Sunday Morning Bible Study
November 12, 1995
Jesus had just done an incredible thing, feeding a huge multitude, at least five thousand men, not to mention the women and children.
And He did it all with five small loaves, and two small fish.
Then He told them:
»John 6:35-AV And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
The Jews didn't like the idea that Jesus was claiming to be the "bread from heaven", they murmured against Him.
:47 He that believeth on me hath everlasting life
Is that simple, or what?
It's not "believe and don't sin"
It's not "believe and do good works"
It's not "believe and be baptized"
But one of the questions we might ask is, what does it mean to "believe on me"?
It can't just mean to believe that He exists, because James writes:
»James 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
I believe part of what Jesus is going to be doing in the next section is to narrow down what our "believing in Him" consists of.
:49 Your fathers did eat manna ... and are dead
The manna in the wilderness was a fantastic miracle.
But in reality, though the bread sustained them from day to day, it didn't give them immortality, or eternal life.
:52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves
Literally, a fight broke out over this subject of Jesus' flesh.
:59 in the synagogue ... in Capernaum
We get the site of Jesus' teaching.
He wasn't out on a hillside somewhere, He was in a "church", addressing Jews.
:60 This is an hard saying; who can hear it?
hard - skleros - hard, harsh, rough, stiff; violent, rough, offensive, intolerable
who can hear it? - or, "who can understand it?"
I had an English teacher in High School that used to make fun of Christians, and this was one of the things he used to claim about Christians, that they believed that they were eating the flesh of their God.
To him, that was utterly repulsive.
At the time, I was totally confused by what the teacher had said.
I didn't believe I was eating Jesus' flesh, did I?
Sometimes Jesus needs to say some hard things to weed out those who aren't really in for the long stretch.
The example of the Christians meeting secretly in Communist Russia.
The soldiers came in with their rifles demanding for all those who aren't Christians to leave.
They looked like they were going to kill the Christians.
And after some left, they put down their weapons and say, "Good, we know it's very dangerous to be a Christian, and we needed to know that we were going to fellowship with only true Christians."
Hard times and hard sayings tend to weed out those who aren't really in for life.
:62 What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?
Jesus came from heaven.
He used to live there.
And He was going to return there.
The sense of this is:
If you guys are having a hard time understanding that I came from heaven, and that you need to partake of me, then boy is it going to blow your minds when you see me ascend back to heaven!
What does all this mean?
Is this talking about some kind of gross thing like eating a person's flesh?
Is this talking about Communion?
The Catholic view
It's interesting that this week in the Register, there was a whole series of articles on "communion" (Friday, November 10, 1995).
It offered a good synopsis of several views, mostly the Catholic one, of what communion is thought to be about.
How many of you come from a Catholic background?
The Catholics take this section literally
Communion for the Catholic is called "the Eucharist", which is Greek for "good gift".
The Catholic church teaches that when the priest is saying the Mass, and says the magic words, "hoc est corpus meum" ("this is my body")that the bread magically turns into the real flesh of Jesus, and the cup of wine really turns into the real blood of Jesus.
Keep in mind, this is despite the fact that the bread still tastes like bread, and the wine still tastes like wine.
This is called "transubstantiation", where one substance literally turns into another.
They don't believe that there's any symbolism here at all. They believe the bread and wine actually turn into the flesh and blood of Jesus.
To a learned Catholic, this is what they believe it means to "receive Jesus".
One quote from a guy in the paper: "Sometimes before I go up, I think, "Wow, I'm going to be receiving the King of Kings!" And when I get up there and take the body and blood of Jesus, time just stops. Then when I get back to my seat, I feel this total union with God."
Because of this, there is some elaborate steps that have to be taken:
What do you do with leftover Communion wine?
Do you pour the blood of Jesus down the sewer?
Answer: Usually it is supposed to be completely drunk by those who help in the serving. Otherwise, it is poured down a special sink called a "sacristy". This sink doesn't empty into the sewer, but into the earth.
What about washing the cups?
If you think about it, you shouldn't even rinse the cups out into a regular sink, because there are still drops of Jesus' blood in them.
So, the cups are rinsed with water, and then the water is either drunk or poured down the sacristy.
What about spills?
If this is really the blood of Jesus, what do you do?
There used to be a ritual for cleaning up spills.
But now they just cover it up with linen until the service is over, then the linen is rinsed out in the sacristy.
With their view of communion, I can certainly understand all the rituals and precautions.
The problem is, I don't think their belief is accurate.
The Biblical view:
I believe it is an elaboration of what it means to "believe on him" (vs.47).
This eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood puts the focus on the body and blood of Jesus, and the importance they are to our faith.
Jesus is saying that unless you partake of the benefits of His body and blood, you aren't going to have eternal life.
You must understand the principle of the sacrifice.
Jesus said in verse 51:
»I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
When He gives His flesh "for the life of the world", it's not saying that He gives His life to give life to the world (though this is true) as if eating a piece of His flesh was some kind of magic pill that would give eternal life.
This would be a Catholic understanding of the verse.
But the verse means that He gave His life as a sacrifice for the world.
The Greek word for "for" (as in "for the life of the world") is huper, which means "in behalf of, for the sake of ".
When Jesus died on the cross, He took upon Himself all of our sins. He took upon Himself all the punishment that our sins would bring. He gave Himself up for us so that we could find life.
This is the whole point of the Law in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament is very clear that sin demands justice, and if man is to be able to stand alive before God, then he has to have someone else pay his debt.
This is the reason for animal sacrifices.
The animals were to be substitutions for us.
The animals take our place on the altar and pay with their lives the price for our sins.
God was getting man ready to understand the ultimate substitutionary sacrifice.
The New Testament sees the real sacrifice that was made:
»John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
»2Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
»Hebrews 9:15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
The idea of the Messiah dying in our place isn't just a New Testament concept. Isaiah wrote:
»Isaiah 53:4-7 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
There is nothing more crucial, than understanding the place of the blood in our salvation.
The Old Testament laid down the foundational principle:
»Leviticus 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.
When an animal would spill it's blood on the altar, the picture was to be of the very life of the animal being poured out in your place, paying for your sins.
And so Jesus spilled His blood for us, to pay for our sin.
»Romans 3:24-25 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
This whole passage isn't about some kind of mystical cannibalism.
It's all about receiving the work of Jesus in your behalf.
It's all about understanding what Jesus did on the cross, dying in your place, paying the price for your sins.
And if you don't take part of that, you miss it all.
There is no eternal life apart from Jesus death for us.
That's why Jesus claimed boldly in verse 53:
»53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.
It's not about eating and drinking of some physical, mystical food, it's about believing in Jesus' death for you.
And if you're still not convinced, then look at the next verse:
:63 It is the spirit that quickeneth
quickeneth - one of my favorite King James' words, meaning "to make alive"
Which "spirit" is Jesus talking about? The human spirit? The Holy Spirit?
I think Jesus is just talking about the spirit in a general sense.
He is contrasting it to the flesh.
He is saying that it is in the realm of the spirit, in the spiritual dimension, that we are made alive.
:63 the flesh profiteth nothing
Jesus is saying that it's not in the physical world that you're going to find life.
For those who want to make this passage talk about the "Eucharist", as though you will receive eternal life by taking communion, should take a close look at this verse.
Eternal life does not come from some physical thing that you do.
It's all in the realm of the spirit, in believing.
John already wrote:
»John 1:12-13 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Build up the spirit.
We spend lots of time trying to build up our physical bodies.
We get into exercise programs.
We go on diets to loose weight.
We go on diets to improve our health.
But we ought to put our hearts into building up the spiritual nature.
»Galatians 6:7-8 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
»1Timothy 4:8 For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
If we spend time on the stationary bicycle, shouldn't we spend time on our knees?
If we spend time watching our calories and cholesterol, shouldn't we maybe watch our spiritual input and cut back a little on the TV and pick up the Word more often?
:63 the words I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life
It's not in some physical action like eating and drinking at communion that we find life, it's in the Word of God.
PNT (B.W. Johnson): We may paraphrase this verse thus: I shall ascend to heaven so that my body cannot be literally eaten; the flesh literally profits nothing. It is the spirit that makes alive. The spirits of men must feed upon me by faith, that they may be made alive. My words are spirit and life. He who feeds upon them will be made alive.
In the Psalms:
»Psalm 119:50 This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.
Even as we've been studying the Word of God, some of you may have been kind of "waking up", and coming to life.
It's very likely that some of you are beginning to have your eyes opened to realize that you need the work of God in your life.
You need the sacrifice of Jesus to pay for your own sins.
What about communion?
This passage, though relating many of the elements found in communion, isn't about communion itself.
The actual practice of communion isn't put in place by Jesus for another year.
It's not until the last supper, on the night before He is betrayed, that Jesus sets up communion as something we are to do.
We'll look at what Paul says:
»1Corinthians 11:23-26 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: 24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. 25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. 26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
Communion is to be a time of "remembrance".
There's nothing in Scripture that says that when we say magic words, that the bread somehow turns into Jesus' flesh.
It's to be a time of remembering what Jesus has done for us.
It's to remind us of His death for us, of His payment for our sins.