When was the last time a stunning piece of art caused you to stop what you were doing, and consider it? Art has this remarkable ability to draw us in, and consider something familiar from a new perspective. In many ways, the arts allow us to most reflect our Creator God in one of His most unique avenues. In addition, when we consider great works of art, whether the artist intends to or not, we learn as much about them as we do the object they wish to depict.
When we begin to carefully examine the creation, we find God’s fingerprints everywhere. When we see a father play a game with his son at a local coffee shop, we can see an echo of God’s love for His people. When we see a group of friends laugh as they share a warm beverage on a cold day, we are reminded that we have been created as social beings. Why is that? God Himself has always existed in a perfect relationship of love with Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In other words, God teaches us about Himself through pictures.
One of the pictures God uses in the Gospels to reveal Himself is bread. In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus refers to Himself saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever.” (John 6:51 ESV) Initially, these words came to the Jewish people in a synagogue. Christ had been alluding to the manna that God had provided for Israel in the wilderness after the Exodus account. But there was a new image added to the formerly acceptable bread. Jesus said, “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51 ESV)
As one would expect, this was one of the more difficult sayings of Jesus. But does it have to be? Consider first this text from the Old Testament. Jesus cannot be speaking of a literal cannibalism, there was no room for such a worldview in the Old Testament. The Jewish people were given an explicit list of food laws that prohibited especially the consumption of blood (cf. Deut. 12:23-24). Also, in order to be the Messiah, Jesus was obligated to keep the Law Himself, and could not lead others into sin. So with these basic considerations, we can recognize that Jesus was speaking symbolically.
How did the Jewish people respond? Not well. The English translations often use the word “dispute” to describe their reaction to His words. But this is a rather bland English translation. Instead the underlying Greek verb is akin to enraged arguing. Why? Because it seemed as if this young thirty-something year old man was claiming that eternal life could only come by nibbling on Him — at least this was how they understood it.
The metaphoric language used by Jesus concerning “eternal life” abounds in John 6. If you were to trace out the phrase “eternal life” you would find that it only appears 17 times in John’s Gospel, with five of those occurrences being in John 6. The key to understanding Jesus’ symbolic imagery appears in that very phrase “eternal life”. Here is how John records those uses: “...everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.” (John 6:40 ESV); “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (John 6:47 ESV); “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” (John 6:54 ESV).
Since Jesus is not advocating cannibalism, the only way to understand this eating and drinking is as a symbol or metaphor for faith in Him. If we reject this understanding, and impute the sacrament of the Lords’ Supper as being explicitly in view (even though in the life of Christ He had not yet ordained this sacrament) we will have to demand that unless someone eats of the Lord’s Supper they do not have eternal life (cf. John 6:53).
We are not heaven bound because of our eating or not eating. We are endued with heavenly life in our union with Christ, who is the living bread, if we believe in Him. If you have not faith, and come to the Lord’s Table, all that you do is press some bread between your teeth. Faith is at the heart of this passage. Faith that the Lord Jesus, the bread of Heaven, has come to nourish our hungering souls. Will you partake of His heavenly feast? Will you believe in Him and delight in all of His benefits?
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