Notes on John 6:52-59

John 6:52-59
Such words from our Lord, His flesh given for the life of the world, were startling enough to those who heard them, but statements yet plainer follow. He insists on the necessity of drinking His blood. “The Jews therefore contended among themselves, saying, How can he give us his1 flesh to eat? Jesus therefore said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, Unless ye have eaten the flesh of the Son of man and have drunk his blood, ye have2 no life in you. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day; for my flesh is truly3 food, and my blood is truly4 drink. He that eateth may flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live by reason of the Father, he also that eateth me, even he shall live by reason of me. This is the bread that came down out of heaven. Not as the father5 ate and died: he that eateth this bread shall live forever. These things said he in [the] synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum.” (Vers. 52-59.)
Thus as the Lord set forth Himself incarnate under the bread that came down out of heaven to be eaten in faith, so here we have His death under the figure of the flesh6 to be eaten and the blood to be drunk. It is the life given up, the blood drunk as a separate thing, the most emphatic sign of death. Of this faith partakes and finds in it atonement and communion. Without it there is no life. It was the more important, as some professed to receive Him as the Christ who stumbled at His death. The Lord shows that such is not the faith of God's elect; for be who welcomed Him as come clown from heaven would glory in His cross; and though none could anticipate His death, all who truly believe would rejoice, once it is made known and its object and efficacy opened. Those who receive the incarnation in faith do also with like faith receive His death; and these only have eternal life. For such as accept the former after a human sort are apt to cavil at the latter. Both are objects and tests of faith; and the more decisive of the two is His death.
It may be observed that, as there are two figures in the central part of the chapter, so under the last there are two forms of expression which we distinguish: the act of having eaten His flesh and drunk His blood, as in verse 52; and the continuous eating and drinking as in verse 58. This is of moment as cutting off all occasion from such as either argue for or object against severing eternal life from its source. Scripture leaves no room for the thought. The believer has eternal life, but it is in the Son, not from Him. The believer eats His flesh and drinks His blood. He is not content that he ate so once: if thus content, can such an one be supposed to have life in him? Assuredly not. If his faith were real, he would be ever eating his flesh and drinking His blood; and he who so does has eternal life, and the Lord will raise him up at the last day. The love that came down from heaven is precious, and the heart receives Christ thus humbled thankfully, not doubting but desiring that it should be the truth. And if that love goes farther, even down to death itself, the death of the cross, the heart is enlarged and well nigh overwhelmed, but it counts nothing too great, nothing too good, for the Son of God and Son of man. It bows and blesses God for Christ's dying to accomplish redemption. For the same reason, if it has tasted that the Lord is thus gracious, it perseveres, it can never tire, it feeds on Him again and again. For it is felt that His flesh is truly meat, and His blood is truly drink. Hence it is added, “he that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood dwelleth in me and I in him.” This dwelling in Christ and Christ in him is one of the characteristic privileges of the Christian in John. It is not merely security for the Christian, but Christ the home of the soul as it is of Christ. How unspeakable the nearness! And as the life of fellowship is thus blessed, so is the effect in motive and object which accompanies it. “As the living Father sent me and I live by reason of the Father, he also that eateth me, even he shall live by reason of me.” As the Father's will and glory were ever before the Lord here below, so is He Himself before the believer. Otherwise one lives to self or the world.
It is well known that many have labored to prove that the eating theft ash and drinking the blood, on which last our Lord insists as distinct from eating the bread, means His supper. This is groundless, not merely because the Eucharist was not even instituted till long after, but far more because what is affirmed of eating the flesh and drinking the blood here is wholly irreconcilable with participation in the Lord's supper; and this both positively and negatively. For it would follow that the Lord lays down with His most impressive formula of truth, on the one hand the impossibility of life save for those who have so partaken, on the other the certainty of eternal life now and of blissful resurrection at the last day for him who habitually so partakes, yea the highest privilege of Christianity necessarily attached to the constant celebration of it: Doctrine so absolute as this must be repudiated by all Catholics or Protestants save by such as are utterly blinded by superstition. But it is not a whit too strong when applied to, as it really was spoken of, feeding by faith on Christ's death.
It is not correct to say that the same topic is continued before and after verse 51. There is eating both before and after; and it is conceded on all hands that eating the bread that came down from heaven is to be understood of faith. It is harsh in the extreme therefore to contend that eating the flesh and drinking the blood means something else than partaking by faith, that it is figurative in the one and literal in the other. It is at least consistent that, as the eating in the former part of the discourse unquestionably means communion by faith, so it should continue in the latter part. The doctrine in both parts clearly refers to what was literal—the eating of the bread miraculously provided for the multitude; but the doctrine, though vitally akin, is not the same in the two parts, for the Lord's incarnation is the topic and object of faith in the former, His death in the latter. It is the way of John to hang on outward facts or miracles some essential truth of Christ's person or operation; and to it is here. He begins with Himself as the incarnate bread, as more immediately answering to the divinely supplied loaves; He goes on, when unbelief caviled, to bring out the still more repulsive truth of Himself dying.
Thus all hangs simply yet profoundly together. Christ lets the Jews know (for the discourse is to them, not to the disciples) that He had not come to be a king after the flesh, but to be fed on in humiliation, yea also in death, tale only food of eternal life issuing in resurrection at the last day, not in temporal power and present glory as the people fondly hoped who wished to crown Him now. To bring in the Eucharist here is to import a foreign element which suits neither the scope of the chapter as a whole, nor a single section of the discourse; and it is the more absurd, when we see that another topic follows the main argument as its fitting conclusion, the ascension of the same Son of man whose incarnation and death had been previously presented as the food of faith, and this as a climax for faith when unbelief had stumbled first at His coming down from heaven and yet more at His death. As was said afterward, “We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth forever; and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?” (John 12:3434The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? (John 12:34).) “Doth this offend you?” said the Lord to the disciples when they too murmured. “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” It is not an institution which the Lord hints at establishing. It is throughout Himself the object of faith as the Son of man incarnate, dead, and ascended.
I am aware that a celebrated controversialist strove to persuade people that the first part closes with verse 47. But this is to the last degree arbitrary. Verse 51 is the, true transition where the bread is declared to be Christ's flesh which He should give for the life of the world. This, in answer to their incredulous query in verse 52, the Lord expands in verses 53-58. For the bread as such is still continued in verses 48-50, which ought not to be the case if we had really passed into the second part. The eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood begins properly with verse 53. This is plain and positive in the chapter; and indeed it is bold to state differently; but, if so, eating the bread pertains as clearly and certainly to the first part, as eating the flesh and drinking the blood to the second. Indeed it is assumed from the beginning (vers. 32-85), but definitely affirmed before the end. (Vers. 48-50.) Undoubtedly the language is stronger when the necessity of faith in His, death is pressed in verse 53 and what follows. But this proves nothing more certainly than the exclusion of the Eucharist, except to such as can conceive our Lord's making His supper more momentous than faith in Himself. That He would speak more strongly of the giving up of His life than of His coming down from heaven to become man, no Christian could doubt, as well as of the graver danger to man of despising His death, and of the deeper blessing for the believer of communion with it.
Nor, let me add, is it absolutely true that in the first part the Father alone is said to give, in the second the Son of man; for in the beginning of the first part (ver. 83) the bread of God is said to be He that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, not merely to be given. But so far as it is said, it entirely falls in with the real difference in these two parts. The Father gave the Son to be incarnate; the Bon gives Himself to die, and consequently His flesh to be eaten and His blood to be drunk. Further it is not trite that the consequences stand in contrast; for as in the first part eternal life results and resurrection at the last day, so this is carefully repeated in the Second part. (Ver. 64.) It is true that more is attached to one's eating His flesh and drinking His blood, namely, his dwelling in Christ and Christ in him (ver. 56); but this is as certainly a result of faith in Christ's death as it is nowhere in scripture attributed to the Eucharist. John 15, where Christ speaks of Himself, and 1 John 4:13-1613Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. 16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:13‑16), where the apostle speaks of God, approach nearest, neither of which alludes to the Lord's supper, but one sets forth Christ as the only source of fruit-bearing by continual dependence on Him, the other predicates God's dwelling in him and his in God of every soul that confesses Jesus to be the Son of God. These then so far confirm the conviction that the Lord is in John 6:5656He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. (John 6:56) describing the privilege enjoyed by him who feeds on His own death by faith. No doubt he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him; but all flows from a new life which comes only through faith in Christ: for without faith it is impossible to please God. This therefore shows an advance, not a new and different theme, but the same Christ viewed not in His life but in His death with its deepening consequences to the believer.
Himself the eternal life which was with the Father before all worlds, He took flesh that He might not only show the Father and be the perfect pattern of obedience as man, but that He might die in grace for us and settle the question of sin forever, glorifying God absolutely and at all cost in the cross. Except the corn of wheat (as He Himself taught us) fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; dying it brings forth much fruit. His death is not here regarded as an offering to God as elsewhere often, but the appropriation of it by the believer into his own being. Hence what was comparatively vague in speaking of the bread given from above becomes most precise when He alludes to His death. For this was in the Father's purpose and the Son of man's heart, not reigning, over Israel now but giving His flesh for the, life of the world: for, Jew or Gentile, all are here seen as reprobate, lost, and dead. He only is life, yet this not in living but in dying for us, that we might have it in and with Him, the fruit of His redemption, eternal life as a present thing but only fully seen in resurrection power, already verified and seen in Him ascended up as man where He was before as God, by-and-by to be seen in us at the last day, manifested with Him in glory.
Hence the believer is here said to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and this not once only when we believed in Him and the efficacy of His death, but continuously taking in its depth and force, as death to the world and man's estate estranged as they are from God. Drinking His blood gives the more emphasis to the expression of the full reception of His dying by the believer. Had He simply left the world, as One ever a stranger to it, we had been left behind forever, objects of the judgment of God. But, dying to it and for us by the grace of God, He gave us who believe what separated us to God as well as cleansed us from our sins. Had it been simply our death, it had been our judgment and no honor to God but rather the triumph of the enemy. Blessed be God, it is of His death, and of our entrance by faith into His death in all its reality and value, that He here speaks. It is not His supper; but His supper points as the sign to Christ's death, and these verses speak of the same death. They however speak of the efficacious reality, not of its symbol, which, when confounded with the truth, becomes no better than an idolatrous vanity, and when most stript of truth even as a sign is then made openly an object of worship. So we see in Romanism, where the votaries are sentenced not to drink the blood. Christ is contained whole and entire, as they say, under the species of bread: so that all is there together, flesh and blood, soul and divinity; but if so, the blood is not shed, and the mass is to the Romanist who communicates a too true witness of the non-remission of his sins. Such is the showing of their own formal doctrine and most trusted theologians.
It may be added that, after the rich testimony to His death as the object of faith, which should follow with its consequences, the Lord seems to me in verse 57 to shut out all excuse for overlooking His intention. It was Himself, not a symbolic act which He here meant, as should be plain from the words “he that eateth me.” Further, He unites the two parts of the discourse by the following verse which closes the part about His flesh and His blood by again using the figure of “the bread that came down out of heaven,” and “he that eateth this bread shall live forever:” a declaration as true when applied to faith in Himself as it is false of the Eucharist taken in whatever sense men please.