John 6:60-69 – Yeshua’s Disciples Recognize Him as the Holy One of God

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POSTED 05 NOVEMBER, 2017

“Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, ‘This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?’ But Yeshua, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, ‘Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Yeshua knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’ As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Yeshua said to the twelve, ‘You do not want to go away also, 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.’”

reproduced from Salvation on the Line, Volume I

Upon encountering the discussion that their Master Yeshua had at the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:41-59), it is clear that His Disciples were having to process a great deal, as it concerned not only the mission, but also the identity, of who they were following. As it is narrated, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60, RSV) or “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (NIV). The discussion between the Disciples obviously got heated a bit, as they were arguing among themselves (John 6:61a), and so Yeshua asked them some direct questions: “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man going back up to the place where He was before?” (John 6:61b-62, TLV).

The statement of Yeshua in John 6:62, invoking the scene of the Daniel 7:13-14 exalted Son of Man, and seeing the source text communicate hopou ēn to proteron or “where he was – at first” (Brown and Comfort),[1] must have been very compelling for the Disciples to have heard. As Morris indicates, “‘where he was before’ implies Christ’s pre-existence. It is one and the same Person who was with the Father, who became incarnate, and would in due course return whence He came.”[2] Yeshua has unambiguously associated Himself here with a figure of supreme authority, pre-existent in Heaven: “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14, NIV). However, in view of what has previously been said about eternal life only being accessible via partaking of the Messiah’s beaten body and shed blood (John 6:53-56, 58), recognizing Yeshua as the Daniel 7:13-14 Son of Man would not fully come to the Disciples until they saw Him resurrected from the dead and ascending into Heaven. Carson draws out the following, key points:

“The hour when the Servant of the Lord is despised and rejected by men, when he is pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Is. 53:3-5) is the very portal to the time when ‘he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted’ (Is. 52:13)….Other religious leaders were said to have ascended to heaven at the end of their life, but Jesus the Son of Man (the title especially connected with his function as the revealer from heaven) first descended…and so in ascending is merely returning to where he was before (cf. 17:5). This not only affirms Jesus’ pre-existence, but places him in a class quite different from antecedent Jewish religious heroes.”[3]

Yeshua focuses the attention of His Disciples onto the spiritual nature of His teachings and actions, yet realizing that there were some present who did not believe (John 6:63-64), and were not granted the ability to do so (John 6:65). It is detailed how many followers withdrew from Yeshua (John 6:66), and so He questions the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:67, NIV). Simon Peter astutely responded to Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68, TLV), a certain affirmation that the Twelve Disciples recognize Yeshua as the Messiah, a sure Agent sent from God the Father with a critical message of importance for both them and the Jewish community. Peter follows up his statement with, “We have trusted, and we know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69, CJB/CJSB).

Proponents of a low Christology of Yeshua the Messiah being a supernatural, albeit created, entity, would look at Peter’s declaration of Yeshua being “God’s Holy One” (Contemporary English Versions) in John 6:69, as evidence in favor of Yeshua not being God, integrated into the Divine Identity, but still being quite special.

But let us not overlook at what has just occurred in the scene of John 6:60-69. Yeshua has said some hard words (John 6:60), and has asked His followers how they will react to them seeing Him as the exalted Son of Man (John 6:61-62; Daniel 7:13-14). As a consequence of the faithlessness of many not believing in what He has told them, it is recorded, “From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him” (John 6:66, HCSB). Given the huge dismissal of Yeshua by many previous disciples—and the likelihood of even a number of the Twelve, excluding Judas Iscariot (John 6:71), entertaining doubts—that Peter would exclaim Yeshua to be “the Holy One of God” in John 6:69 was very serious. Declaring Yeshua to be “the Holy One of God” (ho hagios tou Theou; Delitzsch Heb. NT qedosh Elohim), as surely agreed upon with proponents of a low Christology, would be a title greater than calling Yeshua the Messiah. However, it cannot go unnoticed how various commentators have concluded that Yeshua being called “the Holy One of God” places His nature within the sphere of the Divine, given various Tanach usages of “Holy One of Israel” as a title for the LORD or YHWH:

  • Leon Morris: “It is rare in the Old Testament (used of Aaron in Ps. 106:16 and ‘thy holy one’, Ps. 16:10), but it does remind us of the frequently occurring ‘the Holy One of Israel’. There can be not the slightest doubt that the title is meant to assign to Jesus the highest possible place. It stresses His consecration and His purity. It sets Him with God and not man.”[4]
  • Colin G. Kruse: “In the OT Yahweh is frequently referred as ‘the Holy One’ (Is. 40:25; 43:15; Hab. 1:12; 3:3) or ‘the Holy One of Israel’ (Ps. 71:22; Is. 12:6; 30:12, 15; 41:20; 43:3, 14; 45:11; 48:17; 49:7 [2x]). Most of these references are found in Isaiah and it may be that the prophet’s vision of the Lord in the temple (Is. 6:1-4) lies behind his references to God as ‘the Holy One’ and ‘the Holy One of Israel’. If so, these titles reflect the awesome majesty, glory and purity of the Lord….[W]hen Peter confessed Jesus as ‘the Holy One of God’, it was a positive and willing recognition that Jesus, as the authoritative agent of God, had the authority and power to bestow eternal life on those who believed.”[5]
  • Gary M. Burge: “[I]t is a potent and unusual title—one used throughout the Old Testament (thirty times in Isaiah) for God (‘the Holy One of Israel’), who defends his people and redeems them (Isa. 41:14; 43:14-15).”[6]
  • Craig S. Keener: “John may prefer the ‘Holy One of God’ title (cf. Rev 3:7; Acts 3:14; applied to Jesus in earlier gospel tradition by beings with superhuman knowledge—Mark 1:24) to convey a diversity of christological titles and roles (cf. John 1:1, 9, 18, 34, 36)…The Holy One was especially a title for God himself in the OT [2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Psalm 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Proverbs 9:10; 30:3; Jeremiah 50:29; 51:5; Ezekiel 39:7; Hosea 11:9, 12; Habakkuk 1:12; 3:3; and especially in Isaiah (1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:17, 20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19, 23; 30:11-12, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 30:25; 41:14, 16, 20; 43:3, 14, 15; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5-6; 60:9, 14)] and in early Judaism (cf. also 17:11; 1 John 2:20; Rev 4:8; 6:10). It nevertheless could function as an acceptable title for one of God’s servants with conjoined with ‘of God.’”[7]

It is fair to recognize, as Michaels states it, “‘The Holy One of God’ is virtually synonymous with ‘the Son of God,’ acknowledging and confirming what Jesus himself had said again and again, that the Father ‘sent’ him (vv. 29, 57; also 3:17; 4:34; 5:23, 24, 30, 36, 37, 38; 6:38, 39, 44) to bring ‘words of life eternal’ to those who would listen.”[8] In light of the significant departure of many presumed followers in John 6:66, Peter confessing Yeshua to be “the Holy One of God” in John 6:68 was surely substantial! And, it does have to be noted how in spite of “Holy One of God” being a title easily associated with “Holy One of Israel” in the Tanach, that it can be applied to various human agents sent from God. Yet, Yeshua being called “the Holy One of God” is not isolated; Yeshua is also the Daniel 7:14-15 pre-existent Son of Man (John 6:62) who provides eternal life. Readers of John’s Gospel continue to be invited to investigate more into the nature of this Yeshua, and what His relationship with the Heavenly Father actually is. When more and more information is tabulated, it becomes much clearer that Yeshua is indeed integrated into the Divine Identity as God.


NOTES

[1] Brown and Comfort, 344.

[2] Morris, John, 384.

[3] Carson, John, 301.

[4] Morris, John, 390.

[5] Kruse, John, 179.

[6] Burge, John, 204.

[7] Keener, John, 697.

[8] Michaels, 416.

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