“Once more into the brink….” (the third time around).
- “[Jesus] testifies about what he has seen and heard [from heaven; from the Father], but no one accepts [receives; lambano Grk.] his testimony. The one who has accepted [received] his testimony has confirmed clearly that God is truthful” (John 3.32-33; NET; brackets for clarification).
It is the testimony of John the Baptist that “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3.27).[i] He now applies this same truth to the witness that comes from Jesus the Christ. Since Jesus comes from “above” and is therefore “superior to all” (John 3.31), the individual identified as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29, 36), His ministry is greater than the Baptist’s. The Baptist realizes this and rightly concludes: “He must become more important while I become less important” (John 3.30).
That is to say, Jesus baptizes not just with water but with the Holy Spirit. Something John the Baptist is not capable of doing. Why? Because the two have “received…from God” different things. To be sure the Baptist is a bright light that the people enjoyed for a short time (John 5.35; cf. Luke 7.28), but Jesus is unique; He is “my one dear Son, in whom I take great delight. Listen to Him!” says the Father (Matt 17.5).
Jesus’ ministry and witness to the world is of greater value. The wisdom and knowledge which poured from His mouth is unlike any other in terms of absolute purity. Even His own generation recognized this for they said: “Where did this man get such wisdom and miraculous powers?” (Matt 13.54). For His message had authority and power over all, including demons (see Luke 4.32, 36). Leaving the people, a bit flabbergasted. Saying in all seriousness: “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7.46; cf. Matt 7.29).
Even so, what does John the Baptist say the reaction is of those who hear His (Jesus’) witness? Two seemingly contradictory things: 1) “…no one accepts [receives] his testimony (John 3.32b); 2) “…The one who has accepted [received] his testimony has confirmed clearly that God is truthful” (John 3.33). How can it be that “no one receives” his message—i.e. embraces His gospel—and yet at the same time some do, as v.33 implies? How in the world are we supposed to make heads or tails from that statement of the Baptist?
We need to go the source…
“How in tarnation do you spect us to do that? Jesus’ a’ready gone! He’s sup in heaven at the Fadher’s right hand, He is. So, ain’t like we can call him’up or sumpin?!”[ii]
True, but we do have His recorded testimony. The apostle John (the beloved disciple), under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, was kind enough to give us that information. So, testing Scripture with Scripture let us see what the Lord had to say about this subject of “receiving” or not “receiving;” paying special attention to the whether or not Jesus identifies this as properly being defined as a passive or active work.
I’m not sure how familiar you are with the Gospel According to John, but he spends an awful lot of time on laying these things out rather plainly. All we have to do is read them with some care, and the straightforward nature of the message gets through.
The sixth chapter of John is a pivotal one. Up until this point in the ministry of Jesus, his fame is growing by leaps and bounds. People are flocking to him everywhere. His followers have continually multiplied. That is, until we get to the end of this chapter. At that point the tempo shifts. Jesus’ popularity begins to lessen, many of his former disciples quit following him, and the religious leadership in Israel (especially, around Jerusalem) become bolder in their opposition to Him.
You can divide this chapter into three key segments:
- The first is evidence of Jesus fame and glory in the feeding of 5,000 with a young boy’s packed lunch (John 6.1-13). This sign points back to a time when God led their ancestors in the wilderness, under the leadership/deliverance of Moses providing for their needs (i.e. manna from heaven); a sign of both special and common grace. Therefore, many want to make Him king by force (John 6.14), but Jesus leaves them (v. 15), sends his disciples off across Lake Gennesaret (i.e. Sea of Galilee) to Capernaum (v.16-18).
- The second is evidence of Jesus’ true identity, a sign reserved for the twelve. Here the Lord walks on water (v. 19), rescues Peter (cf. Matt 14.27-31[iii]), and calms the stormy skies/sea just with his presence (John 6.15-21; cf. Matt 14.33).
- The third major segment covers the rest of the chapter (John 6.22-71). During this portion, we find that many of the crowd that had their bellies full the day before had eagerly chased after the Lord. Ironically, they wanted what He had, but they did not want Him. This includes those who had followed him for some time but stopped after the Lord gives His testimony.
Jesus’ Teaching in John 6:22-71
What caused people to stop following Jesus? They did not “accept” (receive) His teaching. “Hold on a minute are you using the word in an active or passive sense, Kris?” Actually, both if we understand the logical order or how one truly receives something from God, but we’ll get to that a bit later. Without any further ado, let’s look at what upset everybody that day.
You don’t believe…
More than once Jesus tells the people that they do not believe. First we find this statement of disbelief couched in their real reason for seeking Him: “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted” (John 6.26). In other words, “You came after me because your bellies were filled and you wanted more, not because you believed in me.”
I realize that might not seem as apparent to some readers, but I would merely ask that you look back at the conversations Jesus has had with others prior to this point in this gospel. The Samaritan woman at the well did not understand His meaning when he broached the subject of water. He explained to her,
- “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water…[for] whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4.10, 14; ESV)
Similarly, Jesus is telling the crowd at Capernaum that had they discerned the truth they would have been coming to Him for more than just food. The illustration of bread, as in “I Am the Bread of Life” is driven by the fact that in Jesus one gains their life. Therefore, He tells them…
- “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. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6.27).
Do the people understand His meaning? No. Do people today comprehend what Jesus is saying here? Many don’t. Jesus lays emphasis not on physical labor, but the intent of His listeners. In other words, it is a rebuke of pursuing material things (alone) as if they somehow meet your needs. He is pointing to Himself as designated by God for true life, but they miss the point. They do not receive His teaching. Verse 28 highlights this for us: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Umm, how about trusting Him and believing His message?
That’s where Jesus turns in verse 29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Trust Me and believe My message.
Do they? Nope. Again, they fail to see what is really being said. Rather than take Him at His word—i.e. believing in Him, acting in faith—they ask for proof. Again, they want the bread (“Sir give us this bread always” [John 3.34]), but not Jesus.
In response, Jesus highlights the reason for this failure to discern the truth behind what He is saying: “…You have seen me and yet do not believe” (John 6.36; 2nd time he’s told them). You have not received my testimony. Why?
Identifying the Reason…
Remember that is really the heart of this dialogue. There is a reason why they do not actively “receive” Jesus’ witness. What is it? What’s the reason?
At this point, we will find out how good of a listener you are. Jesus is the One sent from God. That Father has put His seal on Him. The Father approves of the Son and tells us to listen to Him. Here is the reason Jesus gives for those gathered there not receiving His message.
- “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6.37, 39).
Notice who is doing the work here. God is. The Father gives to the Son, and whoever comes to the Son will never be cast out. In fact, Jesus says it is the Father’s will that the Son lose none (no not one) of those given to Him from the Father, in order to raise them up on the last day. That is, Jesus promises to give eternal life to all that the Father has given Him. All that the Father gives will come to Him, and these will be granted eternal life.
Logically thinking this through…
Those Jews had come to Jesus, are they then the one’s that the Father has drawn to the Son? What would be a good indicator if this were true? We don’t have to guess, He gives us the answer: “…everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6.40).
Did they believe? Were they to be rightly counted in this number that Jesus refers to in this verse? NOPE!!
They did not believe in Him even though He had performed signs in their presence. They did not believe in Him even though He told them the truth. Rather they “grumbled about him” (John 6.41). They grumbled against Him, and revealed that they were not for Him.
And Jesus says the answer for them not “accepting” or “receiving” His message (in an active sense) is because God had not given them to Him:
- “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.44).
If that is not clear Jesus repeats this offensive message to his own followers:
- “But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who would betray him.) And he said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6.64-65; cf. John 2.23-25).
His disciples grumbled just like the other unbelieving Jews (see John 6.61) and Jesus challenged them to their face. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6.63).
The Tie in with John the Baptist’s Statement
The Passive Sense…
The result was just as John the Baptist pronounced it would be:
- “[Jesus] bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony” (John 3.32).
The reason is because “No one can receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven” (John 3.27; NET). Unless it has been passively given to the individual in question by the Lord above, then it is impossible for that person to believe in Christ. John 6 illustrates the truth of this aspect of “receiving” from God in the passive sense, but that is not all.
The Active Sense…
There were some that believed. “After…many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him…Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’” (John 6.66-67). Simon Peter immediately speaks up, “Lord, to whom would we go?” A valid question; if not Jesus, then where? He continues, “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6.68-69).
“Lord, your testimony is true. You bear witness of what you have seen and heard. We have believed your gospel, for we know that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter and the others not including Judas Iscariot, who we are told “is a devil” (John 6.70), have actively received the truth.
Why? Well, according to Jesus’ own words it is because the Father has drawn them to Him (again, not including Judas Iscariot). They have received (passively) an internal drawing by the Father to the Son. As a result, they have been accounted as those whom John the Baptist also identified: “The one who has accepted [Jesus’] testimony has confirmed clearly that God is truthful” (John 3.33). This type of person is the only type that can actively “receive” the gospel of Christ.
**This is what the grace of God looks like, anything else is a watered-down version of the truth.
[i] All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the New English Translation (NET).
[ii] I should note, though I hate to do so, but for the sake of someone misunderstanding my lighthearted demeanor here I feel I must. I love southern folk. I love the twang in their voice, and from my point of view they are some of the kindest people I have known; very polite and mannerly. Therefore, my choice of southern twang is for stylistic reasons, not poking fun.
[iii] This addition of Matthews retelling of the event is an important side note to the reader. The gospels (especially the synoptics) offer parallel accounts of the same historic event told from different perspectives. The variants we find in those parallel accounts give us a better understanding of what was happening in them. They add layers to the same truth without distorting it. A great benefit to the serious student of Scripture.
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