Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (6:34–40)
The crowd’s second request (cf. vv. 30–31) again reveals their spiritual blindness. Completely missing Jesus’ point in verses 32 and 33, they eagerly said to Him, “Lord, always give us this (physical) bread.” Their continuing desire to use Jesus for their physical needs is evident from this demand and a clear indication of their superficial interest. It still marks the shallow, temporary followers of Jesus who fill churches looking for their needs and desires to be met. There are always churches that accommodate them. Today they are often the places that draw the largest crowds, but have the lowest percentage of true believers. Having first insisted that He prove Himself, they now insisted that He give them what they wanted. Kurios (Lord) would be better understood as their way to say, “Sir” (as it is in 4:11, 15, 19, 49; 5:7; 12:21; 20:15; Matt. 13:27; 21:30; 27:63; Luke 13:8), since it is clear from verse 36 that the crowd did not truly believe in Jesus. They were still focused on having their physical needs met (cf. 4:15), as with the provision of manna (Ex. 16:35). In their obtuseness, they exhibited the fact that “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Their dullness and lack of understanding prompted Jesus to declare unambiguously to them, “I am the bread of life.” The Lord had not been referring to actual bread, as they mistakenly thought, but to Himself; He is the very bread He earlier promised to give (v. 27). No bread, not even manna, or the fish and bread Jesus had just created the evening before (6:1–13), could permanently cure physical hunger. Thus, when the Lord declared that those who come to Him will never again hunger or thirst, He had to be speaking not of the body, but of the soul. Here, as in Matthew 5:6, the human need to know God is expressed metaphorically as hungering and thirsting (cf. Pss. 42:1–2; 63:1).
Two simple verbs in verse 35 define man’s part in the salvation process: comes and believes. To come to Christ is to forsake the old life of sin and rebellion and submit to Him as Lord. Though John does not use the term “repentance” in his gospel, the concept is clearly implied in the idea of coming to Christ (cf. 1 Thess. 1:9). As Charles Spurgeon put it, “You and your sins must separate, or you and your God will never come together” (“Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. 21 [Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim, 1980], 88). To believe in Christ is to trust completely in Him as the Messiah and Son of God, and to acknowledge that salvation comes solely through faith in Him (14:6; Acts 4:12). Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin; to repent is to turn from sin, and to believe is to turn to the Savior. They are inseparable.
This is the first of seven highly significant statements in John’s gospel where “I am” is joined with metaphors expressing Christ’s work as Savior. In addition to the bread of life, Jesus also used “I am” to describe Himself as “the Light of the world” (8:12), “the door of the sheep” (10:7, 9), “the good shepherd” (10:11, 14), “the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6), and “the true vine” (15:1, 5). Jesus also used egō eimi (“I am”) in an absolute, unqualified sense (4:26; 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:5–8) to appropriate for Himself the Old Testament name of God (Ex. 3:14).
Having declared that He was the Bread of Life, Jesus rebuked His hearers for their unbelief (note the similar rebuke of the Judeans in 5:38–40), adding the indictment, “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” The specific rebuke to which Jesus was referring (when He said this to them in the past) is not known, but clearly their unbelief was in the face of His self-revelation, so their rejection was inexcusable. Alla (but) indicates a sharp contrast between the crowd’s actual response and the one Jesus desired (cf. Matt. 23:37). Although they had seen Him, they failed to grasp the significance of His miracles, and missed the point of His teaching. As was the case with their forefathers in the wilderness, “The word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb. 4:2). The miracles they had seen merely whetted their appetite for more miracles; they were intrigued by what Jesus could do to ease the difficulties of life, but they were not willing to believe in Him as their Messiah and Lord.
In spite of the crowd’s response, Jesus was not discouraged. His confidence in the success of His mission was firmly rooted in the omnipotent sovereignty of God. He knew that all those whom the Father gives to Him (cf. v. 39; 10:29; 17:2, 6, 9, 24) will come to Him. The neuter singular form of pas (all) views those whom God gives to Jesus as a collective body, those chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). This profound reality teaches us that all who are saved are a love gift from the Father to the Son. The whole history of redemption is the gathering of this redeemed body—or the calling of a bride for the Son as a love gift from the Father. The Son views every soul given by the Father to Him as an expression of the Father’s irresistible love, so that all whom He gives will come to Christ.
From the standpoint of human responsibility, “God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30; cf. Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 6:12), and “whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13; cf. John 3:15–16). Yet salvation does not depend on the human will. The redeemed are those “who were born, not … of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Salvation “does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Both repentance (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25) and faith (Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29; cf. Acts 16:14) are granted by God. Otherwise no one would ever come to Him, since “there is none who seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11; cf. 8:7–8; 1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1–3).
That God is absolutely sovereign in salvation is foundational to the Christian faith. Those errant theological systems (i.e., Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and Arminianism) that make salvation dependent on man’s will in effect dethrone God, and are contrary to the clear statements of Scripture:
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. (v. 44)
And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (v. 65)
For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matt. 22:14)
Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. (Mark 13:20)
When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom. 8:28–30)
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (Eph. 1:4)
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col. 3:12)
Knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you. (1 Thess. 1:4)
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thess. 2:13)
Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. (2 Tim. 1:9)
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:10)
Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness. (Titus 1:1)
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5)
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father. (1 Peter 1:1–2)
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
The unbelief of spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) sinners cannot thwart the saving work of God. Having chosen them in eternity past, He graciously and irresistibly calls them to Himself.
Lest any seeking souls should fear that they might not be among the elect, Jesus described the one whom the Father gave to the Son as none other than the one who comes to Me. From God’s view, we are given by His sovereign power to the Son. From our view, we come to Christ. And, of course, our Lord would never reject one who comes as a love gift from the Father. So Jesus added, I will certainly not cast that one out. The strong double negative ou mē states emphatically that Christ will not reject anyone who sincerely and submissively comes to Him. True saving faith can never be exercised in vain, but only at the prompting of the Father (v. 44).
Here again is the incomprehensible (to the human mind) interplay between divine sovereignty and human responsibility: only those given to the Son by the Father will come to Him, yet all who are “thirsty [may] come” and anyone “who wishes [may] take the water of life without cost” (Rev. 22:17). Though they seem impossible to harmonize, there is no conflict between those two truths in the infinite mind of God (Deut. 29:29). (God’s sovereignty in salvation does not negate the believer’s responsibility to evangelize the lost—Matt. 24:14; 26:13; 28:19; Mark 13:10; cf. Acts 8:25, 40; 14:7, 15, 21; 16:10; Rom. 1:15; 15:19–20; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:16, 18; 15:1; 2 Cor. 10:16; 11:7; Gal. 1:8–9, 11; 2:2; Phil. 4:15; 1 Peter 1:12).
Certainly, the Son would never reject any part of the Father’s gift to Him. Such disunity within the Trinity is utterly inconceivable, as Jesus’ next statement, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me,” made clear. The Lord came to earth for one purpose: to perfectly obey the will of the Father who sent Him. To the disciples Jesus declared, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (4:34). Later He added, “I can do nothing on My own initiative … because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (5:30; cf. Matt. 26:39). “So that the world may know that I love the Father,” He affirmed in 14:31, “I do exactly as the Father commanded Me.” In His High Priestly Prayer Jesus said to the Father, “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do” (17:4).
The reality that Jesus came to do the will of the Father who sent Him (vv. 39–40) guarantees the salvation of the elect and their eternal security. It is the Father’s will that of all that He has given to the Son, the Son should lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. As in verse 37, the neuter form of the pronoun pas (all) views the elect as a collective unit. No part of that group, which the Father assigned to Christ in eternity past and gives to Him in time, will be lost; the fourfold promise that the Son will raise it up intact on the last day (40, 44, 54) constitutes an ironclad guarantee of eternal salvation to all true believers. Jesus reiterated that truth in the strongest terms when He declared in John 10:27–30,
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
In His High Priestly Prayer He said to the Father, “While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition [Judas Iscariot, who was not one of those given to Christ by the Father; cf. 6:64, 70–71], so that the Scripture would be fulfilled” (17:12).
The rest of the New Testament echoes the Lord’s teaching regarding the perseverance and protection of the saints. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:29–30,
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
The repeated phrase “He also” links the entire salvation process from eternity past to eternity future in an unbreakable chain. All whom God foreknew will be predestined, called, justified, and glorified; no one will be lost along the way (cf. 8:31–39). In Philippians 1:6 Paul expressed his confidence that “He who began a good work in [believers] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” To the Colossians he wrote, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3–4). All who are united with Christ in His death will return with Him in glory (cf. Rev. 19:14). In his first epistle Peter wrote that those who are
chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood … [will] obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for [them], [because they] are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:1–2, 4–5)
In the introduction to his epistle Jude described believers as “those who are the called … kept for Jesus Christ” (Jude 1). He concluded his letter with the marvelous benediction, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (vv. 24–25).
The blessing of eternal security or the preservation and perseverance of believers is never apart from personal repentance and faith, so our Lord affirms that heaven belongs to everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him. It is they who will have eternal life (vv. 47, 54; 3:15–16, 36; 5:24; 10:28), which by its very nature can never end (3:16; 10:28; Matt. 25:46). That fact further reinforces the protection and security of believers taught in verses 37–39. The eternal life that comes through Jesus, the Bread of Life, should be sought with far more zeal than the physical bread the crowd selfishly sought.
“I Am the Bread of Life”
So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, 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 he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “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.”
In the early years of my ministry, when I was still doing graduate work, I had opportunity to study the Book of Amos in detail. I remember from those studies a passage that gripped me then and that still grips me whenever I remember it. Amos is speaking of a day when God’s judgment will be such that there will be no one to preach true doctrine and when men and women will wander up and down and will not be able to find it. He casts the situation under the image of a famine and says, “ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it’ ” (Amos 8:11–12).
This is a horrible prophecy. But in some ways it is even more horrible to have the Lord Jesus Christ, the bread of life, available (as he is today) and yet have men refuse to come to him. Men have great hunger—a hunger for truth, righteousness, peace, joy, spiritual satisfaction, and other things. Jesus is the answer to this hunger. Yet the tragedy is that men will not come to him.
Jesus showed the wisdom of coming when he told the people who had followed him to Capernaum in Galilee, “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” (6:35).
Jesus had been talking to people who had been present on the other side of the Sea of Galilee when he had multiplied the loaves and fish. They were interested in having the miracle repeated. They had been taught by their rabbis that when the Messiah would come he would duplicate the miracle of the giving of manna that had been given originally by Moses. Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah. They could see that. Why, then, should they not expect him to duplicate Moses’ miracle, particularly that aspect of the miracle that had to do with his repeating it six times a week for the entire forty years of desert wandering?
The Jewish writings said, “You shall not find the manna in this age, but you shall find it in the age that is coming” (Midrash Mekilta on Exod. 16:25). “For whom has the manna been prepared? For the righteous in the age that is coming” (Midrash Tanchuma, Beshallach 21:66). “What did the first redeemer do? He brought down the manna. The last redeemer will also bring down manna” (Midrash Rabba on Eccles. 1:9).
No doubt the people had heard such sayings as these and had them in their minds. But as I study the story of this conversation it seems to me more and more that they were far less desirous of that age of messianic blessing than they were of a successful outcome to their efforts to manipulate Jesus into doing what they wanted. Manipulation! That is the real clue to their questions. Jesus had spoken of the fact that he was God’s gift to men and that God desired men to believe in him. They replied, in effect, that they would not believe unless they received a sign. We find it hard to imagine how they could overlook the sign they already had received. But they were actually saying something like this, “We admit, Jesus, that you did a wonderful thing yesterday. But before we believe in you as the Messiah we want to see a real sign. What you did was interesting, but we are Jews and we cannot forget that when Moses fed the people he did so for forty years. We will believe in you if you can do what Moses did and feed us now.”
The Lord Jesus Christ does not stoop to answer this type of arrogant question on the part of sinful men. Thus, he simply overlooked the suggestion and instead directed his remarks to the real, spiritual issue. He said two things about Moses. First, Moses did not give manna. God gave it. It was God’s miracle. Second, the manna that was given was not the true bread from the true heaven. It was only earthly bread from a visible sky. He then turned away from the person of Moses entirely and instead pointed to himself as that true bread which alone satisfies the real hunger of the human soul.
“I am the bread of life!” This solemn saying is the first of seven such sayings in John’s Gospel: “I am the bread of life” (6:35); “I am the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5); “I am the gate” (10:7, 9); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25); “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6); “I am the true vine” (15:1, 5). So we take this first saying, spoken in this significant context, and we look at it for what it teaches about Christ and our condition.
It is obvious that when the Lord Jesus Christ spoke of himself as the bread, he was using an image about which everybody knew. So we turn to what people knew about bread for his meaning. What is important about bread? The first answer is that bread is necessary for life. When I was in the process of preparing this chapter I asked the following question at the dining room table one evening as a number of us were gathered around: “What makes bread important?” This was the answer I received: “Bread is necessary for life.” What is more, as we talked about it we saw that in Christ’s day bread was even more essential than in our own time, for it was the only staple in most persons’ diets. Without bread, men died. If you see that, then you also see that Jesus was claiming to be the One whom men and women could not do without.
Are you trying to do without him? Are you going your way saying, “I’ll take care of myself. I can get by. I live in an affluent age. I have a house, a car, plenty to eat, a good job, a wife, a family. I don’t need Jesus”? What if everything in this entire life should go well for you, but you should lose your soul? Would that be a gain? Would you consider it a good bargain to do without Jesus forever?
You cannot do without him. You can manage after a fashion, for a time, but you cannot survive. In another of the “I am” sayings Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). He is the life. You will remain dead spiritually without him.
Second, bread is suited for everyone. Not everyone can eat everything. Some people can never eat sweets. Others cannot eat shellfish. Some cannot eat certain kinds of meat. The nursery rhyme says, “Jack Sprat could eat no fat; his wife could eat no lean.” But bread is suited for everyone. In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ is perfectly suited to the needs of all men. Sometimes people tell me, “Jesus may be all right for the kinds of people you talk to, but he is not for me.” That is not at all uncommon. If a person is of more than average intelligence, he tends to think that Christ is only for the dull. If he is dull, he thinks that Christ is only for the intelligent. If he is sophisticated, he thinks that Jesus is only for the common people, and so on. But Jesus is for all. He is for you. He is the Savior of the world, and that includes the peasant as well as the king on his throne. Jesus Christ is great enough and glorious enough so that you will never exhaust him either in this life or in eternity. He has what you need. What is more, he knows you and he knows how to meet that need.
Our Daily Bread
Third, bread should be eaten daily. This brings us into a whole new area, the area of the Christian life. Everything before this has had to do with trusting Christ initially. But when a person trusts Christ as Savior this is hardly the end. Actually, it is the beginning, for it brings him into a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in which he is to grow by feeding upon him day by day.
This point puts us in mind of that phrase in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Give us today our daily bread.” There is a great emphasis upon the words “today” or “daily” in this prayer simply because by means of them the idea of a repeated fulfillment of a request occurs twice. The Lord’s Prayer has only sixty-five words (seventy-two in Greek). So anything that is repeated twice is important.
But why is it important? For many years commentators on this prayer simply did not know the exact meaning of the Greek word that is translated “daily,” for this is the only place where it occurs. They had a rough idea. The word is translated in our Bibles. Still, no one could be quite certain what precise shade of meaning to give to it. In fairly recent times, however, scholars have discovered a piece of Egyptian papyrus that seems to contain most of this word. It is part of an account book and contains the reading: “_ obol for epious—.” The writing breaks off at this point. But the word epious seems to be the Greek word epiousios (daily) minus the last three letters. The reference seems to be to something like a daily ration.
Interestingly enough, this meaning now seems to be supported by a seemingly parallel inscription in Latin found at Pompeii. This, too, is a list of expenditures, and it contains the phrase “five assess for diaria” (a term based on the Latin word for “day”). Since both these phrases seem to be part of lists itemizing what we would call a day’s supply of something for a person or group of persons, it seems right to take both words in the same sense and refer them to rations.
Put these two texts together—“Give us today our daily bread” and “I am the bread of life”—and think of the truths that emerge from them. One truth is that God cares for our bodies. The Lord’s Prayer is certainly speaking of this. Unfortunately, there always have been some in the Christian church who have tried to minimize the importance of the body on the mistaken conviction that by doing so they were somehow becoming more spiritual. But that is not right. Christianity is the only religion in the world that takes the body with full seriousness. It teaches that God gave the body as well as the soul, and that a redemption of the body as well as a redemption of the soul is part of the divine plan. Therefore, it is right to pray for this world’s needs, for food, homes, clothing, and other necessities. We have an illustration of the Lord’s concern for physical needs in the fact that he fed the multitude.
On the other hand, there is also the truth that God is able and willing to provide for our spiritual needs, and this is far more important. We have spiritual needs as well as physical needs, though in our fallen state we may not be so conscious of them. Will we allow Jesus to satisfy those needs also? All we need to do is come to him, and come daily.
Tragically, many Christians allow the love of things to intrude between themselves and Jesus and, therefore, go on being spiritually hungry. In the Old Testament we are told that this happened repeatedly with the people of Israel. We are told that they desired things instead of God. Therefore, God gave them “things” but “sent a wasting disease upon them” (Ps. 106:15). We do the same thing today. One of our hymns describes us in the terms of God’s description of the Jewish people in Old Testament times—“rich in things, but poor in soul.” Is that your condition? Perhaps you have devoted most of your life to satisfying your hunger for objects, and yet you have never looked to God in order to be fed spiritually. You pray, “Give me my physical needs.” But you have never made a habit of praying, “Give me that spiritual bread that comes down from heaven.”
Most of our hungers are all right in themselves, of course, although we often get them out of proportion. They have been put within us by God. We have a valid desire for achievement, happiness, friendship, love, and success. But it is tragic that many Christians attempt to satisfy these hungers in the world’s way while neglecting the truly satisfying task of spending time with God.
Fourth, bread also produces growth. We need to grow. The church of Jesus Christ is weak in our age, and it is weak simply because the individuals who compose it are not strong. Where are the great churches of a former age, churches filled with men and women who knew the great doctrines of the faith and were not afraid to trumpet them to a sleeping world? Where are the Augustines, the Luthers, the Calvins, and the Wesleys of our time? I do see some hopeful signs. The fact that some conservative churches are growing is hopeful. The Jesus movement is another hopeful sign. So are the great evangelistic crusades. But we do not have a strong church today. What we have is a weak, anemic Christianity, a lot of easy believism coupled with morality—and I include evangelical churches in that characterization. What is the reason for our sickly Christian postures? Undoubtedly, the reason is our deep failure to feed upon Jesus Christ who alone can make us grow.
The True Bread
Would you like to see such growth—in your church, in you personally? If so, you must feed on Jesus. This means, in the first place, that you must not look to other people as the source of your nourishment. That is what the people who had been talking to Jesus were doing. They were looking to the current teaching of their rabbis and to Moses. They were saying, “We are people of tradition. We look to what has been passed on to us by Moses through history.” Do not look to the past. Do not look to men as the source of your teaching. I know that others can be the channels of good teaching. I am trying to be that myself for many people. But it would be terrible if a person should go away from hearing sound teaching and say, “But Dr. So and So said …” when you should go out declaring, “The Lord Jesus Christ has spoken thus.” There is no power in the name of a human teacher. But there is power in that blessed name of Jesus, that name that is above all earthly names. Before him, every head shall bow and all knees bend.
In the second place, we must not look to earthly things for our satisfaction. The people of Christ’s day were doing this. Are you looking only for your earthly needs to be granted? God will satisfy your earthly needs. He has promised to do it. But if that is the whole of your desire, even your major desire, then you are never going to see a great moving of the Holy Spirit of God in your life. We need to get our minds off ourselves and our needs, and we need to focus instead on the Lord Jesus Christ and his glory. And what great glory! What a great Lord!
Have you ever thought about all that grain must pass through before it becomes bread? It must first be planted and then grow. When it is ripe it must be cut down, winnowed, ground into flour. Finally, it must be subjected to the fiery heat of the oven. Only by this process does it become able to sustain life. This is what happened to the Lord Jesus Christ in order that he might become your bread. He was born into this world. He was bruised. He was cut down by sinful men. He passed through the fires of God’s holy wrath as he took your place in judgment. This is his glory. He suffered this for you. How, then, can you refuse to feed upon him? Come to him! Draw from his fullness, and grow strong.
The Bread of Life
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.” (John 6:35)
As recounted in Matthew’s Gospel, the conclusion to Jesus’ Galilean ministry took place outside the city of Caesarea Philippi. Jesus brought his disciples to that center of pagan worship and asked them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13). The disciples went through the various rumors they had heard: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (16:14). This led to Jesus’ deeper question: “But who do you say that I am?” (16:15). Peter’s answer forms the turning point in Matthew’s Gospel, known as the Great Confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16).
That episode occurred shortly after the events of John 6, and corresponds with the purpose of John’s Gospel. The most important question that anyone can face is Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?”
John’s Gospel does not record that episode, but provides answers to the question through Jesus’ famous “I am” statements, the first of which occurs in John 6:35. These seven statements are worth remembering for two reasons. First, Jesus identifies himself with an expression that is awkward in the Greek language, but that makes an important point. In Greek, one may say “I am” with one of two words: ego (the pronoun for I) or eimi (the verb I am). But Jesus makes a point of using both of them, which is a redundant way of speaking. He says not ego or eimi, but ego eimi, or “I, I am.”
Ego eimi deliberately restates the words given to Moses at the burning bush. Moses had just been commissioned as Israel’s redeemer. When he asked for God’s name to tell to the people, the voice from the bush replied, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’ ” (Ex. 3:14). The Hebrew for this name is Jehovah or Yahweh. But in the Septuagint—the Greek Old Testament widely used in Jesus’ day—it was translated as ego eimi. By applying this holy name to himself, Jesus staked an unmistakable claim to his deity.
The “I am” sayings are also important because they vividly summarize Jesus’ saving mission: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35); “I am the light of the world” (8:12); “I am the door” (10:7); “I am the good shepherd” (10:11); “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25); “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6); and “I am the true vine” (15:1). To believe and prayerfully reflect on these sayings is to be nurtured into a deep, trusting faith in Christ.
Seeing but Not Believing
Powerful as Jesus’ teaching about himself was, most people reacted in unbelief. A remarkable instance of this took place in the aftermath of his miraculous feeding. Jesus had rebuked the crowd for seeking only material blessings and urged them, “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). The people therefore asked what they should do, and Jesus taught them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (6:29).
Having witnessed this miracle and having been called to faith by Jesus in person, the crowd, remarkably, responded by demanding another sign: “So they said to him, ‘Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?’ ” (John 6:30).
It would be hard to imagine a more vivid testimonial to the depravity of the human heart than this. Even after Jesus replies with the first of his “I am” sayings, he ends up complaining, “I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe” (John 6:36). How are we to account for this astonishing unbelief?
First, according to the Bible, a reason that people do not believe is the spiritual inability arising from their sinful condition. Paul explains, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Here, man’s inability is ascribed to spiritual deadness. In another place, Paul says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law, indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Here, unbelief is explained by man’s rebellious hostility to God and his ways. Until they are born again, all people are spiritually dead and hostile to God.
The second of these reasons is on display in John 6. The people asked for a sign not because the miraculous feeding was insufficiently revealing. They asked because they didn’t like what Jesus was saying; their demand for another sign was just a way of putting him off. Jesus had called on them to change their attitude. Since they did not want to do that, they sought to justify their unbelief. How often this happens today! People spend their entire lives in a world that manifestly displays the glory of God. And they receive testimonies both from Christians and from the Bible sufficient to persuade them about any other matter. Yet they respond to the gospel with one objection after another.
At its root, man’s unwillingness to accept Jesus is really a moral and spiritual inability. People love their sin, they love their pride, and they especially love their own lordship over their lives. Like fallen Lucifer in Milton’s Paradise Lost, they hard-heartedly declare, “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” Cornelius Van Til states the truth about both this crowd and the persistent skeptic today: “These men are sinners. They have ‘an axe to grind.’ They want to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They will employ their reason for that purpose.”3 Determined to be their own god, their own savior, and their own lord, they find reason after reason to reject Jesus Christ.
This unbelieving crowd proves that the adage “Seeing is believing” is not true. They had seen proof positive of Christ’s deity, but still would not believe. The reality is that when it comes to spiritual matters, we need to reverse the principle: we must believe in order to see. This is as important to the believer as to the unbeliever. How many Christians doubt God’s loving care whenever a trial comes, despite having seen abundant proofs of his faithfulness. Like the unbelieving crowd, we demand for God to give a sign, despite knowing that he has sent his own Son to die for our sin and innumerable other mercies. “O you of little faith!” Jesus often told his disciples. If we will believe his Word and trust him at all times, our eyes will be open to see the sovereign hands that uphold us in every affliction.
Faith comes not from seeing but from believing the Word of God. It is through God’s Word that we are born again (1 Peter 1:23), and the result of being born again is that we believe and understand God’s Word. But if we will not believe the Word of Christ, then no multitude of signs, evidences, or reasons will ever penetrate our foolish hearts.
The Manna from Heaven
If the crowd would not consider the salvation that Jesus offered, then what specifically did they have in mind? They answered: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’ ” (John 6:31).
These were religious unbelievers. They knew their Bibles—or at least they thought they did. And since the miracle of multiplying the loaves so obviously recalled the great miracle of the exodus, when God provided for Israel in the desert by sending manna from heaven, they thought this would be a good way for Jesus to satisfy their doubts. After all, if he was going to claim to be greater than Moses, then he ought to at least do what Moses did. Jesus had fed them only one meal, but Moses had fed Israel for forty years!
As with many religious unbelievers today, the problem was that they did not really know their Bibles. Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven” (John 6:32). The book of Exodus reveals that it was not Moses who sent the manna from heaven. Moses was only God’s messenger. When the people had complained about their fears of hunger, God said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day” (Ex. 16:4). This warns us against our tendency to focus on God’s human instruments—famous preachers and great leaders—instead of realizing that all our blessings come only from God. This also pointed out the difference between Moses and Jesus, who by God’s power had fed the five thousand from his own hands.
If this explanation was not enough, Jesus followed it up with a bold and open claim to his own deity: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). Not only did Jesus perform the miracle by God’s power, but he adds that God’s great provision for the world’s need was his own coming into the world. Jesus came into the world “down from heaven”—that alone is a bold claim to his deity—and, as bread gives life to the body, Jesus gives “life to the world.”
The True Bread
If we ever grow impatient in our witnessing, Jesus’ example helps us to persevere. Not able to think on a higher realm than the material, and unmindful of their greater spiritual needs, the crowd responded, “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6:34). We can easily imagine Jesus’ throwing up his hands and giving up on these people, but instead he appealed to them with the first of his great “I am” sayings: “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’ ” (6:35).
Jesus is the “true bread” that the Father gives (John 6:32). This shows the relationship between the Old Testament signs and the New Testament reality in Christ. The manna given in the exodus was real—it actually fed the people—but Jesus was the true fulfillment of what it represented. This is the case with all the Old Testament symbols, or “types,” of Christ. Israel had Moses as a redeemer, but Jesus is the true Redeemer. Jerusalem had a temple, but Jesus is the true temple where God meets with man. John obviously wants us to realize this relationship, because he frequently brings up Old Testament figures that are fulfilled in Christ. The first was Jacob’s ladder, which showed “heaven opened,” with “angels of God ascending and descending” (1:51). Jesus is the true stairway to heaven. The second was the bronze serpent that Moses lifted up to save those dying from snakebite (3:14). But it is truly by looking to the cross of Christ that we are saved from the curse of sin. Likewise, God sent manna to care for the people’s needs, but Jesus is the true Bread that meets our greatest need.
There is another sense in which Jesus is the true Bread. Bread speaks of fulfillment and satisfaction, and Jesus is the One who gives these truly. This is one of the greatest lessons we can ever learn in a world that fails to deliver on its promises. An example comes from the life of William Somerset Maugham, one of the greatest writers of the early twentieth century. His novel Of Human Bondage is a recognized classic, and his play The Constant Wife has had thousands of stagings. He enjoyed incredible popularity, receiving an average of three hundred fan letters a week, and he had fabulous wealth. But his wildest dreams of success failed to satisfy him. His nephew, Robin Maugham, visited him shortly before his death in his villa on the Mediterranean Sea, filled with valuable furniture and works of art and served by eleven servants, including a cook who was the envy of all the other millionaires on the Riviera.
Robin was a Christian and had sent his uncle a Bible. When he arrived, he found him reading Jesus’ words, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Maugham said, “I must tell you, my dear Robin, that the text used to hang opposite my bed when I was a child.… Of course, it’s all a lot of bunk. But the thought is quite interesting all the same.” But that evening after dinner, Maugham flung himself down onto the sofa: “Oh, Robin, I’m so tired.” Burying his face in his hands, he went on, “I’ve been a failure the whole way through my life.” Robin tried to encourage him: “You’re the most famous writer alive. Surely that means something?” “I wish I’d never written a single word,” he answered. “It’s brought me nothing but misery.… And now it’s too late to change. It’s too late.…” At that point his face contorted with fear, and staring into space with horror, he shrieked, “Go away! I’m not ready.… I’m not dead yet.… I’m not dead yet, I tell you.…” Then he began to gasp hysterically. Shortly after Robin’s visit, his uncle died.
Maugham’s problem was that he possessed a soul. And none of the bread of this world was suited to feed his soul. But Jesus is the true Bread. In the way that bread gathers up the life found in the natural world so that the body that eats it takes in that life, Jesus contains the life of God. He said, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). Therefore, the soul that receives Jesus by faith is fed with the very life of God.
The Bread “of Life”
Jesus said that he is the Bread “of life.” He came “down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). A. W. Pink explains, “The Father’s provision for a dying world was to send from heaven His only begotten Son.”
From this first “I am” statement, we can make several important observations. First, in the same way that our bodies depend on bread, Jesus is necessary for the life of our souls. J. C. Ryle comments, “We can manage tolerably well without many things on our table, but not without bread. So it is with Christ. We must have Christ, or die in our own sins.” Are you trying to live without Christ? You might satisfy your ego with success. You might satisfy your material needs with money or your desires with pleasure. But you will never satisfy the inescapable needs of your soul without Jesus Christ.
Second, Jesus, like bread, is suited for everyone. Caviar is not a food that pleases all. In the words of the nursery rhyme, “Jack Sprat could eat no fat; his wife could eat no lean.” But there is a reason why restaurants serve bread to everyone before they even order from the menu. James Montgomery Boice applies this truth: “Jesus is for all. He is for you. He is the Savior of the world, and that includes the peasant as well as the king on his throne.… He has what you need. What is more, he knows you and he knows how to meet that need.”
Third, just as bread is eaten daily, Jesus is our daily need. It is not enough to meet with Jesus one day a week. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us … our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11), and so it is with him. Pink writes, “If the Christian fails to feed on Christ daily … he will be weak and sickly.”
Fourth, just as bread must be chewed and swallowed, Christians must feed on Jesus by faith. Jesus especially applied this principle to his Word. He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The hearts of children are fed by the kind and loving words of their parents. An army feeds on the brave words of its leaders. A nation feeds on the inspiring speeches of its best politicians. But nothing compares to the Word of God to feed the soul of every man, woman, and child. In the same way, a church is well fed and grows spiritually through the bread of God’s Word as it brings us in faith to Jesus Christ.
If we are living in a weak age of the church, the reason is found here. Christians are feeding on the world instead of on the Word. Biblical doctrine is considered irrelevant. Surveys show that a majority of evangelical Christians cannot list the Ten Commandments. Detailed knowledge of the Psalms, the Sermon on the Mount, the “I ams” of Christ, and the so-called Romans Road were staples of earlier generations that won their world for the gospel. If we find that the influence of our lives is weak, that our witness is weak, and that our collective impact on society is weak, it can only be because we are weak through neglecting the bread of God’s Word.
Fifth, Jesus must have thought of the miracle he had just performed. Matthew 14:19 records that after he had given thanks to the Father, he “broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples.” Likewise, Jesus is the Bread of Life because he was broken on the cross for our sins. He made this explicit when he instituted the Lord’s Supper. Paul tells us that he “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you’ ” (1 Cor. 11:23–24).
“How,” you may ask, “can Jesus be the Bread of Life for the world?” The answer is that he died to pay the penalty of our sins, so that through faith in him we might be restored to fellowship with God. He rose from the dead to usher in a new kind of life for those who believe. Then, having ascended into heaven, he lives even now to send life through the Holy Spirit to those who believe.
Coming to Jesus
It cannot be an accident that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.” Those who came to witness his birth were fed in their hearts. This crowd that came to Jesus was likewise fed. This shows that if Jesus is the Bread of Life, we must come to him. He said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Jesus combines two whoever statements that tell us what it means to come to him. He joins “whoever comes to me” with “whoever believes in me.” We come to Jesus by believing in him. Have you done that? Or do you persist with new demands, just as the crowd asked for yet another sign? If you do not come—if you do not believe—you will hunger until your spirit finally dies.
But look at Jesus’ promise: “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” This means that in coming to Jesus, we will always be watered and fed. We will be weak, but coming to Jesus will make us strong. In turmoil, we will find peace. In grief, we will gain comfort. In confusion, we will see truth. Coming to Jesus is the answer to all our spiritual needs, and Jesus promises always to provide.
Coming to Jesus starts with realizing the hunger of your soul. Do you not realize how unfulfilling life is apart from fellowship with the Son of God? Do you not realize that your need for new experiences, new thrills, and new achievements merely proves that you were made for something higher? God’s provision for our highest, eternal needs is Jesus Christ, the true Bread whom God has sent into the world.
“Whoever will come” means you. And if you will come to Jesus, you will not need another. You may come to him every day of your life, for unending days in all eternity, and be satisfied again and again. If you come to Jesus, you will say with the Song of Solomon, “He is altogether lovely” (Song 5:16 kjv). And if you walk with Jesus as a disciple, you will come to realize the same truth that Peter did: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
35. I am the bread of life. First, he shows that the bread, which they asked in mockery, is before their eyes; and, next, he reproves them. He begins with doctrine, to make it more evident that they were guilty of ingratitude. There are two parts of the doctrine; for he shows whence we ought to seek life, and how we may enjoy it. We know what gave occasion to Christ to use those metaphors; it was because manna and daily food had been mentioned. But still this figure is better adapted to teach ignorant persons than a simple style. When we eat bread for the nourishment of the body, we see more clearly not only our own weakness, but also the power of divine grace, than if, without bread, God were to impart a secret power to nourish the body itself. Thus, the analogy which is traced between the body and the soul, enables us to perceive more clearly the grace of Christ. For when we learn that Christ is the bread by which our souls must be fed, this penetrates more deeply into our hearts than if Christ simply said that he is our life.
It ought to be observed, however, that the word bread does not express the quickening power of Christ so fully as we feel it; for bread does not commence life, but nourishes and upholds that life which we already possess. But, through the kindness of Christ, we not only continue to possess life, but have the beginning of life, and therefore the comparison is partly inappropriate; but there is no inconsistency in this, for Christ adapts his style to the circumstances of the discourse which he formerly delivered. Now the question had been raised, Which of the two was more eminent in feeding men, Moses or Christ himself? This is also the reason why he calls it bread only, for it was only the manna that they objected to him, and, therefore, he reckoned it enough to contrast with it a different kind of bread. The simple doctrine is, “Our souls do not live by an intrinsic power, so to speak, that is, by a power which they have naturally in themselves, but borrow life from Christ.”
He who cometh to me. He now defines the way of taking this food; it is when we receive Christ by faith. For it is of no avail to unbelievers that Christ is the bread of life, because they remain always empty; but then does Christ become our bread, when we come to him as hungry persons, that he may fill us. To come to Christ and to believe mean, in this passage, the same thing; but the former word is intended to express the effect of faith, namely, that it is in consequence of being driven by the feeling of our hunger that we fly to Christ to seek life.
Those who infer from this passage that to eat Christ is faith, and nothing else, reason inconclusively. I readily acknowledge that there is no other way in which we eat Christ than by believing; but the eating is the effect and fruit of faith rather than faith itself. For faith does not look at Christ only as at a distance, but embraces him, that he may become ours and may dwell in us. It causes us to be incorporated with him, to have life in common with him, and, in short, to become one with him, (John 17:21.) It is therefore true that by faith alone we eat Christ, provided we also understand in what manner faith unites us to him.
Shall never thirst. This appears to be added without any good reason; for the office of bread is not to quench thirst, but to allay hunger. Christ therefore attributes to bread more than its nature allows. I have already said, that he employs the word bread alone, because it was required by the comparison between the manna and the heavenly power of Christ, by which our souls are sustained in life. At the same time, by the word bread, he means in general all that nourishes us, and that according to the ordinary custom of his nation. For the Hebrews, by the figure of speech called synecdoche, use the word bread for dinner or supper; and when we ask from God our daily bread, (Matth. 6:11,) we include drink and all the other parts of life. The meaning therefore is, “Whoever shall betake himself to Christ, to have life from him, will want nothing, but will have in abundance all that contributes to sustain life.”
35 We now encounter the first of the seven famous “I am” statements in the fourth gospel—“I am the bread of life.” The OT background is God’s response to Moses, who has asked him what to tell those who inquire concerning the name of the one who sent him. God reveals his name as “I am who I am.” He chooses to be known and worshiped as “I am” (Ex 3:14). In John 8:58 Jesus applies the name to himself (“before Abraham was born, I am!”). There is a difference of opinion, however, as to the extent to which Jesus is emphasizing his own deity in the seven “I am” statements. Though Brown, 269, says that “egō eimi with a predicate does not reveal Jesus’ essence but reflects his dealings with men,” it is difficult to escape the conclusion that when Jesus uses an “I am” statement, he intends it to be understood in a revelatory sense.
Jesus corrects their misunderstanding. He is not the giver of the bread—God the Father does that—he is the bread itself. The bread of life is the “bread that gives life” (Goodspeed). Ryle, 3:373, says that Jesus “intended to be to the soul what bread is to the body: its food.” It follows that whoever comes to Jesus will “never go [away] hungry” and whoever believes in him will “never be thirsty.” The parallel clauses interpret one another: coming to Jesus (see vv. 37, 44, 45, 65 in ch. 6 alone) is simply another way of portraying what it means to believe. It is more than mental acquiescence; it involves the activity of the will. It is the vital response of the human person to the invitation of God. While it is true that all who believe must be “drawn” to God (6:44, 65), it is equally true that none are forced against their will to go; each must “come.”
It is important to understand what Jesus means by his promise that those who come believing will never be thirsty or go hungry. It does not mean that they will no longer have any desire for spiritual things. What it does mean is well stated by Morris, 366, who says that “it rules out forever the possibility of that unsatisfied hunger.” Or as Carson, 288, puts it, “It does mean there is no longer that core emptiness that the initial encounter with Jesus has met.” Jesus’ promise is sometimes contrasted with Wisdom’s statement in Sirach 24:21, “Those who eat of me will hunger for more, and those who drink of me will thirst for more.” But the two statements are complementary rather than contradictory. Spiritual food both satisfies and creates the desire for more. What is permanently satisfied by eating the bread of life is the deep-seated hunger in the hearts of people created in the image of God. He created us for fellowship with himself, and nothing short of that intimate association will ever satisfy.