Defecting Disciples – John 6

Points covered: Discipleship, How to be a good disciple of Lord Jesus Christ, Signs of Defecting disciples, characteristics of a true disciple.

Do you consider yourself a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ? If so are you a 100% lifetime disciple or a part-time disciple? What are the qualities of a true disciple?

Defecting Disciples

Defecting means to abandon one’s position or country and take up another one.

Defecting disciples abandon one’s faith in Christ, desert Christ and go back to the world.

Jesus Christ came into this world to make disciples. The great commission says: Matthew 28:18-20 18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Both then and today Jesus is in the work of making disciples of all nations.

However, if you clearly have a look at the church today, people who claim to be disciples sometimes backslide, turn back, and truly there are only a few true disciples. In John 6 we find Jesus addressing this matter and in doing so we find one of the saddest verses in all of the gospel record. John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

We find in this chapter spiritual backsliders, defecting disciples those who walk for a while with Christ and then leave. These kinds of people are also described for us in Matthew 13 as those who receive the Word like rocky ground and for a little while there is an emotional response but no real fruit is ever produced and when difficulty or persecution comes, they abandon their original commitment and wither and die. They are also described as weedy soil, or thorny soil where the Word of God is planted and again there is some kind of response but the noxious weeds of the love of this world and the love of riches and its deceitfulness chokes out the truth and no fruit is ever born. In both cases it looked good superficially, there was emotion, there was some level of commitment, but there was no real life.

This is also described 1 John 2:19 They went out from us, (John is writing about some people who were a part of the community of believers, a part of the church who left. He then describes them by saying this:) but they did not really belong to us. (It was all very superficial. They were disciples who withdrew and walked no more with Jesus.) For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.

This is a sad reality to see people come to church, spend time in the hearing of the Word of God and fellowship with believers, seeing the power of God, and then turning their back and walking away from it. But it happens all the time and we need to persevere in our walk with Jesus.

And the question comes up, “Who is a true disciple and who is a counterfeit disciple? What are the characteristics of defecting disciple? How are we to understand them?” The answer is found in John 6 where there are a group of false disciples and who withdrew from Jesus. They turned their backs on Him and walked away.

1. Attracted by the crowd.

Some people seek God or go to church for the sake of a crowd. People are gathering there, so I want to go there. John 6:1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, 2and a great crowd of people followed him.

Backsliders are attracted by the crowd. The crowd was following Jesus and they wanted to go where the crowd went. They wanted to be there for the big event, whatever it was. Whatever drew the crowd, they wanted to be a part of that. They wanted to be where the action was. Personal relation with Jesus does not matter to them and for them everything is in the crowd. And there are people still drawn by that. People are always attracted by a crowd.

2. Fascinated by the supernatural.

John 6:2 ..and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick.

Shallow believers are always looking for miracles. Praise God, signs, wonders, and miracles do happen even today. Tell example. But if a person is only seeking after miracles and following Jesus just because of the miracles of Jesus, it is not a strong sign of discipleship.

Here Jesus did a most notable supernatural sign and that was the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus created food for approximately 25000 people. Backsliders always want to see signs to keep their faith upbeat.

3. Lift up the minister, not the master.

John 6:14-15 14After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

When they saw the power of Jesus Christ to feed the 5000, they gave him a title prophet and wanted to make him king. They saw in Him a king who would lead them to overthrow Rome. Instead of understanding who Jesus is and why he came into this world, they wanted to make him a political figure.

Likewise many believers who just come after seeking signs and wonders do the mistake of lifting up the minister above God. That is not what God wants, as much as we must respect and honour the minister, the real glory and credit for the ministry has to go to God. Do you have a hero minister? God does not like it, Jesus is our hero.

4. No desire for true worship.

In John 6:16-21 we find Jesus after feeding the 5000 sending his disciples to the other side of the sea and at night Jesus came to them walking on the water. And this great miracle is reported without any excitement in John. The parallel passage to this is in Matthew 14 and Mark 4. In Matthew 14 when the disciples saw this, and they realized that Jesus was walking on the water: Matthew 14:33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

They worshiped Him. They were in a mode of worship when Jesus did miracles. But false believers never do that. They look at Jesus as someone who is supposed to supply for them what they need. There’s really no awe and there’s no wonder and there’s no adoring praise.

5. Seek personal prosperity only.

Now Jesus fed the 5000 and secretly slipped out of the crowed and sent his disciples to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When the disciples were in the storm, Jesus walked through the water, calmed the storm and took the disciples to the other side of the sea in Capernaum.

Jesus had made dinner, created it out of nothing, loaves and fish; but if you see in v22-27 they showed up again expecting breakfast on the other side of Sea of Galilee. All they wanted from Jesus was a food, need to be met, prosperity.

John 6:26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. You just want another meal. They wanted personal gain and they utterly ignored the eternal. John 6:27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

That is largely the kind of stuff that is being offered to people in the name of Christianity today. Follow the crowd, be attracted by the supernatural, Jesus will deliver earthly goods and earthly prosperity, you will get the promotion, you will be healed and Jesus is only taught as our our provider.

6. Lay demands and conditions on God.

Fake disciples come to God for their own person gain and they make demands on God to meet those wants. Their prayers are all demands and if it is not met they turn back.

John 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?

John 6:30 So they ask him, “What sign will you give that we may see it and believe in you?”

They are demanding prosperity, they are demanding a trouble free life, they are demanding the worldly things from God.

And that’s what they ask Jesus for. “Look, we don’t want to keep having to ask You for this stuff, just teach us how we can multiply the loves.” They’re already upset with Him because they showed up for breakfast and breakfast was not forthcoming. Then He gives them this speech about they ought to be looking for eternal food, and they decide…Let’s not deal with Him, let’s just get the power and we’ll take care of it ourselves.

This is a sad situation when people want prosperity more than they want the person.

7. No personal relationship with Jesus.

John 6:35-36 35Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. (Jesus is telling, “I am what you are looking for.”) Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.

John 6:38-40 38For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

And Jesus recognizes that these people have no interest in a personal relationship with Him, none. There are a lot of people who talk about God and worship him and come to him but there was no interest in a personal relationship with Christ.

8. Grumblers.

John 6:41-42 41At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

Backsliders grumble about God. Here they were, following Jesus all around and saying, “We want to make You King. Show us how to do Your works. Show us how to receive this eternal bread.” It all was very superficial because when they got away from that scene it was very different. They were grumbling.

When they were with the believers, they didn’t do that. When they were with those who didn’t believe, they mocked. You know, it would be very interesting to hear the conversations of God’s people. Monday through Friday when you’re with the unbelievers they will scorn the faith or murmur against God and when they come to God they praise him.

John 6:43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus said.

These people came, but when they did not get their demands met, they mocked. And from then on, this is quite remarkable, Jesus also started talking tough to them. He did not make it simple.

How are we to understand these defectors? They’re drawn by the crowd, fascinated by the supernatural, think only of earthly things, have no desire for worship, seek personal prosperity, make demands on God, and aren’t interested in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Now we find the sad state of such disciples: John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Jesus was pained at this. So many people received the miracle of the bread, thousands of people followed him, he had a great group of disciples and here all have left him. When we leave Jesus he is pained my dear child of God. The pain in Jesus is evidenced in John 6:67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Jesus suffered the real pain of rejection by these short-term disciples. Now just the 12 are standing there and he also knew in his sovereignty that Judas who is among the 12 is going to betray him and he is pain and Jesus is asking them, “Do you not want to leave me?”

And Peter, we talk bad about Peter because he’s so insensitive sometimes, but here there’s a sweetness about Peter. When Jesus says, “You don’t want to go away also, do you?” Peter here responds: John 6:68-69 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

It took us all the way to verse 68 of this chapter before we met a real disciple, didn’t it? Really, except for the disciples who passed out the food to 5000 men with just crumps of food in the basket; we finally find some real disciples who say, “We haven’t got anywhere to go, You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Here are the ones who do think of heavenly things. Here are the ones who do seek to worship, who genuinely desire a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who understand His life and who with a heart broken over their sins desire to repent and experience salvation. Bless them because they comfort the Lord in this hour.

I wish the chapter ended here but it does. It ends with haunting reality again of backsliding believers. John 6:70-71 70Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

And the chapter ends with the prototype defector. He stayed the longest, saw the most, heard the most, saw it all, heard it all but never ever came to a place of commitment to Christ. Judas is the perfect closing illustration of the defector of whom Jesus said, “It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” None-existence is better than eternal hell.

Judas, he was drawn by the crowd. He was fascinated by the supernatural. He was thinking always of earthly things. He had no real desire to worship Christ, he sought only personal gain. He demanded what he wanted and he made himself treasurer somehow and got to steal out of the bag. Never had a true relationship with Christ, had no understanding of divine truth, no hunger for salvation. And Judas is not a solitary figure in the history of the church. Every era and churches has its Judases and there have been millions who have given Jesus a kiss of betrayal.

One of the characteristics of true believers is continuity, relationship, faithfulness, endurance to the end, perseverance no matter what etc. Remember backsliding do not start when people stop coming to church, it starts much before that even when a person is coming to church. Stopping church is the final end product of it. Obviously this is a heartbreaking thing to realize and I hope that none of us with be defecting disciples and walking night of eternal judgment, after having been with Jesus Christ. Remember backsliding do not start when people stop coming to church, it starts much before that even when a person is coming to church. Stopping church is the final end product of it.