The Bread of Life

Gospel of John 6:25-71

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate all the loaves of bread you wanted. 27 Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you. For God the Father has put his seal of approval on him.” NET

Verses 25-59 make up Jesus’ claim to be the Bread of Life with an explanation of the importance of Bread. None of the Synoptics included this serious sermon. John opens with some of the crowd who ate with Jesus the day before, trying to smooth talk him into feeding them again. Jesus was not in the mood to be schmoozed. ‘You are not fooling me; you want another free lunch.’

But then he gets real. ‘Work for eternal food. The Son of Man can give that to you.’ Jesus said to work—ergazomai—for the food of eternal life. Now the people ask, ‘What ergazomai must we do?’ They may have thought, ‘He wants us to work for our bread; fine, do we grind the flour or what?’

Jesus was not talking about bread alone. Do not approach Jesus for material things; he is not a welfare agency. If you want a new car, don’t go to church expecting it as a gift; save your money and buy one.

We have some excellent seals of approval, USDA meats, FDA drugs, etc. None of them come close to the seal of approval issued by God.

28 So then they said to him, “What must we do to accomplish the deeds God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is the deed God requires—to believe in the one whom he sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what miraculous sign will you perform, so that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” NET

The word deeds here is a bit misleading. The people think there is a list of good things everyone must do to please God. They are so used to the Pharisees telling them all the things they are failing to do right that they believe God wants specific good actions.

Jesus, who knows what they are thinking, gives them an irritating but simple answer; believe. Have faith in a man who grew up in Nazareth? Many thought his mother slept with a man before she was married, and Jesus was the result. If he is a bastard, how can we have faith in him?

To ask, ‘what should we believe,’ is a direct and honest question, but one which exposes their ignorance and earthly desires. ‘Show us a miracle.’ Their response at least indicates they understand he is talking about himself as the one God sent, even if they did not believe it.

As to ‘show us a sigh,’ I know Jesus is the perfect Son of God, so perhaps he did not have the fleeting thought, ‘What about feeding thousands with five loaves and two fish?’ Most of us would have said it out loud, but not Jesus. He always told the truth. He would have been the Boy Scout that all the other boys hated. He did not believe in scoring points, putting others down, sticking the knife in, or building himself up. He only claims to be the Son of God because it is true.

The best they could come up with was the manna their ancestors ate more that two thousand years ago. Again, I might say, ‘what have you done since then.’ But not Jesus.

32 Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the solemn truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 So they said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” NET

Jesus takes away, and Jesus gives. Here, he takes credit away from Moses. He makes it clear that God alone provided the manna. Then Jesus gives them another truth; God is giving you a gift right now—the true Bread of Heaven. One who comes down from heaven. Jesus is claiming to be fulfilling the prophecy request of Isaiah in 64:1. If only you would tear apart the sky and come down! The mountains would tremble before you!

Once again, the people recognize that Jesus is talking about himself, so they ask for the bread he has to give. Jesus knows they are still thinking of a hot loaf of bread from the oven. But this is a critical teaching moment. He knows only a few will believe; it is for them that he continues. More importantly, the Twelve are taking notes, or would if they had iPads.

[If God had waited until our time to send His Son, everyone on the hillside would have had their cell phones out recording the multiplying of the food, and they would have sent the recording to all their friends. But would we have believed? So many of us are willing to believe lies even when we hear the truth.]

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still do not believe. 37 Everyone whom the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never send away. NET

The big moment is here. The first I Am statement by the Son of God. John sets the stage for this in chapter 4, where he has a similar conversation with the Samaritan woman at the water well. To her, he said, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.” John wants us to think of these two discourses as one, even to the extend of recording Jesus saying, never hungry, never thirsty.

William Barclay writes, There are other hungers which can be satisfied only by him. There is the hunger for truth—in him alone is the truth of God. There is the hunger for life—in him alone is life more abundant. There is the hunger for love—in him alone is the love that outlasts sin and death. Christ alone can satisfy the hunger of the human heart and soul.

Verse 37 disturbs many. God alone decides who will believe in Jesus. He does not tell us how He decides; what the rules are for us to play along. We cannot read just this verse and build our whole Christology on it. At the least, we must tie it with the next two verses. But we can look back in the Gospel to 3:27 and 3:34-36. The Baptizer says about Jesus, A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. He ends his comments with, For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal live, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. NIV

There are two truths found throughout the Bible: God is in absolute control; and humans have divinely granted free will. God will not look at any person and say, ‘You are going to Hell!’ But since God knows the end of history—the end of the universe—He knows what choices I make, so he knows where I will end up.

The Pilgrims in Massachusetts believed that God alone decided who was good and who was evil. They also were convinced they could not know if God had chosen a particular individual, so they taught everyone to do this, this, and this so that no one else could tell if you were going to Heaven or Hell. As we look around our sanctuaries, we might suspect some people, but we cannot know who is pretending. Only God knows, and sometimes the pretender knows.   

Judas is a special case. God gave him to Jesus, but Jesus could not keep him. Jesus knew Judas would be the one to betray him, but that did not stop Jesus from giving him every chance to remain a true disciple. And give Judas a little credit, he believed he was doing the right thing when he turned Jesus in. He believed Jesus would finally announce himself the Son of David and take up his rightful throne. Only later did he realize his mistake. I do not believe God made Judas to betray Jesus; He just knew he would, so told Jesus to pick him for the Inner Circle.

38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. 39 Now this is the will of the one who sent me—that I should not lose one person of every one he has given me, but raise them all up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father—for everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him to have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. NET

Jesus moves into eschatology. We need to understand that God had a master plan, like any sound engineer, before He began the long process of Creation. For God, time lays before him as a picture on a table. He can see both my birth and my death, yours as well. He and His Son chose a date and place—even the woman they would use—for the birth of the double Son—Man/God—on earth. While God’s Son was walking the world as a human, God the Father kept him informed as he needed to know. In this exchange, Jesus knows the intent of each person in the crowd.

I believe that Jesus had the same physical brain most of us have. His was no more capable of containing all that God knows than mine is. So, I believe Jesus received information on a need-to-know basis. But unlike us, Jesus always understood the messages perfectly and always followed God’s directions without fail.

One of the jobs God gave his Son was to, in the spiritual sense, collect the souls of the people God gave to him, keep them safe from the Evil One, take them away from death, and transport them into the New Jerusalem.

I will raise him up at the last day.

41 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began complaining about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” 42 and they said, “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus replied, “Do not complain about me to one another. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ NET 

Gnostics have never gone away. They have a long history of surviving next to the Church. In the days of John’s writing, some of the Gnostics considered Jesus to be only a man, not in any way related to God. Many Gnostics believed that God manipulated Jesus to make it appear that he was of God. Some argued that if Jesus was the Son of God, he could not die. God sent some look-alike to the cross in his place. Others even claimed that God was not the only god, that He was not even a powerful god. The actual creator of the universe gave him the minor chore of directing Jesus.

Today, some critics say that Jesus never existed; he was the invention of a few power-hungry men who thought of a way to get what they wanted in life. Others say he did exist but was delusional and convinced his followers that he came from God. One PhD on YouTube said the Bible, especially the New Testament, is ‘wildly fictional.’

And they will all be taught by God.’ This passage comes from Isaiah 54:13, but you might wonder if you look it up. Here is the NET. All your children will be followers of the Lord, and your children will enjoy great prosperity. It is easier if we read it from the Septuagint translation. And I will cause all thy sons to be taught of God, and thy children to be in great peaceBrenton

45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who hears and learns from the Father comes to me. 46 (Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God—he has seen the Father.) 47 I tell you the solemn truth, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” NET

The words of Isaiah are fulfilled some six centuries after Isaiah as Jesus teaches those who will believe that God is the only God and is in control. But we must do more than hear the Word; we must learn and believe. It always comes down to faith.

You might imagine why religious leaders became incensed when Jesus claimed to come from Heaven, to have seen God, and to be one with God. John makes that statement in his first verse of the Gospel. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully GodNET John does not want us to forget that Jesus was both human and God.

The only road to eternal life is to walk with Jesus. He alone can carry us from the grave to Heaven. He is the Bread of Life, able to feed us.

Here, for the first time, Jesus tells us that we must eat his flesh. That image did not seem to upset the leaders, but most of his followers could not accept cannibalism. Eating Jesus is a euphemism for listening and believing. It is spiritual eating.

John does not report very many miracles because they occur in this worldly existence, not in Heaven. Jesus came to this world as an ambassador from God. He wants us to accept his message that life comes from God and the only way to defeat death is to join the body of the only man who defeated death for real.

52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” NET

Jesus knew that his fellow Jews understood the manna to have come from God. Eating it gave them life. Jesus is now reminding his listeners of the manna but adding that he is the true manna. Most people who ate the manna died before reaching the Promised Land. If we eat the new manna, Jesus, we will die on earth but live in Heaven with God and His Son. Another crucial Jewish understanding regards the Passover Lamb. Eating it reminded Jews that chewing the flesh saved them from death.

All the flesh-eating talk comes from verse 35; Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty. John gives us the real reason Jesus was born; he will carry us believers out of the grave with him.

The whole image is easier to grasp once we give up seeing everything as past/present/future. If we see it only in those terms, what can it mean for us now and in the future? The man known as Jesus died nearly two thousand years ago on earth. By taking his life into mine, I can have the eternal the Son of God has. Death has lost its grip on us. Dying in this world means birth in the New World.

Ezekiel 2:7-3:3. You must speak my words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious. 8As for you, son of man, listen to what I am saying to you: Do not rebel like that rebellious house! Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” Then I looked and realized a hand was stretched out to me, and in it was a written scroll10 He unrolled it before me, and it had writing on the front and back; written on it were laments, mourning, and woe. 3 1 He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you see in front of you—eat this scroll—and then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he fed me the scroll. He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll I am giving to you.” So I ate it, and it was sweet like honey in my mouth.

Eating the Word of God should not have been such a problem for the Jews.

59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. 60 Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” 61 When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” NET

The Twelve have been with Jesus for a year now, but they do not understand eating the flesh and drinking the blood. They are right on one point, it is a ‘difficult saying!’ Understanding the saying requires the Ezekiel image. Eating the Word gives us life. Jesus adds for the disciples that taking in the words—with understanding—is eating his flesh. But he also needs us to recognize that his physical body brings it all together. Only by submitting to being murdered can the Son of God/Son of Man defeat death and carry us with him. We must take him into ourselves or die.

66 After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!” 70 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is the devil?” 71 (Now he said this about Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for Judas, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.)  NET

Many of his disciples, does not include the Twelve. We cannot know the actual numbers who left and who stayed.

As for the Twelve, Peter said it best. Lord, to whom would we go? The Twelve have faith if not knowledge. Peter continues by repeating the very message that had turned so many away. You have the words of eternal life.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

Lunch for Five Thousand

Gospel of John 6:1-24

1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias). A large crowd was following him because they were observing the miraculous signs he was performing on the sick. So Jesus went on up the mountainside and sat down there with his disciples. (Now the Jewish Feast of the Passover was near.) NET

The other side is the eastern shore. Jesus goes there a few times but only briefly because the population is mostly Gentile. The reason he goes is to perform signs. They remained on the northern shore but east of the Jordan on this occasion. The Northern Jordan River—emptying into the lake—served as the political boundary between Galilee ruled by Herod Antipas and the Tetrarchy governed by Herod Phillip.

You may remember that at the end of chapter 5, Jesus was in Jerusalem defending himself on charges of violating the Law of Moses. The next words have him on the north shore many miles north of the city. Further, Jesus was in the city for an unnamed feast. Now it is time for the second Passover during Jesus’ ministry. That earlier feast would have been in the summer or fall, long before the Passover in the spring.

We can only conclude that John skipped a great deal of the ministry, at least six months’ worth. But not to worry, John is not writing a diary or daily journal. He has critical events in mind to explain the Gospel for the new generation of Christians. Chronology is unimportant, though he does maintain it, with gaps.

We are not told how Jesus and the disciples traveled, but verse 16ff describes the disciples in a boat, so it seems safe to assume that they all sailed to Bethsaida Julias together. (Both Matthew and Mark say they sailed in a boat.) This Bethsaida is on the eastern side of where the Jordan River empties into the lake.

There has been confusion for several centuries about the location of Bethsaida. Many believed there were two cities of that name, both along the north shore of the lake. Recent archaeological work has disproved the notion; Bethsaida Julias is the only one. People seldom used the full name in ancient times.

Jesus walks up the mountain as Moses did centuries before, and he will feed people as God did with the manna.

Then Jesus, when he looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread so that these people may eat?” (Now Jesus said this to test him, for he knew what he was going to do.) Philip replied, “200 silver coins worth of bread would not be enough for them, for each one to get a little.” One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “Here is a boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many people?” NET

This feeding is the only miracle that all four Gospels record. Each includes different details, none of which conflict.

The Synoptics all say the Twelve asked Jesus to send the crowd away so they could buy their evening food. Only John has Jesus start the discussion of feeding them, and he names only Phillip, not the Twelve. If John overheard Jesus talking to Phillip, we could assume his account to be the most accurate. If Mark (followed by Matthew and Luke) received his report directly from Peter, his would seem the most accurate because they wrote three decades earlier than John. That all four accounts could be true is possible. Jesus may have asked Phillip before the others came to him. Pick your favorite option and stick to it.

John names three disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter, and Phillip, all of whom came from Bethsaida. That may explain why Andrew and Phillip have Gentile names since it was a Gentile region.

Phillip’s response to Jesus is to say it is impossible to buy enough food. Jesus knew that, of course, but Phillip needed to say it out loud to enhance the power of the sign.

In the last decade of the first century, many people were saying that the stories of miracles could not be true. These were people within the Christion movement. John knows the Synoptic accounts and agrees with them, but he includes small details to build the case for a miracle with no earthly explanation.

All four Gospels list five loaves of bread and two fish. John alone records Andrew finding a boy with the bread and fish, and he mentions that it was barley bread. Most people wanted wheat bread, softer with better flavor. The poor ate the barley because it was cheap. Also, the loaves would have been travel size; even the boy could hold one in one hand. Five of them would be well short of a pound in weight.

As to the fish, they would have been about the size of sardines and pickled. After pickling, ships carried the fish to Rome and other cities. The fish from Galilee was so prized that the wealthy would pay for the shipping. Probably, this boy’s mother pickled his fish. Maybe she bought them from one of the disciple’s fishing crews.

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” (Now there was a lot of grass in that place.) So the men sat down, about 5,000 in number. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed the bread to those who were seated. He then did the same with the fish, as much as they wanted. NET

While Jesus was teaching, he sat, and the listeners stood. Now he tells them to sit. [Matthew, ‘sit on the grass.’ Mark, ‘sit on the grass in companies.’ Luke, ‘sit in companies, about fifty each.’] All four Gospels report the same number of men. Matthew alone adds, besides women and children. People were gathering for the long walk to Jerusalem for Passover, so many women and children would have been there. Women were not required to attend any feasts, so those with babies or aging parents would stay home. But with all the children, the total fed could have reached ten thousand.

The traditional prayer would have been; Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Because Jews ate bread at both meals, that was often the only prayer given. The Pharisees, of course, said prayers for each item of the meal.

The Greek words used make it clear that everyone ate his/her fill.

12 When they were all satisfied, Jesus said to his disciples, “Gather up the broken pieces that are left over, so that nothing is wasted.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with broken pieces from the five barley loaves left over by the people who had eaten. NET

The broken pieces seem to have been the bread only. Gathering the bits and pieces was the norm, whether a feast, party, or a family meal. At a party, the servants ate the leftovers.

Here, there is a more important point to make. Later in chapter 6, Jesus will give his Bread of Life speech. How would it look if Jesus and the boys wasted all that Heavenly Bread in the green grass?

This sign was different from the Exodus manna. The Hebrews gathered the manna each morning, enough to fill every empty stomach. If anyone held some back for the next day, they found it full of worms and rot, except on the Sabbath.

This feeding of five thousand and collecting the pieces tells us that Jesus has instituted a whole new meaning to the Bread of God.

Every Jew who traveled carried three things, a water or wine skin, a bag for money, and a woven basket shaped like a jar to hold food. Each basket was made to order, so they came in all sizes.

Each disciple went round with his basket and came back full. God provided enough food for the crowd with enough left for the servants.

14 Now when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Then Jesus, because he knew they were going to come and seize him by force to make him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone. NET

By this time, Jesus had spent a year teaching and working signs, mainly in Galilee. People all over the country, even in neighboring countries, knew of him. But people followed him primarily for what they could get out of it, not because they believed in him as the Son of God.

The quote about the Prophet comes from Deuteronomy 18, 15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among you—from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him. NET This is the first of many Scripture references to the Promised Messiah.

While Jesus wanted people to recognize him as the Messiah, he knew that most of this crowd had the wrong idea about what the Messiah was to do. They wanted him to take the throne of David and drive out the hated Romans. Even his disciples struggled with that commonly held idea—right up to the resurrection.

16 Now when evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 got into a boat, and started to cross the lake to Capernaum. (It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.) 18 By now a strong wind was blowing and the sea was getting rough. 19 Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they caught sight of Jesus walking on the lake, approaching the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat came to the land where they had been heading. NET

Mark and Matthew also have this account following the feeding; Luke does not have it. Matthew includes Peter asking to walk on water. He sinks when he takes his eyes off Jesus. A nice reminder to us to keep our focus on Jesus.

Mark adds one phrase that confuses the destination. He records the boat heading for Bethsaida while John records Capernaum. There seems to be no solid explanation for this difference. It could be as simple as Jesus telling them to get the boat they left at Bethsaida and then head for Capernaum.

In any case, it proved to be not so simple. The lake is well known, even today, for sudden winds sweeping down from the mountains of Lebanon. One such wind caught the boys, so they could not gain an advance against it.

Jesus, led perhaps by the Spirit, found them and walked out to the boat. For him, that seemed effortless. For the Twelve, their imaginations created unpleasant creatures coming to get them. I am not sure how I would have responded to the words, It is I. Do not be afraid. I might have shouted, ‘Who are you?’

Notice that this miracle, this sign, was witnessed only by the Twelve. So, it was not an actual sign but a learning opportunity for Jesus’ disciples. Jesus would have said, ‘There was no miracle here. God controls the whole universe. A little water is no obstacle.’ Everything we call a miracle is ho-hum for the perfect human.

22 The next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the lake realized that only one small boat had been there, and that Jesus had not boarded it with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came to shore near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. NET

The mention of Tiberias puts another twist in the storyline. That city is on the southwestern shore of the lake, some eighteen miles away [today, twenty-five miles by car]. Why were boats going north when Passover was in Jerusalem? Word may have filtered down the lake that Jesus was near Bethsaida, so they tried to find him.

Notice that John says the boats came to Capernaum. He and the others would have watched them arrive and would have reported the fact to Jesus.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence