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What did Jesus mean when He said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53-56)?

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Please take a moment to read John 6 to understand the context and examine what Jesus meant by eating His flesh and drinking His blood for eternal life?

In John 6:1-21, Jesus miraculously feeds five thousand people who had been following Him. When the people saw this sign Jesus had done, they declared, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14). Jesus, perceiving they were about to come and take Him by force and make Him King, withdrew to the mountain by Himself (John 6:15). The next day when the crowds saw that Jesus was not there nor his disciples, they got into the boat and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. 

During this time of conversation, Jesus declares in John 6:53, “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.” To understand what Jesus meant, we need to break down what was happening.

Firstly, the crowds were seeking materialism.

The problem was that many people following Jesus did so to receive physical food from Him. John 6:26-27 says, “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 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.”

Jesus knew the intentions of the people’s hearts. They were seeking Him because of the food they ate. So Jesus now begins to teach them to look beyond earthly food and benefits, and instead, work for the food that endures to eternal life. Likewise, in today’s church and the presentation of the gospel, we see similarities. Today, churches and preachers want to attract people to Christ to receive material blessings, prosperity, and everything worldly rather than preaching truth leading to eternal life.

Secondly, working to receive eternal life.

In response to Jesus, the people seemed to think they could somehow work for this eternal food. Jesus says in John 6:28-29, “Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 

You see, there is no amount of work you can do to receive eternal life. It is only possible by faith. By believing in Jesus, the lamb who came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29) and this is a gift of God and can only be obtained by faith. Likewise, don’t ever think you can earn your way to eternal life. You can try to be a good person and live a good life as best you can, but it is still not good enough for a perfect, righteous, and holy God. Only the perfect righteousness of Christ and through His sacrifice can you enter into eternal life. So, simply have faith in Jesus Christ and believe Him knowing faith itself is a gift from God. Amen!

Thirdly, seeking miraculous signs.

Now that Jesus has just taught them not to work for physical food and receive eternal life by believing in Jesus Christ. The crowd responds by saying in John 6:30-34, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ​’He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

It is rather astounding how the crowd had forgotten so quick that Jesus had just fed the five thousand with five barley loves and two fish, and it was the same crowd who had followed him seeking more of this bread. Their hearts were hardened, and they were seeking another sign. 

Now in John 6:33, Jesus clearly proclaims that the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. In other words, the bread is a person. So now the crowd asks Jesus to “give us this bread always.”

So Jesus responds by saying in John 6:35-37, “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

Jesus declares that He is the bread of life. Whoever goes to Him shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Him shall not thirst. Jesus is trying to get the people to understand not to come to Him to receive the material, physical blessing and temporary provision – rather receive Him who is the source of eternal spiritual life by partaking of Him by believing. Not only that, but Jesus now declares that human salvation is only possible when God draws people to Himself and He does so by His Word and Spirit. If salvation is not a result of the drawing of God, true salvation will not result. Even today, many people are after miraculous signs and wonders as a basis for believing and drawing people to God. It should instead be based on truth.

The Jews grumbled at this because Jesus said He was the bread that came from heaven. Jesus says in verse 49 that their fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. But this bread from heaven (Jesus Christ), one may eat of it and not die. Further down Jesus, says in John 6:53-56, “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.”

What Jesus means by eating His flesh and drinking His blood is precisely what He explained right from the beginning of this discussion. In other words, just like the manna, God provided the Israelites manna/bread from heaven and ate it to remain physically alive; they are to consume this true bread of life for eternal life. Jesus was using the everyday act of eating to communicate a profound spiritual truth. So eating of His flesh means appropriate Christ as one’s life. In other words, by “believing”. Someone only eats what they identify as edible and will nourish the body. Food is useless unless consumed. Likewise, spiritual truth is futile unless you accept it and act on it. You don’t eat unless you are hungry. If you are full, then you do not need food. When you partake of Christ, you require something that only He can provide. That is eternal life and the forgiveness of sin, and the need of a Savior. Only God can initiate this hunger. Otherwise, you remain full and satisfied in your sin.

This act of eating and drinking is “believing”. By believing the death of Jesus Christ and the breaking of His body and shedding His blood on the cross, He paid for the penalty of our sin. His righteousness has been imputed on all He has chosen and those who put their faith in Him. Beliving is how we partake of His flesh and drink His blood. As we do, we experience Christ in our life; we allow His Holy Spirit to sanctify and transform us spiritually, He provides spiritual nourishment, a changed heart and mind, a hunger and thirst to do all that glorifies God, and enter into a love relationship with God. Amen.

This is why it says in Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”  Also, Psalm 119:102 “do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Jesus Christ is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us. John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Even today, many fail to understand what Jesus meant by eating His flesh and drinking His blood, just as the immediate audience of Christ. It sounded like “cannibalism”. The Jews would have taken great offence because, according to the Mosaic law in Leviticus 17:2, they were prohibited from eating blood. 

Just as in His parables, Jesus was imparting spiritual and profound truth through this act of eating food. It would only be through the Spirit that His listeners would understand (John 6:63) that the core of His message was “to believe” in Him. Eating and drinking Christ is to believe, trust, consume truth, enact truth, nourish, and transform.

In conclusion, I encourage you not to come to Christ only to fulfil your earthly physical needs, as did those following Christ to get their daily source of bread. Don’t think you can achieve eternal life by your works; it is only possible by believing in Jesus by faith. Don’t look for signs, miracles, wonders as a basis for your belief, but trust in the words of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and “believe”. By doing so, you are partaking of His flesh and blood. Amen!

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