“I Am The Bread of Life”
At this point in his earthy ministry, Jesus was followed by great crowds. They wanted to see what he would do, especially after he fed 5,000 people from a kid’s sack lunch. Even though Jesus crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, the crowds found him. Jesus, however, was not interested in drawing crowds. He was interested in preaching the gospel of the kingdom and saving souls.
When the crowed gathered, Jesus confronted them at the point of their spiritual need. He said, you only follow me because you got your fill of bread, not because you believe in me. That is what he meant by “not because you saw signs”. (26) Signs were supernatural actions, miracles, that Jesus performed to show he was the Son of God. He was referring specifically to his feeding of the 5,000 that is recorded in verses 1-15 of this chapter. It was a pretty good sign, wasn’t it? He took two fish and five barley loaves and broke them into enough pieces to feed thousands of people and have 12 baskets left over. That should tell you he was no ordinary man.
Jesus was a good communicator. He knew their minds were on bread, so he used bread as the starting point for his message about eternal life. He rebuked them for their single minded pursuit of physical\material things. He told them not to work for food that perishes, referring to physical bread. (27)
That was a radical statement on its face, for the average Jew had to work all day to make enough to buy bread to feed his family for the day. Jesus was not condemning work or feeding one’s family, but was saying to focus on what is most important. Focus on eternal life. He called it the food that endures to eternal life. (27) And, Jesus said he is the source of this “bread”. Jesus is not a baker. He is the giver of eternal life.
That got the attention of the crowd. Everyone wants to know they will eat today. But much more so, everyone wants to know what will happen to them after the death of their bodies. It is the biggest question of all.
Remember that the Jews believed in God. Many of them believed in a resurrection of the righteous at the end of the age. (Mary when Lazarus died) But their religion had become a burdensome system of rules and requirements. The Pharisees were the dominant force in the Jewish religion at that time. They were zealous for God's law at a time when there was great pressure to adopt the Roman way of life. But they became obsessed with rules. The Pharisees had over 600 rules in addition to the commandments and regulations of God’s law given through Moses. You had to do a lot of work to get to heaven according to the Pharisees.
So, when Jesus mentioned "labor", the crowd's mind went straight to works. They asked Jesus what works they must do to get this eternal life he spoke about. (28) Do we have to keep all of the hundred of rules of the Pharisees? Must we keep the commandments of Moses perfectly? What work must we do?
They weren't the only ones to think this way. There is an inherent desire in men and women to make God accept them for who they are and what they have done. Ask a stranger why God should let him or her into heaven. Invariably they will say “I hope the good things I do outweigh the bad”.
But Jesus turned the whole system of works on its head. He said “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he sent”. (29) They only work God accepts for salvation is belief in Jesus. Feeding orphans is great work. It will not get you into heaven. Visiting the sick is salutatory. It will not gain you eternal life. Paul wrote “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight…”. (Romans 3:20)
Ephesians 2:8-9 sets out the same idea. (Read it) Isaiah wrote about that in the Old Testament. In 64:6, he said our works are filthy rags or polluted garments.
Jesus is the one God sent to provide salvation. That is the message of John 3:16, the one verse everyone can quote (usually in the King James Version). God gave his Son to the world so that all who believe in him will not perish, but instead will have eternal life.
What happens next is funny. It is funny and tragic. The people ask for a sign as proof so that they can believe Jesus. (28) It is funny because they just saw Jesus feed 5,000 people from a sack lunch some mom packed for her son. It is tragic because they were blind to the super natural acts of Jesus that reveal who he is. It bears out the truth of what Jesus said in verse 26: you are seeking me not because you saw the signs. “See” and “hear” in the New Testament mean to understand. They did not see the proofs of Jesus’ divinity because they focused on the bread, not the giver of bread.
It is also tragic because they misapplied the Old Testament story of the manna to compare Jesus to Moses. (31) the Jews expected a Messiah who would do great things like Moses did. Part of that is because of what Moses said in Deuteronomy 18:15. He told Israel God would raise up a prophet like him. He said to listen to this prophet. So the crowd wants proof Jesus is that prophet.
It is like they were saying you fed people one time, Moses fed Israel with manna for 40 years as they wandered through the desert. You can read about this in Exodus 16 if you are not familiar with the story. They said Moses gave them bread from heaven. (31) But Jesus corrected them. It was not Moses who gave them manna, but God the Father. (33) And that same Father in heaven now gives them, and us, the true bread of heaven.
It is not that Manna was false bread. But it was incomplete bread. It sustained physical life for one day only. Each day manna fell and they were allowed to gather only enough for that day, except on the day before the Sabbath, when they could gather for that day and the Sabbath. Manna was a “type” of the greater life giving gift from the Father which would come centuries later and be the “true bread”. That true bread is the one who comes from heaven and give eternal life. It is Jesus.
This is an attractive offer of bread, isn’t it? The crowd thought so. They wanted it. They said give us this bread always. (34) But still they did not understand and believe who this bread is. Despite the miracle of feeding the 5,000, despite the metaphor of bread and, finally, despite Jesus saying flat out “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (35) they did not believe. (36)
This saying “I am the bread of life” seems simple, but it is full of meaning. It is one of those places where an English translation cannot fully reveal the meaning the original Greek text. If I say “I am Bernice’s son”, you take the at face value. I mean she is my mother and I am her son. But when Jesus said “I am”, he referred all the way back to Exodus 3:14, where God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush. God said his name is “I am who I am”. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is literally is the Greek words "ego eimi” said twice: I am, I am. How does God give a name for himself that is meaningful, that captures his nature? God is. He exists eternally, unchanging, the only God. He is.
So, Jesus, in saying “I am” claimed to be God. The words Jesus used to say "I am " in John 6:35 are the same words in God to say used to say “I am” in Exodus 3:14 in the Greek translation. Jesus was sent from God the Father and is himself divine. In the very first verse of this book, John explained Jesus this way: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”.
Jesus, as God, gives life and is life, eternal life. He is the giver of true bread and is also the bread of life. He gives us life by giving us himself.
All of us are in the same position that the crowd was in. We have all heard Jesus tell us the gospel, the good news of salvation. Simply put, the only way out of your condition of sin and separation from God is through faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God who died on the cross for your sins, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. You can believe and be saved unto eternal life. Or you can reject him and face eternal separation from God. John 3:18 says "...whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
My prayer is that you will believe.