The Bread of Life
Tim Temple

Introduction

Of all of His human characteristics, probably the one for which Jesus is best known is His teaching. He is still very often quoted today, 2,000 years later. It seems like He is quoted especially by people who thought that that was all He came to do. He was a great teacher, and as we get into the middle section of the Gospel of John, we are going to see several different instances of some of the major teaching that He did. As we move from chapter to chapter, sometimes that teaching doesn't seem especially relevant to us today, so before we look at this major discourse that He is going to begin here in John, chapter 6, I want us to go over some of the background of it and get it in its proper perspective.

First, chapter 6 follows the same pattern of chapter 5; that is, it begins with a miracle, and it is followed by some detailed teaching. That format underscores again the major purpose for Jesus' miracles. They were always to demonstrate Who He was, so much so that John, in his Gospel, consistently refers to them as signs.

I have mentioned this so many times that it occurred to me this past week that people may think I am downplaying the importance of the miracles. There are people who do disagree and think that Jesus did come to heal the sick and feed the hungry. My contention, of course, is that feeding the hungry and healing the sick were just by-products of the miracles. The miracles were really done to prove Who Jesus was and to authenticate His message. In His grace, He chose to authenticate that message and His person by doing things that benefited people.

John shows us that in his Gospel by first showing us a miracle and then showing us how Jesus used that miracle. Remember, in chapter 5, Jesus gave a man's life back to him. This man, who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years was so hopeful of being healed that he had lived by the pool of Bethesda. He had hoped that he could get into the water and be healed by the troubled water that came ever so often. Jesus healed that man, and then there was a very negative reaction to that on the part of the Jewish leaders.

Jesus taught in great detail about how the Father and the Son have the same characteristics. They reciprocate in responsibility, authority and power. The Son has the same life-giving power as the Father. The teaching was illustrated by the miracle that they had just seen. He changed a man's life, and then He talked about spiritual life.

In chapter 6, we saw that He nourished people's lives by furnishing food for them. In that portion of the chapter, we saw the feeding of 5,000 plus, and now He teaches about how, in the same way that He fed those people physically, He also feeds us spiritually. The pattern of these two chapters is to do a miracle and then draw the spiritual application from the miracle.

Another thing that we notice in chapter 6 is the more direct involvement of the disciples. The 5,000 were not fed until the disciples participated. Before the miracle, Jesus had asked the disciples what they were going to do about this great crowd, as they had no food to give them. Then He demonstrated the answer for them, but He allowed them to be directly involved in the miracle. Remember that He broke off the pieces of bread and fish and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowd.

That illustrates the way God continues to work in our lives. God gives us His Word. We take in His Word, and ideally, the way God intended for it to work is for us to take His Word in so we can learn it and we can obey. Then we give to others from what He gave us.

There was the second miracle in the first part of chapter 6, which we talked about briefly at the conclusion of our last study, and that is Jesus' walking on the water. The disciples were involved in that miracle also in the sense that they could not reach the shore until they took Jesus into the boat. Once they had taken Him into the boat, they were immediately at their destination. I think the lesson that Jesus wanted them to learn was the necessity of appropriating Him and His power into their lives. They could never have fed those people by themselves, but they believed and appropriated the power of Jesus, and with Jesus' power and provision, they fed the people. Even though they were experienced seaman, they were in such a terrible storm that even they were afraid. They were rowing into the wind, but Jesus came. They appropriated Him; they brought Him into the situation, and He was able to solve the problem. He calmed the storm and took the ship directly to land.

This is the lesson that John wants us to see about the disciples. God had John record the details so we twentieth century disciples could learn those same lessons that those very first disciples did. If we don't appropriate His principles and His power into our lives, we're simply playing church as Christians. There are many Christians who have really trusted Christ as Savior, but in terms of day-to-day living, they are just playing church. They are not living on the instructions and the power that God gives.

It is this very principle that is going to cause some of His followers to turn back from following Him when we get to the end of the chapter. We are going to see some of this teaching that Jesus does in the middle of the chapter is just too much for them, and they turn back from following Him. We will see that they were never believers in Him in the first place. They were interested in Him. They were like a lot of religious people today. They wanted to learn more about His teachings, and they wanted to see more of what He could do, but they had not really appropriated Him into their lives like the disciples had appropriated Him into the boat and like, I trust, we have appropriated Him into our lives; but they turned back from following Him.

There is one other thing to keep in mind here before we get into the actual text in our study today, and that is the fact that this teaching was done at the time of the Passover. You notice, in verse 4 that Jesus went there because it was the time of the Passover. The Passover feast looked back on Israel's deliverance from their slavery in Egypt, so in this lesson, Jesus is going to show how that Passover event also looked forward to His sacrifice as the Lamb of God.

We are going to begin to look at the middle of the chapter, so I want to remind you of the overview of the chapter. In verses 1-21, we have a demonstration of power; in verses 22-58, we have the discourse about provision; in verses 59-71, we have a division among the followers of Jesus. In our last study, we looked at the demonstration of power. In this lesson, we want to begin looking at the discourse about provision that we find, beginning in verse 22.

The Search for Jesus

The first thing that John records for us is the setting for this teaching. First, he describes the search that the people made for Jesus. Notice verse 22:

John 6

22The day following, when the people which stood on the other side of the sea saw that there was none other boat there, save that one whereinto his disciples were entered, and that Jesus went not with his disciples into the boat, but that his disciples were gone away alone;
23(Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks:)
24When the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, neither his disciples, they also took shipping, and came to Capernaum, seeking for Jesus.
25And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?

These verses seem kind of complicated and even confusing to some extent as we read through them. Some Bible scholars believe that John actually wrote these verses in a very shocking style to make the readers feel the sense of confusion among the people. I am not that analytical from a literary standpoint, but that does make sense because these verses are not nearly as smooth as John usually writes. Remember, in verse 13, we saw that the people tried to make Jesus be their king after they saw Him literally produce food out of almost nothing. They decided this would be a good king to have, so they mobbed Him and were going to make Him be their king. As I mentioned in our last lesson, that has always been an amusing thing to me.

In effect, Jesus and the disciples escaped from that scene. This was one of those times that Jesus simply disappeared. It says that He went to the mountain to be alone, and I think that is a reference to the fact that He just miraculously moved to another place, and they didn't even see Him go. There are two or three instances in His life where He just disappeared from the crowd and showed up miles away. Of course, that would have been another miraculous thing.

The disciples got in the boat and left. Verse 22 tells us that people could see that Jesus was not with the disciples. They didn't see where He went, but they did see that He was not in the boat with the disciples. It is probably that a lot of those people just decided to settle down there for the night to see what Jesus would do in the morning, but verse 22 also says that the next morning the boat was gone, and Jesus was gone. Nothing had changed overnight. The disciples were gone; the boat was gone; Jesus was gone.

If we put these verses together carefully, verses 23-24 are telling us that about that time, when these people were trying to figure out where Jesus and the disciples had gone, some other boats came from Tiberias. The people hired these boats to sail across to Capernaum. Verse 59 says that Jesus gave this sermon in the synagogue. When these people, in verse 25, get across to Capernaum, it says that they found Him on the other side of the sea. They would have found Him in the synagogue because that is where verse 59 tells us He was doing all of that speaking.

Jesus Answers Questions With a Sermon

John writes this kind of choppy segment to show us the comings and goings, the confusion with people trying to find Jesus, not knowing where He went. When they found Him, in verse 25, boy, was He in trouble. Look at what they said:

John 6

25And when they had found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither?

In effect, they were saying, “How in the world did you do that? What are you doing clear over here across the sea? We were looking for you on the other side.”

I have a very good friend who has had tremendous problems in his life. He is a very knowledgeable believer, and in the past five years, he has just had one calamity after another. He has had family, physical and financial problems, and it has been a terrible situation. Not very long ago, I was talking with him about the Lord's return. He said, “I am ready for the Lord to come back. In fact, when the Lord does get here, I am going to say, ‘Where have you been? We have been waiting on you'.” I doubt if he will have the nerve to say that when the Lord does come, but it is interesting how free people are with telling the Lord about things. They were saying, “How did you get here?” The implication is that they were very upset with Him for going all the way to Capernaum and teaching in the synagogue without their being able to figure out where He was.

In answer to their belligerent questions, Jesus gives the sermon that we find recorded, in verses 22-34. Actually, it is more a conversation than it is a sermon. Bible scholars refer to this whole section as the Bread of Life Discourse . What we have, in verses 22-34, is an introduction to that, but it is a matter of Jesus' teaching them and their interrupting with questions every once in a while.

We have talked about the search they made for Jesus, and now we are going to look at the sermon that we find recorded there. It is built around the asking and answering of two more questions. They ask the first question in verse 5; in verse 28, they ask a second question. In verse 30, they ask a third question. In answering those three questions Jesus is going to cover three things.

First, in verses 26-27, He is going to talk about the aim, the motivation and the goal of the true Christian. Then, in verses 28-29, He is going to talk about the approach that we should take in serving the Lord. In verses 30-33, He is going to talk about the authority that we have for our faith. These three things Jesus is going to cover in a preamble to the actual discourse about the Bread of Life. Notice what Jesus says about the aim of the Christian life in verse 26:

The Aim of the Christian Life

John 6

26Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
27Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

Jesus knew what their motive was in following Him. He said, “You seek Me not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and the fishes.” In other words, they were following Jesus purely for material benefit. It wasn't that the purpose of the miracle had dawned on them and opened their eyes. It was because: “Maybe He will feed us again today. He was giving out free food last night; maybe He will do it again today.” Jesus saw right through that, and He said, “You have followed Me simply because I gave you food to eat.” There is no hint of the hunger and thirst after righteousness that Jesus talked about in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 6. These people apparently thought Jesus would make life easier for them and more exciting for them.

Think about this for a minute: Why do we follow the Lord Jesus? How long has it been since you thought that through? It is something that we need to think about from time to time. Being very honest with yourself, think about these questions that I want to ask. First, do we follow the Lord so we can have a more comfortable life? Do we follow the Lord so we can have close friends and a good basis for social life in church with fellow Christians? Do we follow the Lord because it will impress somebody?

You know there are men who go through the motions of following the Lord because they know that that keeps their wife happy. There are women who do the same thing. It is what their husbands want, and they go along with it. All of those things have a bearing on the Christian life. Certainly it is true that God meets our needs and makes our lives more comfortable. We have a life of peace, joy, and happiness if we follow the Lord, but is that the only reason to follow Him? It is true that you do have good friends and good fellowship. The church, for many people, provides the basis for their social life, but is that the reason you follow Jesus? It is true that we probably enjoy better fellowship with our spouse or a Christian boss, but again I ask, is that a good reason for following the Lord?

We follow Him because, above all else, we want to be like Jesus Christ. That is the real answer that we ought to be able to give. These other things are results of that. They are a means to an end, but the end that every believer ought to have is to become more and more like Jesus Christ. Romans, chapter 8, verses 28-29, tells us that God is working all things together for us to make us more like Jesus Christ. Do we see the physical provisions that He makes for us as an end in themselves or simply as a means to that end of enabling us to become more like Jesus Christ? All of that is wrapped up in the statement that Jesus makes to those disciples and that He wants us to think about as His disciples. Why are we following the Lord Jesus? These people were following Him for what they could get out of it. Why are you following Him? Certainly we get a lot out of it, but that should never be the reason that we follow Him. That should always be a gracious by-product of following Him.

A Negative Exhortation

Following that examination of their conscience, and hopefully ours, too, Jesus gives them two exhortations. Look at verse 27 again:

John 6

27Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.

First, notice the negative exhortation. He says, “Do not labor for food which perisheth.” There is one characteristic that is true of all food. We all have our favorite food, and we all have reasons we like this food or we don't like this food; but there is one thing that is true across the board of all food—sooner or later it gets rotten. It perishes. It takes longer for some food items than others, but eventually it all goes bad. It is not permanent. Even when we take it into the body at the proper time before it goes bad, part of it turns to waste, and we get rid of the waste. In fact, even the body which we take the food into eventually will die and decay and become corrupt, so there is nothing permanent about food. What is true of food is true of all material things.

There is nothing permanent about anything material. All of it is being used up and eventually will be wasted, so why do we invest so much of our time and effort and energy in getting and enjoying food and material things? That is a question that could be asked about all material things. They have their legitimate purposes, and we have to eat. God designed us that way, and if we are going to eat, we might as well enjoy it. We have the advantage in this country, and in most of the world today, of being able to have a pretty good choice of what we are going to eat. It is important to have food from that standpoint, but when we make food or any other material thing the focus of our lives, then we have a life built totally around those things.

Did you ever think about that? Our whole life is built around things that are eventually going to be nothing but waste, and we cannot have any lasting satisfaction. The satisfaction that food gives lasts about as long as it takes for it to work its way through our digestive system. The satisfaction that material things give lasts only about as long as the warranty. As soon as the warranty expires, objects begin to break down and the satisfaction is pretty much gone from those things. That is the way it is in the world today. When we devote our lives to material things, when we devote our lives to food, then we are devoting ourselves to something that is absolutely going to pass away.

That is what Jesus says in the first part of verse 27: “Do not labor for food which perishes.” That is a foolish thing to do. Certainly, work to make enough money to buy that food to continue to live. Work to make enough money to buy the furniture that you need. Material things have their place, but don't make that the object of your labor.

A Positive Exhortation

The first part of verse 27 is the negative exhortation, but the last part of the verse gives the positive side of it. Notice the last part of the verse:

John 6

27… but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life…

Jesus says, “If you are going to build your life around something, build it around the food that does endure.” He goes on to say where that food comes from. It comes from the Son of Man , which was the term John most often quoted Him in using for Himself. It is the same kind of thing that Jesus said back in Matthew, chapter 6, verse 33:

Matthew 6

33But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

In the verse just before that, Jesus said, “Your heavenly Father knows you have need of all these things.” He is saying the same thing in Matthew, chapter 6, as He is saying here in our passage in John: “Don't build your life around things. Your Father knows what things you need. Build your life around seeking God and His righteousness, and the Lord will take care of the things.”

That doesn't mean that if you seek the Lord and if you seek to make Him the center of your life, He will give you health and wealth, or you will become fabulously wealthy. The context of this verse is that God knows what we need, and if our purpose is to seek Him and His kingdom first, if our goal is to build our life around spiritual food, then God will see to it that we have the material things that we need. Those things will fall into place. God graciously gives us those things.

In Matthew, chapter 6, and in John, chapter 6, He is talking about perspective. He is talking about keeping the perishable and the eternal aspects of life in their proper places of importance. In that order of importance, spiritual things are always the pre-eminent things. To become more like Jesus Christ, to know Him better and to know His Word more fully is to be our primary goal in life. In other places in His Word, God says, “Be ye holy as I am holy,”

Laboring for Spiritual Things

Jesus has been talking about the aim of the Christian life. That is what we have been covering here. Our aim should be to become more and more holy, and so, in verses 28-29, He gives an explanation of the approach to take in working for spiritual things. He uses the term laboring in verse 27 in talking about laboring for food that perishes or doesn't perish. That leads to the question of verse 28:

John 6

28Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

That is a pretty good sounding question, isn't it? It sounds like they got the point, but notice very carefully one little word: “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God.” Notice the word works is plural. This shows that these people wanted a list of things that they could do—a legalistic list of things. Jesus has talked about laboring for things that are eternal, so they say, “Okay, give us a list of those things. We'll do it.”

Of course, that is the whole legalistic attitude. If we can just do this and do that, soon God will be obligated to bless us. Jesus gives His answer in verse 29:

John 6

29Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the [notice it is singular] work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

They said, “What works can we do to work the works of God?” Jesus said, “I'm not talking about works. This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Here is Jesus' approach to seeking and serving the Lord. He is saying that there is only one work that God requires and that is a work without which nothing else is acceptable in His sight. That work is to receive His gift—to believe Jesus Christ, to receive Him into our lives, to believe that He paid the penalty for our sins and made us acceptable to God. That is the work of God—to appropriate Him into our lives.

All of Paul's epistles are based upon this fact of appropriating God's gift into our lives, making God's gift our own. That is the basis of all spiritual life in relationship with God. Let's look at Romans, chapter 3, verses 20-26:

Romans 3

20Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
21But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;
22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:
23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
25Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Look at Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8-9:

Ephesians 2

8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
9Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Those verses talk about how by grace we are saved. It is not of ourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. That is the basis for anything else that we have. James picks up on that same theme. In James, chapter 2, verse 19, he says that this faith to receive Christ into our lives is more than a mere intellectual assent because, in this verse, he says that even the demons believe. We are not talking about believing that Jesus existed or even believing that Jesus is God, or even believing that Jesus died on the Cross. What Jesus is talking about, what Paul elaborates on, what Peter elaborates on, is to believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins, to take Him into my boat like the disciples took Him into their boat in the stormy sea, to personally put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ. That is the work of believing in Him whom God sent—not just intellectual acceptance of the fact that He was a great teacher or that He was the Savior, but acceptance of the fact that He is my Savior.

As I have mentioned to you before, I am troubled by the number of even well-known Bible teachers who talk about salvation in such general terms. They talk about receiving Christ into your life. They talk about believing in Jesus, and there are times when that fits the pattern of conversation, when that is an appropriate thing to say. But we always need to be careful, and if we possibly can, to elaborate on that to the point that it is not just believing in Jesus; but it is believing in Him as my personal Savior. That is where salvation comes, and that is what Jesus is talking about here.

Remember, Jesus is talking to people who have gone to great trouble to find Him and to listen to Him. These people were not like the critics in chapter 5. These were people who were at least curious about what He had to say. They weren't debating with Him. They were asking genuine questions. God's approach to living the Christian life today is the same as it was for those disciples in John, chapter 6. We are to appropriate Christ as Savior, and then appropriate His power that He puts into our lives through the Holy Spirit for day-to-day, step-by-step Christian living.

Jesus Asked to Give a Sign

In verse 29, Jesus was obviously talking about Himself when He talked about believing in Him Whom God hath sent, so in verses 30-34, the crowd asks Him for some authority for faith in Him. In so many words, they said, “If You say You are He Whom God has sent, give us some authority for that.” Look at verse 30:

John 6

30They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?
31[It would fit the text to say, for example] Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
32Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.
33For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
34Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.

They probably thought of Moses as an example of a sign, because Jesus had just provided food for more than 5,000 people, just as Moses, according to them, had provided manna in the wilderness. The sense of their statement is, “If it is true that you are God's Son, you only fed over 5,000 people one time. Moses fed all of these people every day for over forty years. If you are God's unique prophet, can you do better than Moses?” That is the idea, and you know people are still this way today. People hear about the power of God, particularly unbelievers who are facing a crisis, and they say, “If I could have a sign from God, if God would just give me a sign, I would believe.”

We have a whole Bible full of signs, and God makes it clear Who He is and what He has done and that Christ is Who He says He is, yet people want something more than He has already given. Here these people are. They have just witnessed the greatest miracles ever done, and they say, “What sign can You give us?” Jesus answers their rebellious question, in verse 32:

John 6

32Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven.

In the first place, He says, “It wasn't Moses who gave you the manna in the wilderness,” and in the second place, He reminds them, “My Father gives you true bread from heaven.” That manna was perishable. In fact, if they gathered up too much of it, it rotted right away. So, number one, it wasn't Moses who gave it to them; it was God Himself. Number two, it was perishable. It was not true bread from Heaven, in the sense of being eternal, but He said, in verse 33:

John 6

33For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.

Jesus says, “The real bread from Heaven is I Who has come down from Heaven to you.” That is the real bread of Heaven, and that last statement really summarizes the whole reasoning of Jesus' sermon up to this point. If people are not going to believe the record of the signs that Jesus gave and His miracles on earth as they are recorded in the Bible, then the only thing left for them to believe is the fact that He came down from Heaven in the first place. The greatest sign of all is that He is God from Heaven. That is the same point that Jesus made in Matthew, chapter 12, verse 38:

Matthew 12

38Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
39But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
40For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

By the time they asked this question, in Matthew, chapter 12, the Jews had seen many signs already. They had seen many miracles, so Jesus said, “I am not going to give you any other sign except the sign of the resurrection.” That is the ultimate proof of Jesus' deity. That is the thing that sets Jesus Christ apart from all the other religious gurus who have been on the scene all down through the years. Of course, to this very day, that is all that really matters. The fact that Jesus was and is God is all that really matters. That is the whole issue. Jesus says, “Don't wrap yourself up in trying to find satisfaction in life from material food or other material possessions; instead, wrap yourself up in knowing, as fully as you can, God Himself Who has come down to you.” The proof that He was God is His historically recorded resurrection from the dead.

Conclusion

We need to remember, as we try to point others to Christ, that the miracles are important. They were done to show people Who Christ was, but the real issue is not the miracles. We should be careful not to get ourselves wrapped up in a debate about this miracle or that miracle, because the real issue is always Christ Himself, not just something special that He might or might not have done for somebody, the fact that He didn't answer a prayer that somebody prayed one time, or the fact that they claimed a promise, and He hadn't kept it. There are lots of explanations if you could get into enough of the details to realize why God may or may not have done something that they think He did or didn't do. The real issue is Jesus Christ.

The real issue is that He took our sins on Himself, and we must always try to keep the focus on that. The aim of the Christian life is to believe in Him and to become more like Him. The approach to that is to appropriate His power by faith day by day. The authority that we have for believing that is the fact that He came down from Heaven and showed it to us Himself, and it was vindicated by His resurrection from the dead.

Those three principles, if we can understand them and if we can make them a part of our lives, will make everything else fall into proper perspective. I trust that you will meditate on those things.


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