The final meal of Jesus before his death is given a mystical significance in this account. Avoiding any appearance of Jesus being a passive victim, John portrays him as willingly offering himself as a sacrifice. The idea is related to the lamb that was sacrificed in place of the first-born children of the Hebrews in Egypt and ritually eaten on Passover. He offers his life as a substitute–not literally for the lives of others–but for their salvation after death in the life to come. However, the imagery used here would have been offensive to most Jews, since one of the earliest Jewish laws forbade the eating of blood, and dead bodies were considered ritually unclean. The concept of eating the body of the god was familiar to non-Jews from pagan rites, however; and would have been more acceptable to them. Protestants generally see this account as metaphorical, and consider the rite of the Last Supper to be a symbolic memorial. For Catholics, the bread and wine and actually and miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Christ, without, however, changing their apparent form.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; (1) for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

New Revised Standard Version

(1) Some passages in the Christian Scriptures imply that resurrection occurs immediately after death, others that it will be postponed until the Day of Judgment. Theologians differ among themselves on this point.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 1, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Publishing.

The reader was created for use in the World Civilization course at Washington State University, but material on this page may be used for educational purposes by permission of the editor-in-chief:

Paul Brians
Department of English
Washington State University
Pullman 99164-5020

Reading About the World is now out of print. You can search for used copies using the following information:Paul Brians, et al. Reading About the World, Vol. 1, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing: ISBN 0-15-567425-0 or Paul Brians, et al. Reading About the World, Vol. 2, 3rd edition, Harcourt Brace College Publishing: ISBN 0-15-512826-4.

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