27. The Bread of Life

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.

12. The lamb for eating

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   12. The Lamb for eating

John 6:53,54    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.

We’ve just seen the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent teaching by Jesus of him being the bread of life that has come down from heaven. Because of lack of space we did not go on to see how he extended that picture when he said, 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.” (Jn 6:51) We find a kind of morphing of bread into flesh in Jesus’ teaching here and we must not rush by it because it combines two great pictures.

The bread coming down from heaven was not difficult. In the time of the Exodus in the wilderness, another ‘bread’ called manna had come from heaven, provided by God for forty years to supplement the meat they would have had from their herds and flocks. The Jews were very mindful of this and had pointed Jesus to that time, but Jesus wants to take them on into realizing what they need to do with this ‘bread’ that has come down from heaven that he is now speaking about. It (he) is not just for looking at. Bread is for eating. So he turns the picture from a picture of bread to focus next on his physical presence with them, and then with what they need to do with that physical presence.

Observe the transition. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” That seems simple  – if you accept his claim that he has come from heaven. Probably in its simplest form some might have thought, ‘receive him and he is the means of receiving eternal life.’  It’s a bit like the more modern, “Ask Jesus into your heart and you will be saved.” We don’t imagine a literal heart that a physical being forces itself into; that would be silly.  In the same way we might challenge people to explain what “Ask Jesus into your heart” means, we might now ask in our explanation above, what does “receive him” mean?

Jesus gives the answer, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Step 1 – understand that this bread that I am talking about is me, my very being, my very body, my very flesh. There is coming a time when I will surrender this body to save you all but, yes, it will be my flesh that will literally die. These words create confusion  in the listeners: “Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v.52)

Now back in chapter 2 when we considered Jesus’ words about rebuilding a temple in three days we considered possibilities. The possibilities here are either a) he is talking about cannibalism which is just so far from anything else that Jesus taught it needs ruling out of court straight away, or b) he is using his flesh to convey a picture truth that needs thinking about.  Jesus pushes them further with this picture: “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.” (v.53-57)  If this is not to be taken literally, what is it to say to us?

“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man” The flesh of Jesus was his body, what they saw, heard and watched. Unless you take into your life all that you have seen and heard of Jesus you won’t have real life. Flesh is what covers the bones, the skeleton and the organs. Flesh in this context, I would suggest, is the account of all that we have heard and know about Jesus. Eating it means taking in and accepting all these truths and absorbing them into our lives so that we become changed. That’s what food does.

“and drink his blood.” This was more difficult because this part of his ministry was still in the future. The body and blood speak of two parts of his ministry. The body was what did all the things recorded in the Gospels, that taught, that did miracles, that worked out the will of the Father as the kingdom of God. ‘The blood’ refers to the giving of his life as a sacrifice on the Cross. Blood poured out was a sign of life departing. Jesus’ life departed from the body as he took our sins on the Cross.

So, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” refers to us receiving (believing) and taking in (being changed by) the knowledge of his ministry for three years and then his death and resurrection for us. The result will be our receiving eternal life and a resurrection life.

What about, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”? Well if you put it as we have above, Jesus is saying, “for my works received by you will feed your faith, and my life poured out for you will be a real means of life being imparted to you when you are forgiven and cleansed.”

OK,  but what about, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” Perhaps it is like Jesus says, “if you receive my ministry and my death for you, you will become one with me.” He adds, “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,” i.e. this is all part of the plan of my Father so if you receive me and all my works and let them fully into your life and sustain and keep you, you will truly live and be incorporated into the living, dynamic plan of my Father, His kingdom.

He reiterates it from the original picture, “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.” (v.58) This, that I have been speaking about, he says, is the ‘bread’ that has now come down from heaven and is different from the manna you referred to because the people still died when they ate that, but if you eat of this ‘bread’ you will live forever.

This bread is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), “a lamb without blemish or defect….. chosen before the creation of the world.” (1 Pet 1:19,20), “Worthy ….to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12) yet “slain from the creation of the world,” (Rev 13:8) and who, “is Lord of lords and King of kings.” (Rev 17:14) THIS is what we have to take in, chew over, digest and be strengthened in. The bread sustains and feeds us, the Lamb provides the way for it to happen. Hallelujah!

11. The Bread of Life

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   11. The Bread of Life

John 6:35  Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirst

When we come to the feeding of the five thousand in the fist part of chapter 6, we could be rather blasé about it. We have heard Jesus talk about changing Simon into Peter, we have seen him change water into wine, we have heard him speak about resurrection possibilities, we have heard him speak about new birth transformation, we have heard him speak about being source of living water, we have seen him heal an official’s son from a distance, we have seen him heal a long term invalid and now to find him feeding well over five thousand people with five loaves and two fish Jn 6:1-13), we may be tempted to think, oh, just another miraculous sign. Well, yes, it is heralded as a miraculous sign (v.14) but it is something much more and that will only become clear as we progress through the chapter.

But note in passing we have seen two instances of physical healing and now we have seen two instances of Jesus changing physical substances – first the water into wine and now expanding a small amount of food to be able to feed a large number of people. It is no wonder that the people started to identify Jesus was the coming prophet Moses spoke about (see Deut 18:15) and surely a man who could provide for them in such ways was worthy to be their king.

But that is not Jesus’ plan and so he quietly leaves and, I suspect, goes off to pray leaving the disciples to pack up and start off across the Sea of Galilee in a boat. The trouble with miracles is that with pigeon-hole them, we put them in little boxes and fail to realise the bigger implications. I say this because John has shown us the one who is master over material things and over the state of our bodies and so neither we nor the disciples should be surprised when Jesus follows them across the lake – but without a boat! They were terrified when they see him walking across the water towards them (Jn 6:16-21). They had not realised that God can change water into wine, can expand bread, can impart life when there is only death and can bring healing to sick bodies and so essentially can do anything in His world – and that Jesus is His Son and so can do the same! It is interesting that John makes no comment about what the disciples felt the next morning but I guess they were looking at Jesus through new eyes. Perhaps it was beginning to sink in who it was who they had with them!

But John’s attention is taken up with the crowd who had been fed and who now followed Jesus (Jn 6:22-25) When they question Jesus about how he got there, he ignores their question and challenges them over why they have come. This is an opportunity to teach the truth, based on what happened the previous day: 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.” (v.26,27) You’ve come, he says because I fed you, but don’t make getting physical food the central focus of your life, food that will keep you going for a limited time on this world (implied by what follows). Focus instead on getting spiritual food which is lasting and produces eternal life, which I alone can give you. Wow!

Now Jesus had just said  work to get the right sort of food so they ask, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” (v.28)  i.e. what does God want of us to be able to earn this sort of food. “Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (v.29)  We are back there again. We’ve seen it before in this Gospel: believe in Jesus, that is all that is required of you.

The crowd respond rather obtusely, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?” (v.30) Hold on, he did it yesterday evening! But they, like so many of us, don’t like being challenged so they are responding with a challenge of their own: “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (v.31) i.e. we’re Moses’ followers and he did that miracle so what will you do if you are his prophet? Well, actually, he didn’t, it was God who did, replies Jesus (v.32) but in saying it he adds a slight edge to it: “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” The true bread? Yes, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (v.33) The bread of God is a person????

To this they reply, “Sir, from now on give us this bread.” (v.34) Do they know what they are asking, I wonder. It is then that Jesus makes this powerful response: I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (v.35)  What is he saying? I am the source of all life. Bread is often referred to as the staff of life, the essential food to enable us to live. I leave you to ponder more fully on that.

However in the verses that follow, note the number times when Jesus says he has come down from heaven (and the implication is, where he has existed from eternity before coming to earth): “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (v.38)  “They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I came down from heaven’?” (v.42) “here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (v.50)  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” (v.51) “This is the bread that came down from heaven.” (v.58)   This teaching was not there in the Synoptic Gospels but John makes sure we see it again and again. This Jesus is the eternal Son who existed in heaven and who left heaven and came to earth, and he is the source of all life.

17. “I Am”

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 17 of 20

Jn 10:11,14,15 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me– just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

We couldn’t draw near to the end of a series like this without picking up on the “I am” sayings. For the untutored, these are a number of sayings by Jesus, recorded only in John’s Gospel, but which make very clear indirect claims to divinity. Again for those who are unaware of the structure of the four Gospels, it needs saying that John was written many years after the other three, probably by the apostle John in old age, after many years of senior church leadership. We have commented in meditations many times in the past, about the tendency in the elderly, to reflect back on things many years ago, which come clearer in the memory than things that happened yesterday! This would easily account for why John wrote such a distinctive Gospel that is full of profundity, meaning and significance.

Clearly as he allowed his mind to go back to those three most significant years of his life (when he was either in his later teens or early twenties), no doubt prompted by the Lord, and saw and heard again his Master speaking and acting in those years, he realised that there had been so many things the others had not recorded, things of immense significance which the early church had not even understood. Thus we find included in his Gospel, these ‘I am’ sayings.

Again we have briefly commented on this before but it bears examining more fully now. When God revealed Himself to Moses, the name He gave Moses was, “I Am” and the Jews were very much aware of that name and avoided the use of any sentence structure where “I am” could be construed to have divine implications. It is thus beyond coincidence that Jesus used that sentence structure again and again.

In respect of the “I am” in our verses above, we find in the Old Testament, the following prophecy: “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd,” (Ezek 34:23) so this could be a messianic fulfilment, yet there is that nagging question that must have been in the minds of the Jews over whether he was claiming something more, because in the Old Testament, God was THE shepherd (Gen 49:24, Psa 79:13, 95:7, Psa 23). When Jesus speaks of himself being the “good shepherd” that adjective singles him out, for as Jesus himself was to say elsewhere, “No one is good–except God alone.” (Mk 10:18). But there are a lot more of these sayings, but with limited space we’ll only be able to make brief references to each of them. Let’s take them in the order we find them.

Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life,” (Jn 6:35). The context for this is very clear. The Jews had just talked about the manna that God had given their forefathers and we find, “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. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (v.32,33). He thus declares himself as the one who has come from heaven to give life. This is a far bigger claim that merely that of a deliverer-Messiah, for only God can give life! It’s a very clear claim to divinity.

He said, `I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12). Yet it was accepted that “God is light” (1 Jn 1:5) but Jesus claims to be the one who comes to dispel the darkness of sin and evil. In the light of all the Biblical references to light and God, if Jesus wasn’t God then this would seem to be a very competitive challenge to God!!!

I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (Jn 10:9). He is the one way in to God’s kingdom. Surely God is the gatekeeper to His realm and no one enters but by His say, and thus Jesus is claiming equality of role with God.

Jesus said to her,`I am the resurrection and the life.” (Jn 11:25). We have observed previously that God alone is the source of life and resurrection as seen in the Old Testament. That which only God can do, Jesus now claims to do.

Jesus answered, `I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6). What a claim: “I am the way to God, I am ultimate reality and I alone am the source of all life.” We haven’t time to justify that interpretation but that is essentially what Jesus was saying. It is a claim, which if he wasn’t God, could only be attributed to a megalomaniac, but everything else in the records denies that conclusion. He was far from that!

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” (Jn 15:1). Without going into detail, the vine was the people of God (Psa 80:8) or the life of God flowing in His chosen people. Jesus is thus claiming to be the source of the people of God – who are the branches. As we’ve seen previously all life resides in God alone.

In each of these enigmatic sayings there is a claim to a greatness that is far more than a mere Messianic deliverer. There is a claim to life and provision that only comes, in fact, from God Himself. Aware that, frustratingly, this has been only the skimpiest of studies of a great subject, we simply recommend that the student spends time meditating on each of these sayings and researches for themselves the backgrounds that point towards God. We reiterate, that within these sayings Jesus is making claims to something far more that mere deliverer. These sayings all point to the very character or being of God and Jesus claims that for himself.

12. Heavenly Origins

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 12 of 20

Jn 6:38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.

I commented in one of the recent studies that my friend who made the statement, The truth is that Jesus was not God; he never proclaimed as such, there are no direct quotes from him in this regards, seems like he will only be happy with Jesus saying, “I am the Son of God” and nothing less will suit him. What it shows is that he has never read the Gospels with an open mind. Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel produces a wealth of challenges to this mentality. Our verse today is blatant in its claim: I have come down from heaven. There really is no alternative to the straight forward claim that Jesus is saying he has come from heaven itself. Heaven is where he originated.

Now perhaps we should deal with one or two of the more obvious silly excuses that might be made at this point. Oh help, says our sceptic, perhaps he was just an angel. Well there are various answers that come to mind to that. Angel appearances in the rest of the Bible are remarkably brief. Angels are heaven’s messengers and so they come and bring the message and then go. Jesus came and lived as part of a family for thirty three years. The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 1 of his book dealt with this silly supposition. He wasn’t an angel!  Oh, says our desperate sceptic, perhaps he was some other lesser being, a human from past history who God allowed to come back. Well, taking the Biblical record as a whole that sort of thing didn’t happen. There are only two Biblical records of that ever happening, one in the Old and one in the New Testament, and I’ll leave you to find them for yourself! But both appearances were again remarkably brief. The people appeared for a specific purpose and then went quickly. It was merely a matter of minutes.

There are also two bigger problems with Jesus being anything less than God himself. Number one is that if he was a mere human being then his teaching would be vulnerable to error and when you examine the teaching of Jesus it is remarkable for its clarity and its absence of anything that can be seen to be error. The second problem is the crucial one that we have considered briefly before, that a mere man could not die to take the sin and guilt of the whole world, of every person who would ever turn to God in repentance and seek salvation. There is a sense that if that is what happened, and the Bible says it is, then no one less than God Himself is ‘big enough’ to carry our punishment.

So here we find this blatant claim from Jesus that he has come from heaven. There is one more option that our friendly sceptic may come up with. When he says he has come from heaven, doesn’t it just mean that God by His Spirit enabled Mary to conceive and so it is a case really of it being that he was more ‘heaven enabled’? Heaven enabled this child to be conceived and born. Well that might have been a possible interpretation if it wasn’t for that simple word, ‘down’. When Jesus says, “I have come down from heaven” that doesn’t allow us to accept that possibility. Coming down is the language of transference from one place to another.

Then we have to cope with the other references to this same thing in this chapter. The chapter need to be read in the context of the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand that has just happened. The people who had been there followed Jesus and he chided them: “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.” (Jn 6:26). In other words he was saying they purely wanted their physical needs to be met by him. They cited God providing manna for their ancestors, a miraculous food provision while they were travelling through the desert. As the conversation continues Jesus eventually says, referring to himself, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (v.33) Be under no illusion, he IS referring to himself: “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.” Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.” (v.34,35).

To clarify it even more, after our verse today, we find, “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I came down from heaven’?” (v.41,42). Oh yes, the Jews were quite clear in their understanding. He has come down from heaven? How can that be?

Again, a few verses later we find Jesus reiterating, “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.” (v.50,51) and again, “This is the bread that came down from heaven.” (v.58). Thus we have it that a number of times here we find Jesus recorded as saying in this crucial conversation that his origins were in heaven, for that is where he came from. The writer to the Hebrews, who we referred to earlier, before he gets down to refuting the suggestion that Jesus was an angel, said, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Heb 1:3). That was the understanding of the early church who had witnessed Jesus, seen and heard all he did. Indeed, in the light of the New Testament testimony, it is surprising that anyone can come to any other conclusion, but that is why we spent such time with the early meditations in this series, dealing with our strange thought processes that will do anything except believe what is obvious!