It’s after a showdown between Jesus and a crowd. Jesus had just fed thousands with bread and fish in an awesome miracle, but many looked to make him a King against the Romans – an attitude missing what Jesus was trying to do. Jesus slipped away to Capernaum to teach at the synagogue, where they finally found him and asked to be wowed with some free bread. Jesus identified Himself as true bread, His own flesh, which gives life: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (6. 54). But they didn’t get it. It’s a metaphor for believing in Jesus who gave His life so He could give eternal life. But they’re thinking cannibalism. So folks hiked it out of there:
“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away too do you?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6.66-69)
The twelve were confused too. The scoffing words of these other guys who abandoned Jesus must have sounded pretty right-on. He’s nuts! Doesn’t make any sense! Plus, the sway of majority opinion, as A.B. Bruce notes “Mighty is the power of sympathy! How ready are we to follow the multitude, regardless of where they are going!” (145)* It’s the same today. In our limited minds we’re confused with what Jesus says in the Bible, with what other people say, with what’s happening in our lives, why God is allowing it, or causing it, etc.
But Peter’s answer cuts through all of that. I love Bruce’s treatment on this event, which I’ll follow: Peter reflects 3 anchors that helped the twelve ride out this storm: “Religious earnestness or sincerity, a clear perception of the alternatives before them, and implicit confidence in the character and attachment to the person of their Master.” (148).
1. The twelve were very ordinary guys, and in many ways sort of stumbled along in trying to follow Jesus — often dense, lacked faith, and prone to say stupid things. But they were sincere. Jesus had said as much, that everyone who is sincere in seeking truth and learning about God will come to Him (John 3.21, 6.45).“Their concern was not about the meat that perisheth, but about the higher heavenly food of the soul” (148), something Jesus had. The Greek text even emphasizes “eternal life” by placing it ahead of the verb, literally reading “words of eternal life you have.”
2.The disciples had nowhere else to go — after going with Christ this far. As low as things were with Jesus, nothing else compared. Their John the Baptist was killed and would only point to Christ anyway, hypocritical religious people offered no hope, and the crowds didn’t offer any real alternatives. Bruce notes that anyone tempted to renounce Christianity should
“pause if he understood that the alternatives open to him were to abide with Christ, or to become an atheist, ignoring God and the world to come; that when he leaves Christ, he must go to school to some of the great masters of thoroughgoing unbelief.” (151)
Today that would be Richard Dawkins, Bart Ehrman, Oprah, Tom Cruise… all of whom leave much to be desired when compared with Christ.
3. Christ! Once they were immersed in Christ, they knew He was it. No going back:
“Such implicit confidence as the twelve had in Jesus is possible only through intimate knowledge; for one canot thus trust a stranger. All, therefore, who desire to get the benefit of this trust, must be willing to spend time and take trouble to get into the heart of the Gospel story, and of its great subject. The sure anchorage is not attainable by a listless, random reading of the evangelic narratives, but by a close, careful, prayerful study, pursued it may be for years. Those who grudge the trouble are in imminent danger of the fate which befell the ignorant multutide, being liable to be thrown into panic by every new infidel book, or be scandalized by every strange utterance of the Object of faith. Those, on the other hand, who do take the trouble will be rewarded for their pains. Storm-tossed for a time, they shall at length reach the harbor . . . the cardinal facts and truths of the faith, as taught by Jesus in the Capernaum discourse, and as afterwards taught by the men who passed safely through the Capernaum crisis. May God in His mercy guide all souls now out in the tempestuous sea of doubt into that haven of rest!” (154)
They were confused and looked like fools to everyone else, but they were convinced eternal life is found in no one else. If there is any such thing as eternal life at all, it’s in Jesus. If anybody has eternal life to give, it’s Jesus.
So let us, with Peter and the rest of that small band, hold on to following this awesome Person, Jesus Christ. He has words of eternal life.
*All quotes fromThe Training of the Twelve (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1988).