Real Food Real Drink
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “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. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. “He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Truth always will have enemies and that pure doctrine always will be opposed, Actually, I would go so far as to affirm as a rule of Christian experience that strong teaching of strong doctrine will inevitably produce discord in some quarter.
This is not experience limited to our own time either. It goes back to the time of the Lord Jesus Christ. An example is found in the verses that immediately follow Jesus’ claim to be able to give his flesh for the life of the world.
Jesus had said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (v. 51). This bothered those who were listening to him, with the result (so we read) that they “began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52). This time, however, Jesus repeated his claim in even stronger terms. He said, “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. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever” (vv. 55-58).
It is interesting as an insight into the problems of our own times, that in answering those who were in conflict over his teaching Jesus did not try to tone down the teaching to make it more palatable. If anything, he did the opposite. It would seem, then-to make a conclusion-that, according to Jesus, the truth concerning doctrine leading to genuine peace, rather than peace at the expense of doctrine, was to prevail.
But what do these words mean? What does it mean to eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood? The answer to this question is that eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood refers to that which Jesus has been speaking of all along. He has said that men and women must “believe” in him (vv. 29, 35, 47). They must “come” to him (v. 35). They must “look at” him (v. 40). They must “listen” and “learn from” him (v. 45). All these terms-believe, come, listen, learn-refer to what we would most naturally call faith. The last terms-“eating and drinking”-stress that the commitment that is involved in faith is as real, irrevocable, and productive of results as any literal eating or drinking.
Have you committed yourself to Jesus Christ so that he has become as real to you like that? Is he as real to you spiritually as something you can taste or handle? Is he as much a part of you as that which you eat? Do not think me blasphemous when I say that he must be as real and as useful to you as a hamburger and french fries. I say this because, although he is obviously far more real and useful than these, the unfortunate thing is that for many people he is much less.
If Jesus has not become as real to you as eating and drinking, let me suggest that you do something similar to that which a bride does in promising herself to her husband. Before the ceremony, the bride can do anything she likes. In fact, if she wants to, she can even cancel the whole wedding, for she can decide even at 1:58 that she has made a mistake and cannot go through with a 2:00 ceremony. However, when the ceremony begins she comes to the place where she speaks her vows and, on the basis of those vows and those of her husband, is pronounced a wife, his wife. She is now no longer her own. At the same time, her groom pronounces his vows to her, and he becomes hers no less than she becomes his.
Apply this now to him who is the faithful lover and bridegroom of the church, and to you and me who are his bride. It is he who has courted us and wooed us. We did not choose him. It is he who has pronounced the vows first of all. His vows were pronounced in eternity long before the foundation of the world. He said, “I, Jesus, take you, John Smith (Mary Jones, or whatever your name may be), to be my wedded wife. And I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful husband, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, for time and for eternity.” We looked up into his loving face and eyes, believed his promise, and repeated his vow.
In the case of the church, something great happened between the speaking of this promise by Christ and our repetition of it. Between his vow and our vow, Jesus went to the cross where he paid an infinite price for our sin, purchasing us so that we could be free of sin, guilt, and shame as we come to him. We see his sacrifice. With that in mind we repeat, “I, sinner, take you, Jesus, to be my wedded husband. And I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful wife, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, for this life and for eternity.”
That is what faith is. That is what it means to eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood. It is to commit yourself to him. It is to accept his promise and pledge on your behalf and to repeat his promise, vowing to be his for eternity. If you have done that, you have done the most important thing there is to be done in this life, regardless of what you may already have accomplished or may yet accomplish. If you have not, you should know that today is the day of salvation. Today is the day of your union with Christ if you will have it so.
There is one more point that we must see in studying these verses. It is that there are certain results that come from feeding upon Jesus. The verses suggest three of them.
First, we receive the certainty of our salvation. This result is seen primarily in verse 54, where we are told of the gift of eternal life and of Christ’s promise to raise us up at the last day. What is eternal life? Some who have disagreed with the doctrine of eternal security, the doctrine that no one who has come to Christ will ever be lost, have stressed that the eternal life that we receive in salvation is a special quality of life, rather than life of infinite duration. But while I would not deny for a moment that eternal life is a life of special quality, I am convinced that we must also go on to say that it is indeed eternal. Eternal life is the life of God. It is without end because he is without end. This truth is certainly affirmed in this passage, for Jesus immediately follows his mention of the gift of eternal life with the promise that he will raise those who have been given eternal life at the last day (so also in verses 39, and 40, and 44). What a great promise! How good to know that nothing will ever separate us from the One who loves us and who has taught us to love!
Second, we enter into a life-transforming union with Christ as a result of coming to him. This thought is expressed in verse 56, where the idea of union with Christ is mentioned for the first time in John’s Gospel. It will become very prominent later, particularly in the last discourses. Here Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”
What does it mean that we are joined to Christ and he to us? The fact that we are joined to Christ means that we have a change in our life and status. Let us go back to the wedding illustration. Before the wedding the bride has one status; afterward, she has another. For one thing, there is a change in her name. Henceforth, she will bear her husband’s name. There is a change in her legal status. Before, she could buy or sell the property as she chose. Now there must be joint signatures. There is a psychological change; she senses a subtle difference between being single and being married. There is a social change that will penetrate even to the matter of who her friends will be, whom she will entertain, how her time will be spent and other matters. When do these changes take place? The answer is that they take place instantly and simultaneously at the moment when she is joined to her husband. So it is spiritually. At the moment when we are joined to Christ through faith and by the new birth, we receive a new name-we are now Mrs. Christian instead of Miss Sinner-and a new way of life with new relationships and obligations is opened before us.
On the other side, the fact that Christ is joined to us means primarily that we receive his life and are to go on receiving it in increasing abundance throughout eternity. We are to be filled, as Paul says, with “all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). God promises to enlarge our spiritual capacities until the full life of the infinite Christ is reproduced in us.
Finally, the words of Jesus suggest that we receive strength for the living of this life as we feed upon him. He says, “So the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (v. 57). This verse is not talking about eternal life primarily; it is talking about our present daily life to be lived in Christ’s power. Galatians 2:20 is another statement of that principle. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Do you live by that life of the Lord Jesus Christ? That life is there in all its strength and purity. It is there to feed upon. By that life and that life alone we can grow.