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Eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood

ccJn1-6In the Gospel of John, the voice of the Word is heard; the Paraclete is speaking. God makes himself known, proffers himself, and so becomes our God. Thus, the Gospel invites us to see and to hear what apart from the Gospel cannot be seen and cannot be heard: the Father of Jesus, who is the true and divine Son.

Concordia Commentary: John 1:1–7:1 contains Dr. William Weinrich’s original translation of John 1:1–7:1, a painstaking verse-by-verse analysis of the Greek text of these chapters, and theological exposition of the Gospel’s message, both for the apostolic church in its original context, and for the life of the Christian church today. His expertise in the early church fathers demonstrates how this Gospel was understood from the earliest times in the infant Christian church. The following excerpt from the commentary examines Jesus' words in John 6:54.

“He Who Eats My Flesh and Drinks My Blood Has Eternal Life” (Jn 6:54)

Jesus elaborates his previous words of Jn 6:51. He first restates them negatively in Jn 6:53, then positively in Jn 6:54. In doing so, however, he introduces important variations.

1. The most important is that Jesus now speaks not only of one “eating” his “flesh” but also of one “drinking” his “blood.” The mention of “blood” alongside that of “flesh” suggests the separation of the two, that is, the flowing of blood from the flesh as the result of a violent death. Jesus will be slaughtered (“Lamb of God,” 1:29, 36). No doubt, therein lies the scandal of the cross: The “living Bread” (ὁ ἄρτος ὁ ζῶν) is none other than he who will be crucified (“lifted up,” 3:14). Indeed, the living Bread which comes down from heaven is life-giving only by way of the shedding of blood. The “living Bread” will be a sacrifice.

But therein lies as well the scandal of faith and the scandal of that life which is to be lived in faith. Faith unites itself to Christ where he is and where he works. Were faith to seek Christ outside his work, faith would not find him and so prove itself to be delusion. But there is no work of Christ where there is no flesh given and no blood shed. The realism of the present passage is required to give foundation to the realism of human salvation: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have Life in yourselves” (Jn 6:53). There is no life apart from him who is, precisely as the incarnate and crucified One, himself Life (Jn 14:6). That the language of Jn 6:53–54 is taken from the language of the Lord’s Supper is evident. Here, as elsewhere, we can perceive the intertwining of the soteriological and sacramental dimensions. That which Christ will give to the church for her life is nothing other than that which he gives over for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). The feeding of the five thousand (Jn 6:1–15), which introduced the Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6:26–58), was a sign of this: Those who eat the food which Jesus gives to them to eat are sated and none of them are lost (Jn 6:12). …

In the Gospel of John, the explicit mention of the “blood” of Jesus occurs only in this context (Jn 6:53, 54, 55, 56) and in the report of blood and water flowing from his side (Jn 19:34). This can hardly be coincidental. In this way the evangelist makes evident that this passage on the “eating” of Christ’s flesh and the “drinking” of his “blood” is not to be interpreted apart from the death of Jesus. However, the flow of blood from Jesus’ side is not a mere indication of his physical death and so cannot refer only to a past historical moment. The flow of blood from his side is a depiction of the giving of Jesus’ blood for the life of the world and is associated along with water and the giving of the Holy Spirit (Jn 19:30, 34). The sacrifice of Christ is an act of new creation and gives life to those who in faith are united to it. …

These (Ex 24:3–8; Jer 31:33–34) are the very texts that lie behind Jesus’ words recorded in the institution narratives of the Synoptic Gospels: “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28); “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 14:24); “this cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk 22:20). In the Gospel of John the new Torah is given in the death of Jesus. His death is the instantiation of God’s love for the world (Jn 3:16) and so is the establishment of the new commandment of love which is the fulfillment of the Torah (Jn 13:34–35; see also Mt 22:34–40; Rom 13:9–10; Gal 5:14). Therefore, to partake of this death is to be united to the love of God for the world. The believer becomes one with God in his love, and so loves the neighbor (see 1 Jn 4:7–10). Yet, love is the expression of the heart, that is, love expresses what defines a person. It is not circumstantial, therefore, that in Jn 6:53 those who “eat” and “drink” are said to “have life in yourselves” (ἐν ἑαυτοῖς). This phrase is elaborated in the reciprocal formula, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56).

Footnotes omitted

From Concordia Commentary: John 1:1–7:1, pages 732–35 © 2015 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

To order John 1:1–7:1, please contact CPH at 800-325-3040 or visit www.cph.org.

Click here to learn more about the Concordia Commentary Series.

Written by

Sarah Steiner

At CPH since 2009, Sarah Steiner was a production editor for the professional and academic book team. She worked on many academic titles, including coordinating the peer review books, and also helped out with Bible resource projects.


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