Shortly after Jesus’ miracle of feeding the five thousand, the people remind him of God’s provision of manna to their ancestors. The Father gave the earlier Israelites this bread of heaven to sustain them during their long walk in the wilderness (Exodus 16:15; John 6:31). In response, Jesus tells the crowd about the true bread of heaven that comes down and gives life to the world (John 6:33). The gathered people thus ask him to always feed them with this bread. To which Jesus says “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
But what does the Son of God really mean when he calls himself the bread of life?
First, some Biblical food context!
Back in New Testament times, physical bread was usually made with wheat or barley flour. It was the basic and essential food for most people of the region. Interestingly, bread was such a popular dietary staple that, in Hebrew, “to eat bread” is almost the same as saying “to have a meal”.
In short, eating bread was a key portion of most Israelites’ daily nourishments. Today, the food equivalent in parts of Asia would be rice or noodles, potatoes in the UK, meat in South Africa, and so on – each widely consumed by the respective people of the regions.
Thus, in Jesus’ time, it makes complete sense for him to use the popularity of bread as a starting metaphor; a relatable approach to help people start to think more deeply about heavenly things.
So what does Jesus mean when he refers to himself as the bread of life?
Of course, Jesus is clearly not calling himself a literal loaf of bread. That’d be strange! Rather, Jesus is simply using bread as an analogy to teach people about the only way to receive true spiritual renewal from God. In short, just as physical bread nourishes our bodies, Jesus – as the bread of life – will feed and sustain our spirits. Also, physical bread both perishes and only holds back our hunger for a short time. However, Jesus is the spiritual bread of heaven, given by the Father, that will last for eternity, giving us life forevermore.
Another key point when Jesus calls himself the bread of life.
First, notice that Jesus says: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35).
Our heavenly Father ultimately chooses who He wishes to enable to draw close to Him (John 6:44). To all whom God calls, Jesus freely gives himself as the spiritual staple of our lives. However, on our parts, we must also willingly open our hearts to go to the Son of God, seeking to be filled (Proverbs 23:26).
In short, Jesus – the bread of life – is God’s eternal gift to us; he is our salvation. But we too must decide to receive this spiritual food in sincere faith and humble repentance.
Moreover, we cannot ‘earn’ this spiritual bread from our own merit or ‘good deeds’ (Ephesians 2:8-9); it is only by our belief in Jesus as our Lord and Savior that we allow ourselves to be fed.
How does accepting Jesus (as the bread of life) relate to sin?
For starters, we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God (Roman 3:23). Thus, the rightful cost of our sins is spiritual death; our eternal separation from Him who is pure holiness (Romans 6:23).
However, by His infinite love and forgiveness, our Father gave us Jesus (John 3:16); His sinless Son who died for our sins. By doing this, Jesus paid our spiritual debts on our behalf. He washes away the transgressions of every repentant believer.
In this regard, by truly accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are saved from our sinful deaths as we choose to live on the real life-giving food of heaven that is him. By welcoming Jesus into our hearts, we are made new and nourished for eternity, for “whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:51).