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The Bread of Life

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The “I AM” Statements of the Gospel of John

The “I AM” Statements of John’s Gospel
Twenty-three times in all we find our Lord’s meaningful “I AM” (ego eimi, Gk.) in the Greek text of this Gospel (4:26; 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:16; 15:1, 5; 18:5, 6, 8). In several of these He joins His “I AM” with seven tremendous metaphors which are expressive of his saving relationship toward the world.
“I AM the Bread of life” (6:35, 41, 48, 51).“I AM the Light of the world” (8:12).“I AM the Door of the sheep” (10:7, 9).“I AM the Good Shepherd” (10:11, 14).“I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (11:25).“I AM the Way, the Truth, the Life” (14:6).“I AM the true Vine” (15:1, 5).

The Bread of Life

John 6:22–51

John wrote his Gospel to persuade people to believe in Jesus (20:30–31). From the opening verses he declares that Jesus is God, stressing his unique relationship with God the Father. He focuses on seven of Jesus’ miracles, to demonstrate his divinity.[1]  In Exodus 3:14 the Greek Translation of the OT renders God’s personal name – in Hebrew YHWH  (Jehovah) - as Ἐγώ εἰμι (I AM WHO I AM). John uses the same phrase 23 times in his gospel and makes it clear each time that Jesus is claiming divinity. In seven of these passages, John joins this phrase to tremendous metaphors which are expressive of Jesus’ saving relationship toward the world.

The first of these is found in the 6th chapter of John. The occasion on which Jesus delivered it takes place the day after the Lord had performed two notable miracles – the Feeding of the 5,000  (John 6:1-15) and Walking on the Water (John 6:16-21). The feeding of the 5,000, by the way, is the only miracle that appears in all four of the gospels (Mark 6:31–44; Matt. 14:13–21; Luke 9:10–17).

This crowd follows Jesus across the Sea of Tiberius (read vv.22-25 ESV) to Capernaum seeking Jesus. Jesus, however, cuts directly to the heart of the matter when they question Him as to how and when He came to be in Capernaum.. His response to their questions speaks directly to their motivations for seeking Him.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you don’t look for Me because you saw some miracles, but because you filled your stomachs with bread. Don’t work for food that spoils, but for the lasting food that gives eternal life. The Son of Man can give you such food, because God the Father has placed His seal of approval on Him.”115 [2]

In the King James, this passage reads, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. 27 Labour nota for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.[3] (John 6:26-27)

Jesus’ response (6:26) to the people’s question (6:25) relates to their mistaken notion that Jesus came to meet all their physical needs. The problem Jesus sought to correct concerned the people’s inability to see that the signs he performed pointed not to material prosperity but to spiritual wholeness and eternal life.

Notice what question on the part of the multitude did our Lord’s words about laboring “for that meat which endureth, etc.” awaken? How did they evidently think the bread was to be obtained?

Matt. 19:16 – Story of the Rich Young Ruler

Luke 10:25 – Parable of the Good Samaritan

Acts 2:37 -  the Jews reaction to Peter’s sermon on Pentecost

Acts 16:30 – the Philipan jailer’s response to Paul & Silas

Jesus’ response to this question verse 29 is telling. “This is the work of God, qthat you believe in him whom he has sent.”  (Cf John 3:17) 17 For lGod did not send his Son into the world mto condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.[4]

The people wanted Jesus to do what Moses did—give them manna (6:30–31). This was a common mistake among Jews of the time. Jewish expositors had already often used manna as a symbol for spiritual food, God’s law, or Torah/Wisdom/Word. The dead would be raised to eternal life “on the last day,” the day of the Lord, when God would transform the world and inaugurate his eternal kingdom.[5]  But Jesus helped the people realize that the ultimate source of manna was not Moses, but the Father (6:32). Then he identified himself as the Father’s true bread (6:35). (For more on the manna in the wilderness, see Exodus 16:15 and Numbers 11:8.) Jesus contrasts Moses’ manna, which was life sustaining but not life giving. He is the true bread, which is life-giving and permanently satisfying. Note the phrase “raise them to eternal life at the last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). Throughout, the option of resurrection to eternal life or resurrection to eternal judgment lies behind Jesus’ words.[6]

6:35 Now Jesus stated the truth simply and clearly. He is the bread of life. Those who come to Him find enough in Him to satisfy their spiritual hunger forever. Those who believe on Him find their thirst forever quenched. Notice the words I am in this verse and recognize that the Lord was making a claim to equality with Jehovah. It would be folly for a sinful man to utter the words of verse 35. No mere man can satisfy his own hunger or thirst, much less satisfy the spiritual appetite of the whole world! [7]

6:37 This verse is very important because it states in a few words two of the most important teachings in the Bible. The first is that God has given certain ones to Christ and that all those whom He has given will be saved. The other is the teaching of man’s responsibility. In order to be saved, a man must come to the Lord Jesus and accept Him by faith. God does choose some people to be saved, but the Bible never teaches that He chooses some to be damned. If anyone is saved, it is because of the free grace of God. But if anyone perishes forever, it is his own fault. All men are condemned by their own sinfulness and wickedness. If all men went to hell, they would be receiving only what they deserve. In grace, God stoops down and saves individual people out of the great mass of humanity. Does He have the right to do this? He certainly does. God can do as He chooses, and no man can deny Him this right. We know that God will never do anything that is wrong or unjust.

But just as the Bible teaches that God has elected certain persons to salvation, it also teaches that man is responsible to accept the gospel. God makes a universal offer—that if a man will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, he will be saved. God does not save men against their will. A person must come to Him in repentance and faith. Then God will save him. No one who comes to God through Christ will be cast out. [8]

6:40 The Lord now went on to explain how a person became a member of the family of the redeemed. God’s will is that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life. To see the Son here means not to see Him with the physical eyes but rather with the eyes of faith. One must see or recognize that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Then, too, he must believe on Him. This means that by a definite act of faith, he must receive the Lord Jesus as his own personal Savior. All who do this receive everlasting life as a present possession and also receive the assurance that they will be raised at the last day. [9]

John 6:35-40 is one of the great passages of the Fourth Gospel, and indeed of the New Testament. In it there are two great lines of thought that we must try to analyze.

First, what did Jesus mean when he said: “I am the bread of life”? It is not enough to regard this as simply a beautiful and poetical phrase. Let us analyze it step by step.

(i)                  Bread sustains life. It is that without which life cannot go on.

(ii)                But what is life? Clearly by life is meant something far more than mere physical existence. What is this new spiritual meaning of life?

(iii)               Real life is the new relationship with God, that relationship of trust and obedience and love of which we have already thought.

(iv)              That relationship is made possible only by Jesus Christ. Apart from him no one can enter into it.

(v)                That is to say, without Jesus there may be existence, but not life.

(vi)              Therefore, if Jesus is the essential of life, he may be described as the bread of life. The hunger of the human situation is ended when we know Christ and through him know God. The restless soul is at rest; the hungry heart is satisfied.

Second, this passage opens out to us the stages of the Christian life.

(i)                  We see Jesus. We see him in the pages of the New Testament, in the teaching of the church, sometimes even face to face.

(ii)                Having seen him, we come to him. We regard him not as some distant hero and pattern, not as a figure in a book, but as someone accessible.

(iii)               We believe in him. That is to say, we accept him as the final authority on God, on man, on life. That means that our coming is not a matter of mere interest, nor a meeting on equal terms; it is essentially a submission.

(iv)              This process gives us life. That is to say, it puts us into a new and lovely relationship with God, wherein he becomes an intimate friend; we are now at home with the one whom we feared or never knew.

(v)                The possibility of this is free and universal. The invitation is to all men. The bread of life is ours for the taking.

(vi)              The only way to that new relationship is through Jesus. Without him it never would have been possible; and apart from him it is still impossible. No searching of the human mind or longing of the human heart can fully find God apart from Jesus.

(vii)             At the back of the whole process is God. It is those whom God has given him who come to Christ. God not only provides the goal; he moves in the human heart to awaken desire for him; and he works in the human heart to take away the rebellion and the pride which would hinder the great submission. We could never even have sought him unless he had already found us.

(viii)           There remains that stubborn something which enables us to refuse the offer of God. In the last analysis, the one thing which defeats God is the defiance of the human heart. Life is there for the taking—or the refusing.

When we take, two things happen.

First, into life enters new satisfaction. The hunger and the thirst are gone. The human heart finds what it was searching for and life ceases to be mere existence and becomes a thing at once of thrill and of peace.

Second, even beyond life we are safe. Even on the last day when all things end we are still secure. As a great commentator said: “Christ brings us to the haven beyond which there is no danger.”

The offer of Christ is life in time and life in eternity. That is the greatness and glory of which we cheat ourselves when we refuse his invitation.[10]

John 6:41-50 shows the reasons why the Jews rejected Jesus, and in rejecting him, rejected eternal life.

(i)                  They judged things by human values and by external standards.[11]

(ii)                The Jews argued with each other.

(iii)               The Jews listened, but they did not learn.

(iv)              The Jews resisted the drawing of God. Only those accept Jesus whom God draws to him.


[1]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

115 115. The “seal,” was a reference to the Voice from heaven at His baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (Mark 1:10-11).

[2]Cheney, J. M., Ellisen, S. A., & Cheney, J. M. (1999). Jesus Christ The Greatest Life : A Unique Blending of the Four Gospels. Rev. ed. of: The Greatest Story. 1994.; Includes indexes. (111). Eugene, Or.: Paradise Publishing Inc.

a Labour not: or, Work not

[3]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 (electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version.) (Jn 6:26-27). Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

q 1 John 3:23

l ch. 5:36, 38; 6:29, 57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3; 20:21; Rom. 8:3; 1 John 4:9, 10, 14

m ch. 5:45; 8:15; 12:47

[4]The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001 (Jn 3:17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

law *Law. “Torah” (the Hebrew word behind the Greek word translated “law”) means literally “instruction” and “teaching,” not just regulations. It was also used as a title for the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch, the books of Moses) and sometimes for the whole Old Testament. This commentary uses the translation “law” because it is familiar to readers of most translations, even though the English term’s semantic range is much narrower than the Jewish concept.

eternal life *Eternal life. In Jewish texts, the term literally means “the life of the world to come,” bestowed after the resurrection from the dead; taken from Daniel 12:2, it became a standard concept in most of early Judaism and was sometimes abbreviated “life.” Some New Testament passages speak of it as a present as well as future gift, because Jesus’ resurrection has inaugurated salvation for the present.

kingdom *Kingdom. This term means “rule,” “reign” or “authority” (not a king’s people or land, as connotations of the English term could imply). Jewish people recognized that God rules the universe now, but they prayed for the day when he would rule the world unchallenged by idolatry and disobedience. The coming of this future aspect of God’s reign was generally associated with the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead. Because Jesus came and will come again, Christians believe that the kingdom has been inaugurated but awaits consummation or completion. “Kingdom of heaven” is another way (Matthew’s usual way) of saying “kingdom of God.” “Heaven” was a standard Jewish way of saying “God” (as in Lk 15:21).

[5]Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Jn 6:35). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[6]Hughes, R. B., Laney, J. C., & Hughes, R. B. (2001). Tyndale concise Bible commentary. Rev. ed. of: New Bible companion. 1990.; Includes index. The Tyndale reference library (473). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

[7]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Jn 6:35). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Jn 6:37). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[9]MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Jn 6:40). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[10]The Gospel of John : Volume 1. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (216). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[11]The Gospel of John : Volume 1. 2000, c1975 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (218). Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

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