"Eat my flesh, drink my blood"?
The Bread of Life Discourse
In John chapter 6, beginning with verse 51, Jesus says, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. 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."
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus says 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" (John 6:51-55).
Two truths revealed
These verses reveal two important truths about the death and life of Christ, first in regard to what they don’t say, then concerning what they do say.
First, here’s what these verses don’t say. Jesus does not say, “Unless I eat YOUR flesh and drink YOUR blood, you have no life in you.” Of course, no matter who does the eating and drinking, we are speaking metaphorically here. But it is significant that Jesus is the one being consumed for us, not we for him. He voluntarily gives Himself up for us, and he makes no demand that would destroy us as we obey. He makes an offer—the free offer of his life in our behalf—his death, that we might live. What he demands is not our death for him, but his for us.
Then, we should consider what these verses DO say: That in order for us to have eternal life, we must eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood.
Of course, this turns people away who take Jesus literally, who wrongly believe that he is advocating cannibalism. It may be that some who heard him say these words in person took him literally, as we might understand such words if a modern cult leader spoke them. But it is obvious that Jesus did not mean them literally, any more than he was being literal at the Last Supper when he said “Take, eat—this is my body” or “Drink from it, all of you, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out many for the forgiveness of of sins.”
What does it mean?
No, “Eat my flesh” and “drink my blood” are not demanding cannibalism of us, but the metaphor does mean SOMETHING, and that something is quite profound. Just as a coach tells his players, “Men, in the next three months, you are going to eat, drink, and breathe football,” Jesus is telling all of us thatnot for three months, but for the rest of our lives, indeed for all eternityhe is telling us:
- I must be so central to your life that it is as if you eat my flesh.
- I must be so much at the core of your being that it is as if you drink my blood.
- Just as the bread you eat goes deep inside of you and then merges with you and becomes a part of your being, so that’s what I must do, and if it happens, that merging of me with you will give you life eternal.
I believe most of the people who heard Jesus say these words understood clearly what he was demanding of them. They said to each other, “This is a hard saying, who can accept it?” not because they thought he was advocating a suicidal cannibalism, but because they wanted him to remain non-threatening, as they had conceived him to be: just a religious teacher and even a miracle worker. They were not willing for Him to be at the center of their very being. They could not bring themselves to say, as Paul later did, “For me to live is Christ.”
Meaning for us
I should make clear that in this passage in John 6, Jesus is not speaking directly about the Lord's Supper, also called communion and the Eucharist. He is talking about that once only process by which we enter into a saving relationship with Him. Yet when we eat the bread and drink the grape juice, our actions are reminding us of how central He is to us. We simply cannot turn away, saying, “This is too difficult. He is just not THAT important to me.”
By eating the bread and drinking the juice, we declare, “Christ is at the center of my life; He is at the core of my being. I want my life to merge with His. Without Him to sustain me, I would die of hunger, I would collapse from thirst. For me to live is Christ.”