John 6:48-“48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
Once upon a time, Thom and I were very successful losing weight on a low carb diet. For about three months we were able to stick to our low carb plan and both dropped about 40lbs. Thom became the king of the lettuce wrap sandwich. He wrapped his meat and veggies in lettuce instead of bread. We lost weight, but we realized we could live like that long-term. It’s like we’re wired to need bread.
As World War II was drawing to a close, the Allied armies gathered up many hungry orphans. They were placed in camps where they were well-fed. Despite excellent care, they slept poorly. They seemed nervous and afraid. Finally, a psychologist came up with the solution. Each child was given a piece of bread to hold after he was put to bed. This particular piece of bread was just to be held—not eaten. The piece of bread produced wonderful results. The children went to bed knowing instinctively they would have food to eat the next day. That guarantee gave the children a restful and contented sleep.
It seems that regardless of the socio-economic group to which we belong, or how sophisticated we become, every one of us recognizes the significance of bread as a staple of our basic human existence.
Interesting then, that Jesus would call Himself the “Bread of Life.” Bread is consumed all over the world which makes it an object lesson that has universal appeal and understanding. What did His Jewish listeners think when they heard Him give himself that name? What would it mean to hear this Rabbi say He was the “Bread of Life?” I want to take us through some historical, cultural and theological thoughts which may help us answer that question.
In the Bible, bread is linked with the Word of God. Times of famine in the Old Testament were often preceded by a lack of passion or concern for the Word of God. Where God’s Word was cherished and obeyed, there was great provision.
Jesus said He is the “Bread of Life.” In John 1:1 we read that Jesus is the “Logos,” the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:14 “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory. . .” Jesus is the Living Word of God who came from Heaven and took on flesh. Jesus, the Word of God, is called Himself the “Bread of Life.” Let’s look at what kind of significance the Jewish listener could have attached to this claim.
The first kind of bread I want us to reflect on is the unleavened bread known to the Jewish people as Matzah. I’d like to call it “Passover Bread.”
Matzah foreshadowed much about the coming of Christ. Symbolically speaking, leaven or yeast is used to represent sin in the Scripture. Matzah was bread without yeast. You’ll remember that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God raised up Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity. Several plagues were sent by God to the Egyptians to convince the Pharaoh to let God’s people go. The last plague was the worst. The firstborn child and animal of every Egyptian household was killed as the death angel, sent from God, swept through the land.
The Israelites were told to slaughter a lamb and put some of its blood on the sides and top of their doorposts as a sign to the death angel to pass over their homes and spare all of the Israelites. The blood was the sign of safety. The blood was the sign of protection. The blood was the sign of exemption from the judgment of God. For years to come, the Passover feast was celebrated as a reminder of the night that they had been spared from destruction and had been delivered from captivity in Egypt.
Now part of this whole Exodus, one major piece of the story, in addition to the use of blood was the use of bread. Just as God gave specific directions about the use of blood, He also gave specific directions about the use of bread. The Israelites were to make bread without yeast. That is what they would take with them to eat as they left in the middle of the night from their Egyptian captors. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the sinless Son of God. He is the “Bread of Life,” without yeast, without sin. The Jewish listener would have done matzah preparation, and Jesus’ statement would have connected to their Passover experience.
In the traditional observance of the Passover, Jewish people begin by systematically cleaning their homes to remove any trace of bread, flour, cereal, crackers, or any grain product. This is where we get our modern tradition of “Spring Cleaning.”
The ritual cleansing of the household to purge it of all yeast is a foreshadowing of the idea of sanctification where by the Spirit’s power we are cleansed and set apart for service to Christ and are enabled to live a holy life. (See Exodus 12:15, Leviticus 10:12, Luke 12:1, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). Jesus, the sinless Son of God, the “Bread without Yeast,” was sacrificed so that we could receive forgiveness of our sins and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a sinless life.
For the Passover Seder in a Jewish home, three pieces of matzah, the ceremonial unleavened bread, are wrapped in a special covering or bag. During the Seder ceremony, the center matzah is removed and broken. The larger piece is wrapped up and hidden during the meal, or in some families, “stolen” by the children to be “ransomed back” later by the adults with some sort of small prize. This piece of matzah is called the “afikomen,” or in Aramaic, “what comes after,” or “the dessert.” Jews call the center matzah the “bread of affliction” because it symbolizes the suffering their forefathers endured in Egypt. Christians and Messianic Jews see the foreshadowing of Christ in the breaking of the bread of affliction. Jesus’ statement that He is the “Bread of Life” would have been preparation for the night He would tell His disciples, “This is my body, broken for you” during the Last Supper.
The rabbinical code has specifications for the appearance of matzah. It is to be unleavened, have stripes, and be pierced with holes. Matzah is the “humble bread,” the simplest sustenance that can be made out of flour and water, the bread of the poor. Like the humble matzah, Jesus was incarnated into the humblest of circumstances so that he could be accessible to every person (John 3:16, Philippians 2:6-8). He is the “Bread of Life” for everyone.
The unleavened matzah bread, symbolic of the sinless Christ, is pierced with many holes to prevent it from rising as it is baked on a hot griddle, as Christ was pierced for our transgressions. The griddle also creates a pattern of browned stripes on the surface of the matzah, as by the stripes placed on Jesus’ back we are healed (Isaiah 53:1-5).
-Bread that spoke of preparation to make an exodus out of bondage.
-Bread that was commanded to be made according to the will of God.
-Bread that was consumed after lamb’s blood had been shed during Passover.
-Bread without yeast representing Christ without sin who was pierced for our sin.
-Bread that had stripes to foreshadow the stripes on the back of Jesus, the Messiah as
he was whipped and beaten in our place.
And to those who gathered that day Jesus makes the claim that He is the “Bread of Life.”
Added to the Israelites’ understanding of “Passover” bread was yet another kind of bread. It was called “Presence Bread.” It was also called “Shewbread.” (Exodus 25:30)
When Moses set up the tabernacle according to the instructions given by God, one of the requirements was for 12 loaves of bread every week on the Sabbath to be brought to the tabernacle. The bread represented the presence of God. The number 12 represented the 12 tribes of Israel which meant that everyone in every tribe was represented before the Lord.
The loaves were placed on display on a special table in the Holy Place. Each loaf of bread weighed about 8 lbs. The requirement was that this “presence-bread” had to always be on display. It symbolized that there is always plenty in God’s house and in His divine presence there is no want.
The table with the bread was a picture of God’s willingness to fellowship with His people. It was like an invitation to share a meal, an extension of friendship. Eating together often is an act of fellowship. This bread showed God was willing for us to enter into His presence to fellowship with Him. This invitation was always open as the presence bread was always on display. When Jesus’ said, “I am the Bread of Life,” He was also alluding to the fellowship, the friendship God wanted to have with His people.
Jesus exemplified this intention when He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and the sinners of Jewish society. But this was more than just a gesture of friendship on earth. Jesus came to call sinners to Him and make them right with God so that they could enjoy everlasting fellowship with God. Just as the presence bread would never be out of the Holy Place, so we can have unbroken and ongoing fellowship with God through a relationship with Jesus, the “Bread of Life.” Hallelujah!
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry,” Jesus said. We never have to hunger because Jesus is always with us when we have put our trust in Him. “Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (John 6:49) Unbroken fellowship and eternal life come from Jesus, the “Bread of Life.”
Imagine the smell of all of that hot bread in the sanctuary on the Sabbath! Surely the whole tabernacle was filled with the smell of so much fresh bread. Do you smell the bread that is baking in our sanctuary this morning? Is anyone hungry? Just like the smell of fresh baked bread whets our physical appetite, being in the presence of God and hearing His word should whet our spiritual appetite.
There was an elaborate ritual to remove the stale loaves and replace them with the hot loaves on the Sabbath so that the bread was never out of God’s presence. You know a relationship with Jesus, the “Bread of Life” never grows stale. It’s always fresh and exciting. Didn’t Jesus say He was instituting a New Covenant? A new way of relating with God? He didn’t come to prop up that which was stale, but to bring us into a dynamic relationship with God through the Holy Spirit that would always be new.
Once the old loaves were removed from the Holy Place, they were given to the Levites, the priests to eat, through which God provided for the sustenance of His servants. Just as God sustained the Levites through the presence bread, He sustains us. I Peter 2:9 says we have become a kingdom of priests. God sustains us through Jesus Christ, His Son.
Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” and those who heard Him had the presence bread template in their memory. Here, standing before them, was the presence of God. He wasn’t the same old, same old Rabbi. There was something unique about Him. People who followed Him became hungrier and hungrier for spiritual truth. They were like sponges, soaking in His teaching and longing to be like Him. He inspired people to possess the desire to please God and to live a holy life. He was the “Bread” that was whetting their appetite for more. He was and is the “bread” that everyone could consume. He was the handshake of God with even the least of these.
The literal meaning of the Hebrew expression of the presence bread is “bread of the face.” Packed in Jesus’ statement about His identity is the reality that if you’ve seen Him, you’ve seen the face of God. (John 14:9)
What a life changing moment for those who heard Him call Himself the “Bread of Life!”
We’ve talked about “Passover Bread” and “Presence Bread.” A third kind of bread used by the Israelites in the Old Testament is what I’ll call “Provision Bread.” It’s known as Manna in the Bible. Check out Exodus 16.
When the Israelites had left Egyptian captivity and were wandering in the wilderness for 40 years as they were attempting to make it to the Promised Land, God miraculously provided bread for them. It would appear in the dew on the ground each morning. When the Israelites saw it, it was unusual. They didn’t know at first what it was. In fact, “manna,” literally means “What is this?” I get that question often when I prepare a meal for my family. The way I see it, if God expected the Israelites to eat mystery food, I think I can ask my family to do the same. J
Manna was small like frost, and was the size of coriander-seed. It had a sweetish taste like honey. It fell in great quantities, and was regarded by the Jews as proof of a continued miracle during forty years. God had led them out of slavery and had instituted Passover bread to remind them. He had used bread in the Tabernacle to keep them connected to His presence. We see with this use of bread, God was teaching His people that He was their supply, every day. And Jesus says in John 6, “I am the Bread of Life.” Hallelujah! Doesn’t God tell us, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus?” (Philippians 4:19)
Part of the instruction regarding this provision bread was that the Israelites could only collect enough manna for each person for that particular day. If they collected more than one day’s need, it would spoil and be full of maggots. The only time they were permitted to collect more than enough for one day was the day before the Sabbath. They were to collected two days’ amount so they could rest on the Sabbath. So in supplying the manna, God was teaching the Israelites to live by faith, to trust Him to meet their daily needs without trying to store up anything on their own. Jesus said in His “bread discourse” in John 6:29 “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Like receiving the manna in faith, people who would come to Jesus would also have to exercise faith.
Tied to this bread experience was mystery. The manna mysteriously appeared from heaven each morning. Jesus, is the “Bread of Life” which also came from heaven. John 6:33 “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The Israelites also understood the manna to be a miraculous bread. Every day for 40 days, God sent it to them from Heaven. Here in John 6 is Jesus, this miracle-working man, claiming to be the “Bread of Life.”
This manna was so sacred, so important, that Moses was commanded to put a jar of this manna in a pot and place it inside the Ark of the Covenant as a memorial. It was hidden and useless, except as a memorial of times past and as a type. Christ the True “Bread from Heaven” is also hidden. Christ is in you, the hope of glory! TEXT****However, this Word hid in you is not a “memorial.” Oh no, this is a living Bread, a living Word. He is not in us in order to be hidden, but He is in us in order that we can stay hidden in Him. We are hidden with Christ. (Colossians 3:3) We are hidden with Christ and we will share in His victory not just in eternity to come, but in every day of this abundant life that the “Bread of Life” will enable us to experience.
It’s true that manna means, “What is this?” But it is probably derived from a Hebrew word which means “an allotment” or a “gift.” God’s provision of bread for the Israelites was a gift. God’s provision of Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins is a gift. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not of yourself. It is the gift of God, not of works, so no one can brag about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9
When Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” He was telling His listeners, I am the one God has provided to give you the gift of eternal life.
Do you see how Jesus’ words would have meant something significant to the Jewish people who had some bread experiences under their belt? I know a lot about music. Had I been a part of the fictional town in which “Professor Harold Hill,” the “Music Man” would have made his claims I would have been able to expose him as a phony. He didn’t know any more about music than I know about WVU or Marshall football! J To those who know music, he was an obvious fake. To those who knew about bread, Jesus’ claim to be the “Bread of Life” should have connected with them in a powerful way. Knowing what they knew, how could they have done anything except rejoice and follow Him? Yet in John 6:52 and 6:60 we read that people started arguing and showing disbelief regarding Jesus’ claims, and in 6:66 we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
Why weren’t they willing to receive Jesus as their Passover Bread, their Presence Bread and their Provision Bread? John 6 gives us some possible answers:
They were focused on the wrong things.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
They weren’t looking for a Messiah to deliver them from their sin, but they were interested in following Jesus because he fed them. Forget the miracle that had just taken place early in John 6 with the feeding of the 5000. The fact that Jesus had done a miracle which had surpassed any other done before went completely over their heads. They just knew their bellies were full. They weren’t pursuing salvation from their sins. They weren’t focused on the spiritual, but the temporal, the earthly. They were focused on the “here and now.”
They were counting on good works to save them.
6:28-29 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
Salvation is a gift. We can’t earn it. We can’t be good enough, kind enough or give enough money to the church or others to impress God. We can’t attend church enough or avoid breaking the law enough to satisfy a holy God. Jesus explained that our work is simply to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and to trust Him for our salvation.
John 6:30ff “30 So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?
Seriously? He just fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish. Was that not a big enough miracle? People who see God at work in undeniable ways and still refuse to believe? I don’t understand them. What would have satisfied them? If feeding five thousand people with five biscuits and two fish sticks isn’t proof enough, what would be? How great would a miracle have to be in order for them to feel Jesus had adequately proved His Divinity?
They brought up the manna in the dessert that had come down from heaven and when they did, they evidently credited Moses with the manna miracle because in verse 32, Jesus basically says, (and I paraphrase) “Let’s clear this manna thing up. Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven, but it is my Father that pulled that one off and moreover, He gives the TRUE BREAD from heaven, and that would be Me. And by the way, this True Bread gives life to the world. But even though you have seen me and watched the miraculous things I’ve done, you’re asking for more proof. You still don’t believe.”
Several times in John 6 Jesus explained He was the “Bread from heaven.” He said that He was the “Bread of Life.” There was no other way to eternal life but through Him. He was and is, it. He is the exclusive door. There is no other way to salvation. That might not be politically correct, but it’s true. It’s not through works, but is based on simple faith in Him.
Verse 60 says, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” On the contrary, I don’t think it was hard at all. I think it was too simple. Simple faith in Christ is the way to salvation. Some couldn’t buy it. Many were looking for an earthly king to overthrow the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom. John 6:15 says so. Jesus made it clear elsewhere that His kingdom was “not of this world.” Several who listened to the “Bread of Life” walked away empty because the “Bread” hadn’t come in the package they had expected. And because Jesus didn’t meet their expectations, they thought He couldn’t possibly be Heaven sent.
But some stayed. In verse 67 Jesus asked the twelve disciples, 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the WORDS of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Do you see it? The connection between the Word of God and Bread. Peter answered on behalf of the disciples. They believed Jesus was the way to eternal life. Passover Bread. They believed Jesus was God. Presence Bread. They believed Jesus was the only one who had the Words of life and that He was sharing them with them. Provision Bread.
All three significant breads pictured in the “True Bread,” Jesus, the One who promises to satisfy every spiritual hunger. Have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good? (Psalm 34:8) Do you know salvation? Have you accepted His blood sacrifice and physical death on the cross as atonement for your sins? Have you experienced what it feels like to have Jesus walking with you through every moment of life? Are you trusting in Him to provide for everything you need? If not, Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life. Feed on me today.”