Losing My Literalism: I Am the Bread of Life

The book of John is highlighted by seven “I Am” statements. The first of these is today’s topic. To set the table, pun intended, the Jews were confronting Jesus, asking for a sign that He was speaking for God. Jesus responded that they merely wanted a meal, as the feeding of the five thousand had just recently occurred. Then He told them that the food He offered would not perish or spoil, but would endure to the end of the age.

John 6:31-34
Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’  Jesus then 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.”

If this sounds familiar, perhaps it is because the Samaritan woman at the well also asked for a never-ending supply of tangible sustenance, in her case water, in this case, food. These Jews were not the religious leaders. Rather, they were the victims of those leaders who placed a heavy burden upon any who would follow after them. And like their hated rivals, they had been taught to approach the scriptures extremely literal. So literal that Jesus used imagery to teach them and they had a difficult time keeping up. The first century Jews and Samaritans weren’t quite as different from each other as they each thought.

John 6:35
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."

Like He did with the Samaritan woman, Jesus pivoted and made Himself clear. He was the bread they needed. He was offering them permanent satisfaction, not from physical needs but from their desperate spiritual condition. He then spoke clearly and gave one of the most straightforward descriptions of sovereign election in the salvation of the elect. The people had no trouble with the things Jesus said that were easy to understand. They had trouble with Jesus comparing Himself to bread from Heaven. So naturally, He doubled down.

John 6:48-51
 I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The people wanted bread that would sustain them forever, which his a repudiation to the command to pray that God would provide our daily bread. Daily bread is a theme of blessing throughout the scriptures. A large amount of stores is referenced most notably in Egypt, one of the earliest enemies of the people of God. Once the people left Egypt, some 400 years later, it wasn’t long before God gave them their daily bread. This daily bread pointed ahead to Jesus, who is the fulfillment of the manna.

The people of before ate manna in the wilderness, but the ones that died did not die of starvation. God sustained them. The bread of life from Jesus is different. It is bread that will sustain us for eternity, and though our bodies will die, we will yet live forever, never to suffer the second death, for Jesus died that death on behalf of all who would ever be grafted to Him by faith. His own flesh would be the price paid for the salvation of many. And the overly literal crowd wasn’t making the connection here.

Again, Jesus doubled down and said that if anyone refused to eat His flesh and drink His blood they had no part in Him. The people began to disperse until Jesus was left with His disciples. Jesus wasn’t afraid of alienating His hearers with hard truths the way much of the church today is. Jesus didn’t come to bring everything into harmony, but to separate His people from the others. There is time to live in unity and there is time to recognize that unity is not only impossible, but destructive against those you love the most. The crowd left because of the hard sayings. Jesus offered the same exit strategy to His own disciples.

John 6:67-69
 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”  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.” 

Interestingly enough, cannibalism was one of the early accusations against Christianity. Eventually, the Roman Catholic church added a teaching of literalism, that the elements in Communion would physically become the body and blood of Jesus. The Lutherans took a step back and said that the presence of God is just underneath the elements. A majority of other Protestants will conclude that this is one teaching that was meant to be spiritualized, rather than taken woodenly literal.

I do believe there is grace conferred in the supper, but not saving faith and not a literal transfer of flesh and blood. It is the grace of looking back to remember what God has done for you. The Bread of Life was broken for you, and if you think exclusively to a literal definition of that, your sins can never be forgiven.

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Published by CoffeeSwirls