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John 6:66

ESV After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
NIV From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
NASB As a result of this many of His disciples left, and would no longer walk with Him.
CSB From that moment many of his disciples turned back and no longer accompanied him.
NLT At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.
KJV From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
NKJV From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

What does John 6:66 mean?

The Greek word translated "disciples" in this verse is mathētōn, meaning "students." This is not a reference to the inner circle of twelve men; those men will be addressed in the next verse. Rather, this particular statement describes the general group of people who have been following Jesus and listening to His teachings. Some of these were probably with Him prior to His string of miraculous healings (John 6:2), others might have joined as a result of those. Some, certainly, were interested in Jesus because of His feeding of thousands the previous day (John 6:9–14).

However, Jesus has just finished explaining that these miracles are all meant to point to a spiritual truth. Jesus is the "true bread from heaven," and only those who believe in Him can see eternal life. This requires a complete commitment, not a shallow interest. This teaching generated controversy (John 6:41), and even outright arguments (John 6:52). Jesus' teaching challenged their beliefs (John 6:60), and for some, this is simply too much to bear. Rather than change their minds, they walk away. This is the fundamental reason people reject Jesus Christ: He doesn't coordinate with their own selfish interests.

The Greek used here to describe the reaction of these people is apēlthon eis to opisō, kai ouketi met' autou periepatoun. This sentence is alternatively translated as "withdrew," "turned back," or "turned away," such that the people "deserted," "no longer walked," or "no longer followed" Jesus. The words used here are fairly specific and dramatic. An alternative paraphrasing might say, "His students went back to not adhering to His teachings anymore." They dropped their interest in Jesus and returned to their previous spiritual attitudes.

This verse says much more than "the people no longer went where Jesus went." It specifically says that a large number—probably most of those who had been learning from Him—rejected His teachings, and no longer lived, thought, or acted according to them. When confronted with a challenging truth (John 6:60), these people decided to completely reject it, rather than change their minds.
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