The Lord’s Supper: The Bread of Life

Oddly enough, John’s Gospel does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper, but it does contain an extended speech by Jesus that evokes the Lord’s Supper —

(John 6:53-56)  Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.”

Most believe Jesus is speaking of the Lord’s Supper. Leon Morris, in the New International Commentary on John, argues that Jesus is telling us what the Lord’s Supper communicates. It’s not that eating the bread and drinking the wine gives eternal life. Rather, the Lord’s Supper symbolizes that which gives eternal life —

(John 6:29)  Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

(John 6:36)  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.

(John 6:40)  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

(John 6:47)  I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.

(John 6:63-64)  “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.”

Scattered throughout Jesus’ discourse on eating flesh and drinking blood are a series of statements about the necessity and sufficiency of faith.You can’t miss the Hebraic parallelism: faith is parallel with eating and drinking.

Morris quotes Strachan,

The primary reference of flesh and blood is not the sacrament, but to the demand for faith in a Christ who became ‘flesh and blood.’

Morris notes that “body” is the language used of the Eucharist, while Jesus speaks of “flesh” in John 6. He also quotes Westcott —

To ‘eat” and to ‘drink’ is to take to oneself by voluntary act that which is external to oneself.

Thus, Jesus is speaking metaphorically of faith, and so John is telling us that the Lord’s Supper also speaks metaphorically of faith.

(1 Cor 11:26)  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Paul got it.

We eat together and declare that we believe! And it’s not just the eating. It’s the eating together. You see, the community formed by Jesus — the community that is Jesus on earth — declares by its very existence as a united body bound together in love that Jesus was resurrected — and that his resurrection changed the world. After all, it changed us.

When we eat, we eat in such a way that the world sees that we have been changed by Jesus. The communion must be a manifestation of the love and unity for which Jesus prayed — and it must be an act of faith, not in the bread and juice, but in Jesus as the bread of life.

Bread is what keeps you alive. Bread is what causes you to grow. And eating bread as an act of faith is to declare our utter reliance on Jesus for our lives — all our lives. Do this and you proclaim Jesus’ death to a lost world.

Advertisements

10 Responses

  1. I’m surprised that most believe this is a reference to the Lord’s Supper. I had always thought the proportion went the other way, but that’s probably because of the influence of Neil Lightfoot during my college years. Since he didn’t interpret the passage that way, I guess he steered us toward interpreters that shared his view.

    If Morris is right, then it seems even the vocabulary of the Lord’s Supper had changed dramatically by the time that John wrote. None of the other passages refer to eating Jesus’ flesh, nor do any speak of the Supper as playing a role in salvation.

    I’m certainly not dogmatic about this, but I still believe the best interpretation is that Jesus was speaking not of the Supper, but of entering into a relationship with him.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Tim,
    You have a point there. The view that this passage is referring to the Lord’s Supper is not unanimous.
    Peace,
    Randall

  3. Seems more likely that the relationship of John 6 to the Lord’s Supper accounts of the other gospels is the same as the relationship of John 12:27 to Matt 26:42.

  4. Tim,

    I’ve read a number of commentaries. Most say John 6 is about the Lord’s Supper. Morris says that c. 6 and the Lord’s Supper are about the same thing: faith in Jesus — which, of course, is all about being in relationship.

  5. Matt 26:39-42 I mean

  6. Jay,

    I wasn’t doubting you on the commentary score, just expressing surprise. It’s been over twenty years since I consulted a new commentary on John’s Gospel (I still consult the old ones I have), so I would have no idea as to what the majority opinion is.

    The points I raised still make me doubt, plus the question of context. A discussion of the Lord’s Supper seems to have little to do with what was under discussion.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  7. Hi Jay,

    I believe you are correct when you say John 6 ‘evokes’ the Lord’s Supper, as opposed to being a direct reference to it. It is verse 63b that is the key, as you have properly cited. Also, 1 John 2:6 NKJV 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked., could be factored in. The Catholics want to use this text (John 6) in their transubstantiation doctrine, which, along with numerous other teachings, is simply wrong.

    When ‘the world sees that we have been changed by Jesus,’ as you write, I believe people will start presenting for baptism. We must take the gospel passages on humility, forgiveness, and service as seriously as we take Acts 2.38. When we start doing that, people will come, not to us, but to Jesus, because He will have caused those attitudes and actions.

  8. People in the COC need to take Acts 10:44-48, Acts 15:7-9 and Romans 4:1-8 seriously. People in the COC need to know that the whole Bible is about the redemption plan God provides for all people, Abraham, Moses, and David will be in heaven too.

  9. You need to take Romans 2 seriously.

  10. Romans 2:1 “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”

    Are you ever unloving, unmerciful, unforgiving, proud, gossiping, untrustworthy, covetous, envious, quarrelsome, and the list goes on.

    Are you righteous before God or do you need someone who is righteous to stand in your place?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: