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True and False Disciples

Riverside Indonesian Fellowship
Published by Stanley Pouw in 2021 · 10 January 2021

There are a number of different conversations that go on in John 6. But it strikes me that this chapter really focuses on one very important issue and that is the difference between a true disciple and a false disciple, a true follower of Christ and a false follower of Christ, one who endures faithfully, and one who abandons, one who believes and in the end, one who does not believe.

And it’s critical for us to understand this reality. There are people who profess to be followers of Jesus who profess to be believers, but based upon what we learn from Scripture and what we eventually see in their lives, they turn out to be false disciples. People need to be warned about that because that’s such a dire condition to be in, to be a false follower of Christ.

Let us start in verse 60 just to get an idea of how it ends so we know where we’re going. Verse 60-62, “Many of His disciples when they heard this said, ‘This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?’ 61 Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again?”

Verses 63-65, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But some of you do not believe me.” For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him. 65 Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.”

Verses 66-69, “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” 68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” You see the distinction between the disciples who did not believe and the disciples who did believe?

The false disciples, according to verse 65, as a result of His words, according to verse 66, withdrew. Both groups are called disciples. Both were followers of Jesus. Both were students listening to Him. Some were true, a small minority and most were false. Go back to verse 64, “There are some of you who do not believe”, for Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe.

The prototype of a false disciple is Judas. In verse 70, Jesus closes this chapter by saying, “I chose the twelve of you, but one is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, one of the Twelve, who would later betray him.” The story of Judas is shocking, tragic, maybe the ultimate of all human tragedies because of his proximity to Jesus for three years.

But having said that, you will notice in verse 64 that he is just linked with non-believers. He is linked with those who reject Christ. In some ways Judas is absolutely unique. In other ways, he is simply a prototype of a defecting follower of Jesus. He’s one among many who follow Christ for a while and then abandon Jesus Christ, having had a full revelation of His person and His teaching.

So we must remind ourselves that anyone having heard the truth, having known the truth, and walking away from the truth is in the category of Judas. Our Lord Himself said that people would forsake Him because they feared persecution. Our Lord said that there were people who would hear and be attracted and follow for a little while but the love of money would pull them away.

Jesus said there are others who would be lured by the love of the world system and it would cause them to defect. He said that there were people who would follow for a little while or start to follow, and they would abandon Him because they wanted comfort and ease. There were other who defected from Jesus because they were unwilling to sever relationships with people close to them.

There are complex reasons why people walk away from Christ. But they’re not discussed here in this chapter. John 6 is more direct. The defectors in this case defected because of what Jesus said. On this occasion it was His words that drove them out. And the words He is referring to are the words on the ‘bread of life’ that starts in verse 32 and runs all the way down to verse 60.

And in that great sermon, Jesus talked about His death and His resurrection. He told them, “You have to believe in My death.” He also condemned their false religion and their works/righteousness. It was the condemnation of their religion and the declaration of His own death that they resented. He proclaimed that He would die and they would have to believe in that if they were to be saved.

The powerful declaration that Jesus makes about the necessity of believing in Him as the Holy One of God, included believing in His death and resurrection. And the absolute necessity to abandon their religious system of Judaism, which is salvation by works. That triggered their defection on that day in the synagogue of Capernaum where Jesus had given that message.

These Jews were warned. Believe and you’ll have life. Reject and you’ll be condemned. And the vast majority apparently rejected. They were retreating from the gospel back into the satisfaction they found in the externalism of their Judaist religion. They weren’t becoming agnostics, not believing in God, they just did not believe in a Trinitarian God, and they were going back to their religion of comfort.

This is typical behavior for Jewish people in the New Testament times. To illustrate that, turn to Hebrews 3. Hebrews is written to Jewish believers who were looking at the gospel, looking at Christianity. They had been exposed to it. They had first-hand eyewitness testimony to the signs and wonders and miracles, the affirmation of the truth concerning Christ and the gospel.

These Jews are there but they’re not committed. And so throughout the book of Hebrews, there are severe warnings to them. Like in Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” Look at Hebrews 3:6, “But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.” Some of you are not.

Verse 7-11, “That is why the Holy Spirit says, ““Today, if you will hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

That takes us back to Exodus to the failure of the children of Israel to come to true faith in God and therefore a whole generation died in the wilderness. Do not be like that generation that perished in the wilderness, who never entered Canaan, the Promised Land. That’s an illustration of what’s going to happen to you in regard to entering heaven and the Kingdom of God.

So verse 12 says, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” This is to the Jews who are reading this letter and all who will ever read this letter who are sitting on the fence, don’t let an unbelieving heart cause you to fall away from the living God. Hebrews 6:4-6 says, “If with full revelation you fall away, it’s impossible to be renewed again to repentance.”

This is so serious, verse 13 adds, “Encourage one another day after day as long as it is still called today so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” He says to this believing congregation, “Not only do you as individuals want to be warned, but you as a church, you collectively need to encourage these people to come to faith and not harden their hearts.”

And verse 14, back to the principle, “We have become partakers of Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance, firm until the end.” It’s the people who stay faithful to the end, if you continue in My word, John 8, you’re My real disciple. Again the warning from Psalm 95 in verse 15, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart as in the rebellion.” So you were not able to enter because of unbelief.

Now this principle existed in the early church in this Jewish congregation, of people sitting on the edge and not being true followers of Jesus Christ. It still exists today and it will exist all the way to the final judgment because in that day, referring to that final judgment, many will say as in Matthew 7:22-23, “Lord, Lord,” and I will say, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.”

False discipleship was a problem in the time of Jesus, it was a problem in the time of the Apostles writing the epistles. It’s been a problem through all of church history. It will show up at the judgment as a very serious problem in that day. All that to take us back to John 6, because you need that context to really see the depths of this. Their spiritual defection is a pattern throughout the history of the church.

It’s easy to condemn someone, questioning the legitimacy of people’s salvation. But the Bible warns over and over of the importance of not being deceived about your spiritual condition. It’s all around us in the name of Christianity, false believers. And it’s fair to say they are driven away by the truth. The message, like in Capernaum, the gospel is an offense to them, it is a stumbling block.

In John 6, false disciples surround Jesus and what has attracted them? False disciples are attracted by crowds. Secondly, false disciples are attracted to the supernatural. People said He could heal and cast out demons, and He did. Thirdly, false disciples think only of earthly benefits. The shallow follower has no interest in matters of sin, righteousness, repentance, holiness and true love of God.

Fourthly, false disciples have no interest in worship. You remember when we went through Matthew 14:33, Jesus walked on water? Remember the statements the disciples made? “Truly this is the Son of God, and they worshiped Him.” But false disciples come for the external, the show. There’s no longing for the glory and honor of God and the exaltation of Christ.

That brings us to where we are. False disciples also seek personal prosperity. And people do it all the time today. Let’s read verse 22, “The next day the crowd that had stayed on the far shore saw that the disciples had taken the only boat, and they realized Jesus had not gone with them.” As good as the meal was, they’re going to need breakfast. But when the morning came, He was not there.

Verse 23 says, “Several boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the Lord had blessed the bread and the people had eaten.” You don’t know what it is to struggle to get your next meal. And this is the ultimate hope for people, not having to worry about the next meal. Verse 24, “So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for Him.”

Now this is a huge crowd. The twenty five thousand people that were there last night, they’ve slept well because their stomachs were full, hoping the same thing for breakfast. And they get there in verse 25, “They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus does not tell them anything about the miracle of walking on water.

Verse 26, “Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.” John emphasizes the statements that our Lord makes. The miraculous feeding and healing that went on and that you’ve seen day after day has not driven you to acknowledge who I am. You’re not here because you believed the signs that pointed to Me as the Savior, Messiah and Lord.

These are the candidates for the prosperity gospel. Jesus wants to feed you. Jesus wants to fulfill your desires. They’re seekers of personal fulfillment. They wanted their desires met on the spot by Jesus. They wanted Jesus to give them whatever they wanted. That’s still going on today and Jesus is still being offered by false teachers as the genie who gives you whatever you want.

But that’s a misrepresentation as He makes clear in verse 27, “But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given Me the seal of his approval.” Do not spend your energy and your effort, money and your time for what perishes. But believe the food that endures to eternal life.

Who is the food that endures to eternal life? It’s Jesus. “I am the bread of life,” He says in verse 35, “The person who comes to Me will not hunger and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Verse 41, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” He is the one whom the Father has sealed, what does that mean? God authenticated Jesus. And that was Peter’s message on the Day of Pentecost.

So Jesus says, “You ignore the signs and what they demonstrate and you come for food. And what is it that He will give? He says in verse 51, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.” Believe in Me, in who I am and why I came and that I came to die. Believe the gospel which endures to eternal life. Let’s pray.


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