Like many people, including myself at one time, I sense that many people have a tremendous burden regarding Jesus’s words in 6:53-54, 56 stating “He who drinks My blood … has eternal life…” Is there an apparent contradiction between Jesus’s teaching and the instruction found in the Mosaic Law?
Jesus is encouraging His followers to drink blood, an act utterly abhorrent to devout Jews who had read before that drinking blood is forbidden (Lev. 3:17; Lev. 17:10-14). Jesus’s hearers must have been puzzled or shocked by these words.
Jesus is using an audacious idiomatic expression. He is speaking in metaphorical terms. There are many instances where Jesus uses figures of speech. In this instance ordinary terms are transferred from the objects they usually define to themes designated only by comparisons.
Sometimes the Lord is so over the top in use of symbolisms, hyperboles, metaphors, figures of speech that to the average American living in 21st century America, His words seem quite harsh or puzzling. Yet we do the same thing in our daily lives all the time. When we meet someone who is untidy or eats too much, we call them “pigs.” Cultures other than our own (even nearby México) would not consider using this type of comparison. Outside the US of A people may be shocked at our severe and inflammatory language. Yet, Americans shrug and laugh, wondering why those outside their immediate circle are bothered by the remark.
Hence, John 6:53-54 is best understood knowing that Jesus Christ is using a bold figure of speech. Jesus knew his hearers would have understood the Levitical language regarding blood sacrifice. The Jews knew the command “You must not eat any blood” (Lev. 3:17; Lev. 17:10-14), and yet blood was the means of atonement. It is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life (Lev. 17:11).
The puzzle is unlocked by understanding that Jesus was speaking of His making atonement by His own death and giving life to those who believe in Him as the sacrifice for their own sins (v. 63). Faith in Christ’s death and resurrection brings eternal life (vv. 40, 47, 50-51 & vv. 39-40, 44).
Fear not when you encounter figures of speech and other symbolic language in future study of the Holy Scripture. Such language can be found throughout the Bible, especially in poetic literature. I suggest that you find a good Bible dictionary to help you.
Although the Bible’s main message is remarkably clear, sometimes certain passages are difficult to understand if you cannot read Hebrew and Greek, or have not had the time to investigate Middle Eastern customs.
If you use the Bible study resources that are abundantly available to us, you will enjoy and benefit from the rich insights of highly qualified scholars who have studied the Bible’s original languages and cultures of the day.