Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Flesh and Spirit

“If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

There can be no doubt Jesus Christ was active in the world for thousands of years prior to his incarnation.

The Spirit of Christ at Work

Peter writes of the “spirit of Christ” who spoke through his Old Testament prophets. Jude says Jesus saved a people out of the land of Egypt. Moses, says the writer to the Hebrews, considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt. John speaks of the Word, who was “with God and was God.”

So it was not just God in some vague, general sense but Christ specifically who taught mankind, acted for and against them, and hugely influenced their thinking long before the Word ever became flesh.

But once he did, everything changed.

The Word Made Flesh

The claim he made upon his incarnation was that God could not be known apart from him. He was the way, the truth and the life. Nobody could come to the Father except by way of his Son.

Now, we have established that the work of the spirit of Christ in the Old Testament was of vital importance. Likewise, today it is vitally important to have within us the Spirit of Christ. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. These things are not debatable.

But “eating of this bread” speaks of something else. The bread in view in our Lord’s challenge is not his spirit, but rather his flesh: “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The incarnation made it possible for God to give something tangible to us. His disciples could say they had touched the Word of Life with their own hands.

Symbols and Life

In scripture, eating often speaks of fellowship and celebration. To share a table with someone is to interact with them in a very special way. But sharing a meal is not enough. Judas “ate my bread” then “lifted his heel against me”. Something more was needed, and Jesus surely spoke of this spiritual reality when he said “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” Judas, the traitor, manifestly did not. He took part in a symbolic act involving bread, but he had no part in the Bread of Life.

To eat something is not merely to taste it; it is to digest it. This is why what you choose to eat is of such great importance. It becomes part of you. This is surely one reason Jesus was constantly telling his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. All were serving contaminated bread to the masses. Their teaching was impure; the way they lived it out hypocritical. When men behave differently in private than they teach in public, it points to a fundamental flaw either in doctrine or character. This will all become evident in a coming day.

No Mere Ritual

Eating also speaks of spiritual sustenance: “I have meat to eat that you know not of … my food is to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.” The Lord Jesus was sustained by his obedience to his Father and his relationship to him.

So then, perhaps “eating the flesh” of the Lord Jesus means allowing the reality of the incarnate Christ to permeate our lives and sustain us into eternity (“that a man may eat thereof, and not die”). It means so deeply internalizing his teaching that not just his words but his very life becomes the animating force that motivates us.

No mere ritual can serve as a substitute for this transformation, but it can provide a small picture and an ongoing reminder of it. So when Jesus said, “Take; this is my body,” he was not for a moment speaking literally or even suggesting that the occasional wafer on the tongue could ever save a man, but rather, that observation of this particular ordinance might serve to remind us of the one who could and did.


  1. When Christ said at the last supper "do this in memory of me" the emphasis clearly was on the word THIS and memory only gave the timeline when to do it, namely after his death. And "This" would have been totally trivial if he did not also mean for them to do the "This" in it's completeness as just demonstrated, namely, the transformation of bread and wine into the first Eucharist. Since the idea of the Eucharist may be distasteful to many (I myself, as a Catholic, have been accused on this site by a commentator to be committing cannibalism) it is clear that personal convenience dictates to discard or modify distasteful facts. And I think that is where much of Protestantism has simply gotten stuck and avoids this inconvenient fact by placing the importance wrongly on the word memory instead of on the all encompassing THIS. It seems however that God has decided to counter that since he prolificly throughout history, and continuing to this very day, has showered us with numerous Eucharistic Miracles in the Catholic Church that, with solid scientific investigation, confirm the transubstantiation of the Eucharistic host into human tissue (e.g., into the heart muscle of a young male from the Near East region who had been tortured as the (blind study) scientific analysis describes for the Buenos Aires Eucharistic miracle). Btw, after the atheist scientist was told what he had been analysing he became a Catholic. The most recent two miracles making headlines just now occurred in Poland and two Polish Authors just published a book on the latest verified 50 Eucharistic miracles in recent times. Anyone can easily verify this for themselves with a Web search for Eucharistic Miracles. But again it may be very inconvenient to have ones firmly held preconceived notions upset and the first line of defense will probably be to not research this or, if so, to accuse the Catholic Church and/or the scientific investigators of deception and/or incompetence.

    1. We have to be very careful not to mistake a metaphor for a literality. When Christ said, “I am the door,” he was not saying he was made out of wood. When John calls him “the Lamb of God”, John is not implying he had wool. To mistake a metaphor for a literality wouldn’t be an evidence of extra-careful thinking, but rather of literary naivete.
      We can check the original Greek emphasis. And what we find is this: that the emphasis in the original manuscripts, if it is anywhere, is perhaps on the word “remembrance”. We find there that the word “this”, in 1 Cor. 11:24 is actually an ordinary pronoun found in the middle of the sentence structure. It seems it has no special emphasis in the original language. One would have a hard time making any case for emphasizing it at all.

      But let us suppose you’re right to call the “THIS” the important emphasis in the passage. If we grant that, then you’d have to say that what it meant was not transubstantiation. And why not? It’s because when the Lord said “THIS”, his body and blood were manifestly not on the table, but entirely together in his own bodily presence, at that moment. He had not yet been crucified, his blood had not been spilled and his flesh had not been broken. So, very clearly, he was speaking of the bread and wine as symbols for his flesh and blood, with a view to them memorializing (the important emphasis) what he was about to do — NOT as if he were calling them literal bits of him.

      One can see the same thing in his dialogue with the Jewish followers in John 6. There, the followers clearly think he means his literal “flesh” (John 6:52) but very evidently he does not. And their refusal to see beyond the literal is testimony to their lack of understanding, and to their lack of real faith.
      On balance, then, one would have to conclude that the Protestants actually have it right, as the transubstantiation doctrine is unsupportable from Scripture.

    2. Hi IC, I think you made the same points in a prior append here someplace. We simply disagree in that I interpret it so that there is no ambiguity that the first Eucharist in it's full context was being handed out at the last supper. I do not think that God was/is bound by our timeline so that the reality of his body/blood could not be present then since he said so. As I said, claiming it to be a metaphor makes it trivial and really unnecessary otherwise. The Catholic Church thinks that the Eucharist has a practical purpose in that it constitutes a spiritual medicine to aid the believer on a very personal level in his/her relationship with our creator. Also, you must, in all fairness, deal with the reality of miraculous events of the Eucharist being shown as genuine throughout history and especially nowadays when it has been verified scientifically as genuine. To avoid that would imply shortchanging your creator and avoiding a totally verifyable (and already verified) but inconvenient (for Protestants) truth. So, please make the effort and take issue with the scientists and religious who have reported it to be the real thing and content with them concerning their observations and physical analysis.