In this chapter Christ first says that He is the bread of life. This bread of life is signified by barley loaves. However, eventually, the Lord went on to say that the bread which He gives is His flesh (v. 51). At this point, the bread is the flesh. The bread is of the vegetable life and is good for generating and nourishing, whereas the flesh is of the animal life and is good for nourishing and redeeming. In 6:53 and 54, the Lord Jesus goes on to speak of eating His flesh in order to have eternal life. In verse 55 He says, “My flesh is true food.” First, the Lord was typified by the vegetable (plant) life, the generating and nourishing life, and then He was typified by the animal life, the nourishing and redeeming life.
A verse near the beginning of chapter six says, “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near” (v. 4). This indicates that the Passover was the background for what is recorded in John 6. With the Passover feast as the background, the Lord fed the multitude with the five loaves and the two fishes and then went on to speak concerning Himself as the bread of life. In the Passover people slay the redeeming lamb, strike its blood, and eat its flesh. This typifies Christ as the redeeming Lamb of God who was slain that we may eat His flesh and drink His blood and thus take Him in as the life supply for us to live by. At the time of the Passover the Jewish people also eat unleavened bread. Here we have three basic elements of the Passover feast: first, the slaying of the lamb and the striking of its blood; second, the eating of the flesh of the lamb; third, the eating of unleavened bread. Therefore, we have the blood of the lamb, the flesh of the lamb, and unleavened bread. These three matters are found in the Lord’s discourse in John 6.
RECEIVING THE LORD INTO OUR BEING
For many years I was bothered by the Lord’s word in John 6 concerning drinking His blood (vv. 53-54, 56). At the time of the Passover the blood of the lamb was applied to the doorpost. But here the Lord Jesus speaks about drinking His blood. Eventually, the Lord showed me that to drink simply means to receive. Hence, to drink the blood is to receive it. The proper way to receive something into our stomach is by eating or by drinking. The significance of eating and drinking is to receive something into our being. To eat the Lord’s flesh and to drink His blood, therefore, is to receive the Lord’s flesh and blood into our being. To eat is to take food into us to be assimilated into our body organically. To eat the Lord Jesus is to receive Him into us to be assimilated by the regenerated new man in the way of life. The principle is the same with drinking.
Matthew 26:26-28 describes the establishing of the table by the Lord Jesus. According to Matthew 26:26, the Lord Jesus “took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body.” Then after taking the cup and giving thanks, He gave the cup to the disciples and said, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28). To eat the Lord’s flesh, signified by the bread, and to drink His blood, signified by the cup, is to receive the crucified Christ, the One who was put to death for our sins in order that redemption could be accomplished. In this way we take Him and receive Him as our food for our nourishment.
THE LIFE-GIVING SPIRIT EMBODIED IN THE WORD
We have pointed out that, according to John 6, the crucified Christ was resurrected and ascended and became the life-giving Spirit embodied in the Word. It is beyond the ability of our minds to comprehend such a wonderful One, One who was incarnated, crucified, and resurrected, who ascended to the heavens, and who has become the life-giving Spirit embodied in the Word.
Much of the teaching among Christians today fails to cover all the matters revealed in chapter six of John. Attention may be given to the Lord’s incarnation, His redemption, His resurrection, and His ascension. It is common for Bible teachers to point out that Christ was born of a virgin, that He died on the cross for our sins, that He was resurrected, and that He ascended to the heavens. But many do not cover the last two sections concerning Christ in this chapter, the sections about Christ becoming the life-giving Spirit embodied in the word of life. But if we would receive the Lord Jesus as our bread of life, as our life supply to nourish us, we need to see that He is the life-giving Spirit and that this Spirit is embodied in the Word.
Among Christians there is not much argument concerning the Lord’s incarnation. Furthermore, there is not much argument concerning the Lord’s crucifixion. However, when they come to Christ’s resurrection and ascension, many Christians become somewhat unclear, and their understanding is vague. Some can only say that, according to the Scriptures, it was not possible for Christ to be held in Hades. Therefore, He came forth in resurrection, He ascended to the heavens, and He is now on the throne at the right hand of God. But if we stop with the matter of Christ’s ascension, what the Lord says in John 6 concerning eating His flesh and drinking His blood will be empty words as far as we are concerned, for there would be no way for us to experience them. If the Lord Jesus were not the life-giving Spirit embodied in the Word, there would be no way for us to have eternal life by eating and drinking Him.
We have seen that the Lord Jesus said that His flesh is true food and His blood true drink (v. 55), that unless we eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood we cannot have life in ourselves (v. 53), and that if we eat Him we shall also live because of Him (v. 57). When many of the Lord’s disciples heard this word, they said, “This is a hard word; who can hear it?” (v. 60). They could not understand how it was possible for the Lord to give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. Some of the Jews could only say, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then does he say, I have come down out of heaven?” (v. 42). We are also told that the Jews “contended with one another, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52). Likewise, to many Christians today, the Lord’s word concerning eating His flesh and drinking His blood is a hard word.
In 6:63 the Lord Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words which I have spoken unto you are spirit and are life.” According to the context, “flesh” here refers to the meat of the physical body. Here the Lord explains that what He would give us to eat is not the meat of His physical body; the meat, which is the flesh, profits nothing. What the Lord gives us is the Spirit who gives life. We have seen that this Spirit is the Lord Himself in resurrection.
In 6:63 the Lord says that His words are spirit and life. Here the “words” follow the Spirit. The Spirit is living and real, but rather mysterious, intangible, and difficult for us to apprehend. However, the Lord’s words are substantial. First the Lord indicated that for giving life He would become the Spirit. Then He said that the words He speaks are spirit and life. This indicates that His spoken words are the embodiment of the life-giving Spirit. He is now the life-giving Spirit in resurrection, and the Spirit is embodied in His words. When we receive His words by exercising our spirit, we receive the Spirit who is life.
Many Christians are puzzled by the Lord’s word in verse 63. They do not know what it means for the Lord’s words to be spirit and life. Some Christians care only for the Bible in letters; they are reluctant even to talk about the Spirit. Their desire is merely to understand the Bible in letters. However, if we do not touch the Spirit in the Word, we cannot receive life. The Spirit is the extract of the Bible. Yet this extract is embodied in the Word. Today the incarnated, crucified, resurrected, and ascended Christ is the life-giving Spirit, and this life-giving Spirit is embodied in the Word. Daily we may come to Him and touch Him as the Spirit in the Word. If we do this, we shall feed on Christ as the bread of life.
(The Fulfillment of the Tabernacle and the Offerings in the Writings of John, Chapter 19, by Witness Lee)