It is easy to understand why some, especially the Roman Catholic Church, believe Jesus’ words in this section of his Bread of Life Discourse are referring to the Lord’s Supper. It is certainly likely that once Jesus did institute the Lord’s Supper his disciples reflected back upon these words. But our Lord was not instituting the Lord’s Supper in this particular teaching. Jesus’ rather graphic language concerning his body and blood is linked directly to the larger context of his teaching on eternal life and the necessity of belief.
Jesus’ words here are not sacramental. Nor is he setting the stage for the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation in which the bread and wine of communion are transformed into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus and work to remove the sins of those who receive it. Jesus is speaking metaphorically just as he was with Nicodemus concerning birth and the Samaritan woman about living water. Since the miraculous feeding of thousands Jesus has referred to himself as the bread which has come down from heaven; “the Bread of Life.” Jesus is not literally bread nor are his flesh and blood to be literally eaten. Rather, just as bread gives life to the body, so Jesus has come to give life everlasting to those who believe.
Jesus’ metaphor also nudges us toward the cross. “By combining into one cumulative metaphor the concepts of hunger and thirst and the bread of life alongside overtly sacrificial images of his flesh and blood (terms that evoke the entire system of sacrifice and atonement in the O.T.), Jesus declares his person and his work to be the embodiment of all promises of satisfaction” (Edward Klink, 348).