Focus on Christ Meditations: 27. Bread of Life
Jn 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.
As we move into this next Part and start considering these word pictures that Jesus used of himself, we can note that often the word picture is linked to something that had either just happened or was about to happen. In this first case the preceding event was the feeding of the five thousand (Jn 6:1-). Note that it was very near to the Passover Feast (v.4) so the Jews would be aware of that and of its significance – the deliverance by Moses from Egypt. Moses is going to feature in this.
Now when Jesus says something it is significant. When he says something twice it is doubly significant. In the passage that follows TWICE Jesus utters the phrase “I am the bread of life” (v.35 & v.48) and TWICE he says, “I am the (living) bread that came down from heaven” (v.41 & v.51) and a number of other times indicates that he is the bread than has come from heaven. It is a ‘bread’ and ‘heaven’ packed chapter!
Now, after feeding the five thousand, Jesus and his disciples left the crowd but when they followed Jesus and questioned him he challenged them: “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (Jn 6:26,27) Now within this challenge we should note two things: first, Jesus acknowledges that the feeding was a miracle but, second, they had misjudged the value of what had happened. They saw the miracle as a means of satisfying their physical hunger; Jesus saw it as a means of imparting faith to them to believe in him, as we see in v.29.
To this the Jews counter challenge and foolishly ask, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?” (v.30) You’ve just had it you blind people! They continue: “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” (v.31) Ah, the manna, the miraculous provision of God for the people in their time in the wilderness! The crowd possibly reasoned that Jesus had done little compared to Moses. He had fed 5,000; Moses had fed a nation. He did it once; Moses did it for 40 years. He gave ordinary bread; Moses gave “bread from heaven.”
To this Jesus gives a doubled edged answer: “Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” (v.32) Point one: it was not Moses but God who gave you the manna. Point two: Not only did God give you that miraculous food then, but He has also given you this miraculous “true bread” now, and to their question comes, “I am the bread of life.” (v.35a) But note back in v.32, “the true bread from heaven.” Manna was a temporary provision in a crisis situation, but there is another ‘bread’ that does more: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (v.33) This ‘true’ bread is Jesus himself and he comes to provide life for not just the Jews but for the whole world.
Now in the discussion that follows, Jesus adds, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” (v.40) This ‘bread’ doesn’t only satisfy now, it brings life that goes on and on and on. To this he later adds, “he who believes in me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life.” (v.47,48) To contrast manna and himself, he adds, “Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (v.48-51)
This then opened up a discussion among the Jews about eating his flesh and in the verses that follow Jesus pushes it further and further speaking about both his flesh and his blood, and the literal-minded Jews struggled even more, as have parts of the Church ever since. Clearly Jesus was not being literal but was using prophetic shorthand. Flesh = his body, his very being, his very personality. Blood = life, his very life source. The words of Jesus in the argument that follows in v.51-58 might be summarized as, “You need to accept me, my very being, as your Saviour and you need to rely upon my life-giving death for your salvation.” That was the end of Jesus’ mission, that believing in him as the Son of God and in his work on the Cross as the means of our salvation, that is what the life and death and resurrection of Jesus is all about.
Put most simply, bread is basic food that sustains and satisfies and so Jesus was clearly saying, I am the one who sustains, I am the one who gives you food of life, food that will enable you to live for ever, and that food is me. Believe in me and take me into your life and you will know eternal life. Therefore he says, “I am the one who sustains and gives satisfaction”. This first claim is about being the bringer of the means to life, the means to live, the means to remain alive. Bread does all that.
So when do we ‘eat’ of Jesus? It is not at Communion for that is simply a reflection of what has already happened. No, we ‘eat’ him when we come to him declaring our belief in him and submission to him. At that point the Father imparts His Holy Spirit, otherwise known as the Spirit of Jesus, and we are born again. From then on as we wait on him and fellowship with him we ‘eat’ him and take in and experience more and more of him. The very presence of God within us is what gives us eternal life – now.