“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE”
Each of the “I AM” sayings of Jesus gives us a glimpse of the One person – Jesus. Monet paints the West Front of Rouen Cathedral at least 31 times – each picture is of the same place but each is different as each was painted at different times of the day and year – so the light etc is different. It is the same with the I AM statements – each show us Jesus but from a different point of view. And just like you can look at a picture and see different things so we will each of us look at the I AM statements and get a different picture of who Jesus is.
Also, let us be clear that these are metaphors. Jesus is NOT a loaf of bread or a literal door! This needs to be constantly reflected on.
It’s like saying: “Joseph is a lion”…he isn’t a lion but he is like a lion – brave and strong. Or that Jiana is a “little angel”…she actually isn’t really an angel – but she is good and sweet like an angel.
Jesus being “the bread of life” is showing us a very powerful glimpse of who He is – and this is what we are going to be looking at now.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BREAD
Bread was the all-important main element of the local diet – not the crusty loaf of today, but the basic diet of the common people in a first century eastern land. Together with wine (due to the impurity of water) it formed the symbolism of life. With bread you lived. Without bread you died. It was as simple as that. In saying that He was the bread of life He was stating that without Him there was only death – but with Him there was life – and life eternal!
Bread was the sustenance of life. Thus, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray including the words “give us this day our daily bread” – with the meaning of asking Father God to provide for our daily needs of sustenance. This is again proof of the importance of Jesus calling Himself the Bread of Life – He is ALL we need for life.
Bread might LOOK nice – but it is of no use to you at all if you do not eat it! It might give you the sustenance that you need for life but if you just look at it, or smell its wonderful aroma, even chew it but do not swallow, then you will still die! In the same way Jesus tells us to EAT of His “flesh” (v. 53) and that “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (v. 51). It is not enough to just know ABOUT Jesus to live forever – you have to spiritually EAT the “bread of life”. How do we do this? By accepting Him, receiving His forgiveness, and living for Him as His disciples – making Him the sustaining part of our lives. Just like bread has to be taken in through the mouth, so we are told that if we “confess with our mouth” that Jesus is Lord then we shall be saved (Romans 10: 9). Just like bread has to then be taken into the body to do its good work so the same verse tells us that we must believe in our hearts – He has to get right inside of us. Jesus is ALWAYS the bread of life – but He has to be “eaten” for His life to be given to us.
Another way of looking at this requirement for us to “do” something to reap eternal life here is the comparison throughout the discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum between Jesus being the “bread of life” and the “Manna” that had been given to the Israelites by God in their 40 years of wandering in the desert. For, Exodus 16 – speaking of the Manna- made it clear that although God freely provided this life-giving bread, yet the Jews had to gather it. If they did not gather it then they would surely die. Again there is this element of accepting God’s gift to us and receiving it – gathering and eating.
John 6 gives the account of the “feeding of the 5000” – people were physically hungry and Jesus divinely fed them. He then walks on the water to join the disciples who were crossing over the Sea of Galilee to the other side from where this miracle took place. The crowds follow Him there and Jesus says to them:
‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’
28 Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’
29 Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’
30 So they asked him, ‘What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’
32 Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, 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. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’
34 ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘always give us this bread.’
35 Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ (John 6: 26-35)
[This whole passage can be watched in this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Si5osX2k44U&list=PLCpgggEg1JgogOpSQ795yBb5486QRlVFH&index=7&t=0s – start at 0:0-4:20 for the feeding; then 6:20-9:06]
This story is SOOO important – it is one of only two miracles common to all 4 Gospels – the other being the Resurrection. The context is SOOO important. People, living in a natural world and wanting instant gratification, have their eyes fixed on their needs being supplied and their wants being granted. This is why Jesus states that people simply want literal “bread” – the things of this world that will bring them instant happiness NOW. But, Jesus declares that what is important is that people turn to Him for what they need for life eternal. Just like literal bread sustains life on earth, so His being the “bread of life” will give life for eternity – and that THIS is what people should be longing for – literally hungering for!
[In John’s record, Jesus reveals His compassion in 3 ways: He feeds the hungry crowd (v. 1-15); He delivers His disciples from danger (v. 16-24); and He offers the bread of life to a world of hungry sinners (v. 25-71).]
HOW THE CROWD OF PEOPLE THEN WERE JUST LIKE US NOW
- THEY WERE HUNGRY:
Hunger is a built-in warning that we need to eat –in order to live. We need to be “hungry” spiritually in order to ask for the bread of life so that we do not die spiritually. If we don’t satisfy our spiritual hunger with the bread of life then we will seek (and fail) to satisfy it with substitutes – love and money and power and pleasure. Isaiah points out the futility of this: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55: 2)
- THEY WERE SEEKERS:
The crowd that followed Jesus were all seeking for something. Unfortunately for so many of them what they were seeking was simply satisfaction for themselves rather than the Way, the Truth and the Life that Jesus was offering – which is why so many of them turned away from Him by the end of the chapter (v. 60-66).
- THEY WERE SPIRITUALLY BLIND:
Like so many today the crowd wanted to know what they had to DO in order to achieve eternal life (v. 28) and were blind to their need to believe and accept the bread of life. This remains the case today. Why are so many spiritually blind? Is it not because they choose to believe that eternal life lies in their own ability to “be good” rather than in the only One who actually IS good?
- THEY WANTED A “KING” WHO WOULD MEET THEIR OWN NEEDS:
How like us today. The crowd wanted a “king” who would defeat the Romans for them, provide them with all they wanted. It was all about following someone who could meet their own personal needs and desires –rather than following and serving the One who offered to deal with their sins and change their hearts. How many today pray for God to give them success, give them money, give them a wife, and who then reject the Truth because He turns out to not be “Father Christmas”!
THE SPIRITUAL TRUTHS DECLARED IN THE SYNAGOGUE OF CAPERNAUM
He referred to Himself in this discourse as “the bread from Heaven”, “the bread of God”, “the bread of life”, and “the living bread”. He was using bread, a familiar material object, to teach a spiritual truth: you receive bread into your body and it sustains life, but receiving Jesus into your heart by faith gives you eternal life.
To us today, we clearly see that Jesus was telling us that He is the One who gives us life eternal and is looking forward to His death on the Cross where His body was broken for us – now remembered when we break the bread at communion.
To the Jews of the time, however, they were not aware of what was GOING to happen and so compared what Jesus was saying to the Bread of life that they knew about – the Manna of Exodus 6 – which the Jews saw as the literal salvation of bread from heaven, and the “Bread of the Presence” of Exodus 16 that was laid out in the Temple and symbolised the covenant relationship between God and man of which Jesus became the mediator. They challenged Jesus about His declaration and whether it tied in with these…and, of course, it did! But, they did not see it!
“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE” AND COMMUNION
In the synagogue of Capernaum Jesus clearly tells the Jews why He has come to earth and what He is going to do for all those who believe in Him. He tells them, in no uncertain terms that He is the Bread of Life and that the “bread” is His flesh (John 6: 51) and that only by believing in Him will this “bread…from Heaven” (John 6: 51) bring them eternal life. And in order to receive this eternal life they must believe in Him and must “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood” (v. 54). Again we must understand that this is a metaphor. There are those (particularly of the Roman Catholic tradition) who believe that at Mass the bread and the wine miraculously turn into the literal body and blood of Christ. We do not believe this. We understand that this is a metaphor – Jesus explaining that when we take the bread and the wine at communion we are remembering His body broken on the Cross and His blood shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Such a metaphor is seen in daily usage: “I’ll have to have time to digest what you’ve just said” or “I can’t swallow that” or “well, that’s food for thought”.
Jesus is NOT giving instructions here about the taking of communion, but He is declaring the sacrifice that He is going to make which we remember when we are taking communion: a declaration that He IS the living bread by which all our needs shall be satisfied and through which we will have eternal life.
CONCLUSION: JESUS IS THE BREAD OF LIFE
Looking back He fulfilled the signs of Manna from Heaven and the “Bread of the Presence” in the Temple. Speaking in the present He promised that just as bread gives life so His whole being is that which gives eternal life – if we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that He is Lord. Looking forward He knew that His body was going to be taken and broken on the Cross so that we might be reconciled with God – which is why, to this very day, we eat the bread – remembering His body – whenever we take communion.
He IS the Bread of Life!