Just before the second Passover feast of His ministry, Jesus delivers His well-known "eat my flesh, drink my blood" sermon. By casting Himself as the true bread from heaven, He causes many to harden their hearts and turn away from following Him. This episode looks at the sermon from John 6.
Hi I’m Josh Hawkins and this is Episode 78 of Opening Up the Gospels. In Episode 77, I talked about Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees in Capernaum and how He came strongly against their traditions, or the “fence" that they had established around the Law. Jesus made the point that by seeking to follow their traditions, they completely invalidated the goal of the Law altogether. Though the Pharisees and scribes honored God with their lips, their hearts were so far from Him. Remember, Jesus came seeking the fruits of repentance, and true repentance comes from the heart. These guys had already rejected Jesus and were just digging a deeper hole for themselves. Well, in this episode I want to look at what happens next in Capernaum, which is the famous “eat my flesh drink my blood" sermon of Jesus where He talks on the bread of life. I hope the last several episodes have given you the context to be able to see and feel the significance of Jesus’ words in this scene from John chapter 6. Let’s start reading in John 6:1: "On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” " (John 6:22–27 ESV) John begins by telling us that the crowds that had been fed the day before come back around the shore to Capernaum and find Jesus there. What’s about to happen is so dramatic, just based on what’s happened the last couple of days. Jesus has just fed 5,000 the night before, then that morning He heals multitudes on the plane of Gennesaret, then He comes to Capernaum and has the confrontation with the Pharisees and the multitudes from the night before find Him again and say “hey Master!” These were the same guys the night before that said “hey, we want to make you the ruler, you’re the Prophet and we want you to be over our nation!” This is the context for what Jesus says to them in this popular discourse in John 6. The crowds say “hey, there you are! We’re excited to see you” and Jesus comes back and says “um, guys, you came back to find me because I filled your belly, not because you care about me or my message.” Jesus is once again confrontational, exposing their true motivation regarding His ministry. Let’s keep going in John 6: "Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”" (John 6:28–40 ESV) This is just the beginning of Jesus’ absolutely stunning discourse in Capernaum that day. There’s a few key points I want to bring to your attention so you can better understand what Jesus is saying here. First, we can’t forget that the Passover is near, so the crowds are already thinking about this theme of Moses and the Exodus and the wilderness. That story is back in Exodus chapter 12. Of course Jesus had just done a very Moses-like thing the day before by feeding them all in a desolate place. So this whole idea of manna and bread was fresh on their mind. Jesus doesn’t just pull the example of “bread” out of thin air for this sermon. And second, just as the Lord provided bread from the heavens in the Exodus, so the Lord will provide bread from heaven to bring the children of Israel out of their exile in the nations and still the greatest exile of sin and death. But that bread would not be like the bread of the first Exodus. Jesus Himself is the bread that God provides, and those who believe in Him will have the gift of eternal life, literally with a physical body that has a beating heart and lungs that take in breath. Jesus Himself promises to resurrect them on the last day. Does that make sense? The crowds don’t get it - they’re still thinking there’s some super bread that they can eat like the day before, and they still believe their ethnicity is what qualifies them to inherit God’s promises to them. Jesus is calling them to bear the fruits of repentance, but they aren’t understanding Him because their hearts are hard. Let’s keep going in John: "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, 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 feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:47–54 ESV) Well here’s where it all blows up. Jesus makes the most offensive statement when the multitudes are the largest and His popularity is at its highest. This is an absolutely unprecedented revelation of who He is. He says “if you really want me, here I am. Have this. You must eat my body and drink my blood. How does this feel?” Remember, Jesus is in Capernaum here - that’s where He lived, it’s where all His friends and acquaintances are and it’s where probably the whole town knew who He was. He unveils Himself and says “Guys, Moses didn’t actually give you the manna. I’m the bread from heaven, I’m the one who will provide for you in the sojourn and ultimately bring you out of exile, resurrecting you from your grave and planting you in your own land and shepherding you forever. If you want to partake of me, you need to eat my flesh and drink my blood. This is who I am.” What were Jesus' brothers thinking as they heard Him say these things? Now in Genesis 9, Leviticus 17, Deuteronomy 12 and other places in the Old Testament the LORD explicitly commanded the Israelites never to drink blood. It was detestable. So what Jesus was saying to them was profoundly offensive on that level too. Well, what happens? Let’s read again from John 6: "When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him." (John 6:60–66 ESV) This point in Jesus’ ministry - just about a year in with a little over a year remaining - proved to be the turning point, at least up in Galilee. Jesus had devoted so much of His time and energy to the people there, especially in Capernaum, and when it really came down to it and He opened His identity to them just a little bit but in an unprecedented way, He’s met with outright rejection. They said “alright Jesus, we’ve liked your miracles and the food you gave us, but that eat my flesh and drink my blood thing is a hard saying. We think we’re done”. Jesus knew what was in their heart, and all the time He had spent with them still had not produced the fruit of repentance that He was looking for. He wasn’t after crowds, He was after hearts that were torn. This is so devastating, because this proved to be their final chance. From this point forward, Jesus shifts His ministry focus away from Galilee and on to other regions. Now don’t forget - the Pharisees from Jerusalem that Jesus had just confronted earlier that day before this discourse were likely still hanging around, and so they heard Him say these things too. Undoubtedly this galvanized their hatred of Him even more and were pushed further and further toward what they would do to Him the following year at the Passover. I think this fact explains what John says right after everything he narrates in John 6: "After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him." (John 7:1 ESV) Again, remember that the Passover was near, and Jesus, like all good Jewish males, should have been going to the Passover. But I think John is saying that Jesus would not journey south for the Passover because the Jews who had come to Capernaum from Jerusalem had heard what He said and wanted to kill him all the more. This is going to be an important point to remember for the episodes ahead, so don’t forget it. Well we are out of time for today but I hope this is making sense to you. This is a really significant and really tragic moment in Jesus’ Galilean ministry. In the next episode, we’ll continue journeying with Jesus to some unexpected places. If you’ve missed any of the past episodes in this series, you can find them all on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Come back next time. God bless.