Soul Food and Spiritual Drink

Redemptive history was etched even deeper when Jesus lifted the cup and connected it with the new covenant in His blood. While it was a departure from the Passover liturgy, His statement wasn’t without precedent. Wine was sometimes associated with blood in the Old Testament (Gen. 49:11Deut. 32:14Isa. 63:36). Of these texts, Genesis 49:11 was specifically concerned with the Messianic seed from the offspring of Judah, who “washed his garments in wine, and his vesture in the blood of grapes.”

But the word “blood” shouldn’t be separated from the phrase in which it appears. The Old Testament writers commonly associated blood with covenant making. Exodus 24:1-8 serves as a case in point. In ratifying the Sinai Covenant, the blood of countless sacrifices was shed on the altar and sprinkled on the people, symbolizing forgiveness and oath-binding. Immediately following the ritual, the leaders of Israel ascended the mountain and partook of a meal. Verse 9 says, “They beheld God, and ate and drank.” Details aren’t given, but the connection between blood sacrifice and divine communion is unmistakable.

Yet Christ’s words instituting the Lord’s Supper didn’t renew the old covenant for God’s people. The fact that Jesus identified the cup as “my blood of the covenant” reveals that He was conscious of His impending death. This death would inaugurate a new covenant with His people. And He would use the wine as a means of connecting His people with the new covenant.

The Manna/Bread of Life Discourse

After the exodus from Egypt, Israel had good reason to be grateful. But as they made their way through the wilderness, God’s people proved to have short memories. They grumbled about the lack of food and drink. They even desired to return to Egypt! Yet God was patient. He provided manna, bread from heaven. The story is told in Exodus chapter 16. Despite their rebellious desire for Egyptian bread, God gave them bread that was both flavorful (v. 31) and plenty (vv. 17-18). He used the manna to test Israel, to see if His people would keep His law (v. 4). Even though they didn’t (vv. 20, 27), God continued to provide manna until they entered the Promised Land (v. 35). While it satisfied their physical hunger, something greater would be needed for their spiritual hunger.

The fulfillment would come in John chapter 6. The feeding of the five thousand had just taken place (vv. 1-13), but the crowd misunderstood the miracle. Their bellies were full, but their souls were still famished! This greater hunger could only be satisfied by the fulfillment of the bread: Communion with Jesus Christ. In the conversation that followed, Jesus referred to Himself as the true manna who gives life to the world (vv. 31-35). When they asked for this bread, he replied, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (v. 35). This caused them to grumble like the original generation that received the manna! And then the imagery took a radical turn:

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. For my flesh is true soul food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (vv. 53‑56).

His hearers were scandalized by these words. They thought he was talking about cannibalism! Moreover, the Old Testament prohibited the eating or drinking of blood because it represented the life of the creature (Lev. 17:14Deut. 12:23). So how are we supposed to understand this saying?

There are two answers to this question, one primary and the other secondary. The primary answer comes by comparing vv. 40 and 54. In doing so, we discover similar language:

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 (v. 40, emphasis mine).

Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (v. 54, emphasis mine)

The primary answer is that feeding comes through believing. Jesus’ opponents didn’t believe His words, so they couldn’t feed upon His flesh and drink His blood. But that doesn’t exhaust the meaning of His words. Jesus also mentioned his body and blood in the Last Supper. The sacrament requires faith, but it also requires chewing and swallowing. So even though we eat and drink Christ by believing, we also eat and drink Christ by partaking. That’s the secondary answer to the question.

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Ken Golden is the organizing pastor at Sovereign Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Davenport, Iowa. He is also the author of Entering God's Rest: The Sabbath from Genesis to Revelation--And What It Means for You and Presbytopia: What It Means to Be Presbyterian.