Most people enjoy fruit. Living in a society that stresses healthcare and bodily fitness, fruit is found to be on the diets of many. So much so that fast food industries have felt the pressure from health advocates. As a result, they have added various type of fruit to their menus as alternatives to other fatty, greasy options. Granted these options are offered primarily to children, but I can’t imagine that you would hear to many complaints from the employees if an adult preferred fruit over, say, French fries.
There is nothing like biting into a succulent fruit. We tear and cut the flesh of the fruit with our teeth, we savor the sweetness of its meat, and we wet our already watering mouths with the juice that flows freely from many of these treats of the branch. Be the fruit an apple, an apricot, a pear or a peach, many of this planets fruits help satisfy our thirst, and the health benefits that we gain from the various vitamins and nutrients that they contain is an added bonus.
Now as much as I enjoy speaking about fruit, I do have a point in mind. The other day my children were asking a question about what Jesus meant in John 6 when he said that people needed to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood? From a kid’s point of view, I can understand the confusion. Moreover, I can also see why adults would also be perplexed by the Jesus comments.
Specifically, here is what he said to the crowds gathered before him at the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6.59): “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…” a little later he continued, “Truly, truly, 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 feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6.35, 53-54). Is Jesus telling the people to act cannibalistically towards him? There were certainly some there that day who thought so (see John 6.52), but that is not what the Lord was saying. Allow me to explain.
In the beginning, after God had created all things and had placed the man in the garden of (in) Eden, He instructed the man on what he was allowed to do. Specifically, this command focused on what Adam was able to eat. “The Lord God commanded the man, saying ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…” (Gen 2.16). In other words, Adam you are free to partake of all the fruit of these wonderful trees that I have created. But with all these freedom and liberty, God added one restriction. He told the man, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2.17). There are a few things we need to note with this command from God, for they are important in their application towards the message that Jesus gave the Jews in Capernaum in the 1st century.
While, God gave the man extreme freedom He did put a limit or a boundary line on that freedom. The boundary line was the fruit found on the Tree of knowledge of good and evil. Obedience to the command guaranteed life for the man, and those after him who likewise heeded God’s instruction. Disobedience offered death. There was nothing inherently wrong with the fruit of the tree. It wasn’t poisonous, and it did not provide extra knowledge, nor was the fruit good or bad. The fruit was just fruit.
What made the fruit wrong for the man is that his Creator forbid his partaking of it. You see, Adam had a decision to make. Either God determined what was good and evil or the man did. If Adam ate from the fruit of that tree, then death was the guaranteed reward, because the man had presupposed his own authority over the one who had made him. And that was an outright act of rebellion, evil in the sight of God.
Here is where people tend to focus, but there was another tree in the midst of the garden who likewise had fruit from which the man and woman (yes, Adam’s wife was with him) were allowed to eat from—the tree of life (Gen 2.9). The giving of every other tree in the garden besides the tree of knowledge of good and evil was in itself a command as well; positively expressed. If the man followed this command, then he would live.
What Jesus is arguing in John 6 is the same thing. Earlier in that account he told the Jews that command of God was this: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6.29). In other words, God has given a new command for all people (all the children of Adam and Eve) to believe in His Son that we might have life in Him (cf. John 3.16; Acts 17.30-31). Jesus has become the new Tree of Life. What God had forbidden Adam from ever being able to take part of in the garden (Gen 3.24), God has made available to us in the wilderness (sin-cursed earth). Therefore, the expression of Jesus “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” is not be taken in a wooden literalism, but is an expression of life.
Think upon this for a moment. When you eat fruit. When you bite into its flesh and drink of its juice what are you doing? You are taking in nutrients that your body needs. This food provides substance from which we draw the ability to live. Our bodies gain energy and are made strong from the food that we take in, and fruit provides many (but not all) the things we need to live healthy lives.
What Jesus is telling the people, and what I am sharing with you like I shared with my children is that He is the necessary food for us to truly live. Believing in Jesus is more than saying, “Yeah, I know you’re a real dude.” Or, even more than saying “Yeah, I know that you came from God the Father, and that you died as a sacrifice for my sins” Truly, believing in Jesus is drawing on Him as your only source of life. You see, Jesus is the tree of life to those who believe. Those who truly believe in Him obey the command of God by turning to Jesus as the only source of hope and life in this world. Jesus provides everything that is necessary to live and live abundantly. Jesus is the true Tree of Life, and His fruit is just like the manna given during the days of Moses. If we desire to really live, then our only hope is heeding the commandment of God by turning to Christ alone.
 The reader needs to understand that “death” in Scripture does not mean cessation—i.e. ceasing to exist. Death in the Bible conveys the idea of separation. Therefore, death is described in the Bible in three different ways: 1) separation from our Creator (cf. Gen 3.8); 2) separation from being a slave to sin (cf. Rom 6.4); 3) separation from the body, what we describe as physical death (cf. Ecc 12.7).