“Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.” –John 6:46
Jesus repeats the claim made earlier in John 3:13 and in John’s prologue (John 1:18). His point is that since He has received this knowledge straight from God, He can make authoritative statements with absolute certainty on this subject.
“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.” –John 6:47-50
Jesus restates what He has already said at the beginning of the dialogue in vv.27, 32, 33, and 35.
“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 6:51
Continuing with the bread theme that started the whole dialogue, Jesus tells them not to seek out earthly bread but heavenly bread, Himself. The gift of His flesh is His crucifixion as the propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of His people (Matthew 1:21). This again introduces a parallel with other verses in this dialogue:
“…he who believes has eternal life.” (v.47)
“…if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever;” (v.51)
The parallels are:
“…he who believes…” (v.47) = “…if anyone eats of this bread…” (v.51)
“…has eternal life.” (v.47) = “he will live forever;” (v.51)
From this parallel, we infer that to ‘eat of this bread’ (i.e. Christ) is a metaphor for ‘believing’ in Christ. This will come out clearer and more forcefully in the next few verses. [To the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, etc.: before you start yelling the typical counter-arguments at the screen, leave a reply, and close out this window, see the “Eucharistic Interpretation Errors” below the exegesis of vv.57-58. This section will cover the objections to vv.50-60.]
The Jews are very confused as to what He is saying since they are interpreting His words literally (v.52). He proceeds by continuing the metaphor of eating and drinking but puts His statements in a parallel form to what He has said before:
“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.” –John 6:53-54
This parallels what the Lord said in v.40:
“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.” (v.40)
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (v.54)
The parallels are:
“…everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life…” (v.40) = “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life…” (v.54)
“…and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (v.40) = “…and I will raise him up on the last day.” (v.54)
From this, we easily infer that to ‘eat’ His “flesh” and ‘drink’ His blood (v.53) is a metaphor for ‘beholding the Son and believing in Him’ (v.40). [The parallels with v.53 will be discussed under v.56.]
“For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.” –John 6:55
Jesus is not saying that His flesh is actual meat to eat or that His blood can be poured into a cup and drunk. Rather, He is using the word “true” to emphasize that His flesh “which [He] will give for the life of the world” (v.50; i.e. His crucifixion) is *effective* and not just a pretended, false, or imagined thing. The word “true” is used in this way in John 4:23, 37, 8:16, 19:35, etc., and sometimes it is used in this way implying an obvious metaphor:
“There was the true Light [i.e. Jesus] which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.” (John 1:9; emphasis mine)
“I [i.e. Jesus] am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” (John 15:1; emphasis mine)
The metaphor is obvious.
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” –John 6:56
This, with part of v.53, parallels what would be stated later in John 15:5:
“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 abides in Me, and I in him.” (vv. 53 and 56)
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
The parallel statements are:
“He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (v.56; emphasis mine) = “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him…” (15:5; emphasis mine)
“…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.” (v.53) = “…he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (15:5; emphasis mine)
[Italics are meant to parallel italics and words in bold are meant to parallel those in bold.]
Though the meaning of vv.53 and 56 was obvious from the interpretation of vv.53-54, the above parallel is helpful. To ‘eat the flesh’ and ‘drink the blood’ of Christ is a metaphorical way of saying that one must be in union with Christ (i.e. a repentant believer that has submitted to the Lordship of Christ by faith) in order to have eternal life.
“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.” -John 6:57-58
Jesus is simply summing up what He has stated in previous verses. From the exegesis of the immediately preceding verses, Christ’s meaning is obvious. However, these summary verses at the end remind us of what He said as a summary at the beginning of the dialogue:
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (v.35)
The parallels to the previous verses stand out, and the interpretation of vv.50-58 become plain: to ‘eat His flesh’ is to ‘come to Him’ which will satisfy the spiritual hunger, and ‘to drink His blood’ is to believe in Him which will satisfy the spiritual thirst. Other parallels to vv.57-58 include John 4:13-14 and 7:37-38:
“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.” (6:57-58; emphasis mine)
“Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” ” (4:13-14; emphasis mine)
“Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ ” (7:37-38; emphasis mine)
To ‘eat His flesh’ and ‘drink His blood’ is to repent and believe in Christ. The immediate context of the passage itself as well as the other parallel statements in John make this very clear.
After Jesus finishes His statements in the synagogue in Capernaum (v.59), His so-called “followers” complain to each other that Christ’s statements are harsh sayings (v.60). As a result, they would walk away from Him in unbelief (v.66).
The Eucharistic [Mis]interpretation
Many Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Lutheran apologists will argue that this section of John is a proof-text for the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. To the Roman Catholic, this is proof of transubstantiation, the belief that the “essence” of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper are turned into the body and blood of Christ respectively. This, however, comes from a misreading of the text. By not taking John 6 in context (i.e. removing vv.50-58 from the previous 24 verses) these groups miss the metaphor that Christ is using and take it literally.
Eucharistic Interpretation Error A
The first argument put forth by the proponents of the Eucharistic interpretation would be to argue that a more literal reading of any text should be preferred over the metaphorical. It is frequently asked by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologist, “Don’t you Evangelicals say that we should read the Bible literally?” Of course, this is a straw-man of the Protestant position on Biblical hermeneutics. The Protestant would say that we should read any piece of literature in its grammatico-historical context. This means that we interpret Jesus’ words in light of the entirety of chapter six, not just those eight verses. If the context implies a literal meaning, then we should understand it literally, but if the context implies a figurative or metaphorical meaning, then we should understand Christ’s words as teaching a metaphor. We should prefer a literal reading when: a.) There is no surrounding context that would suggest otherwise or b.) There is no indication of metaphor or figure of speech from the verse itself. These few verses in John 6 would not fall into either of those two categories.
Eucharistic Interpretation Error B
A second argument would be to argue that, in verse 55, Jesus uses the word “true” to tell us that He meant *literal* food and drink. The problem with this is that the adjective “true” can have several meanings all depending on the context. From the context, “true” in verse 55 does not mean literal (as opposed to figurative) but effectual and real (as opposed to fake or false). This is the way it is used in John 1:9 and 15:1. [See the exegesis of John 6:55 above for a fuller discussion.]
Eucharistic Interpretation Error C
The third argument put forth by these “Real Presence” apologists is to argue by asking, “If Jesus was not talking about His literal flesh in verses 53-58, then why did he not correct his disciples’ misunderstanding when they began to leave?” The answer to this question lies in the point that Jesus was trying to get across to His “disciples” in vv.36-40, 44-45, and made even more clear in vv.64-65. It is the same reason why many of His hearers could not understand His parables (Matthew 13:10-17 and Luke 8:9-10): THEY WERE SPIRITUALLY BLIND!!!
Summary of Arguments for the Metaphorical Interpretation
The evidence that Christ was speaking metaphorically when He said, “Eat the flesh of the Son of Man,” (v.53) is:
1. In verse 35, Christ states that to come to Him will satisfy their hunger, and to believe in Him will satisfy their thirst. In this context, to “eat” and “drink” are metaphors for repenting and believing.
2. Verse 51 parallels verse 47. To eat “of this bread” will impart eternal life (v.51), and to believe in Him will impart eternal life (v.47).
3. Verse 54 parallels verse 40. To eat His flesh and drink His blood will give eternal life, and that person will be resurrected on the last day (v.54). Likewise, to believe in Him will yield eternal life, and that person will be raised up on the last day (v.40).
4. Verses 53 and 56 parallel John 15:5. To “eat the flesh” and “drink the blood” of Christ is a metaphor for being in covenantal union with Him.
5. The people were following Him because they desired actual bread (v.26). He is using the metaphor of bread (i.e. “bread of life”) as a way of telling them not to seek earthly things that will temporarily sustain one’s life, but rather, He is telling them to seek faith in Him which will impart eternal life. Similar metaphors are used by Jesus throughout John (John 4:13-14 and 7:37-38).
Since I am responding to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox claims, it is worthy to note the interpretation of John 6 from two of the early church’s most famous bishops, Chrysostom and Augustine. While Augustine and Chrysostom held to a more Lutheran and Roman Catholic view of the Eucharist respectively, neither of them interpreted John 6 as referring to the consumption of the “Real Presence” of Christ in the Eucharist! In other words, two of Roman Catholicism’s and Eastern Orthodoxy’s most important saints did not interpret John 6 in the way that those two churchs’ theologians and apologists do. Here are the quotes (emphasis mine):
“We have heard the True Master, the Divine Redeemer, the human Savior, commending to us our Ransom, His Blood. For He spake to us of His Body and Blood; He called His Body Meat, His Blood Drink. The faithful recognize the Sacrament of the faithful. But the hearers what else do they but hear? When therefore commending such Meat and such Drink He said, “Except ye shall eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, ye shall have no life in you” (and this that He said concerning life, who else said it but the Life Itself? But that man shall have death, not life, who shall think that the Life is false), His disciples were offended, not all of them indeed, but very many, saying within themselves, “This is an hard saying, who can hear it?” But when the Lord knew this in Himself, and heard the murmurings of their thought, He answered them, thinking though uttering nothing, that they might understand that they were heard, and might cease to entertain such thoughts. What then did He answer? “Doth this offend you?” “What then if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?” What meaneth this? “Doth this offend you?” “Do ye imagine that I am about to make divisions of this My Body which ye see; and to cut up My Members, and give them to you?’ What then if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?’” Assuredly, He who could ascend Whole could not be consumed. So then He both gave us of His Body and Blood a healthful refreshment, and briefly solved so great a question as to His Own Entireness. Let them then who eat, eat on, and them that drink, drink; let them hunger and thirst; eat Life, drink Life. That eating, is to be refreshed; but thou art in such wise refreshed, as that that whereby thou art refreshed, faileth not. That drinking, what is it but to live? Eat Life, drink Life; thou shalt have life, and the Life is Entire. But then this shall be, that is, the Body and the Blood of Christ shall be each man’s Life; if what is taken in the Sacrament visibly is in the truth itself eaten spiritually, drunk spiritually. For we have heard the Lord Himself saying, “It is the Spirit that quickeneth, but the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken unto you, are Spirit and Life.””
-Augustine, Sermons of St. Augustine, Sermon 131.1
“His meaning is, “Ye must hear spiritually what relateth to Me, for he who heareth carnally is not profited, nor gathereth any advantage.” It was carnal to question how He came down from heaven, to deem that He was the son of Joseph, to ask, “How can he give us His flesh to eat?” All this was carnal, when they ought to have understood the matter in a mystical and spiritual sense. “But,” saith some one, “how could they understand what the ‘eating flesh’ might mean?” Then it was their duty to wait for the proper time and enquire, and not to abandon Him. That is, they are divine and spiritual, have nothing carnal about them, are not subject to the laws of physical consequence, but are free from any such necessity, are even set above the laws appointed for this world, and have also another and a different meaning. Now as in this passage He said “spirit,” instead of “spiritual,” so when He speaketh of “flesh,” He meant not "carnal things," but "carnally hearing," and alluding at the same time to them, because they ever desired carnal things when they ought to have desired spiritual. For if a man receives them carnally, he profits nothing. “What then, is not His flesh, flesh?” Most certainly. “How then saith He, that the flesh profiteth nothing?” He speaketh not of His own flesh, (God forbid!) but of those who received His words in a carnal manner. But what is “understanding carnally”? It is looking merely to what is before our eyes, without imagining anything beyond. This is understanding carnally. But we must not judge thus by sight, but must look into all mysteries with the eyes within. This is seeing spiritually. He that eateth not His flesh, and drinketh not His blood, hath no life in him. How then doth “the flesh profit nothing,” if without it we cannot live? Seest thou that the words, “the flesh profiteth nothing,” are spoken not of His own flesh, but of carnal hearing?”
-John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homily XLVII (v.63 and 64)
[Also, notice how Chrysostom responds to the argument put forth by the “Real Presence” Advocates that I mentioned in Error C.]