Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Our focus in this series will be on the seven “I Am” statements taken from the Gospel of John. In each of the statements, we learn about the person and work of Christ as it is emphasized in a metaphor. He calls Himself the “Bread of Life,” the “Light of the World,” “Gate for the Sheep,” “Good Shepherd,” “Resurrection and the Life,” “The Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and the “True Vine.” Upon first hearing this, we might think those are vivid pictures to show us that Jesus is nice or kind, but there is something far deeper going on. Jesus is calling Himself the eternal God. Jesus is identifying Himself with the voice that came out of the burning bush when Moses was in the wilderness (Exod. 3). When God told Moses to go to Pharaoh, Moses asked God to tell him who he should tell Pharaoh is sending him. God’s response is to give His name as “Yahweh,” which is translated “I AM.” This becomes the covenant identification of God, as the Creator who has redeemed for Himself a chosen people. This is why when Jesus calls Himself the “I Am,” the Jews become angry. In John 6:41 they begin to grumble among themselves.
Statements like this ultimately will anger the Jews so much that they eventually cry out “crucify Him.” Jesus was accused of blasphemy, which would have been true if He was not the God-Man. Over these seven devotionals, I invite you to put yourself in the mind of a Jew two thousand years ago and seek to understand what Jesus meant. He is identifying Himself in a beautiful way. The Jews asked, “Who is this man?” Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” What we must answer is a similar question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” This is a personal, subjective question which has eternal consequences. As you read ask yourself, “Is Jesus your bread of life?” If so, then ask yourself, “Why does that matter in my life?”
Let’s focus on John 6:35, although we could easily focus on verses 25–59. The point is that Jesus is identifying Himself as the bread of life. The first question we must answer is what is bread? Simple, we know what that is. If we go out to eat at a restaurant and order a nice steak, when they bring out our salad as a first course, they might also bring out a basket with bread in it. That is just preparation for the main course.
In the ancient world, bread played a far more prominent role in sustaining life. Bread and water were what you would have primarily lived on. If you could find a little piece of meat or fish or some dates to eat with your bread and some wine, then you were eating well. What for us is a nice little appetizer, for the Jews was the main part of their diet. Bread made the eater go from hungry to full.
Those who followed Jesus were hungry. In the context, in the beginning of John 6, Jesus just fed the five thousand. Now, they find Jesus on the other side of the lake. Jesus knows their motives. In John 6:26–27, “Jesus answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.’” Jesus calls them out. They are following him to get a free meal. What Jesus will point out is that their true need is not some more loaves and fish; it is to believe on the one the Father sent, to feed on Christ.
Another important point about the context deals with Jesus and manna. Every good Jewish boy or girl knows about Moses leading the people in the wilderness: when there was no food, God provided manna. The Jews now tell Jesus (wrongly) that Moses provided manna; what is He going to provide? What will be His sign? Jesus corrects them and says that it wasn’t Moses but the Father, the I AM, who provided true bread. When the people heard this, they then asked for that bread. In John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’” Further, in John 6:40, Jesus says, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
The people were hungry! They ate and they ate, but they were not satisfied. Their experience is the experience of the world today. They eat and eat, but they are never satisfied. They are like the crew of the Black Pearl with Captain Barbossa in The Pirates of the Caribbean. Part of the curse of the crew of the Black Pearl is that no matter how much they eat, they cannot be satisfied. They cannot taste, they cannot enjoy, they cannot be filled. The bread turns to ashes in their mouth. This is the plight of all who are sons and daughters of Adam. This is the description of the world. They eat, but they will not be satisfied; they seek happiness, but they will not find it. For a time they might be relatively content, but it will be fading. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.”
Even the manna in the wilderness left the people unsatisfied because so many of them ate without faith. They grumbled: “Manna again?” But it was that manna which pointed ahead to Jesus Christ. Jesus was the water that came out of the rock in the wilderness, and now Jesus says that He is the bread of life: if they eat that bread, they will never be hungry, and if they believe, they will never be thirsty. The people responded rightly in John 6:34, “Sir, from now on give us this bread.”
How would one go about receiving the benefits of this bread of life? Well, they must eat it. John 6:51 says, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” This saying divided the Jews. Obviously, cannibalism was forbidden. But Jesus wasn’t talking about cannibalism, was He? No, He wasn’t. He was talking about eating His flesh. This is a graphic and vivid picture of believing. Some of the early Christians were accused of cannibalism when unbelievers heard about the Lord’s Supper, eating Christ’s flesh and drinking His blood. What they didn’t realize was that what was eaten and drunk was done so by the mouth of faith.
So, to go back to the earlier question, how are the benefits received? By faith. Looking again at John 6:35, there are two important words used in that verse to describe faith. One is coming to Christ; the other is believing in Christ. These are active words describing faith. Our catechism makes clear that there are three main parts of faith: knowing, agreeing, and trusting. You can know a truth, such as God created the world; you can agree with it or assent to it by saying yes, that happened; but then there is a trust in the object, namely, in God. It is that third one that Jesus emphasizes throughout this chapter.
To be sure, they must know that Jesus is the I Am, but then they and we must trust that this is the case. What this involves is a complete and utter surrender unto God. God’s ways become our ways, God’s love becomes our love, God’s mission becomes our mission, God’s people become our people, so to speak. Without that last part of faith, however, the whole point is missed. Wasn’t this the problem with the Pharisees? They knew it all. They were the best catechism students. If there was a theological question, they would have been quick to give the answer, but the problem was that they didn’t believe in their hearts. Their heads and their hearts were separated.
As we think a bit deeper about this, we notice John 6:44, for instance: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Now it sounds like it is up to God. This is true. God knows those who are His; every person the Father has given to the Son will indeed eventually come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. But this does not make us passive. Even babies eating baby food know to open their mouths when the spoon comes close to their mouths; so too we, babes in Christ, must come to the Savior and believe in Him. Christ accomplished salvation, the Holy Spirit applies salvation, but He does so through the means of an active, living, and true faith.
Those who eat of the bread of life by coming and believing in Jesus will never go hungry, and they will never be thirsty. We will see in a moment how this is in terms of being full, but for now, the implication is that God is continuing to feed us. God provides continual nourishment in the preaching of the Word. There is nourishment to be found in the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life, such as reading the Bible, prayer, doing good, fasting, service, encouragement. But the primary food comes through the preaching of the Word. The preaching of the Word is not an appetizer. It is the meal itself. When preaching is faithfully done, the hearer is confronted with the risen and reigning Lord Jesus Christ.
In the preaching Jesus invites you to feed upon Him. Isaiah prophesied such in Isaiah 55:1–2, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Will you come to the waters? By nature, we have no money, we have nothing to bring, like the crowds coming to hear Jesus and being hungry but having no food. “Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.” Don’t neglect the opportunity to come and feast upon Him twice every Lord’s Day. However, don’t just come; come ready to be fed. May we confess with Bernard of Clairvoux, who nearly a thousand years ago wrote:
Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts,
Thou Fount of life, Thou Light of men,
From fullest bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again.
We taste Thee, O Thou living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountain-head,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill!
We come to the Savior to feast upon Him who said, “I Am the Bread of Life.”
When humble sinners call upon Christ in faith, then they are filled. Jesus preached to the people, showing that God performed a miracle and gave the Israelites manna in the wilderness, but they ate it and died. The bread of life is of such a nature that one who eats of it will never die but will live. Looking at John 6:48–51, we see the cross in view, specifically in verse 51: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” Jesus is the one who would take our sin upon Himself and give His flesh for our life. We see this in verse 56 as well: “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me.”
What this means is that those who eat of the Bread of Life will live because He lives. Two senses are given: in verse 56 is a picture of remaining united, and then in verse 57 is a picture of Jesus being the source of life. Similar to a root and branches, so is the bread of life and those who partake of the bread of life. What happens is that they are filled; they live life forevermore. Though they may die, yet they will live. No one else can say that but one who has died to self and now lives unto Jesus Christ. Our life is hidden in Jesus Christ.
Is this true of your life? Have you found your life in Christ? Have you found a peace which surpasses all understanding? Have you found that rare jewel of Christian contentment? Do you possess that pearl of great price? If not, then turn in repentance and give up your self-trust, self-reliance, and rebellion against God. Come to the one who said, “I Am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
After Jesus preached this startling sermon about Himself, the Jews grumbled. The uninspired title of the next section is “Many Disciples Desert Jesus.” The Jews wanted to be fed; they wanted some more bread and fish, maybe a glass of wine. They loved the things of this world.
The Jews listening to Jesus wanted physical blessings. They didn’t care about spiritual blessings. Similarly, North Americans want more and more. Jesus said in John 6:27, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Dear friend, what are you working for? What are you living for? Give it over to the Lord.
There are many things in this life which promise nourishment. They are like a bag of candy bars in the hands of a child. The belly may become full, but the child will not be nourished. Even though children love the taste of a candy bar, they will long for meat and potatoes, that which nourishes. The world has many things that promise happiness, but there is only one source of true joy, and that comes from feeding on the Bread of Life. May it be our prayer that the Lord continues to feed us on Jesus. Let us pray that He feeds us until we want to no more, and that will take place, both now and in the life to come.
Rev. Steve Swets is the pastor of Rehoboth United Reformed Church in Hamilton, ON.