I’m not going to pretend to be able to dispel the controversies about our next section of John’s Gospel. What Jesus said was controversial the moment He spoke it, as we’ll see it continues to be controversial and divisive today. This controversy began in John 6:41-59 as the Jewish leader’s questioned Jesus about what he had just spoken to the crowd.
John begins, “Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?”” (John 6:41–42, NASB95) We learn later that this was in Capernaum.
Jesus answered, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. “I am the bread of life. “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”” (John 6:47–51, NASB95) On this side of the cross, we have a clearer understanding. Jesus was continuing the metaphor of bread to convey a spiritual truth. But, like Nicodemus back in chapter 3, the Jewish leaders tried to understand Him in the literal sense. “Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”
Now, Jesus could have said something like, “Hold on a minute, I don’t think you’re hearing me right.” But Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” On this side of grace, we can see the linkage with Jesus’ sacrifice of flesh and blood on the cross through which we do enter into eternal life. We can also see the direct connection to the Last Supper and the continued Christian practice of communion.
As is often the case, the controversy obscures the true meaning and purpose. I think the meaning is found in the very last sentence – “He who eats (takes in) My flesh and drinks (takes in) My blood abides in Me, and I in him (and her).” Jesus will return to the importance of this two-way abiding later in John’s Gospel. No one abides with Christ by knowing Him only as a historical figure. Neither does abiding take root through our family’s heritage of faith (although that is good soil for it to grow). Abiding doesn’t occur through works, formulas, or religious practice. Abiding with Christ only happens as we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins and ask Him into our lives. Abiding in Christ begins with that moment of decision and continues we walk out our new life in Jesus.
I feel at this point that some will be disappointed that I didn’t take sides in the continuing controversy of this passage and its implications concerning communion. While I have a personal viewpoint, the purpose of Lambchow is to encourage all who call on the name of Jesus wherever they are at on the spectrum of Christian faith and practice. We may divide over so many things, but we also hold the same faith in Christ. Jesus is the bread of life – abide in Him.