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Jesus is a brilliant teacher. He takes everyday objects and makes poignant and profound claims that get to the heart of the issue. This is the case when Jesus says that He is the bread of life. What does Jesus mean when He says that He is the bread of life? Jesus cannot mean that He is an actual bread because He has never been described in this manner in the entire Bible. Jesus has been described as both God (Jn. 1:1-5) and man (Phil. 2:6-11). Therefore, Jesus is obviously using a metaphor to describe a particular characteristic about Himself that can be derived from similarities drawn from bread.
John 20:31 states the purpose of John writing his book. He says, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The purpose of John provides some insight into Jesus’ meaning in John 6:35. John has accomplished this purpose by clearly articulating how Jesus’ miracles and actions clearly point to Him as the Lord and the promised Messiah. In John 6:1-15 Jesus feeds the 5000 and in John 6:16-24 Jesus walks on water. The common denominator in both incidents is that Jesus is a miracle worker and therefore His claims of being the Messiah are true. These miracles were clearly signs pointing to Jesus as the Messiah.
The teachings of Jesus in John 6:25-59 are so difficult to swallow, that several people who enjoyed the physical bread provided by Jesus could not digest His life-giving words. Therefore, John 6:60-71 records many so-called disciples or followers of Jesus who abandon Jesus because they did not like what Jesus said. The only people who remained after Jesus’ hard teaching were the twelve disciples. What is it that Jesus said that caused this kind of consternation?
Five observations can be made about this statement in John 6:35.
1. Jesus is indeed the Son of God.
The words “I am” are a translation of one Greek word. Typically, these words don’t have any significance beyond pointing to a subject. However, if these words are understood considering the entire corpus of John, these words significantly point out a particular quality about Jesus. The quality that John emphasizes here is that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.1
2. Jesus satisfies the human soul entirely.
This means that Jesus satisfies the body, spirit and soul. Jesus being “the bread” does not refer to physical bread, consequently physical satisfaction alone. This was the misunderstanding of the immediate hearers that led them to cry out “Sir, always give us this bread.” (Jn. 6:34). Jesus does not promise physical prosperity for His followers. He is interested in providing something much deeper than physical satisfaction. Jesus is interested in satisfying us deeply.
3. Jesus satisfies the human soul eternally.
“I am the bread of life”, furthermore, refers to the comprehensive satisfaction of the human soul. Physical bread has a shelf-life, that’s why we need at least three meals a day. Jesus provides bread for the soul that lasts for eternity. From a practical standpoint, that is the great tragedy of human pursuits today. We are constantly fed lies about how a house, a spouse, a car, an education, or a healthy community will satisfy like no other. However, Jesus is clearly teaching us that no physical or material object can ever replace the satisfaction provided by Jesus. That’s why Jesus says to the people present, “51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn. 6:51). It is only possible for human beings to be permanently satisfied through Jesus Christ the Lord.
4. Jesus satisfies the human soul exactly.
The precision of human-soul satisfaction is found in the object of the soul’s worship. Human beings were made to worship. The object of our worship determines the satisfaction of our soul. Jesus says, 53 “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This verse signifies what John has been trying to develop throughout his epistle, which is that Jesus is that precise person through whom God the Father’s wrath towards mankind would be appeased and hostile human beings would become reconciled to the Father. There is no other way except through Jesus to find complete satisfaction of the soul. However, the satisfaction of the human soul does not depend on the pursuit of satisfaction, but in the pursuit of Jesus. That’s why Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6).
5. Jesus satisfies the human soul exclusively.
To be satisfied in Jesus one should believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God and Savior. Jesus can claim that the disciple who comes to/believes in Him will no longer “go hungry” or “be thirsty”, for they have fully embraced Christ as the source and sustenance of life.2 Jesus further elaborates the exclusivity of those that will be satisfied by the bread of life in John 6:46-47, “ No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only He has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.” The Father draws people who will be satisfied by the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Jesus is worthy of our worship because He satisfies us through Himself entirely and eternally.
1 2 Edward W. Klink III, John, ed. Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 331.