“THIS IS A TEST. THIS IS ONLY A TEST.” Have you heard those words before? Those words are a warning to all who are listening and watching, telling them that this is only a practice session, and informing them that, if this was an actual alert, instructions would be given to prepare each person for what was about to happen. As you listened to those words, were you trusting that the one who was speaking them was telling you the truth, and was speaking with authority?
Author C.S. Lewis made the following statement concerning belief and authority. He said, “Believing things ‘on authority’ only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there is such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so.. The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority – because the scientists say so. Every historical statement is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them; in fact, on authority. A person who balked at authority in other things, as some people do in religion, would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”
Since the very beginning of His ministry, the Lord Jesus has been speaking with authority, and this authority has been attested to by John the Baptist, by the voice of the Father from heaven at His baptism, and by the miracles He has performed. Let’s see how the Jewish leaders and the crowd respond when Jesus’ words seem offensive, and they don’t understand what He means by what He is saying.
Jesus is in the synagogue in Capernaum, and He’s been telling the people in the synagogue that He is “the bread of life”, and that whoever eats of this bread will not die but will live forever. The crowd is taking His words literally, thinking that He is talking about physical bread. They are bewildered by His words because they don’t understand how this can be physically possible.
I. REPETITION AND ADDITION (verse 51)
In chapter 6, verse 51 of John’s gospel, Jesus repeats this statement about Himself, but this time He adds a trailer at the end of it. He says, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Notice that Jesus did not say “my body”, but “my flesh”. The Greek word is “sarx”, and Jesus is going to use that word six more times before this conversation is over. As the saying goes, the Lord Jesus has “opened a can of worms” and there is going to be a repulsive reaction from the crowd. Get ready for some negative repercussions!
II. THE RESPONSE (verse 52)
How did the people react to those words? Verse 52 says, “The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying, ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” They must have thought that Jesus was talking about some form of cannibalism. The Greek word translated “argue” literally means to “fight” or “quarrel”. They are “fighting mad” and are taking out their anger on each other in the presence of Jesus. Notice the words they use to refer to Jesus, calling Him “this man”. After all the things that Jesus has said and done so far in His public ministry, they refuse to consider Him to be anymore than just a man. They’ve shut their eyes and closed their ears and their minds to everything they have seen and heard. Ironically, many of those present didn’t close their mouths to the free food that was miraculous provided for them on the previous day!
I used to wonder, “Why didn’t Jesus tell them He wasn’t speaking literally but figuratively, and then explain to them what He meant by those words? I now think that a more appropriate question is, “Why didn’t they ask Jesus to explain to them what He meant?” The answer to both of those questions is the same: the crowd didn’t want an explanation. What they were looking for was an excuse and an opportunity to kill Him. As John 5:18 says, “This was why the Jews sought all the more to kill Him . . .”. Maybe that’s why they were arguing so vehemently with each other – they may have been fighting about how they were going to kill Him and who was going to do it. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that those thoughts were in their minds.
The crowd may have missed the words “for the life of the world” because of the shocking words that preceded them. Jesus was saying that what He was offering them wasn’t for the Jews only, but for everyone. As the apostle John says of Jesus in I John 2:2, “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
III, EATING AND DRINKING – FLESH AND BLOOD (verses 53-58)
Rather than calming the angry crowd, Jesus makes a series of statements that are even more repulsive to His audience. He begins by saying, in verse 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 yourselves.” In John’s gospel, we find that Jesus often uses the phrase “Truly, truly, I say to you”. He does so, not because He is telling the truth in this case, but because He is letting His listeners know that He has firsthand knowledge of what He is about to say, and therefore is speaking with authority. He is also implying that they should, therefore, pay close attention to what He is saying.because it is very important information that applies to them.
When Jesus said, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood”, what did He mean by those words? Why did He say them? There is a tendency to look for similarities between Jesus’ words to this crowd and the words He said to His disciples at the Last Supper. But Jesus was not referring to the Lord’s Supper (or Communion) in this conversation here in John 6. He did not intend His statement to be taken literally. He is using an analogy to communicate spiritual truths in the context of what they have already been talking about. This is one of the many times in John’s gospel where Jesus uses symbolism to communicate spiritual lessons. We have already studied Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, where Jesus compared the wind that was blowing that evening to the Holy Spirit, and told Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the spirit in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. In His conversation with the woman at the well, Jesus compared the water in the well to the living water He would give her, and if she drank from it, she would never thirst again but would have everlasting life. So what does Jesus have in mind on this particular occasion?
Here in verses 53-58, as the Lord Jesus uses those words several times with some alterations, get ready for a history lesson, a principle of philosophy, and another short course in Greek grammar in order to understand what He really means by those statements. Firstly, the differences between His words spoken here and those spoken much later at the last supper are much greater and more numerous than any possible similarities.
A. A HISTORY LESSON
When the Lord Jesus celebrated the Last Supper (the Passover feast) with His disciples, He did not say “This is my flesh”, He said, “This is my body“. He also did not say, “This is my blood”. Rather, He said “This is the new covenant in my blood”. Luke 22:20 says, “And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood’.” ‘The focus of His attention is on the cup and the new covenant. The Lord’s Supper (Communion) is not a sacrifice but a remembrance. The apostle Paul addresses this issue to the Corinthian church in I Corinthians 11 because of misunderstandings concerning the Lord’s Supper. Some members of the church at Corinth, along with many in churches today, mistakenly thought (or think) that eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord’s Table is essential for salvation, and that all who do so are guaranteed salvation. The apostle Paul quotes those words said by Jesus, and then, in verse 26, he summarizes by saying, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” Rather than being a source of salvation, the Lord’s Supper is not only a remembrance, but also a proclamation.
Looking again at the context of Jesus’ words on the way to the synagogue and in the synagogue, Jesus uses this analogy of flesh and blood because that was the initial subject of the conversation. He was comparing Himself to the manna which their forefathers ate after fleeing from Egypt. The Jews listening to Jesus took pride in the manna, considering it to be heavenly food which extended one’s lifespan, and asked Jesus to give them a sign like the manna. Jesus addressed this belief of theirs by saying that He is the living bread. He is greater than the manna because the life He offers lasts forever.
Rather than look ahead to the Last Supper to find a reason for Jesus’ words, it would be better to look back in history to the night when the first Passover was celebrated. Before the manna, there was the Passover meal. Before God sustained His people with the manna, He saved them from their bondage in Egypt. In order for this salvation to occur, a price had to be paid: death for life. In Exodus 12, each household of the sons of Israel was told to slaughter a lamb, roast its flesh and eat it along with unleavened bread and put the lamb’s blood on the two doorposts and the lintel of their home. When the death angel passed through Egypt that night, wherever he saw that blood he would “pass over” that house and the firstborn would be spared from death. The people of Israel would also be delivered that night from the bondage of Egypt, and God would lead them to the land He had promised them and give them a new life there. So the flesh and blood of the lambs were the instruments used by God to bring salvation, deliverance, and a new life for His people as they believed and obeyed the word of the Lord given to them through Moses. I believe that the original Passover was the Old Testament event that Jesus may have had in mind as a basis for comparison when He spoke of eternal life and deliverance through His flesh and blood.
B. A PRINCIPLE OF PHILOSOPHY
A second evidence that Jesus was referring to salvation comes from one of the branches of philosophy called logic. It is the science of evaluating arguments and determining sound reasoning. A fundamental law of reasoning is the following: “Two concepts which are equal to a third concept are also equal to each other.” That sounds logical, doesn’t it? Let’s see what Jesus is saying in verses 53-58 and then add up the results that come from the “eating” and “drinking”: 1) If you don’t do so, “you have no life in yourselves” (verse 53). So Jesus’ command is absolutely essential for eternal life. 2) He “has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (verse 54). It’s a guarantee of eternal life and physical resurrection. 3) “He abides in Me and I in him” (verse 56). Jesus speaks of an eternal relationship with Himself. 4) “he shall live because of Me” (verse 57). Jesus is saying that He is the source of that life. 5) “he . . shall live forever” (verse 58). Once again, the result of doing so is eternal life.
In each of His statements, Jesus is equating “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” to having eternal life as a result, correct? If we look ahead to verse 63, we find that Jesus says, ” . . . the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Jesus is telling His disciples afterward that he was speaking to the crowd in the synagogue about spiritual things and was not to be taken literally.
Now let’s compare Jesus’ words in verses 53-58 with other statements He made recently on the topic of eternal life. Several times the Lord Jesus has spoken clearly about eternal life and what was necessary on man’s part in order to receive it. In His discussion with Nicodemus, He began to speak clearly and literally in John 3:14-16, where He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.” For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The only other recourse given is that of perishing.
Later, in John 5:24, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” The only other option given is “judgment”.
Now, in the middle of this present conversation with the Jews, Jesus says, in verse 47, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.”
As you can see from these three statements made by Jesus, eternal life results only from believing, The logical conclusion, then, is that “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” is the same as believing in Him, with an emphasis on His atoning work, since both concepts have the same result.
C. A LESSON IN GREEK GRAMMAR (verse 53)
As you probably know, the Gospel of John, together with all the other books of the New Testament, was written in Greek. The English language, in this particular passage of Scripture, does not communicate the tense of certain verbs as clearly as the original Greek text because there are more tenses to Greek verbs than there are in English. In verse 53, Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Those two verbs (“eat” and “drink”) are in the aorist tense, denoting a one-time action. It is not continued or repeated, but is a once-and-for-all event. In passages of Scripture such as John 6;29, where Jesus asks people to believe in Him for eternal life, or tells them that they do not believe, the aorist tense is used also. This is another proof that the words, “eat my flesh and drink my blood” are equivalent to saving faith because they are both once-for-all events, using the same tense of the verbs.
D. A SECOND LESSON IN GREEK GRAMMAR (verses 54-58)
This second lesson is a new insight for me. Below is the New International Version translation of verses 54-58:
“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, This is the bread that
came down from heaven. Our forefathers ate manna and died,
but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”
The words “eats”, “drinks”, and “feeds” are verbs in this English translation, but in the original Greek text they are not verbs, but participles. You may be thinking, “Would you refresh my memory? Just what is a participle and what does it do?” I will be glad to do so, having just refreshed my own memory! Participles are verb-forms ending in “ing” which have the characteristics of both a verb and an adjective. To demonstrate that definition, let me write out for you verses 54-58 again, only this time you will see those verbs changed to participles. The words that I’ve enclosed in parentheses are implied in the Greek text.
The (one) eating my flesh and drinking my blood has eternal life and I will
raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.
The (one) eating my flesh and drinking 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) feeding on me will live because of me. This is the bread that
came down from heaven. Our forefathers ate the manna and died,
but the (one) eating this bread will live forever.
Does reading that literal translation give you a change of perspective? It did for me. The present participles put the emphasis on the believer rather than on believing. Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is a one-for-all event, demonstrated by the use of the Greek aorist tense. Once a person takes that step of repentance, faith, and commitment to Jesus Christ, thereby becoming a Christian, a life-long process begins (as demonstrated by the use of the present-participles). It’s called the “doctrine of sanctification”. This process includes growing in our relationship to the Lord through spending time with Him in His Word and in prayer, as well as through the fellowship with other believers. As verse 56 says, “(The believer) remains in me, and I in him.”). There is a closeness to God that becomes closer, and a fellowship with God that becomes deeper as the believer spends time with Him. It’s the abiding relationship that Jesus will later describe in John 15. There is also a deepening dependence upon God as the believer seeks to obey God, serve Him, and be a witness for Him. It’s the Father’s desire, and it should be our goal, to become more and more like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. So verses 51-53 focus on the beginning of spiritual life – how a person becomes a believer, and verses 54-58 describe the believer’s spiritual growth until the day when God calls him home to be in His presence and enjoy Him for eternity. The once-for-all event of believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, evidenced by genuine repentance for our sins and the surrender of our lives to His Lordship, then becomes a moment-to-moment fellowship with God, and obedience to our heavenly Father as His adopted children. When this life is over we will see God face-to-face and enjoy His presence and His love for eternity in heaven. Those are the three aspects of the doctrine of salvation: justification (the one-time event), followed by sanctification (the process of spiritual growth as His children), followed by glorification (with God for eternity in heaven).
IV. POINT OF REFERENCE (verse 59)
The apostle John ends this conversation of Jesus by letting us know where it occurred. We can’t say that this conversation didn’t happen because John documented it. John writes, “He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.” Our responsibility. as readers and students of God’s Word, is not to discount this conversation or overlook it, but to understand its spiritual meaning and apply it’s principles to our lives.
Where are you today in relation to this conversation between Jesus and the Jews in the synagogue in Capernaum? Do you understand what it means to believe in Jesus Christ? Do you realize the price that Jesus, the Son of God and the Lamb of God, is going to pay to make that relationship with God possible? Are you ready to commit yourself to follow the One who wants to give you a new, and an abundant life now, and eternal life with Him in heaven? Whether you are ready or not, please read my “About Page” to understand what that decision involves and the Scriptures that declare it.
If you have placed your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and your life bears evidence to that decision, are you growing daily as a result of your fellowship with Him? Are you enjoying His presence with you throughout your day, and learning to depend more and more on His strength and His faithfulness to supply your needs? Is it becoming more and more obvious to those around you that your faith is real and your joy is infectious? I hope so. That’s just part of God’s desire for His children, as revealed in His Word.
CONSTRUCTION SITE: COMPLETED
Welcome to this completed construction site. John 6:51-59 is a controversial passage of scripture with a number of viewpoints or interpretations. There can only be one correct interpretation, The Lord Jesus had a reason and motive for saying the things He said, and the apostle John was an eye-witness and wrote these words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.