Sometimes we use the phrase “bread and water” to indicate the minimum necessary for life. Even with nothing else available, bread and water will keep a person alive. I’ve done a separate article on how Jesus provides Living Water. It seems fair to add a matching article on how He is the Bread of Life.
The Conversation, and its Context
Jesus used the term “Bread of Life” to refer to Himself, as recorded in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. In the sequence of events below, see how Jesus started with the people’s interest in normal food but moved the conversation on to higher things.
- Jesus feeds over five thousand people who had been listening to His teaching.
- The people decide He is the Prophet foretold by Moses, and want to make Him king.
- He avoids them and goes across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum (partly by way of walking on the water to meet His disciples in their boat!).
- The people follow Him to Capernaum. Paraphrased conversation:
- Jesus: You just want me because I fed you. Instead, your goal should be more important food.
- People: Tell us what we should do.
- Jesus: Believe in Me.
- People: Show us a sign to prove that we should believe in you. You know, like the manna that Moses provided in the wilderness.
- Jesus: Moses didn’t provide the manna; God did. Now God is providing something even greater: a kind of bread that brings life to the world.
- People: Give us some of that bread!
- Jesus: I am that bread. I give life to anyone who believes in Me. That’s why I came down from heaven.
- People: You came down from heaven? We know your parents!
- Jesus: You won’t be able to understand unless you learn it from God, but Yes, I did come down from heaven. I am more than temporary bread for physical life. I, myself — my body that I will give for the world — I am real bread for eternal life.
- People: What do you mean, your body is real bread? We’re not cannibals!
- Jesus: My body is true food, and my blood is true drink. If you take them in — if you take Me in — you will live forever.
- Jesus phrased it very bluntly: “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 yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:53-54)
- People (including some disciples): That’s hard to accept!
- Jesus: Physical life is not important. I am here to give you spiritual life. But some of you won’t accept it from Me.
The Misunderstanding, and Jesus’ Clarification
The people had trouble seeing past the immediate and the physical. They knew that they had been hungry, and Jesus had provided a meal. They also knew that during the Exodus, Moses had provided food in the form of manna (Exodus 16). Finally, they knew that Moses has prophesied a coming Prophet who would be like him (Deuteronomy 18:15) but that that Prophet had not yet arisen (Deuteronomy 34:10-12). Therefore, they wanted Jesus to prove that He was that Prophet by providing lots of ongoing meals. Yippee!
Jesus shot them down. He wasn’t there to be a meal ticket. He had come to give His life, physically, as the permanent atonement for sin. Yes, He was the Prophet foretold by Moses. But that didn’t mean He would provide even more bread. It meant that He would provide better bread.
The Problem, and its Result
The people saw a normal human man. They were willing to accept that man as the foretold Prophet. They had more trouble accepting that a man, whose family they knew, could have come directly from heaven and be the Source of eternal life. Jesus’ claim to be divine was so unexpected and far-fetched that it was blasphemy…or would have been if it had not actually been true!
Also unexpected was the idea that the Messiah for whom they had been waiting had arrived, only to be sacrificed. They remembered prophecies like Isaiah’s “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David…” (Isaiah 9:1-7, verse 7). But they overlooked Isaiah’s other prophecies like “He was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53, verse 5).
This teaching was so difficult that many of his disciples gave up and left Him.
The Alternatives: None
Jesus asked the twelve core disciples if they would leave also. Peter spoke for the group:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.John 6:68-69
The same things are still true today. People want an easy Prophet, someone who asks nothing of them and provides lots of goodies. They don’t want to accept a Savior who is God in the flesh, giving that flesh on their behalf and saying that accepting that sacrifice is the only way to eternal life.
But, Peter’s response is still true: There is nowhere else to go. Only Jesus meets the real need. Only He feeds the hunger for God that is built into every soul.