Cannibalism & Discipleship: Which is More Difficult to Accept?

Jesus Teaching

Jesus taught the multitudes, “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:48-51).

Jesus’ words perplexed the people who were listening to Him. They wondered, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (John 6:52). They were thinking in terms of eating His physical flesh and blood body. In the following verses, Jesus continued on this point: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life… For My flesh is true food and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. …he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me” (John 6:53-57).

Thinking in strictly physical terms, it would appear that Jesus is advocating cannibalism. Many of them said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). However, Jesus explained that He was speaking in spiritual terms, not physical (John 6:63). But it appears that these people had already made up their minds and rejected Jesus: “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66).

It is sad to see so many people reject Christ because they do not understand Him. These Jews wanted nothing to do with what they thought Jesus was teaching. But He was not teaching cannibalism. Rather, He was teaching the importance of being His disciple.

Jesus’ flesh that He said one must partake of to have life was not His physical body, but His word. Speaking of Jesus, John earlier wrote, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Partaking of the living bread, His flesh, would bring about eternal life (John 6:51, 58). After Jesus spoke, Peter acknowledged that Jesus possessed the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). It is the message of Christ that we must accept in order to have life. As Paul told Timothy, we must be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6).

Later Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32). In teaching people about the need to partake of His flesh, the bread of life, He was telling them that they needed to continue in His word. If we do this, then we are His true disciples. This is not a “once saved, always saved” or “faith only” doctrine like is common in the denominational world. Jesus was teaching that we must accept and obey His word.

Sadly, many people reject Jesus’ teachings today just as they did then. Many of the Jews in John 6 believed Jesus was calling them to be cannibals so they refused to listen and departed. Today, many are rejecting Jesus’ call for them to be disciples because it is not what they expect or what they have been led to believe by their religious leaders.

Jesus’ invitation to partake of the bread of life is a “difficult statement” for many today. Accepting and practicing Jesus’ words is difficult for several reasons. First, it is demanding (Matthew 7:14, 21-23; Luke 9:23). Many people just want to do as little as they can to get by. Second, it is exclusive (Matthew 7:13-14). Yet many do not want to believe – or be perceived as believing – that others who fail to continue in Jesus’ word will be lost. Third, it requires humility (James 1:21). But many refuse to admit that they are wrong or that their past practices are sinful.

Jesus does not promise us an easy life here. We are invited to become disciples of One who walked a difficult path while in this world; therefore, we also should expect difficulties in our lives (Luke 9:57-58; Matthew 10:24-25; John 15:18-20). However, Jesus does promise a reward that will be worth it (Matthew 5:11-12; 13:44-46). After all, He has the “words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Let us accept them and practice them so that we might take advantage of the life that He offers.

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