52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “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 you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. – John 6:52-59 ESV
As strange as this whole conversation has been, what makes it even more bizarre is the realization that it all took place in the local synagogue in Capernaum. For some unexplained reason, John chose to withhold this bit of information until now. That Jesus made this important announcement about the bread of life in the synagogue is significant because it was the place where the Jews gathered to listen to God’s Word. As the Son of God and the living Word of God, He was expounding on the written Word of God, conveying new truth regarding His Father’s plan of redemption for mankind.
Yet His choice of location for revealing this information did not make the news any easier to understand or accept. The Jews in His audience were confused and, most likely, a little turned off by the thought of what He was saying. And they made their distaste and disbelief known.
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” – John 6:52 ESV
What Jesus was saying was implausible and totally unappealing. Everything about His claim sounded ridiculous and unacceptable to His audience. Notice their emphasis on Jesus’ humanity. They refer to Him as “this man.” They were still wrestling with the fact that Jesus was “the son of Joseph” (John 6:42 ESV). They knew who His parents were and so His claim to have “come down from heaven” made no sense to them. He was nothing more than a man. Even those who had been part of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 and had expressed awe at what they had witnessed, had wondered aloud whether Jesus was “the Prophet we have been expecting” (John 6:14 NLT). To them, Jesus was just a man and nothing more. And because He was a mere man, they could not fathom what Jesus meant by eating His flesh.
But rather than providing much-needed clarification, Jesus simply expands on His thoughts and adds to their confusion.
“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” – John 6:53-56 NLT
It is easy to imagine the looks of consternation on the faces of His audience as Jesus paints this rather unpleasant visual image. What they heard Jesus describing was cannibalism, plain and simple, and the fact that Jesus had added the aspect of drinking His blood made it all the more repulsive. In His law, God had strictly forbidden the consumption of blood.
“And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood—neither you nor the foreigners living among you.’” – Leviticus 17:10-12 NLT
Yet, here was Jesus making the audacious claim that eating His flesh and drinking His blood was the key to eternal life. God had warned that the drinking of blood would bring permanent banishment from community, but Jesus was claiming that drinking His blood would result in permanent communion with God. For the Jews in the synagogue that day, it was all contradictory and confusing.
What they failed to understand was that Jesus was speaking about belief. He had told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47 ESV). They believed Jesus could do miracles. Some believed He might be the prophet Moses had spoken about. Others were beginning to believe that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But none were accepting the fact that He was the Son of God who had come down from heaven. When they looked at Jesus, they saw a man. And the idea that He could also be a co-equal with God was unfathomable and unacceptable.
Yet, Jesus was informing them that it was His deity and humanity that would make salvation possible. He was the bread of life that had come down from heaven. He was God incarnate – God in human flesh. And all the imagery concerning His flesh and blood had to do with His coming death. He was going to lay down His life as payment for the sins of mankind. He would allow His body to be broken and His blood to be shed so that sinful men and women might have receive permanent cleansing and release from their condemnation of death.
Luke provides a description of the night on which Jesus shared a final Passover meal with His disciples. At one point, He repurposed the unleavened bread and the wine served with the meal in order to make a point about His death, which was just hours away.
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” – Luke 22:19-20 ESV
Jesus was letting His disciples know that it was His body that was going to be sacrificed on their behalf. As the Son of God, He had taken on human flesh so that He might become the acceptable sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The author of the book of Hebrews provides further insight into this substitutionary aspect of Jesus’ death.
For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,
“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”
First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:4-10 ESV
What Jesus was trying to convey to His audience in the synagogue was the necessity of His deity and humanity. He had to be divine so that He could live in perfect obedience to the will of God. He had to be human so that He could serve as an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Animal sacrifices were not enough. The blood of bulls and goats could not offer permanent cleansing from sin. Only Jesus, the God-man, could be an acceptable sacrifice, fully satisfying the just and holy judgment of God against the sinfulness of humanity.
The author of Hebrews adds: “But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand” (Hebrews 10:12 NLT). Jesus eventually accomplished His mission. He fulfilled the will of His Father and offered Himself up as the unblemished Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). He gave His life so that sin-enslaved humanity might be restored to a right relationship with God.
The crowds had come looking for another free meal that might satiate their physical appetites for another day. But Jesus was offering so much more. He was letting them know that He came to offer a permanent solution to their very real problem of sin and death. They all stood before Him condemned and worthy of death. They were guilty of rebellion against a holy God. But Jesus, the Son of God, had come to earth to serve as the sole solution to their pressing sin problem.
But they were going to have to believe in Him. They would have to accept His claim to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:16-18 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.