"The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, 'How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?' Then Jesus said to them, 'Most assuredly, 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 eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 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 feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven--not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.' These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum." (John 6:52-59).
The text states that the Jews quarreled among themselves. Due to the mass exodus recorded in John 6:66, it is unlikely that any of the Jews (other than the twelve) are defending Jesus at this time. Thus, they are probably quarreling over how to answer Jesus and His claims they viewed to be outrageous.
They wondered - "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" (6:52). These Jews, like Nicodemus (cf. 3:3,4) and the Samaritan woman (cf. 4:14,15), failed to realize that the Lord was speaking in spiritual terms.
Jesus reiterates the truth they are struggling with in a strong way - "Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (6:54). This language would have been offensive (or repulsive) to those who would not think in spiritual terms. It seems that Jesus is preparing to "weed out" those who are not willing to accept the truth (cf. 6:66). These words would have also offended most Jews in the sense that they believed they were already saved as physical descendents of Abraham. For Jesus to say that they have no life in them if they don't eat of Him would be highly objectionable to most.
John 6:54, and the immediate context in general, has caused much confusion regarding the question: "How does one eat Jesus' flesh and drink His blood?" Many Catholics teach that the bread of their mass is transformed into the actual body of the Lord and that in eating it one literally eats the flesh of Jesus! Not only is this view completely without Biblical support, but--if it were true--it would make cannibals of all who partake (and this would be a violation of Acts 15:29). Others have viewed this as an allusion to the Lord's Supper in that those who partake of the bread and the fruit of the vine are symbolically partaking of Jesus' flesh and blood (cf. Matt. 26:26-29; I Cor. 11:23-29). Although this view may sound appealing, there are several strong arguments against it: (1) it has already been shown (cf. John 6:51) that to "eat" of Jesus is just a figurative way of saying that one believes in Him, (2) the verbs of the Greek text indicate that the eating and drinking are to be continuous, and this could not possibly be referring to the Lord's Supper which the early church (which was guided into all the truth via the Holy Spirit) only partook of on the first day of each week (cf. Acts 20:7), and (3) if Jesus is referring to the Lord's Supper, then He is basically saying that "whoever eats [the Lord's Supper] has eternal life," yet we know that merely partaking of the memorial does not bring everlasting life.
The correct view, as I understand it, is this: Followers of Jesus assimilate (i.e., "eat" and "drink") Him through hearing, believing, and applying His words. Both Ezekiel (Eze. 2:10-3:3) and John (Rev. 10:9-11) ate scrolls symbolizing the digestion of the message they were to preach. Jesus takes this concept even further in this context. When we feast on Jesus (i.e., when we hear and obey His word), we are spiritually nourished and will be raised up to the joy of everlasting life at the last day.
Let it be observed that the fact Jesus spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood no more supports the idea that the elements of the Lord's Supper literally become His actual body and blood than the declaration of John that Jesus is the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29) teaches that Jesus was literally a young sheep. It is inconsistent for one to recognize that Jesus was speaking figuratively when He said, "I am the bread of life" (John 6:35) or "I am the door of the sheep" (John 10:7), and then affirm that Jesus could not have been speaking figuratively when He spoke of eating His flesh and drinking His blood.
"For My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed" (John 6:55). The idea here is that Jesus' flesh is true food and His blood is true drink. In other words, the spiritual sustenance He provides is not like physical food and drink that is used up upon consumption. "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him" (6:56). To eat Jesus' flesh and drink His blood also results in "eternal life" (cf. 6:54). Thus, to abide in Jesus is to have eternal life, and in order to abide in Him, one must obey Him (cf. 15:10). One who doesn't abide in Christ will perish by being cut off from the vine (cf. 15:1ff).
"He who feeds on Me will live because of Me" (6:57). Jesus is to man's spirit what bread is to man's body. Physically speaking, "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11) and for this reason man has never been allowed to eat blood (cf. Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:12; Acts 15:29). But, spiritually speaking, to hear and believe the teachings of Jesus is to "eat" and "drink" Him in, which results in absorbing life, for it is in the "blood." This spiritual "eating of blood" is not only allowed, but it is necessary if one is to live spiritually.
"This is the bread which came down from heaven--not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever" (6:58). Jesus concludes His thoughts on this subject, not by introducing any new ideas but by summarizing what He has already stated.
"Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, 'This is a hard saying; who can understand it?' When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, 'Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, 'Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.' From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away?' But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered them, 'Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?' He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve" (John 6:60-71).
Jesus' words may be considered "hard" in two senses: (1) Difficult to understand or interpret its real meaning (cf. II Pet. 3:16) or (2) Difficult to accept. The context would indicate that for these Jews it was probably some of both, but especially the latter (cf. 6:61).
"Does this offend you?" In other words, "Does this make you stumble?" Jesus asked this question because they were "complaining" or murmuring about His teaching. They are finding it difficult to believe Jesus' claims (e.g., that He came down from heaven, cf. 6:42). Thus, an appropriate paraphrase of their comment in 6:60 is this - "Who is able to listen to this Jesus? It's hard to believe what He says is true."
It should be noted that the Jews "stumbled" at Jesus (cf. I Cor. 1:23; Matt. 11:6), not so much because they didn't comprehend what He was saying but because they did understand what He was claiming and found it to be objectionable. They objected to many things: His claim of coming down from heaven, His claim of superiority over Moses, His claim that salvation was not possible without faith in Him, etc.
Tragically, many today are also offended by God's word in that they find certain things to be too "hard" (cf. Mark 10:21ff). Examples of such can be found in many areas; for instance, the restrictive nature of the Lord's teaching on divorce and remarriage, the exclusiveness of the church that Jesus built, the essentiality of water baptism for the forgiveness of sins, the restrictions on women occupying leadership positions in the church, the limitations of fellowship, holiness in living, faithfulness in assembling, etc. It is most unfortunate that there are many today--as there were in Jesus' day--who simply cannot (or rather, will not) bring themselves to accept the will of God when it runs contrary to their own desires. But, even worse are those who seek to soften the sayings of Jesus to the ungodly who find them just too "hard." Certainly those who object to the teaching of the truth will suffer condemnation, but how much more those who pervert the gospel so as not to offend them (cf. James 3:1)?
"What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?" (John 6:62). Jesus is essentially asking: "Since you question My claim of having come down from heaven, how will you answer if you witness My return to heaven?" Here is an indirect prophecy of His ascension to heaven that took place after His resurrection (cf. Acts 1:9-11).
"It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). Here Jesus affirmed that His words are spiritual and life-giving, but they do not benefit the physical body as bread does. It should be noted that the word "spirit" should be lowercase in both occurrences here. There is no reference to the Holy Spirit in this context. Jesus identifies the "spirit" in this verse as the words which He spoke.
"But there are some of you who do not believe" (6:64). Jesus knew the reason which prompted each individual to become His disciple and He knew who did and did not believe. There were very few who were drawn to Him by divine influences (cf. 6:65), ready to follow Him as He really was. Most were drawn to Him by mistaken notions concerning Him, and as soon as they discovered that their conceptions of Him were incorrect, they would desert Him.
"Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him." Some have mistakenly concluded that since Jesus knew who wouldn't believe and who would betray Him that these individuals had no choice in the matter. It is important to understand that the foreknowledge of God does not rule out the free moral agency of man. The fact that the Lord knows something will come to pass does not mean that He determines it or wills that it be so. He simply knows the choices that we will make!
"Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father" (6:65). As was noted earlier, those who truly hear the Father's word are those who are influenced by Him to come to Christ (cf. 6:44,45).
"From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more" (6:66). The multitude concluded that Jesus wasn't what they hoped He would be. They thought He would be their physical savior (cf. 6:15), but He didn't fulfill that desire. They found His teaching to be objectionable. They had followed Him for a while, intrigued by His miracles and stimulated by His unique teachings, but now they returned to their regular activities of life. They are no longer interested in Jesus because they love the darkness and not the light (cf. 3:19).
Those who preach the gospel or tend to the flock as shepherds would be wise to note Jesus' example here. When the multitude found His message objectionable, He let them go. Jesus didn't run after potential converts and beg them to stay. He didn't offer words of compromise. He didn't tone down His message. He let them go (cf. Matt. 15:14)! Just because one follows Jesus today doesn't mean that such a one will always do so. Also, there is a difference between appearing to be a disciple and actually being a disciple of Christ, and God knows the difference!
"Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away?'" (John 6:67). Jesus already knew the answer to this question, but in asking it He gives them an opportunity to express their loyalty and be bound more closely to Him.
"But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (6:68). Peter understood that eternal life was directly related to the words of Jesus. He understood what it meant to eat of the living bread. Peter is convinced that there is no other living bread; Jesus is the only one who could offer life everlasting.
Peter continued in John 6:69 - "Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." This is a simple, yet powerful, declaration of complete faith in Jesus (cf. Matt. 16:16). Note carefully that faith and knowledge are not mutually exclusive. Peter believed and knew that Jesus was the Christ (cf. John 4:42). Faith is based on evidence, not guesswork (cf. Heb. 11:1; Rom. 10:17).
Jesus replied - "Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?" (John 6:70). It is clear from 6:64 that Jesus already knows who will betray Him. It is probable that Jesus speaks of His betrayer at this time because the multitude has just left and His apostles (through Peter) have recommitted themselves to Jesus. However, not all of the twelve have the pure dedication of Peter, and Jesus knows this. One man has evidently not been drawn by divine influences; this man would later betray Jesus. This man is called a devil because he, like Satan, was a deceiver with evil intentions. Judas is specifically named by John as Christ's betrayer.
Dear friends, may we follow Peter's example in confessing the Lord as Christ and digesting His words as the way to life everlasting. To whom shall we go? There is no one to whom we can go except the Lord Jesus for the bread of life!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.