Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

What does Jesus mean when He said He gives life to the world? According to verse 53 “I assure you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves. 54 Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life,”

How can the world have this life when it is clear that the world does not eat the flesh of the Son of Man nor drink His blood.

The second part of my question is, how should we interpret those words "flesh" and "blood"? Literally (as the Catholics do) or figuratively?

  • 1
    Kindly check other posts to see how people are able to "block" their quotes from the Bible. Also, feel free to browse the new user tutorial to understand how to hyperlink verses (when you do not spell out the verse for us), so that we can read and check the verses ourselves as your readers. Thanks.
    – Joseph
    Commented May 26, 2014 at 3:21

4 Answers 4


I'll answer your last question, first.

Jesus interpreted His words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood in verse 63 of chapter 6, where He said,

"'It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.'"

In other words, Jesus was telling disciples who were offended after hearing His words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood,

"'Hey, guys, don't be so literal. I'm talking spiritually here, not literally" (SRV--Standard Rhetorician Version).

Evidently, the disciples had missed the main point of the teaching Jesus gave in the synagogue at Capernaum (v.59) and had subsequently grumbled among themselves about His teaching being

"a difficult saying, who can listen to it?" (v.60).

As was so often the case, Jesus was speaking on one level and His disciples were listening on a completely different level, much as they did, for example, in John 4:31-34, where they were talking about literal food and Jesus was talking about spiritual food. The scene borders on the comical!

"Meanwhile the disciples were urging [Jesus], saying, 'Rabbi, eat.' But He said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about. So the disciples were saying to one another, 'No one brought Him anything to eat, did he? Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work'" (4:31-34 NASV).

A similar scenario was acted out again in chapter 6, where not only the Jews took offense at Jesus' words (v.41 ff.), but so did Jesus' disciples, at which point Jesus, evidently a little miffed with His disciples, said,

"'Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?'" (vv.61-62).

I would paraphrase Jesus' words as follows:

"So my words about the Father sending me down to earth to be the bread of life to a spiritually starving world offend you? I can only imagine how you'll feel when you see Me, the Son of Man, ascending where I was before! If you simply can't fathom why I descended from heaven to be with you here and now, how will you fathom--let alone cope with--my leaving you and ascending back to heaven?"

In short, then, Jesus' "difficult statement" was simply His way of saying that to believe in Him was, figuratively, to eat His flesh. Moreover, knowing full well what lay ahead of Him at the cross, Jesus added the part about drinking His blood as a prophecy of sorts concerning the kind of death He would experience at Calvary, where He would literally shed His lifeblood so that spiritually dead people could be revivified through the forgiveness of their sins. Again, however, Jesus was not suggesting that people drink His blood!

As for your question about Jesus giving life to the world, for people to receive that life requires they first believe in Him. Jesus repeatedly, both in John chapter 6 and elsewhere, emphasized the importance of simply believing in Him in order to receive the eternally satisfying bread and drink He offered to all people freely. It's as if Jesus was paraphrasing the prophet Isaiah in chapter 55:

"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good. And delight yourself in abundance" (vv.1-2).

In conclusion, Jesus becomes "the life" (John 14:6A) to people in the world only when they believe in Him. When they simply come to Him by faith to receive His gift of life, He will give it to them, "without money and without cost." Moreover, Jesus said,

"'All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out'" (6:37).

  • Thank you for your answer,Don! How about this; Jesus was the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden?
    – Tau
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 4:07
  • @Tau: Technically, the tree is the Cross, for obvious reasons. Christ's flesh and blood, hanging on the Cross, is the fleshy, juicy fruit of said tree.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 3:11
  • The opposite of "spiritual" is not "literal". Something can be "literal" and still be "spiritual" can it not?
    – Chris
    Commented Nov 6, 2020 at 17:09
  • @Chris: Yes, but only because the physical/literal is often the springboard for the spiritual. Some of Jesus's "I am" statements illustrate this truth nicely. When Jesus described himself as the door to the sheepfold, he was not suggesting he was made of wood or stone (I'm not sure what sheepfold doors were made of back then). Rather, he meant that spiritually he was (and still is) the entrance to the Kingdom of Heaven for his chosen ones. The same can be said for Jesus as "the true vine," "the light of the world," "the way," and "the bread of life," each of which is a metaphor of similitude. Commented Nov 15, 2020 at 4:35

The concept of the "word" descending from heaven comes from Deut 30:11-14, which is quoted by the Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans.

Romans 10:5-11 (NASB)
5 For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness. 6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”

Paul is applying "Christ" as the referent in the Deuteronomy passage. In other words, the "Christ" is the Son of David (ref. Davidic Covenant). The covenant was comprised of "words" from God spoken as promises to David, which resonated with eternal implications. When we turn to the Book of Deuteronomy, we also see the additional correlation of bread; that is, God's word is equated with the manna from heaven. In other words, God's words are living bread upon which man lives --

Deut 8:2-3 (NASB)
2 You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.

The source of the bread was God's word. The manna was therefore dependent on the Lord's command (that is, His word articulated), and thus the word of God was "bread" in the ultimate sense (otherwise the manna would have never appeared without the commandment given by the Lord in heaven). No commandment from God's mouth, no bread; ergo, man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. In summary, those "words" are divine revelation as captured in Scripture.

The flesh and blood of Christ also fit into this same picture. That is, he is the "lamb of God" (Jn 1:29 and Jn 1:36), and therefore he is the sacrifice, which occurred on the Passover.

1 Corinthians 5:7 (NASB)
7 Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.

The reference to the Feast of Unleavened Bread is in view in which the Passover occurred. In other words, Paul is saying that Jesus Christ was the Passover Lamb, which was eaten on the Passover. Please click here (schematic) or here (conceptual) for the alignment of the Passover with the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

So we "eat" this lamb, who is the "bread" from heaven. We therefore "ingest" him when we believe on the Word of God (i.e., we "take in" the bread that comes down from heaven). When we drink his blood, we receive eternal life. We see this in the next verse (noted below), which is the only place in the Christian New Testament where the blood includes water, which removes the contamination of death. That is, the Hebrew Bible is specific that "blood is life" (Gen 9:4; Lev 17:11; Lev 17:14; Deut 12:23; and Deut 19:6), but what we now find in the Christian New Testament is that the blood of Christ not only includes his mortal life, but his eternal life as well.

Hebrews 9:18-20 (NASB)
18 Therefore even the first covenant was not inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment had been spoken by Moses to all the people according to the Law, he took the blood of the calves and the goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you.”

Neither in the Masoretic Text nor the Septuagint does the Hebrew Bible in general and the Book of Exodus in particular (Exod 24:8) ever mention ANYTHING concerning the sprinkling of water as part of "the blood of the covenant." (Please note the "water, scarlet wool, and hyssop" describe the particular water mentioned in Numbers 19:1-22; another parallel is found in Leviticus 14:4-8, however, there the blood is sprinkled, but cleansing is consummated by washing of water.) That is, the author of the Book of Hebrews includes the sprinkled water as inclusive of "This is the blood of the covenant which God commanded you." In the both passages just noted, the water (that was filtered through the ashes of the Heifer and/or under the sacrifice of an animal in a container) was sprinkled to "wash away" contamination with dead people or animals, or, in the case of leprosy, to "wash away" the contamination of dying flesh. So the author of the Book of Hebrews is saying that the "blood of the covenant" not only included the animal's red bodily fluid, but also water (filtered through ashes and/or poured beneath sacrificed animals), which removed contamination of death or leprosy, which was decomposing dying flesh. So the "blood" includes not only mortal life but eternal life as well. In other words, in the Hebrew Bible the water pointed to the eternal life of Christ in the New Covenant (described further below), which was what "washed away" the contamination of death (via resurrection); the "blood" of the New Covenant was this eternal life (further discussed below).

So to "eat" the meat of the Paschal Lamb was to ingest the "bread" from heaven -- the Word of God. To drink his blood is not to drink the red liquid substance that circulates inside the body, which was very very very abhorrent to the Christian New Testament Jewish mind (Acts 15:20; Acts 15:29; and Acts 21:25), but to drink the living water, which is the eternal life of Jesus Christ. Jesus referred to this eternal life as "living water" (Jn 4:10).

So, in summary, to believe on him is to "eat" him (in the same way the Paschal Lamb was eaten at Passover, which enabled one to escape the bondage of "Egypt"), and to drink his blood, which means to ingest his eternal life. That is, "the iron furnace" was Egypt (Deut 4:20; 1 Ki 8:51; and Jer 11:4); the blood is what set the prisoners free from the waterless pit (please see Zechariah 9:11).

Remember, Jesus introduced the cup of the Lord's Table as the "blood of the New Covenant" (Luke 22:20). In the context of the New Covenant in the Hebrew Bible, the liquid mentioned is NOT "blood" (red substance that circulates inside the body), but is instead "WATER" (please compare Ezek 36:24-26 with Ezek 37:21-23, where the New Covenant "cleansing" is with water).

In other words, Jesus is saying that his "blood" includes his eternal life, which saves us from the waterless pit ("iron furnace") of sin and death. Please refer again to the parallel of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ with the Passover.

In closing, when we understand the "blood of Christ" to include his eternal life, we can infer that when he stated that he was thirsty on the cross (John 19:28), he was not only implying that his mouth was dry, but also that he was dead on the cross spiritually (even though he was yet still alive mortally), since he lacked "living" water. That is, eternal life died on the cross through the person of Jesus Christ, but because eternal life was "indestructible" (Acts 2:24 and Hebrews 7:16), he conquered and therefore "washed away" death. Thus while his body was the sacrifice for the sins of the entire world (compare 2 Cor 5:21 with 1 Jn 2:2), this sacrifice would have been in vain were eternal life unable to conquer death (1 Cor 15:17-19). Thus the "blood" of his mortal life and the "blood" of his eternal life worked in tandem not only to atone for sins, but to save unto eternal life.

One more closing statement: the so-called "sacraments" do not save - please click here for Paul's discussion from the Hebrew Bible that "sacraments" have no intrinsic salvific value. While the Lord's Table represents his death on the cross (eating flesh and drinking blood), and water baptism represents receiving eternal life (washing away spiritual death), participation in the sacraments provide no intrinsic salvific value when understood through the "plain and normal" interpretation of the Word of God.

  • If our understanding of Christ's sacrifice is filtered mainly through a legalistic perspective, then the explanation offered here is by no means impossible. If, however, we perceive of it in an existential manner, by regarding sin as primarily a spiritual affliction, rather than conceiving of it purely through a judicial prism (Romans 7:24 comes here to mind), then it is not out of the question to arrive at the conclusion that partaking of Christ's undying flesh and sinless blood might aid its receivers in becoming holy, and attaining the physical resurrection unto eternal life.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 3:29

Let’s begin by explaining what the second verse means: 33 For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

To paraphrase: 33 For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to everybody

In the sense of physical food gives bodily life to everybody, similarly, spiritual food gives spiritual life to all. Obviously those who refuse to eat food, physical or spiritual, will not have life.

Let's examine the situation under which the first verse applies.

God desires humans to live according to the abilities given to them. They should obey their consciences. This is what differentiates then from other creatures. What deters them from doing so is the fear of want, the lacking of food, safety, comfort, when they obey conscience.

If conscience pushes humans to live selflessly and the world pulls in the opposite direction, God must have a solution to this problem. The text says that God put different people in different situations so that they might seek Him, and being His children, He does not make it difficult to do so.

The first conclusion we can make is that those who take time to reflect are God's children. Those who live mindlessly are like animals. However, God never stops reaching out to all men, even those who directly oppose Him, like Paul.

Next, we see that those who seek God are drawn to Christ, God's sheep are given to His Shepherd, His Rock. This means they are exposed to situations where they are fed bread from heaven. Bread is meant to nourish, and what bread from heaven does is nourish the confidence of those who have determined to find a way to live selflessly. When the Jews ask Christ to give them this bread, He tells them to eat His flesh and drink His blood. This is Christ's way of saying that His followers must walk in His footsteps. And the first step is to give up selfish living, stop serving mammon, and begin to serve God, live selflessly. Bread from heaven, water from the Rock, spiritual food begins to be supplied. God creates situations where needs are met, food is supplied, the sick are healed. People are encouraged to face situations where hunger, safety are lacking, so that God can supply. This is called picking up the cross. Finally, when others are convinced that God will protect and provide for those who live selflessly, we will enter Rest, a state where we do not have to labour, pick up any more crosses, because others will still be turned away from selfishness to selflessness because we are in Christ, our real Sabbath rest.

To confirm that this is what is meant by bread from heaven, let's look at clues from the Old Testament, because the text says that those things were written for our edification, guidance, building up. In other words, all that which is necessary for living the correct Christian life can be found in the Scripture of the Old Testament.

We will find the shadow, the type, of being fed bread from heaven following the decision to stop serving mammon and turning to serve God, in Torah, as well as even the proto-type of that process.

During the Exodus, God continued to perform signs and wonders, even after Pharoah's army was neutralized. He gave water from a Rock. Manna from heaven. It seems He created shortages and then rescued. This is what Christ called "bread from heaven". As explained, it was meant to nourish the courage of the Israelites. Because God had chosen them to be blessings to the world. They would do this by manifesting the ability of God to provide for those who lived selflessly, first by willingly entering dangerous situations, and then by being at rest in Messiah.

However, the record shows that Israel failed God, forgot all the great works He had done in Egypt and by the sea, so that God decided they would never enter His rest.

A proto-type of this process can be seen in different places in the Old Testament, but is particularly well high lighted in the life of Abraham. The text says that he was determined to not live in a situation where selfishness was the only way, and God was not ashamed to be His Benefactor, and decided to give him a different situation to live in, a Jerusalem from above, Christ. Upon leaving serving mammon, God created a famine that led Abraham to seek shelter in Pharoah's palace, and even though Abraham used worldly means to look after his own interests, it was God's protection that saved him from a dangerous situation. After being shown God's ability to protect in many following situations, Abraham determined to allow God to manifest His great works in protecting in his life, so that others would be motivated to live selflessly like he did, having concluded this was how he would be a blessing to the world. So much so, that when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac, he did not act to protect himself or his family, but obeyed wholeheartedly, because he expected God to resurrect Isaac.

So what Christ was saying in John 6:26 was that His followers should not mistake why He was doing miracles. They were not a solution to earning a living, because earning a living was futile, it had no permanent benefit. They were meant to be a lesson in how to live selflessly, which did give permanent benefits to the believer.


Thank you for these posts. I have been struggling to understand John 6. This discussion is helping filling many missing pieces. Thank you for such researched biblical insights. What do you think of whay the early Church Fathers believed, most believed in the real presence except tertullian had a slightly different view. They did not have the written new testament as yet. They followed oral tradition. Scott Hahn has written a book on the subject the fourth cup. He was a protestant convert to Catholicism. I currently go to 2 different churches as I discern. Catholic and non denominational.

  • Welcome to BHSE! Make sure you take our Tour. (See "?", upper right). Thanks As for questions re: Scott Hahn, etc., you'll then note that we aren't really a site for exchanging thoughts or facts such as that. Here's one that is. christianity.stackexchange.com/search?q=hahn Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 15:51

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