This post belongs to our study of the Gospel of John. Please see the side menu to review the previous posts. The text of John 6: 16-59 is reproduced below.
Gospel of John study #36
In the last post, we looked at John 6: 1-15. Jesus feeds a crowd by his bread miracle. On this basis, the crowds wish to make him King. They see him as the expected “prophet like Moses,” a figure in Judaism of the time who was regarded as God’s appointed servant, worthy to rule. Jesus refuses the role, just as he refuses the devil’s temptation of turning stones into bread. The devil understands that the one who possesses storehouses of food, in times of famine, can rule over and subjugate hungry hordes.
Yes, Jesus will multiply bread to feed people, in generosity and service, and to demonstrate the unlimited creative power of God. Yet, Jesus will not make use of his miraculous abilities, in deference to Satan, as a way to deprive people of their freedom by controlling their food supplies. As this next passage shows, Jesus offers the people the true “bread of heaven,” instead of perishable bread: the Life of God, which we may ingest as an eternally renewable source of eternal life, love and freedom.
We will return to consider this claim, again, in our next post. For now, I will break down this passage, analytically, in the hope of clarifying its meaning.
In this passage (6:16-59), Jesus demonstrates his God-bestowed miraculous abilities by walking in water (vv. 16-21). While his bread miracle recalls God’s provision of manna to the wilderness generation under Moses, so his walking on the sea recalls God’s parting of the seas, during the Exodus, so that Israel may cross out of Egypt, the place of bondage. Jesus demonstrates that he is not merely a new “prophet like Moses” but indeed one who can perform works directly sourced from God.
Jesus then gives a speech, explaining that the true gift he has to give is not merely food to eat (to sustain biological life) but instead eternal life. Furthermore, while the people under Moses ate manna in the desert (which is perishable) as a gift from God, the people now, in the presence of Jesus, may eat the bread of life itself, which has come down to heaven from God. It is Jesus himself who is this heavenly bread. It is his body that must be eaten.
This puzzling assertion, suggesting cannibalism, causes consternation and anger in some of Jesus’s audience. How can Jesus claim to be the bread of life, when he is a mere mortal, the son of their very own neighbors in their village?
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
We learn later in the Gospel (John 15) that to “abide” in Jesus means to abide in Love. Thus, by offering his own flesh, as heavenly bread, and his own blood, as heavenly drink, Jesus asks us to supply ourselves with a new spiritual foundation for our lives. Our lives, in communion with God, will be the life of God, which is Love.
The mission of Jesus Christ is to offer us this communion and union with God, which in turn gives freedom, and even an ability to perform miracles of our own.
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 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. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.