Christ's Faithful People
I have given the background information concerning the Semitic sense of "flesh" and "blood" in the Old Testament as well as the background of the Passover and Sinai covenant. I believe that John wants to show in his gospel the continuity between the Old Testament Passover and the New Covenant Passover. In Johns Gospel, Jesus had participated in 3 Passovers during his public ministry. John is careful to include these details because of their significance and impact. It seems that in the first two Passovers Jesus prepares his followers for the true Passover where he will offer his own body and blood as the true sacrifice. Jesus Christ is both priest and victim. There is no Eucharistic institution in Johns Gospel but he does talk about it in a sacramental sense in John 6.
The context of John 6 is the feast of the Passover as it is said in Jn 6:4, "The time of the Jewish Passover was near." Jesus sees the multitude following him because of the signs He had performed. He proceeds to ask Philip in Jn 6:5 "How are we to buy bread so that these people may eat?" This almost seemed like an impossible feat to accomplish, but Jesus knew what he was going to do. Philip responds "Two hundred denarii would not be enough". Andrew happens to find a lad with five barley loaves and two fish. The word used in the greek for barley loaves isa[rtou" kriqivnou". This was the poor mans bread and the young lad was probably there to sell them. Jesus himself was a poor man materially but rich in the Spirit of God. Jesus then had the disciples sit the people on the ground. There were about five thousand men, which meant there were many more people there if you include the women and children.
Now in Jn 6:11 Jesus begins the Passover meal: "Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, and distributed them to those who were sitting there; he then did the same with the fish, distributing as much as they wanted." The word in the greek for giving thanks iseujcaristhvsa". This word is a nominative singular masculine 1st aorist active participle which indicates that it was an action in the absolute past. This word also brings to mind eucharistic imagery. The second action verb that is used is that Jesus distributed the fish and bread. The word in greek for distributed is dievdwken. This word is a 3rd person 1st aorist active indicative verb which indicates that it was an action also in the absolute past. These are the same actions that Jesus performed at the Last Supper in the Synoptics (See Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:17-20, Mt 26:26-28). You may ask, why didnt Jesus break the bread in John as he did in the Synoptics? I believe that it is because Jesus hour had not yet come. He cannot break the bread because he himself is the true bread that would be broken. He is to be the Passover Lamb that would be sacrificed. In the Synoptics, he would break the bread and then distribute it to His disciples. According to John 6, Jesus was preparing them for this breaking, but it was not the hour for him to offer Himself as the Passover Lamb. I also believe this is the reason why John does not talk about a cup or wine. Jesus blood will not be poured out until his Passion, so he would not pour it out until the next Passover.
The next day the multitude came after Him in Capernaum to see Him but Jesus responds in Jn 6:26-27 "Truly, Truly I tell you, you are looking for me not because you have seen the signs but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for food that goes bad, but work for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of man will give you." Whenever Jesus uses the phrase "Truly, Truly", he is emphasizing the veracity of the truth which he wants to express. This is another semiticism, because in the Hebrew language there is no superlative, so the Jews would repeat a phrase to emphasize the truth being proclaimed. Jesus is leading the multitude to discover the real truth of the Passover and continues his discussion about the true bread from heaven. He recounts the story how their fathers ate manna from heaven, which the Father sent to them. But now the Father gives them the true bread from heaven which gives life to the world. It is interesting to note that in Jn 6:32 that the Father "gives" this true bread now as compared to their fathers who were given manna in the desert. The word "gives" is in the 3rd person singular present tense active indicative of the verbdivdwmi. Jesus is stressing the fact that they can receive this bread now which will give life to the world. Also in Jn 6:25 "Jesus identifies himself as the bread of life, drawing a parallel with Moses, through whom God supernaturally fed manna to the Israelites while forming a covenant with them after the first Passover (Ex 16:4ff.). John thus prepared his readers to recognize how Jesus would form the New Covenant by means of His own eucharistic sacrifice as High Priest and paschal victim."
In Jn 6:35 Jesus also begins to show that the Jews are spiritually hungry and that they desire the true bread and true drink which will satisfy their hunger and thirst. Jesus then proceeds to tell the Jews that because of their unbelief, they do not understand this mystery. Jesus reveals that he is of divine origins and that He has come to do the will of the Father. In Jn 6:41 the Jews continue to murmur because they are confused about the phrase that Jesus said "I am the bread that has come down from Heaven." In the next few verses Jesus explains that unless they are drawn by the Father to Himself, then they will not be able understand the true meaning of his words. Jesus emphasizes this truth in Jn 6:47-48 "Truly, Truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the Bread of Life." Jesus continues to remind them that their fathers ate manna in the desert, but they died. Jesus re-emphasizes in Jn 6:51 that he is the true bread from heaven which gives life and will keep them from dying:
[Jn 6:51] I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.
It is at this point in the discourse that Jesus first mentions that the bread that he will give is His flesh. The Jews began to murmur among themselves and wondered Jn 6:52 "How can this man gives us his flesh to eat?" The word used in this verse for the verb to eat isfagei'n which is a 1st aorist infinitive of ejsqivw. This is used for eating in general as you would eat a meal or a snack.
In Jn 6:53-56 Jesus makes the following semitic statement:
[Jn 6:53-56] Truly, Truly, I tell you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day.55For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person.
In Jn 6:53 John uses the same verb to eat as the Jews used in the previous sentence. Yet in Jn 6:54 John changes from the verb to eat(ejsqivw) and uses the verb trwvgw as a masculine singular nominative present active participle(trwvgwn). This verb has a much more brutish connotation which means to chew, crunch, and tear. John uses trwvgwn until verse Jn 6:58 where this part of Jesus discourse of flesh and blood ends. I believe John uses trwvgwn to stress the reality of the Eucharist. Jesus flesh will be torn in his passion and crucifixion. John probably used these terms to fight a heresy that was present in his community called docetism which denied that Jesus had a human body. Docetism is a form of Gnosticism which denied the true humanity of Christ. John seems to use the words "flesh" and "blood" to stress the sacrament of Eucharist. This seems to also suppose the Eucharistic Institution at the Last Supper. It will be necessary to eat Jesus flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life, to be resurrected and to abide in Christ. John uses the verb ejsqivw(e[fagon) only once more in Jn 6:58 to refer to the fact that their fathers ate(the manna) and died. This was a past action, but now Jesus is preparing the Jews for the New Covenant
When the Jews began to murmur, Jesus went further as He said that not only do they have to eat His flesh, but they also have to drink His blood, otherwise they would have no life in them. John does not use "body" in place of the Hebrew word for "flesh". John is trying to make a connection between the Incarnation and the Eucharist. The Eucharist extends the mystery of the Incarnation. John also emphasizes the aspect of nourishment: eating flesh and drinking blood. As an aside, think of the birth of our Lord. He was laid in a manger which was a food trough for animals. Yet now he has become food for us in the flesh. How appropriate that he was laid in the manger as a foreshadowing for our future nourishment. We feed on the body and blood of Jesus so that His life may be in us. His flesh and blood are real food and real drink. Both are necessary for life. Flesh without blood is just a corpse, and blood without flesh is a fluid that cant be sustained on its own, but together they comprise LIFE. John is trying to get away from metaphorical language in order to stress the reality of the Eucharist. As we can see, John uses the strongest possible language to convey the truth of his real presence in the Eucharist, as our Paschal Lamb.
Another implication that we see is the reaction of the multitude to the words of Jesus. In Jn 6:60 many of Jesus disciples said "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" The multitude understood what He was saying on a purely physical level, but they did not understand the true meaning of what Jesus was saying. First of all to the pious Jew, cannibalism was strictly forbidden by the Mosaic Law. Secondly, if they drank the blood of any living creature, then they would be cut off from their people, as I have stated before, because life(blood) belongs to God. Jesus knew the Law better than they did. In effect, Jesus was saying "Youve got it right. If you drink my blood, youll be cut off from the entire natural family of the old Adam as well. Only then can I unite you to myself, in my flesh and blood, and make you a part of the supernatural family of the New Adam, the Israel of God (see Gal 6:16). This is what I came to do, to form Gods New Covenant family in my own eucharistic flesh and blood." When we eat Jesus flesh and drink His blood, then we have true life within us because we will no longer be dead to sin, but share in Gods life. Gods ultimate purpose was to restore communion with his people, because they were separated from Him by sin. The Old Covenant Passover was a preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the true meaning of the Passover.
It is important to note that Jesus says in Jn 6:56 "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him." The verb John uses for "abides" ismevnei which is 3rd person, singular, present, active indicative. This verb is in the present which indicates that as we eat and drink Jesuss body and blood, that he will live in us and us in Him. This is true communion. Jesus also makes the promise that we will have eternal life and that He will raise us up on the last day. By eating Jesus flesh and drinking His blood in the eucharist, we have life now. We shall also be raised up as he was raised up on the last day. St Thomas Aquinas quoting St Cyril in the ST III, q. 79 a.1 says "The life-giving Word of God by uniting to Himself His own made it also life-giving. It is a fitting consequence of this that through the instrumentality of His sacred and precious blood which we receive in the bread and wine as a life-giving blessing, He should be in some sense united to our bodies." Eternal life with God is the end goal of our pilgrimage on earth.