THE BREAD OF LIFE John 6
“The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33).Participation in Christ as source and sustainer of eternal life is our assurance of heaven.
Bread was the staple food in Palestine. It was so basic in the diet that “bread” is a synonym in Scripture for “food”; that which sustains physical life. The bread of the well-to-do was made of wheat; that of the poor, of barley. But rich and poor viewed bread as the basic element in the daily diet. It was the woman’s task to grind grain daily, mix it with water and olive oil, and to cook the day’s supply of bread. Bread was baked in a variety of ways: inside a hollow hivelike oven, or in flat cakes on its sides. Jesus could have found no more powerful way to affirm that He was the source and sustainer of spiritual life than to compare Himself to the bread that sustained the physical life of all his listeners.
Jesus fed a multitude with a few loaves and fish (6:1–15). That evening the Twelve saw Him walk on water (vv. 16–24). When the crowds found Him they demanded a sign (vv. 25–31), but were exhorted to feed on Him as the “Bread of Life” (vv. 32–59). Many adherents deserted Him at this point, but the Twelve remained, convinced He is “the Holy One of God” (vv. 60–71).
Understanding the Text
“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” John 6:1–7 Jesus’ miracles drew large crowds to Him. John selected one occasion, near a Passover festival, when some 10,000 came. (John mentioned 5,000 “men,” but Matthew tells us that there were also a great many women and children, so 10,000 is a conservative estimate: Matt. 14:21.) Jesus drew Philip’s attention to the crowd, and asked how they might be fed. Philip took a quick survey, and came back with statistics. “It’ll take approximately eight months wages [200 denarii] to buy bread for this many!” Philip reminds me of many folks in modern ministries. Let’s take a survey. Let’s gather data. And all too often, when the results are in, we end up saying, “Well, I guess it’s impossible. It’s surely too big a job for our little congregation!” But John observes that Jesus “already had in mind what He was going to do” (6:6). When we see a need, the thing we may need to do is not take a survey, but in prayer seek the way Jesus intends us to meet it. “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves” John 6:7–15. Andrew took a different approach. He surveyed the available resources, and offered them to Jesus. There wasn’t much. Certainly not enough to feed 10,000 people! Or so it seemed. The miracle of the feeding of the multitude, with 12 basketsful left over, reminds us that God is well able to multiply whatever resources we may have—as long as we offer them to Him. It’s not what we have. It’s what God can and will do with what we have that counts! “A strong wind was blowing” John 6:16–24. Evening breezes still whip up strong waves on the Sea of Galilee between Bethsaida and Capernaum. The disciples, heading into the wind, made slow progress: three and one half miles is only halfway there (cf. Mark 6:47). The disciples saw a shape walking on the water toward them, and at first were frightened of what they took as a ghost. But they recognized Jesus’ voice and took Him aboard. The text says, “Immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading” (John 6:21). This was a “private miracle” witnessed only by the disciples. As such it helped to build their growing faith in Christ, so that they remained faithful later, even though they did not understand everything He said. But there’s a special reminder for us in the story. Like the disciples, we often find ourselves laboring hard, and making little progress. Yet Jesus is nearby, however strong the winds that buffet us. We need to recognize Him, and invite Him to become involved. We may not reach shore “immediately.” But we will find strength to keep on. “Because you ate the loaves and had your fill” John 6:25–29. The crowds Jesus had fed were surprised to find Him in Capernaum. They’d been looking. But for the wrong reason. Jesus had satisfied their physical hunger. They sought Him because of what He could do to meet material needs. So much in our relationship with Jesus remains rooted in materialism. We trust Him, hoping He’ll keep us healthy. Or get us a job. We even pray for the Lord to give us the numbers so we can win Lotto! Or we send in money to the media evangelist who promises that God will reward us a hundredfold. If $10 will get you $1,000, why not send in $1,000 and get $100,000-or at least a lifetime of free vacations! It’s not that God doesn’t care about our material needs. God does. And He meets them, providing our “daily bread.” The thing is that God cares most about our spiritual needs: the truly vital and important needs that every human being has. As long as we seek to “use” relationship with God to gain material blessings, we’ll miss the spiritual blessing that He so abundantly provides. “The works God requires” John 6:28–29. The twin of materialism is seen in these verses. It is the foolish assumption that, whatever God may require, we can do. Jesus had the definitive answer. The true work of God is simply to believe in the One God has sent. We cannot “do the works God requires” at all. Our only hope is to rely on what Christ has done. “Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert” John 6:30–36. Earlier John reported that those Jesus fed began to speculate that Jesus was “the Prophet who is to come” (v. 14). The reference is to Deuteronomy 18, where Moses spoke of a Prophet like himself who would speak the words of God to Israel, and to whom the Jewish people must listen. The reason for the identification was Jesus’ feeding of the multitude. Moses provided Israel with manna during the Exodus period. Jesus fed the crowds. Perhaps He was another Moses! When Jesus called on the crowd to simply believe in Him, however, they demanded a “sign from heaven.” I suspect this was more manipulation than doubt. Moses gave Israel bread from heaven—for 40 years! Jesus provided a miraculous meal, for one afternoon. Perhaps by demanding a sign the whole nation could “go on the dole” for decades! But Jesus came to provide the “true” bread. The word, alethinos, means “genuine” or “original.” Material bread sustains physical life. But human beings are not merely animals. True bread must sustain the inner life that exists when biological life ends. And Jesus is the one and only source of this life. We will never find satisfaction if our life is focused on the material world alone. Jesus is the true bread, because He satisfies that aspect of human nature which transcends the material and is eternal. Jesus is not just “bread.” He is the “Bread of Life.” Our true selves are fed and sustained only by that faith in Him which appropriates what He supplies. “Many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him” John 6:60–71. The word “disciple” is used in various ways in the Gospels. Here it simply means “adherent”: someone who attached himself or herself loosely to Jesus and trailed along with Him. When Jesus spoke of Himself as the Bread of heaven, and spoke symbolically of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, that “hard saying” made many such “disciples” turn away. They couldn’t understand that Jesus meant accepting Him as a person accepts a meal: trusting its wholesomeness and value and taking it in, to be assimilated as part of one’s very being. The Twelve, Jesus’ closest followers, undoubtedly didn’t understand it all either. But when asked if they would leave too, Peter answered: “We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.” We don’t understand it all. But “we believe and know You.” This is Christianity in its essence. Believing and knowing Jesus Christ.
Assurance: The Father’s Will(John 6:39–59)
The sermon on the Bread of Life did confuse doubters. But it confirmed the faith of the believers. That sermon offers Jesus’ own assurance that we possess, now, eternal life. I’ve talked with folks who “hope” they have eternal life. I’ve talked with folks who “trust they will have” eternal life. And I’ve talked with folks who get angry and insist that it’s presumptuous to claim to have eternal life now. “How can you know until you’re dead?” some will say. Others will say, “What makes you think you’re so much better than me?” The fact is, though, that Jesus made an issue of assurance. He wants us to know, now, that eternal life is ours. Period. “Whoever comes to Me I will never drive away,” Jesus said (v. 37). In the same verse He reminds us that God’s powerful invitation moved us to come in the first place. Having responded to God, He will keep us safe, forever. Jesus went on to speak of the Father’s express will. “I shall lose none of all that He has given Me,” Jesus said, “but raise them up at the last day. For My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (vv. 39–40). A little later Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life” (v. 47). Not “will have.” Not “may have.” And not “maybe has.” It’s “does have.” And finally, “The one who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (v. 57). So if you’ve come to Jesus and believe on Him, don’t be an uncertain Christian. Jesus says you have eternal life. And you can take His Word for it.
Assurance isn’t presumption; it’s promise.
“John Wesley, founder of Methodism, received this witness at a meeting on Aldersgate Street, London, as he listened to one reading Luther’s Preface to the Book of Romans: ’About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart, through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone, for salvation: and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death’ (Wesley’s Journal, May 24, 1738). “For some this confidence dawns gradually. For others, it is a sudden discovery at the moment of faith. EACH OF US CAN BE ASSURED OF OUR ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD!”—“Four Great Emphases of United Methodism”