They started arguing with each other and asked, “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”
“I tell you for certain that you won’t live unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man. But if you do eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life, and I will raise you to life on the last day. My flesh is the true food, and my blood is the true drink. If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you are one with me, and I am one with you.
The living Father sent me, and I have life because of him. Now everyone who eats my flesh will live because of me. The bread that comes down from heaven isn’t like what your ancestors ate. They died, but whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Jesus was teaching in a Jewish place of worship in Capernaum when he said these things. (John 6:52–59)
A common result of Jesus’ preaching was that his audience misunderstood him. They regularly literalized his metaphors. They took what he meant spiritually and tried to understand it in purely physical terms. Thus, when Jesus told the crowd about “eating his body,” a phrase which should obviously not be taken literally, they simply became confused. The literal meaning stood in opposition to biblical injunctions against murder and against consuming blood. They found what he had said so disturbing, that many of those who had been following him decided to leave him.
So what did Jesus mean about eating his flesh and drinking his blood? He was speaking about his coming sacrifice on the cross and what that meant for the human race. Just as animals and plants must die and be consumed as food in order for us to continue living, so Jesus had to die in order to provide us eternal life. Spiritually speaking, we consume him. But since he was and is an eternal being, there is more than enough of his life to go around. Therefore he didn’t—couldn’t—stay dead, unlike what we ate for lunch today.
Jesus’ life is inexhaustible, in contrast to the life of an animal or plant that sustains us for but a few hours before we become hungry again. Jesus satisfies us completely. We will never again hunger or thirst: he has provided us eternal satisfaction and an existence that can never end.