Eating Christ, Part 2

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Read Part 1.

The Bread of Life

In the confrontation of John 6, the crowd attempted to manipulate Jesus into becoming the provider for their material needs. In return, Jesus encouraged them to attend to their spiritual needs, implying that He was the Messiah who could meet those needs. Faced with this claim, the crowd demanded a sign. Alluding to the nature of the sign that they wanted, they said, “Our fathers ate manna in the wilderness—he gave them bread out of heaven.” Jesus knew that they were looking for another free meal, so He replied that Moses didn’t give them the real bread. He could offer better bread, bread that comes down out of heaven, bread that gives life to the world. The crowd took the bait, exclaiming, “Evermore give us this bread!”

That was exactly the reaction that Jesus had anticipated, and His reply went straight to the heart of the matter. “I am the bread of life,” He declared. “The one who comes to me will never hunger, and the one who believes on me will never thirst.” That was certainly not the kind of bread for which the crowd was angling.

Jesus had already used the metaphor of eating. He acknowledged that there is a temporal food for the nourishment of the body, but He pointed out that food for the soul is more important. The spiritual food is received by believing on the one whom God sent. In Jesus’ metaphor, eating stands for believing. Bread stands for Him, and He is to be received or “eaten” by believing His claims and trusting Him.

When Jesus presented Himself as the “bread of life,” He was strengthening this analogy. His emphasis was clearly on inner reception of His person and claims: anyone who comes to Him will never hunger, and anyone who believes on Him will never thirst. In the metaphor, to eat is to believe.

Without waiting for a reply, Jesus leveled an accusation against the crowd. “You have seen me,” He said, “and you do not believe.” This flat charge of unbelief was justified by the crowd’s insistence upon a sign, when in fact Jesus had already given them as many signs as they needed. After all, the question was not whether they were willing for Him to be king. That’s just what they wanted! The question was what kind of a king He would be. They wanted a king who would care for the needs of their stomachs. He insisted upon being a king who would address the hunger of their souls, and He insisted that they must trust Him. That trust is precisely what they were not willing to grant.

Therefore, Jesus accused His hearers of unbelief. He followed that accusation with a description of their spiritual condition. “All that the Father gives me shall come to me,” He said. The implication was that, since they had not come, they were not given to Him by the Father.

If they had come (that is, if they had believed Jesus, i.e., eaten the bread of life), then He would never, ever cast them out. Indeed, His whole purpose was to do the will of the one who sent Him, namely, God the Father. What was the Father’s will? “That of all that he has given me, I should lose none of it, but should raise it up again in the last day.”

Viewed from the divine side, God gives certain people to Jesus. These all (without exception) come to Him in saving faith. When they come, He never casts them out and He never loses them. In the last day, He raises them up (a reference to ultimate blessedness).

Viewed from the human side, some people behold the Son and believe on Him. These people receive eternal life. Jesus promises that He Himself will raise them up in the last day (a reference to ultimate blessedness).

This part of the conversation contains fascinating hints that we can use to shape our ideas about the relationship between divine appointment and human responsibility. Within the text, however, one of the main foci is upon the necessity of faith. Whether viewed from the divine perspective or from the human perspective, faith is part of the picture. No one receives the benefits either of eternal life or of ultimate resurrection without coming to Jesus and believing on Him.

Jesus’ listeners had refused to believe. Metaphorically, they had refused to taste the bread of life, without which they had no hope of spiritual nourishment or eternal life. Since they had not come to Jesus or believed in Him, they had no reason to expect Him to raise them up in the last day.

Throughout this conversation, Jesus asserted claims that were quite astonishing. He presented Himself as the one who came down from heaven, as the Messiah, as the giver of life, and as the one who possessed authority to raise the dead. Since His audience did not believe Him, it is not surprising to find them grumbling about His claims.

(NB: there is a question as to whether at this point Jesus is still addressing the original crowd, or whether the focus shifts to the Jewish leadership in Capernaum. John’s text is not entirely clear. While I am taking the addressees as the original crowd, the other interpretation is possible. Neither understanding alters the point of the passage.)

A major key to this passage lies in the point of their grumbling. Their objection was not to Jesus’ metaphor of bread, which they apparently understood. Their objection was rather to His claim that He Himself was the bread, i.e., that He was the one who came down from heaven. They worded their objection with precision: “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, I came down from heaven?” To affirm Jesus’ heavenly origin took more credulity than the crowd was able or willing to muster.

Why was it so hard for these people to believe on Jesus? According to their statement, the problem lay in Jesus’ human relatedness. His human mother and (supposed) father were well known. This crowd knew where babies came from, and it wasn’t from heaven. From their point of view, Jesus was just another man—just an ordinary guy. Given their assumptions, Jesus’ claims were simply too extravagant to be considered.

Throughout the conversation, the crowd’s attitude toward Jesus was hardening. Initially, they wanted to make Him a king. Faced with His claims, however, they first attempted to manipulate Him and then blatantly rejected Him. This patent rejection set the stage for further assertions by Jesus. Those assertions, however, grow out of the preceding context. To understand the rest of the conversation, we must keep in mind several factors.

First, spiritual needs are at least as important as bodily needs. Just as bread meets the needs of the body, Jesus (the bread of life) is able to meet the needs of the soul. He is the means of life, and He is the one with authority to raise the dead.

Second, eating is a metaphor for believing. To eat Jesus as the bread of life is to acknowledge the truth of His claims and to trust Him. Only by trusting Jesus can one gain the benefits that He offers.

Third, Jesus’ spiritual claims seem extravagant when viewed through the humble origins of His humanity. His incarnation (i.e., His enfleshment) is the main obstacle to belief in His spiritual claims. He was a tangible, palpable man of flesh who was born in a manger. Who, then, would believe that He could be the one who came down from heaven? That problem is at the heart of this conversation.

The Miserable Estate of the World before the Incarnation of God

William Drummond (1585-1649)

The Griefe was common, common were the Cryes,
Teares, Sobbes, and Groanes of that afflicted Traine,
Which of Gods chosen did the Summe containe,
And Earth rebounded with them, pierc’d were Skies;
All good had left the World, each Vice did raigne.
In the most hideous shapes Hell could devise,
And all degrees and each Estate did staine,
Nor further had to goe, whom to surprise;
The World beneath the Prince of Darknesse lay,
In everie Phane who had himselfe install’d,
Was sacrifiz’d unto, by Prayers call’d,
Responses gave, which (Fooles) they did obey;
When (pittying Man), God of a Virgines wombe
Was borne, and those false Deities strooke dombe.

Kevin BauderThis essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
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