The flesh and blood of the Son of Man. 6:51-59
Jesus' discourse on the bread of life, which began in v25, comes to a pointed conclusion in these verses. In the wilderness, the children of Israel ate manna and were sustained for their journey to the promised land. Yet, they all inevitably died. Jesus, on the other hand, provides a food that will sustain to eternal life. This food is his flesh and blood, that is, it is his sacrificial offering of himself upon the cross. The person who eats his body and drinks his blood is the person who believes in Jesus the crucified Christ. This person looks to the lifted up one, they trust in Christ's provision for salvation and as a consequence, they gain the prize of eternal life.
v51. In this verse, Jesus advances his argument a step further. He is now explicit about the necessity of eating the "living bread" - the bread of life. Jesus also makes the point that he gives this bread and that the bread that he gives is his flesh. The image of eating Jesus' flesh serves to illustrate the necessity of believing in Christ's pascal sacrifice for the life of the world.
v52. The stark nature of Jesus' words prompt an argument among the audience and leads to offence. Jesus' words are obviously figurative, but a figure of what? Their concern is focused on how Jesus intends giving his flesh for them to eat. We are being led to see this giving in terms of Christ's giving of himself as a sacrifice for sin.
v53. As for Christ's sacrifice for sin, we must eat and drink it, that is, believe in Christ the crucified messiah. Without this belief we have no life within us; we do not possess eternal life.
v54. Believing, putting our trust in the crucified Christ (eating and drinking his body and blood), brings life eternal, and this life will be experienced in all its wonder and majesty in the day of resurrection.
v55. Manna was amazing food, but it was not the real thing, it was not life-giving. Christ's sacrifice is the real thing; it is the life-giving food.
v56. The person who believes in Christ is one with Christ, united to Christ - indwells Christ and is indwelt by Christ. The person identified with Christ and his cross, dies with Christ, rises with Christ and reigns with Christ.
v57. The Father possesses life in himself and in union with the Father, the Son possesses life in himself. Those who believe on the Son become one with him, and so similarly possess life in themselves.
v58. Jesus' sacrifice is the true heavenly bread, the life-giving bread. The people of Israel ate manna in the wilderness, but this bread from heaven only sustained them in their journey to the promised land. Those who eat the bread that Jesus gives, who believe in the lifted-up one, will be sustained to life eternal.
v59. In concluding this discourse on the bread from heaven, John notes that it was delivered to the congregation at the synagogue in Capernaum.
John, the evangelist's gospel|
The theologian C.H. Dodd commented long ago that the discourses, or if you like, sermons that are found in John's gospel, are simply evangelistic presentations. Each sermon, in a slightly different way, proclaims the gospel. Our passage for study comes from one such sermon which is often titled The Bread of Life.
In the sermon The Bread of Life we are reminded that Jesus is the source of spiritual life, eternal life. As the people of Israel journeyed to the promised land, they were sustained with heavenly food, manna. Yet, this miraculous food only sustained them for the journey; it had no spiritual function. Jesus, on the other hand, supplies a miraculous food, a food for eternal life. The food Jesus supplies is the offering of himself upon the cross for the sins of broken humanity. If we eat this food, that is, if we believe on the crucified Jesus, then we are sustained to eternal life.
With evangelistic sermons like this, it's no wonder that John's gospel is often given to people enquiring about Christianity. Yet today, enquirers are usually given Mark's gospel. The shift from John's gospel is usually driven by the notion that its imagery can easily confuse an enquirer. Take, for example, our passage for study; the metaphor of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood is by no means an easy image to grasp. In the early years of the Christian faith it was rumored that believers actually ate infants in their "love feasts". We can guess were this idea came from.
Yet, it is interesting how Jesus is quite happy to proclaim the gospel using metaphors, or more particularly, parables. John tells us that the congregation present when Jesus delivered this sermon was unable to understand the image of eating Jesus' flesh. Any fool would realize that Jesus' words were figurative, rather than literal, but what was it an image of? Did they understand that Jesus was speaking of the giving up of himself upon the cross as a sacrifice for sin? They were certainly offended and this because a crucified messiah is offensive to Jews, just as it is foolishness to Gentiles.
Jesus' words, on this occasion, sent some disciples on their way, but filtered out a remnant who stayed. Jesus later asked, "do you also wish to go away?", Peter answered, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life."
"The gospel is the power of God unto salvation"; it is a message that transcends both the words with which it is conveyed and the speaker who conveys it. We don't need to be concerned about the images used in John's gospel, for the truth of the gospel transcends the image. If the gospel of John is the evangelist's gospel, then maybe we should keep using it as our preferred gospel tract.
Consider which scripture portion you would give to an enquirer. Support your choice.
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