Holy Communion, Gospel Analysis
PENTECOST 11B John 6:51-58
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 139.
This section in John 6 seems to be a replacement for the “missing” account of the Lord’s Supper in the Gospel of John.
When we study the Lord's Supper in the Gospel of John, we discover that the Gospel of John has no reference to the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion during the evening of Holy Thursday of the Passion Week. At that Lord's Supper in John, there is a detailed description of the foot washing, but there is not one reference to sharing of the bread and wine. Whereas in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and their description of the Lord's Supper, there is a detailed account of the events at the New Testament Passover Meal, but not one reference to the foot washing.
It seems that these words about the “flesh and blood” of Jesus are the Gospel of John’s description of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper.
These verses in John 6 are the primary teaching about Holy Communion in the New Testament. These words are clear and powerful.
These words are part of the “Bread of Life” discourse in John 6. Jesus has fed the five thousand and now is giving an extended discourse about himself being the bread of life.
It would be beneficial to read of the gospel analysis for the previous two Sundays, Pentecost 9 and 10, where the verses prior to this gospel text are studied in detail.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. This is the only time that the phrase, “living bread,” is used in the Scriptures and is parallel to Jesus saying that he was the “living water” to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:10).
Jesus is the source of life, the source of eternal life, the source of the values of our daily lives, the source of love for our daily lives. The basic food staple of the world is bread and Jesus is the basic spiritual staple of the world.
Jesus is never just bread. Jesus is always the bread OF LIFE. Jesus is always the LIVING bread. As we consume bread, it gives us nourishment and energy for our physical lives. As we consume Jesus into our lives, he is the nourishment and energy for our spiritual, emotional and moral lives.
Underline the phrase, “I am the bread of life.” Here is the first of the great, I AM, sayings of Jesus. There are seven, I AM, (ego eimi) sayings in the Gospel of John e.g.
- “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35)
- “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5)
- “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7, 9)
- “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14)
- “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25, 26)
- “I am the way, and the truth, and the life (John 14:6)
- “I am the true vine” (John 15:1,5)
These were all references to God the Father in the Old Testament and now Jesus teaches that these are references to himself as well.
Focus on the verb, “I am.” I AM, a “be” verb, was the name of God in the Old Testament and we translate that verb, Yahweh or Jehovah. We recall the story of the Lord speaking to Moses out of the burning bush at Mount Horeb and revealing the divine name to Moses. I AM which becomes translated “Yahweh
Jesus Christ has come down from heaven. The question was ask in the previous text: “Where are you from?” “What are your origins, Jesus?” The answer, “God the Father.”
The phrase, “ bread down from heaven,” is repeated seven times in John 6. In John 6, either the bread came down from heaven or Jesus came down from heaven.
Joh 6:33 - For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
Joh 6:38 -for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
Joh 6:41 -Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven."
Joh 6:42 -They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, "I have come down from heaven'?"
Joh 6:50 -This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
Joh 6:51 -I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Joh 6:58 -This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
-Whoever eats of this bread We are eat, consume, take in the bread of Christ into our lives.
How do we do this? How do we take in Christ, the bread of life?
Obviously, from Holy Communion and eating the bread and drinking the wine. That is what this sermon is all about. Eating the body of Christ which is his flesh.
Obviously, from reading and digesting the Scriptures. The Bible itself is the bread of life.
Obviously, from absorbing Christ as we see and experience Christ in other loving people.
Obviously, from serving others, we consume Christ. Every day we encounter scenes and situations that invite us to give ourselves in love by serving the needs of others. As we serve the needs of others, the love of Christ enters us more fully.
Or when we go on mission events where we serve the needs of others, we realize how powerful and transforming these mission encounters are.
- will live forever
The words, “forever” and “everlasting life,” were the focus of the sermon from last week.
A primary benefit of eating this bread of Christ is to live forever. This bread is the soul food for eternity.
Repeatedly, we hear Jesus’ promise that we shall live forever. This text feels like an Easter text. We hear this same refrain repeated a few verses later in John 6:58: “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
The theme of “eternal life” is synonymous with the theme of “forever.” The underlying Greek words for “eternal life” and “forever” are the same. (zwhn aiwnion, aiwna) The words, “live forever” and “eternal life” are the same words in the Greek language. The words, “live forever” and “eternal life” occur 396 times in the Bible.
Specifically, the English word, “forever,” occurs 352 times in the whole Bible; 302 times in the Old Testament and 52 times in the New Testament. It occurs seven times in the four gospels and five times in the Gospel of John. In other words, the word, “forever,” is important in this gospel.
Joh 6:51 - I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Joh 6:58 -This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
Joh 8:35 -The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever.
Joh 12:34 -The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?"
Joh 14:16 -And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
-and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." In this statement, we clearly hear that theme repeated in the Gospel of John that Jesus gave his life FOR THE WORLD, not simply for The Church or Christians or Christianity. We recall John 3:16, “For God so loved THE WORLD.”
Circle the words, “my flesh.” It will be repeated four times within four verses.
We recall John 1:14, a key verse in the John’s prologue, which said, “The Word/Mind of God became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
We hear John’s words from his later Epistle, I John 4:2, “By this you know the Spirit of God”: everyone who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.”
The word, “incarnation,” is a combination of two words, “in” and “flesh” or carnes” from which we get the word, “carnivorous.”
At the core of John’s thought is that Jesus Christ was the flesh of God here on this earth in human form.
Flesh refers to Jesus’ complete humanity. Jesus is bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. I John 4:2-3, “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not of God.”
Drinking the blood of Christ would be offensive to the Jews. To eat flesh and blood reeks of cannibalism, if one reads this text literally (which is not very smart to do.) Genesis 9:4, “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” Deuteronomy 15:23 “You shall not eat its blood.”
Similarly, in Holy Communion, Jesus Christ is the flesh of God here on this earth.
We recall that the Gospel of John was written in the era of an intellectual battle with the heresy of Gnosticism which de-emphasized that God came to earth as a real human being in the flesh. Within Gnosticism, Jesus was the idea of love or philosophy of love rather than love in the actual flesh of a human being.
In history, there are always groups that want to retain the idea of Jesus, the idea of love, the idea of eternal life, whereas the Gospel of John and the New Testament emphasize that God became a real, live human being in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth.
The word, “flesh,” underscores Jesus’ humanity and authentic earthiness.
-52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Circle the word, “flesh,” a second time.
As we have stated repeatedly in this course, it is “the Jews” who are the enemy of Jesus in the Gospel of John, much more so than the Pharisees of the first three gospels. There are 59 references to “the Jews” in the Gospel of John and only 15 references to “the Jews” in all of the first three gospels combined. In this gospel by the Apostle John, “the Jews” are the persistent antagonists.
This time “the Jews” are perplexed by what Jesus meant that he was giving his flesh to eat. They are more than perplexed but they began having disputes and conflicts among themselves as to what Jesus meant by “eating his flesh.”
At the end of John 6, we are going to find certain disciples having conflicts within themselves and among themselves about this “offensive” and “scandalous” teaching.
In the Christian church for centuries, groups and denominations have argued among themselves what it means to “eat the flesh” of Jesus.
53 So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. The phrase, “very truly,” is used in John’s gospel as a point of emphasis. The words that follow this phrase are intended to be very important.
This is the third reference to the word, “flesh,” within three Bible verses.
This is clearly a reference to the Eucharist, to the body and blood of Jesus in and through Holy Communion.
Normally in Holy Communion, we think of the word, “body,” rather than the word, “flesh.” When we hear the words of institution in the first three gospels, we hear Jesus saying, “This is my body given for you.” (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; 1Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:24). But in John’s gospel, it is the “flesh” of Christ which is given to us.
As a pastoral Biblical scholar, I personally believe that by the end of the first century, the Apostle John was combating the heresy of Gnosticism. Paul and the authors of the synoptic gospels were not combating the spiritualism of Docetism and Gnosticism. Knowing his intellectual and spiritual battles, it seems appropriate that the Apostle John used the term “flesh” rather than “body.” The Apostle John was making a point against the heresies and tendencies of Gnosticism: Jesus was God in the flesh, in actuality, within a real live human being. Jesus was not merely an idea of love, not an ideal of love, not merely the spirit of love, as the Gnostics then (and now) would have him be.
The language of eating flesh and drinking blood was enormously offensive to the Jews of Jesus’ time. Jewish law forbade anyone to drink blood. Drinking blood was a heinous offense against Jewish laws in the Old Testament.
Underscore the words, “my blood.” Those words will be repeated four times in this short text.
The first benefit of eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood is to have life within one’s self.
“Son of Man” is a reference to Jesus himself. In the synoptic gospels, the “Son of Man” was Jesus’ repeated, self designation. In the first three gospels, Jesus was the Son of Man who was to come at the end of history and judge the living and the dead.
54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; Circle the words, “eat my flesh,” a fourth time. And the words, “drink my blood.”
Within the liturgical and historical churches, the phrase, “eat my flesh and drink my blood,” immediately makes us think of Holy Communion. In Holy Communion, when we eat the bread, we are taking the flesh of Christ into us. When we drink the wine, we are taking the blood of Christ into us.
One of the earliest references to Holy Communion is in the ancient book, the Didache. It was written in about the year 60 CE. It says in Didache 9:5 “But let no one eat or drink of this eucharistic thanksgiving, but they that have been baptized into the name of the Lord." In other words, the language of “eating and drinking” was part of the earliest written record about the Eucharist.
These words almost sound like cannibalism. In the early church, we hear secular words from Romans who were not Christians and those secular Romans spoke against the apparent cannibalism of the first Christians.
Eating the body and blood of Christ gives eternal life. Wow. Incredible. Unbelievable. How could “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” do such wondrous things as giving eternal life? That is the promise that is given repeatedly in this text. Those who eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood receive life and eternal life.
The second benefit from eating the body and blood of Christ is to receive eternal life. Eternal life which begins now. Eternal life is a quality of living and loving today in our world.
A third benefit of Holy Communion is to be raised up at the last day, at the last judgment, at the resurrection.
It is no wonder that Christians have celebrated Holy Communion at our weekly worship services from the earliest beginnings of the Church.
Some years ago, when I was giving Holy Communion to Edie Wills of our parish who was dying of cancer of the esophagus. She had a tracheotomy and could speak only with airy, whispered sounds. I spoke to her the words of John 6: “Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood (will never die) but live forever.” She shot back at me from her hospital bed, “What did you say?” I replied, “I didn’t say it but God’s Word said it, “Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will live forever.” With her breathy voice, Edie whispered loudly and forcefully to me through her wind pipe and tracheotomy, “Give me some of that bread and wine.” It was as if Edie had heard these words for the first time. The words penetrated her mind and she knew that she was eating soul food and drinking soul wine for all eternity…before her body died.
55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Circle the words, “my flesh,” a fifth time. Focus on the words, “my blood.” In John’s discourses, he often uses circuitous and repetitious words, and this line and the next lines are examples of his repeating the same thought in similar words.
Focus on the word, “true.” Jesus is true food, true drink. Genuine, authentic, valid. There are many other forms of fake and false foods and drinks around us that promise us the abundant life, the full life, the good life here on Earth in rich America e.g. beer and buddies around the campfire.
Without even thinking about it, when we consume the foods, drinks and values of our culture, we are absorbing the spirit of our culture into our attitudes and actions, into our values, into our way of live.
Who do we absorb into our lives? The spirit of Christ, the words of Christ, the life of Christ, the love of Christ, the death and resurrection of Christ? And/or our culture and all its materialistic, hedonistic values that permeate our daily lives too much?
Which is TRUE food? Which are TRUE values? Which are life giving visions and values for our daily existence?
56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Circle the words, “eat my flesh,” a sixth time. “Drink my blood” a fourth time. "Eat my flesh and drink my blood": that is what Jesus wants us to do.
Again, this is an obvious reference to Holy Communion.
Those who eat his flesh and drink his blood abide in Christ and Christ abides in us/them. This is a “mutual indwelling” which occurs often in the Gospel of John.
The word abide means “live.” To live in Christ and Christ to live in us.
The word, “abide,” is a dominant word in the Gospel of John and is repeated often. 17 of the 18 times the word, “abide,” occurs in the New Testament arefrom the gospelor epistles of John.
Scan the following references to the word “abide” in the gospel and epistles of John. See especially I John 4:16.
Joh 6:56 - Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Joh 15:4 - Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
Joh 15:5 - I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
Joh 15:6 - Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
Joh 15:7 - If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
Joh 15:9 - As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.
Joh 15:10 - If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
1Co 13:13 - And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1Jo 2:6 - whoever says, "I abide in him," ought to walk just as he walked.
1Jo 2:24 - Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.
1Jo 2:27 - As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.
1Jo 2:28 - And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.
1Jo 3:17 - How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
1Jo 3:24 - All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
1Jo 4:13 - By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
1Jo 4:15 - God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.
1Jo 4:16 - So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
2Jo 1:9 - Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
From the above readings from the Johannine literature, it is obvious that the word “abide” is a uniquely Johannine word that is used almost exclusively in the books that bear his name.
“Mutual indwelling” is one of the reasons that we take Holy Communion so often and regularly. As we do so, the Bible assures us that the presence of Christ lives in us and we live in Christ.
One of the primary benefits of Holy Communion is that Christ lives and dwells within us and we live and dwell within Christ. Other benefits of Holy Communion and eating the bread of life and drinking his blood are: life itself, eternal life that begins in this life, and being raised on the last day.
Martin Luther in his Small Catechism taught that the benefits of Holy Communion are “forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
In the mystery of Holy Communion, there are many benefits of this sacrament for us as human beings.
57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the only reference in the Bible to the words, “living Father.”
The living Father sent Jesus to this earth and Jesus lives because of the living Father. So also, we will live because Christ lives in us. How does Christ live in us? Through the Spirit of his love, his forgiveness, his peace, his compassion that lives in us through our attitudes and actions which are not simply our own but the presence of Christ living inside of us. When we eat his body and drink his blood, we take his presence into ourselves.
This is the first reference to the word, “Father,” in this lectionary text. The word, “father,” is a primary designation of Jesus about God in the Gospel of John. We recall that earlier in John 6 that Jesus called God “my father” which would have infuriated the Jews and laid grounds for their crucifixion of him for blasphemy.
58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." The Jews in the Old Testament wilderness ate the manna and died but whoever eats this living bread with live forever.
This is one of the essential differences between the Old and New Testaments, the Old and New Covenants, the Law and the Gospel. When a person ate the manna in the wilderness, that person still died. When a person ate the Law and the legalisms of the Old Testament, that person did not find life nor love for that day nor for all eternity. Those who eat the bread of Jesus, the love of Jesus, the forgiveness and compassion of Jesus, that person will find life now and forever.
59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. This discourse occurred at the synagogue in Capernaum.
We recall the basic photograph which shows us the location of the village of Capernaum at the north end of the Sea of Galilee. Memorize the location of Capernaum in your mind.
We recall other photographs of Capernaum that we studied earlier in Lesson 6 of this course on THE LIFE OF CHRIST. We recall that the photograph below is a reconstruction of the synagogue at Capernaum. The location of the synagogue has not changed. This was THE location of the synagogue in Capernaum in Jesus’ day. The rocks in the flooring of this reconstructed synagogue are very old and from the time of Jesus. The reconstruction is a good representation of a synagogue from Jesus’ day.
We recall that other events occurred at this synagogue: Jesus was confronted by a demoniac while teaching here (Mark 1:21-27). Jesus healed the centurion's servant, the centurion who built the synagogue (Luke 7:3). In this synagogue, Jesus gave his sermon/teaching on the bread of life (John 6:35-59).
Sometimes, a Biblical scholar wonders if the synagogue that Jesus was thrown out of was not at Nazareth as the Gospel of Luke explicitly and uniquely tells us, but was the synagogue in his “own country” (Capernaum) as the Gospel of Mark tells us. The Gospel of John tells us that the teachings of John 6 occurred at the synagogue in Capernaum. John 6:59: “He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.”
Jesus made Capernaum his home during the years of his ministry: "Leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum" (Matt 4:13). Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen living in the village. Matthew the tax collector also dwelt here. Capernaum is one of the three cities cursed by Jesus for its lack of faith.
Capernaum was in existence from the second century BCE. to the seventh century CE. Capernaum was built along the edge of the Sea of Galilee and had up to 1500 residents.
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