The Lord’s Supper and Feeding on Christ
“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 food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (vv. 54–56).- John 6:22–59
Today’s passage has been at the heart of the debates between different churches over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. In John 6:22–59, we read that we must feed on the flesh of Christ and drink the blood of Christ to have eternal life. Considering that Jesus says the bread and wine of the supper are His body and blood (Luke 22:14–20), most interpreters have seen some kind of connection between today’s passage and the Lord’s Supper.
Both Roman Catholics and Lutherans read this text as referring to some kind of physical presence of our Savior’s body in the sacrament. According to Roman Catholicism, the essence of the bread and wine becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus without ceasing to look, smell, taste, and feel like bread and wine. Lutheranism teaches that the physical body and blood of Jesus are present mysteriously in, with, and under the elements. Reformed theology rejects both of these views as compromising biblical Christology. Christ possesses a true human nature with a true human body (John 1:14), and a true human body cannot be present in more than one place at a time. Both the Roman Catholic and the Lutheran views of the supper end up making the physical body of Jesus present in many places simultaneously.
Leading Reformed figures such as John Calvin and the Westminster divines have affirmed Christ’s spiritual presence in the supper. Our Savior’s human body is localized in heaven, but Christ is a divine person who also possesses the true divine nature, which is omnipresent. In His deity, Christ is present everywhere. Since His deity is united to His humanity without confusion, change, division, or separation, we commune with the whole Christ in His humanity and deity when we commune spiritually with the omnipresent Son of God. His human body remains in heaven, but in His deity He can close the gap between us and His human nature in heaven. We cannot say much more about this mystery that we cannot fully comprehend.
The context of today’s passage shows us that to eat and drink Christ’s flesh and blood is not a carnal act but rather a spiritual act of trusting in Jesus. John 6:22–59 parallels the eating that leads to eternal life with belief, making the two things identical. The Lord’s Supper signs and seals this belief, showing that the One in whom we believe is both God and man, having a true human body. We need the humanity of Christ no less than we need His deity, and the physical elements of the supper impress this on our hearts and minds.
John Calvin comments, “There is no other way in which he can become ours, than by our faith being directed to his flesh.” The bread and wine of the supper are God’s seal that those who believe that the God-man suffered as a man and was raised from the dead will live forever. When we take the supper in faith, we are communing with Christ and marked as those who will inherit eternal life.
Passages for Further Study