“Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53).
Noah Amoo, Ghana
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A day earlier, Jesus had fed more than five thousand with just five loaves of bread and two fish. That multitude had followed him apparently because of such miracles. Before this he had travelled from Galilee to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, but needed to flee the city. His popularity amongst the common people caught the attention of, and sparked jealousy in, the Pharisees and Jewish leaders. Jesus’ life was at stake but ‘his appointed time’ was not yet due (John 5:16- 18). In the year between these Passovers, John the Baptist had been decapitated by order of Herod, throwing John’s disciples into disarray (Mark 6:16-29). Meanwhile, Jesus’ own disciples had returned from a massive activity, after which they needed reinvigoration (Mark 6:30-31). Due to the impending feast, Jews were coming to Jerusalem in large numbers, and the city had become overcrowded. During this time, it was easier for Jesus to avoid those who sought his life.¹
On his way to the Sea of Galilee, many had followed Jesus from towns and cities, seeking miracles. The distance of 70 miles between Jerusalem and Galilee was a three-day journey on foot. In the evening, Jesus had compassion on the weary and hungry multitude and fed them with five loaves of bread and two fishes. Afterwards, Jesus escaped into the mountains, abandoning the Twelve² in order to avoid the people who wanted to make him king. At night, he miraculously joined the Twelve by walking on the sea and then crossed with them to the other end, Capernaum. When morning came, some followers and a few Pharisees followed Jesus to the synagogue. With his special ability to read the hearts of men, Jesus easily deciphered why they had come to the other end of Galilee. A brief interaction led to Jesus’ statement in our theme text “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” (John 6:53).
(1) Some editors suggest that John 5:1 and John 6:4 refer to two successive Passovers).
(2) While there are references to others as apostles, those whom Jesus selected are collectively called the Twelve in Matthew and Mark (Matthew 26:20, Mark 11:11).
What time could have been more appropriate for our Lord to reveal this mystery to his faithful followers than during the Passover period? Still, the natural Jew could not accept this statement, calling it a hard saying (John 6:60). Their hearts were not prepared for the salvation that was appearing to all men, but first to the Jews. The light was shining all around them, but their pride and stiff-necked attitude kept them from receiving it (John 3:19, 1:5).
In less than 24 hours after being fed with bread and fish, some Jews sought to make Jesus their king. But when he talked about the meat which did not perish (John 6:27), they instantly turned against him. Some murmured among themselves and others deserted him forever. They had become contentious because Jesus had met their fleshly desires and expectations but now asked them to do something that seemed to be forbidden by the Law. They could not understand spiritual things.
The Israelites had been unpredictable right from the time they left Egypt and all the way into the Promised Land. Before the Passover in Egypt, they heeded all instructions given by Moses. Yet they murmured at the Red Sea against God for taking them out of slavery. When later Jehovah provided them with manna, they complained bitterly over the lack of variety in diet (Numbers 11:4-10). Once they were in the Promised Land they were at first content with the Lord ruling over them through judges. Later, they envied neighboring nations and insisted upon a king (1 Samuel 8:11-19). When they called for the death of Jesus, their arrogance made them declare that they were ready to bear all consequences of their actions (Matthew 27:25).
The Master knew that many followed him because of miracles which drew their attention. Still, he wanted them to listen to his words of eternal life (John 6:26,63). Alas, not many could understand this saying and they turned back, disappointed. They were only lukewarm.
John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). At the first Passover, the children of Israel killed a lamb which had been taken inside their home five days before. In the antitype, Jesus offered himself to the people of Israel (John 12:12-15) as their savior and king. He was the only one worthy to take away the sin of the world. He alone was pure, uncontaminated by sin, and thus able to give eternal life by laying his life down as a ransom for Adam. “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die” (John 6:49,50).
Few were prepared to partake of this fleshmeat during Jesus’ first advent. Only those open to persuasion would accept him as the Messiah. Most were not ready to “eat” his flesh and “drink” his blood. They did not see that Jesus was speaking symbolically and the 3½ years of his ministry was exclusive to them. What a great privilege they forfeited! Notwithstanding, they along with the entire human race will have a privilege to know him in the Millennial Kingdom. “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11).
Those Israelites who accepted Jesus’ offer of salvation were granted the privilege of being part of Jesus’ bride. Likewise the Gentiles were given access to the Gospel blessings when Cornelius and his household were baptized. Since that time, members of the little flock have been feeding on the symbolic body of our Lord as a Memorial of his death. His body, represented by bread, commemorates his death. The Memorial instituted by our Lord we believe was to replace the celebration of the Jewish Passover for his followers since it would fulfill the typical picture when Jesus died on the cross at the precise time the Passover lambs were being slain (1 Corinthians 5:7,8). Paul said that those who keep the feast are to rid themselves of the old leaven (yeast). Leaven is a picture of sin. God commanded the Jews to remove all leaven from their homes seven days before and during the observation of the Passover type. Antitypically, those who partake of this “meat indeed” are to put away every form of sinfulness.
Another important component to gaining eternal life is “drinking” the blood of Jesus. Eating the flesh or drinking the blood alone will not grant eternal life. Both must be done before eternal life can be secured. The blood of Jesus in the cup pictures our cleansing and justification (Romans 5:9). Additionally, the cup of which Jesus spoke to his disciples implies our readiness to share in his sufferings unto death (Matthew 20:22). In the type, the blood was sprinkled on doorposts of Israelite homes to save the firstborns from being slain by the angel of death — another picture of justification. The antitypical firstborns, members of his body, apply this blood not to a literal doorpost but to the doorposts of their hearts in response to Jehovah’s request, “My son give me thine heart” (Proverbs 23:26). Drinking from this cup in symbol annually demonstrates our continued heart reliance in his shed blood as our covering (Hebrews 10:22) and our willingness to succumb to all his precepts diligently (Proverbs 4:23).
Partakers of the bread and cup, now and in the Kingdom, are promised eternal life. However, the Church is assured of something superior, in addition to eternal life — immortality (Romans 2:7). Is this assurance granted by merely participating in these emblems year after year? No, eating and drinking these emblems without meeting the conditions they represent will not grant the expected reward. The Apostle Paul talks about those who do not meet these qualifications in 1 Corinthians 11:28-30 NAS:
“But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.”
Those who participate should do so to show the Lord’s death till he (Christ, the head, with the body) comes in glory, with all his “holy angels,” the completed church (Matthew 25:31). Those who eat the emblems with the right heart attitude do so to appropriate the merit of his death. They eat the bread to remember our Lord’s ransom and the bond of unity and love that exists amongst all those who are part of the body of Christ. They drink of the cup to show how prepared they are to share in his sufferings. Observing the Memorial annually is our privilege to renew our consecration vow continuously till we complete our course in death.
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (1 Corinthians 5: 7-11).
Not only does leaven represent the unbridled lust of the fallen nature, the Master indicated that it includes false doctrines and teachings (Matthew 16:6). Jehovah and our Lord Jesus expect us to keep our bodies, and his word, as pure and unalloyed as possible (Ephesians 5:27). In the type, the Jews were instructed to remove all leaven from their homes during the seven days of the Passover. Should it also be so literally in the antitype? Are we expected to prepare our hearts to dine with the Lord only seven days before the Memorial? Not at all! On daily basis, we are expected to put away all sin and any other fleshly inclination that damage our spiritual health and perhaps even our physical health.
As we participate in this year’s Memorial, let us consider carefully that we are renewing our vows to the Lord for another consecrated year. Each step into the next year should be taken more cautiously. Symbolically drinking the blood of Jesus justifies us and thus, makes us worthy to come to the feast. Symbolically eating the bread (words of Jesus, John 6:63) leads us to want to help our brethren in their walk.
Let us enter the Memorial by reflecting on the past year with these rhetorical questions: (1) Did I show my commitment by communing with the brethren, sharing in their joys and sorrows, caring for their spiritual growth and praying for them? (2) Was I always ready to defend and share the Truth with any who had a hearing ear? (3) Am I ready to suffer for the Lord and the Truth? Let us examine ourselves closely, atone for any mistakes that we can, pray for forgiveness for those we cannot, and with a clear conscience partake of the Lord’s Table.