Wineskins Archive

December 10, 2013

Thoughts About Eating Flesh and Drinking Blood (Mar 2012)

Filed under: — @ 8:59 pm and

By Don Middleton

One of the concerns that I have with Bible study…and it is one that I continually challenge other Bible students to observe…is to keep passages in their context. This passage certainly qualifies for some contextual interpretation. But, it is not necessarily just Biblical; it is also important to recognize certain cultural contexts … of Jesus’ time, as well as our own present time. Jesus said to His followers, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56 NIV).

There has been a crowd of people following Jesus for some time. Much of what he has been trying to get them to understand, following the feeding of the 5000, is that He did not come simply to be some “unending cupboard” for them. Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval” (6:26-27). Jesus wanted to satisfy a much deeper desire in them. He is “the Bread of Life” (6:35). The Jews were always seeking for signs (1 Corinthians 1:22, etc.), so it was easy for them to be enamored, not only by the fact that they were being fed, but the manner in which it was taking place – turning five loaves and two fish into enough food that several baskets were required to collect that which remained. All of this was an easy distraction to keep them from understanding what Jesus’ intent was in performing the miracle and feeding them. He wanted them to come to understand that He was the means by which they would never again have to hunger spiritually. If they would put their trust in Him, then they would enjoy spiritual filling and fulfillment … for the rest of their lives.

In order for them to have their focus changed from the awe of the miracle to the messenger Himself, He would make the challenging statement that we are considering. If they were challenged before, now many of them would be stunned. Some of the disciples might be asking themselves, “Is Jesus promoting some form of cannibalism?” This is what it might appear to be on the surface. Yet, it is important to understand that Jesus’ expression was a common idiom of that day. In a way, this was another message where those who “would have ears to hear” would understand … as with the parables. It was not unusual for someone in their culture to say something to the effect, “I have eaten my body and drunk my blood today,” to say that they had worked hard that day and had been fulfilled. (See My Neighbor Jesus, In the Light of His Own Language, People and Time, Dr. George Lamsa, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1932, page 15.) It would be easy for us to get queasy concerning such statements, but then again, we are not much different. Some of our contemporary expressions are – “sweating blood,” if we have been involved in a difficult task, or if we are referring to unruly, difficult people, we call them “bloodsuckers.” However, my personal favorite would have to be – “eat your heart out!” There is a close connection between what we think and feel as human beings. The Greeks may have captured it best with their word, splagchna, referring to the bowels. Unlike those in our culture who see the heart as the seat of our feelings (see Valentine’s Day), the Greeks thought the seat of emotion was the bowels. When Jesus felt “compassion” on the people (Matthew 9:36) … it was a gut-wrenching anguish. The word used to describe His feeling is the same basic (verb) form of the word — splagchnizomai.

All of this points to the fact that He wanted them to understand the critical nature of discipleship. It was not going to be easy for them to understand this message…and in fact, the disciples say this, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60). This was so much the case that many of those who had been following Jesus would turn away from Him (6:66). Jesus understood this. He wanted all of His followers to accept the challenge of discipleship…that following Him was going to require great sacrifice. He wanted them to accept Him on His terms, not theirs. He wanted those disciples with Him to commit their lives to Him. I do not believe that this is any different today. Jesus asks for the same commitment. How many are willing to give Him their undivided allegiance? How many count the cost of discipleship? Jesus lived, died and was raised in order to bring us eternal life. But, He also provides what we need daily in order to experience the abundant life (John 10:10). We are called to live life to the fullest, devoting our lives to Him in service. We are to take His very life into us…and live as he lived. This is the fulfillment of “eating His flesh and drinking His blood.”


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