Imagine ancient Israel in early spring time, the air is slightly chilled but not cold. There has been talk of a man in Jerusalem who is a great healer; he has healed a nobleman’s son without ever touching him. The controversy that surrounds this man is incredible; the Jews are getting upset with him because he healed a lame man on the Sabbath. Now his name can be heard amongst the chatter, it is Jesus of Nazareth. He has left Jerusalem, he is getting closer to home, nearing the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Sea of Tiberias). There is a huge crowd following him, it’s hard to make out how many people are there, but there are at least five thousand men. And some of these men have been following Jesus since he left Jerusalem; others have joined in the journey from their respective towns. They have brought no food and are getting hungry; some of these men have not eaten for as much as three days according some estimates.
Out of this large crowd Andrew locates one young boy who has five loaves of bread and two fish. Bear in mind these are not loaves of bread as we think of them; they are more like dinner rolls and the fish are small like young mackerel. The child willingly gives what he has to the Lord, and Jesus blesses it giving thanks to the Father. All the people who were there ate their fill; and when they were done Jesus told his disciples to pick up the leftovers so that none maybe lost. Shortly after this Jesus went by himself up the mountain not wanting the people to try and forcibly make him their king. That night after feeding the five thousand; the disciples got into the boat to cross the sea and go home to Capernaum, Jesus was not with them, he was still on the mountain. They had gotten roughly three or four miles out and the sea began to get rough, and in the distance they could see a figure, it was Jesus walking on the water.
The next morning the crowds came looking for Jesus and could not find him or his disciples they headed across the sea to Capernaum. Upon finding him they ask him “Why have you come here?” He replies saying “You have not come looking for me because I did miracles but because you had your fill of the loaves.” (Jn 6:26 paraphrased) He continues telling them not to work for food that will perish, but they should seek that which will endure until eternal life. Jesus continues in a conversation with the crowd about how they need the bread of God, and the people ask for him to give them this bread always (Jn 6:34)
To their request “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.” This is a very powerful statement to be made by any man. In a small discourse that takes place prior to this statement Jesus and this group were discussing the provision of God through Moses. That while in the wilderness with no major food source, readily available for a large multitude of people (the Israelite nation), God provided manna and water for those people. Dr. Towns says of the manna, “Manna was one of several types of Christ in the Old Testament. Given to Israel originally as their bread in the wilderness, God stopped providing it only after the nation crossed the Jordan River and began eating the grain of the land. It was widely known as “the bread from heaven.”” (Towns 2002, 63)
Asaph wrote of the great provision of heaven in the psalms, “and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.” With this verse in particular he is speaking of the manna, while throughout the rest of the psalm he is referring to the people questioning God; and God displaying his power. As an example, most people in today’s society can go all day and not eat a single slice of bread or anything like it. In ancient Israel meat was a luxury that was not always available. Leon Morris states it this way, “We should bear in mind that for the ancients bread was the principal element in the normal diet. People did not have available the variety of foods that we take for granted, and bread could stand for prosperity (Deut. 8:9; Prov. 12:11,etc) and the lack of it for adversity (Lam 1:11).” (Morris 1989, 110-11) Now take a look at how God showed himself to the widow through Elijah and the bread she was willing to be generous with (1 Kings 17:8-16). God again provided for the physical needs of his prophet and showed his power to a gentile.
While the revealing of God in the Old Testament through Christ statement, “I am the bread of life” may be a bit of a challenge, there is great joy to be found in its meaning. Even though the nation of Israel wondered for forty years in the wilderness, God continually provided for them physically. They did not really have to believe in who God was; all they had to do was be considered as part of the nation of Israel and receive the blessed gift of the manna (or bread of heaven). However, Jesus was making a great distinction between how Moses helped them receive the physical blessing, and how he was the ultimate spiritual blessing. Tenney puts it this way, “Jesus informed the people that Moses did not give them the real spiritual bread…. Jesus did not mean that the manna had no food value; he meant it was not the means of sustaining spiritual life. He claimed to be the genuine and only source of spiritual nourishment.” (Tenney 1981, 75)
Amazingly the crowd the Lord was speaking with was either unwilling or incapable of understanding that Lord was not referring to actual bread but to himself. He speaks to them in such a way that anyone could begin to understand, he is no longer referring to a physical provision, but the greatest spiritual provision we could ever ask for. While bread provides the sustenance needed for the body, Christ himself provides nourishment for the soul. Warren Wiersbe makes a great case for this by saying, “Also, God gave the manna in the past, but the Father is now giving the true bread in the person of Jesus Christ. The past event is finished, but the present spiritual experience goes on!
Then Jesus clearly identified what the bread is: He is the true Living Bread that came down from heaven. But He came, not only for Israel but for the whole world. And He came, not just to sustain life, but to give life! Seven times in this sermon, our Lord referred to His “coming down from heaven” (John 6:33, 38, 41–42, 50–51, 58), a statement that declared Him to be God. The Old Testament manna was but a type of the “true bread,” the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Wiersbe 2007, 250)
Jesus’ statement that he is the bread of life is powerful, because he not only says it once he repeats it to his audience in a slightly different fashion to be able to make an even stronger impact. Just as Mr. Wiersbe, Dr. Towns mentions the fact of Christ speaking of coming down out of heaven. Dr. Towns says this of the bread of heaven, “The genuine bread of God from heaven is that which gives life….John Chrysostom, one of the church fathers, contrasted manna with Christ, noting that while manna brought nourishment (trophe), it failed to give life (zoe). Christ is the bread of everlasting life.” (Towns 2002, 63)
For the Jews to hear these statements not once, but twice it had to infuriate them. Because they understand that God is the author and sustainer of life and outside of him there is no life. To drive home the point that life is not found on earth but given from heaven John Calvin has this to say, “He frequently mentions his coming down from heaven, because spiritual incorruptible life will not be found in this world, the fashion which passes away and vanishes, but only in the heavenly kingdom of God.” (Calvin 2005, 261) So in Christ saying, “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.” His listeners must be thinking to themselves, “This man is crazy the Law prohibits us from drinking blood or even eating meat with blood still in it.” For the Jews the power of life was found in the blood that is the primary reason they would not embalm. However, Christ was not telling them to be cannibals; he was telling them that they would perish if they did not accept his redemptive work on the cross.
Just like the Christians of the first century, believers of every generation since have heard these words and made the active choice to eat of “the bread of life.” Jesus has kept his word and provided for his people.
Calvin, John. Calvin’s Commentaries. Vol. 22. 22 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.
MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005.
Morris, Leon. Jesus is the Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1989.
Tenney, Merrill C. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – John. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol. 9. 12 vols. Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 1981.
Towns, Elmer. John Believe and Live. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002.
Walvoord, John F, Roy B. Zuck, and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Exposition of the Scripture. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Wiersbe Bible Commentary. Colorado Springs,CO: David C. Cook, 2007.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 6:35.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps 78:24
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 6:53.