In John chapter 6, we read a very interesting exchange between Christ, the Jews, and his disciples. Within this exchange we read one of a few difficult teachings that Jesus delivered over the course of his ministry. This teaching found in the greater context of the Bread of Life discourse says:
"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.”
This proved to be a very divisive saying by Jesus. In fact, it was because of this teaching that many of Jesus’ followers left him.
Clearly in the context of John chapter 6 we see that Jesus is revealing himself to be the archetype of the Manna “come down from Heaven”. However there may be more to consider in our Savior’s statements than what we see in the immediate context.
The Priest’s Provision
The tribe of Levi was distinct from the other 11 tribes. Unlike their brothers, God said that they would have no inheritance when they arrived in Canaan; that is, they would not receive any tribal land as their own. Rather, God said that He would be their inheritance. This meant that the Levites responsibilities within the nation of Israel were a little different than the other tribes. They attended local altars, supervised cities of refuge, served as judges and educators, and were charged with the daily duties in and around the Tabernacle. Since the Levites had no land of their own and because of their differing role within the nation they were not able to provide for themselves. Therefore, the Levites lived off of the tithes, offerings, and burnt sacrifices of the other tribes. This of course meant that the priesthood was supplied with and survived on the very best provisions that the Land of Israel had to offer.
Upon first consideration the idea that anyone would dare eat the burnt sacrifices off of the Altar of God sounds blasphemous. It is often assumed that these offerings were holy, set apart, unto God alone. This was not the case. In fact we read in the Torah that the diet of the priests was specifically outlined and commanded. Leviticus, chapters 6 and 7, gives us the specific instructions on what the sons of Aaron should eat and how they were to partake of these offerings.
“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law of the sin offering. In the place where the burnt offering is killed shall the sin offering be killed before the LORD; it is most holy. The priest who offers it for sin shall eat it.’”
"These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy: The guilt offering is to be slaughtered in the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered, and its blood is to be sprinkled against the altar on all sides. All its fat shall be offered: the fat tail and the fat that covers the inner parts, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the covering of the liver, which is to be removed with the kidneys. The priest shall burn them on the altar as an offering made to the LORD by fire. It is a guilt offering. Any male in a priest's family may eat it, but it must be eaten in a holy place; it is most holy.”
"The same law applies to both the sin offering and the guilt offering: They belong to the priest who makes atonement with them. The priest who offers a burnt offering for anyone may keep its hide for himself. Every grain offering baked in an oven or cooked in a pan or on a griddle belongs to the priest who offers it, and every grain offering, whether mixed with oil or dry, belongs equally to all the sons of Aaron.”
Things are far different today than they were those thousands of years ago. The current age in which we find ourselves and the New Covenant that we are under has rendered the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system obsolete. Today we understand that it is Jesus who is our Great High Priest and the perfect satisfactory sacrifice. We also know that we, the Church, are a priesthood unto God. In fact, we are called a Holy Nation of royal priests unto the Lord (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 5:10).
So where does that leave us with regard to Jesus’ declaration in John chapter 6, that unless we eat of his body and drink of his blood then we will not be raised to life? Again the context clearly shows that Jesus was revealing himself to be the better Manna; the Manna that sustains and yet does not perish. However, could have Jesus also been pointing forward toward the Communion Meal? We remember that Jesus would later break the bread of the Passover Seder and instruct his disciples to take and eat. “This is my body broken for you.”, and he would pass the cup of wine saying, “Take this cup, it is my blood poured out for you.”
It Is All About Him
Jesus tells the Pharisees in John chapter 5 that while they had diligently searched the Scriptures to find the way of eternal life they had failed miserably because they had not understood that the testimony of the Scriptures and the true way to eternal life was found in him. We see something similar in Revelation 19:10; John tells us in this passage that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. That is, the central theme of the Old and New Testaments is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Finally we see Jesus making the definitive claim that all the Scriptures were about him in his Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said that he, “…did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill.” I believe that Jesus is here declaring that he is both the fulfillment of prophecy and the embodiment of the Moral and Ceremonial Law. In other words, he was not only perfectly obedient to the Moral Law but Jesus was the realization of everything the Ceremonial Law’s types and symbols pointed to.
Therefore, this is what we see when looking for Jesus in the sacrificial system. - That Jesus is the total atoning provision for our sin in the Burnt Offering, he showed himself to be wholly consecrated to the will of the Father in the Grain Offering, he made reconciliation with God in the Peace Offering, he is the perfect propitiatory sacrifice in fulfillment of the Sin Offering, and he is the complete redemptive payment of the Guilt Offering.
Next time you take communion meditate on this; think about how we, the royal priesthood of God, symbolically feast upon the eternal and perfect once-for-all sacrifice given for us. It is a meal that we did not work for but was provided for us by the labor of another. This meal is solely the result of a sacrifice given for the guilt of sin and without it we’d starve to death. Though it is marked by death it is absolutely satisfying and all that we need; in fact, we are being nourished by the finest food that the Land of Israel has to offer.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. – 1 Corinthians 11:26