INTRODUCTION. This third part of an in-depth study of John 6:31-68 is a continuation of post #523 and post #529 and focuses on the crucial teaching in John 6:45-58.
[NOTE: This part of the study is longer than the other parts because the concepts presented here are complex and are not easily explained in a few words. I feel that the additional reading will be rewarded by greater understanding of this beautiful passage. RMB]
OVERVIEW OF THE PASSAGE. This passage (6:45-58) is the heart of this section of Scripture (6:31-68) and contains important teaching about how Jesus, the bread from heaven, provides life to His people. The passage is also crucial in giving us a vivid analogy of what it means to believe in Jesus, teaching us figuratively to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
KEY CONCEPTS covered in this passage include:
- believing in Jesus
- eternal life/live forever/not die
- the bread of life/the living bread that came down out of heaven
- eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man (Jesus)
- being raised up on the last day.
The main DIFFICULTY of this passage consists in correctly understanding what Jesus means when He instructs His disciples to “eat My flesh and drink My blood” (6:53-56).
REVIEW. The first part of John 6 tells of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five small loaves and two fish. The amazed crowd follows Jesus to Capernaum where they seek more bread and another miraculous sign. Jesus declares that the manna from Moses is not the true bread out of heaven, but that He is the bread of life.
In strong teaching from John 6:37-6:44 (see post #523 and #529), Jesus makes clear God’s sovereignty in salvation as He teaches the people that:
- The Father has already given a people to the Son (election; see Eph. 1:4, etc.)
- All those given to the Son will certainly come to the Son for eternal life. (predestination; see Romans 8:29-30)
- Jesus will raise up all His people in glorious resurrection on the last day
- By His providence and effectual calling, the Father draws people to Jesus
THE TEACHING OF JOHN 6:45-58
The passage is best understood by understanding WHO JESUS IS, then by seeing WHAT JESUS OFFERS, and finally by discovering HOW TO OBTAIN WHAT JESUS OFFERS.
WHO JESUS IS. Jesus uses direct statements and the metaphor of bread to make His identity unambiguously clear. First, He says, “I am the bread of life” (6:48). This is a repetition of 6:35, when He also said that those who come to Him will never hunger or thirst. What Jesus means by His metaphor may not be clear, but this much is clear: Jesus is the bread of life.
Next, He says twice that He is “the (living) bread that came down out of heaven” (6:50, 51). Here, Jesus is contrasting Himself with the manna that the children of Israel ate in the Exodus. They ate that manna (“bread from heaven”) and they died (6:49), but Jesus is the “true bread out of heaven” (6:32). Jesus is the bread of life and, “if anyone eats of this (living) bread, he will live forever” (6:51). Jesus is the living bread that gives eternal life.
Finally, notice that Jesus is the bread that came down out of heaven sent by the Father. “The living Father sent Me” (6:57), and Jesus has come from heaven to give life to the world. Since He came down out of heaven and was sent by God the Father, Jesus is divine.
SUMMARY. From this passage, we see that Jesus is God in the flesh, the living bread sent by the Father from heaven to give eternal life to the world.
WHAT JESUS OFFERS. As the bread of life and the living bread that came out of heaven, what does Jesus offer the people? From the passage we see, first, “one may eat of it (the bread) and not die” (6:50). As strong as this verse is, Jesus states the truth even more clearly in the next verse: “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (6:51). Eat of Jesus and you will not die but will live forever. Of course, we need to determine what it means to metaphorically eat of Jesus as the living bread, but at this point we see that Jesus is offering people the opportunity to live forever. (NOTE: “Live forever” is the same as “have eternal life.”)
A few verses later, Jesus again declares His offer of eternal life and connects this eternal life with participation in the resurrection on the last day. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6:54). Once again, we are confronted with the need to understand Jesus’ metaphor about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, but what He offers us is in plain view. He offers eternal life and a resurrection.
SUMMARY. Jesus offers His hearers the opportunity to not die, but to live forever, to have eternal life, and to be raised up on the last day (in glorious resurrection).
HOW TO OBTAIN WHAT JESUS OFFERS. We see the incarnate Son of God offering the people eternal life and declaring to them that He Himself will raise them up on the last day. This spectacular offer is available to all who hear His voice, but obtaining it is not automatic. We have already seen that Jesus imposes conditions on His offer and it is only those who satisfy Jesus’ conditions who will obtain the eternal life that He offers.
This, then, becomes the critical issue. Every person must first identify and then satisfy Jesus’ conditions before they obtain the eternal life He offers.
TO OBTAIN WHAT JESUS OFFERS, YOU MUST SATISFY HIS CONDITIONS. Our first task, then, is to identify Jesus’ conditions. In this passage, when we were discovering what Jesus was offering, we also heard Him state His conditions.
ONE SET OF CONDITIONS.
“If anyone eats of this bread (Jesus) he will live forever.”
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.”
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood I will raise him up on the last day.”
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.”
Here, then, is one set of conditions that must be met to obtain eternal life.
ANOTHER SET OF CONDITIONS? We also need to notice, however, that Jesus has talked about another condition for obtaining eternal life. In fact, in the gospel of John, the major message of the book is that anyone can receive eternal life by believing in Jesus. John 3:16, perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, declares that whoever believes in the Son (Jesus) will have eternal life. According to John 20:31, the whole reason for the gospel of John is “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” In this very passage that we are studying, Jesus repeatedly tells men and women how to obtain all the blessings that He offers. “He who comes to Me will not hunger and he who believes in Me will not thirst” (6:35). “Everyone who believes in the Son will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (6:40). “He who believes has eternal life” (6:47). Throughout the gospel of John, the one who believes in Jesus has eternal life.
So, is Jesus now imposing another condition for obtaining salvation?
ONLY ONE CONDITION. When we compare side-by-side two verses from this passage, we will see that there is, in fact, only one condition that separates the sinner from salvation.
Everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:40
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:54
As we compare these two verses, we notice, first, that the results of the sinner’s action in 6:40 (“believes in the Son”) are exactly the same as the results of the sinner’s action in 6:54 (“eats My flesh and drinks My blood”). In both cases, the sinner’s action yields eternal life and a resurrection on the last day.
Next, we observe that John 6:40 falls within a section of teaching where Jesus is speaking in literal terms. That is, when Jesus speaks of “beholding the Son” and “believing in the Son,” we observe that Jesus is speaking literally.
By contrast, in John 6:54, Jesus is speaking metaphorically about Himself as the bread of life. The Lord has established His identity as “the bread of life” (6:48), as “the bread that comes down out of heaven” (6:50), and as “the living bread that came down out of heaven” (6:51). Jesus has thus made clear that He is now speaking figuratively about Himself as bread. Therefore, in this context, the Lord speaks about how to obtain eternal life in figurative terms.
Jesus intentionally parallels these two verses to teach that “believing in the Son” should be understood metaphorically as “eating His flesh and drinking His blood.” Throughout His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus has been proclaiming that anyone who believes in Him will obtain eternal life. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him (Jesus) whom He (the Father) has sent” (John 6:29). Here, then, the Lord is giving a vivid picture, an illustration of what believing in Him means.
What we see is that “eating My flesh and drinking My blood” is actually an explanation and an intensification of “believing in the Son.” Imagine a person who is there in Capernaum listening to Jesus teach or imagine someone who is reading John 6 in our own day. This person is convinced that believing in Jesus is the only way to eternal life and the only way to be saved, but then they ask the question, “What does it actually mean to ‘believe in Jesus’? Can you give me an illustration of what that looks like?” The Lord Jesus answers that question by saying, in effect, “Believing in Me is like eating My flesh and drinking My blood (6:53-56).”
EATING HIS FLESH AND DRINKING HIS BLOOD. For the disciple of Jesus, believing in Him is a matter of life and death. If the disciple cannot eat of Jesus and cannot drink of Jesus, then he will die of hunger and thirst. Communion with Jesus is the disciple’s means of survival. When Job considered his relationship with the LORD, he said, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). This gives a taste of what it means for the disciple of Christ to eat His flesh and drink His blood.
The Lord Jesus Himself, when tested by the devil after forty days without food, declared, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). For the follower of Jesus, Jesus is more to be desired than food that will sustain our physical life.
David had the attitude of “eating His flesh and drinking His blood” when he wrote,
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water. – Psalm 63:1
David’s soul thirsts for the LORD and his flesh hungers for Him, not literally but figuratively, as a thirsty man would yearn for water in the middle of the desert.
To believe in Jesus means to receive Him and embrace Him without reservation as a starving man would consume a loaf of bread. The believer eats and drinks all of Jesus in all His incarnate deity to satisfy his sinful soul. And the one who eats Jesus’ flesh and drinks Jesus’ blood is the one whom Jesus will certainly not cast out.
From this study of John 6:45-58 we have seen that Jesus, as the metaphorical bread of life, has been sent by the Father to earth to offer eternal life to the world, and that everyone who believes in Jesus will receive eternal life and will be raised up by Jesus at the resurrection on the last day. Jesus uses the metaphor of “eating My flesh and drinking My blood” to help His disciples understand the depth and the intensity of true saving faith.
SDG rmb 7/5/2022 #551