Chapter 6:47-66 (ESV) - Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 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.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 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. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.
Question to consider: Do you think Jesus was being figurative in this discourse?
The synagogue at Capernaum was Andrew and Peter’s synagogue. Jesus had cast a demon out of a man here, and the people marveled at His teaching, amazed that He could be the son of a carpenter from Nazareth. Yet Jesus had angered the rabbis by calling Himself Lord of the Sabbath after they criticized Him for allowing His hungry disciples to glean grain for themselves and healing a man’s withered hand.
The people were starting to question Jesus’ sanity when He called God His father and professed to have come down from heaven since they knew Joseph and Mary. However, He had miraculously fed thousands from among them in the wilderness and now offered imperishable bread that led to eternal life.
Nicodemus had said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2) I am sure many from among this crowd had the same sentiment. Of course that sentiment changed immediately when Jesus announced the source of this imperishable bread: His flesh.
There are a whole host of commentators on this passage who insist that Jesus was speaking metaphorically here. If that were the case, it would have been the perfect time for Jesus to explain this when the people asked, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Instead, Jesus became abundantly clear that the eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood was the source of eternal life. All Jesus had to do was say, “You eat this true flesh and drink this true blood by consuming my words and following my teachings.” The people may not have been comfortable with His analogy, but they would have continued to listen to Him.
Jesus never qualified His statement though. He instead compared His flesh with the manna in the desert saying that the only difference between them was that people who ate His flesh would live forever. John the Baptist referred to Jesus as “The Lamb of God”. The paschal lamb was sacrificed for the people, and its blood marked the doorposts so that the angel of death would pass them by, but another key component of the Passover was that each family was to entirely consume their lamb.
If we are dealing honestly with this text, we cannot merely refer to Communion as a meal of remembrance. We can argue about the physical state of the bread and the wine as they are being delivered, but we must admit that once they are consumed, we have received the true body and blood of Christ. Anything less, and we have to account for the offense of the crowds and why Jesus didn’t keep them from walking away.
Dear Lord, thank You for giving us the food that endures to eternal life. May we receive it with joy and thanksgiving. Amen.