How Can We Eat of His Flesh?
© 2022 C. O. Bishop
John 6:53-59 (Context: v. 47-52)
As we study our way through the Gospel of John, we occasionally run into peculiar passages, difficult to understand, and sometimes hard to accept. This passage is one of them, partly because it has been seized upon to push the notion that the Lord’s Table is literally cannibalism: That we are called to partake in a feast on human flesh and blood. It has been used by some to support their religious stance, and by others (in response to them,) to accuse the entire Church of gross malfeasance and evil thinking.
The very first thing we need to do when we run across any difficult passage is to read the entire context: What was the whole passage saying? What is it teaching?
Eating the Bread of Life
Beginning in verse 47, we see that Jesus clearly said, “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” Keep that in mind as we read the following passage which could seem to contradict that first, clear statement. Remember that this is God’s Word, and it all has to agree: if something seems to be a contradiction, then the chances are very good that we are misunderstanding something.
Verse 48-51. Jesus continued, saying, “I am that bread of life.” In keeping with what He had taught in verses 33-35, He reiterates that He is the Bread of Life. But in verse 51, it would be very easy to draw the conclusion that physically eating His flesh is how we gain eternal life! Please! Read verse 47 over again! He says we enter into eternal life by faith…believing in Him!
At that point, his audience was beginning to grumble amongst themselves, questioning Jesus’s statement: They thought that they were being invited to physically consume His physical flesh. (They said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”) (verse 52)
Meanwhile, we keep re-reading that context, in verse 47, and we see it constantly reaffirmed that we are saved by Grace, through Faith, plus nothing, as Paul also tells us, in Ephesians 2:8, 9.
But they were struggling with this whole concept; (and He hasn’t even hit the hard part yet!)
Eating His Flesh and Drinking His Blood
Jesus’s reply to their complaint really pushed them over the edge. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. 54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. 58 This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”
This was the real kicker: You remember, eating human flesh was specifically condemned in Scripture, and, even more specifically, drinking blood—any blood—was absolutely forbidden.
Eating Blood was a Crime!
Leviticus 17:10-14 spells out in no uncertain terms that drinking blood, or even eating meat that had not been properly bled out, was a capital offense. Why? Because the blood was given to them as a sacrifice on the altar, to cover their sins! (KJV says “atonement’…it means “covering.”) Why was that important? Because the animal sacrifices were limited to covering sin, temporarily. Only Jesus’s Blood could take away sins. That is what He came to do! He came to save us from our sins by taking them away!
So, if animal blood was sacred, and if eating it was a capital offense, (meaning a crime for which they would kill you) how much more sacred should we consider the literal Body and blood of the Savior?
This was the problem the Jews were having with what Jesus taught. It seemed to directly contradict one of the key commandments God had given to Israel.
What was Jesus really commanding?
Keep in mind that Jesus is the Author of both the Old Testament and the New Testament: He was not “changing his mind” about the sanctity of blood. He was comparing Himself to the Passover Lamb: Each family took part in the blood on the night of the Passover: They killed that little lamb, they caught that blood in a basin, they dipped a bunch of Hyssop in that blood, and struck it onto the lintel and the two doorposts. (I love reading this, and physically going through the motions (or at least in my mind,) realizing that they were huddled in faith, under the same blood of the cross which we claim for our redemption.
But as individuals within each family, they were required to make the sacrifice personal: they were each to eat of that flesh, acknowledging that the blood on the lintel and the doorposts was shed for them personally. They were saying, “It was shed for me, personally, and by eating that sacrifice, I am confirming that I am under that blood: that my faith is in the completed work of that Lamb!”
Object Lessons in Scripture
Do we physically “eat Jesus’s body?” No! Do we actually “drink human blood?” No!! absolutely not!
We can further see that in 1st Corinthians 10:4, God declares that the Rock in the desert—that Rock which supplied the millions of gallons of water necessary for the survival of the Children of Israel and their livestock—that Rock was Christ! It does not say “a picture of Christ:” It says it was Him! And they all drank their “life-supply” from Him, personally.
In John 4:14 and in John 7:37-39, Jesus gave us some hints about “drinking from Him.” He told the woman at the well, in John 4, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
In John 7, on the last day of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus cried out, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)
What is the answer?
So, what should we conclude about the statement regarding “eating His flesh and drinking His blood,” here in John chapter Six? Given both the immediate context of verse 47 and the remote contexts of chapters 4 and 7, what should we understand that Jesus was saying in chapter six? There are huge numbers of people who ignore the context and conclude that the elements of the Lord’s Table literally become the Body and Blood of the Lord, and that we are committing a literal act of cannibalism, as well as defying the Lord’s clear command to not drink blood.
If we examine the facts of the night when the Lord’s Table was instituted, we see two key things:
When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper:
- He was living in his physical body: He blessed, and broke, and offered them unleavened bread, saying “This is my Body, which is broken for you…” When people today speak out against recreational drug use, they may hold up an egg, saying “This is your brain” and then they fry it, and say, “This is your brain on drugs! Any questions?” But NO one answers, “What? My brain is a chicken egg?”
Jesus set out unleavened, blessed, broken bread as an object lesson regarding His coming sacrifice. The disciples felt no confusion about the relationship between that physical bread and His physical Body. They knew that Jesus intended an object lesson.
- His blood was in His veins, keeping His body alive! That is what God said it was supposed to do, in Leviticus 17:11 “The life of the flesh is in the blood!” As long as Jesus’s Blood was in His body, He was alive, and we were still in our sins. But when His blood was poured out on the ground, satisfying the righteousness of the Holy God who sent Him, then He died, and our sins were fully paid for: He cried out “Tetelestai!” (It is Finished! Paid in full!”) But His Blood had to be poured out, for that to happen.
Without the pouring out of His Blood, we would still be lost.
The moment you trusted Jesus’s shed blood as full payment for your sins, He took your sins away forever. (Think back again, now, to verse 47: How did He say we are to gain everlasting life?) “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life.” But in Hebrews 9:22 He says, “Without the shedding of Blood there is no remission.” Without His voluntary, physical, one-time sacrifice, we would still be lost.
But we do not “re-crucify Jesus” when we take communion. I was at a funeral where the presiding priest actually said, regarding the Eucharist, “this is our sacrifice, and Jesus is our victim.” My friends, that is blasphemy! Jesus said, in John 10:18, “No man taketh my life: I lay it down of myself” He is not our “victim:” He is our Kinsman-redeemer. Yes, my sins are why he went to the Cross, but He went there voluntarily on my behalf.
And He did it once, for all eternity. It was never to be repeated, and never to be continued. It was finished at the Cross!
How do we “take part in this sacrifice?”
- How do we initially take part in that sacrifice? We enter in by faith, by believing in Him as our Savior: Jesus said that is what God requires, in John 6:29, and 6:47. This is a good example of why it is so important to read the context in which a verse appears…not just the one verse or passage, by itself.
- How do we “feed on Him on a continuing basis?” We do so by continuing to feed on His Word, believing that His blood has cleansed us. (In John 1:1-3, 14, and Revelation 19:13, He is identified as being the Living Word of God.”) 1st Peter 2:2 says, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby”
- We continue to drink of the fountain that He has opened as we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and empower us.
But we commemorate that sacrifice when we take Communion. We do not reenact it!
The Lord’s table is not a sacrifice, at all! God says very specifically that Jesus died once for all, and that His work as the sacrifice was completed on that Cross. Hebrews 10:10, 12 says, “…we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all… this Man, after He had offered One Sacrifice for Sins, forever, sat down on the right hand of God.”
He still acts as our High Priest, but He does not continually offer more sacrifice. His work was so completely finished that it says in Hebrews 1:3 “When He had by himself purged our sins, He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on High.” (Where could the High Priest sit? There was only one “seat” in the Holy of Holies…it was the Mercy Seat… the top of the Ark of the Covenant! God’s throne!) So what we see here is thatJesus, God the Son, completed His work as our high Priest, and sat down in the throne with God the Father.
Why do we celebrate the Lord’s Table?
1st Corinthians 11:25-26 says, “Do this in remembrance of Me…as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death until He come.” It is a commemoration only, and a physical, outward demonstration of something that happened historically, and which has taken effect inwardly, and continues to take effect as we walk with Him.
Lord Jesus, please help us to completely understand the sharing that takes place in the Lord’s table and to see it as a holy fellowship before your throne, as well as a testimony to one another as well as the Unbelieving World.