Jesus, the Bread of Life

What did Jesus mean when he called himself the bread of life?

When Christ taught spiritual truth in John’s gospel, people constantly misunderstood him. For example:

1. In John 3, Jesus pressed Nicodemus with the necessity of being born again. Nicodemus took Jesus to be speaking of a physical rebirth. However, Jesus was speaking about a spiritual rebirth — a supernatural regeneration of the heart by the Holy Spirit of God.

2. In John 4, Jesus spoke about living water to the woman of Samaria. The woman took Jesus to mean physical water which would relieve her of her duty of fetching water. But Jesus was not talking about physical water. Nor did he come to relieve her of the duty of collecting water. He was offering her the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Something similar happens in John 6. The people struggled with the graphic language Jesus used. Jesus said, “I am the living bread” and “if anyone eats this bread, he will live forever.” The people said, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They took Jesus literally and thus misunderstood him.

Jesus was not talking about a physical eating of his flesh or a physical drinking of his blood (which would admittedly be repulsive). Instead, he spoke of a saving appropriation of himself and his work for sinners. This is the key to understanding John 6.

Appropriation

To appropriate something means to take it for one’s own use or benefit. When Christ spoke of himself as the living bread, he was telling the people that he had come for the benefit of mankind in order to offer abundant, everlasting life. He was saying that in order to be saved (i.e. to come into possession of eternal life), people had to believe in him. They had to step across the threshold from emptiness, sin, and darkness into the realm of fullness, salvation, and light.

This is the primary thing Christ told the people to seek at the beginning of the dialogue. In v. 25, the people asked Jesus: “Rabbi, when did You come here?” Jesus ignored them and responded (in effect), “The question is not how I got here, but why are you here? Why are you seeking me?” In fact, Jesus knew why they were seeking him — he said as much in v. 26. “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” They were seeking Christ for a free meal.

Jesus was saying, “Stop seeking me because I provided you with a free meal that satisfied your stomachs temporarily. What you should really seek is what I alone can provide you with if you believe in me — I can provide you with true food and drink, because I am the bread of life.”

Jesus told the crowd, “Do not labor for the food which perishes (i.e. temporary food), but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you…” Instead of physical food, Jesus told his listeners to come to him with a chief concern about the welfare of their souls.

What about you? Is that the concern of your lives? The gospel offers eternal life in Jesus’ name. Yet many people seek Jesus for mere practical help. But Jesus is saying to these Jews — and by implication he is saying to you, “Stop prizing physical nourishment over your eternal salvation.”

Misunderstanding

The people took Jesus’ words in their literal signification. They thought he must be calling them to accomplish something. Jesus told them to work for the food which endures, and so they asked him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

Jesus’ response brings us back to the core feature of this text .  He responded, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” The work God requires of men is to believe in Jesus.

But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? It means to believe in accordance with v. 33 that he is indeed, “the bread of God who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

How does Jesus give his life to the world? He tells us in v. 51, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

The bread Jesus gives is his body for the life of the world — a clear reference to Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Here we find the deeper significance of the multiplication of the loaves. The miracle attests the reality that Jesus has come to die in order that the world might have life in his name. Bread is food that sustains physical life — Jesus’ suffering on the cross is true food for eternal life. Eternal life could only be secured through the Via Dolorosa.

Jesus and the Manna

This distinguishes Jesus from the manna in the wilderness. The Israelites ate the manna and it sustained their bodies for a time. What Jesus was saying, however, is that his body would grant eternal life to all who would come and eat. “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven — not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever” (v. 57).

Do you hear the drumbeat of John 6? It is the repeated summons of Jesus to sinners — eat me (i.e. savingly appropriate me by faith) and live forever! There is no other way to have eternal life.

Jesus promised satisfication to those who would eat his flesh and drink his blood. “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (v. 35). Here is a clear explication of Jesus' main point. To eat Jesus' flesh means to come to him. To drink his blood means to believe in him. Coming to Jesus, believing in Jesus, eating Jesus’ flesh, and drinking Jesus’ blood are all references to the same act of saving faith -- the indispensable condition of possessing eternal life,   the only way to receive life from God in all it’s satisfying richness.

Application

The woman from Samaria thought the best thing Jesus could offer her was physical water. Jesus offered her so much more — the Holy Spirit. The Jews in John 6 were more than happy to receive their next free meal from Jesus. They sought him out to get it! But Jesus said, “Stop focusing on your next meal. Stop following me for your next meal. Focus on the eternal life I’ve come to graciously give to sinners — focus on the deeper significance of the multiplication of the loaves.” He said, “Labor for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (v. 27). Work for the right thing (i.e. believing in Jesus and his life-giving death), and you will be truly satisfied and find rest for your souls. 

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