BREAD FROM HEAVEN: AN EXEGETICAL

LOOK AT JOHN 6:32-38

32     Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.

33     “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

34     Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

35     Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

36     “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.

37     “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

38     “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.

39     “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.

40     “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” [1]

 

Introduction

             After feeding the five thousand, Jesus entered a boat with His apostles. While on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus walks on water and is met by a throng of disciples on the other side on the next day. He begins the first of the seven “I AM” statements within the gospel of John. This particular “I AM” statement refers to the Bread of Life, both referring to Jesus’ real message and the manna that Yahweh sent down during the time of the exodus.

It is likely that even the apostles did not wholly get the meaning of the “I AM” statements during Jesus’ life. The statements refer to the time of the burning bush that showed Father God to Moses. God refers to Himself as “I AM WHO I AM.”[2] Jesus is equivocating Himself with Yahweh. While the Trinity remains a mystery to even the most devout, Jesus is telling us that He is Yahweh. While it is sometimes debated whether Jesus knew of His own divinity during His own life, if one believes in the words of the gospels then Jesus surely knew. This is evidenced in the “I AM” statements.

Jesus refers to doctrines that are principal to the church, such as Election, the symbolic “eating” of Jesus’ own flesh during Communion, and answers the question about whether He is a prophet or something else entirely in John 6:32-38.

 

Background

            The gospel author only refers to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”[3] He appears to know Jesus’ ministry and Jewish life very well. While the authorship of John has been challenged, many of these positions come from outside of the orthodox body of the church. In the second century, Irenaeus (who was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the Apostle) and Theophilus both referred to John as the author.[4] Tertullian cited from almost every chapter attributing to John as the author throughout his writings.[5] Another possibility is that John is not the person who put pen to paper, but he used another to write while he dictated. John is precise in naming other characters in the gospel but does not name himself.[6] This is likely because the audience was familiar and also expresses John’s earnest humility.

Dating has been a continuous debate between conservative and liberal scholars. Those who deny Johannine authorship would date the gospel into the second century A.D. due to a developed sense of Christian theology.[7] More conservative scholars would date for around A.D. 90. There are those in a camp that want to see the prophecies of the Bible true that would date the gospel before the fall of Second Temple Jerusalem.[8] This allows for a prophecy of the destruction of the Temple before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and a fulfillment of prophecy after the written gospel.

This writer would believe that the dating of the gospel fell shortly before John’s death. John is believed to have died in Emperor Trajan’s reign in A.D. 98.[9] This is the very same apostle that also wrote 1/2/3 John and Revelation in the opinion of this writer.

 

Exegesis

            Jesus has just walked on water after feeding the five thousand with minimal fish and bread. Now, He is replying to an idea that He is a prophet and that Moses is a greater prophet than Jesus is.[10] The seminal miracle of Moses is the Manna miracle in the opinion of the crowds. Jesus tells His disciples, which include the masses and His apostles in this case, that Moses’ position is that of a servant. Jesus’ position is that of a son, however.[11] Moses is only for Israel while Jesus is for the world.

Verse 32 may be an oblique reference to Deuteronomy 8:3, which states that “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.”[12] The Word of God, or the logos, is Jesus, Himself.[13] The manna supplied the hungers to scores of Israelites, but Jesus can supply life to all who come to Him. The manna may make one live a longer life, but Jesus can give one eternal life. Nothing in the wake of Adam’s sin can grant all their desires apart from God. There is no happiness apart from God.

The crowds in verse 34 want Jesus to supply an eternal source of bread, much as the woman at the well wanted an eternal source of water.[14] However, Jesus did not arrive to be a social leader but a spiritual one. While He healed certain persons in the Bible, freedom from suffering is only to be had in the Millennial Kingdom or the Eternal One.

Jesus gradually begins to unfold His meaning throughout the rest of the passage:

  • The True Bread from Heaven is me.
  • The True Bread from Heaven is my flesh.
  • Except one eats of myself/Bread/flesh, one cannot enter the Kingdom.[15]

Jesus may use bread because of the prevalence of bread as a food. Some cannot eat meat

or vegetables due to dietary restrictions but all will eat bread. Jesus is claiming to be the universal source of life. This “eating” is not a literal consumption. There is simply not enough flesh of Jesus for all people to literally eat. However, all will not choose to eat of Him (even spiritually) and Yahweh has chosen those people out ahead of time.[16] This is the doctrine of election that has caused so much division in the church. However, while Jesus is the Prince of Peace, He also came to bring a sword.[17]

Election is defined by Charles Ryrie as God’s free choice of individuals to salvation.[18] These are people chosen before the foundations of the earth[19] for God’s ultimate purpose. They are not chosen because of beauty, intellect, or ability. They are chosen because of their desire to work in God’s kingdom and God’s desire to use them for His purposes.[20] Jesus states in John 6:37 that only those God gives to Jesus will come to Him (Jesus). This is irresistible Grace in a nutshell.[21] God does not choose these people because of whim, but because of purpose.[22] This election alone does not result in the salvation of man, but results in their coming to faith.[23] Faith in Jesus Christ is what results in their salvation. Relationship in the true bread from heaven results in salvation, but Yahweh has chosen those individuals because of His purpose.

 

Application

            Movement towards and relationship with Jesus is the mark of the Christian. While there are many teachers calling others unbelievers these days, the true believer is one who has relationship. There are those who point at Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Pentecostals, Calvinists, and many other types of Christians and pseudo-Christians and say they aren’t believers and will spend their eternity outside of fellowship with their creator. Mormons are pointed at along with Jehovah’s Witnesses because they do not believe in the early Creeds of the church, such as the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Pentecostals are pointed at because they have dress standards that differ from the mainline body of the church, such as dresses and long hair for women. Calvinist’s are pointed at because they are seen as believing in God’s grace doing all the work in salvation. The true believer however has a relationship with Jesus Christ. Religion simply has little to do with it.

The question is how can a person know what that relationship with Jesus should look like? While one may claim to know Jesus, He may not claim to know that person.[24] To have a relationship, one should not only feel a relationship in their heart, but support others looking for a relationship in their environment. There cannot be only an intellectual seeking for Christ Jesus but also an emotional connection. This should be supplemented by brotherly love for fellow man showed in the real world.

While one finds salvation by grace through faith,[25] one should also seek to demonstrate that love towards others. The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven will not be the one served, but the servant. When Jesus came, He made Himself a servant. He washed the feet of His apostles. He fed the hungry. He worked as a carpenter for His father and not the other way around. Finally, He was nailed to a tree as a curse for all. The greatest in the Kingdom is serving the least in the Kingdom.

This is not a legalistic “works” issue. Jesus reduced the whole of the Mosaic Law to two rules. That is, Jesus lowered 613 Mosaic rules lowered to two Great Commandments. “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength…. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[26] Loving God is following the two laws because one loves God.

When one loves their parents, they obey not because of punishment but because it makes them happy. When one loves God, they seek to obey the Law and keep His way because it makes Him happy. Yahweh was addressed as Father by Jesus. In becoming Christ-like, one should seek to find Him as Father.

To partake of the bread of life is not to take Communion. Partaking of the bread of life is coming to life by the only method possible; through Christ Jesus. Looking into the heart of hearts that another possesses is not possible. Therefore, call no one a non-Christian, a sinner, or an unbeliever. This will paint oneself ignorant. Jesus’ relationship will point at one being outside of the Kingdom of Heaven.

While there are those who have errant beliefs, Christians are called to be witnesses, and if God wills it, martyrs. The Christian is not to be the judge for God. This would require an apostolic connection and too many are claiming this today. There are too many seeking titles of ministry without realizing that all within the church are to be ministers. Get rid of Apostle this and Father that. Realize that the Christian is to begin their ministry at home and move outwards. When the apostles were to teach, they were to teach in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and then move outwards to the rest of the earth.[27] The Christian is to do similar. They are to train and study for themselves, and then teach their families before they go into the public.

Conclusion

            John 6:32-38 is a special passage in the gospel of John. The seven “I AM” passages tell the reader that Jesus knew of His own deity. This goes against modern liberal scholarship that says that Jesus did not know of His own deity.

The flesh of Jesus seems to be synonymous with the bread of heaven. While only the bread of heaven can be seen as manna, Jesus’s flesh is not what is meant by this passage. This seems to rule out Consubstantiation and Transubstantiation. Jesus is implying an allegorical consumption of Himself.

While comparing verse 32 with Deuteronomy 8:3, one is led back to the comparing of Jesus as the Word of God. As Word of God, the minister of Christ is not correctly preaching Christ Jesus or God’s Word if he does not end in a call to relationship with Jesus. Many ministers (no matter their title) are preaching a feel-good gospel, a moral one, or a financial one. These are not forth-telling the Word of God. Jesus is the Word and He came to preach a message of Salvation.

There is, however, time to learn more about scripture than just the gospels. The strength of the Gospel is one can do like Stephen the Martyr and preach Jesus entirely from the Old Testament. The Old Testament contains more about Jesus than some are willing to cope with, beginning in Genesis 3 with the first prophecy of Him, given to the serpent.

In Exodus, the Hebrews were passed over by the Angel of Death. This was done by a slain, unblemished sheep whose blood was spread on the door of the Hebrew people. Their firstborn were saved through this action while all the Egyptian firstborn were slain.

Jesus is our Passover. He was sinless. This is likened to the unblemished aspect of the sheep. He was sacrificed. He died on a cross outside of the gates of Jerusalem. He forgives sin because He is the great “I AM” of John and Exodus.

He is the great judge. He will sit on the throne of David and fulfill the Davidic Covenant. This will be the end of all things. The world began in a garden and will end in another one. The Bible is a harmonious work done by the Master Creator. The work of Jesus will allow the rectification of all things and is the only way that any of us can have relationship with God.

The true mark of a Christian is not wearing Christian shirts, going to church, or reading the Bible. The true mark of a Christian is the knowledge of who Jesus is and Jesus knowing who that Christian is. This relationship will add meaning to the life of any who seek it. Any striving towards Jesus will remove the greatest fears.

The Christian will still have problems but they will be diminished. The Christian will still have enemies but they will become footstools. The Christian will have trials but they will have a Companion through those trials. Jesus is that Companion and there is no greater Companion to have.

Take refuge in Jesus and seek His face and the world will seem brighter not because the world has changed but because the one that has taken refuge in Jesus has become a new creation. That new creation is a rebirth. It is being born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3.Those who are born once die the second death. Those who are born twice only die once. This is the mystery of the Christian faith.

Jesus did not come to give us money, fame, or fortune in this world. He did not say we were not to seek the Kingdom of Heaven. He only said we were not to seek treasures in this world, but store treasures up for the next. Jesus did not say we would not have enemies, but that we should love them so that they would become footstools and that we would heap fire on their heads.

Jesus is the true salvation of man. He is the true bread from heaven. Jesus is the only manna that matters. Seek Him and regret will end, even if suffering continues. The only worthwhile thing is furthering that Kingdom. In this life we experience glimpses of God even if we don’t have a relationship. If we finish this life without relationship with the Word of God in Christ Jesus we will become the most miserable of creatures.  There will be no glimpses of God, no glimpses of happiness. There will be only sorrow and despair. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth in a place totally separated from the Lord.

The Lord is coming soon. Prepare yourself through learning about the Word. All of us will meet Him sooner or later. This will happen through death or doomsday. With death, it can happen as sudden as can be. With rapture, we have no warning besides birth pangs. Prepare yourself.

The Lord loves us. This love is one of the things that have persisted since before the fall of Adam. It’ll be here after the return of Jesus. Seek it. Return it. Study it. Maranatha!


[1] The Holy Bible, New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 6:32–40. All Scripture references taken from this translation unless otherwise stated.

[2] Exodus 3:14.

[3] John 13:23, 19:26, 21:7, 20, 24.

[4] Kenneth O. Gangel,  John, Holman New Testament Commentary. Vol.4, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 1.

[5] Ibid. (p.1)

[6] John MacArthur,. The MacArthur Bible Handbook. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003), 338.

[7] Gangel, p.1.

[8] Ibid., 1.

[9] Ibid., 2.

[10] J. C. Ryle, John 1:1-10:30, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels,Vol. 3, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2007), 363.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Merrill C. Tenney, John and Acts, The Expositors Bible Commentary with the New International Version. Vol. 9, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 75.

[13] John 1:1-3.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ryle, 365.

[16] Tenney, 75.

[17] Matthew 10:34.

[18] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth, (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 360.

[19] Ephesians 1:4.

[20] Ryrie, 361.

[21] The “I” of the often repeated “TULIP” of Calvinism.

[22] Ryrie, 363.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Matthew 25:1-12.

[25] Romans 6:14.

[26] Mark 12:30-31.

[27] Acts 1:8.

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