The Bread of Life
Topic: Gospels Passage: John 6:22–40
“THE BREAD OF LIFE”
22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to 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. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 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.” 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never 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 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
When Henry Wallace served as Vice President under Franklin Roosevelt during the World War II years, he ruffled the feathers of both his political opponents as well as members of his own party when he spoke critically of America’s war effort. Wallace proposed that additional funding be allocated and invested on the European and Asian fronts in order to assure “minimum standards of food, clothing, and shelter” for people throughout the world. It was a compassionate plea, but U.S. citizens were already sacrificing greatly. As might be expected, his critics were quick to respond. One journalist wrote (and I quote), “Mr. Wallace neglects the fact that such a thing as a ‘free’ lunch has never existed. Until man acquires the power of creation, someone always must pay for a ‘free’ lunch.”
Regardless of anyone’s political party or personal position on the war effort, one had to admit that writer’s perspective was a valid one. To quote what has become a well-used maxim, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Someone will always have to pay for it.
I would like for you to remember that in light of the twenty-one verses which precede the ones we just read. We looked at the passage in some depth a week ago, and it serves as the backdrop to verses 22 through 40, which we will consider today. Five thousand men and women had just been served a miraculous meal by Jesus. And while the substance of that meal had been provided through the voluntary offering of a small boy’s lunch, do not think for a moment that it cost Jesus nothing to apportion it to the crowd. It was but one more “sign” along the way in His march to the cross where He would offer up His life for “the sins of the...world” (cf. 1 John 2:2). That miracle was intended to authenticate the message that He spoke , as well as to demonstrate the divine authority that backed it up.
Everyone walked down the mountain that day with stomachs full, but in all likelihood there were very few who grasped the significance of what had just taken place. As we have seen, not even the disciples were able to comprehend the meaning of the event, as revealed by the dilemma they found themselves in later that evening while struggling to keep their vessel afloat in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. In took Jesus walking on the water—yet another miracle—to bring them safely to their destination on the other shore.
And that brings us to verse 22 today. Jesus’ miracles were intended to arouse interest and to gain a hearing. And they certainly did that. The immediate result was that a few followed Him and committed themselves to Him, while most simply went along “for the show.”
Verses 22 through 24 set the stage for one of Jesus’ more memorable teaching moments. The miraculous supply of food segues naturally into the first of Jesus’ “I AM” declarations, the one in which He presents Himself to be “the bread of life.” So let’s notice how John prepares us for it.
Every miracle had served to increase Jesus’ notoriety. His name and reputation had saturated Judea and Galilee, and had even spread to unlikely districts like Samaria. Crowds pursued Him in His journey and even preceded Him in anticipation of His arrival in the next place He would go. The morning after the miracle on the mountain, they sought for Him again.
The search for Jesus (6:22-24)
...is not always made with the noblest of motives. You recall from verse 15 that “they were about to come and take him by force to make him king.” It was for that reason that He “withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” As evening drew near, Matthew (14:23) tells us that “he dismissed the crowds, (and) went up on the mountain by himself.” But before He did, He ordered the disciples to get into the boat and row to the other side of the lake. He would meet up with them later. As it turned out that reunion took place when He came to them later that night...walking on the water.
Perhaps hoping for a reprise of the previous day’s events, the crowd was disappointed at not finding Jesus where they had left Him. They had seen the disciples get into the boat and sail away, but Jesus had not been with them. Other boats had come and gone to that place, but Jesus was nowhere to be found. At some point, some of them “put two-and-two together” and realized that He would not allow Himself to be separated from His disciples for very long. They concluded that somehow He must now be with them. So, they hurriedly loaded themselves into what vessels were available and set sail across the sea in a westward direction. Capernaum was Peter and Andrew’s hometown and a frequent gathering place for Jesus and the Twelve when they were in that region. Doubtless, the people thought that is they He would be. And their hunch was correct.
It can be a good thing to have an interest in Jesus, but if that interest does not advance beyond curiosity, intrigue, and even excitement, it can place a person in a more accountable position before God. Have you ever wondered how many of the multitude who ate the bread and fish actually came to faith in Christ as Savior and Lord? You see, it is one thing to “follow” Jesus, and quite another to be His “follower.” Would it surprise you if I told you that there are quite possibly some among us in this gathering this morning who have an interest in “following after” Jesus, but who haven’t truly surrendered to Him as Lord and become His “follower”? It is that very thing that Jesus touches on in the rest of this section. In verses 25 through 34, He addresses the work of God; and in verses 35 through 40, His discourse centers on the will of God. In both paragraphs He presents some very strong assertions that we do well to pay attention to.
The work of God (6:25-34)
...is discussed in verses 25 through 34. At last the crowds have caught up with Jesus and they admit to being confounded at how He had slipped away from them overnight without being detected. They fire three questions in His direction, the first of which He chooses not to answer, preferring instead to address their motive for pursuing Him.
“Rabbi,” they ask Him. “When did you come here?” More fittingly, “How did you get from the other side of the lake to here without any of us seeing you? We saw your men get into the boat and push off from shore, but you were not among them. How then did you get here?”
Rather than answering their question and clearing up their confusion, the Lord instead rebukes them for failing to understand the significance of the “sign” of the miraculous feeding. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” And then He offers this word of correction for them to consider: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
There is a great deal to reflect upon in that statement. Clearly the word “work” would have caught their attention. After all, man’s “default” position in terms of “religion” is always based upon “work,” is it not? “Do this and do that, and you will be on good terms with God.”
Well, not so fast! The “work” to which Jesus refers has nothing to do with human endeavor. Like food that is quickly consumed and expelled, so are manmade efforts at securing right standing with God. There is a “work” that is pleasing to God, however, but it is not what one would naturally expect. It is a “work” that is accomplished by the One sent from God...the One who is the Son of the Heavenly Father. He alone is able to provide that “work”—namely the “work” of redemption in paying for men’s sins—which is acceptable to God.
“You are seeking me for the physical and material benefits you receive,” Jesus tells them. “And in so doing, you are missing the point...namely Me, the One on whom “The Father hast set his seal.”
A “seal” is used to represent many things...approval, authenticity, and security. Here Jesus is claiming to have come, not only in the name of the Father, but with the full authority of God. In contrast with any other idea they may have had about what a Messiah ought to be, He offered Himself as “the real deal.” Some would become disillusioned when they began to understand what He meant, and many who claimed to be His “followers” would turn back and follow Him no more. We actually see that happening at the end of this chapter in verse 66.
To this day, large crowds continue to “follow” Jesus today in search of health, wealth, and prosperity. Auditoriums are filled, hoping to be able to witness a “miraculous sign” upon which they can pin their hopes and, tragically, affix their faith. Millions more are watching on television and, in some cases, sending dollars they can’t afford to spend to self-appointed preachers and teachers who are proclaiming a false and synthetic gospel by misusing Jesus” name and misrepresenting His person and work.
More curious than ever, the people next ask Him in verse 28, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” This time Jesus responds, saying in verse 29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Please note carefully that it is called “the work of God”...not “a work of man,” but “the work of God.” And something else in this verse: it is “the work of God” for a purpose...“that (“‘ινα”) you believe in him whom he sent.” To be clear, the purpose of this “work of God” is for the purpose that we might have an object of saving faith in which to “believe.”
You see, there is a “work” that must be done that brings hope and healing to man, but it is a work that only One among us could have ever accomplished. Just before being led to the cross where He would bear the weight of men’s sins, Jesus spent painful and precious moments with the Father in private reflection. In John 17:4, He prayed, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” The only “work” acceptable to God with regard to man’s salvation is the finished work of His beloved Son.
Although salvation comes to man as “the free gift of God” (Romans 6:23), it did not come without cost. To restate the maxim we considered earlier, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Someone always has to pay for it. Related to our situation, it was Jesus Christ who paid an infinite price—the cost of His own perfect and sinless life—in order to pay for our sin and, thereby, purchase our salvation. If we could only grasp the magnitude of the debt we by nature owe to an infinitely holy God, we might begin to understand the enormity of the redemption price paid by Jesus in order to set us free us from the bondage of sin that has ruined our relationship with the Father.
Their second question reveals that they, like so many of us, thought they could somehow please God by “doing” some meritorious deed or series of deeds. They saw “works” as the means to life. Jesus said only one “work” would suffice: His “work.” Their responsibility was to “believe” in Him, which meant to forsake every other means of trying to curry God’s favor, and abandon oneself totally to Christ and His finished “work.”
It takes yet another “work,” the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart to comprehend “the doctrines of grace”...to understand that salvation is “by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.” The crowd that day clearly heard what Jesus was saying, “but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Hebrews 4:2, NASV).
How do we know that Jesus’ words didn’t compute with them? We see this in their third question in verse 30: “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” Now bear in mind that many of these same people had been on the hillside the previous afternoon and had partaken of the meal that Jesus had so miraculously provided.
Maybe they had forgotten...but I doubt that. Their very next sentence made an indirect reference to it when they said, “Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Can you see what’s going on here? They are comparing Jesus’ provision of bread to Moses’ provision of manna to their forefathers centuries before. And Jesus does not come out of the favorable side of their comparison.
Back in verse 14, we noted that “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world.’” But now they are asking for another “sign,” as if to say, “Okay, Jesus, you fed a few thousand people with lunch one day; but Moses fed an entire nation with manna for forty years.” And even though the Israelites grew tired of manna over time (cf. Numbers 11:4), it remained a remarkable miracle of provision and a significant piece of their history. “So, how about it, Jesus. Can you top that?”
Once again, Jesus is equal to the task. He responds in verses 33 and 34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven, but my Father 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.”
“Can’t you see?” Jesus asks. “Both Moses and manna were but types of Me.” “I am “the bread from heaven...the true bread from heaven...the bread of God.” The phrase “from heaven” indicates Jesus’ true origin. He was sent from God. It is a phrase that shows up repeatedly in John’s Gospel, most notably here in chapter 6.
In verse 34, the people now enthusiastically reply, “Sir, give us this bread.” We recall a similar response from the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4. There when Jesus offered to her the “living water,” she immediately said, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come to draw water” (John 4:15). In other words, “Satisfy my immediate physical and material needs.” Like the woman, so this crowd.
But Jesus presses further. Having unveiled the work of God that leads to “eternal life,” He moves ahead by discussing...
The will of God (6:35-40)
...a topic that will occupy most of the remainder of chapter 6.
In verse 35 we find the first of the subject-predicate declarations of Jesus where He applies the “I AM” designation to Himself. It is important to retain the context of this statement. Our Lord, just a day earlier, had multiplied five small loaves of bread of which thousands of people partook. Now He points to Himself and declares, “I am the bread of life,” adding, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
The “I am” is emphatic, and could easily be translated, “I myself am,” or “I, and no other, am.” It’s an exclusive claim. In addition, there is in the original text an article before the word “life,” which would indicate a particular kind of “life.” It is called “eternal life” in verse 40. Therefore, Jesus is not only making an exclusive claim for Himself, but He is also making an exclusive claim for the type of “life” that He is able to give to others.
It is a life that is received by faith. Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” The attainment of true satisfaction hinges on “belief.” But belief, in order to be correct, must be in the correct premise...namely, that Jesus is the Son of God. To the crowd, “belief” meant acceptance of Jesus’ competence on the basis of the miracles He was able to perform. To Jesus, however, “belief” meant commitment to Him, not on the basis of the miracles, but on the basis of trust in His person. That has always been—and will always be—the sole criterion of saving faith. For the sake of the Gospel, you and I must remain crystal clear about that. To yield on that point is to abandon Christianity. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9).
The words that follow serve as an indictment, not only of the many who stood before Him that day, but for countless others since that time who have endorsed and entertained less-than-accurate beliefs about Jesus. Verse 36: “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet you do not believe.” Perhaps there was a pause after this sentence, a pause which would have given those in the crowd a moment to carefully consider. Verse 37 would have broken the silence: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
It has been pointed out by others that three major doctrines are found in this verse: divine election (“All that the Father gives”), human responsibility (“whoever comes to me”), and eternal security (“I will never cast out”). Although salvation comes to man as a freely-bestowed gift, we must ever bear in mind that it did not come apart from a great cost. Commenting on Jesus’ words given when He was still more than year away from the cross, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Christ will not die in vain. His Father gave him a certain number to be the reward of his soul travail, and he will have every one of them. Almighty grace will sweetly constrain them all to come.” As the Moravian missionary prayer puts it, “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.”
In more recent years, Leon Morris has added, “The salvation (Jesus) brings is no (fleeting) thing. It is ultimate and final. This thought is of the greatest comfort to believers. Their assurance is based not on their feeble hold on Christ, but on His sure grip of them.”
God’s sovereignty does not mitigate human responsibility and accountability. When asked how he reconciled God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, Spurgeon (whose faith was solidly Reformed) answered, “I never try to reconcile friends.” Both are true.
Jesus goes on to explain, beginning in verses 38 through 40, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me, And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all he has given me, but raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Jesus is not merely a prophet who speaks God’s message, but a Son who fulfills God’s purpose.
He is the One “come down from heaven” in order to carry out the will of God. In Psalm 40, verses 7 and 8, the promised Messiah speaks, saying, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is written within my heart.” But even when it didn’t seem to be a “delight,” Jesus still pressed on in His mission. How can we ever forget His prayer of agony in the Garden only hours before He was to die for the sin of men? Listen with a renewed sense of appreciation to these familiar words left for us by Matthew (26:36-39):
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled, Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.’ And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’”
You and I cannot begin to fathom the love of Christ—eternal love for the Father, and love for those whom the Father would give Him—to have endured the spiritual agony that He underwent that evening and that next day. It was a love so deep that it enabled Him to persevere. Astonishingly, the author of Hebrews (12:2) tells us that it was “for the joy that was set before him (that He )“endured the cross, despising the shame.”
What possible “joy” could there be that would sustain someone to “endure” what Jesus suffered for us? It was in fulfilling the will of God, and knowing that—by carrying it out precisely as God had foreordained and predetermined—that glory would be brought to the Father and “eternal life”—“resurrection life”—would be granted to all who are His “on the last day.”
What would appear in eyes of men to be defeat would be turned into complete victory where “nothing of all” that had given Christ by the Father would be lost. Nothing! Jesus’ resurrection from the grave would prove that!
May God help us to claim this glorious promise, especially when our hearts grow discouraged and we are feeling defeated. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent”...because “This is the will of (the) Father, the everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and (be raised up) on the last day.”
This past Wednesday evening, Tyrell pointed out in our Bible study that when the crowd on the hillside was fed by Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the bread and the fish, they were “filled”...they were “satisfied.” He drew the parallel between that event and the meaning of “eternal life,” because that is actually what “eternal life” is. It is “satisfaction,” and it is “contentment” because the creature has entered into that relational experience for which he had been created...not merely “some day,” but right now. “Eternal life” begins the moment Christ is received by faith. It is only by “believing” Jesus—by knowing Him and entrusting ourselves fully to Him—that we gain the “life” of which Jesus speaks.
As Augustine wrote, “You have made us for Yourself, O God; and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”
So, have you “tasted” of “the bread of life,” and found Him to be satisfying for your soul’s great hunger? The ancient psalmist encourages us to “Taste and see that the LORD is good!” (cf. Psalm 34:8). If you have not yet responded to that invitation by turning from yourself and your sin and entrusting yourself to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, then you are in the same spiritual condition as the people in the story we have considered this morning...“religiously curious,” but never truly converted by His grace. If you know that to be true of yourself, or if you are concerned about your relationship with the Lord today, then I urge you to speak with an elder or a deacon...or, for that matter, any of our members today before leaving. We care about you and want to help you find contentment in Christ.
If you are among those who have “tasted” of “the bread of life,” let me ask if you are “feasting” on Him? The Lord gives us metaphors like these in order to illustrate that just as we need physical food to keep our bodies functioning in a healthy manner, so we need the spiritual “food” that He offers to continue growing and maturing in our Christian walk. How is your devotional life in recent days? Are you sitting at His table each day and allow Him to be that gracious Host who serves you rich and wholesome spiritual fare? When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He told them ask the Father for their “daily bread” (cf. Matthew 6:11). None of us eats only once of week, but we require daily nourishment. If you have become spiritually thin or malnourished, then please get back into the Word before you risk falling from the grace of God (cf. Hebrews 6:4-6). Pray with someone today and ask them to hold you accountable.
As we partake of “the bread of life,” we grow to share it with others. That is our call as believers, and it summarizes Jesus’ final words with His disciples (Cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8). A former pastor of ours used to define sharing the Gospel as “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Everyday I pray that I will become more effective in that regard. And I pray the same for us all.
Later on in this chapter, in verse 59, we learn that “Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.” This helps us to understand that our Lord’s claims were being heard and reacted to by more than just the common folks that day. As we shall see by probing further into John 6 next week, the religious leaders were also on hand. Interestingly enough, they were not very happy at what they heard. If fact, their murmurings would lead to hatred, and their hatred to murder...the murder of the Son of God.
You will recall that John has divided his record of Jesus’ ministry into various periods. The first four chapters could be referred to as “the period of consideration.” These were the early days when He was publicly introduced by John the Baptist and began arousing curiosity among the masses. As His popularity grew, the religious elite became concerned about His ability to relate to the crowds and challenge their own usurped authority. That evolved into the second period, found in chapters 5 and 6, which has been referred to as “the period of controversy.” Soon the controversy will boil over into “the period of conflict.” War will be contested on a spiritual battlefield over Jesus’ claim to be the One sent from God who would give His life to bring eternal life to all who would come to Him and believe in Him.
The war has been fought and won, but the battle rages on.