The Bread of Life
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I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.—John 6:511
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.”—John 6:352
Christ compares the needs of men to hungering and thirsting. Now hungering is no sham. Those who have ever felt it know what a real need it indicates and what bitter pangs it brings. Thirst, also, is not a sentimental matter; it is a trial, indeed. What pain can be worse beneath the skies than thirst?
Jesus has come to meet the deep, real, pressing, vital needs and pains of your nature. Your fear of Hell, your terror of death, your sense of sin—all these Jesus has come to meet and all these He does meet in the case of all who come to Him—as everyone who has tried Him will bear witness. Jesus Christ meets the hungering of conscience. Every man with an awakened conscience feels that God must punish him for sin, but as soon as he perceives that the Son of God was punished instead of him, his conscience is perfectly appeased and will never hunger again. Until men know the Truth of the Substitution of Jesus you may preach to them what you will and they may go through all the sacraments, and they may suffer many bodily mortifications—but their conscience will still hunger.
The heart, also, has its hunger, for almost unknown to itself it cries, “O that someone loved me and that I could love someone whose love would fill my nature to the brim.” Men’s hearts are gluttons after love. Yes, like death and the grave, they are insatiable. They hunt here and there, but are bitterly disappointed, for earth holds not an object worthy of all the love of a human heart. But when they hear that Jesus Christ loved them before the world was, and died for them, their roving affections find rest. Like as Ruth found rest in the house of a husband, do we come to peace in Jesus. The love of Jesus casts out all hankering for other loves and fills the soul! He becomes the Bridegroom of our heart, our best Beloved, and we bid the [more common] things depart.—Charles Spurgeon
“I am the Bread of Life”3 is one of the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus.
Bread is considered a staple food—[that is,] a basic dietary item. A person can survive a long time on only bread and water. Bread is such a basic food item that it becomes synonymous for food in general. We even use the phrase “breaking bread together” to indicate the sharing of a meal with someone. Bread also plays an integral part of the Jewish Passover meal. The Jews were to eat unleavened bread during the Passover feast and then for seven days following as a celebration of the exodus from Egypt. Finally, when the Jews were wandering in the desert for 40 years, God rained down “bread from heaven” to sustain the nation.4
All of this plays into the scene being described in John 6. Jesus was trying to get away from the crowds to no avail. He had crossed the Sea of Galilee, and the crowd followed Him. After some time, Jesus inquires of Philip how they’re going to feed the crowd. Philip’s answer displays his “little faith” when he says they don’t have enough money to give each of them the smallest morsel of food. Finally Andrew brings up a small boy who had five small loaves of bread and two fish. With that small amount, Jesus miraculously fed the throng with … food to spare.
Afterward, Jesus and His disciples cross back to the other side of Galilee. When the crowd sees that Jesus has left, they follow Him again. He accuses the crowd of ignoring His miraculous signs and only following Him for the “free meal.” Jesus tells them in John 6:27, “Do not labor 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.” In other words, they were so enthralled with the food, they were missing out on the fact that their Messiah had come. So the Jews ask Jesus for a sign that He was sent from God. They tell Jesus that God gave them manna during the desert wandering. Jesus responds by telling them that they need to ask for the true bread from heaven that gives life. When they ask Jesus for this bread, Jesus startles them by saying, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
This is a phenomenal statement! First, by equating Himself with bread, Jesus is saying He is essential for life. Second, the life Jesus is referring to is not physical life but eternal life. He is contrasting what He brings as their Messiah with the bread He miraculously created the day before. That was physical bread that perishes. He is spiritual bread that brings eternal life.
[T]here are the words “hunger and thirst.” Again, it must be noted that Jesus isn’t talking about alleviating physical hunger and thirst. The key is found in another statement Jesus made, this time during His Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” When Jesus says those who come to Him will never hunger and those who believe in Him will never thirst, He is saying He will satisfy our hunger and thirst to be made righteous in the sight of God.
If there is anything the history of human religion tells us, it is that people seek to earn their way to heaven. This is such a basic human desire, because God created us with eternity in mind. The Bible says God has placed [the desire for] eternity in our hearts.5 The Bible also tells us that there is nothing we can do to earn our way to heaven because we’ve all sinned6 and the only thing our sin earns us is death.7 When Christ died on the cross, He took the sins of mankind upon Himself and made atonement for them. When we place our faith in Him, our sins are imputed to Jesus and His righteousness is imputed to us. Jesus satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness. He is our Bread of Life.—Got Questions website8
If we were to enumerate all our hungers, we might be surprised at how many legitimate hungers there are. The hunger for truth, the hunger for love, the hunger for knowledge, the hunger to belong, the hunger to express, the hunger for justice, the hunger of the imagination, the hunger of the mind, and the hunger for significance. We could name more. Vast psychological theories have emerged in recognition of these hungers, or needs.
Some of our individual pursuits may meet some of these hungers. Education may bring knowledge. Romance may bring a sense of belonging. Accomplishments may bring significance. Wealth brings some things within reach. The message of Jesus affirms that no one thing will meet all of these hungers. And furthermore, none can help us know whether the way we fulfill them is legitimate or illegitimate until we feed on the bread of life that Jesus offers. That nourishment defines the legitimacy of all else.
Not only do we remain unfulfilled when we pursue these hungers, but in their very pursuit comes a disorientation that misrepresents and misunderstands where the real satisfaction comes from. This is very, very important to know.
What oxygen is to the body, the Bread of Life is to the soul. Without that bread, all other hungers will be improperly perceived. In fact, in like manner, the absence of that bread over a prolonged period makes the bread itself seem worthless. Life is meant to be lived with the fulfillment of the one need that defines all other means of fulfillment and the one love that defines all other loves.—Ravi Zacharias9
Jesus is the Word, He is the spirit and the life, and you should have a dose of Him every day, a good feeding and feasting and drinking. Just like you have to eat in order to have physical strength, you have to eat of the Word, drink of the Word, to have spiritual strength.
The Word is all of these things: The Word is Jesus, the Word is God, the Word is spirit, the Word is life!
The secret of power and victory and overcoming and fruitfulness and fire and life and warmth and light and leadership, everything, is the Word! And the lack of it is the secret of failure and coldness and darkness and weakness and dying spiritually.—David Brandt Berg
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.—Matthew 4:410
Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart.—Jeremiah 15:1611
Published on Anchor June 2013. Read by Jon Marc.
Music by Daniel Sozzi.
3 John 6:35.
4 Exodus 16:4.
5 Ecclesiastes 3:11.
6 Romans 3:23.
7 Romans 6:23.
9 Jesus Among Other Gods (W Publishing Group, 2000).