Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

“The Bread of Life”

Categories: Congregational Bible Reading


“I am the bread of life” (John 6.48)

Figuratively, Jesus was teaching his ability to sustain and satisfy. He uses the manna God sent to Israel as a parallel to his life and ministry (see Exodus 16). But then the metaphor got complicated. Jesus doesn’t just claim to have this food but to be the food (John 6.27, 35, 51). “Huh?” seems to be the collective response (John 6.52). But Jesus doesn’t stop there. “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6.53).

The imagery is disturbing even outside of a Jewish context where the Law condemns ingesting blood (Leviticus 17.10-12). The meaning of his comment is hard to understand, even offensive to his listeners, and many leave (John 6.60-61, 66). What is he talking about?

First, we must understand this is not about physical eating (John 6.49-50, 58). We learn this contrast from other verses: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4, cf. Deuteronomy 8.3). We don’t literally eat these words but can consume God’s word for our benefit. The crowds sought him out for another meal but Jesus makes it clear he wants them to learn a spiritual reality (John 6.63)

Second, Jesus is emphasizing the totality with which he must be accepted. In saying “my flesh” and “my blood” he is using a Hebrew idiom meaning “the whole person” (see Matthew 16.17; 1 Corinthians 15.50; Ephesians 6.12; Hebrews 2.14). His disciples were good with benevolent Jesus who kept them fed, but would they follow where the signs were pointing (John 6.26)?

Third, this section is about how to believe in Jesus, and is best clarified by these parallel statements:

  • “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life” (John 6.40)
  • “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6.54)

Eating = believing. Just like Israel had to gather the manna, so also belief is not a passive acceptance, but an active working to consume what God has given (John 6.29). The metaphor teaches us the element of participation as we accept, ingest, and are changed by what God has given us.

Ultimately, Jesus’ dramatic metaphor is about becoming like him. As they say, “You are what you eat.” When we put our faith in Jesus, we not only accept him as the Son of God, but also follow and obey (or “eat”) him who is the Bread of Life. This involves believing his words by loving him and keeping his commandments (John 14.15).

No doubt this teaching is hard to understand, but it forces us to accept or reject Jesus. The scriptures encourage us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34.8), and to delight in the Word who became flesh (John 1.14). Let’s not settle for temporary satisfaction when we can eat and be satisfied with the words of Jesus that produce life.

“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.” (John 6.68-69)