If you go to my YouTube channel, you will find among the comments there many comments by an anonymous contributor who calls himself “Ackmonra”. While we were discussing the nature of Hell, I wrote that I knew that Jesus was too good to allow the standard interpretation of the passages on hell to be correct. Ackmonra countered with an argument that was recently repeated by a man named Ryan. To paraphrase that argument, “Jesus orders people to be slaughtered in Luke 19, therefore he seems very comfortable with the kind of hell which most Christians believe in and which you reject.” I put my response to him in another post, but I felt that it was important enough that it should have its own post.
John 6 and Luke 19
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. (John 6: 1-2)
For the understanding of what God is doing in this world, there is no more important a chapter in all of the Bible than the sixth chapter of John. Jesus has performed a number of miracles and acquired a large following. Affirming their faith in him, Jesus feeds five thousand people with a few loaves of bread:
So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:13-15)
So Jesus has a large throng of about 5000 followers who are willing to use violence to make him the King of Israel. He attempts a quick escape by walking on the water. Later on, this large throng finds him in Capernaum. What does he do?
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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. (John 6:53-56)
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:66)
Now in my opinion this incident is one of the most important sections of the Bible. God does not want followers of a certain kind and he drives them away with a hard teaching that they did not understand. When Jesus said that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life, he was clearly talking about the ritual of communion. In this ritual, Christian believers symbolically remember our need of the body of Jesus Christ broken for us and his blood shed for us on the cross by eating a wafer of bread and drinking a little wine. This is not so terribly difficult, yet 5000 people decided not to follow Jesus anymore because this was a “hard saying”. They thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism and they left and Jesus gave them this test intentionally for that purpose.
So why is this verse so important? Because it illustrates a general principle of the word of God. God gives hard sayings because he only wants followers who are seeking him in “Spirit and in truth”:
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. (John 4:23)
He does not want followers who are looking for reasons to reject what he is saying or are only out for a free lunch.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. (John 6:26)
Neither is this world an intelligence test where you can get to heaven if you are smart enough to “figure it out”.
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Mathew 11:25)
Rather, what God seems to be looking for is trust. It is as if God is saying, “Will you trust me even when you don’t understand what I am talking about?” (In an upcoming essay, I will discuss why this kind of trust is so important in believers.) So we see that God gives “hard sayings” to test people in order to filter out those who are serious from those who only want a free lunch. What does all this have to do with Luke 19?
It is my opinion that what God is doing in Luke 19 is demonstrating the love of his church. Just as Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, the church of Christ will intercede for those who have rejected Jesus Christ in Luke 19. Jesus Christ will then demonstrate his love and mercy by graciously granting that petition and giving to each condemned sinner a choice. Either live outside the city with the bride of Christ perpetually interceding on your behalf as a royal priesthood, or choose the other option. God makes the other option as unattractive as possible by making the entrance a Lake of Sulfurous Fire. Despite this, those who hate God will make that choice and suffer the eternal consequences of living a life without God’s love. (I go into more detail on the nature of hell in another essay entitled The Nature of Hell.)
Now an atheist can easily say, “that is your interpretation, but that isn’t what the text says”. The text doesn’t say that “eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood” is eating a piece of bread and drinking a little wine either. What you believe and how you behave is a serious business and requires serious thought and consideration. If you are content with the level of discussion of these issues that can be attained in 100 character exchanges, then you may think that it is a badge of honor to be one of the reasons that the internet is “where religions go to die”. If you are more thoughtful, however, this will not be enough for you and you will want to look at things in a deeper and more thorough way. Such a person is willing to worship God “in Spirit and in truth” and seek out the truth of what God has said. Such a person would conclude that the straight-forward and simplistic interpretation of Luke 19 and many other passages of the Bible is not the best interpretation.