Sapphire Sky

March 15, 2015

The Bread of Life

Filed under: theology — Tags: — Steve Knaus @ 1:16 am

A farmer went out to sow seeds in his field. Some seeds fell on the path and were eaten by birds. Some seeds fell on rocky ground, where the young plants were withered in the shallow soil. Some seeds fell among weedy soil and were choked out by the weeds. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced a crop. 

Jesus had told this parable to the crowds and then later explained its meaning to his disciples. The different soils were an analogy of how people respond to God’s word. Some refuse the word and with many people it is not possible for the word to grow in their hearts. But there are a few that will be the good soil — those who will take the word and grow. (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15)

John 6 shows an example of the different soils in real life. It starts with the pinnacle of excitement as Jesus had fed a massive crowd (probably about 20,000 people) and they all wanted him to be king. But they start to fall away when Jesus gave them a challenge. Sadly, it is only a few that remain to be the good soil. 

This passage can be best summarized by Jesus’ statement about himself:  “I am the Bread of Life.”

Jesus had fed the crowd the day before and now the people want more. They had tried to make him king and were rejected. Now they have come back to try again. 

Jesus responded simply: they came back for the food, but what they need is eternal life. They need to be born from God.

The rabbis had taught the people that God sets his seal on the one who is truth. Jesus told them that God had sent him and had set his seal of truth on him. They did not need to work but to believe.

The Jews asked Jesus to validate his claims with a sign. According to their traditions, they believed that the true Messiah would provide manna for them, greater than even what was given by Moses. Jesus corrected them that the manna came from God, not from Moses. But manna was only temporary. They need the true bread from heaven which will give eternal life.

Jesus is the true bread. All you need to do is to come to him and believe in him for eternal life. He alone can give eternal life.

This would be simple to understand and believe. But Jesus takes the analogy further. He is the bread of life, and you need to eat his flesh and drink his blood. What does that mean?

The Jewish tradition held that the law and the commandments were the bread and wine for a believing Jew. They had achieved true wisdom when they depended totally on their law. Jesus was saying to this devout Jewish audience to stop looking to the law and their traditions for life, and to instead look to him. They will receive eternal life when they totally depend on him.

They understood it but they did not accept it. It was offensive to them. Given the choice between their traditions and Jesus, many of the disciples left Jesus for their traditions. 

“Here, then, we are at the parting of the two ways; and, just because it was the hour of decision, did Christ so clearly set forth the highest truths concerning Himself, in opposition to the views which the multitude entertained about the Messiah. The result was yet another and a sorer defection. ‘Upon this many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.’” [1]

 

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John 6:22-71

On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father 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.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.


 

On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

 

This sets the scene for the rest of the chapter. It is now the next day after Jesus had fed the massive crowd. At least a portion of the crowd had remained in the area and came back the next day. The news of his miracle had quickly spread and other people had come from the western shore of the lake.

 

They came looking for Jesus, and yet Jesus was not there! They personally saw the disciples sail away without him, so they reasoned that Jesus must have returned to Capernaum by land.

 

Jesus had arrived at the Plain of Gennesaret (Matt 14:34, Mark 6:53), on the Western shore of the lake. He then went north to Capernaum for the Sabbath, with the crowds gathering around him as he traveled. Jesus delivered a series of addresses along the way, with the final address in the synagogue at Capernaum. [2]

 

 

First Address:

 

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”

 

Jesus never answered their question. Instead, he addressed the core issue. Why did he reject them when they wanted to make him king the previous day? What is wrong with them looking for him now? They are preoccupied with their own physical needs. But just like Nicodemus (John 3) and the Samaritan woman (John 4), they need Spiritual life. They need to be born from God.

 

Jesus instructed them to not set their priority on physical food, but to work for what gives eternal life.

 

The rabbis taught that the seal of God was truth. Jesus promised that he would feed them food for eternal life. They must come to him because God had impressed on him his own seal of truth. (Many commentators believe that God had set his seal on Jesus Christ at his baptism.)

 

“What brought them, was not that they had discerned either the higher meaning of that miracle, or the Son of God, but those carnal Judaistic expectancies which had led them to proclaim Him King. What they waited for, was a Kingdom of God – not in righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost, but in meat and drink – a kingdom with miraculous wilderness-banquets to Israel, and coarse miraculous triumphs over the Gentiles.” [1]

 

 

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

 

What work must they do for eternal life? The answer is that the work is from God, we are to believe. As Jesus told Nicodemus, whoever believes in him has eternal life (John 3:14-16).

 

“And Christ directed them, as before, only more clearly, to Himself. To work the Works of God they must not do, but believe in Him Whom God had sent.” [1]

 

 

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father 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.”

 

Jesus had asserted that he was the one authenticated by God with the seal of truth. He would give them food to eternal life if they only believed. But what sign would he give them to prove that he spoke the truth?

 

The rabbis taught that the Messiah would produce manna when he came. Myths about manna abounded [3], and the Jews believed that Moses himself had provided the manna while the Israelites were in the desert. If this man was truly the Messiah, then they expected him to outdo Moses. While Jesus had fed the crowd the previous day, Moses had fed them for 40 years.

 

Jesus responded to them that the manna came from the Father, not Moses. Furthermore, they needed to look for the true bread from heaven, not the temporary manna. The true bread is a person who has come down from heaven.

 

 

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.

 

Jesus makes this declaration about himself: “I am the bread of life” [4]. He is the living bread that came down from heaven. He gives eternal life. Believe in him and he will meet all of your needs.

 

There is a very close parallel here with the Samaritan woman when Jesus offered her living water (John 4:13-15). However, the Samaritan woman believed when challenged with a higher truth. The woman was an immoral outcast, yet she believed Jesus with no signs, and only by telling her of her past. The Jews in Capernaum, by contrast, were followers of Jesus and devoutly religious. They had seen tremendous miracles, and yet they refused to believe.

 

 

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

 

The statements here appear to be parenthetical.  Many commentators believe that Jesus was not speaking directly to the Jews at this point, but he was speaking aside to his disciples. Regardless of the actual audience, the point of these statements is the same:

  • All that the Father gives him will come to him.
  • Those who come to him will never be cast out.
  • Jesus is doing the will of the Father, that none of those who come to him will be lost.
  • Jesus will raise up the believers who come to him on the last day.

 

On a theological note, this section affirms the sovereignty of God, divine election, and the free will of mankind. [4]

 

 

Second Address:

 

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.

 

The Jews reacted to Jesus’ statements by grumbling. Jesus was speaking in Capernaum, not far from his home town of Nazareth. These people knew his family and had seen him grow up. How then could he have come from heaven? (Note that the term, “the Jews” in John’s gospel account usually refers to the Jewish leaders. It was most likely the synagogue leaders who were grumbling.)

 

Jesus did not directly address their grumbling. Instead, he elaborated further on the sovereignty of God and his role in drawing believers. Only those who have been drawn by God can come to him. Those who have heard and have been taught by the Father come to believe in Jesus.

 

You are first drawn by the Father when you come to Christ. God the Father draws people and teaches them. The reference in the prophets is to Isaiah 54:13. This teaching brings them to faith and repentance to God as they believe in Christ. Jesus Christ himself says later that he will “draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).

 

 

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 

The people expected the Messiah to provide them with manna, but manna will not give eternal life. Jesus reiterated, “I am the bread of life”. He alone can give eternal life.

 

Jesus also foreshadowed his own death when he said that he would give his flesh for the life of the world. (Note that Jesus had not yet begun to tell his disciples about his death.)

 

“The Manna had not been bread of life, for those who ate it had died, their carcasses had fallen in the wilderness. Not so in regard to this, the true Bread from heaven. To share in that Food was to have everlasting life, a life which the sin and death of unbelief and judgment would not cut short, as it had that of them who had eaten the Manna and died in the wilderness.” [1]

 

 

Final Address:

 

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.

 

This is one of the most difficult passages to understand. Why would Jesus command the people to eat his flesh and drink his blood? In our contemporary culture, any reference to cannibalism is profoundly revolting.

 

Jesus had used metaphorical terms throughout this entire discourse (i.e. “bread from heaven”). Therefore, the comments here would be an extension of the same metaphor. As difficult as this statement may be to understand in our culture, the people in Jesus’ day had no trouble understanding what he was saying. So what does Jesus mean when he commands the people to eat his flesh and drink his blood?

 

Although it may be more foreshadowing, this cannot represent the Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus had not yet taught his disciples that he was going to be killed and it would have not been understood by the crowds.

 

This cannot represent communion. Communion is a memory of Jesus’ death, which has not yet happened when he was speaking this. Although communion is ordained by Christ, it does not impart life to the lost. Also, the language here indicates a one-time event. “Except you eat (one-time) the flesh of the Son of Man and drink (one-time) his blood, you have no life in you.” Communion is a repeated occurrence.

 

The rabbis taught that “…if Wisdom said, ‘Eat of my bread and drink of my wine,’ it indicated that the manna and the miraculous water supply were the sequence of Israel’s receiving the Law and the Commandments – for the real bread from heaven was the Law.” [1]

 

The Jewish tradition held that the law and the commandments were the bread and wine for a believing Jew.  They had achieved true wisdom when they depended totally on their law. Jesus is saying to this devout Jewish audience to not look to the law or their traditions for life, but to him. They will receive eternal life when they depend totally on him.

 

 

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

 

“This is a hard saying”. The language here indicates that it was not hard to understand, but hard to accept. It was offensive to them.

 

Note that “The Jews” were grumbling before. Now many of the disciples are grumbling. These are people who were committed to following Jesus but were now ready to leave him.  If they could not accept what Jesus was saying to them about being the Messiah, how would they ever grasp the harder (and less Jewish) parts of his death, resurrection, and ascension?

 

It is the Spirit who gives life. As Jesus expressed to Nicodemus (John 3), we need to be born from above in order to gain eternal life.

 

We also see the paradox of God’s sovereignty. Jesus knew that many in the crowd (and one of his close disciples) did not believe. They had chosen not to believe and God had not given them the gift of faith in him.

 

“It is only as we receive His words in faith that we can lay hold of eternal truth. The flesh, unless moved upon by divine grace, will not understand.” [5]

 

 

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

 

The discourse concluded with many disciples walking away. Even the Twelve contained an unbeliever (Judas). Jesus had made the distinction: if they were to follow him they must depend on him totally.

 

But while many left, there were still those who needed him.  As Peter said, “You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God”.

 


[1] Alfred Edersheim, The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah, Book III, “The Ascent”, Chapter 32

 

[2] John 6:26-65 are written as one long discourse. It appears to contain a series of separate addresses, but we have no indication whether these addresses were delivered at separate times or all at once. Regardless, the point of the addresses is still the same. All we do know is that he concluded in the synagogue at Capernaum (John 6:59). [1]

 

[3] The synagogue in Capernaum had an engraving of a pot of manna on the lintel. Some of the popular myths associated with manna were:

  • The Messiah would produce manna when he came.
  • Jeremiah had hidden the pot of manna from the temple and it would remain hidden until it was found by the Messiah.
  • Moses created the manna based on his own merit and it ceased at his death.
  • “That manna, which was Angels’ food, distilled (as they imagined) from the upper light, ‘the dew from above’ – miraculous food, of all manner of taste, and suited to every age, according to the wish or condition of him who see ate it, but bitterness to Gentile palates – they expected the Messiah to bring again from heaven.” [1]

 

[4] Jesus made these “I am” statements about himself in John’s gospel account:

(From Stephen Davey, Anything Less Won’t Last, John 6:22-71)

 

[5] H.A. Ironside, Commentary to the Gospel of John, Address 21, “The Living Bread”, John 6:57-71

6 Comments »

  1. […] Previous post: The Bread of Life […]

    Pingback by If Anyone is Thirsty | Sapphire Sky — March 22, 2015 @ 5:33 pm

  2. […] Jesus started this scene by using the analogy of light to describe himself. This is the second time in John’s gospel account that Jesus describes himself by analogy, starting with the name of God, “I AM” (See more details here). […]

    Pingback by Light of the World | Sapphire Sky — April 19, 2015 @ 12:03 am

  3. […] Jesus uses the ancient name of God when he states, “I AM the door of the sheep”. This is the third statement in John’s gospel account where Jesus uses the Old Testament name of God to show who he is (see the complete list here). […]

    Pingback by The Good Shepherd | Sapphire Sky — May 9, 2015 @ 12:49 am

  4. […] the fifth time in John’s Gospel account that Jesus used the name of God to describe himself (see here). Jesus is God, and he is the resurrection, and he is […]

    Pingback by Greater than Death | Sapphire Sky — May 29, 2015 @ 7:01 pm

  5. […] name of God, “I AM”. In this case, he was reminding his own disciples who he is. See here for the complete list of times where Jesus declares himself with the name of […]

    Pingback by I Am Returning to the Father | Sapphire Sky — August 6, 2015 @ 11:17 pm

  6. […] where he uses the name of God, “I AM” to describe himself. I AM the true vine! See here for the complete […]

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