The Pathology of False Disciples ~ John MacArthur
“Therefore, many of his disciples when they heard this said, ‘This is a hard, difficult statement. Who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, 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 Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe and who it was who 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 Jesus said to the 12, ‘You do not want to go away also, do you?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that you are the holy one of God.’”
“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I myself not choose you, the 12, and yet one of you is a devil?’ Now he meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot for he, one of the 12, was going to betray him.”
The notable statement in this section I just read is in verse 66 where it says that many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore. And the original language indicates this is the final decision. They were over it, whatever it was that drew them to him. And the pain is manifest in the heart of Jesus over this defection. You see it in verse 67 where he pensively says, “You do not want to go away also, do you,” when speaking to the 12.
I can’t comprehend the pain that our Lord suffered over the defection of these disciples, these students of his who turned their back finally and went away, but I do know in some small measure this difficult reality in ministry. Biblical ministry, gospel ministry, certainly pastoral ministry has a sadness to it that never goes away, and frankly, it accumulates the longer you do it, and it is the heartbreaking reality that people come, and people hear, and people stay, and sometimes people actually profess, and then they turn their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ and eternal life and plunge back into their sin and leave.
I’ve seen it constantly in all the years of ministry, both here and beyond. It’s not rare. It’s not rare. Normal is what it is. It’s the nature of ministry to see people who come and hear and stay for some measure of time, and leave and turn their backs on the gospel. It is the most painful of all spiritual experiences. It is the most discouraging of all. Not just because you don’t get a return on the investment you made. Not because they forsake the preacher. Not because they forsake the people, but because they forsake the Lord. The only hope of salvation, the only hope of heaven. It is so severe that there is one particular book in the Bible that more than any other warns against doing this, and it is the book of Hebrews, and I want you to turn to Hebrews for a moment.
There are throughout the book of Hebrews a series of warnings, and they are warnings to people who have identified in some way with a group of believers. They have come. They have listened. They have stayed. They have gotten involved. They’ve even paid a price for that association, but they don’t really believe, and so they defect. This issue is so much on the heart of the writer of this epistle and the Holy Spirit who inspired it that there appear scattered throughout the book these severe warnings, starting very early in the book in Chapter 2, and in Chapter 10, and that’s where I want you to look, Hebrews 10.
Now what we have here are people who had heard the gospel. They had heard it from those who were with Jesus. They heard it from people whose preaching was tested by signs and wonders, miracles. They were interested enough to stay. They associated with this church. Their hearts had been drawn and warmed, but they’re in danger of walking away. They’re short of faith. They haven’t yet genuinely believed. And so if you look at Verse 23, you have a very direct statement that sort of launches this portion here.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” It is to those wavering people that this warning is rendered. Don’t let go of the confession you’ve made. This is a warning against the most severe sin that any person can commit. It’s the sin of apostasy. That is the sin of knowing the truth and rejecting it when you know it.
I suppose we think that the hottest hell is reserved for the people who committed the most heinous crimes, and that would be correct. What we don’t sometimes understand is the most heinous crime is to reject the gospel with full knowledge. Far worse than any Hitlerian crime. That is the ultimate crime, as we will see in this passage.
So the warnings are very serious and very severe. If you go down to verse 26, we’re introduced to what apostasy is, for if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, that’s what it is. What does “go on sinning” mean? Go on sinning by not believing. The ultimate sin that dams everybody is the sin of what? Unbelief. Every other sin is forgiven when you believe. Every other sin. So if you go on sinning by not believing, by rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ, if you will not receive the knowledge of the truth, gospel truth, that is apostasy. Willful, deliberate, intentional continuation in a life of sin that does not embrace the truth.
That’s the warning. You’ve heard it as these people to whom he writes heard, but you willfully continue in the same path. That’s what it is. That’s what apostasy is. Here are the results of it. First, there’s no longer any sacrifice for your sin. If you reject the only sacrifice, there is no other sacrifice. There is no other provision for salvation. None. There’s only one name under heaven whereby men can be saved. That’s the name of Jesus Christ. He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the one who offered the one offering that God accepted to perfect forever those that believe.
So if you reject him, there is no longer any other sacrifice to which you can turn, no other offerings satisfy God. So what happens as a result of that? You are left unforgiven, and Verse 27 says, “What awaits you is a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” No more sacrifice for sin is available, and you are turned over to terrifying judgment eternally.
And then he adds something else. Verse 28. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. You break the law of Moses, and you die. How much severer punishment, Verse 29, do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the son of God and regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant, the blood he shed on the cross by which he was sanctified, set apart unto God is the only acceptable sacrifice, and has insulted the spirit of grace.
How severe is that punishment? You are turned over in Verse 30 to the Lord who will judge his people. Vengeance is mine. I will repay. This unbelief, this rejection of the gospel, this trampling of the son of God is a sin against the trinity. You trample the son of God, you insult the Holy Spirit, and you so violate God who said, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him that you come under his full wrath.” That’s why Verse 31 says it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Not believing the gospel is a sin against the trinity. Massive sin of such epic proportions that the most severe punishment in hell is reserved for those who do that. That’s sin. That’s sin. In light of that, there’s a plea starting in Verse 32 not to do that. And here are some deterrents. Remember the former days when you were enlightened. Remember the former days when you were enlightened. Remember your interest originally in the gospel. Remember how wonderful the message was when you first heard it. Remember how hopeful you were when you heard about a sacrifice for sin, and you heard about the promise of heaven. Remember.
There are some of you this morning – and this is the first time you’ve been here, maybe be the last. Because of what you’re going to hear, you’re not going to like me, and because I’m going to tell you what Jesus said, you may have a different view of him and not like him either.
This may be the beginning and the end. There are others of you who have been here a while that you’ve been thinking you’ve had enough of this, you’re over it. Whatever the original attraction was is gone. You’re over this. You don’t want this in your life. You don’t believe. You’re not really willing to give up your sin. And you’re about to go, and maybe for some of you, this might be the last Sunday. There are some of you who are still in the throes of trying to make that decision, but down the road, you’ll turn your back and walk away and shrink back to destruction.
And if you don’t think that’s a heartache beyond measure, you’re wrong. But as sad as it is to me and those who serve you, equally sad as it is to those in your world who love you, it is far more sad for your sake because of what that means eternally. This issue is an issue that got far beyond John 6, but let’s go back to that point. This is reality in ministry. This is why ministry is this two-edged sword. You minister over a long period of time, many, many years, and you accumulate the joy of faithful true believers, and you accumulate the sorrows of unfaithful defectors. So you’re always kind of living in the tension of those things.
Would be easy to say the longer you minister, the more you see of the grace of God, and that would be absolutely true, but the more you minister, the more you see of those who turn their backs to the grace of God and walk away. There’s a sadness, and I know that sadness, and the Lord knew it far, far beyond anything I could ever comprehend.
View John MacArthur's complete sermon here:
Expository Teaching Series: John 6
Complete Transcript: https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-39