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Consuming Christ’s flesh and blood

Unsplash/Thays Orrico
Unsplash/Thays Orrico

The Apostle John recorded some unsettling words Jesus spoke one day, “While teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum” (John 6:59). Christ’s words were so distressing that "many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him” (John 6:66).

Here is the Messiah’s staggering declaration:

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:53-56).

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As one might expect, “the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (John 6:52) This difficult question has been asked by many people over the past 2,000 years. 

The Lord had just miraculously multiplied “five small barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:9) into enough food to feed thousands of people. And after first feeding their bodies, Jesus told them: “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and He who believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Jesus also said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

This statement matches perfectly with Christ's startling pronouncement a few verses later concerning His flesh and blood. The only difference is that instead of saying, “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life,” Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life …” (v. 54).

In other words, everyone who believes in Jesus as their Savior is simultaneously eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood. And no, the Lord was not promoting cannibalism.

Jesus was simply describing what we could call a spiritual eating of the physical Christ. This is food for the soul. Just as the body consumes food, the soul of man is able consume the Bread of Life. Only God knows how this supernatural consumption takes place.

If Jesus had stated that believers eat His spirit and drink His love, we might have called that a spiritual eating of the spiritual Christ. But instead, Jesus described a spiritual eating of the physical Christ.

Some have sought to link John 6 to the Lord’s Supper, but there are definite reasons why John 6 does not refer to the Eucharist.

First, Jesus said that you have no life in you unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood. And yet there have been many people over the centuries who have come to faith in Christ shortly before their death, without ever participating in the Lord’s Supper. Those believers are in Heaven today. 

Jesus also stated that everyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life. But what about people who have participated in the Lord’s Supper without being forgiven, saved, born again, justified and redeemed through faith in Christ? Does the participation of an unbeliever in Communion result in eternal life? No. 

When someone is not trusting Christ alone for salvation, his soul is not being fed with the Bread of Life, even if he chooses to eat the body (bread) and drink the blood (wine) of Christ in Communion. Attending a worship service or participating in the Eucharist does not make you a Christian. We are saved by grace through faith in what Christ did for us on the cross. Christian faith then motivates us to live for the Lord as God’s forgiven people (Eph. 2:8-10).

In addition, Jesus had not yet instituted the Lord’s Supper when He equated eating His flesh and drinking His blood with believing in Him as Savior (John 6:40,54). 

The Eucharist is actually a sacramental extension of what believers already receive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Lord’s Supper involves a sacramental eating of Christ’s body and blood which strengthens the faith of Christians. It is “a participation in the body of Christ" and “a participation in the blood of Christ” (1 Cor. 10:16). 

Think of it this way. There are 120,960 “five-second periods” in a week. If you are a believer in Jesus, your soul is eating Christ’s flesh and drinking Christ's blood during each one of those 120,960 time periods, including of course the many hours you are asleep. 

And when you receive bread and wine in Communion during one of those 5-second periods, you engage in a sacramental eating of Christ’s body and blood. This participation in the body and blood of Christ supernaturally enhances your spiritual consumption of the physical Christ, while strengthening your assurance of salvation through faith in Christ.

The Eucharist is a holy meal the Lord instituted for believers to help us stay focused on the fact that Jesus suffered and died on the cross for our sins. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). This sacrament has been cherished by Christians for 2,000 years. It involves the sacramental presence of Christ, just as the real presence of Christ dwells within every believer 24/7.

Jesus said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20). The Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), and “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).

Just as Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, Jesus is also truly present in the soul of every believer. And the moment you believed in Christ as your Savior, your soul immediately began to eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood. 

The Bread of Life is the only spiritual food that truly satisfies the soul, and only Jesus can give a person eternal life in Heaven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). And so you see; it is just like Jesus said: “He who comes to me will never go hungry” (John 6:35). 

There is no question that Christ’s words in John 6 are difficult to fully comprehend. But why anyone would overreact to the Lord's astonishing statements and turn away from the Bread of Life is beyond me.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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