Our text is in the larger context of John 6:1-71. This chapter takes place at Passover (Spring of the year) as indicated
in John 6:4. The chapter includes the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walking on water, and the longer discourse (typical of John as opposed to the Synoptic Gospels) on the “bread of life.” The next chapter shifts to the time of Sukkoth (Festival of the Booths or Tabernacles) which took place in October. So John 6 is tucked into the time of Passover when God’s activity of redemption and liberation were celebrated in special depth. What more appropriate time to consider the bread of life?
John 6:25-34 is an introduction to the long discourse on the “bread of life.” Not surprisingly the two staples of life, bread and water, figure prominently throughout the Bible. Bread is associated with the gift of manna in the wilderness, the feeding of multitudes, Passover, the Festival of the Unleavened Bread, and of course the Lord’s Supper.
Bread, just as water, is understood not only as a staple food for our eating but also understood metaphorically. This passage focuses more on the metaphorical sense of bread. In fact in this introduction to the longer discourse bread is referred to
as the “true bread of heaven” and the “bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life.” Jesus in responding to his questioners accuses them of having come to the earlier feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-15) as having only come away with filling their stomachs and missed the point of the feeding. What was that point? How would you describe it?
Several observations may be helpful in understanding John 6:25-34 .
First, the exchange Jesus is having with his questioners (how many questions are asked?) makes clear that the bread needed
for life is something other than the bread we stick in our mouths. We need the bread from God. The questioners seem to think that they can “work”toward getting the bread that is needed. Jesus responds that this is God’s work not something they can work toward. They should have known since God provided the manna from heaven (Exodus 16:1-36). The context of this part of the story develops out of the distinction between “faith and works.” Is it possible to gain through our own work the bread of heaven being spoken about?
Second, the distinction between imperishable and perishable bread is also a distinction that the questioners should have
understood. What is added however is that this bread we all need will sustain “eternal life.” Jesus’ questioners even say they want this bread always (John 6:34) so they have some sense that this imperishable bread has enduring value. We may all recognize this need for some sustaining food but how can we balance this when we see so many in need of the food that we put in our mouths?
Finally, it is the line immediately following our passage that the questioners would have no doubt had some objection to what is indicated as coming from Jesus when he says, “I am the bread of life…” John 6:35. This statement is hinted at earlier in our passage, John 6:27. When we get to John 6:35 the equation is completed that the Son of Man is the bread of life.
Jesus specifically identified himself as the bread that gives life so that the questioners could get the point of what they needed to know.
This is likened to Jesus saying in John 11:25 , “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though
they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” As one writer says, “Under all of these metaphors of
bread, water, life, Jesus is symbolically referring to the same reality which, when once possessed, makes a man see natural hunger, thirst, and death as insignificant.” Our challenge presented in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not just to
feed our lives but how to claim the message of John’s gospel in the face of those who through no choice their own have no real bread and clean water for their bodies.