The early life and ministry of Jesus Christ drew many followers. One might suppose that some of these were following because of His powerful miracles. Anyone who could turn water into wine by speaking a word (John 2) or cause a man to walk after thirty-eight years of being bed ridden (John 5) or feed five thousand with five loaves and two fish (John 6) was certainly worth a listen.
Perhaps others had heard of His teaching on the new birth (John 3), or the needy harvest fields (John 4), or the power of the Scriptures (John 5). Still others joined His band of followers due to the testimony of Nicodemus or the woman at the well. Whatever the reason, the Lord’s ministry from the very beginning was impacting hearts and changing lives.
But at the end of John 6, it seems that there is a sudden change: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (v. 66). We are not told the reason, but some who had earlier picked up their cross as disciples and followed were defecting.
Can you see the eyes of the Saviour as He looks at the twelve and asks, “Will ye also go away?” (v. 67). What piercing and penetrating words. The tone of His voice is no doubt soft and sorrowful as He asks this soul-searching question of His closest followers.
While we may be confident that our commitment to Christ is beyond such a question, history proves that it doesn’t take long for defection to take place. In 1 Timothy 1:5–6 the apostle Paul writes, “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling.”
We see the word some again later in verse 19: “Holding faith, and a good conscience: which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.” But a little over a year later as he pens his second letter to Timothy, the word some is no longer used. “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me” (2 Timothy 1:15). In twelve months or so the “some” had become “all.”
We all know the famous verse of 2 Timothy 4:10 when Paul announces, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world.” Not more than two years previous, however, as Paul closes his letter to the church at Colossae, he says, “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you” (Colossians 4:14). Apparently Demas was doing great and wanted to be remembered to these dear Christians, only to turn aside from the battle and embrace the old world a short time later.
So, Jesus’ question is indeed legitimate. Will ye also go away? In every local church there are four groups of people. There are the inactive who are sadly backsliding. These are identified first in John 6:66: “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” Are you active in the work of the Lord today? When we are not engaged in ministry it becomes easy to look around at other options.
If the devil can get our eyes off of Christ he will successfully pull us away from Christ. “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). What is there to remember about her? She looked back! She never went back—she just looked—and turned to a pillar of salt. That’s why Jesus said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). Why is it such a dangerous thing to look? Jeremiah gives us the answer: “Mine eye affecteth mine heart” (Lamentations 3:51).
Not only are there the inactive who are sadly backsliding, but there are the indeterminate who are strangely blinded. Why would the Lord ask His twelve most trusted followers in John 6:67, “Will ye also go away?” Why would the Lord ask that same question of someone in the ministry today or someone who has the spiritual appetite to be reading a Christian website? Because our Saviour knows how deceptive Satan is in his devices. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13–14).
Throughout the Bible the devil is called a deceiver, and he is good at what he does. Some of the best have fallen prey to his trickery. No one would have believed that David, the man after God’s own heart, could have fallen as he did. Elijah was a powerful prophet of God who called down fire from God at Mount Carmel and yet one chapter later was having a pity party because he was blinded by Satan’s devices. Even these twelve disciples would have their struggles with being faithful… which leads us to our third group of people—the indistinguishable.
The indistinguishable are secretly blending. Chameleon Christianity didn’t start in the twenty-first century. The strange blending of truth and error didn’t originate with Christian rock music, neo-evangelicalism, or the contemporary church. Judas Iscariot had perfected the art of blending. “Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve” (John 6:70–71). Judas had preached the gospel, healed the sick, and cast out demons (Matthew 10:1–8). And Judas was so good at blending that even when Jesus pointed him out as the betrayer in John 13:26, none of the disciples believed it. As Christ Himself pointed out—there are always tares among the wheat.
But lastly, there are the invincible who are standing boldly. Peter made his share of mistakes, but you have to love him here in John 6. “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68–69). Jesus Christ was the way, the truth, and the life! Who can you follow that offers anything close to that? Oh, there are many options available, but they offer no rest for your soul.
As the Lord Jesus Christ observes the empty seats in church auditoriums, unopened Bibles, locked prayer closets, unreached cities and countries, does He look at us and ask: “Will ye also go away?” Perhaps He asks because He sees us sadly backsliding or strangely blinded or secretly blending. In all the religious and non-religious confusion, may we find clarity in Jesus Christ! When He comes may He find us standing boldly. Who else is there to follow? He alone has the words of eternal life!