“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, 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 eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him’” (John 6:53-56 NKJV).
In all of the paradoxes that constitute Jesus Christ and the gospel of salvation which he delivered to mankind there may be nothing so startling and difficult to comprehend than his statements about drinking his blood. Those of us who were never under the Law of Moses and were not raised to avoid even the taste of blood under any circumstances may not have the innate aversion to the very idea that devout Jews have long considered an essential aspect of their identity.
And whatever man of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among you, who eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul (Leviticus 17:10-11).
Early Christians of Jewish heritage continued to abhor the eating of blood. When it was determined that circumcision and other statutes of the Law of Moses should not be enforced upon Gentile converts, there were still some “necessary things” from which the Gentiles should abstain, including “things offered to idols, blood, things strangled, and sexual immorality” (Acts 15:28-29).
For more than fourteen hundred years the descendants of Abraham had been taught that eating blood defiled them. Now suddenly Jesus claimed that eating his blood was not only beneficial but necessary to having fellowship or partnership with him. Can we even imagine how difficult it must have been for them (including his own chosen Twelve) to accept such a statement, let alone to fully comprehend what he was teaching?
Whole libraries may be filled with discussions of what Jesus meant, how we are to drink his blood, and what are the physical, spiritual, and theological ramifications of doing so. The doctrine of Transubstantiation (that the wine or juice of communion becomes the literal blood of Jesus) provides one method of understanding. That drinking his blood is simply a metaphor for meditation on and identification with his death is another from the opposite end of the spectrum of choices.
Briefly stated, Jesus’ doctrine seems to be based on the early foundation concept that “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11; see also Genesis 9:4). One who eats blood, whether that of human or animal, is, in the eye of God, violating the sanctity of life.
Jesus however turned that principle around. His blood is not only the source of his human life, but of all spiritual, eternal life. It is available to give that life to those who believe in and obey him. By “drinking” his blood we are receiving a spiritual transfusion that imparts and assures eternal life.
The act of drinking his blood is not confined to participation in the Lord’s Supper, though it is difficult to argue that it has nothing to do with it (see 1 Corinthians 10:16-18). Through the elements of communion Christians are able to connect in a tangible way with a meaningful symbol of our Lord’s death. That brings us into communion or fellowship with him as we receive the spiritual nutrition essential to true life. But we also receive that nutrition when we read and meditate upon his teachings, when we reflect upon his love for us, and when we seek to know and do his will. All these and other acts of faith help us to abide in him and to become one with him. Truly his blood is “drink indeed.”