I Am the Bread of Life

Ordinary 18B

John 6: 24 35


In John 6: 1 — 15 we reflected on the moving account of Jesus feeding the 5000 "men", a crowd in fact of eight to twenty thousand. The account capturers a glimpse of the Lord as he really is in eternity: always providing an abundance of food for everyone to eat. It was an amazing incident, the details of which are easy to pass over. Jesus did not perform a spectacular miracle, with everyone gasping as tons of food suddenly appeared. He simply kept breaking bread and sun-dried fish in an act of creation until there was not just enough, but a small amount over. He is God the Son, who continues to sustain us and care for us. A great Biblical scholar quotes St Augustine ( AD 354 — 430) on the importance of this miracle:

St. Augustine writes thus about the miracle of the loaves and fishes: "Jesus multiplied the bread in His Hands by virtue of the same power wherewith God multiplies a few grains of corn into a waving cornfield. The five loaves were like unto those grains of corn which, when sown, do not lie unfruitful in the ground, but to which increase is immediately given by Him who is the creator of the world." Thus the miraculous multiplication of the loaves showed forth the creative Omnipotence of our Lord, proving Him to be the Almighty God who every year multiplies the grains of corn which are sown in the earth.

(From "A Practical Commentary On the Bible by F. J. Knecht)

The full import of this great incident is underpinned by the fact that it shows Jesus as he always is, God the Son, supplying the very ordinary but necessary things for life at every moment of our lives. Thus the deeper meaning is far more than just a proof that he must be God to perform such a deed. This concept is essential if we are to understand what follows in chapter 6 of St John's Gospel.

Our text for reflection on this occasion moves our attention from the natural food to the supernatural.

Some Notes On the Text

In the Gospel according to St John, the feeding of the 5000 men is followed by the incident of Jesus walking on the lake. The following day, the people were looking out for Jesus.

Verses 24 and 25

Eventually the local people realised that our Lord was nowhere in the vicinity. Knowing his habits, a number climbed into boats and went across the Lake to Capernaum. When they found him, they asked, "Rabbi, when did you get here?" — implying possibly that he shouldn't disappear without trace! We might have expected them to ask Jesus how he got there when no one saw him take a boat ahead of them.

Verses 26 and 27

Jesus did not answer their question but rather the state of their heart, which is his custom. He began his response with the old "Verily, verily I say unto you" formula, which always introduced serious matter. His words went something like:

"You have been looking for me not because you saw anything spiritually significant in what I did, but because you had your bellies filled up!"

Reith adds,

"They sought Jesus, not because they saw something deeper in himself than the power of feeding them with loaves and fishes, signs of the power to feed the soul. The miracle was a miracle; they were quite content with it, and sought nothing higher, more abiding."

That was our Lord's last reference to the feeding of the 5000. He then began his lesson on spiritual significance, and so takes his listeners back to what would unlock the key to understanding. First he pointed his listeners to the need they had for food which would bring them to eternal life; and for the Son of Man who would bring that to them. Lindars considers that our Lord was drawing on a then current belief among Jews that the miracle of the manna would be repeated in the coming of age, and quotes

"Eccles. Rabba, 1: 9, 28"

"As the First Saviour (i.e. Moses) caused the manna to descend, as it is written 'Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you' (Exod 16: 4), so also the Last Saviour will cause the manna to descend, as it is written 'There shall be bread of wheat upon the earth' (Ps 72: 16)"

Our Lord then proclaimed that God the Father had placed his seal of approval on him, in fact, only on him.

Verses 28 and 29

The people then asked Jesus:

"What must we do to perform the works that God Commands?"

Jesus replied:

"The work that God would have you do is to believe in him whom God sent as his messenger."

The word chosen by Jesus, as recorded in the Greek, implies direction: giving oneself up to him. In this Gospel text, it is not just credence, but reliance upon Jesus as the Word of God (chapter 1). It is a conviction, full of joyful trust that Jesus is the Messiah, the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ.

Verses 30 and 31

It seems our Lord's listeners understood the point he was making that they were to surrender themselves to his guidance as completely as their fathers did to Moses. It also seems they were not going to be an easy catch. Quickly came their counter-demand:

"If you are claiming to be greater than Moses, then you must demonstrate it by performing some sign of power greater than the signs Moses did! If we have to labour for this spiritual food, you will have to work harder to show that it is you giving it! Are you going to rain down manna as Moses did for 40 years?"

Reith points out they were saying in effect:

"Continue to give us bread, as you did yesterday; follow up yesterday's miracle with another, and we shall believe in you as implicitly as our fathers did in Moses".

Verses 32 34

The time had now arrived for Jesus to be quite blunt with his stubborn listeners. Although his listeners had not really stated that it was Moses who supplied the manna, Jesus adopts a formal rabbinic method of dismissing the possibility so as to emphasise the true source, God the Father.

The effect of his words, might to us sound like:

"Get this very clear in your understanding: you have not even understood what Moses did let alone what I have done. It is not Moses who has given you bread from heaven. It is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven."

Our Lord used the present tense as a rabbinic device to place his listeners in the same stream of events as Moses' listeners. There is also a deliberate echo of the Our Father prayer he composed from Sacred Scripture for his disciples.

Stretching his listeners a little more he added, "The bread that God gives is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world; causes people to really live!"

Without hesitation the people reply: "Ah, Lord, give us that bread forever!"

Verse 35

Finally Jesus declares what he had been waiting to share with his listeners and it must have hit them like a rocket!

"I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst".

It doesn't come much plainer than that! His audience, if they had been a little slow catching on to where this dialogue was heading, now saw clearly what he was claiming. Sadly, they did not see it as a divine intimation: a sharing. They saw only an outrageous claim.

Reith comments:

These Galileans were coming to Him with their expectations, roused by His miracles and otherwise, that He would be the minister of some great and enduring good, like Moses of old time, perhaps the Messiah Himself. They were prepared to give Him their allegiance if He proved Himself invested with powers to bring heaven's mercies on them. And Jesus now tells them that He is Himself God's last and greatest blessing to them, the substance and the antitype of all the blessings that were temporary in their past; that not what He can give so much as what He is personally, they have to think of. Beyond Himself there is no good. To have Him is to have the eternal life of God. He satisfies the hunger and thirst of every one that comes to Him and believes in Him. The claim is great, but not greater than is proved in the experience of those who do come and believe in Christ, 7: 37. Only they must come to Him and believe in Him. To come to Christ and to believe on Him are the same act, 5: 40, etc. Faith is a coming to him, because it is the close personal dealing, the embrace of Christ in the arms of the soul, and after a return as if from the far country.


The words of Jesus we have been reflecting on are very familiar to all Christians, at least in that some of what he said is often quoted. Christians, however, are just as prone as our ancient Hebrew forebears, towards seeking proof of God's love in the spectacular, almost magical. It is such an easy trap to fall into. Much modern religion is all about "miracle sessions", yet it fails to provide any buttress against the atheistic materialism which has reduced the Christian Faith in the world today to a quaint shelter for the bewildered — those who have to have a "psychological prop" to cope with the stresses of modern life. An important part of correcting this situation is to meditate on these short passages and be open to understanding the fullness of the teaching they contain. We hope our notes have a positive role in helping to make this happen.

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