Tonight in our church meeting, I’m planning to teach on John 6:28-59 where Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life, the bread that has come down from heaven.
We have been working through the book of John as a church, and tonight we are going to get to the meat of the reason that Jesus performed the miracle where he fed the 5000.
It seems to me that we can break this section down into three separate parts, each of them highlighted by the questions that are asked by the people in the crowd that is following Jesus:
- What sign will you give us so that we can believe?
- Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary?
- How can he give us his flesh to eat?
So, let’s take these one at a time:
What sign will you give us so that we can believe?
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
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. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
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. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”John 6:29-40
From one perspective, we might ask ourselves what these people are talking about – didn’t Jesus just do an incredible miracle? Didn’t he just feed 5,000 people with just a few loaves and a few fish?
That could be one perspective, but I suspect there is something else going on here. At that time, the rabbis taught, as Wolfmueller notes regarding Exodus 16 and Psalm 78 from the book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Edersheim, that the Messiah would again perform the miracle of the manna in the desert.
Now, I don’t think that there is specifically any Biblical precedent for the teaching that the Messiah would actually perform this miracle, but if we understand that this was being taught, we can probably understand better why Jesus teaches that he is the bread that came down from heaven. Just like the manna that God gave to the Israelites in heaven to allow them to live, God gave the world Jesus to allow them to eat and live. Although this time, and with this bread, the people can have eternal life. Not just food for today, but forever.
So the miracle isn’t the sign. Jesus is the sign. He is the bread. He has come down from heaven to feed the people and they must eat from him. Jesus is telling the people to stop only thinking about the physical bread, but think of the spiritual bread that God is providing. As John Piper has said, Jesus gives them bread, but that isn’t the main thing, the primary thing, that he is giving them. He is giving them eternal life, but only if they will eat from him.
So the irony is thick: The people are asking what sign he will give them, yet Jesus is standing in front of them saying, “I am the bread”! I am the sign!
Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary?
At this the Jews there 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’?”
“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”John 6:41-51
The people are doubting because they think they know who Jesus is already. They know that he is the son of Joseph. They know that he is the son of Mary. But do they really know who Jesus is and where he has come from?
Unfortunately, we do the same thing today. There are people that say that Jesus is a prophet and nothing more. Why? Because that is what they have thought that they have known. They say that it cannot be that he came from God. They say that he cannot be God, so they deny what he says when he says that he is the bread of life.
There are people that say that Jesus was a good teacher. Why? Because they prefer to incorporate his teachings into the rest of their world view. They prefer to add a little bit of what he says to the rest of the way that they think. They can pick and choose from what Jesus said…because he is a good teacher.
There are people that say Jesus didn’t exist. Why? Because it is more convenient. Because they prefer to live their own lives. Because they want to do the things they do their own way. They don’t want a God, they don’t want a Lord over them.
But here, Jesus says that each of these people that he is speaking to can only come to him if the Father draws them. The work of believing in Jesus is a spiritual work. It is a work that God does, through the Holy Spirit, inside of each one of us. He changes our hearts and changes our minds. God draws the people to come to Jesus.
So as we look at the world around us, we have to pray that God will draw the people to come to Jesus. We want to be intentional about the people that we know. We want to speak to them and tell them about Christ, but we want to start this process by asking God to work in their hearts. When they are seeking, when they are looking for God with their hearts, they will find Christ, but only if God is truly bringing them to him.
How can he give us his flesh to eat?
Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, 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 them 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 them. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.John 6:52-59
OK, so now we have established that Jesus is using a metaphor as he talks about himself being the bread. He isn’t standing there before them saying, “I am bread.” That would be silly. He is saying, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”, drawing a comparison between himself and the manna that God sent down from heaven.
Now, we see that Jesus says that they must eat his body and drink his blood. It is clear that Jesus is simply continuing the metaphor. He is telling the people that they cannot simply acknowledge the bread that God has sent, they must ingest it. They must ingest him. They must eat and drink from him.
What does that mean? Easy enough. Jesus already said that the work of God is to believe in the One that he has sent. And Jesus also already said that he is the bread of heaven, so obviously, he is the One that God has sent and he is the One in which they must believe.
But it is important to understand that to believe in someone isn’t to say that we just believe that they exist. To believe in someone means that we do what they do, or do what they say. In Jesus’s case, he calls us to do both. To believe in him means that we are to do what He has done, to lay our lives – our wants, our wishes, our desires, and possibly our actual physical lives – down for others. And also we must do what he says, to obey him in a demonstration of love. Jesus said that if we love him, we will obey him. So we must know what he said and then we must do it!
This is what Jesus is saying as he said that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. We are ingesting him. His life becomes our life. “We are what we eat,” as the saying goes. We believe and we take him in.
Next week, we will see that most of the people who were following Jesus decide to leave. Jesus isn’t who they thought he was going to be. They came looking for more physical bread, but they were told instead that they needed to eat from him. But what about you? What about me or each of us? What do we want? Do we just want some bread, or whatever it is that we desire today? Or are we truly looking for Christ? For eternal life? For the bread that lasts for eternity?