In this series we are looking at the “signs” in John’s gospel which point to who Jesus is, and why he came to earth. Today we look at one of Jesus’ most famous miracles—the only one recorded in all four gospels—the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-14, 27-35). John’s account of this miracle, unlike the other gospels, explains the meaning of this sign: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (v. 35).
The meaning of bread in Jesus’ culture. Meat was a luxury in Jesus’ day, and still is in much of the world today. Bread was the heart of the meal, and came to symbolize “life” itself. That’s why, in the Lord’s prayer, when it gets to the petition where we’re supposed to be asking God for our needs, all we have to say is, “Give us this day our daily bread,” because bread simply meant everything we need for life (Matthew 6:11). For the Israelites, two powerful historical references came to their mind when someone spoke about bread:  for forty years in the wilderness, God miraculously kept the Jews from starving by giving them “manna”—bread from heaven, and  a table in the tabernacle on which twelve loaves of fresh, hot, inviting bread were placed daily. This “altar of the showbread” was God’s invitation to fellowship with him (even today, asking someone to share a meal with you is a way of saying, “I want you to be my friend.”). In the Old Testament, enemies ratified a covenant of peace by sharing a meal (“breaking bread”) together (Exodus 24:8-11)—representing relational oneness.
The bread “of life”—eternal life (v. 27). At first glance, “eternal” life appears to simply be talking about life that extends forever, but it’s better than that. Eternal life is a different quality of life. The Greek word bios means physical existence. The Greek word used here is zoe, which refers to a quality of life (imagine the most delightfully perfect vacation you could experience). There is a huge difference between merely existing and vibrant living! Jesus says “I came to give you eternal zoe!” (The Bible has a word for mere eternal existence; it’s called “hell”.) Zoe-life begins the moment we trust Jesus as sin-bearer; we don’t receive it after we die (see John 3:36; 5:24; 6:47). Eternal life can be a present possession today; there is a hunger in the human heart which can move us from mere existing to true dynamic living (6:33-35). But zoe life requires that we trust God to provide for us. The Israelites didn’t trust God, so they hoarded manna—and it turned to worms! Jesus is saying: “There are a lot of great things in this world. But they’re gifts from God—and if they become your main joy, source of meaning, hope, security, and love, they’ll spoil, just like that manna in the wilderness. Anything that you elevate above Me”, God says, “will spoil.” Only Jesus is the true bread from heaven.
Jesus personally is the bread of life. Jesus did not say, “I have the bread of life,” he says, “I am the bread of life.” This is not open to subjective, individual interpretation; it is objectively true for all people. But Jesus also offers to be known subjectively by each of us. This is unique. Every other religious founder says, “This is the way to life.”—basically they are saying: “Salvation comes through works.” The only “work” we do is “believing in him” (v. 28-29). Jesus is the bread of life because he is God (“I am” cf. John 8:58 and Exodus 3:14). The Jews of Jesus’ day understood this, and therefore tried to kill him. Jesus rightly claims to be “the bread of life” because he’s the source of all life, and at the Last Supper Jesus broke bread and said, “This is my body broken for you.” Jesus is the source of zoe life.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
- Every day, draw upon Jesus as your life. Like manna, grace cannot be hoarded or stored up.
- In tough times, – in “the wilderness” – God has manna for you: His name is Jesus.
- Place your trust in Jesus alone for eternal life.
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)