John’s Gospel: 6:52-63 (“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”)

(John 6:47-51 ESV)  47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.  48 I am the bread of life.  49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  51 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.”

But salvation is available to anyone who believes. If you “eat” of the “bread of life,” you’ll not die — unlike the Israelites who ate of God’s manna. Manna was mere physical food. Jesus is spiritual food, and he sustains through eternity.

Jesus concludes by declaring that he will give his flesh for the life of the world, that is, he will be crucified for the salvation of the world, not just the Jews.

(John 6:52-58 ESV)  52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  53 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.  54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.  56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.  57 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.  58 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.”

Not surprisingly, Jesus’ metaphor created some serious questions among the Jews. If one were to listen quite literally, he’d hear cannibalism. Indeed, the early church was sometimes accused of cannibalism by the surrounding pagan culture, because they heard the Christians speaking of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ.

Today, we blow right past the challenges these words presented, because we figure Jesus was talking about the Lord’s Supper, which is really crackers and grape juice. But Jesus did not speak to a throng of Jews on a Galilean hillside about communion. He was speaking about faith and our relationship with God and Jesus.

He wasn’t telling us about communion; he was telling us what communion is about. And so, if we stop the analysis at “This is about communion,” we miss the point. It’s not. This is about what communion is about.

Let’s consider other places where the Logos and eating are compared —

(Deu 8:3 ESV)  3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

(Psa 19:7-10 ESV)  7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;  8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;  9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.  10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

(Job 23:12 ESV)  12 I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.

(Psa 119:103 ESV) 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

(1Co 3:2-3a ESV)  2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,  3 for you are still of the flesh.

(Heb 5:12-13 NIV) 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!  13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.

(1Pe 2:2-3 ESV) 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Believing and obeying God’s word is often expressed in terms of eating God’s word. If Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s word, the Logos, then surely he must be eaten –more so that the Law of Moses and the words of the apostles.

Thus, to “eat” the “flesh” of Jesus is to consume, learn, believe, and accept him as Word — not merely his words but his entire being as a communication from God to us.

We must eat not only the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we must taste death.

(Mat 16:28-1 ESV)  28 “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

(Heb 2:9 ESV)  9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

To eat the bread at communion is to be reminded that we must eat the flesh of Jesus — flesh that was crucified for us. We must learn, experience, feel, believe, accept, and incorporate God’s Logos — we must let God’s Word fill us and nourish us. We must long for the Logos more than we long for mere earthly food.

Follow how John sets this discussion up —

(John 4:34 ESV)  34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

(John 6:27 ESV)  27 “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

“Food” in John refers to obeying God and believing in Jesus. To eat Jesus’ flesh (to eat real food) is to believe in Jesus — and to be faithful to Jesus. Thus, to eat Jesus’ flesh is an act of faith and of commitment to imitate Jesus.

(John 6:59-63 ESV)  59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.  60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”  61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?”

Synagogues allowed visiting rabbis to speak. Jesus had taken advantage of the opportunity.

It’s hardly surprising that some had difficulty with the lesson!

62 “Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Jesus then challenges their understanding of flesh by suggesting that his flesh might just go back to heaven. You see, “the flesh is no help at all.” Other translations say “Avails nothing” or “Profits nothing.”

In other words, “I’m not really talking about human flesh.” No, food and flesh don’t count, don’t sustain, and don’t nourish. Spirit and life come from “the words I have spoken.” That is, real nourishment is from the words given by the Word. To eat his flesh is to really believe his words, to seek sustenance from them, to be strengthened by them.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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