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)
It was one of the most crucial junctures in the ministry of Jesus. We are accustomed to seeing him amaze the crowds and frustrate the religious elites, but in this shocking scene, the masses are confused and frustrated, and they begin to walk away in droves.
And it happens perhaps right when we’d least expect it. It’s the tragic day-after story to the feeding of the five thousand. He fed them one day, and they walked away the next.
Can’t Get Enough
Jesus could tell why the crowds came back. It wasn’t because they saw the real meaning of “the sign,” but because they were hungry again and wanted more bread. Their stomachs sent them in search of him. He knew it, and he let them know he knew: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26). Anyone in town could have baked them bread. But Jesus had offered them eternal life, and they were missing it.
The reason why is that they were spiritually dead. They were normal, fallen humans, who had not yet been given the gift of spiritual sight. Instead of seeing that the bread pointed to Jesus as the one who would feed their soul-hunger forever, they asked if he could teach them how to make miracle bread, like the bread he made yesterday. If you really want to do God’s work, Jesus answered, then believe in me. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28). Then they just ask for more bread again.
Jesus — so admirable, even otherworldly, in his patience — gave them one more try. He said it again, now as directly as he could: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). He is offering them infinite riches, and they remain disappointed he’s not handing out dollar bills. Their physical appetites are ruling the day.
Instead of backing off, however, Jesus is willing to speak more truth, even though it will part the ways. The dead will walk away, but these words will be life to his disciples, then and still today.
Eat His Flesh, Drink His Blood
Jesus knew well that if the masses missed the spiritual meaning of bread, then they would miss the meaning of eating his flesh and drinking his blood — and perhaps all the more. He would not let the need of his true disciples be dictated by pretenders among the masses, though. So, with crowds already confounded, he gave a preview of coming attractions, or in this case, repulsions.
Jesus was not the Messiah they expected in their human thoughts and ways. God’s are higher. This “bread that came down from heaven” was not on a beeline for the throne in Jerusalem. Rather, he was headed for the cross. He would indeed reign in the holy city, but outside its gates, lifted up in the shame and odium of the cross (John 12:32).
Jesus is the bread of life — and bread does not nourish until it is broken and consumed. So he would give his own body to be broken. His flesh would be torn, his blood would be spilled, precisely for spiritually dead and condemned masses like these. Jesus knew his calling and destiny, and he didn’t have to win them now. He would win all whom his Father gave him at Calvary.
Then, the ominous parting: “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
Can’t Walk Away
At last comes the great moment of truth. Jesus turns to the twelve. And to us. The ranks have thinned, many of them having once identified as disciples. Now he asks, “Do you want to go away as well?”
True to form, Simon Peter steps forward and speaks on behalf of the disciples who remain, then and now. His words resonate in the hearts of those to whom the Father has granted true life: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). No, we say, I can’t walk away.
No matter whether the crowds seem to be dispersing. No matter that some who once called themselves his are turning back and no longer walking with him. No matter what the unbelieving world, and disenchanted former believers, think and say and do, we say with Peter, Where else shall I go? We will not turn away from life because the dead do.
There is no other place, no other person, who is true life and who gives true life and life eternally. Jesus, you have the words of eternal life. You are the holy one of God. I want to be where you are.