Jesus the Bread of Life
The Passover feast was at hand, and thousands were visiting the area. A large crowd was coming to Jesus and the disciples were concerned about how they could be fed. This led to the great miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand (John 6:1-14). Jesus more than amply provided for the needs of the people through the miracle, and this convinced many that Jesus was “truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”
Yet some were coming to Jesus now because they thought they could get more food. Jesus said to them, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:27). What is this food which endures to eternal life? What would Jesus give that would satisfy this greater need? The people wondered and even asked what sign He would show so that they would believe. “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread out of heaven to eat.’” God gave manna as a sign to the children of Israel, not only to feed them physically, but to show that He could care for them in their needs. They needed to learn to trust Him.
Jesus used the appeal to the manna to show that He is the One to whom they should be paying attention. Moses was not the one who gave the bread out of heaven, Jesus told them. Rather, “it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven” (v. 32). What exactly is this bread? The “bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Of course, they wanted this bread, but Jesus took it a step further. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Jesus ties in being the living water (John 4 and 7) with being the bread of life sent from heaven. Those who believe in Him will have eternal life and they will be raised up on the last day.
Not everyone was happy with what Jesus said. They knew Jesus’ parents, so how could He say that He had been sent from heaven? Yet Jesus told them that if they let themselves be taught of God, they would come to Him. He reiterated that faith in Him would lead to eternal life, then doubled down on His claim. In contrast with their forefathers who ate the bread in the wilderness and still died, Jesus is the bread come out of heaven so that people may eat and not die. He is the “living bread” that we may eat and live forever, “and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (v. 51).
Even more shocking was what He said next: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves” (v. 54). To be raised up again and live forever, we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Many stumbled over this teaching and walked away from Jesus. He then turned to His chosen disciples and asked them if they were going to leave, also, to which Peter replied, “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” (vv. 68-69).
What does it mean to eat His flesh and drink His blood? We can see the idea expressed by the parallel between verses 40 and 54: “everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day” (v. 40) has the same thought as, “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The parallel would show that eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ is metaphorical for looking upon Him and believing in Him. Looking and believing would also include taking in His word because He has the “words of eternal life.” To eat and drink is to imbibe Jesus and His message. We absorb Him into our hearts and commit ourselves to His will.
The One sent from heaven said, “the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (v. 51). If we want the life that He gives, we must partake of this living bread, for “he who believes has eternal life” (v. 47). He died for us so that He may raise up at the last day. We must listen carefully, then, for, as Jesus said, “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (v. 63).