Studies in the Gospel of John
“The Bread of Life”
Of all of His human characteristics, probably the one for which Jesus is best known is His teaching – He is still often quoted today (especially by people who think that that’s all He came to do.) And as we get into the middle section of the gospel of John we are going to go through some of the major teachings which He gave. And as we move from chapter sometimes that teaching doesn’t seem especially relevant to us today. So before we begin to look at the major discourse which we are going to see in chapter 6, I want us to go over some of the background of it and get it in its proper context.
First of all, chapter 6 follows the same pattern chapter 5 did – a miracle followed by teaching. That format underscores again the major purpose for Jesus’ miracles – to demonstrate who He was (so much so that John consistently refers to them as “signs.” In chapter 5 Jesus renewed a man’s life by healing him after 38 years of paralysis, then taught in great detail about how the Son has the same life giving power as the Father. Now in chapter 6 He nourishes people’s lives by creating food for them – then teaches about how He, in the same way nourishes and sustains our spiritual life.
Another thing to notice in chapter 6 is the more direct involvement with the disciples. The 5,000 were not fed until the disciples took the food from Jesus and gave it to the crowd. In the second miracle they couldn’t reach the shore until they took Him into the boat – then they were “immediately” at their destination. And obviously the lesson Jesus wanted them to learn was the necessity of “appropriating” Him and His power into their lives. And He had John record the details so that we, the 21st century disciples can learn that same lesson. If we don’t appropriate His principles and His power into our lives, we are simply “playing church.” Interestingly enough it is this very principle that will cause some of His followers to turn back from real discipleship at the end of this chapter.
There is one other thing to keep in mind here before we get into the text of the chapter, and that is the fact that this teaching was done at the time of the Passover Feast, according to verse 4. That particular feast commemorated the night of Israel’s deliverance from their slavery in Egypt. So in this discourse Jesus is going to show how that event also looked forward to Him as the Lamb of God.
As we look at the middle section of the chapter, remember the outline of the chapter: Verses 1 through 21 are a demonstration of power. Then in verses 22 through 58 we have a discourse about provision. And in verses 59 through 71 we have a division among Jesus’ people.
Now having looked at the first section in our last study, let’s look now at the discourse about provision that we find in verses 22 through 28. The first thing John records for us is the setting for the discourse in verses 22 through 34. First he describes the search that the people made for Jesus in verses 22 through 34
On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except the one the disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, they also got into boats and that His disciples had gone away alone; (23) however, other boats from Tiberius near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks (24) when the people therefor saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus (25)And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
These verses seem pretty complicated and even confusing to some extent, don’t they? Some Bible scholars believe that John actually wrote these verses in a “choppy” style to make the reader feel a sense of the confusion among the people. The mob scene in verse 15, where the people tried to “make” Jesus be their king was probably more tumultuous than we realize. In effect the disciples “escaped” in the only boat available when they left in verse 17. And verse 22 shows that the people clearly saw that Jesus was not with them. Probably many of them decided to settle down there for the night to see what Jesus would do in the morning. But verse 22 also says that the next morning the boat was gone and Jesus was gone too. About that time other boats came from Tiberius and apparently the people hired them to sail across to Capernaum, according to verses 23 and 24. Verse 59 is going to say that Jesus said the things in the next verses in the synagogue, so obviously that is where they found them. And when they found Him, boy was He in trouble! In effect they said in verse 25, “How in the world did you get here?” So, in answer to their belligerent question, Jesus gave the sermon that we find recorded in verses 22 through 34. Actually, it is more of a “conversation” than a sermon – it is built around the asking and answering of 3 more questions in verses 28 and 30 after the one in verse 25. And in answering those 3 questions Jesus is going to talk about: the aim of the true Christian in verses 26 and 27, the approach to take in working for God in verses 28 and 29, and the authority we have for our faith. In verses 30 through 33.
Notice then, what Jesus says about the aim of the Christian life in verses 26 and 27:
Jesus answered and said, “Most assuredly I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled (27)” 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.”
Verse 26 shows that Jesus knew their true motives for following Him – purely for material benefits. There was no hint of “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” as Matthew puts it in chapter 5 verse 6. They apparently thought that following Christ would make life easier and more exciting. But think about this for a minute: Why do we follow Him? To have a comfortable life? To have close friends and a good basis for social life in the church? To impress our Christian boss or spouse or some other important person? Or above all else, because we want to know Him and be like Him. Do we see His physical provisions for us as a means to that end, or as an end in themselves?
Following that examination of their conscience (and ours too, hopefully) Jesus gives them two exhortations in verse 27:
(27)” 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.”
First, notice the negative exhortation: “do not labor for food which perishes . . .” There is one characteristic that is true of all food: it perishes – gets rotten, spoils. Even when it is taken into the body and nourishes us, it produces waste. In fact, eventually even that body will die and become corrupt. So there is nothing permanent about food. So why do we invest so much of our lives in getting and enjoying food? And that same question could be asked about all material things. They have their legitimate purposes, but when we make them the focus of our lives; when we “labor” for them, we have a life that is totally temporary – and thus we have no lasting satisfaction.
Having given that negative exhortation in the first part of verse 27, he gives the positive side of it in the last part of the verse: but for the food which endures unto everlasting life.” This is the same kind of thing He said in Matthew 6:33: “seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness . . .” And He went on to say, “and all these things “will be added unto you.” God knows that we need material things – and He gives them to us. But what He is talking about in both of these passages is perspective – keeping the perishable and the eternal aspects of life in their proper places of importance.
Now Jesus’ talk about “the aim of the Christian” life in verses 26 and 27 leads to an explanation of the approach to take in working for God in verses 28 and 29. In verse 27 Jesus had talked about working for food that perishes or food that doesn’t perish. So that leads to the question of verse 28:
Then they said to Him, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” Notice that they ask about “works,” plural. This shows their legalism as they want a list of meritorious works. So Jesus answer is given in verse 29:
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him Whom He sent.”
Here is Jesus’ “approach” to working for God: And what He says is that there is only one “work” which God requires, and without which no works are acceptable. That “work” is to take His gift, to believe in His Son, and to seek Him. All of Paul’s epistles are based on this fact that appropriating God’s gift is the basis of all spiritual life and relationship with God. Examples of this are in Romans 3:20 through 26, and Ephesians 2:8 and 9 At the same time, James also reveals that this faith is far more than a mere intellectual assent, because “even the demons believe and tremble.” When there is a true heart belief it is manifests itself outwardly in the actions (or “works”) of life. And this is still God’s “approach” to living the Christian life today – to appropriate Christ as savior, then to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit for day to day, step by step Christian living.
In verse 29 Jesus is obviously speaking of Himself when He talked about “believing in whom He had sent,” So in verses 30 through 34 the crowd asks him for some authority for faith in Him.
Therefore, they said to Him, “What sign will you perform then, that we may see it and believe You? what work will you do? (31) “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (32) 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 (33) For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (34) Then they said to Him, “Lord, ever more give us this bread always.”
They probably thought of Moses because Jesus had just provided bread just like He had provided manna in the wilderness. And the sense of their statement is “It’s true that you have just fed more than 5,000 people, but you did it only once; Moses fed the people for forty years. If you are God’s unique prophet, can you do better than that? And people are still this way today. “if God would just give me a sign, I would believe.” And yet we have a Bible full of “signs” that God is who He says He is, and Christ is who He said He is.
So finally, Jesus answers their rebellious question in verses 32 and 33:
(32) 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 (33) For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (34) Then they said to Him, “Lord, ever more give us this bread always.”
In the first place, it was not Moses who gave them the bread in the wilderness (verse 32) And in the second place that bread was perishable – it was not truly bread from heaven in the sense of being eternal. But He says in verse 33, the real “bread from heaven” is I who have come down from heaven to you.”
That last statement really summarizes the whole reasoning of Jesus’ sermon up to this point. And that is that if people are not going to believe the record of the “signs” that Jesus gave in His miracles on earth, the only thing left for them to believe is the fact that He came down from heaven in the first place. Jesus made this same point in a different way in Matthew 12:38 through 40:
Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” (39) But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
By the time they asked this question the Jews had seen many “signs” already. So Jesus said, the ultimate sign will be the resurrection. And that is the ultimate proof of Jesus’ deity. And that, of course, is all that matters.
We need to remember, as we try to point others to Christ, that the miracles are important – they were done to show people who Christ was – but the real issue is always Christ Himself, not just something special that he might or might not have done for someone. Remember that the aim of the Christian life is to believe in Him and become more like Him. And the “approach” to that is to appropriate His power by faith day by day. And the authority that we have for believing that is the fact that He came down from heaven and showed Himself to us. And those three principles make everything else fall into place.