jesus’ disciples reacted the same way as the Jews did in v. 41 (gongūdzō, grumble).
D.A. Carson further comments, “Probably his awareness of his disciples’ grumblings springs from his supernatural knowledge.” Jesus knew their hearts. Yet, up till now, as Calvin remarks, “they had not declared openly what gave them uneasiness.”
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John. NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 338. Sklēros occurs a few other times in the NT (see Matt. 25:24, Acts 26:14, and Jude 15). In Matt. 25:24, for example, the wicked and slothful servant calls his master a sklēros anthrōpos, a hard man. Morris adds that sklēros “means not so much that the saying is hard to understand as that it is hard to accept, as the following words make clear.”
Colin G. Kruse, The Gospel According to John. TNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 177. See George R. Beasley-Murray, John. WBC 36 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1987), 97-98. “The Feeding Miracle is presented by the Evangelist as a sign of the gift by Jesus of the bread of life, through which a man may live and not die.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 285. Also see Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 128. Their “rejection of [Jesus’ insistence that people eat his flesh and drink his blood] is sufficiently disrespectful that it was unlikely to have been invented.”
Andrew T. Lincoln, The Gospel According to Saint John. BNTC (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2005), 236. See John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John 1, trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint 2005), 270. “It was in their hearts, not in the saying, that the harshness lay.” Emphasis original.
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John. 47.2 in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: John 1-10, eds. Joel C. Elowsky and Thomas C. Oden, vol. 4 (Downers Grove, InterVarsity, 2006), 4:245.