Written Word

Did Jesus Teach That We Must Eat His Flesh and Blood? – Part 1

“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)

How are we to understand these words of Jesus? Controversy has surrounded our Lord’s words: some hold that the words of Jesus are to be understood literally, while others hold that his words are to be understood figuratively.

Some Scriptures can be misunderstood without affecting our relationship with God. The words of Jesus are not in that category. A correct understanding of his words is imperative if we are to be saved from death and given “life.” So we will proceed by examining Scripture within its context and comparing Scripture with Scripture. Therefore we will examine the entire sixth chapter of the gospel of John to ensure a correct interpretation of our Lord’s words.

The Feeding of the 5,000

A large crowd followed Jesus because of the miracles he performed on all who were sick (vs. 2). The crowd needed to be fed and Jesus said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (vs. 5) Philip calculated that even eight months wages would not be enough to feed such a large crowd. (vs. 7) Andrew stepped forward with his solution to the problem, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fishes…” (vs. 9) He expected Jesus to work a miracle. So Jesus had the people sit down, then took the boy’s loaves and fishes, gave thanks to the Father and miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes for distribution among the 5,000 people. When everyone had eaten there were still twelve baskets filled with food. (vs. 13) A well-fed people responded, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”(vs. 14) They were referring to the Prophet whom Moses said would come. (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). The response of Jesus to their overtures is interesting. “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (vs. 15) Knowing the condition of their hearts, Jesus refused to submit to their intended coronation. They saw Jesus as the solution to their problems: he met their material needs and they had hopes that he would rid their country of the Romans, since the common view was that this is what the promised Prophet, the Messiah, would do.

The Journey to Capernaum

That evening the disciples were making their way by boat to Capernaum. Jesus was not with them. But that night the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water. (vs. 20) He joined them in the boat for the remainder of the journey to Capernaum. The following day the crowd realised that Jesus was not in the vicinity and concluded he must have gone to Capernaum. So they journeyed there.

When they met Jesus he said to them, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (vs. 26) What did Jesus mean? Jesus is telling them that they have not sought him because his miracles confirm that he is the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, the One foretold by the prophets. They sought him, Jesus said, because of the material benefits he provided. This is confirmed by what he says next.

Jesus continues, “Do not work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (vs. 27) Knowing what motivated them to seek him, Jesus is saying that they made a poor choice. They pursued him for food that will spoil. They need to pursue him for the food he can give that will impart eternal life. At this point Jesus is contrasting the material with the spiritual, a teaching he will continue throughout this discourse.

Upon hearing Jesus speak about working for food that endures, they respond in typical legalistic fashion. “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (vs. 28) They are asking Jesus to give them a list of duties, works to perform, goals to achieve so that they can make themselves right with God. But Jesus says that a relationship with God is not based upon performance. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (vs. 29) Jesus is saying that if you want to do the works of God, then believe in me whom God has sent. That’s what God wants you to do! All who believe have been enabled to believe because of the work of God in their hearts. (Romans 10:14) The faith to believe is a gift from God. The only acceptable response to “the food that endures to eternal life” is not works, performance, but faith, trust, belief, obedience.