61. He Is the Bread of Life

by May 20, 20242024

You are what you eat! The first time I heard that phrase it was used humorously to describe a fallacious correlation between one’s diet and his or her personality or character. As an example, if someone declared they ate some turkey, one might say, tongue-in-cheek, “you are what you eat”, an indirect way of telling that person they were ‘a turkey’. This, of course, was making a ridiculous connection between what a person ate and what kind of person they were. Although this particular connection can’t be taken seriously, there are connections between the things that we take in (food, ideas, beliefs, attitudes) and the very nature of our being. This is made quite clear in both Old and New Testament scriptures. Jesus Himself addresses it in a significant way when He declares Himself to be ‘The bread of life’. Within that same discourse, He goes on to make some very challenging and obscure statements that end up alienating many of the people who were following him.

Jesus is Bread?!

Why does Jesus use bread as a metaphor to describe Himself? Why bread? To answer that question, we must understand the significance of bread and how it is used in scripture. In biblical times, bread was such an important element of the diet that sometimes the word was synonymous with food in general (Genesis 3:19, Acts 2:46). Bread in the Bible symbolizes life, sustenance, sacrifice, and divine presence in God’s love for humankind (Ezekiel 5:16, Leviticus 21:8, 1 Samuel 21:6). Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, bread represents daily food, miraculous provision, and spiritual nourishment. From unleavened bread eaten during Passover and the Bread of God’s Presence (showbread) kept in the tabernacle, to Jesus Christ referring to Himself as the “bread of life”, bread holds a profound place in biblical narratives.

The significance of bread becomes vitally clear as Jesus addresses a large crowd of followers in chapter 6 of the gospel of John. Leading up to this exchange between Jesus and some of his disciples, Jesus has been traveling the countryside performing many miracles, including healing many sick people. As a result, large crowds followed Him wherever He went. After his last miracle (feeding 5,000 men with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish), He sensed that the people were ready to forcibly make Him a king. So, He withdrew to a solitary place, and later sailed to Capernaum. The next day, when the crowds could not find Jesus, they too got into boats and went to Capernaum to find Him. It is in this context that Jesus addresses the crowd.

As He began to teach them, Jesus speaks of Himself in terms of bread (or food) for life. Jesus knew that the reason they were following Him was not because they desired the God of the miracles they had seen, but because they filled their stomachs with the bread Jesus had fed them with. So, He says to them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27, ESV). Then He goes on to tell them that it is Himself that He will give them. He declares, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35, ESV). He compares the giving of manna to the Israelites in the wilderness to God now giving Him as the ‘bread from heaven’. He declares himself to be the bread of God who has come down from heaven to give life to the world (John 6:31-33). What He was telling them is that as God provided the sustenance for biological life to the Israelites, God is now giving them Jesus as their sustenance for the life that is most important – Eternal Life. The Israelites were completely dependent on God for their living existence, and now they would have to depend completely on Jesus for their eternal existence.

Salvation from Broken Bread

At this, the Jewish followers were quite offended. They thought, ‘we know who this guy is. He grew up in our midst. How can he say he has come down from heaven’ (John 6:41-42, ESV)? And if that statement from Jesus wasn’t offensive enough, He makes an even more provocative declaration: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:48-51, ESV).

Understandably, this caused quite a reaction from his followers, as they questioned, incredulously, the idea of Jesus giving them his flesh to eat! So, does Jesus attempt to explain it again in more subtle, benign terms? Not at all! In response Jesus lays it all out there: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (John 6:53-59, ESV).

That’s the last straw. They can’t take it anymore! What this man is saying is lunacy! So, after this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. As Jesus saw them leaving, he turned and said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”(John 6:67, ESV) To this, one of the twelve, Simon Peter, replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”.

Lunatic or Lord?

What would you have said in reply to Jesus’ question? In this interchange between Jesus and the crowd of followers, Jesus was not intentionally trying to scare them off. But He was trying to get them to recognize the difference between being a casual follower and being a true disciple. What Jesus was saying to them, He is still saying to us.

Do we really want to know God deeply, or are we content to simply include Him in our lives when we feel like it? Are we looking to Jesus to be our daily bread? Do we want to feed on Him or are we choosing other ‘bread’ on which to feed? These are the questions that matter for eternal life. In the ‘Kingdom of God’ parable of the treasure hidden in a field, the one who found the treasure was so excited about it that he sold everything he had to buy the field, so that he could have the treasure it contained. Where is your treasure? When we buy the field (feed on the true bread), we get the treasure within it! It really does matter what we eat. If we eat of the true bread, we get the kind of life that will never die, that is, the life that God always intended for us to have. Perhaps, at least in this instance, we truly are what we eat! As Jesus is the living bread which comes down from heaven, seeking earnestly for him, making him our delight, will result in our becoming more like Him.