The Things Behind
John 6:64-71 MKJV But there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who is the one betraying Him. (65) And He said, Because of this I said to you that no one can come to Me unless it was given to him from My Father. (66) From this time many of His disciples went back into the things behind, and walked no more with Him. (67) Then Jesus said to the Twelve, Do you also wish to go away? (68) Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life. (69) And we have believed and have known that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (70) Jesus answered them, Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? And one of you is a devil? (71) But he spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon; for it was he who was about to betray Him, being one of the Twelve.
This is the point when many walk away from Jesus and go back to their former lives: “From this time many of His disciples went back into the things behind, and walked no more with Him.” (Interestingly this is John 6:66!)
There seem to be two kinds of unbelievers here a) the unbelievers b) the betrayer – Judas. The unbelievers were numerous. The betrayer was one evil man – Judas Iscariot (v.70).
Jesus explains the unbelievers thus: “Because of this I said to you that no one can come to Me unless it was given to him from My Father.” Faith is a gift that God gives under many and varied circumstances. Without this gift of faith no one can come to Christ. Why do some not receive it? That is a mystery but some do not even desire to receive it! If we go through the rest of John 6 we find that those that walked away seem to be those centered on this life - and wanted a political Messiah who they could make King and who would give them bread. Such folk want tangible and immediate solutions and have little place for faith.
But the Betrayer was not just ignorant, or faith-less – but rather was evil and Satanic so full of greed and treachery that Jesus could call Judas ‘a devil” (v.70).
Peter, by contrast, clung to Christ: Then Jesus said to the Twelve, Do you also wish to go away? (68) Then Simon Peter answered Him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life. (69) And we have believed and have known that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Peter was not anchored in the miracles nor in free bread nor in political activism but in the truth of what Christ taught: “You have the Words of eternal life.” Truth is the safest place of all; because political programs may fail, miracles may cease and the bread may run out - but God is always the same.
Why didn’t Jesus explain Himself more carefully to the unbelievers? Surely they could have been persuaded to believe with a little more effort? Why did He seem to deliberately offend them and drive them away? Matthew Henry writing on this passage says: “The corrupt and wicked heart of man often makes that an occasion of offence which is indeed matter of the greatest comfort.”
People are continually offended at God and seem to believe that they can say to God: “You are fired.”
Certain doctrines and bible passages offend some, others are offended at the Trinity or at laws governing sexual immorality, or by the need to repent and believe. People even dismiss God over trifles such as a preacher using old-fashioned language and clothing. Such people are not seeking God in the first place. They are in fact seeking a world ordered to their own satisfaction and interests. When God fails to satisfy, they fail to follow.
Jesus did not change His doctrine or His message in order to get people to follow Him (or turn up in Church). Instead He stated hard puzzling truths that only persistent determined seekers of God would stick with.
God does not need us to follow Him. God is in fact without any needs (as we would understand them) being completely self-sufficient and needing nothing from His worshippers: Acts 17:24-25 MKJV The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of Heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, (25) nor is served with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives life and breath and all things to all.
The local church may feel it needs us, and the pastor may say he needs us, but God has absolutely no need of us. So if we want to go back to the former things, the inadequate things, the things that are behind, then it does no damage to God, only to ourselves. It is a clear case of “cutting off our nose to spite our face.” Apostasy is thus a completely self-centered and futile act of revenge against God.
If I quit my ministry today then God would raise up another missionary to take my place. God needs no followers and no servants. The service we give to God is our privilege and calling – not something God requires because He is incomplete or needy in some way. As John Milton wrote when he became blind:
“God doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best, His State is Kingly. Thousands at His bidding speed and post o’er land and ocean without rest: They also serve who only stand and wait.”