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Why is Communion Jesus’ Body and Blood?

Why did Jesus say for us to eat his body and drink his blood?

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take this and eat it, for this is my body.”
And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them and said, “Each of you drink from it, for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many.”

Matthew 26:26-28 (NLT)
Image of full communion cup and small piece of bread
Photo by Geda Žyvatkauskaitė on Unsplash

Recently, I was taking communion—a precious, sacred meal that I feel like I am only beginning to comprehend the power of—when I asked Jesus, “Why did you say for us to eat your body and blood?

His response in my spirit was that we take communion—eating Christ’s sacrificed body—the same way the Levite priests used to eat of the sacrifices that had been made.

The meaning and significance of that continued to unfold as I considered the Scriptures it referenced, and journaled with God.

I’d like to share with you those Meditations on Communion.

Meditations on Communion

A Royal Priesthood

Under the Old Covenant, only certain members of a certain tribe of Israel were priests. (This is described in the book of Leviticus.)

But under the New Covenant, all believers are priests: 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9 NASB).

Believers in Jesus are priests.

God’s Priests Eat Sacrifices

Under the Old Covenant, the Levite priests ate certain portions of the food sacrifices (specific animals, breads, grain, flour, oil, and wine) that were made by the Israelites. The Scriptures record what part of the sacrifices was to be eaten, exactly who was permitted to eat what—and also where, when, and how. (See Leviticus 2:2-3, 9-10; 3:16-17; 5:13; 6; 7:6-10, 15-21, 31-36; 22:4, 10-13.)

Under the New Covenant,Jesus was our sacrifice. (See Mark 10:45; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 9:28; 1 John 4:10.)

Jesus was our sacrifice.

How is taking the Lord’s supper—communion, the bread and the cup—the eating of this sacrifice?

Real Bread from Heaven, The Bread of God

John 6:31-35 (HCSB) records Jesus’ teaching about being real bread from heaven, the bread of God.

[The crowd said:] “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but My father gives you the real bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the One who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Then they said, “Sir, give us this bread always!”

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.”

Jesus is bread, the real bread from heaven, the bread of life.

But his teaching was not finished.

Next, he explained that the bread he is—and that he gives for the life of the world—is his flesh.

Jesus Teaches About His Flesh and Blood

Jesus continued:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

At that, the Jews argued among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

So Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves. Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day, because My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood lives in Me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the manna your fathers ate—and they died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.

He said these things while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Therefore, when many of His disciples heard this, they said, “This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?”

Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were complaining about this, asked them, “Does this offend you?”

“… The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

– John 6:48-59, 63 (HCSB)

Many of Jesus’ disciples left after this hard teaching, but some stayed. Perhaps even those who still trusted him also wondered, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

The answer was to unfold on the night of Passover.

Jesus Says the Bread is His Body and the Cup is His Blood

At the last celebration of Passover before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus gave—actually handed—the bread and cup to his disciples, saying the bread is his body and that the cup of fruit of the vine is his blood that establishes the new covenant. (See Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20.)

And then, within hours, Jesus gave himself to be beaten and crucified on a cross—giving his physical body and physical blood as a sacrifice. (See John 10:18; Romans 5:8; Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 13:12; Colossians 1:19-20; 1 John 1:7.)

Hebrews 10 explains the difference between the Old Covenant sacrifices that could never take away sins (see Hebrews 10:1-4), and Jesus’s body that sanctifies us once for all time (see Hebrews 10:5-10)—specifically mentioning what is available to us by Jesus’ blood and flesh (Hebrews 10:19-20).

The Life is in the Blood

Old Testament priests never ate blood. In fact, the law of Moses was clear that no one in Israel was to eat blood (Leviticus 3:17; 17:10-14). When God first gave that instruction, he repeated three times the reason for not eating blood: “The life of every creature is its blood” (Leviticus 17:11, 14).

I think that the long-observed prohibition on eating blood was one reason that only those God enabled to follow Jesus could continue to believe in him after his teaching about eating his flesh and blood (John 6:60-69).

Yet, there are important differences between the blood of Jesus and any other blood. I think those differences illuminate Jesus’ teaching.

Consider this:

God’s original explanation of blood “being the life of a creature” in Leviticus 17:10-14 is also the very reason that Jesus gave the cup of his blood to the believer to drink: the life is in his blood—the very life which Jesus wants us to have, and gives to us.

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” – Luke 22:20 (NIV)

“I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” – John 10:10 (YLT)

The New Testament confirms that any other blood is still not to bein the diet of the believer. (In Acts 15:29, the council of apostles and elders wrote to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia—under the New Covenant—that the Holy Spirit and they required the believers to abstain from eating blood.)

Jesus’ holy blood is the only lifeblood for the believer to drink.

Eating the Holy Offerings in a Holy Way

Under the Old Covenant, God provided a life-and-death warning for the priests about the way they were to approach eating their portion of the holy offerings: “But be careful not to treat the holy gifts of the people of Israel as though they were common. If you do, you will die.” (Numbers 18:32 NLT)

There was even instruction and a warning for the person who unintentionally ate holy offerings. Otherwise, according to Leviticus 22:14-16, two serious things happened:

  1. The holy offerings of the children of Israel were profaned.
  2. The unauthorized eater bore the guilt of trespass.

Similarly, there is a New Testament warning from Paul about eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, which makes a person guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord and eating and drinking judgment on themselves. He points out that many in the community were experiencing serious consequences of that judgment: weakness, sickness, and death. (See 1 Corinthians 11:23-31.)

Now, think of the power of taking communion in a worthy manner. That is what we are invited by Jesus to do!

For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again. – 1 Corinthians 11:26 (NLT)

More Meditations on Communion

I’d like to invite you to enjoy these additional meditations on communion, in your Bible-reading or journaling with God time.

3 Holy Meals: Where Communion Fits

1. Old Covenant

  • What: Old Covenant Meal
  • Where: On Mt. Sinai
  • Who: God was visibly present with 74 Israelites (Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel)
  • Scripture reading: Exodus 24:9-11

2. New Covenant

  • What: New Covenant Meal
  • Where: Upper Room
  • Who: Jesus was visibly present with 12 Israelite disciples
  • Scripture reading: Matthew 26:26-29
  • What: Our Eating the Bread and Drinking the Cup Today
  • Scripture reading:
    • In addition to Matthew 26:26-29,
    • consider Jesus’ words in Luke 22:20 and 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 about drinking and eating this bread and cup in remembrance of him.
    • Also see what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 11:26.

3. A Feast of Rejoicing in Full Salvation

  • What: A Feast of Rejoicing in Full Salvation
  • Where: On Mt. Zion in Jerusalem
  • Who: The LORD makes a feast for all peoples
  • Scripture reading:
    • Isaiah 25:6-9
    • Consider the significance of the specific food and the specific drink, which Isaiah 25:6-9 describes in detail, that the LORD will prepare for that banquet.
    • Also consider Matthew 26:29.

The Power of the Blood of the Lamb

“And they did overcome him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony…” – Revelation 12:11 (Young’s Literal Translation)

Jesus’ blood gives me a testimony that is also his. And the speaking of the word of that testimony is a weapon of spiritual warfare.

Jesus’s blood…

  • What is in his sacrifice that has so much power in our everyday, walking around lives?
  • What did he give it to do?
  • What haven’t I seen yet, that he has paid for with his blood?

The Moravians said, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of his suffering.” What would it look like in my life for Jesus to receive everything he paid so dearly for, for me?

Bless the LORD, my soul,

And do not forget any of His benefits;

Who pardons all your guilt,

Who heals all your diseases;

Who redeems your life from the pit,

Who crowns you with favor and compassion;

Who satisfies your years with good things,

So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

Psalm 103:2-5 (NASB)

Prayer: God, tear down every obstacle standing between that reality and what I currently see. Pour out your Spirit on the space in between. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Why The Rest Stayed

“… the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” – John 6:63 (NLT)

Jesus’ first teaching about eating his body and drinking his blood had sent away many.

But, today, as I took communion, eating his body and blood, I was reminded why the rest stay: Hunger for the words of life. Having seen enough of life to know only Jesus has them. And wanting him, and his life. Enough to persevere through mystery. Questions. Obedience based on trust.

Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” – John 6:65 (NLT)

Scripture reading: John 6:27-70 (especially 6:51-58); John 6:66-69

A Christ-Like Fragrance

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:2 (NLT)

Consider these Scriptures.

  • Genesis 8:20-21 notes the pleasing aroma of Noah’s sacrifice being “soothing to God.”
  • Under the Old Covenant, peace offerings to the LORD and certain other special gifts to the LORD were noted as having “a pleasing aroma to the LORD.” This is mentioned in Leviticus 3:16, and also five times in Numbers 15:3-14.
  • Christ’s sacrifice was called a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:2 (NLT) says, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”
  • Our lives are a pleasing aroma to God, too. 2 Corinthians 2:15 (NLT) says, “Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.”
  • And look at how the pleasing aroma of our lives spreads life: “… to those who are being saved, as we are a life-giving perfume” (2 Corinthians 2:16 NLT).

An Intimate Meal

Jesus told his disciples that he had eagerly desired to eat that Passover with them before he suffered. (See Luke 22:15.)

It was at that last Passover meal they shared together that the New Covenant meal would be eaten for the first time. Within hours, God’s loving sacrifice would make the way for him to live intimately with his people—the way he had wanted to from the beginning.

The way he still wants to live, with you.

All original text copyright (C) 2023 by AmyLu Riley. Scriptures used with permission.

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