. . . Or What Jesus Meant When He Said, “Whoever Feeds on My Flesh and Drinks My Blood Has Eternal Life”
The previous day Jesus had fed 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish. Then that night he walked miles across the Sea of Galilee before catching up with his disciples in their boat.
The crowd he had fed followed him to Capernaum. And they knew something amazing must have happened. Last evening they had seen Jesus send his disciples away in the only boat available. Now here he was! Only a miracle could have gotten him there that fast. Another reason he should be king!
But just as the momentum was building, Jesus squashed it. To his adoring fans he said,
Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal (John 6:26-27).
Confused, they asked him how they could work to please God. He replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (v. 29, emphasis mine).
(Note to self: God is not looking for workers, he’s looking for believers.)
Jesus was a hero to the crowd because he had fed them, just like Moses! But Jesus discerned something very wrong about their enthusiasm. They were excited about eating “bread from heaven.” And indeed, Jesus had come to give them bread from heaven. But not that kind of bread. Jesus had not come to give them perishable food for their perishable bodies. He had come to give them imperishable food for their imperishable souls.
So to reveal the food they were really after Jesus began to make statements that sounded very strange. He told them that he was the true bread from heaven that gives life to the world and whoever eats this bread would live forever. Then he said, “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (v. 51).
This sounded weird. It sounded like cannibalism. The crowd balked. And he pressed it even further:
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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink (John 6:53-55).
The “Jesus for King” campaign evaporated. The people walked away shaking their heads. The crazy man wants us to eat his flesh! They completely misunderstood what Jesus was saying.
So what did he mean? Here are the clues:
- How do you labor for the food that endures to eternal life? Believe in Jesus (v. 27, 29).
- “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me [in faith] shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35).
- “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (v. 40).
- “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life” (v. 47).
For Jesus eating is believing; drinking is believing. He promises eternal life to those who believe in him.
Believe what? Well, believe everything he says. But, specifically here, believe that his death—the breaking of his body and spilling of his blood—pays in full the penalty for our sin and that his perfect righteousness is freely given to us in exchange for our unrighteousness. That is what John 3:16 means.
Believing this is how we “eat” Jesus’ flesh and “drink” his blood. This is precisely why he instituted the Lord’s Supper: he did not want us to forget the very core of what we believe about him.
When the crowd took offense at his hard words, Jesus said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe” (vv. 63-64). Some of the Lord’s hard words are designed expose unbelief.
Peter likely did not fully understand what Jesus meant at the time—just like there are plenty of things we don’t fully understand. But Peter didn’t walk away. Instead said to Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vv. 68-69).
Let’s you and I imitate Peter.