Eat my flesh? Drink my blood? What sounds like an apocalyptic vampire zombie horror film is actually one of the most confusing and controversial teachings of Jesus Christ.
Here’s what we read in John 6:53-58, “Jesus said to them, “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 you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him…so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me…Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.””
If you think that sounds awkward, you are not alone. The nice Jewish people who heard this did not even eat pork, let alone people.
How should we interpret what Jesus said? For starters, all Scripture should be interpreted literally. According to John 16:29, Jesus speaks in two ways: plain literal and figurative literal; “His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech!”
In everyday speech, we speak literal things in both plain and figurative ways. For example, if I say I am hungry, that is plain speech. If I say I can eat a horse, it still literally means I’m hungry but says the same thing in a figurative way.
When it comes to eating Jesus flesh and drinking His blood should we consider it plain literal or figurative literal speech?
Catholic theology believes that Jesus is always plain literal and that when Jesus says at the Last Supper “this is my body” about the bread, and “this is my blood” about the wine that the elements of communion supernaturally become the literal body and blood of Christ. As a Catholic altar boy who assisted the priest with mass, this is what I was taught growing up. The doctrine is called “transubstantiation” if you want to research it further.
Most Protestant theology believes that Jesus is speaking in a figurative literal way, otherwise we would be cannibals who re-crucify Christ every communion so that we could eat Him. Thankfully, Jesus Himself gives us a clue in the same section of Scripture saying in John 6:63, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit…” In context, Jesus is juxtaposing the physical and the spiritual teaching us that we need Him for spiritual life in the same way that we need food and drink for physical life. By believing in Jesus, we invite Him to dwell in us much like when we eat and drink those elements dwell in us to give life. Admittedly, all of this is complex which is why the responses of some were offense because as John 6:60 says, “This is a hard saying…”
Do you believe in Jesus? How has He brought life to your soul?