Meditating on Great Themes in John: 12. The Lamb for eating
John 6:53,54 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
We’ve just seen the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent teaching by Jesus of him being the bread of life that has come down from heaven. Because of lack of space we did not go on to see how he extended that picture when he said, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51) We find a kind of morphing of bread into flesh in Jesus’ teaching here and we must not rush by it because it combines two great pictures.
The bread coming down from heaven was not difficult. In the time of the Exodus in the wilderness, another ‘bread’ called manna had come from heaven, provided by God for forty years to supplement the meat they would have had from their herds and flocks. The Jews were very mindful of this and had pointed Jesus to that time, but Jesus wants to take them on into realizing what they need to do with this ‘bread’ that has come down from heaven that he is now speaking about. It (he) is not just for looking at. Bread is for eating. So he turns the picture from a picture of bread to focus next on his physical presence with them, and then with what they need to do with that physical presence.
Observe the transition. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” That seems simple – if you accept his claim that he has come from heaven. Probably in its simplest form some might have thought, ‘receive him and he is the means of receiving eternal life.’ It’s a bit like the more modern, “Ask Jesus into your heart and you will be saved.” We don’t imagine a literal heart that a physical being forces itself into; that would be silly. In the same way we might challenge people to explain what “Ask Jesus into your heart” means, we might now ask in our explanation above, what does “receive him” mean?
Jesus gives the answer, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Step 1 – understand that this bread that I am talking about is me, my very being, my very body, my very flesh. There is coming a time when I will surrender this body to save you all but, yes, it will be my flesh that will literally die. These words create confusion in the listeners: “Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v.52)
Now back in chapter 2 when we considered Jesus’ words about rebuilding a temple in three days we considered possibilities. The possibilities here are either a) he is talking about cannibalism which is just so far from anything else that Jesus taught it needs ruling out of court straight away, or b) he is using his flesh to convey a picture truth that needs thinking about. Jesus pushes them further with this picture: “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” (v.53-57) If this is not to be taken literally, what is it to say to us?
“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man” The flesh of Jesus was his body, what they saw, heard and watched. Unless you take into your life all that you have seen and heard of Jesus you won’t have real life. Flesh is what covers the bones, the skeleton and the organs. Flesh in this context, I would suggest, is the account of all that we have heard and know about Jesus. Eating it means taking in and accepting all these truths and absorbing them into our lives so that we become changed. That’s what food does.
“and drink his blood.” This was more difficult because this part of his ministry was still in the future. The body and blood speak of two parts of his ministry. The body was what did all the things recorded in the Gospels, that taught, that did miracles, that worked out the will of the Father as the kingdom of God. ‘The blood’ refers to the giving of his life as a sacrifice on the Cross. Blood poured out was a sign of life departing. Jesus’ life departed from the body as he took our sins on the Cross.
So, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” refers to us receiving (believing) and taking in (being changed by) the knowledge of his ministry for three years and then his death and resurrection for us. The result will be our receiving eternal life and a resurrection life.
What about, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”? Well if you put it as we have above, Jesus is saying, “for my works received by you will feed your faith, and my life poured out for you will be a real means of life being imparted to you when you are forgiven and cleansed.”
OK, but what about, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” Perhaps it is like Jesus says, “if you receive my ministry and my death for you, you will become one with me.” He adds, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me,” i.e. this is all part of the plan of my Father so if you receive me and all my works and let them fully into your life and sustain and keep you, you will truly live and be incorporated into the living, dynamic plan of my Father, His kingdom.
He reiterates it from the original picture, “This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (v.58) This, that I have been speaking about, he says, is the ‘bread’ that has now come down from heaven and is different from the manna you referred to because the people still died when they ate that, but if you eat of this ‘bread’ you will live forever.
This bread is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), “a lamb without blemish or defect….. chosen before the creation of the world.” (1 Pet 1:19,20), “Worthy ….to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12) yet “slain from the creation of the world,” (Rev 13:8) and who, “is Lord of lords and King of kings.” (Rev 17:14) THIS is what we have to take in, chew over, digest and be strengthened in. The bread sustains and feeds us, the Lamb provides the way for it to happen. Hallelujah!