53 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.
54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (John 6:53–57)
This passage is appealed to by Roman Catholicism to support its teaching of the Mass and the ‘transubstantiation’ that it says takes place with its elements. But what is the Lord actually talking about here, and why does He say it this way?
Before looking at the Lord’s discourse in John 6, we first need to recognize something very important about it, which is that in this discourse, (and in others like it), the Lord’s words are purposefully designed to make a special kind of impact upon the people of Israel. In other words the Lord says what He says, and He says it in the very unique way in which He says it, in order to provoke a particular kind of thinking and understanding to be generated in the minds of the people. Now we must realize this or we will not properly understand things like why the Lord says that He is the “bread of life,” or why He tells the people that they need to ‘eat His flesh and drink His blood.’ So let’s first note a few things about the special nature of this kind of discourse, so that we know the kind of thinking that they were designed to promote.
In each of these carefully constructed and specially worded discourses the Lord said things that were specifically designed to break through Israel’s ignorance and blindness concerning Him, which was primarily produced by the corrupt and erroneous teachings coming from Israel’s vain religious system. By these specially worded discourses the people were enabled to perceive things that they were not seeing, and to grasp things that they were not understanding, since they had not had certain things properly taught to them. Now in particular, (though not exclusively), these special discourses were designed (1) to break through the ignorance that was caused by the failure of Israel’s vain religious system to properly teach the people about the meaning of God’s name “Jehovah” and what would be involved in implementing God’s “Jehovah-ness” according to the Davidic Covenant; and (2) they were designed to overcome the ineptitude of Israel’s religious teachers as they failed to take the knowledge of things that took place when God originally educated Israel in His “Jehovah-ness,” and failed to connect them with the reality of who Jesus is, and what He had come to do for them, in fulfillment of God’s “Jehovah-ness.”
Now admittedly there is a lot involved in what I just pointed out. But simply put what it means in John 6 is this: In this particular discourse the Lord is dealing with the failure of Israel’s vain religious system to properly comprehend and teach the most fundamental matter about God’s “Jehovah-ness.” And along with this He also deals with their failure to comprehend and teach the most fundamental way by which the implementation of God’s “Jehovah-ness” would take place for Israel according to the Davidic Covenant. Wherefore as the Lord deals with these two fundamental failures He speaks to the people in a specially worded way, which is designed first of all to enable them to ‘see’ the object lessons that God had originally given them, by which He taught them these two most fundamental matters pertaining to His “Jehovah-ness.” Then He makes it so that they themselves can make the proper connection between those original object lessons and Himself, and they can thereby realize the truth of who He is and what He has come to do for them, as He, (being the Christ), begins to fulfill the Davidic Covenant.
This, then, is why in the first part of the discourse the Lord calls Himself “that bread of life.” Because when God originally gave Israel the manna — the “bread from heaven to eat” in the wilderness — He gave it to them as an object lesson, and He gave it during the time when He was pointedly educating them both in the meaning of His name “Jehovah” and in their need for His “Jehovah-ness.” Wherefore as that generation physically ate the manna with their mouths, (and as subsequent generations heard about it and read about it in the Scriptures), they were expected to ‘spiritually eat it with their minds,’ so to speak. That is, they were expected to be ‘chewing it over in their minds,’ and come to realize the object lesson that it was regarding the most fundamental meaning of God’s “Jehovah-ness” to them. Therefore God gave the manna to them as an object lesson of the fact that their ability to have “life” with Him depended upon His “Jehovah-ness”; and also that in accordance with the meaning of His name “Jehovah,” He Himself would ‘come down from heaven’ unto them in order to provide Himself as the means by which they could have “life.” And, of course, this is exactly who Jesus of Nazareth was in the midst of them.
Therefore with Jesus being who He is, and having ‘come down from heaven’ to them in fulfillment of what the manna represented, He then said to them at the end of this portion of His discourse…
48 I am that bread from heaven.
49 Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.
50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:48–51)
After saying this the Lord went on and said something else that He specially worded, and that He specifically designed to allow the people to ‘see’ something else, and to make a further necessary connection between Himself and another object lesson, or representation, that God had originally given to them. What’s more, when the Lord went on to give this particular aspect of His discourse, He did so in view of the fact that “the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh,” just as the beginning of chapter 6 noted; and He also gave it in view of the fact that after He had said what He did about being “that bread of heaven,” the people did not immediately make the connection, but rather “strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Wherefore the Lord gave a further specially worded statement by which He provided for them to make the connection between the feast of passover that they were about to partake of, and the particular object lesson/representation that it was of the actual means by which He, being Jehovah, would make it so that they could have “life” with Him. Hence as verse 53 relates…
53 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. (John 6:53)
The feast of passover was the first of the feasts on Israel’s calendar. And doctrinally-speaking God had designed it to work in connection with the previous ‘manna from heaven’ object lesson/representation, and to actually build upon it. It provided a further representation of God’s fundamental “Jehovah-ness” for Israel. And as such there was some further ‘spiritual eating’ that Israel needed to do in connection with what it taught. Wherefore by ‘spiritually eating’ the doctrine of the passover the people were to realize that as they ate the physical passover, it represented their need to be partakers of God’s fundamental “Jehovah-ness” for them, when He as “that bread of heaven” would not only come down from heaven to provide for them to have “life,” but He would also carry out the provision for them to have “life” by sacrificing Himself for them as the “Lamb of God,” so that they could “live.”
Now this is exactly what the Lord was going to do for them near the end of His ministry. He would give His life a ransom for them, and do it at the very time of the passover. But He would be the real passover sacrifice. However with the yearly foreshadowing passover feast being nigh at this time, by what the Lord said in John 6:53–59 He made the connection for the people, and thereby made it so that they could now ‘spiritually eat’ His words and “live” by them. He made it so that His words could overcome their ignorance and blindness produced by the failures and corrupt teachings of Israel’s vain religious system. He provided for them to ‘see’ what the manna represented, and to ‘see’ what the feast of the passover represented, and thereby make the connection between Himself and those foreshadowing representations of Him.
Wherefore in John 6:53 the Lord is not talking about the people physically, or materially, eating His flesh; or physically, or materially, drinking His blood. Nor is He talking about any ‘transubstantiation’ of the elements of the Mass into His actual flesh and blood. Instead as the Lord said at the end of His discourse…
63 It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)
These words that the Lord spoke unto them were “spirit,” just as He said. As such they were specifically designed to affect the people’s spirits with a particular understanding. They were designed to make it so that they could properly understand the issue of Jesus’ “Jehovah-ness,” seeing that they had not been properly taught the issue of God’s “Jehovah-ness” by Israel’s vain religious system. And since these words were specifically designed to impact and affect their spirits, the people could make the connections between the object lessons of God’s “Jehovah-ness” that had been set forth in the manna incident and in the feast of the passover. They could acknowledge the fulfillment of those object lessons in Jesus coming down from heaven to them to give them “life,” and in He Himself being the “Lamb of God” who would sacrifice Himself for them to actually provide for them to have “life.”
Moreover, as the Lord said, His words were not only “spirit,” but “they are life.” Therefore if the people understood the truth of who Jesus is in view of the connections that He made for them; and if they would believe the truth of His words unto them; they would “have life,” just as He said to them back in verse 47 when He said…
47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:47)
So once again the Lord is not talking about anyone physically, or materially, eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Rather by these words the Lord provided for the people of Israel to make a connection in their “spirits,” and thereby realize that He truly was Adonai Jehovah, the fulfillment of God’s “Jehovah-ness” according to the Davidic Covenant; and that He had come down from heaven unto them as “that bread of life”; and that He was the “Jehovah-jireh” Lamb of God by whom they can have “life.” Moreover with these words being “spirit” and “life,” right then and there the people could ‘spiritually eat’ what the Lord said to them about Himself, realizing in their spirits that having “life” depended upon His “Jehovah-ness” unto them as “that bread of heaven” and as the “Lamb of God.” And if they believed on Him as such, they became recipients of that “life.” They obtained “life” through His name.
– K.R. Blades