January 26, 2003

Spiritual Bread of Life - Part Two

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: John Scripture: John 6:41–59


Spiritual Bread of Life-Part Two

John 6:41-59
Sunday, January 26, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith

C.S. Lewis once said, "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water…. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably, earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing." (Mere Christianity)

Two weeks ago we learned that Jesus performed an extraordinary miracle. He fed an upward of 20,000 with 5 barley loaves and 2 fish. Mark 6:42 says that the people ate and they were satisfied.

But we also learned in the discourse that follows that the point of Jesus' miracle was not to satisfy physical hunger, but rather to present Himself as the true "Bread of Life," that satisfies spiritual hunger. The miracle pointed to the "real thing" as suggested by C. S. Lewis. Jesus wants the world to know that He is the spiritual Bread of Life that satisfies every spiritual hunger pang within us.

Christ's words in this discourse were very offensive to the Jewish ear, but possibly nothing was more offensive than His comment in verse 51 (c.f. Lev. 7:25-27). "And the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh." After a brief dispute among the Jews, Jesus elaborated in the verses that follow.

Beginning in verse 53, "So 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 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. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever (Jn. 6:53-58).'"


Many theologians, primarily those of the Roman Catholic persuasion, take these verses in John 6 literally in reference to the Lord's Table. Since many of you have come out of a Catholic background, you are well aware that the church's teaching of Communion involves a literal eating and literal drinking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. During the mass the priest elevates the elements and he says, "This is my body" or "This is my blood," respectively. At that moment it is believed that the bread miraculously becomes the actual body and the wine becomes the actual blood of the Lord Jesus. Or probably more accurately stated, the bread and wine become the whole humanity of Christ. Henceforth, the sacrifice of Jesus is basically repeated every time the mass is celebrated.

The entire process is often called the doctrine of transubstantiation (a creed which was not officially recognized by the Catholic Church until 1564 AD). The term is taken from the Latin words trans (change) and substantia (substance). The church teaches that the whole substance of the bread and the wine cease to exist and are changed into everything that Christ is. Although the physical properties (or the "accidents") of bread and wine remain the same (smell, sight, taste, etc.), it is the "itness" or "thingness" of the bread and wine that ceases to exist. In other words, what was formerly the substance of bread and wine now becomes the substance of Christ, the whole Christ, or in the words of the Council of Trent, "the totus Christus." According to that legendary Catholic Council, "By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity"

Though this interpretation seems strange, it is based upon a literal interpretation of many of the Communion passages (such as "this is My body"-Mk. 14:22) and primarily our text this morning in John chapter 6. After all, Jesus did say in verse 53, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves" and in verse 55, "For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink." As Evangelicals, we support a hermeneutic that adheres to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures unless strongly persuaded to do otherwise by the text. Based on a literal interpretation of John 6, the Catholic position is correct. Therefore, the burden of proof therefore lies with the Evangelical to attest that Jesus was speaking figuratively in these passages.

Allow me to present for you 4 reasons why I believe Jesus was speaking figuratively, and the Evangelical position is correct

1. Symbolism in John

The reader of the Bible must recognize the symbolic nature of Jesus' statements when He is speaking in that fashion. When Jesus said, "I am the bread," in John 6 (verses 35, 41, 48, 51), did He intend His readers to imply that He was a literal piece of bread? Of course not! Even in His other great "I am" sayings in the book of John, He said, "I am the door" (Jn. 10:9) and "I am the vine" (Jn. 15:5). Are we expected to take these metaphors literally as well? Any serious student of the Bible will tell you that they are symbols to be interpreted in a figurative manner. Therefore if Jesus is not literal bread or literal food in John 6, He does not expect us to literally eat His body.

2. Symbolism at Communion

How do you think the disciples would have interpreted Jesus' words when He held up the bread in the upper room and said, "This is My body" (Lk. 22:19)? Naturally, they would not have assumed it was His physical body because His physical body was still present before their very eyes! The bread was in His hand, and it was distinct and detached from His body. Likewise before the cup was passed, Jesus said, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood" (Lk. 22:20). If we subtract the relative clause in the middle of the verse we are left with: "This cup…is the new covenant." Did Jesus mean that the cup was actually the new covenant? Jesus was using symbolism. The cup represented the new covenant just as the bread and wine represented His body and blood.

3. Cannibalism Abhorred

(Lev. 26:29; 2 Ki. 6:29) Reformers teach that Christ's body is spiritually present in the elements. Lutherans teach that Christ's body is contained in the elements (consubstantial). Catholics teach that the elements actually become Christ's body. The church is then told to eat Christ's body. How that is not cannibalism, I am unaware.

4. Completeness of Christ's Sacrifice

Finally, and possibly most distinctively, the Catholic position must be rejected because it clearly contradicts the finality and completeness of Christ's sacrifice as it is mentioned in the Scriptures. To believe that Christ's sacrifice continues or is repeated in the mass marks a return to the inferior sacrifices of the Old Covenant. According to Hebrews 10:1, "The same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, (can never) make perfect those who draw near." Verse 3 of Hebrews 10 says these repeated sacrifices were "a reminder of sins year by year."

The ongoing previous sacrifices were insufficient, but they served a purpose in pointing to the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ where Jesus would lay down His body once and for all. Hebrews 9, "Nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself…so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many" (Heb. 9:25-26, 28). Hebrews 10:12, "but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God." Hebrews 10:14, "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." One sacrifice sufficient for all time! His work has been completed! Jesus Christ is alive, never to die again (c.f. Rom. 6:9-10; Rev. 1:18)! You'll recall that it was our Savior Himself, in those last desperate hours on the cross, who cried, "It is finished" (Jn. 19:30).

So we must conclude that Jesus is not advocating a literal eating of His body, nor is He advocating a continual sacrifice of His body. His sacrifice at Calvary was once for all time! However, the next question we need to ask ourselves, is Jesus even speaking about Communion at all in John 6? In other words, was it our Lord's primary intent to pre-instruct His listeners about the ordinance of Communion that He was to teach in the months ahead, or did He have another objective in mind? I believe He did have another objective in mind, and once again I believe the Catholic position, and even some evangelical positions, are incorrect.

Although at quick reading, John 6 may appear to be sacramental in nature, a deeper investigation reveals that such an interpretation is inaccurate.

1. Flesh and Body

In chapter 6, John uses the word "flesh" (sarx) 6 times in the span of 6 verses (6:51-56). The reference is often to eating the "flesh" of Christ. The word "body" (soma) is never mentioned in this chapter. Nevertheless, every time Jesus or any Apostle mentions the Lord's Table, the reference always speaks of the "body" and never of the "flesh" of Jesus Christ (c.f. Mk. 14:22; Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24, 27). Therefore, based upon a completely different choice of words, we may lightly assume that Jesus is not speaking about Communion.

2. Communion to Unbelievers?

We must remember that Jesus Christ during this discourse was addressing unbelievers at the synagogue in Capernaum (verse 59). Communion, on the other hand, is an ordinance addressed only to believers in every biblical occurrence where the institution is presented. Communion is presented for those who have acknowledged Christ. The gospel as we see in John 6 is presented for those who still have yet to trust Christ for salvation. Furthermore, why would Jesus have begun to teach Communion to unbelievers when He had yet to even present the ordinance to His own disciples? Spiritual ears or not, nobody would have had any clue as to what He was saying if He was making a reference to the Lord's Table in John 6!

Point #2 ties into point #3.

3. Salvation, not Communion

The eating of Christ's flesh and the drinking of His blood in John 6 are unto salvation. Verse 54 says, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." Notice that the emphasis is on "eternal life" or salvation and not Communion. Communion is for those who already have eternal life and partake out of obedience and continued fellowship with the Savior.

Also notice the parallel between verse 54 and verse 40. Verse 54 again, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has (a profitable Communion experience? No!) eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." Verse 40 says, "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day." Verse 54 speaks of eating Christ for eternal life. Verse 40 speaks of beholding Christ for eternal life. Therefore I believe that verse 54 is a metaphorical way or symbolic way of beholding, believing, receiving or looking toward the Son for salvation. It was Augustine who said, "Believe and thou hast eaten."

4. Salvation is by Faith

If we believe that John 6 is a reference to the Lord's Table and we take these verses at face value which equate eating and drinking of the Son to be the avenue to eternal life (verses 53, 54, 56, 57, 58) we have a major problem. We must conclude then (as do the Catholics) that salvation is granted by receiving Communion. And if we conclude that salvation is obtained by eating a piece of bread and taking a sip of wine, we clearly contradict the Bible, the book of John and even this discourse, which states that eternal life is received by faith when we believe in Jesus (Jn. 6:27, 40, 47).

No doubt thousands of individuals worldwide who will partake of Communion this morning will be just as much spiritually separated from God as they were before they digested the elements. We cannot eat or work our way to heaven. You will recall that the Jews had a similar mentality to man-driven salvation when they said in verse 28, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" The Catholics would answer, "Take Communion!" But Jesus' response to them in verse 29 was, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."


Up to now we have spent approximately half the sermon identifying what John 6 is not saying. We have concluded that Jesus is not talking about a literal eating of His flesh, nor is He speaking about Communion in general. If we have ruled out these possibilities, the next logical step is to determine what Jesus meant by "eating His flesh" and drinking His blood."

Examining the context of any passage is always the key principle in biblical interpretation. We have already learned that the purpose of John's gospel is found in chapter 20. "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (Jn. 20:30-31). Therefore, the overall purpose of John's gospel is to encourage his readers to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life.

Naturally, we would like to suppose that the extended sermon by Jesus in John 6 supports John's main intent in writing his gospel. Which it does! In verses 29, 35, 36, 40 and 47 we are told to believe in Jesus. Verses 27, 33, 40, 47, 51, 53, 54 teach that the result of our belief is eternal life. Therefore we must interpret the few verses in this sermon (which constitute a small part of the whole) that speak of eating His flesh and drinking His blood for eternal life, in light of the context and not contrary to the stated requirement of belief for eternal life. Based on all this, it is my understanding that Jesus in verses 51 to 58 is concluding His sermon with a powerful and graphic illustration that expresses how the believer is to come to Him for eternal life.

Furthermore it should not surprise us when Jesus concludes His sermon by an exhortation to feed on His flesh. After all, everything in the sermon pointed to this conclusion. He continually compared and contrasted Himself to manna. Manna was eaten for life and if we extend the metaphor, Christ must also be digested as well.

Nevertheless, the most important question we must ask ourselves is how, how do we practically feed on the flesh of Christ without literally eating His body? Since Jesus called Himself the "Bread of Life" 3 times (verses 35, 48, 51) in this discourse and concluded the discourse by exhorting His followers to eat His flesh (verses 53, 54, 56), possibly the best way to understand Christ's words is to compare them to the first century understanding of physical bread.

Bread to the common Jew was the staple for daily living. That is why bread is often used as a common metaphor throughout the Scriptures. In John 6 we heard of the "Bread of Life." But elsewhere the biblical writers speak of the "bread of painful labors" (Psm. 127:2), the "bread of tears" (Psm. 80:5), the "bread of wickedness" (Pr. 4:17) and the "bread of idleness (Pr. 31:27).

So when we think of Jesus as our "Bread of Life" with a first-century mindset, naturally we are to understand Him figuratively to be our spiritual staple for daily living. He is indispensable. We need to depend on Him every day for spiritual sustenance. As a person individually needs to receive bread, we must individually go to Jesus and appropriate Him (or "eat Him") by faith into our lives.

Physical bread was essential to sustain life. That's why Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us each day our daily bread" (Lk. 11:3). Our body must eat food if we wish to live. However, the type of food we eat is also very important. If we eat poisonous mushrooms, we will die an instant physical death from our consumption. In the same way, we must feed upon the correct spiritual food if we wish to live spiritually. The point of John 6 is that we cannot seek our spiritual sustenance apart from Jesus Christ. According to verse 55, "(His) flesh is true food and (His) blood is true drink." If we desire maximum spiritual health, the spiritual food we ingest into our bodies should be Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone.

Another indication that we are on the right track with this interpretation comes from the interchange between verses 53 and 54. Verse 53 says, "So 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 yourselves.'" The verb "eat" (esthio) in verse 53 is in the aorist tense. The aorist tense denotes a single act done at a certain point of time. In other words, verse 53 is telling the reader that all who desire eternal life must come to Jesus (or eat His flesh) at a certain point of time in their life. We call this the "day of salvation" or the "day of conversion." All of us in Christ can look back to a certain era or certain day or even a certain moment when we personally trusted Christ for salvation. The initial act of receiving Christ or conversion is done once for all at a certain point of time in a person's life.

However, one verse later in verse 54, we read, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." The verb for "eat" (trogo), (a different Greek word meaning "to chew," "to munch," or "to gnaw,") in this verse is not in the aorist, but rather the present tense. The present tense denotes an action that is continuous over time. Therefore, once we receive Jesus in to our lives (vs. 53), we are to continually believe on Him (or "feed" on Him or literally "chew" on Him) throughout our Christian lives. The believer who has received Jesus at a certain point of time must continually come to Him as the nourishment for his or her soul. This is what Jesus meant in verse 56 when He said, "He who eats (present tense verb again) My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him."

So you may be saying at this point, OK Pastor, I can understand that Jesus is not speaking about Communion or a literal eating of His body in John 6. I can understand that the context is belief and Jesus uses the symbol of feeding to illustrate that belief. But can you be more practical? How does one through their faith symbolically feed upon Jesus?

I like to think of this symbol as hungering for Jesus or feasting upon Jesus. Therefore, I ask myself the questions, "How can I get more of Jesus? How can I take more of Him into myself? How can I satisfy the hunger of my soul through His sufficiency? How can I meditate on His character? How can I see Him for all that He truly is?" Now the answer to these questions does not come from some mystical experience; rather it comes from the spiritual disciplines He has provided which enable us to feast upon Him.

For example, He has given us the discipline of fellowship. The gathering with other Christians is a tremendous opportunity to feast upon Jesus. Biblical fellowship gives us the opportunity to challenge one another, teach one another and encourage one another. We delight in talking about what is important to us. And the more we share, the more we magnify the excellencies of our feast.

Imagine yourself a diehard football fan on the way to the Super Bowl this evening. All you would want to talk about would be the game. You know that your joy is increased when you can share your excitement with someone else. But imagine someone from the backseat of the car wanting to change the discussion to the cartoon he saw that morning. It's almost laughable! Nobody would want to talk about Bugs Bunny when the conversation can feast on football! Hey folks, why are we consumed with the superficial things of the world when we are on our way to heaven to see Jesus!

Christian music is also a time to feast upon Jesus. Meditating on the words of some songwriters as they are accompanied by beautiful music brings the listener a great opportunity to feast upon Jesus. Therefore, unbiblical or trite lyrics satisfy the soul as much as poisonous mushrooms or a cracker. Yet sound biblical lyrics that penetrate deep into the counsel of God are steak and lobster for the heart that is hungering for Jesus.

Prayer is also a great opportunity to feast upon Jesus. In the quietness of our heart we can come before Him in appreciation, adoration, supplication and confession. We can pour out our deepest secrets and deepest struggles to His ever-present listening ears. We can be still before Him and allow His Spirit to minister to our often torn and shattered heart. We can have a deep, intimate encounter with the Creator of the world!

Finally, the Word (the Scriptures) is one of the ultimate ways to feast upon Jesus. Every time we open the pages of Scripture, whether it is through a Bible study, a sermon or even a private devotion, our gracious Lord sets the gourmet banquet before our very eyes. Jesus Christ, the living Word, feeds us every time our hearts are set to the Scriptures. It is no wonder that the prophet Jeremiah said, "Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart" (Jer. 15:16). Job said, "I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food" (Job 23:12). When we dig deep into the Scriptures, we mine nuggets of meat that bring great satisfaction to our souls.

Now let's consider these opportunities to feast upon Jesus with what we see in the 21st century evangelical church. Fellowship is rarely Christ-centered. Music is often secular or shallow praise ditties that appease the emotions of spiritually immature individuals. Prayer lacks consistency, depth and affections and the Bible is left collecting dust because our schedule is too busy for our "1-minute" devotions. Very few are pouring themselves over the Word these days.

The results of such behavior have produced a very weak church that fills their stomach with the things of the world and treats Jesus as a midnight snack if they happen to wake from their slumber.

This problem is cyclical. What I mean by this is the less people are taught in the pulpits to feast upon Jesus (John 6), the less people will want to feast upon Jesus personally in their own private lives. And the less people want to feast upon Jesus personally, the less they will desire churches that set a spiritual gourmet banquet each Sunday morning. Case in point, local Christian radio station WAWZ has recently eliminated solid music and solid preaching because in their words, they have no audience who wants it. The downward spiral continues, shallow music produces shallow theology and shallow theology produces shallow music. Before long, we are playing Rod Stewart CD's during our Sunday morning church services.

Three weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit a fairly large church in the community. And after listening to 30 minutes of announcements, shallow praise songs, a song by Rod Stewart and a 20-minute sermon consisting of emotional stories, jokes and a few Bible verses, I left the church unsatisfied. I felt I was robbed. I came to feast upon Jesus and I was forced to settle for a few stale donuts, while the others in the church left clueless enjoying every minute of the service. You pray for that blinded unnamed church of over 1,000 members who have no spiritual hunger to feast upon Jesus.

It is my prayer for this church that we will increasingly develop a hunger that can only be satisfied by feasting upon the Lord Jesus Christ. May He be the food that our soul desires, for our joy and God's glory.

I'd like to close this message with a letter. A letter from a man with a totally different perspective than many in today's church, a man who understands what it means to feast on Jesus.

I am a disciple of the Messiah.

I will not let up, look back or slow down.

My past is redeemed, my future is secure.

I am done with low living, small planning, smooth knees,

mundane talking, chincy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence,

prosperity, position or popularity.

I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised or rewarded.

My face is set; my goal is sure.

My road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few.

My God is reliable, my mission is clear.

I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, delayed or deluded.

I will not flinch in the face of adversity,

not negotiate at the table of the enemy or

meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I am a disciple of the Messiah.

I must go until He comes,

speak of all I know of Him

and work until He stops me.

And when He comes for His own, by the grace of God,

He will have no problem recognizing me,

because my colors are clear.

That was a journal entry of an unnamed Zimbabwean Pastor. It was his final entry because He was martyred shortly after he penned those words.

other sermons in this series

May 9


The Priority of A Disciple

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:18–25 Series: John

May 2


From Fishermen To Shepherds

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:15–17 Series: John

Apr 25


Fishing For Men

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: John 21:1–14 Series: John