Body as Bread
After the feeding of the 5,000 men, a crowd followed Jesus across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. There, they attempted to manipulate Him into providing more free meals. Jesus, however, was looking beyond their physical needs. He began to challenge their spiritual needs, presenting Himself as the Messiah who could satisfy the hunger in their souls.
The conversation revolved around three questions from the crowd. The first question was, “What sign do you give?” This demand was tantamount to a rejection of Jesus’ messianic claims. It turned into a crass attempt to manipulate Him into serving the felt needs of the crowd. Jesus refused to offer another sign, however. Instead, He rebuked the crowd for their unbelief. He insisted that He had come down from heaven, and that He Himself held authority to raise the dead in the last day.
This claim led to the crowd’s second question: “How can He say that He came down from heaven?” The question underscores the unbelief of the crowd. Evidently the people understood what Jesus was claiming, but they could not accept His heavenly origin.
Jesus did not answer the question directly. Rather, He pointed out that no one had the ability to come to Him unless they were drawn by the Father. Those who did come, Jesus promised to raise up in the last day. Clarifying what it meant to be drawn by the Father, Jesus stated that absolutely everyone who heard and learned from the Father would come to Him. To be drawn by the Father is to hear and learn from the Father. No one comes until drawn in this way, but everyone who is drawn in this way does come.
What does it mean to come to Christ? Jesus equated this coming with believing: “I tell you the absolute truth: the one who believes has eternal life.” To come to Jesus and to believe on Him are the very same act.
Coming and believing are also equivalent to “eating the bread.” At this point, Jesus returned to the analogy with which He had begun the conversation. Material bread could serve the needs of the body, but the hunger of the soul required spiritual bread. Jesus insisted that He Himself was the bread that would nourish the soul. Anyone who ate this bread (i.e., believed on Jesus or came to Him) would never die, but would live forever.
So far, this was only what the crowd had already heard. Now, however, Jesus introduced a new element. He stated, “The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
This answer had to be difficult for the crowd. The reason that they had trouble believing Him in the first place was because of His flesh, i.e., His material body. As a man of flesh He had identifiable parents and an identifiable origin, or so the crowd thought. His “enfleshment” (His incarnation) was the problem. But now Jesus was insisting that the giving of His flesh was essential for the life of the world. If the crowd was mystified before, this claim must have seemed impenetrable.
The fact is, however, that only an incarnate Jesus could save sinners. For sins to be forgiven, God’s justice had to be propitiated. Propitiation required a vicarious sacrifice. A vicarious sacrifice required a body (specifically, a human body). Therefore, when Messiah came into the world, He said, “You [God] did not desire sacrifice and offerings, but you have prepared a body for me” (Heb. 10:5). Only through the offering of the body of Jesus have we been made holy once for all (Heb. 10:10).
A purely spiritual Jesus would never have been able to suffer and to die in our place. A purely spiritual Lord could never have offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins. A purely spiritual Christ could never have become our savior. In order to redeem us, the Lord Jesus Christ had to offer His body—His flesh—on the cross of Calvary.
To believe on Jesus means to believe on Him as the God-man, the theanthropic person. When we come to Jesus, we believe on Him as one who was born with a mortal body and who actually died in our place. He is the bread of life, not merely because He is the eternal second person of the Godhead, but also because He is the human Jesus who could suffer mortal injury. If we are going to receive Him (i.e., to “eat the bread”), we must believe on the body of His humiliation as well as the divine nature of His glory. The humiliation and mortality of His body are precisely the means through which He accomplished our redemption. His flesh is the bread that we must believe in if we are to receive the eternal life that He purchased through His sufferings.
Jesus’ flesh is our bread. His flesh suffered and was crucified. His flesh died and was raised up again. We receive His flesh and make it our bread, not by physically masticating some material substance, but by believing on Him in the totality of His person and work. The bread of life is received and becomes the life of the soul through faith in Jesus.
New Every Morning is the Love
John Keble (1792-1866)
New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.
New mercies, each returning day,
hover around us while we pray;
new perils past, new sins forgiven,
new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.
If on our daily course our mind
be set to hallow all we find,
new treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
as more of heaven in each we see;
some softening gleam of love and prayer
shall dawn on every cross and care.
The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask:
room to deny ourselves; a road
to bring us daily nearer God.
Only, O Lord, in thy dear love,
fit us for perfect rest above;
and help us, this and every day,
to live more nearly as we pray.
|This 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.|