St. John tells us in chapter 6 of a very special time in the ministry of Jesus. Our Lord’s public ministry was at a peak. He was a superstar, for a while, then some might say that He had something of a PR disaster.
The chapter opens with a large crowd of disciples following our Lord. Scripture tells us there were 5,000 men – a large number by any measure, but with their families may have numbered several times that in total. As you know, they all “had their fill” from only 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 fish. Even so, these were not depleted but expanded in abundance to 12 baskets of left-overs. The people wanted to make Jesus king!
Later that night, the Apostles witnessed Jesus walking on the water 4 miles from shore.
Then, as recorded beginning in verse 22, everything took a dramatic turn. It begins with the crowds finding our Lord in Capernum and asking how he got there. They were eager to follow him and be fed.
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” So they said to him, “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”
So Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
- there is food that perishes and food that that endures for eternal life
- the food that gives eternal life is given by the Son of Man
- the work of God is accomplished by believing in the one God sent
- God (not Moses or anyone else) provides for us, as illustrated in Exodus manna
- bread from heaven gives life to the world (physically and supernaturally)
Jesus was preparing them. The disciples were interested and eager for this food He spoke of.
So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen [me], you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.”
Jesus knows they do not understand, so He explains His divinity and coming atoning sacrifice that all may be saved. None-the-less, a person claiming to be God was blasphemy. We can imagine how unsettling this was.
Moreover, the food they seek is – confusingly – Jesus. Had He gone no further, the “food” might arguably be dismissed as “symbolic” — something along the lines of being spiritually nurturing.
The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven?'” Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:
‘They shall all be taught by God.’
Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
- No one comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him.
- Everyone who listens to and learns from the Father, comes to the Son.
- Only the Son has seen the Father.
- Jesus will raise them on the last day.
- Jesus is the bread of eternal life, not just a temporary sustainer of physical life like mana.
- Jesus FLESH is this bread of eternal life.
Needless to say, this did not calm the Jews. They did not say “oh, we see… that explains it!” In fact, this was quite upsetting. It sounds like cannibalism and that is about as abhorrent to Jews as you can get. Jesus had moved well beyond the point where this might have been considered a symbolic thing. The Jews got that.
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true 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 have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Way past doubling-down.
- “eat the flesh of the Son of Man”
- “drink his blood”
- “Whoever eats my flesh”
- “drinks my blood”
- “my flesh is true food”
- “my blood is true drink”
- “Whoever eats my flesh”
- “and drinks my blood”
- “the one who feeds on me”
I can not think of another place in scripture that is as clear as this. The point not made once or even twice, but again and again and again. That we understand this is clearly important. Doing so in order that we remain in Him and He in us, to have life because of Him and to live forever.
The early Church knew Jesus meant this literally. It was understood throughout the 1st century, the 2nd, the 3rd, the 4th, the 5th, the 6th, the 7th, the 8th, the 9th, the 10th, the 11th, the 12th, the 13th, the 14th and the 15th century. This was not in dispute until some (not all) of the divergent branches of the Protestant schism took a new position after 1,500 years.
“Bible based” though they may be… there are, incredibly, those who persist in believing Jesus was speaking symbolically. They are sincere but wrong. I can not imagine how Jesus could have said this more forcefully.
Back in Capernum, these words were taken neither symbolically nor lightly. There were immediate consequences.
Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Superstar status over. This was the truth and many could not accept it. Jesus knew that and did not stop them from leaving. They understood correctly and chose to no longer follow Him. Were His words only symbolic and simply misunderstood, He would have corrected them.
Those who stayed did so by faith, not understanding. They too did not understand how they were to eat Jesus flesh and drink his blood. This remained an open question until the Last Supper.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”