Today we begin our reading of John 6 and the Bread of Life Discourse, one of the richest passages in the bible.
First, notice how the discourse begins, “On the next day….”
This has several implications. Within the context of the story John is making sure that you know that this story is connected with the miracle of the loaves and fishes he just told you about. The reader is made aware that it is still the time of the Passover. The people to whom this teaching is made are not just “people off the street”, these are the same people who have just personally experienced the multiplication of the loaves. They have eaten their fill on miraculous bread. They should be the people most ready to accept Jesus teaching.
Also, “On the next day…” alludes back to Genesis and the creation. God created the world in seven days, “on the next day”, he brings about the new creation.
The crowd finds Jesus. Probably hungry for breakfast they seem to be seeking another meal. But Jesus says to them,
27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.
That Jesus is transitioning from an earthy interaction with the crowd to a spiritual one is obvious. The important point is that, “on him has God the Father set his seal.” Messiah means “the anointed one”, which is one how has been ceremonially sealed. Jesus is clearly identifying himself as the Messiah.
Jesus has told them not to work for earthly food, so the crowd asks a natural question:
28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Notice, the Jesus clearly identifies faith (“belief”) as a “work of God”. Thus, if one has a proper understanding of “good works” we see that they clearly fit into the context of salvation. To do “good works” is to set your will toward God. Any and every action of the will, including faith, when done with an intention to follow God is a “good work”.
The crowd recognizes the parallel with the Israelites in the dessert during the Exodus. They know their history. They know that first the Israelites in the desert were unfaithful. Moses gave them the manna in the desert to sustain their faith. The messiah was expected to be the new Moses. Jesus has claimed the mantle of Messiah the crowd immediately references Moses.
30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”
Through Moses the Israelites received the manna, the miraculous bread, is the desert. Now Jesus brings new bread. The crowd wants this bread again as if to confirm the miracle they witnessed the day before. If Jesus can produce this bread again then certainly he is the new Moses. Notice how this desire of the people also mirrors the temptations in the desert where the devil asked Jesus to produce bread from stones on demand. Jesus clarifies. He points out the manna did not come from Moses but from God. The new bread will be greater than the manna because it will “give life to the world.” Of course the people want this new manna from Heaven. Jesus identifies himself as this bread.
34 They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”
The phrase “I am the Bread of Life” separates the Bread of Life Discourse into two parts. This first one is an invitation to faith. The second, (which we will read tomorrow) is not a test, but is a kind of measuring stick. Just how much faith in God do you have? What is important in understanding the two halves of the discourse is listening to how the crowd reacts to what Jesus is saying.