This text is used for the Lectionary Year B on August 9, 2015.
(This is the first of three reflections on Jesus’ “I am the bread of life” statements in John 6, and all three really need to be read together.)
One of the first things to note about a text is the context in which it appears. This important text, recorded only in John, takes place on the day after the feeding of the 5,000 (the only miracle appearing in all four gospels; Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15), and after Jesus has crossed the Sea of Galilee during the night by walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-36; Mark 6:45-54; John 6:16-24). John’s account of these events includes significant parallels with Moses (being in the wilderness; miraculous manna in the wilderness; climbing the mountain to be with God; miraculous crossing of the sea). These parallels are prelude to the fact that a new covenant, superior to the covenant that came through Moses, is about to take place.
The interactions recorded in this text need to be understood against the Jewish expectation that when the Messiah came, he would renew the miracle of the manna. Sadly, instead of seeing the sign of manna in the bread the day before, the crowd had only seen the bread; and, like the woman at the well, who was eager to have water that would quench thirst forever (John 4:13-15), this crowd was eager to experience permanent physical relief through the supply of miraculous food.
Jesus points out that the manna in the wilderness didn’t come from Moses, but from God, and that this manna, while nourishing, did not prevent the normal course of life and death. More importantly, Jesus points out that the real “bread from heaven” is not manna, but the bread that “gives life to the world” (6:33); and He then declares, “I am the bread of life” (6:35).
This is the first of Jesus’ seven “I AM” statements, recorded only by John (6:35, 8:12, 10:7, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1), each of which was a clear claim to deity. Again harkening back to Moses, these statements were unmistakable references to God’s self-identification at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). The truth of the matter is that five loaves and two fish are not a meal that will last us very long, even if it is Jesus who has blessed them. We need food for the eternal part of us.
Jesus’ response makes clear that He does not simply offer the gift of God; He is that gift. In another sustained claim to deity, Jesus affirms, not once, not twice, but six times in this chapter that He himself has come down from heaven (vv. 33, 38, 41, 50, 51, 58). This raises the issue of “high” and “low” Christology.
“Low” Christology affirms that Jesus was fully human, and a very good human, at that, but denies that He was in fact, God. “High” Christology affirms that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, that He has existed from all eternity as a member of the Godhead, and that after His incarnation, He ascended back to heaven, where He reigns forevermore.
Jesus’ audience did not miss the significance of Jesus’ claims to deity, and they responded indignantly, “Who does he think he is?! We know his family! We’ve known him since he was born! Some of us changed his diapers. This boy has forgotten his raising. How can he now say he ‘came down from heaven?!?’” (6:42; Matthew 13:56; Mark 6:3). The Jews expected God’s Messiah to arrive either as a Davidic king on the Royal Highway or as a Son of Man on clouds of glory. A carpenter from a poor family who had been well-known since childhood simply would not do at all.
And this is, after all, where each of us must begin with Jesus. Our understanding of the Bible will be woefully inadequate and off-base unless our understanding begins and ends with who Jesus is. Once we have become persuaded, as Jesus’ disciples became persuaded—through personal, intimate experience with Him—that Jesus is Who He says He is, then, with the help of God’s Spirit, we begin to see how the pieces of God’s marvelous redemptive plan come together, both in time and in eternity (Ephesians 3:10-11).
Jesus affirms that “all those the Father gives me will come to me” (6:37), and that He will “lose none of all those he has given me but will raise them up at the last day” (6:39, 54). There are several significant theological points here. First, Jesus affirms that salvation originates with God, not with us. We respond to God’s prior invitation.
Second, Jesus affirms that the security, safety, and salvation of those persons who come to Him is not dependent on their own actions, but on His own faithfulness. This is a wonderful text from which to talk about the security of the believer.
Finally, in this statement Jesus also affirms that it will be He himself who will raise believers “at the last day.” “The last day” is a phrase that appears only in John, and it appears primarily in this chapter (6:39, 40, 44, 54, 11:24, 12:48). It might be interesting to compare John’s use of this phrase with “the last days,” a phrase that occurs eight times in Scripture (Isaiah 2:2; Hosea 3:5; Micah 4:1; Acts 2:17; 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3).
Our text ends with Jesus affirming that “whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (6:51). This is a difficult saying that becomes even more difficult, and we will examine this teaching in more depth next week. For the present, it is sufficient to note that while Jesus affirms that those who “eat His flesh” will live forever, He has also just affirmed that “the one who believes has eternal life” (6:47). This is a very strong signal that “believing” is what Jesus is talking about when He speaks of “eating His flesh.”
This passage provides opportunity to demonstrate the importance of context and of knowing the Hebrew Scriptures so as not to miss New Testament allusions to those Scriptures. It provides strong evidence of Jesus’ claims to be greater than Moses—indeed to be Very God of Very God. There is good material here for discussing the security of the believer, as well as suggestive words about “the last day.” There is also grist here for considering Jesus’ “in your face” style in many of His public statements and wondering why He might have chosen that approach.
Dr. David C. Stancil
Columbia Baptist Fellowship, Columbia, MD
Tags: Christology, eschatology, last day, manna, miracle, salvation, security