“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” John 6:53-58.
Language is a wonderful gift from God and is very rich in meaning. If we are willing to meditate and exercise our minds, the language of Scripture opens up rich and wonderful things about God and His Son Jesus Christ. Language can also be a snare, and there are many errors that we make in the use of language.
For instance, two things that are compared to the same thing do not necessarily bear any resemblance to each other. Jesus said that He is the Good Shepherd. He also said that He is the Vine. Now, only a madman would therefore think that there is any resemblance between a Good Shepherd and a Vine. The Vine that Christ used in his comparison was no doubt the grape vine, which grows in the ground, taking nourishment from the ground and the air to produce branches and leaves and fruit. A shepherd, on the other hand, is a man whose job it was to watch sheep and feed them and protect them.
So it is in the passage before us. Jesus is comparing something to the eating of flesh and drinking blood. At another time, He took bread and wine, blessed them, and gave them to His disciples, saying, this is my flesh and my blood. It is true that on both occasions he was talking about the same thing, which we are going to explore today, but this does not mean that eating His flesh and drinking His blood means to eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper. They refer to the same thing, but that does not mean that they refer to each other, any more than Christ’s reference to a Good Shepherd includes a reference to a Vine, or that you must be a Vine in order to be a Good Shepherd.
To state it in another way: The Lord’s Supper is a figure of something; eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood is a figure of the same thing. This does not mean that eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper is the same thing as eating the flesh of Christ and drinking His blood.
Some people do not want to take the trouble to meditate and explore the language of Scripture, and they fall into folly and sin. So the Jews said of Christ, “It is wrong to work on the Sabbath; you are a sinner because you heal people on the Sabbath.” Unitarians say, “Jesus said his Father was greater than he; how could he be God?” Our Baptist brethren say, “But baptize means ‘immerse,’ why do you sprinkle?” And so forth. Often we say, “I just take the Bible for what it says.” Yes, but do you understand what it says? The Bible is to be understood within the communion of the saints; Ephesians four tells us that God has given us pastors and teachers to help us understand-not as lords over our faith, to command us without understanding–but to help us understand and learn; so that we do not fall into various kinds of errors.
My labor today is to try to help us see the reality that is referenced in both the Lord’s Supper and the words of Christ in John 6. Christ was emphatically NOT speaking of the Lord’s Supper in this passage, as we shall see, but He is speaking of the same reality that is figured in the Lord’s Supper and it is absolutely essential that we understand what that reality is, or we shall not be saved. “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you,” are the words of Christ, and we ignore them at the peril of eternal damnation. But let me set the stage for you.
- The Setting: The Feeding of the Five Thousand. (John 6:1-14)Christ had compassion on the multitude. He tested Philip to see what he would say. Philip’s reaction was practical. It would be impossible to buy enough bread.When Andrew brought up a lad who had brought his lunch, five loaves and two fish. Jesus had the multitude sit down, blessed and broke the loaves and fish, which multiplied under His hand, provided enough for all to eat. There were even twelve baskets left over. Was this for the twelve who served?
- Christ’s Withdrawal Across the Sea. (John 6:15-21)When Jesus perceived that they would take Him by force and make Him a king, and He went into the mountains to pray. Because he delayed return for a lengthy time, the disciples took a boat. A great storm arose and Jesus came to them, walking on the water. The multitude also crossed the sea, looking for Jesus, not knowing how He had crossed the sea.
- Christ’s Discourse on the Bread of Life: A brief Summary. (John 6:22-52)Jesus reproved them for only thinking of the bread and fish-they should do the works of God. They ask what the work of God is. He says that it is to believe on the one sent by God.Their reply was to downgrade his work in comparison to Moses. “You have fed us once, but Moses gave us bread for forty years.”
“Moses did not give you the true bread. Your fathers ate manna and are dead. If you eat the bread I will give you, you will live forever. The true bread is He who came down from heaven, not as Moses gave bread. If you eat the bread that I will give you, you will live forever.” The true bread is He who came down from heaven; not as Moses who gave bread to those who died. If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will never die. But only those who are taught of God can understand this. They illustrated the meaning of Christ’s words in themselves by striving among themselves and saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”
- This Brings Us to Our Text: What in the world did Christ mean? The answer will be found in verse 61-63.Jesus asks his disciples if they were offended, too. If they were, what would they do when Christ had physically ascended into heaven, which He did, as recorded in Acts 1. Christ is not now physically upon the earth, so how can we eat His flesh and drink His blood, if He is in heaven, and not on the earth?Men have tried to answer this question in various ways. The Roman Catholic church teaches the fiction of transubstantiation, the idea that the true priest can transform the bread of the Lord Supper into the true, physical body and blood of Christ.
Lutherans do something of the same thing, teaching that the bread is not transformed, but that the true, physical body and blood of Christ are physically eaten when we eat the bread and drink the wine of the Lord’s Supper.
Both make the fundamental error of not discerning the use of the language, and it is reflected in their whole system of doctrine and approach to the Scriptures.
Verse 63 says that it is the Spirit who gives life, that the flesh does not profit.. All life, both physical and spiritual is the work of the Holy Spirit. To look to the physical is to fall into a most serious error.
Physical life is from the Spirit: This is the reason that Christians ask God’s blessing on our food. Without the blessing of the Holy Spirit, our food will not be nourishing to us. “All things are clean unto you, if received with thanksgiving.” The spiritual is before the physical. We do not deny the physical, but give priority to the spiritual. We should pray to the Lord for all things physical; including medicines and operations.
Of course spiritual life is by the Holy Spirit. The words of Christ are the means by which the Holy Spirit gives life: vs.63b. The words are spirit: spiritual. The words go to the soul and the understanding, transforming the inner man. Just as nothing which enters the mouth can defile the man, so nothing that enters the mouth can make man holy and righteous.
- The Biblical truth concerning the body and blood of the Lord Jesus is found in vs. 51.The flesh and blood of Christ were given for the life of the world. He suffered to take away the curse that was on you and me because of Adam’s sin. This opened the way for us to return home to God, to fellowship and communion with God.We eat bread by chewing it with the teeth; we digest it in the stomach; it is marvelous transformed into our physical bodies by the process of metabolism.
We feed on Christ by believing His word; giving attendance to reading and preaching, by using the sacraments. The message concerning the meaning of the crucifixion of Christ becomes life for us when the Holy Spirit works faith in us. In this way we become partakers of His shed blood and broken body, by the Holy Spirit making it a part of our inner man, so that we live by the faith of the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us.