Sunday, June 26, 2011

Eating The Flesh and Drinking The Blood of Jesus: John 6.53

When Jesus told his disciples that they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, was he talking about the communion?  If he wasn't talking about the communion than what was he referring to?

To understand John 6.52-59 we have to understand what happened before this discussion.  In chapter five Jesus fed the five thousand, this miracle is recorded in all four gospel accounts.  This miracle impressed the crowds and they saw it as confirmation that he was the Prophet, the one like Moses, and they wanted to make him their king (John 5.14-15).  Jesus withdrew and later walked over the sea of Galilee to Capernaum. 

The discussion that Jesus has with them has simularites with his talks with Nicodemus (John 3.1-21) and the Woman at the Well (John 4.1-26).  All three discussions start with the audience misunderstanding what Jesus was talking about: They think it is something physical (rebirth, water, food) when Jesus is really talking about something spiritual. Then they have objections: "How can a man be born when he is old" (John 3.4), " have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water" (4.11)and "How can this man give us his flesh to eat" (John 6.34).

The responses of the three groups are different.  We are not told what Nicodemus did after Jesus taught him about being reborn, the woman at the well went to her city and told the people to "come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done" (John 4.29), and Jesus' disciples said "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it" and "many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6.60 and 66).

When the crowds realized that Jesus had left they searched for him and found him in Capernaum (John 6.25).  We might be impressed with their desire to be with Jesus, but he knew they just wanted more food, and he told them that.  He then told them that they should be "working for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you" (6.27).   They asked what "works of God" they must do to earn this food.  Jesus told them "believe in him" (6.29).  Right here, at the start of the discussion, we know what it means to eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood;" it means to believe in Jesus and "whoever believes has eternal life" (6.48).

I wanted to know if this passage is talking about the communion and I have to say "no, it is not," but I think they are both pointing in the same direction.  This passage and the communion are both pointing to Jesus.  Jesus said "This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (6.51), is that statement so different from what he said on the night he was betrayed "This is my body, given for you, do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22.19)?

It is interesting that in this discussion Jesus starts out fairly clear in his meaning and becomes more graphic in his description as he progresses.  He starts out talking about working "food that endures to eternal life" and ends with "...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, he have no live in you."  But he is clear throughout the discussion that he is talking about himself: "I am the bread of life" (6.48 and 51), and that the way we eat this bread/flesh is by believing in him (6.29, 35, 40 and 47).  Why does he have to use such a repulsive illustration of the concept?

I think the reason Jesus used the illustration of eating his flesh and drinking his blood to mean believing in him is the same reason he taught in parables.  Jesus said the reason he taught in parables was so that "seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand" (Mat. 13.13).  It is a hard thing to understand, but there are some people who have no interest in the gospel,  For them, when Jesus spoke in parables, the message was meaningless.  Perhaps this is what Jesus was referring to when he said "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me...Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me" (6.44-45).  The group that had followed Jesus for the food found his words hard and offensive (6.60) and they stopped following him (6.60, 66).  His chosen twelve disciples continued to follow him and said "Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of life" (6.68)?  We often have to work to understand what we read in the bible, but we know the promise that "blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Mat. 5.6).

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