Typically when we think of Jesus’ disciples, we think of the twelve men He called from various walks of life to assist Him and to walk with Him during His earthly ministry. However, the Gospels make it clear that many more than twelve followed Jesus. There were the seventy-two, for example, whom Jesus sent out to do ministry (Luke 10:1–12). Moreover, throughout the Gospels, we read about large crowds who followed Jesus in order to hear His teaching. These people were disciples of our Lord, at least in a broad sense.
Yet not all of these people persevered in discipleship. In fact, not even all of the Twelve persevered, for Judas Iscariot finally betrayed Jesus to the authorities (John 6:71). When the going got tough, when it became clear that the demands of Jesus were not what some of these individuals signed up for, they fell away. This happened after Jesus gave His Bread of Life Discourse (vv. 22–59; see also the follow-up discussion with Christ in vv. 60–65). Our Savior’s teaching that He came down from heaven to provide salvation and therefore must be the center of our lives proved too much for some of this wider band of disciples, and they left Him, as we see in today’s passage (v. 66).
Upon the departure of some of the wider band of disciples, Jesus turned to those who followed Him most closely and knew Him the best, the Twelve, and asked them if they were going to leave Him as well (v. 67). Simon Peter told Jesus they were staying. Although the Gospel narratives make it plain that Peter and the others did not fully understand Jesus until after His resurrection, before then they nevertheless understood important truths about Jesus that others failed to grasp. Peter said they would stay because Jesus alone had the words of eternal life and was “the Holy One of God,” the Messiah (vv. 68–69). They had some sense that Christ was the source of life and that they could find fellowship with God in no one else.
Lest the disciples think this understanding of Jesus was their own accomplishment, Jesus then warned them that being one of the Twelve did not automatically make them citizens of the kingdom. Yes, He had chosen all of them to be in the band of disciples, but He had not chosen all of them for redemption. Among them was Judas Iscariot, His betrayer, who would not persevere to the end because He was not one of the people the Father gave to Jesus for salvation (vv. 70–71; see v. 44).