No wonder the people who heard Jesus say this were freaking out, and why nobody makes up Jesus saying such absolute craziness. And that applies especially to religious Jews in the first century. What exactly did Jesus say that was so radical? We find this in John 6:

“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. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 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. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

And what was the response of those who were following him to such talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood?

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

I don’t know about hard, but it sure is strange. Even 2,000 years ago people found it offensive. Jesus then tried to explain himself to address their incredulity, and that didn’t go any better:

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

Not exactly the old how to win friends and influence people approach. Jesus wasn’t really good at that. As I argue in Uninvented, Jesus was a terrible salesman. Such talk sounds absurd to us today given how enlightened we think we are. Eating flesh and drinking blood is for cannibals and vampires, not religious leaders, let alone Jewish religious leaders claiming to be Israel’s 400-years-long awaited Messiah. Why exactly would this have been not only so distasteful to Jews, but have bordered on blasphemous? The reason is found in Leviticus 17. The chapter is about the Lord’s instruction for the Israelites to not eat blood. I would guess that the heathen nations around them practiced such barbarism, and the Lord was making a people for himself who were holy and wholly different than those people. So, he says,

10 “‘I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.”

13 “‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, 14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it. And it isn’t just not allowed, or that it must be punished, but that anyone who does such a thing must be “cut off from the people.” There is something so horrific about eating blood that the person who does it will no longer be considered one of God’s people, of Israel. Yet here is Jesus, a rabbi, a teacher, the ostensible Messiah Israel has been waiting for and who he claims to be (taking the moniker “Son of Man” is such a claim) and he says this? We only have three options to account for the text:

  1. Jesus was who he claimed to be, as John says, the word made flesh, God himself, and Jesus said this because it has profound theological meaning about his mission to save the world from sin.
  2. Jesus was not who he claimed to be, and he decided that to get people to believe he was Israel’s long-awaited Messiah he would say something expressly forbidden by Yahweh.
  3. Jesus didn’t say any of this, and it was made up by his followers to make him say something expressly forbidden by Yaweh.

There might be a fourth option that is even less plausible than 2 or 3. Biblical critics for well over a century believed the New Testament was primarily a Greek pagan creation written very late in the first century, and well into the second. If that is the case, then maybe some crazy pagans made up this story of Jesus teaching we should eat his flesh and drink his blood, but that position about the New Testament has been completely debunked. All scholars today believe the gospels were written in the first century, and by Jews, except Luke (and Acts) written by a Greek but getting all his information from Jews.

The most plausible explanation, for everything about Jesus, is option 1. As I argue in Uninvented, the conundrum that is Jesus, his teaching and personality, can only be explained if he was who he claimed to be, the divine Son of God come to save his people from their sin. You just can’t make that kind of stuff up!