Jesus is in the synagogue at Capernaum. The crowds have come across the Sea of Galilee to be fed just like they had been fed miraculously the day before with the miracle that fed the 5000. Jesus has affirmed to them that he is the bread of life who has come down from heaven and the reason they do not come to Jesus is because the Father has not drawn them (6:44). Now Jesus reiterates his points that he has been trying to make to these people, which we read in verses 48-51.
The Problem of Continuing Unbelief (6:48-52)
Jesus states it again: “I am the bread of life.” But notice the direction that Jesus goes in verses 49-50. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” It is important to consider that the focus of the discussion is not on physical death but on spiritual death. Jesus is not saying that he is the bread of life so that no one will die physically. Jesus has come so that no one would die spiritually, that is, to be eternally separated from God in everlasting torment. Now think about what Jesus is saying and I will pose it to you in the form of a question: why did the fathers who ate manna in the wilderness die? Think about why that first generation died in the wilderness. They grumbled and complained which were symptoms revealing their unbelief.
For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:16–19 ESV)
Grumbling is a symptom of continuing unbelief.
Notice back in verse 41 what the people are doing about Jesus. They are grumbling about him. Why are they grumbling? They are grumbling because of their unbelief. Go back to John 6:36. “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” We have noted throughout our study of John how the author of this gospel continues to use imagery from Israel’s history recorded in the Old Testament to show Jesus to be the Son of God. Here we see Israel is acting toward Jesus the exact same way it acted toward God when they were in the wilderness in the days of Moses. The people are persisting in unbelief as seen in their grumbling and the result will be the same. They will miss out on the life the Father is offering through Jesus.
Verse 51 sums up the message. Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. Jesus has said this many times but now he is going to be very direct about what it means for Jesus to be the living bread. “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus is going to give his body as the means for the life of the world. This throws the crowds completely out of sorts. Notice it in verse 52.
“The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'” (John 6:52 ESV)
A lack of spiritual seeking and spiritual depth is a symptom of continuing unbelief.
Once again we are seeing a crowd of people who do not want to understand what Jesus is saying. They lack spiritual perception. They do not desire to comprehend what Jesus is trying to tell them. But Jesus does not relax what he is saying but makes his teaching even more challenging to their stone hearts. Remember when Nicodemus did not understand about the new birth in the third chapter, Jesus did not walk away and give up. Nor did Jesus simplify the answer. Jesus continue to try to take those who were listening on a spiritual journey to greater spiritual truths to shine light on dark hearts. Remember that we are blinded by the world and darkened in our hearts and need the sledgehammer of God’s word to break into our lives and generate faith.
There is an important lesson here before we continue forward. We learn that the goal is not to dumb down the scriptures and oversimplify everything God said. God’s word is challenging not because God make things hard but because our hearts are spiritually dull. So when we hear things that are hard or confusing, we should not give up but dig deeper. You should not want sermons dumbed down to watery mush. You should not want our Bible classes and our community groups to be plain and basic. Jesus never did that. He never dumbed down God’s teaching. I know there are times when the teaching that comes from the pulpit and in our classes feels way over our heads. Don’t let that be discouraging but awe-inspiring and fill you with a desire to learn it.
What True Belief Looks Like (6:53-59)
So Jesus presses into this crowd with a greater depth of teaching and it is from here that we will learn what true belief and saving faith looks like.
So Jesus said to them, “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. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:53–56 ESV)
Before we can explain what Jesus is speaking about, let’s discuss what Jesus is not teaching. Many have come to this text and believe that Jesus is talking about the Lord’s Supper. One can quickly see why this would be a desirable interpretation. Eating his flesh and drinking his blood sounds very much like the memorial of the Lord’s Supper where we take the bread to remember Christ’s body and take the fruit of the vine to remember Christ’s blood that was shed to establish the new covenant.
But Jesus is not referring to the Lord’s Supper for a number of reasons. First, the words are wrong. When the Lord’s Supper is written about in scriptures, the word for “flesh” is never used. It is always the body of Christ. These are two different Greek words and the English translations are right to make the distinction. Second, the audience would have had no chance of understanding what Jesus was saying if he is referring to a memorial that has not even been established yet. Third, and the strongest argument in my opinion, is that if Jesus is referring to the Lord’s Supper, then Jesus is teaching that there is only one necessary thing to inherit eternal life and that is to participate in the Lord’s Supper (6:54). So let’s take this image and consider what Jesus is teaching.
The picture is to be completely consumed by Christ. We are called to be completely consumed in the life and death of Jesus, his flesh and his blood. You will be so utterly consumed in Christ that it is like you are eating his flesh and drinking his blood. To use what we have been learning in this chapter, true saving belief is that which causes you to joyfully and persistently consume Christ. Notice how Jesus has done this in his teaching. Look first at verse 54:
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Now look back to verse 40:
“Everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Notice that the structure of the sentence are exactly the same. What does it mean to look on the Son and believe in him? The answer is in verse 54. It means that we feed on Christ’s flesh and drink Christ’s blood. Now what does this mean? I know the imagery is strange and difficult. What is Jesus telling us to do? Verse 55 helps us comprehend where Jesus is taking us. “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” Jesus is what you truly need. Jesus is what you truly need for living now. Jesus is what you truly need for satisfaction now. Jesus is what your truly need to fill the hole in your soul. Jesus is what you truly need for true, everlasting life. Jesus is true food (6:55). He is what brings us to eternal life. His blood is true drink, a drink that takes away one’s thirst, not temporarily but forever. Nothing else is true food. It is like only eating donuts for your meals. Yes, donuts are food but they are not true food and consuming them will kill you. Jesus is the only true food in this life. Yet we try to be satisfied by everything but Jesus.
Further, the eating and drinking is not a one time event but a repeated activity of faith (6:56). Listen to verse 56: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” How we abide in Christ is not through externals, but a life immersed in Christ so that it is satisfied in Christ alone. Verse 57 continues to amplify a life immersed and satisfied in Christ.
“As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” (John 6:57 ESV)
What does it mean that Jesus lives because of the Father? Answering this will help us understand what we are supposed to do. Jesus’ life is all about doing the will of the Father. Jesus is consumed with the Father. Jesus’ life is immersed in obedience to the Father. Jesus’ finds his satisfaction and joy in the Father. We saw this truth back in chapter 4 when the Samaritan woman understands that she is talking to the Messiah and comes to faith.
“Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.'” (John 4:34 ESV)
Jesus is totally consumed by the Father. Everything he does is for the Father and he finds joy and satisfaction in doing so.
Now let’s read the rest of verse 57. “So whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” Keep the parallel intact. The point is not that we will have eternal life because we feed on Jesus. That point was made in verse 54. And we know this is not the point because Jesus does not have eternal life because of the Father. Jesus is God. True life is the point. Jesus lives for the Father. His life is because of the Father. Our life is to be consumed in Christ just as Christ’s life is consumed in the Father. Life is only found through continual union to his flesh and blood. We live because of Jesus and union with him (6:57). Jesus lives through living fellowship with the Father. We live through living fellowship with the Son. Everything about our life is completely about Jesus. This is what it means to truly believe. Our joy is derived from Jesus. Our satisfaction is in Jesus alone. This is why Jesus keeps using food metaphors and why he is speaks of this faith as eating and drinking in our present context. Eating and drinking is what our body needs and doing so gives us temporary satisfaction. Eating and drinking Christ is what our soul needs and doing so gives us eternal joy and satisfaction. Jesus is the food and drink we need and we will live for him and be consumed by him because he is that food and drink.
As we conclude I want us to go back to verse 53. Notice what Jesus says about our condition. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” There is no life in us apart from consuming Christ. We cannot find life on our own. Our actions apart from Christ will not bring us life. Jesus has been trying to make this point repeatedly throughout this chapter to these listeners in the synagogue. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” We do not have life in ourselves. There is nothing within ourselves to save us. There is nothing righteous or good about us that can bring us life. We need the bread of life. We need to be given life because every one of us is dead in our sins. But that life is not found in passive following. That life is not found in performing a few acts of obedience. Life is found in consuming Christ. This pictures a dedication and desire for Christ above all else because he is all-satisfying.
Pray to God today to start finding your satisfaction in him. Read his word and see how good the Lord is to you. Start moving yourself to a deeper relationship with him. If you need help to begin this walk to make Jesus all-satisfying to you, let one of us know so that we can meet with you and help you get on the right path.