Questions From Readers
◼ In John 6:53, was Jesus referring only to anointed Christians when he commented: “Most truly I say to you, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves”?
For many years we have explained these words as being limited to anointed Christians who will be taken to heaven to rule with Jesus Christ. However, a further study of this matter recommends a broader application of John 6:53.
Over the years we have viewed this text in the light of other verses that use similar expressions. For example, the phrase have “life in yourselves” is similar to Jesus’ words in John 5:26, which dealt exclusively with Jehovah and Jesus. Yet, as explained on pages 11 and 12 of this magazine, the context of John 5:26 provides the basis for understanding the words “have life in himself” in that verse. But John 6:53 was uttered a year later and has a different context.
Another influence on our previous view of John 6:53 was Jesus’ comment about ‘eating his flesh and drinking his blood.’ This had similarities to what Christ said when instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal. When instituting that, he spoke about his flesh and blood, and he directed that emblems of these (unleavened bread and wine) be partaken of by his followers who would be taken into the new covenant and into a covenant for a kingdom. (Luke 22:14-22, 28-30) Again, however, the context of John 6:53 needs to be appreciated.
When Jesus said what is recorded in John 6:53, his institution of the Lord’s Evening Meal was yet a year away. None who heard Jesus had any idea about an annual celebration with literal emblems standing for Christ’s flesh and blood. Rather, Jesus’ theme, or line of argument, in John chapter 6 had to do with his flesh being comparable to manna. There was a difference, though. His flesh (and, he added, his blood) was greater than literal manna in that his flesh was given for the life of the world, making everlasting life possible.—John 6:48-51.
Consequently, added research has recently highlighted that there was a time difference of a year between Jesus’ words in John 5:26 and his comments in John chapter 6; then it was another year before he instituted the Lord’s Evening Meal. Greater weight has also been given to the immediate context of John 6:53. Thus, the article on pages 15-20 offers a broadened application of John 6:53, including both those who are taken into the new covenant for heavenly life and those who have the prospect of endless life on a paradise earth.
◼ Gospel accounts and reference works seem to differ as to when Jesus ate at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany and was anointed with perfumed oil. When was it?
It seems that these events occurred on Nisan 9 (Jewish calendar) of 33 C.E. But as noted below in the reasons for this conclusion, you will see why continued study of God’s Word can bring improvements in your knowledge and understanding.
The details of this feast are presented in three of the four Gospels. (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:2-8) Matthew and Mark mention that feast after telling about Jesus’ triumphal ride into Jerusalem, his cursing of the barren fig tree, and his reply to the apostles’ question about the conclusion of the system of things. Both Matthew and Mark follow the account of the feast with Judas’ dealing with Jewish leaders about betraying Jesus. The positioning of the meal in these two accounts would suggest that it occurred on Nisan 12, just two days before Jesus’ betrayal and execution on Nisan 14. So the feast has been dated Nisan 12 on many charts showing the events of Jesus’ life, including some in our past publications.
In John chapter 12 the meal at Simon’s house is put in a different setting. John 12:1 reports that Jesus arrived in Bethany near Jerusalem “six days before the passover,” which would be Nisan 8. Then verses 2-8 of Joh 12 describe an evening meal in Bethany, and verses 9-11 of Joh 12 tell us that Jews who heard that Jesus was near came out to see him. Verses 12-15 of Joh 12 say that “the next day” Christ triumphantly entered Jerusalem. (Compare Acts 20:7-11.) Hence, John 12:1-15 indicates that the meal at Simon’s house was on Nisan 9 in the evening, which according to the Jewish calendar would mark the start of the new day, followed in the daylight portion of that day (Nisan 9) by Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
Of these two possibilities, the second seems weightier. Why? Well, let us compare the accounts and their context. Neither Matthew nor Mark give any date for the feast in Simon’s house. They do, though, show that at that feast complaining arose over Mary’s use of costly oil, complaining that John indicates was led by greedy Judas. (Matthew 26:8, 9; Mark 14:4, 5; John 12:4-6) As we noted, both Matthew and Mark follow the episode of the feast with Judas’ approaching the priests to see how much he might be paid to betray Christ. Thus it could well be that Matthew and Mark for thematic reasons mention the feast where they did, linking one evidence of Judas’ greed with the ultimate expression of it.
John, though, does give a specific date for the feast, indicating that he mentioned it in its chronological position. This supports the conclusion that the evening meal at Simon’s home followed Jesus’ arrival in Bethany on Nisan 8, 33 C.E. Further, recall John’s information that Jews who ‘got to know that Jesus was now in Bethany’ came from Jerusalem to see him and Lazarus, who also lived in Bethany and whose sisters were at the feast. This visit by Jews who had just then “got to know” of Jesus’ being in Bethany would more likely have occurred before his entry into Jerusalem, and it possibly contributed to the enthusiastic reception of Christ during his ride into the city “the next day,” the daytime of Nisan 9.
The added careful research leading to this conclusion is reflected in recent printings of the chart “Main Events of Jesus’ Earthly Life,” such as in the 1985 edition of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. While this may be a seemingly small, technical point, it illustrates how all of us can continue to grow in knowledge and understanding of the fine details in God’s Word.