(July 19, 2019) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, explains on this powerful imagery challenge declared by Jesus…
We are living at a time when we are increasingly compelled by the dictates of those who have embraced the philosophy of ‘political correctness’ to avoid the use of language and actions that may ‘cause offence.’ People are being encouraged to rage against those things that they claim have offended them and increasingly that rage is funnelled into legal action!
Consequently a diverse range of people, including comedians, sports people – and preachers – are being silenced for fear of prosecution.
When Jesus caused offence!
Of course, such taking of ‘offence’ is often a manipulative tool to silence and control and as a tactic it has been used for thousands of years.
In fact, Jesus sometimes ‘offended’ those to whom he spoke. For example, one day when he was in Capernaum a crowd gathered to hear what he had to say and they were quick to take offence at his words.
We read in John 6:32 that he said, ‘I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.’
And in verse 41-42 we see the outraged response to this – ‘At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven?” How dare he say that! What an arrogant upstart!’ How offensive are his words!
Despite this reaction, Jesus ploughed ahead – ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”’ (John 6:51-52).
Despite the fact that Jesus was speaking figuratively they choose to misinterpret his words and to be incensed and offended by his words.
Some of them may have been familiar with the Mosaic Law forbidding the eating of meat with blood in it, for example, Leviticus 17:12 ‘Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood.”’
And quite apart from that prohibition, what Jesus was saying sounded suspiciously like cannibalism! So, rather than seeking to understand the significance of what Jesus was saying through his metaphor, they choose to be hostile, argumentative and offended.
So what did Jesus mean when he spoke about ‘eating and drinking’?
Obviously he was not advocating cannibalism! Jesus used that graphic language in order to challenge them (and us) that we need to have him in our lives. Verse 56 demonstrates that that was clearly his meaning, ‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.’ The Greek word translated here as ‘abide’ refers to a relationship.
The imagery is powerful! ‘Eating his body and drinking his blood’ signifies our internalising of his very being.
The New Testament affirms a number of times that for those who have repented of their sins and have put their trust in Christ as their Saviour, he takes up residence in our lives, that is, he lives in us!
- For example, Paul challenged the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 13:5, ‘Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you?’
- And, in Colossians 1:27, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’
In Matthew 26:26-28 Jesus used similar words regarding his ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ when he shared a meal with his disciples in the ‘upper room’ before his arrest and crucifixion.
In this meal, which has been called the ‘Lord’s Supper’, ‘Holy Communion’ and the ‘Eucharist’, we read, ‘While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”’
Jesus’ words anticipated the crucifixion when his flesh was torn and his blood was poured out.
But how are we to understand them? That has been something of a dilemma for the church for centuries. Are the words to be meant literally… that is, when we share in the ‘Lord’s Supper’ and eat the bread and drink the wine, does the bread somehow change into the real flesh of Jesus and does the wine change into the real blood of Jesus?
It may be argued that if Jesus said it, we have to take it as being so. But I cannot agree with that for three basic reasons:
1. Jesus used metaphors
It may also be argued, as I would, that Jesus was using a metaphor here to indicate that the bread and wine represented his body and blood. In fact Jesus often used metaphor to drive home a point.
- For example, when he said to his disciples, ‘You are the salt of the earth’ (Matthew 5:13) he obviously was not saying that his disciples were literally salt!
- And when he said, ‘I am the true vine’ (John 15:1) he clearly did not mean that he was literally a vine! Evidently Jesus was referring to things with which people were familiar in order to communicate a profound truth.
2. Jesus was physically present at the Lord’s Supper
Furthermore, the references in the upper room to eating the body and blood of Christ could in no way be understood literally as Jesus was actually and physically present with his disciples when he spoke those words!
Jesus was in his literal, pre-crucifixion, pre-resurrection body when he distributed the bread and wine to his disciples who would not have put any kind of supernatural or mystical interpretation when he said ‘This is my body. … This is my blood’ and when they ate the bread and drank the wine. It was real bread and real wine and did not metamorphose into something totally different.
3. Jesus intended the bread and wine to be memorial elements
Jesus described the wine in the cup as the new covenant in his blood. (Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:25). When he used the words, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood,’ he did not mean that that particular cup he was holding was the literal new covenant! Obviously he was speaking figuratively.
- Through his death on the cross on which his body was broken and his blood was shed, Jesus secured forgiveness, salvation and eternal life for those who place their faith in him.
- And the church’s repetition of that practice of using bread and wine throughout the centuries has also been figurative as that simple meal has been celebrated.
- Yet, despite its simplicity, how profound it is and how evocative and faith stirring it should be to those who participate in it.
The challenge to us
It is so easy to participate in the ‘ritual’ that we forget about the requirement! The Lord’s Supper is such a regular celebration in most churches that its profound significance can be forgotten. It is a most serious and most challenging that should promote thoughtful personal reflection.
Paul commented, ‘A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup’ (1 Corinthians 11:28). Honest self-reflection challenges us to acknowledge and confess our sins and shortcomings and it reminds us afresh of the price Jesus paid for our salvation.
It also reminds us afresh of our on-going need so to live that the Lord Jesus Christ who lives in us is honoured and glorified through us (Colossians 1:27, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’).
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Recommended are his enlightening Grace Revisited and Looking for Answers in a Confusing World; also Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org