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In John 6, Jesus states that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no life in us.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, 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 him 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 him. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever. John 6:53-58 NIV

Could this have been a reference to the Passover Lamb of which the Israelites were supposed to eat all of it? What is the common Protestant understanding of this? Do some traditions associate this with Communion?

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Here's the question at BH.SE. The folks on that site give fantastically thorough answers! –  Ray Oct 20 '11 at 23:36
    
Could I suggest removing the "what possible interpretations" bit since that is more throughly addressable on Biblical Hermeneutics and focusing on what various Christian traditions have taught? –  Caleb Apr 12 '12 at 21:04
    
I changed it a bit. Feel free to do more. –  Narnian Apr 12 '12 at 21:06
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2 Answers

Jesus was speaking about the spiritual world, not about the physical.

When He spoke of Himself as the Bread of Life, He was not speaking of bread that we eat with our mouths, but rather spiritual food which sustains our souls.

So when Jesus says "you must eat my flesh", He means that our souls need Him if we are to continue living after our physical bodies no longer function.

Jesus is the food and drink of our Spirit, He is our only true sustenance. The flesh counts for nothing, for we are spirit, not flesh.

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In Eastern Orthodoxy these verses are often read (if other hymns do not supplant or if the verses are not readily available) during the time communicants are coming up and receiving communion. It is also a part of many communion prayers verbatim. We are meant to understand they refer to the Eucharist itself.

Protestants usually say these are not literal but refer to the bread and wine he offers them before his betrayal only, and not to his actual flesh and blood.

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