Chapter 6:67-71 (ESV) - So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Question to consider: Why would John focus on the eating of Christ’s flesh in his gospel account?
Isaiah spoke of the new testament in Christ Jesus this way, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1) I would guess John had this prophecy in mind when he described Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well and the free meal given to the thousands in the wilderness beyond Bethsaida. Those who were fed in the wilderness wanted more, but Jesus wasn’t interested in meeting their earthly desires, rather He offered them the eternal bread of His flesh and blood.
When people argue over the significance of the Communion meal, they tend to argue on the basis of language nuances or the opinions of famous commentators, church fathers or reformers. I think it is also important to consider the purpose of the writer for the intended audience. Whether you hold to a writing date in the late sixties or nineties doesn’t really matter here because both the Nicolaitans and the Gnostics tried to argue against Christ having come in the flesh. John’s purpose was to present Christ as both the Son of God and the Son of Man who took on flesh and offered Himself as a sacrifice in payment of our sins.
John’s secondary purpose was to focus on Christ’s command for His disciples to love one another sacrificially since Christ had specifically called out the Ephesians for having lost this love in His letters to the churches in the Revelatory vision given to John. Why would John care so much about the Ephesians? Because this is the church that tended to John on Patmos, and it was most likely the church to which John fled with Jesus’ mother, Mary, after the murder of John's brother, James.
As the fleshly sacrifice for our sins, the church was called by Christ to consume this flesh in the same way the Jews consumed the paschal Lamb. This does not mean that Christ is sacrificed all over again every time we participate in Communion. Just as Christ fed the crowds in the wilderness from the few loaves and fishes, so He distributes His body to the church throughout time from the same perfect sacrifice. If you can accept that Christ miraculously fed the crowds, it should not be an issue to accept that He miraculously feeds the church through His word and sacrament.
In this case, people make the accusation of cannibalism, but we’re not talking about the bread turning into flesh before we consume it, rather we eat the bread and drink the wine and yet receive Christ’s true body and blood. It is okay to understand this as a mystery that we can’t fully comprehend. That’s precisely what the disciples did. Everyone else had left, but the disciples were called by the Father (even Judas who would betray Jesus) and were content with the knowledge that Jesus had the words of eternal life, and recognized that He was the Holy One of God. If Christ had been speaking metaphorically, the crowds would not have left, and the disciples would not have had to give a reason for why they decided to stay.
Dear heavenly father, help us to be content with aspects of our faith or our relationship with You being a mystery that we can’t fully comprehend. Please give us the desire to gather together so that we may be filled with Your presence through Your word and through Communion so that we may grow closer to You and our brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.