What is eaten but never totally consumed? How does eternal life transmit to us as we eat the bread of heaven? How does God want us to understand the bread from heaven?
Let’s examine what eating bread means and how Jesus is the bread of life.
We will read John 6:35, 41-51 and examine Jesus’ dialogue on bread.
John 6:35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
41 Then the people began to murmur in disagreement because he had said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his father and mother. How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” 43 But Jesus replied, “Stop complaining about what I said. 44 For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up. 45 As it is written in the Scriptures, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 (Not that anyone has ever seen the Father; only I, who was sent from God, have seen him.) 47 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. 48 Yes, I am the bread of life! 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” 1
What is Bread
Bread has been a staple, a main food in most societies. It is an everyday part of family meals. Though wheat is the most common bread in many parts of the world, it also comes in many other wonderful varieties. There are acorn, almond, amaranth, bean, barley, buckwheat, cassava, chestnut, chickpea, coconut, corn, emmer, fonio, hemp, kamut, mesquite, millet, oats, pea, potato, rice, rye, sorghum, soy, spelt, tapioca, teff, triticale and quinoa flours for bread. Why did Jesus use such a common daily substance to describe eating himself for eternal life? Could it be that we are to be reminded of Jesus in ordinary everyday events? Did Jesus say this is my body as a mere metaphor or is there a real mysterious presence of his body in the eucharist? One thing's for sure: we need the bread from heaven.
Why Come, Believe
Jesus invites us to come to him and believe in him. What does that mean? English is less precise than Greek so it difficult to translate some things. We do not commonly use phrases like “whoever is coming to me” or “whoever is believing in me” but that would be a more accurate translation. It means a present continuous action, not just a one-time event. That means that we “keep on coming” and “keep on believing” our whole lives long, not just when we were initiated into the Christian community. The promise that we would not hunger or thirst is future and not necessarily immediately fulfilled. Like Elizabethan English dialects, Koiné Greek used double negatives as a strong negation. It literally says they “never not shall hunger” and “never not shall thirst.” This is a strong emphasis of future guarantees.
Why Stop Complaining
They were murmuring, literally speaking in a low voice secretly as people do when they are discontented. Such complaining can easily blow up into an argument among themselves as it does after our current text. This reminds us of their ancestors who complained during the first Passover season and the Exodus. God provided them food in the wilderness too and the people complained about that bread from heaven. God barred the complainers from entry into the Promised Land. Some today will not listen to Jesus’ words and enter the eternal land of promise. What do we believe about Jesus? Was he just a man? Some today do not want to believe that Jesus came from heaven. Jesus was very clear, that the Father sent him (44), that he alone has seen God (46) and he came down from heaven (51).
How are We Drawn to Jesus by the Father
What does Jesus’ statement that no one can come to him unless the Father draws them mean? Jesus will draw everyone (John 12:32) to himself like fish caught in a net (John 21:6, 11). It is not an act of free will. The fish do nothing. We are incapable of coming to Jesus on our own. How does God net us? We are drawn miraculously by the Father’s teaching (45), using our minds. Why do some believe in Jesus and faithfully attend church and others not? Rather than ask such questions should we recognize that it is a miracle that some do believe and are faithful? Why are you a Christian? Do we recognize the miracle? Do we recognize God as having drawn us to Jesus? God has the wheel and the roadmap. Let’s sit back and relax.
Do we Eat Jesus in Personal Bible Study
In our spiritual studies do we partake of the bread of life, Jesus (John 6:35, 41-51)? The entire Bible is important to the Christian faith. The teachings of great leaders like Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Wesley are important. However, we can study these things at home, in seminary or Bible college and neglect the bread of life. In my Methodist tradition it is sometimes said that we need to get off Wesley’s horse and back onto the rock of Christ. Jesus explained clearly what the central teachings of the church ought to be in Matthew 28:20, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” As institutions and individual Christians study the holy scriptures, full study ought to include the whole Bible in historical context, but the bread of life is still Jesus.
Listen, Learn, Come, Believe, Live
Being drawn is not an act of free will, but responding is. Jesus encourages us to listen and learn from the Father. Then we are invited to believe and mysteriously eat the bread of heaven. Then we will live a life that never ends. Somehow the believer already has eternal life. The death of the body does not negate our life continuing in another spiritual manner or dimension. The manna in the wilderness did not prevent death, but eating the true bread from heaven guarantees that we will live forever. We can't look to the faith of our ancestors but the bread which we still eat today. What is that? Is it the bread of communion? Those who eat of that bread will live forever. God drew us to Jesus and he gives us eternal life now in Jesus’ flesh.
Come, believe, stop complaining, be taught by God, listen to the Father, come to Jesus, eat the true bread from heaven, and live forever.1 Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.