Updated: Nov 9, 2021
In (Jn. 6), Jesus, while in Capernaum, shares powerful teaching known as the “Bread of Life Discourse.” Jesus, in this teaching, says, “I am the bread of life.” This is the first of seven “I Am” statements Jesus makes in John’s gospel.
Each of these statements is intended to reveal the truth of who Jesus is. Thus, these statements would have had a particular significance to Jesus’ first-century Jewish audience. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God revealed Himself to Moses as the “I Am.”
EXODUS 3.13-14 (NKJV) "Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ "
Not only are these statements significant to a first-century Jewish audience, but they are also significant for us as well. As John pushes forward in the story of Jesus, he is constantly connecting us back to the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus referring to Himself as “I Am” is a connection back to the Old Testament and how Jesus is the fulfillment of the story of Israel.
John (6) begins with the sign of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish. Continuing, John shares the sign of Jesus walking on water. At first glance, this event may seem a bit out of place. Following Jesus walking on water, John’s account takes us to Jesus’ teaching on the true bread from heaven. Why is Jesus’ walking on water positioned between these two teachings of Jesus about bread?
Jesus “crossing the water” should bring to our remembrance the account of God who parted the waters for the children of Israel in the Exodus account. John (6) is a chapter saturated in the Exodus and Passover events of the Old Testament. When the children of Israel crossed through the water, this was a passage into new life. Jesus identifies Himself as the bread of life. John intends for us to connect Israel passing through the waters to a new life with Jesus passing through the waters of which He is life. In Jesus, we have new life. As Christians, this journey begins as we pass through the waters of baptism. John (6) echos the Exodus story, a story that is given new meaning in Jesus. Our story is connected to the story of the Bible in that through baptism we are given new life through Jesus.
TRUE BREAD FROM HEAVEN
Crowds follow Jesus because they ate the loaves and were filled (ref. Jn. 6:26). Jesus, speaking to the crowds, says:
JOHN 6:27 (NKJV)
"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."
Hearing Jesus’ words, those listening to Him ask Jesus for a sign.
JOHN 6:30-42 (NKJV)
"Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”32 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”35 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. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 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.” 41 The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42 And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus says whoever partakes of Him will live forever. Jesus is not like the manna in the wilderness of the Exodus story. Israel partook of this bread and died. Jesus is contrasting Himself with the bread (manna) in the wilderness. Jesus is greater than this bread. The manna in the wilderness sustained life for a time. Jesus, the true bread from heaven, provides everlasting life.
ABIDING IN CHRIST
Later in the passage, Jesus introduces the theme of abiding in Him.
JOHN 6:53-58 (NKJV)
"Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
The theme of abiding in Christ is one that John will return to in chapter (15), as Jesus talks about bearing fruit. The branch that bears fruit must abide in Christ. Abiding in Christ is the idea of remaining in Christ. It is a life immersed in Christ. The relationship of Jesus and the Father is a relationship of unity and oneness. Abiding in Christ, our lives are to be one with Christ.
Jesus is the true bread of life. Some, in hearing the words of Jesus, were looking only to have their stomachs filled for a day. What Jesus offers is more. Jesus offers everlasting life. To participate in the life Jesus offers, we must fully partake in Him. We must be immersed in Him, abiding in Him, as we live each day for Him.
Unless otherwise noted, Scripture is taken from The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982)