Jesus claims to be to be the Bread of life that came down from God out of heaven (John 6:32-33, 38), and he went on to say that no one has everlasting life unless he eats Jesus’ flesh and drinks his blood (John 6:50-51, 53-54). A great deal of misunderstanding has occurred over the theme of this part of the Gospel of John, including some modern critics saying that this part of the Gospel of John was taken from the pagan religious rites dealing with Mithraism. So what is Jesus saying and can we be sure the understanding is not taken from paganism?
The short answer is that nothing in the New Testament including this chapter of the Gospel of John is taken from paganism (see my several studies on this subject HERE). Nevertheless, can we show, logically, what Jesus means and does what he mean have any similarity with any of the various pagan rites?
I am not an expert linguist, but I do like reading about the idiosyncrasies of the Hebrew and Greek languages and customs. I am told that Jewish thought is not abstract in the native tongue. This would make it difficult to translate Hebrew thought into our abstract manner of thinking. For example, the Psalmist writes of a righteous man in Psalm 1 where we read:
Psalms 1:3 JPS And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither; and in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper.
The righteous man is like a “tree” planted by “streams” of water. This tree brings forth its “fruit” in season, and its “leaf” won’t wither. The conclusion is that he prospers in all he does. All these things one can see, hear, touch, smell or taste. The language is expressed in concrete terms. Not so Greek thought. For example one can look at Psalm 103:8…
Psalms 103:8 JPS The LORD is full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
Notice the words: compassion, gracious, anger and mercy (or kindness, as some translations have it). These are abstract ideas. They cannot be seen, heard, touched or tasted and they are odorless. So the obvious question is: if these are abstract ideas, why do we find them in the Hebrew Bible? Well, the obvious is not expressing what is found in the original. The translator used these words to express Jewish concepts, because those modes of expression wouldn’t make sense to us in the English. The original Jewish language is expressed in concrete terms, not abstractly as we express ourselves in our own language. The Hebrew word for compassion is rooted the word “to fondle”, the picture being a mother caressing her babe. The word for gracious and kindness are similarly understood. The latter comes from the Hebrew word indicating the head and neck bowed to a person considered an equal. It is a sign of favor toward the one to whom kindness or mercy is extended. The former word, gracious, is also expressed by the bowing of the head and neck, but this time it is in favor of one who is considered “inferior” to the person doing the bowing. It expresses grace or the kind of favor that is unexpected. The word translated anger comes from the Hebrew word for “nose” or “flaring of the nostrils”. It is a picture of a man who has become hot with anger.
Having said this and given examples expressing differences in Hebrew and Greek thought, it should be rather simple to understand that, when Jesus claims to be the Bread of Life in John 6, he is expressing an abstract idea according to the concrete method of Jewish expression. He is saying he must be internalized before one can have eternal life. The physical picture offered is the bread that he multiplied in the miracle that satisfied the hunger of the 5000 men plus women and children. One can also imagine the physical picture of the manna from heaven that was given to ancient Israel. It, too, expresses what Jesus claimed about himself. He came out of heaven (John 6:38), and he satisfies the hunger of our spirits that cannot be satisfied otherwise in this world.
If Jesus must be internalized, how is this done? It is done in the same manner in which the 5000 received their meal. Jesus did it. The 5000 could no more satisfy themselves with 6 loaves and 2 fish than a similar crowd could do today. It was Jesus who satisfied them. He satisfied the crowd by multiplying the food that was there. Later he told the disciples that after he left them, he would return and would dwell in them (John 14:16-20). All that is necessary for us is to believe Jesus (John 6:28-29). If we trust him, he will do his part and come to us.