“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.” (John 6:48–59, ESV)
I thought about titling today’s post, “Christian Cannibalism.” It was a very difficult message for Jesus hearers to grasp and it continues to prove a challenge for many today. Recognizing that Jesus knew in advance who it was who would believe, I am not surprised that He spoke in a way that many who would not believe would not understand and even reject. Matthew tells us that it was for this reason that He spoke in parables (Matthew 13:10-13). And such is the case in today’s passage. Jesus compared Himself to the manna which their fathers had eaten in the wilderness, pointing to a significant difference. Those who ate the manna died, but those who would take the bread which is His flesh would receive life. Hearing this, the Jews disputed (argued) among themselves concerning how it was that Jesus, who they referred to as “this man” could give them His flesh to eat. Clearly this was not something that they would accept.
Rather than telling them what He meant by this and clarifying it for them, He responded with another “truly, truly” statement. This time saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you….” He meant what He was saying and there was no compromise in His words. Though He would clarify this somewhat with His disciples later in this chapter, He was laying out something here that would be symbolically demonstrated in greater detail shortly before His crucifixion. And unless they were willing to accept what He was presenting to them they had no hope of receiving eternal life. This is true whether they clearly understood it or not. Jesus didn’t mince His words. They had to eat and drink in order to live.
He went on to say, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” I tried imagining the scene. Maybe it became incredibly silent as they stood amazed that He would continue expanding on this, or maybe it got even louder as the people began to reject Him even more, cringing at the concept of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of “this man.” Not accepting Him as having being sent by God, they could not accept that He was speaking of anything other than what they understood in human terms. This made no sense and it was probably repulsive at best.
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Assuming that many are still seeing Him as a man, with these words it might have seemed that He was telling them by doing this that they would become linked in some way with Him. Though He would likely have to die in order for them to eat Him, He seemed to claim that He would live in them because they actually ingested Him. This was some way out there teaching, and it must have really sounded strange to those who did not grasp what He was really speaking about. Obviously this is speculation beyond what John shared with us, but knowing my own thought processes and the reactions of people I have met it is easy to speculate as I consider how confused and repulsed they might have been.
As we work through the passage Jesus continued saying, “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this Bread will live forever.” Jesus told them that He was the Bread of Life, and here He made it very clear that this life which He was offering to them came from the power granted Him by the Father. Jesus being eternally present as the Son (being fully God) with the Father He took on human form in order to give life to man. And He was going to sacrifice that human life in order to give life to man. For us who believe it probably appears quite obvious that He is talking about more than physical flesh and blood, but many who heard Him were not making this connection. They still did not accept Him as the Son sent by the Father, and as such they could not understand or accept what He was telling them.
Our passage for today concludes by giving us a place of context of these words. We read that He spoke them in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum. This was the place of religious teaching for the Jews and yet they could not see that the One they had been long awaiting was standing right there talking to them.
In our next section we will read that Jesus tells His disciples that He was speaking about spirit and life. But my mind was drawn in reading this to the night on which He was betrayed, which He also will refer to in the next passage. It was then that He reclined with His disciples to share in a last Passover meal with them before going to the cross. He had been speaking of His death coming soon with His disciples, but they did not seem to get it. But on that last night as He sat with them there was that moment when He interrupted their meal for a very significant event which is not spoken of in detail in John, but is recorded in Matthew 26, Mark 14, and Luke 22.
It is there that we read, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”” (Matthew 26:26–29, ESV)
Jesus revisited the issue of eating flesh and drinking blood. Luke records for us, “And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”” (Luke 22:19, ESV) Jesus knew that He was going to lay down His life for them and for us. He was going to give up His body on our behalf. He had no sin in Himself and no need to die, but we do, and it was for us that He did this. Even as communion is instituted for all believers as we read in 1 Corinthians 11, when we share in the bread we are to do so having considered our hearts recognizing the great extent to which Jesus went for us. But, as we know, Jesus did not remain in the grave, but took His life back up on the third day and presented Himself to hundreds of witnesses prior to Him leaving to return to the Father who sent Him.
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24, ESV)
We also read that Jesus took up a cup and gave it to His disciples for them to share saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Again they did not physically drink His blood just as they did not physically eat His flesh, but these two were given for us nonetheless. Jesus came from Spirit to take on flesh and blood so that He might give up both for us. He did this because we needed it. We could not save our lives nor could we achieve our own forgiveness. These came from Him, and unless we believe in Him we will not be forgiven of our sins nor be granted eternal life. And when we share in communion today we do this in remembrance of Him being constantly mindful of His great sacrifice on our behalf.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3–4, ESV)