The four biblical Gospels are witnesses to the identity of the Lord Jesus. John’s Gospel uniquely records seven “I AM” statements that not only reveal the identity of the Lord Jesus but demonstrate that He is the source of life. Warren Wiersbe notes:
One of the key words in John’s gospel is life, used at least thirty-six times; and the seven I AM statements all relate to John’s theme of spiritual life in Christ.
- I am the bread of life, John 6:35, 48
- I am the light of life, John 8:12
- I am the door (to abundant life), John 10:7-10
- I am the good shepherd (who lays down His life that we might have life), John 10:11, 15, 17-18
- I am the resurrection and the life, John 11:25-26
- I am the way, the truth and the life, John 14:6
- I am the true vine (from whom we draw our life), John 15:1-5
In this article, we will look at the first of these “I am” statements, “I am the bread of life.”
John has recorded 8 miracles that he refers to as “signs” because they signify important information about the Lord Jesus. In John 6, we read about two of these signs: the feeding of 5,000 men (plus women and children), as well as the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. The first miracle was public, the second was private. The public miracle impressed the crowd so much that they wanted to force Jesus to be their king. The idea of a king who could miraculously supply their needs was very appealing to them, as it would be to us today. But Jesus knew that their motivation was not a spiritual desire, but a fleshly one, and said:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”John 6:26-27
While the miracles of Jesus demonstrate His power and compassion, we discover that this miracle (or sign), functions also as a parable. There is spiritual truth that Jesus intends them to understand, a truth that points to His identity. But we must understand that parables are a two-edged sword. At one level, parables reveal truth in a simple and memorable way; but at another level, for those who reject Christ’s words, parables conceal truth and make it incomprehensible. Matthew’s Gospel makes this principle clear:
And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?”Matthew 13:10-13
11 He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
The second miracle recorded in John 6, that of Jesus walking on the water, was a private miracle seen only by the disciples (but recorded for us to read and accept John’s witness). The crowds did not understand how Jesus crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but the disciples, fearing for their lives because of the terrible storm that suddenly swept over the Sea and threatened to swamp their boat, were amazed to see Jesus walking on the water. This was a powerful demonstration of the truth that Jesus has authority over the world that He had created (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:3). Power over the forces of nature belongs to God alone, so Mark’s Gospel tells us that the disciples when they saw Jesus walking on the water, they became even more afraid:
But when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”Mark 6:49-50, ESV
Together, these two miracles reveal the power and authority of Jesus as the rightful King of the earth He created, but also teach us that He is concerned not simply about meeting physical needs but about our greater spiritual needs. And the Lord Jesus came primarily to meet those spiritual needs.
On a number of occasions in John’s Gospel, we read of the Lord Jesus using familiar, physical properties to teach spiritual truths. For instance, when Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the necessity of new birth (John 3:3-4), Nicodemus is thinking of physical birth but Jesus is speaking of the gift of new life that is received through faith. On another occasion, Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and offers her living water (John 4:7-14). She is thinking of physical water and Jesus is speaking of inner, spiritual water that results in eternal life. And later, when Jesus speaks to those people who have enjoyed the benefits of His miracle and speaks of the bread that comes down from heaven (John 6:30-34), they are thinking only of physical bread and are reminded of the manna that God used to meet the physical needs of His people in the wilderness in the days of Moses.
So, the Lord makes a bold declaration:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”John 6:35
But when the Jews hear His claim that He came down from heaven, they are offended because they have known Jesus from childhood (John 6:41-42). They thought of Him simply as the carpenter from Nazareth and so they reject His claims of heavenly origin. But it is because of His heavenly origin that He can claim to have truly seen the Father:
Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. 47 Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”John 6:46-51
Once again, we are confronted by an outrageous claim by the Lord Jesus. Those who say that Jesus was simply a guru or a good teacher have never really thought seriously about the claims that Jesus makes. For any mere man to make the claims that Jesus makes would indeed be lunacy. One who claims to be the source of eternal life and offers people eternal life by eating His flesh, is no ordinary man.
Was Jesus speaking of cannibalism? Obviously not. As we have seen, Jesus constantly moves from familiar, physical things that His audience would understand to spiritual realities that He wanted to teach. Just as we shouldn’t take physically the words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about new birth and just as we shouldn’t take physically the words that Jesus spoke to the woman at the well about living water, so we shouldn’t understand that Jesus was calling us to physically eat His flesh. But He did intend us to take these words seriously and to believe and obey His words. These words point to the greater spiritual truth that we need to receive Christ by faith. Just as bread, one of the world’s most universal, staple foods sustains and satisfies our physical hunger, so the Lord Jesus, the true bread from heaven, is able to satisfy our spiritual hunger and provide us with everlasting life.
So how do we “eat Christ”? Notice the clear parallels in Jesus’s words in this chapter:
“Everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”John 6:40
“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”John 6:54
Both verses begin with a universal offer: “everyone who…” and “whoever”.
Both verses end with: “And I will raise him up at the last day.”
But the condition for receiving eternal life and being raised at the last day is expressed in different words with equivalent meaning: “eats My flesh and drinks My blood” is equated with “seeing the Son and believing in Him”.
We should also note that this is the only place in all of Scripture where eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ is said to be the basis of salvation or eternal life. Clearly Jesus is using a powerful, metaphor that is different but parallel to every other offer of eternal life that John records, whether that is the new birth (John 3:7), or drinking living water (John 4:13-14).
In closing, listen to these words of the Lord Jesus:
“Does this offend you? 62 What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.”John 6:61-64
 Wiersbe, Warren W.. Jesus in the Present Tense: The I AM Statements of Christ (p. 26). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.