Eating Christ's Flesh and Drinking His Blood Part 1

A Study by Dr. Andrew M. Fountain

John 6:51-58: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." 52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" 53 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, 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 eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 "For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 "This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever."

You might think that this is a rather odd subject to write about. I agree that it is a very strange image, but it is an image Christ gave. He spoke most unapologetically, even though most of the people to whom He was speaking clearly did not understand Him and found it somewhat offensive. Today we would think it bizarre if someone spoke to us about eating their flesh and drinking their blood. What does it mean? How are we to understand it?

The passage might make us think of the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread, but there is only an indirect connection. When we Break Bread, we remember Christ by eating the bread and drinking the wine which symbolizes His body and His blood. But there is no reference in this passage to the bread or the wine. There is a kind of connection with the Lord’s Supper because they are both pointing to the same event, Christ’s death, but Jesus is not referring here to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper. He is talking about something else, even though the picture is similar.

1. The Meaning of the Image

The first question we have to ask is what does Jesus actually mean here by eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Obviously, he is not talking about cannibalism, about physically eating somebody’s flesh and actually drinking their blood. Clearly that idea is not here at all, so what is it He is referring to? Why does He use this picture?

Light from the Old Testament

The word blood is used frequently in the Bible to mean violent death. For example, 2 Sam 3:28 "Afterward, when David heard it, he said, "My kingdom and I are guiltless before the LORD forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner." and Psalm 30:9: "What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? will the dust praise You?" There are many places where we read of someone having a man's blood on their head. It means they are guilty of the death of that man. When the Bible refers to blood being poured out or being spilt, or blood anytime outside of the body, it is usually a graphic metaphor for violent death.

We have two very interesting Old Testament references which help us to understand what Jesus is talking about. The first is in Psalm 27:2 where David is talking about the wicked who are coming against him. "When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell." We have to ask ourselves, does David literally mean that these are cannibalistic enemies or is he using picture language? He is talking here about the wicked who want to profit from his death. They want to kill David because they want to obtain some kind of benefit from his death. This example from the Old Testament gives us an insight into what Jesus means by eating his flesh—it means to benefit from His death on the cross.

Interestingly enough, there is an occasion in David’s life where he also uses the image of drinking blood. When he was on the run from Saul he gathered a group of mighty men around him. At one point he was fighting the Philistines who had taken the town of Bethlehem and he remarked how much he would love a drink from the well of Bethlehem. Three of his mighty men heard this and took him seriously. They fought their way through the Philistine line, got water from Bethlehem and brought it back to David. In 1 Chronicles 11:19 David says, "Far be it from me, O my God, that I should do this! Shall I drink the blood of these men who have put their lives in jeopardy? For at the risk of their lives they brought it." He says that to drink this water would be like drinking the blood of these men, not literally their blood, but it would be like profiting from their near death, since they risked their lives for him. You could say, enjoying the benefits which came at the expense of their lives.

That phrase really sums up what Jesus is talking about here. When He refers to eating His flesh and drinking His blood, He is talking about enjoying the benefits which come from His death.

Our Food and Drink

Perhaps the most powerful image that these words have is simply that of the food and drink that sustains our lives. Food is something we all need moment by moment to sustain us. We cannot go long without a drink because liquid is vital for our bodies. Jesus is teaching us that we need to depend on Him utterly, moment by moment, in order to survive.

There is another place in John’s Gospel where Jesus uses an image to demonstrate how the believer is sustained moment by moment from Himself. It is the image of the vine and the branches. A branch, cut away from the vine, is cut away from the sap—that source of nourishment and fluid flowing up—and would die straight away. We must be joined to Christ and constantly feeding from Him and drawing sustenance from Him in order to be sustained.

That is the idea behind this passage, but we must ask how are we to apply it to ourselves?

2. What it Means in Practice

How do we practically feed on Christ’s flesh and drink His blood? I am going to try and build up a picture by comparing Jesus' words in different places here in John 6.

A. This eating and drinking results in everlasting life

6:27 "Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you" We can also think of the woman of Samaria who was told in John 4:14 that drinking the water that Christ offers would lead to everlasting life.

Eating and drinking everlasting life

6:50-51a "This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever"
6:53 "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you."
6:54 "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

So we can say very definitely that eating and drinking results in everlasting life. But is there anything else that Jesus says leads to everlasting life? If there are other things, then they will help us understand what it means to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

B. Believing also leads to everlasting life

3:16 "...that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" There are many other places in the New Testament where similar things are said.

Believing everlasting life

6:40 "...that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
6:47 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life."

So, believing in Christ and eating His flesh and drinking His blood are both things that lead to everlasting life. We can put them together. Whatever He means by eating and drinking, it is the same kind of thing as believing because both of them lead to everlasting life.

C. Coming to Jesus has a similar meaning

6:35 "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." [coming and believing are put in parallel] Eating and drinking,

everlasting life
5:40 "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life."
7:37 "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."

I am trying to build up a picture here of the images that are used to mean the same thing as eating and drinking. Here, believing and coming are used in a parallel fashion. Their meanings are not identical, but the comparison sheds light on how we should understand each individual image.

D. Obeying/Abiding in the words of Christ

There is one other image, that of obeying Christ’s words and abiding in them.

15:10 "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." [This is a very important verse because it explains what it means to abide in Christ] Abiding in Christ = keeping His commandments
6:56 "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." Abiding in Christ = Eating and drinking

Looking at these references allows us to build up an image of what Jesus is talking about. Here, quite clearly, eating His flesh and drinking His blood is equivalent to abiding in Him, which we learned from chapter 15 is obeying His words.

There are four ideas that are linked together here. We will see in part 2 how these work out in the life of a Christian.

But why does Jesus use such unusual language and powerful images? The hearers needed to have their thinking totally reversed. Have you ever been in a situation where you have fairly settled thoughts and opinions about something that are turned utterly upside down by a new discovery?

I once read a story, recounted by Frank Koch, in Proceedings, (the magazine of the Naval Institute).

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on manoeuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, "Light, bearing on the starboard bow."

"Is it steady or moving astern?" the captain called out.

Lookout replied, "Steady, captain," which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, "Signal that ship: we are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees."

Back came a signal, "Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees."

The captain said, "Send, I'm a captain, change course 20 degrees."

"I'm a seaman second class," came the reply. "You had better change course 20 degrees."

By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, "Send, I'm a battleship. Change course 20 degrees."

Back came the flashing light, "I'm a lighthouse."

We changed course.

Christ intends us to radically change course in our lives. We will begin part 2 by looking at a verse that seems to me to be the Christ-centred key for opening up our understanding of the passage. This verse, which at first sight appears rather difficult, is John 6:57 "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me." We will see that in some ways, Christ's relationship with the Father gives us amazing insights into how we should live.

Part 2: