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How to Have Life in Us

  

All this discussion about covenant may seem a little – well, academic – unless one realizes that our Lord made clear that being in covenant with him is a prerequisite to life in the coming age. Consider the following verses:

John 6:49-58 (RSV)

‘I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I 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; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he ho eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.’

Jesus posits a series of statements regarding eating: (1) the Jews’ forefathers ate manna in the wilderness and they died (v. 49); (2) his hearers must eat the bread that comes from heaven to live eternally (v.50); (3) Jesus himself is the living bread that came down from heaven (v. 51); (4) the bread he will give them is his flesh (v. 51). Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, Jesus tells his audience, there is no life in you (v. 53) – “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.” (v. 54)

The twofold necessity of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood has bothered many scholars, including J. Ramsey Michaels:

Nothing in the bread metaphor prepares the reader for the mention of drinking blood, so abhorrent to the Jewish mind (Lev. 17:10-14). Just when the Jews take offense at the notion of eating his flesh (v. 52), Jesus multiplies the offense many times over. Instead of explaining the statement away, he tells them he must drink his blood as well!

What did Jesus mean when he said we must eat his flesh and drink his blood? It is H. Clay Trumbull who perhaps best explains what Jesus meant. Trumbull relates the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood to covenant-making:

…wherever a bloody offering is made in connection with sacrifice and with covenanting, it is the blood-drinking, the blood pouring, or the blood touching that represents the covenant-making; while eating the flesh of the victim or of the flesh otherwise provided, represents the covenant-ratifying, or the covenant-showing.

A second idea Trumbull introduces is that sprinkling of blood and feast-partaking represented the drinking and eating of covenant making.

That “sprinkling the blood” toward the altar in the Jewish sacrifices as preliminary to “eating the flesh of the victim,” represented the idea of blood drinking, as in the primitive mode of blood covenanting, would seem to be indicated by the words of the Lord in Psalm 50:12,13 –

If I were hungry I would not tell thee;
For the world is mine, and the fullness thereof.
Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
Or drink the blood of goats?

“For though it be here denied,” says Cudworth, “that God did really feed upon the sacrifices, yet it is implied that there was some such allusive significance in them” in the minds of their offerers; and that the blood-sprinkling represented the covenant blood-drinking, as surely as the flesh-sharing represented the covenant-celebrating. Why should the Lord say that he does not care to drink the blood of goats, if no one of his worshipers ever thought of his doing so?

Other verses in Psalm 50 give context for what vv. 12-13 convey:

Ps 50:5
Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice. (italics mine)

Ps 50:14
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High.

The psalm is telling its hearers that you can go through the motions of covenant making as long as you want, but they are useless unless thanksgiving and faithfulness accompany them. But the psalm is also conveying something about what constitute the actions of covenant-making. The verses in Psalm 50 indicate that eating the flesh of bulls and drinking the blood of goats signified covenant-making in the understanding of the hearers, and 2) the eating and drinking represented the blood-sprinkling and feasting which constituted covenant-celebrating.

As Michaels points out, “many scholars find in Jesus’ shocking language [about eating his flesh and drinking his blood] a symbolic allusion to the two elements of bread and wine in the Christian sacrament of the Lord’s supper.” They are correct – both passages are talking about the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.

I Co 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Now Jesus’ statement that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him” makes sense, indicating the unity which results from being in covenant with Jesus. Immortal life is then possible.

Trumbull quotes Julius Firmicus, “We drink the immortal blood of Christ. Christ’s blood is joined to our blood. This is the salutary remedy for your offenses.”

Jesus’ statement, “I am the bread of life” and the discourse which surrounds it is ultimately an invitation and an explanation of the path of salvation. Jesus’ hearers were required to leave behind preconceived ideas in order to be able to identify Jesus as the true source of spiritual nourishment. This nourishment is no snack however; rather, the solemnity of a covenantal relationship is required. Eternal life is available to those who, in covenant relationship with Jesus, drink the immortal blood of Jesus.

2 Responses to “How to Have Life in Us”

  1. on 18 Feb 2007 at 8:38 pmJohnO

    I would hardly say John has merely implied a symbol that we might miss or might realize. He wrote John 6 in anticipation of the Last Supper. We already realize that the Last Supper is Jesus’ presentation of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8 elaborates also). John 6 is a foreshadow of exactly that!

  2. on 19 Feb 2007 at 2:46 pmAlexB

    JohnO:

    What electrified me about John 6 and Jesus telling his hearers that they had to drink his blood and eat his flesh was the level of commitment he was asking for as a response to the one he was ready to make. I hadn’t really thought of eating his flesh and drinking his blood as a symbol, although I am aware of the historical debate regarding all this.

  

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