Today’s passage was a pretty full one with lots to chew on. It was like sitting down to a full meal with many courses to it. But the biggest part of the meal was the bread, right?! It’s like Olive Garden, giving out those free bread sticks left and right - literally with feeding the 5,000. As you probably guessed, we’re going to be talking a lot about bread. Let’s dive in to this bread chapter together.
Verse 4 notes that the Jewish Passover festival was near. And this tidbit of info is significant because the Passover festival remembers Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. And bread was an integral part of this festival as Jews were to eat unleavened bread (bread without yeast) as a celebration and remembrance of God providing the manna from Heaven to sustain the people of Israel after the exodus from Egypt, after the parting of the Red Sea, and when they found themselves in the desert with no food. God had provided this manna, this heavenly bread, to sustain them. The Passover was important to the lives of the Isrealites and something they celebrated every year with specific, rich symbolism to remember what God had done. So this symbolism of bread and God providing for His people would've been on the forefront of their minds when Jesus feeds them in the feeding of the 5,000, and the crowds even referred to the manna from Heaven in verse 31. So they were thinking about it.
Now Jesus is teaching the crowds on a hillside in a more remote place, so instead of sending the people away to get food, Jesus had everyone sit in groups and He took what they had, 5 small loaves and two small fish, and Jesus fed all the people from that. He multiplied what small bits they started with until everyone had eaten. Two things I love most about this passage is that, first, in verse 11, it says they had “as much as they wanted.” Jesus didn’t just provide for them the bare minimum, but He provided abundantly! Second, in verse 13, from the leftovers they gathered up 12 baskets! Not only did Jesus provide abundantly, but it was an overflowing abundance. 12 baskets full!
One time in a particularly difficult season that I was walking through, just feeling constantly drained and overwhelmed, a friend of mine prayed over me that that year, that season, would be a 12 basket full year - that God would provide so abundantly that by the time that season was done, I wouldn't be running on empty but I’d have energy leftover. That imagery and that prayer has stuck with me and I often pray that for others now. Today I’m praying that for you - that no matter what you are walking through, no matter the difficulties ahead, would Jesus provide all that you need and would there be baskets leftover. A 12 basket full year.
But back to John 6. After this miracle of feeding the 5,000 Jesus performs another miracle of walking on the water. Then we see in verse 24 that the crowds are searching for Jesus and, when they find Him, Jesus says in verses 26, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for Me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”
Jesus is calling them out that they aren’t searching for Him because they recognize Him as the Messiah, but that they want more food. They’re in it for themselves and what they can get from Jesus, and they even ask for another sign in verses 30-31 - a sign like providing the manna - as if Jesus hadn’t just done that in their lives.
We can be so like that crowd, can’t we? In verse 35 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” which is the first of seven "I am" statements found in the book of John. These seven "I am" statements are metaphors used by Jesus Himself to describe His character, what He’s like, who He is. And these "I am" statements directly link Jesus to God - Jesus proclaiming His deity. Remember this is near the time of Passover so the crowds have the Exodus in mind, and in the book of Exodus in 3:14 God calls Himself the I AM - the one who is and has always been. So in making these "I am" statements, Jesus is purposefully likening Himself to God, which is why some people got so mad and couldn’t follow Him any longer.
Throughout John we also see a pattern of Jesus making an "I AM" statement and backing it up with what He does, giving teeth and validity to His statement. For example, in this instance He says that He is the bread of life and He literally just miraculously fed thousands of people bread. Later in John 8 you’ll hear Him say “I am the light of the world” just before healing a blind man, giving this man light. And in John 11, He says “I am the resurrection and the life” just before raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus doesn’t just talk the talk in these statements but He backs it up, both telling and showing His Divinity.
“I am the bread of life.” Bread is a basic component of life, often synonymous for food in general, and it is essential for life. Jesus is saying that He is essential for life and for true eternal life. With the Passover images in their minds as well, Jesus is saying that He is their provider and their deliverer. He is our provider and deliverer.
In this chapter we see that the people were interested in physical bread, for getting their fill from something that perishes, but Jesus was offering a spiritual bread that lasts eternally. This is a heart check moment for us. Are we, like the crowd, so focused on the physical provision of things that ultimately will not last, the things we can get from Jesus, that we are missing out on Jesus Himself, a real relationship with Him, and true life with Him?
Verse 35 goes on to say “whoever comes to Me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty.” This makes me think back to Matthew 5:6 when Jesus says “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.” Belief in Jesus and Jesus alone satisfies our deepest need. Our deepest human need is for righteousness in God’s sight, to be right-related to God. Through Jesus, this bread of life, we can be restored back into the fold of God and have eternal life with Him.
We see in John 6 that, for many, this teaching was just too hard and they gave up following Him. They didn’t believe. They didn’t want to believe. They still just wanted their fill of temporary things. We probably know people in our own lives who fall into this category, or maybe that’s part of your past story and you’re figuring out how to come back to Him. For those who are willing to believe, willing to wrestle with the hard Truths Jesus tells us, this is still Jesus’ offer and invitation to us. Would we grab hold of this bread, this life He offers, not because of what temporary things or blessings we can get from Him, but because of who He is and who He makes us when we believe in Him.