When Jesus spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, did the disciples leave because they thought Jesus taught cannibalism?

Jesus made very clear that his “literal” flesh is “bread” that must be consumed:

I am the bread of life”(48). “This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 50

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. 51

This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. 58

Jesus referred to himself as bread 10 times in the Bread of Life Discourse.

Jesus was very explicit that the “bread” you eat is truly his flesh:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. 53

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. 54

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. 56

Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. 57

It’s incomprehensible and was disturbing

The disciples understood what Jesus was saying (52,60), but they could not comprehend how this could happen and why he would want this to happen. It is a very “hard saying” (60) especially back then when the disciples did not know how everything would play out, biblically speaking.

It’s incomprehensible and was disturbing to the human mind and the human way of thinking, with very little details given at that time. He wants us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and somehow bread becomes his flesh?

Faith and Patience

Many disciples “lacked faith” in Jesus and his “plan” that would play out over time. There are many things in life that we have little detail about and can’t comprehend, but we must believe. What was difficult and disturbing then, with faith and patience in Jesus, would reveal over time the connective mysteries with the Last Supper, the New Passover, the Sacrificial Crucifixion and the Lord’s Redemption for humanity by rising from the dead.

The disciples understood him correctly

God is “all knowing;” omniscient. Jesus knew that many disciples would leave him that day. So, before the new teachings, Jesus explained to the “crowd” of non-believers that he would not reject or lose anyone that comes to him unless they were not granted by his Father’s will. 37-39.

Jesus then explained the Father’s will in verse 40:

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and “believes” in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.

If Jesus were to reject or lose a disciple to something other than “lack of faith” in him, he would not have obeyed the Father’s will. 

To read about supernatural vs. natural faith, click here.

The New American Bible, Revised Edition