“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him,” Jesus said. What? Eat human flesh and drink human blood? No wonder Jesus lost many followers that day.
Fallout from Free Food
It all started with the feeding of the 5,000. The crowd was so impressed, they planned to make Jesus their king. Jesus would have none of it. He escaped to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. The next day, when the multitudes found Him, Jesus “welcomed” them with hard words: “You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves, and were filled. Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:26-27).
Interpreting Jesus’ Words
Many of the Jews were thinking of the physical while Jesus was emphasizing the spiritual: “The flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life” (John 6:63). Jesus was speaking in spiritual-figurative terms. Materialistic disciples didn’t understand.
Jesus was teaching a mixed crowd that day. “There are some of you who don’t believe” (6:64). The implication is that others did believe. In particular, “the twelve” are mentioned in verse 67.
Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus taught many things that even His apostles did not understand – until after His ascension. They didn’t even understand the main issue which He frequently plainly predicted: that He would die and rise from the dead. Peter even once dared to rebuke Jesus for saying that (Matt. 16:22).
With that in mind, we cannot isolate John 6 (or any text) from the rest of Scripture. So many false doctrines are based on using selected verses on a subject while ignoring others. For any doctrine, it is essential to consider further revelation. An excellent example is the time Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus. Jesus responded to the misinterpretation by quoting another Scripture (Matt. 4:5-7).
Bread of Life
Many of Jesus’ remarks that day were related to food, building on the feeding of the 5,000. Speaking figuratively, as He so often did, Jesus said, “I am the living bread which came down out of heaven” (John 6:51).
Spiritual food is mentioned various times in Scripture. Two outstanding texts are Hebrews 5:12-14 and 1 Corinthians 3:2; both of which speak of milk and solid food related to Christian growth. Physical food sustains physical life. Spiritual food sustains spiritual life.
“Don’t work for the food which perishes, but for the food which remains to eternal life” (John 6:27). Work for spiritual food. That’s a continuous process. You don’t eat food once. Jesus is offering the multitude continuous sustaining food.
Often that day, Jesus spoke of believing. Believing is also not a one-time thing. We must believe initially and then continue to believe. John 6 is not just talking about getting life, as in John 3 by being born again. Being born, physically or spiritually, is a one-time event. Eating food, physically or spiritually, must be continuous in order to sustain life.
With verse 51 of John 6, Jesus dramatically moves from eating bread to eating flesh. “I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” “My flesh.” Up to this point Jesus had been talking about Himself as the bread which came down from heaven. Now for the first time He mentions His flesh. We know that Jesus’ flesh did not come down from heaven.
As soon as Jesus spoke of eating His flesh, “the Jews therefore contended with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'” (6:52). A very sensible question. But – as often happened in Jesus’ ministry – rather than clarify the matter, He dug in deeper, making it even more outrageous: “Most certainly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don’t have life in yourselves” (6:53). Drink Jesus’ blood? Taken literally, He has added vampirism to cannibalism! No wonder many disciples left Him that day (66).
Drinking blood – any blood – is specifically forbidden in both the OT and the NT. (Lev. 17:10-14; Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25). On the one hand, eating food is used several times in a good figurative sense. On the other hand, drinking blood is never spoken of favorably in Scripture – either literally or spiritually, except…
… except here in John 6 and at the Last Supper. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul have each recorded the most important part of that meal. As recorded in Matthew 26:26-28: “… Jesus took bread… and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ He took the cup… saying, ‘All of you drink it, for this is my blood…'” Any Christian knows the importance of Jesus’ blood. But apart from the Lord’s Supper, there is no Scripture that tells us how we can drink His blood.
It seems clear to me that at the Last Supper Jesus explained what He had taught the crowd and His disciples in John 6. This is not just Scripture interpreting Scripture. This is Jesus interpreting Jesus. Thus, just before His death, Jesus shed light on a most strange statement He had made earlier in His ministry.
Contacting the Blood of Jesus
A major reason I know of for rejecting a connection between John 6 and the Lord’s Supper is that for some people the statements in John 6 might seem too strong for the Lord’s Supper: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you don’t have life in yourselves. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…” (53-54). Let’s examine this.
Just as many people deny that baptism has anything to do with salvation, so others deny that the Lord’s Supper has anything to do with salvation. Just as some claim that being born again (John 3) has nothing to do with water baptism, so others deny that drinking Jesus’ blood has anything to do with the communion cup.
The great text from Jesus on getting life is John 3:5: “Unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into God’s Kingdom.” Being born, whether physically or spiritually, is a one-time event to “get” life. As mentioned earlier, eating bread, whether physically or spiritually, is continuous, to “have” (maintain) life.
Many believers who understand that we initially contact Jesus’ blood (death) in baptism (Rom. 6:3) are not aware that we continue to contact His blood at the Lord’s Supper. Quite often, portions of 1 Corinthians 11 are read at the Lord’s Table while chapter 10 is ignored: “The cup of blessing which we bless, isn’t it a sharing of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, isn’t it a sharing of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16). The key word here is variously translated “sharing, communion, participation, fellowship.” The Lord’s Supper is not just in memory along with self-examination. We are sharing in, participating in, having fellowship and communion with the blood of Jesus. That agrees perfectly with John 6: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” We are initially connected to the blood of Christ in baptism. We continue to be connected to Jesus’ blood at the Lord’s Table.
More than a Memorial
As with so many other issues, Satan has pulled people away from the true significance of the Lord’s Supper whether to the left or to the right (note Joshua 1:7). The Lord’s Supper is not a miracle of actually changing bread and juice into flesh and blood. It is not a sacrifice to be performed by a priest. Neither is it only in memory with self-examination. In the same way that baptism is a mockery if done without both faith and repentance, so the Lord’s Supper is a mockery if we don’t partake in a worthy manner. In both cases and in whatever we do in Jesus’ name, all is in vain without a heart surrendered to Jesus.
Yes, there is more than the Lord’s Supper in John 6. In heart, soul, and mind, we must feed on Jesus every day of our lives. We must continually be connected to Him. But the only explanation given in Scripture for the latter part of John 6 is what is often called “communion.” Yes, communion with the body and blood of Jesus.
At the Lord’s table our hearts need to be spiritually and mentally connected to the Lord’s body and blood. It is a most serious matter which can condemn us rather than bless us. “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy way eats and drinks judgment to himself if he doesn’t discern the Lord’s body. For this cause many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep” (1 Cor. 11:29-30).
With heart, mind, and soul, let us gather around the Lord’s table each Lord’s Day, to participate in the body of blood of our Savior – to continue to be connected to the only source of eternal life!