Bible Study Commentary on Jesus the Great I AM
I AM the Bread of Life - How hungry are you for Jesus?
by I Gordon
Today we start with the first of the 7 specific I AM's statements. Jesus, when speaking to the masses always liked to use metaphors that were familiar to His listeners. He would talk about the sun and the rain to explain God's grace upon all mankind. He would talk about planting seeds or going fishing to explain the importance of reaching others with the truth of the Gospel. He spoke of a farmer, a king, a merchant, a vineyard, a pearl, a lamp, a son, a wedding, a treasure in a field... things that common men and women knew. Well, maybe not so much the treasure in the field but don't give up hope... keep looking!
When we come to the I AM's of Jesus we find they are no different and today's subject is one that is very common to all of us. It is a particular tasty topic and that is bread! It is one close to my heart... quite literally. It is just a little bit south in my stomach. But before you start licking your lips it needs to be said that we will be focusing on the spiritual bread. We'll look at the following:
- A look at the context of Jesus' statement about the bread of life
- A quick overview of bread in the natural and in the Bible
- We'll touch on how the Old Testament pictures what Jesus was saying
- What Jesus wanted us to know and why He used this as the first of His I AM statements.
The food chapter
We are in John chapter 6 this morning and the whole chapter is about food really. While we won't read it, the context of Jesus' statement that He is the bread of life came one day after He performed the miracle with the bread and fish. Can you remember that? There Jesus gave thanks to the Father and fed the great crowd on just 5 barley loaves and two small fish. You will hopefully remember that the bread and fish were multiplied so that everyone had enough. It didn't matter if there were 200 or 200,000 people that turned up. There was always going to be more than enough for all. Even this is teaching us about the Lord Jesus who as the bread of life is multiplied to all. The numbers are also instructive - 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread. In the Bible the number 2 speaks of unity and 5 is the number of grace. When we come into unity with the Lord and experience His grace we are filled and have more than enough. So it is in this context that Jesus declares that He is the bread of life. Let's read:
John 6:22-35 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. (23) Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. (24) Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. (25) When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" (26) Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. (27) Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval." (28) Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" (29) Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." So they asked him, "What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? (31) Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " (32) Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who 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) Sir, they said, "from now on give us this bread." (35) Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
So why use the metaphor of bread? A quick overview of bread in the natural and in the Bible.
So let's begin just looking at bread in the natural for a moment.1 The fact is, who doesn't like bread? Freshly baked... still warm out of the oven... a little bit of butter... Mmm mmm. Mankind has been baking loaves for thousands of years. The simple loaf feeds the poorest and the most well off amongst us. Where ever you go on this planet, bread, whether it is a bagel, a baguette or banana bread, is being consumed every day. And from a quick survey of the Bible we see that it has been that way right from the very beginning. The first mention of bread goes right back to the fall of mankind:
Genesis 3:19 By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return."
The essential character of bread is also seen right smack bang in the middle of something as important as the Lord's Prayer where Jesus taught His disciples to pray: 'Give us this day our daily bread.' (Matthew 6:11)
It is used because it symbolises the essential sustenance of what we need, naturally speaking. This is how it has been seen and used throughout secular history as well. For example In Roman times, the leaders spoke of controlling the masses through 'bread and circuses'. That is, they saw that if the masses had full bellies and were entertained, that is essentially all they cared for and they would look past all the corruption in the Roman leadership. Bread being an essential requirement to life is also seen in its connection with another essential element - money. 'Bread' or 'dough' is another name for money. The one who earns a wage for the family is called the 'breadwinner'. They have the means to put bread on the table. In cockney rhyme 'bread and honey' is the name for money.2 So we have seen that bread goes back in time as far as the very Garden of Eden itself. It is common to the richest and poorest alike. It transcends cultures and nations. As a staple food it often symbolises all that we need physically in the Bible. Hopefully a few more light bulbs are going off as to why Jesus said I AM the bread of life! As bread feeds the whole world in a physical, natural sense, Jesus feeds and nourishes us spiritually.
The heart and desire of mankind
So did the people in Jesus' day recognise how essential Jesus was to their very lives?
John 6:26 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.
Jesus said that the crowds followed not because of His words, not because of His miracles but because they got a free feed. That is the picture of fallen mankind right there. It is a picture of a creation whose connection with its Creator has been broken... snapped. What does it care about? It cares about the natural not the spiritual. It cares about the temporal, not the eternal. It cares about a full belly, not a clean heart. Jesus knew this - He knew what was in the heart of man as He created them and had been dealing with them for thousands of years. Natural man is not interested in the spiritual. It can be quite frustrating when you are trying to give them real eternal food and they see no worth in it. If they have their food, their entertainment, their bread and circuses, that is enough. Now I was like that too for a long time but thankfully I came to the point, in my first year at University, where I wanted to know why I was here. I wanted to know the One that created me. I wanted to know that my sins were forgiven. I wanted to know what was actually important in life. And quite frankly, I wanted to know where I was going when I died! Jesus said you are following me not because of any spiritual need or sight that you have seen but because you got received full bellies. One. Sad. Commentary. On. Mankind. Why are you following Jesus? Is it for Him? Because that is what He offers.
The challenge of mankind
John 6:27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval."
Here is the challenge of the Lord to go beyond what natural man craves and lives for. It is the same type of challenge that the prophet Isaiah spoke to his people saying: 'Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. (3) Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. ' (Isaiah 55:2-3)
You can hear God pleading with the people! The challenge is what do you live for? Is it just for that which is temporal? Is it just for that which doesn't ultimately satisfy? Jesus said there is a food that endures to eternal life. There is a bread that truly satisfies in this life and in the next. Mankind spends so much time and energy trying to obtain temporal things which don't satisfy. Someone wrote the following (which I tweaked a little!):
You can buy a bed, but you can't buy rest. You can buy books, but not wisdom. You can buy entertainment, but not joy. Leisure, but not peace. Insurance, but not security or safety. You can buy your way to the top, but you can't buy salvation.
True rest, peace, joy, security and salvation are found only in the One who is rest, who is joy, who is peace, who is salvation. Have you found that?
How is Jesus as the Bread of Life pictured in the Old Testament?
This picture of Jesus as the bread of life is pictured in the Old Testament (because New Testament truth concerning Jesus is always pictured in some form in the Old!). The Jews listening to Jesus touched on one example:
John 6:31-33 Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " (32) Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who 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."
In the Old Testament God fed the children of Israel with a type of bread as they went through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. It was called 'manna' and it pictured in a small way the true bread that was coming. What do we know about the manna? Some questions -
- Where did it come from? It was bread from heaven as the Jews said to Jesus. A picture of the true bread from heaven.
- How often did the people eat of it? They gathered it every day apart from the Sabbath and feed on it every day. A picture on how we are to feed on Christ every day.
- Was the manna accessible? It was close - it lay in the dew around the camp. But they still had to go and gather it. If they didn't they would go hungry and grow weak. Jesus is close to each of us but we also grow weak spiritually when we ignore the Lord.
- Was manna a complete food? Yes! They didn't need to eat anything else. As Keith Green used to sing in 'So you want to go back to Egypt?' they had manna waffles, manna burgers, manna bagels, bamanna bread! It was everything that their bodies needed to sustain them for the whole 40 year journey. Jesus, is the complete food. Some Christians, like the children of Israel, look and long for other things to satisfy but the answer isn't anywhere else. All that we need IS IN HIM.
- Was the manna a reminder or foretaste of anything else? It tasted like wafers made with honey. The Promised Land was said to be the land 'flowing with milk and honey'. Every experience of the Lord that we have, every time in this life that we 'taste and see that the Lord is good' (as the Psalmist put it) it is simply a small entree or appetiser to the full experience of the Lord we will have when we are with Him.
So the question is, what are you feeding on? What do you try sustain yourself with? If you are a born again Christian then you are a heavenly person. And a heavenly person needs to be sustained by heavenly things! God gives us many things to enjoy on this planet but devoid of Him they ultimately become meaningless. A.B Simpson hammers it home when he writes
'The reason why multitudes of Christians are famished and feeble is because they are trying to live upon the husks or the fruits of this world. They are longing for the flesh pots of Egypt or the quails of lust and are weary of the simple bread of God. They feed on man's philosophies, materialism, the sensationalism of the novel... or the husks of the market and stock exchange, instead of the pure, sweet, sustaining word of God.'
How hungry are you?
There is a familiar saying in the natural dietary world that 'you are what you eat' and it is exactly the same in the spiritual. As we feed on the One who said 'I AM the bread of Life' we find that he can sustain us in our worries, fears and temptations that life brings.
But how hungry are you? John 6 is a passage for hungry people... needy people. Food never tastes as good as when you are hungry. Brett and I went Mountain biking yesterday. I can honestly say that after a few hours on the hills out in the sun, food, any food, tastes amazing. Your body is desperate for it. Brett always brings these peanut butter sandwiches. He didn't share them yesterday, but normally they are a 6 on the way over but at the end of a ride they shoot straight up to a 9. Hunger does that. How hungry are you? It is a relevant question for all but especially those that have been Christians for a long time. There is nothing like fresh bread but bread does go stale if just left. I think this is why God allows some 'shakeups' from time to time. Sometimes if we would seek to fill up on spiritual junk food or no longer really seek Him and just live off old stale bread, He often allows or causes a humbling so that we seek Him again. This is how it was with the children of Israel for we read:
Deuteronomy 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
But to the hungry soul God promises that they will be satisfied. Psalms 107:9 For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness. And this is exactly what Jesus is promising here in John 6.
I AM the bread of life - Jesus' early association with bread
John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
What a big call this is! Notice Jesus doesn't say 'I will give you the bread of life' or 'I'll show you the bread of life' or 'I will help you find the bread of life'. No, I AM the bread of life! If you feed on me you will never be hungry or thirsty again! BBC - 'It would be folly for a sinful man to utter the words of verse 35. No mere man can satisfy his own hunger or thirst, much less satisfy the spiritual appetite of the whole world!' Who else would say that they themselves are what everybody needs! Has anyone ever spoken like this before? Did Buddha or Confucius or Muhammad ? They would point to someone or something else. Jesus pointed to Himself. I AM what you need! And yet He actually is the bread of life. He was born into this world to meet the spiritual need that a fallen humanity has. In fact His very birth place is significant in this regard. Where was Jesus born? His birth fulfilled the great prophecy in Micah:
Micah 5:2 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."
Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem in the Hebrew means 'House of Bread'. The house of bread would bring forth its greatest ever, never to be repeated, loaf. I make loaves in the oven every week and I am constantly tweaking the recipe to try obtain the perfect loaf. I have this fascination with trying to get the biggest loaf I've ever had! And I can honestly say that the more I tweak, the worse it is getting. But two thousand years ago, Bethlehem, the house of bread, brought forth the greatest ever, never to be repeated, loaf - The bread of life. And like the miracle that Jesus performed this was a loaf that would be given and multiplied over and over in the lives of countless believers throughout the ages, nourishing and filling them repeatedly!
And look closer at the claim He makes - 'He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty'. He isn't talking about natural thirst and hunger obviously but the deepest longings of human needs. They will be completely met. What are humanities deepest needs? It has said that our deepest needs are based on Identity, acceptance, security and purpose.3
Identity - Child of the living God in the family of God. And that's the real royal family!
Acceptance - Accepted in the beloved (the greatest acceptance there is! Eph 1:6)
Security - Paul was persuaded that not even the future can separate us from the love of God! (Rom 8:38-39)
Purpose - Eternal! Caught up in the plan and purpose of the King of the Universe!
What did Christ tell us to do?
He who comes to me - we come. We did that for salvation but it is a lifelong coming. We don't ignore Him. What relationship can prosper if one party ignores the other? We come in prayer. We come in our quiet times. We come throughout the day as we bring Him into our normal lives. We come in humility as we turn our hearts to consider and think about the Lord and His word once again. Come.
He who believes in me - Jesus said that this is the work that God asks. Believe. This also is not a one-off for salvation but is in everything we go through. We believe that He is in it, that He cares, that He has a purpose for it, that He wants to teach us through it and that He is adequate in it. We believe. And this belief is not misplaced for it is based on the promises He has given us in His word.
Give thanks - In recounting how the bread was multiplied so that all could eat, verse 23 tells us that 'the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.' It became known based on the place where Jesus gave thanks. Not where the bread was multiplied or the people where filled. It is remembered as the place where Jesus gave thanks. Do you want the bread to be multiplied in your life? Then do likewise - Give thanks!
Mankind tries and ultimately fails when it tries to satisfy the spiritual need with things. But Jesus, from the 'house of bread' is the special never to be repeated bread of life that truly satisfies. He claimed that He Himself could meet the very hunger and thirst of our soul. He fulfils our deepest needs. He nourishes our soul. He gives us our identity, security and purpose - The very things that humanity needs.
Without Him we are nothing. But He asks us to come and feed on Him. Come, believe and be thankful.
Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
And Jesus is that Word!