Why is Jesus called the Bread of Life?
“Get me in as fast as you can,” demanded the frantic woman at the blood lab, “I am fasting, and I don’t want to sit around here all day and starve to death.”
As I watched the receptionist it seemed she was using all her will power to keep from rolling her eyes at the woman. Maybe I imagined it. Sometimes when I am hungry, I think I have super powers and can read people’s thoughts and intentions.
Meanwhile, the receptionist actually responded by saying, “Of course, ma’am, we will be with you as soon as we can.”
As this whole scene played out before me, I remembered that almost ever person who visited the lab at this time of the morning had missed breakfast. But, the moaning woman pouting in her chair was clueless. She complained to anyone who would listen, completely unaware of how pervasive the hunger was in the room. Ravenous myself, I felt justified in judging her while I waited for them to draw my blood.
How do you behave when you are hungry? How does skipping a meal affect your temper?
For most of us, any amount of hunger is a mood-altering event. It is easy to be testy when feeling the growling of our stomachs and the light-headedness of low blood sugar.
The real question is how do we feel when we are spiritually hungry? Are we even aware that our spiritual lives might be running on empty?
How would you even begin to satisfy a deep spiritual hunger, a hunger the Bible teaches we were all created with. Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life. Jesus first identifies himself with this portrait, which is foreshadowed in the Old Testament, when a hungry crowd pursued him the day after he fed the five thousand in John 6:1-14. What was Jesus emphasizing with this word picture when he said, “I am the Bread of Life”?
The Bread of Life portrait unfolds against a mighty miracle. The feigned devotion of the crowd at the feeding never deceived or enchanted Jesus. The day of the miracle, Jesus knew their hearts and that they wanted to make him king by force. But, Jesus outwitted their plan by going to the mountain alone; and then after dark, he crosses the lake and joins the twelve by walking on the water (John 6:15-21).
The next morning when the crowd realized that Jesus had escaped, they began their search for him seeking another free meal. When they finally caught up to him, Jesus confronts them with these compelling words in John 6:26-40.
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’”. Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” ESV
In the next verses the crowd begins to grumble. But, Jesus does not back down; instead, he exposes their pretentious devotion with this teaching in John 6:53-58.
So Jesus said to them, “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 as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” ESV
When the people first heard this message they probably thought Jesus was teaching cannibalism. Especially, since this teaching occurred long before the Last Supper. The scriptures say this lesson offended them and that day many ceased to follow Jesus. Even the twelve were confused by this episode (John 6:61-71).
Have we taken offense at something God has said that we don’t understand?
Jesus was offering himself to them as the sustaining “Bread of Life”, but they just wanted him to give them a free breakfast. The people struggled to grasp Jesus’ spiritual metaphor because they wanted Jesus for what he could give them, and not for who he really was.
What does it mean for us to feed on Jesus like bread?
The “Bread of Life” metaphor refers to believing in Jesus and believing Jesus. So, feeding on Jesus would mean accepting Jesus as the Holy One sent from God, and trusting what Jesus said. While accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior promises us eternal life (John 6:40) we must exercise our faith and choose to believe his words daily (John 6:68). Jesus said in John 13:13.
“You call me Teacher and Lord and you are right for so I am.” ESV
We must take Jesus’ teachings to heart, accepting them and let them permeate our lives just like our physical bodies would absorb food. If we don’t we are not feeding on Jesus.
Sometimes, if we are honest we might struggle to admit spiritual hunger is a problem. Most people we know are good at masking or ignoring their spiritual needs, so we can almost believe there is no growling hunger. Without accepting the reality of a ravenous spiritual appetite, though, we won’t attempt to feed ourselves or anyone else.
The Old Testament story referenced in John, chapter 6 is found in Exodus 16. The “manna” given to the Israelites foreshadows Jesus’ portrait as the Bread of Life.
When the Jews were wandering in the desert, the Father would give manna every morning of the week, except one. Every Friday morning a miracle would occur; God would provide extra manna, so the Israelites did not need to collect it on the Sabbath. This Old Testament story of manna from heaven exposes a spiritual necessity; we need daily doses of spiritual bread to thrive.
When we feed daily on Jesus, we fuel spiritual growth and strengthen our lives. Unfortunately, we can’t store spiritual food like a bear puts on fat for the winter, because it will always be impossible for us to enter a state of spiritual hibernation. Look at what happened when the Israelites tried to hoard the manna in Exodus 16:19-20.
“And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.’ But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them.” ESV
As an athlete guards her diet to maintain her peak performance, our spirits need the daily nourishment of Jesus.
Why might someone ignore his or her spiritual appetite?
What counterfeit sources of food might a person pursue to satisfy a genuine spiritual hunger?
True strength is safely sustained only in Jesus. It is vitally important we see the exclusive claim Jesus is making about himself with this statement, “I am the Bread of Life.”
Peter put it this way in John 6:68-69.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” ESV