“And 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.’” (John 6:35, NKJV)
Bread can take a bad rap. It is a Trojan horse for carbs, anathema in some diets. A missionary friend in France told me that what we call bread doesn’t even qualify. But bread is ordinarily thought of as a staple to life. Prisoners get bread and water. Snowstorms send people to the grocery store for bread and milk.
When Jesus describes Himself as the bread of life, He is pointing to Himself as a staple for sustaining life. But He is saying much more.
After feeding 5000-plus people by multiplying five loaves of barley bread, Jesus brings up the subject of bread with the crowd following Him. He tells them not to work for bread that sustains physical life but to seek bread that offers eternal life. The people turn the topic to manna, the bread from heaven that sustained ancient Israel in their wilderness wanderings. Jesus uses that prompt to identify Himself as the true bread from heaven (John 6:32). He then says: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Jesus is true bread in that He is the actual and eventual source of life given by the Father and anticipated by the manna. People who ate manna died. People who eat the true Bread from heaven will never die (John 6:51).
But then things got weird. Here’s Jesus’s full statement: “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” (John 6:51). The crowd started to murmur among themselves, “What did He say? Did He say ‘flesh’? – ‘to eat’!
Rather than toning it down, Jesus makes it more audacious. “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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:53–55, ESV).
What is Jesus saying? First, He is claiming He is the provision of God for eternal life. Jesus is the true bread from heaven. He is the one who satisfies the deepest hunger of the soul through a restored relationship with the living God. When God offered the bread of life in the book of Isaiah (55:1-3), He was anticipating Jesus who satisfies both hunger and thirst (John 6:35).
Second, Jesus is saying that He is the bread of life through His saving work. Jesus took on our humanity. He was actually flesh and blood, becoming in every way like us to be a substitute for us, to atone for our sin, and to satisfy the wrath of God we deserved.
Third, Jesus is saying that we must partake of His saving work as the bread of life. He speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. Throughout the chapter Jesus explains how we do that. We are to believe (John 6:29, 35, 40, 47, 64). We feed on Christ who literally became flesh and blood and literally poured out His life unto death. We feed through faith and that as a gift of God (John 6:36-39, 65; cf. John 1:12-13; 20:31). In other words, it is through participation in Christ’s saving work that we have eternal life and will never die.
1. What does Jesus mean by describing Himself as true bread and living bread?
2. What parallels do you see between John 1:12-13 and John 6:39-40?
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.