Let’s just be honest here. This is a really difficult text, if not the most difficult text, if we think about it. Granted if we see it from our perspective in history, we can easily see it figuratively and move on. But if you were first century listener? And in the crowd?
49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
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.
If you were in the crowds, there is no way you couldn’t think of cannibalism. Eat my flesh? Drink my blood? I’m sure missionaries have a hard time explaining this one in cannibalistic cultures like Papua New Guinea.
55 “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
We have the perspective of history in seeing the cross. That this is a reference to Jesus’ broken body and blood poured out that saves our souls for eternity. They did not have this perspective. And Jesus did not explain it to them.
The Building Up
The message of “believe” has been strong throughout John and especially up to this point. Already 28 times the word “believe” has been emphasized. And especially in the context of this teaching: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (Jn 6:29).
So the Jews asked, “show us a sign.” He had already showed them signs. He had just fed the 5000 and they didn’t believe. They probably weren’t going to believe another one. Plus, Jesus did miracles to serve, not to show-off.
So Jesus said that he the bread from heaven gave eternal life.
“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life that comes down from heaven.”
The Jews grumbled because he said, “I came down from heaven.”
Missing the point that Jesus was the bread of life.
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus said. And then he gave them something really to grumble about.
He then said that he was the bread of life, and anyone who ate this bread would never die.
The Jews then began “to argue sharply.” It got worse.
That’s when Jesus says to drink his blood and eat his flesh.
Many of his disciples said this was a hard teaching. And many of them turned back and no longer followed him (6:66).
Eating and Believing
It seems strange that the more they argued, Jesus didn’t explain himself, but actually intensified the conversation. They were missing the point of the bread. That he was their source of eternal life.
For Jesus, “eating” was believing and “drinking” was believing. Believing in him.
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
We see clearly again that for Jesus, this text was about believing in him. Life can only be sustained with food and drink. Actual food and drink. And Jesus was indeed the actual source of life. His body and his blood would become the actual means for us to have eternal life, when we “consume” him.
The Leaving and the Staying
I’m really glad that I wasn’t there at the time. Because without the perspective of the cross, this would have been a very, very difficult teaching. The masses left, Many disciples left. And Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (6:67).
That brings me to think on things. Honestly in the Christian life there are times where we don’t understand what God is doing or saying. But will we still believe? Will we still believe when God heals others but not our loved ones? If we were to live through the Holocaust, would we still believe even if he didn’t immediately deliver us? Will we still believe when our prayers seem good and reasonable and there seems no answer from heaven? Will we still believe when we suffer and it appears there is no deliverance?
I’m quite sure the Twelve didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching any more than anybody else. They were frequently “slow to understand.”
Many had left already. And I’m sure with words to the Twelve, “This man is crazy. You’re following a cannibalistic lunatic. But your losses and go.”
But even in the strong liklihood that the Twelve were just as deeply bothered as the masses, Peter answers with such faith and love.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (6:68-69).
And when Peter said this, he was dining on fresh bread–Belief.
He didn’t have all the answers to his questions. But he believed Jesus. And he knew there was no second person to fall back on, or another place to go. Just Jesus. Even when he didn’t understand.