Eat My Flesh Jn. 6: 51-62 CLICK TITLE FOR AUDIO
When Jesus taught, he often related what he was teaching to the situation at hand. He used a proximate example as an illustration. The example was not literal, but typified a spiritual truth. For instance, in Mk 1:16-18, when he saw Peter and Andrew casting a net into the sea, he said, “Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Peter and Andrew understood that they weren’t going to need their nets to literally catch men; so, they left them. They made the spiritual connection.
In Matt 17:10-13, when Jesus was coming down from the mount of transfiguration, his disciples asked him why Elias must first come. He replied, “Elias is come already.” And his “disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.” They made the spiritual connection; he wasn’t talking about Elijah literally having come.
Even the wicked Pharisees could make the connection from time to time. In Matt 21:33-45, when Jesus gave them the parable of the householder who planted a vineyard and let it out to wicked husbandmen, the Pharisees “perceived that he spake of them.” They got it.
Sometimes when Jesus taught like this, it was hard for the disciples to make the connection. In Matt 16:6-12, after feeding 5,000 and then 4,000 miraculously, Jesus told the disciples to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.” They misunderstood him and thought he was talking about literal bread, since “they had forgotten to take bread.” Once he explained what he was telling them, “then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.”
Now we come to Jn 6:51-62, where Jesus said, “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” This is the proof text for the Roman Catholic Eucharist. The Catholic Church takes the passage literally and teaches that the priest, during the mass, literally turns the bread into the flesh of Jesus and the wine into the blood of Jesus. Then he serves it to the communicants and they eat it and drink it to have eternal life.
But, this passage is just like the other times that Jesus used a proximate example to teach a spiritual truth. The thing going on at the time of this lesson was the Passover [Jn 6:4]. This was the passover a year before the passover at which Jesus would be crucified a year later.
At the passover, the Jews had bread and a cup, just like you see in Matt 26:19-29, at the last supper. In Jn 6, the Jews were getting ready to keep the passover and so Jesus used that opportunity to connect the bread of that feast to his flesh and the cup of that feast to his blood, just like he did in Matt 26:26-28. He wanted them to know that he was their passover lamb [Jn 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7]. He wanted them to understand that his blood would cover them [Ex 12:13]. And they all knew that the blood of the passover was sprinkled, not drunk [2 Chr 30:16, 35:11].
And like the disciples misunderstood the illustration of the leaven because they hadn’t taken bread, many of these disciples misunderstood the example Jesus was giving because they had their minds on eating. Jesus had just fed the 5,000 the day before [Jn 6:10, 22]. And they had come to Jesus to eat more bread [Jn 6:26]. They had “eating” on their minds.
In Jn 6:51-62, Jesus was, obviously, not talking about his literal flesh. The Jews knew this, as you can see in Jn 6:52. There were strict prohibitions against eating flesh with the blood [Gen 9:4; Lev 17:10-14]. Jesus would have been advocating cannibalism. The ones who didn’t get it were offended [Jn 6:60-61] and turned away from following Jesus [Jn 6:66].
In Jn 6:62, Jesus posed a question that should have removed all doubt whether he was talking about his literal flesh and blood. “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” There is no way that you could eat his flesh and drink his blood, then. Catholics say, “No problem. We have transubstantiation, where the priest turns bread into his literal body and wine into his literal blood, so we can eat it as a sacrifice and offering.” This is deceitful business. The Lord’s Supper, like the Passover, is a memorial [Ex 12:14; 1 Cor 11:24-26], not a sacrifice. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t associate his flesh and blood with transubstantiated bread and wine; not here and not at the last supper.
Read Jn 6:51 and Matt 26:26-29 very carefully. In Jn 6:51 there is no “bread.” There is a man who is the “bread of life.” In Matt 26:26-29, there is no wine; it is the fruit of the vine. That’s fresh juice. And the bread doesn’t become flesh and the fruit of the vine doesn’t become blood. After calling the “cup” his blood, Jesus called the contents of the cup, “this fruit of the vine.” The contents were still juice. They had not become blood. And they don’t become blood in the mass, either.
The rest of the disciples made the spiritual connection that Jesus wanted them to make. He told them plainly that to have eternal life, they needed to believe on Jesus Christ and believe the words that he had spoken. Look at Jn 6:29, “believe on him.” Look at Jn 6:35, “believeth on me.” Jesus said that the trouble is, “ye also have seen me, and believe not.” Look at Jn 6:40, “believeth on him.” Look at Jn 6:47, “He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” Yet, Jesus said, “there are some of you that believe not,” [Jn 6:64]. After many of the disciples left, Peter said, “thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” [Jn 6:68-69]. He got it. He made the spiritual connection.
Conclusion: When Jesus Christ made the seemingly off the wall statements that he did in Jn 6:53-56, he wasn’t instituting the Eucharist. He was comparing himself to the elements in the passover feast, so that the disciples would know that he had come to fulfill the final sacrifice for sins as the Passover Lamb. They understood, and believed on him. Many others didn’t understand, and left him. Today, a religious sacrament is founded on this passage and the last supper and it is as wrong as the disciples were when they thought Jesus was talking about bread instead of false doctrine in Matt 16.