52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
(John 6:52-59 NIV)
Jesus was talking to the group of people that had tracked Him back to Capernaum after Jesus fed the masses on the other side of the lake. They were after free bread, and Jesus offered them the Eternal Bread of Life, Himself.
Then Jesus tells them something so scandalous they can barely believe He said it: to receive this eternal life, they must eat Jesus’ flesh. The crowd was still focused on the idea of manna, and Jesus starts talking about cannibalism! In their natural minds, the group is utterly lost and bewildered. They have no idea of what Jesus is speaking. The crowds had been grumbling before; now it was pointed (sharp) arguments among themselves (v. 52).
Verse 53 begins with “Very truly I tell you…” (KJV – Verily, verily, I say unto you…; Greek – “Amen, amen…”). “Listen up, people – what I am about to tell you is important!”
Jesus goes on to raise the bar even more – we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have any life in us at all. No wonder the people were confused! These were kosher Jewish people that Jesus was talking to – obedience to God’s Law was of utmost importance to them. To even consider such an act would likely cause an adverse physical response, with people running away and vomiting at the very thought of such an outrageous request.
So what was Jesus saying? Was Jesus talking about literally eating His flesh and drinking His blood as a cannibalistic practice? Or was there a deeper meaning?
Jesus’ statements were straightforward and profound in substance, and spiritual in nature. Jesus was referring to the reference that Moses had taught the Israelites, that humanity does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Jesus is telling us that eternal life cannot be earned, but must be received, just as the Israelites received the gift of manna from God. Also, the manna had to be consumed to do any good. Jesus is saying that we must eat His words, chew on them and digest them and let their goodness nourish our inward parts, our very souls, just as food nourishes our body.
In verse 58, Jesus wraps us His thoughts by reminding the crowd that their ancestors ate manna and died. The manna only extended physical life; it did not offer eternal life like the bread that Jesus offered.
John waits to add the final “rest of the story” detail to the end of the scandal: Jesus said all these things while teaching in the Capernaum synagogue. Jesus had publicly gone from hero to zero in the course of two days. Jesus was misunderstood once again, and the tide of favor was turning against Him.
What is our reaction to Jesus’ words? Are we willing to eat His spiritual flesh and drink His spiritual blood as He offers? Do we yearn for eternal life and stick with Jesus, or do we turn away in disgust and disillusionment?
Are we “fans”, or “followers”?
Do we regularly feed on Jesus’ words? Are we healthy, or are we malnourished?