Last Sunday we started our examination of a sermon Jesus gave in Capernaum following the feeding of the 5000 titled The Bread of Life Discourse. Before we dive back into the narrative, I want to remind you of the scene and specifically the audience present that day.
This synagogue located in Capernaum where Jesus gives this sermon and likely conducted much of his ministry while in the Galilee was absolutely majestic. Constructed using funds from a prominent Roman Centurion, this synagogue was built right on the Sea of Galilee and could have held in upwards of 200 people. It was truly a beautiful building.
It’s safe to assume this particular morning the place was packed to capacity with Jesus behind the pulpit. Aside from the local crowd and the 12 disciples, according to Matthew 15, you also have a delegation of Scribes and Pharisees sent from Jerusalem to interrogate Jesus sitting in the front pews. These men are deeply skeptical of Jesus and are looking for any way to discredit His ministry and minimize His standing and popularity.
In contrast, we also know the crowd has swelled because of this large group who’d just been miraculously fed by Jesus the day before and who desperately wanted to make Him their King. These men are so convinced Jesus is the Messiah they’ve just navigated the Sea of Galilee that morning to be in attendance. The audience hushes as Jesus begins…
Let’s get a running head start by reading through the verses we covered last Sunday… John 6:26, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 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.”
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
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. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 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.”
In trying to get His audience to expand their perspective beyond that of the temporal, physical needs and desire for bread Jesus responds to their request to preform a sign similar to Moses in the wilderness by correcting two key misconceptions:
First, Jesus is clear that “Moses did not give them bread from heaven, but His Father!” Sadly, they failed to realize that Moses was just a participant and not the catalyst for the miracle.
In verse 27 Jesus opened with the exhortation, “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.” Jesus is again trying to get them to realize the mechanism for this blessing of “everlasting life” (their real spiritual need) would not be their works! Instead, it would be “given by the Son of Man.”
Just as God had sent the people Manna from heaven in the wilderness to care for their physical needs (life), God had sent Jesus from heaven to provide for their spiritual needs (everlasting life). In both situations God gave something they would need to receive.
Don’t miss this… Salvation (everlasting life) is not something that can be earned by man, but must be given to man by God through Jesus and simply received!
Secondly, and you can sense this as you read through the sermon, but Jesus seems to be over the whole bread thing! He’s already told them, “The Son of Man will give you everlasting life.” He’s said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” He’s been clear, “The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And yet, in response to these things, the audience keeps coming back to physical bread!
While we obviously don’t have the tone or tenor of how Jesus articulated these truths, it does feel as though Jesus throws up His hands and says, “Stop talking about physical bread! ‘The true bread… the bread from God is Me!’ Just like God sent down bread to care for your physical needs during the Exodus, He’s sent Me ‘from heaven’ to ‘give life to the world!’”
Again, their response reveals the fact they’re struggling to see beyond the physical realm. “Lord, give us this bread always!” they respond! Sadly, they desire physical bread when Jesus is promising so much more! Finally, Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life!”
As we seek to unpack the implications of this incredible statement, please note Jesus is playing off their desire for physical bread to illustrate a much deeper principle. This will be more important later in the sermon, but know Jesus is using “bread” as an illustration.
So what’s Jesus’ core point… In much the same way that bread gives life to the physical body, Jesus provides life to the spiritual man. In a profound sense it’s as though Jesus is saying, “I am” the only mechanism whereby you can have “life!” And note: According to verse 27 Jesus is not speaking of a life that “perishes,” but one “which endures” forever.
There is no question that Jesus is speaking of the spiritual realm because of the statement that follows. After saying, “I am the bread of life” Jesus immediately presents a promise that “he who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Physically speaking, such an assurance would be impossible to make good on.
In much the same way as He did with the Woman at the Well, Jesus is intentionally using these basic physical needs of “hunger” and “thirst” to illustrate the basic spiritual needs we all have as a consequence of sin and its effects on our core nature.
Because of the immediate effects of sin the wonder for God we had from life in His presence became a life wandering in the wilderness from the subsequent separation. Whereas we originally had all we needed in God, sin left us with an inner hunger and thirst.
With this in mind, you need to understand what Jesus is promising to the “person who comes to Him” believing He’s “the bread of life” is true spiritual satisfaction and fulfillment.
This is what He means when He says, “He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Jesus is promising to rectify these effects of sin by He brings about wholeness to what was broken within the spirit of man.
The cry of our heart echoed by the famous line sung by Bono of U2 (“And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”) can be remedied for the person who “comes to Jesus” and “believes in Him.” Friend, you can discover what your soul has always been seeking, always been longing for - if you’re willing to do two things:
First, Jesus says, “Come to Me.” Not only does this demonstrate a humility, but a coming to Jesus requires a turning from the world (the false promise that true satisfaction can be found apart from God) or the lie of religious moralism (that you can be good enough to receive God’s blessing). In Biblical terms this act of turning and coming is called repentance.
Second, Jesus exhorts us again to “believe in Him.” As we noted last Sunday… True belief only exists in the dynamic that should the object of that belief fail your entire life subsequently falls apart and is hardly worth living. Biblical belief describes a total trust, the act of complete reliance, a full clinging too. You must come to Him and cling on Him!
As the “bread of life” Jesus is offering to change your entire spiritual reality! He’s promising to provide true rest in the place of your constant wrestling… Real peace instead of this constant internal tension… Lasting fulfillment as opposed to the never-ending discontentment you feel… Eternal satisfaction for the soul perpetually dissatisfied with what this world offers.
I should also point out that Jesus’ statement to be the “bead of life” and thereby effectively address these spiritual needs is both distinct to Him and therefore exclusively a work of Him. It’s not just that spiritual life is afforded by Jesus, but only by Jesus!
In the Greek you’ll notice the definite article translated into English as “the bread.” This means Jesus is claiming to be the one and only mechanism for the “life” He’s promising. No one other than Jesus will ever be able to remedy the hunger and thirst of your soul. And what’s more… By His very admission this work must be received and cannot be earned. What grace that such a work is not dependent upon your merit or performance.
A few weeks ago when we were examining Jesus’ walking on the water and more specifically His exhortation to the frightened disciples on the water “It is I; do not be afraid” - I mentioned how this Greek phrase “It is I” was actually “eimi ego” - a direct reference to Exodus 3 when God introduces Himself to Moses as “I AM who I AM.” It’s why in response to this statement these twelve men end up falling on their faces in worship of Jesus as the Son of God.
In this statement “I am the bread of life,” Jesus again uses this phrase “I am” or “eimi ego” in order to attribute the Divine name of God to Himself. While in the Old Testament God revealed Himself to the Children of Israel as simply the great “I AM who I AM”, Jesus came to earth to add meat (substance) to this Name by using seven “I AM” statements recorded specifically in John’s Gospel of Grace.
As the first, declaring “I am the bread of life” was Jesus’ first step towards revealing more of the character, personality, and purpose of Jehovah God to His people.
John 6:36-40, “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 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. 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.”
While Jesus says some very interesting things in this section of Scripture, let’s start with His overarching point reiterated and summarized in verse 40 “that everyone who believes in Jesus” will have two important things happen: First, He says you “may have everlasting life.” Note: This is a present possession bestowed the moment you come and believe in Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus says of those who do come and believe, “And I will raise him up at the last day.” In its literal reading there is no question Jesus is promising a future resurrection of your physical body. The obvious question and sadly misguided debate then centers on what Jesus means by “the last day” and more specifically the timing of this particular day.
Because this isn’t really a central point to Jesus’ sermon, I don’t want to descend down the rabbit hole other than to say in 2 Corinthians 5:8 the Apostle Paul writes that he is “confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” While you can debate the timing and even essence of your bodily resurrection, what is most important is that (a) it will happen, and (b) when you die you’ll instantly find yourself with Jesus!
What’s fascinating about this section of Jesus’ sermon is two concepts that seem to be at odds. While Jesus has repeatedly encouraged His audience to make a decision of the will by coming and believing, He also says in verse 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.” Jesus then adds is verse 39, “Of all He had given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.”
While Jesus has unquestionably encourage the entire audience to make a decision of their will to “come” and “believe in Him,” there is no doubt He’s also saying those who ultimately do “come” were already given to Him by the Father and therefore cannot be lost.
The obvious and logical question when reading this section is… Do I really have a choice to come to Jesus or is my coming already predetermined? Do I choose or am I chosen?
Here’s my answer… YES! If you choose to come to Jesus, it’s clear you were always chosen. And if you choose not to come to Jesus, it’s clear you were never chosen.
Furthermore, if you choose to come to Jesus then choose to leave Jesus, you were never chosen - though maybe at one point you were actually chosen, but forfeited that right by making a terrible choice. Hebrews 6:4-6, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” So I hope that clears up any confusion!
Honestly, I don’t know how this all works other than to say it works. Beyond that, I will also say this is what I know with absolute certainty. John 3:16-18, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Again in Romans 8:28-31 we’re told, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
How the two ideas of man’s determinate freewill to decide and God’s pre-determination fit together I have no idea other than to say this… In this very moment in time, what actually matters? There has never been a soul who’s ever come to Jesus and been refused by Him. Meaning… If you want to be sure you are chosen, come to Jesus and believe in Him.
John 6:41-42, “The Jews then complained about Him (this is likely the group of skeptical religious leaders sent from Jerusalem), because He said, ‘I am the bread which came down from heaven.’ 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’?’”
It’s evident that while these religious leaders are tracking with what Jesus is really getting at they’re finding it difficult to believe His claim because of His statement of preexistence.
John 6:43-46, “Jesus therefore answered and said to them, ‘Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.”
Again, the radicle nature of what Jesus is saying is incredibly controversial in our version of Christianity that tragically carters to the sensibilities of the lost. These religious leaders voice a skepticism concerning His larger claims because they doubt His preexistence. And yet, instead of debating this point with these men, Jesus takes a different approach.
Look at the characteristics He lays out of those who choose to “come to Him.” Not only would their acceptance of Jesus be proof “the Father drew them,” but it would be evidence “they were taught by God” and “heard and learned from the Father.” Because these men were rejecting Him, Jesus is telling them they really knew nothing of His Father!
On a side note… Jesus again reiterates the point that the Father must draw a person to Jesus for that person to come. Personally, I’m of the opinion that while a case can be made God the Father only draws the elect, God the Holy Spirit draws all men. In either case, this is what’s cool… If a drawing is happening, it’s evidence of God’s involvement.
John 6:47-51, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 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.”
Again, by using this phase “the bread of life” Jesus is illustrating a larger idea. Just as bread is essential for physical life, so Jesus is essential for spiritual life. In this culture “bread” was the basic staple of everyone’s diet. In a way bread and physical life were synonymous.
During this day you could not live without bread since it provided the essential nutrients for physical life. You see Jesus is saying He came to satisfy a spiritual need in man central for life similar to the way bread functions in the life of the natural man.
It’s only with this understanding of the illustration that “eating” this bread makes any sense at all. In it’s most simplistic form just as bread is only useful for the physical man if it enters the body so must Jesus indwell the spirit of man for there to be spiritual life.
Once again the idea of “eating” was not meant to be taken literally, but illustratively. In this Jewish culture built upon very strict dietary laws (which is must different than ours) you were always careful what you ate because it could defile the individual before God.
Eating food was a reverent act and the food itself had to be legally determined to be “clean” since the very substance and nature of the item you consumed became a fundamental part of the person. This idea directly ties into the old idiom, “You are what you eat!”
Within the analogy and greater illustration, eating indicated oneness. With this in mind, when Jesus says, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” He’s talking about an intimate communion and relationship with Him being essential for spiritual life. Jesus is not talking about literal eating, but the oneness and connectedness that comes from eating.
Though it would have been impossible for anyone in the moment to have fully understood what Jesus was saying, when He says, “I shall give My flesh… for the life of the world” we recognize Jesus was ultimately speaking of His crucifixion. You see Jesus is narrowing the metaphor by speaking of the act of atoning for sin through the sacrificial death of His body.
Notice the reaction of these religious leaders… John 6:52, “The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?’”
While there is no doubt what Jesus is saying was shocking and controversial to say the least, the accusation (“How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”) was disingenuous. These men knew what Jesus was articulating. The religious leaders understood Jesus was using “bread” to illustrate a deeper, spiritual reality. And yet, they willfully twisted His words.
With this in mind, what I find fascinating is that Jesus not only does nothing to correct their intentional twisting of His words, but instead Jesus defiantly doubles down on the illustration! As if Jesus now says, “You want to twist the metaphor… Well, try this on for size!”
John 6:53-58, “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. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 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.”
Again, please remember Jesus is not speaking literally. The notion of “eating the flesh” and “drinking the blood” was continuing the illustration He’d already established. In actuality, within the greater symbolism, Jesus is now playing on the imagery of the sacrificial system.
Within context, it is the identifying of ourselves with His body through the process of crucifixion and later resurrection (oneness with Jesus) that He’s discussing. On the cross Jesus’ body would be offered to atone for your sins and His blood spilt for your purification.
Not only did Jesus’ bodily sacrifice satisfy your debt for sin and therefore justify you before God, but it was through His blood that you now find yourself permanently declared righteous.
We can see how this is gift given by Jesus. The man of sin was crucified with Christ and laid in that Garden Tomb only for the new man to rise with Christ in life though His resurrection!
The case can be made this Bread of Life Discourse given by Jesus ends up setting the stage for Paul’s understanding of the true nature of the Gospel message. Paul writes in Romans 6:3-7, “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.”
More succinctly Paul pens to the Galatians in chapter 2 verse 20 that he had “been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Again, the mechanism for this incredible work should not be confounded by the illustration. Jesus is not saying you have to eat His literal body or drink His actual blood to be saved. Note: This is the Scriptural justification for the twisted Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation or for that matter the Lutheran belief of consubstantiation as it pertains to communion.
As we’ve seen over and over again in this sermon Jesus has said for a person to experience this “everlasting life” found in Him and given through Him all they have to do is “come” and “believe in Him.” The only act required of you is faith in this larger work of Jesus. Which is the entire purpose of communion… To “remember” what He did for you on Calvary.
In the end Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse given this day in the synagogue of Capernaum was aimed at articulating one central idea… If you’re tired of what this world has to offer, left empty by the inadequate rites of religion, unsatisfied and unfulfilled… If you long for that deeper hunger to be met and that thirst to be quenched…
My friend please don’t miss this point. If you long for your deeper spiritual need to be remedied… If you want everlasting life today and for all eternity… Jesus is clear your only option is to turn from these inadequate pursuits, come to Him, and placing your complete weight upon Him and His work on the cross!
As we close, if these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself to, please in the depths of your soul pray…
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe You are the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for my sins. I place my complete faith in that work as the only basis for my forgiveness, restoration, and righteousness before You. I confess that on the 3rd day You rose from the dead providing me a relationship with You today. Right now, Jesus I choose to repent of my sins and ask that by Your grace You fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Take my broken life and make it whole. Transform who I am from the inside out. Jesus, I confess You as both my God, my personal Lord, and my eternal Savior. Amen.”
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