SESSION ELEVEN: JESUS IS THE BREAD OF LIFE (JOHN 6:25-59)
INTRO: What is your favorite type of bread?
- Why are the crowds still searching for Jesus (vv.24-26)?
- How does Jesus' response to their question show the difference between his interests and theirs?
- How are they to work for the food that leads to eternal life (v. 29)?
- What does the crowd ask Jesus to do in order that they can believe him? What is their real interest?
- How does Jesus use their interest in food to illustrate what he wants them to understand? What are the similarities and differences between manna (Exodus 16) and the "bread of life" (v. 35)?
- What claims does Jesus make in verses 35-40? What do these claims emphasize about his being the bread of life? About the will of the Father?
- In verses 41-42, how do the crowds respond to his claims? How is the principle of the hometown prophet (see 4:44) played out here?
- What part is played by God and by the people in the process of coming to know Jesus (vv 44-45)? What promise is repeated three times for those who do come to him? Why the emphasis on this?
- How is the "bread" he gives greater than that of Moses (vv. 32,49)?
- What does Jesus mean by "eating his flesh" and "drinking his blood" (vv 51-58)?
- What is the main reason you follow Jesus?
- How would you describe your daily spiritual diet? Junk food? Frozen food? Baby food? TV microwave food? Leftovers? Meat and potatoes?
- Has your familiarity with Jesus (from previous Christian education) ever kept you from seeing who he really is? What can remove the blinders?
- If someone asked, "How do you hunger and thirst after God," what counsel could you offer?
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this story? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
COMMENTARY: JESUS IS THE BREAD OF LIFE (JOHN 6:25-59)
After the miracle of feeding the 5000, the crowd stayed on the western shore of Galilee. They had watched the disciples leave without Jesus and many stayed there, looking for Jesus to show back up. But he didn't. As we learned in our previous session, Jesus regroups with his disciples in the middle of the Sea of Galilee during the early morning hours. The crowd, unaware of this reunion, eventually realizes Jesus is gone and that's when they catch their own boat ride back to Capernaum on the north side of the lake.
The people in the crowd, upon finding Jesus, want to small talk but he has no time for that type of conversation. Instead he gets right to the heart of their problem: they think more about their stomachs than they do their souls. Jesus then echoes the words of Isaiah the prophet, who wrote: "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy (Isaiah 55:2)."
John is writing to a Greco-Roman audience that, by the time of his authorship of his gospel, was trapped in luxurious dining. In fact, the exotic and expensive meats were particularly desired. Peacock brains. Nightingale tongues. The ancients even induced vomiting after a dinner course in order to enjoy the next round of foods. They were exceedingly hungry and yet extremely dissatisfied too. Is it possible that John is picking up on this Greco-Roman social value to teach a simple lesson about bread? It's entirely possible.
FISH AND BREAD
After all, this crowd had just experienced a miraculous feeding of savory fish and barley bread. The fish were highly prized souvenir dining meals for those who visited the Galilee region. But Jesus melded that savory fish with a poor man's bread. A bread so common that anybody could buy it. It's like putting caviar on a saltine cracker. And the crowd loved it. It's why they're following Jesus. They want to know what's for brunch.
In John 6:27, Jesus said that God has put his "seal" upon him. In the ancient world, a seal was what authenticated and validated something. A seal was even more powerful than a signature. All legal and political documents needed to be notarized with a seal. A glob of clay impressed with a signet ring by the ruler, judge, priest or city authority. It's where we get our word "signature" today. We "sign" with our name but they "signified" with their "seal" of approval. For the rabbis, the seal of God was TRUTH. In the Hebrew language, the word for TRUTH is "ameth." It's the combination of three Hebrew letters: "aleph" (first letter in Hebrew alphabet), "min" (middle letter in Hebrew alphabet) and "tau" (last letter in Hebrew alphabet). Essentially, God's TRUTH is first, middle and last on any and all subjects.
When ancient Jews heard the phrase "works of God" (John 6:28-29), they immediately thought about works righteousness. It was a common belief that there were three classes of people: 1) those who were good (because of their good works); 2) those who were bad (because of their bad works) and 3) those who were one good work away from no longer being in the "bad" category. It's why their so interested in doing the "works of God." But Jesus said God's work is to "believe in him." Faith is a work. We must believe to receive. But it's not our work as much as God's work. God can open (and harden) a heart. It's HIS WORK that leads to our good works in response--not out of obligation but love.
What follows next is a Jewish response: IF you are the promised Messiah and IF you have the "seal of God" upon your ministry, then PROVE IT. Show us a sign (because the Messiah, they had learned, was going to do "signs and wonders"). Obviously the "sign and wonder" of 5000 people being fed wasn't enough. Like dissatisfied and hungry Greeks and Romans, they wanted more. These ancient Jews also connected Jesus' miracle of feeding 5000 with their forefather's reception of manna in the desert. Manna was the "bread of God" (Psalm 78:24; Exodus 16:15). The word "manna" is actually a Hebrew phrase: "what is it?" Its curiously divine blessing. It was believed that a pot of manna had been hidden in the ark of the covenant, housed in the first temple. Later, when that temple was destroyed (586 BC), Jeremiah reportedly hid it and the cultural belief was the true Messiah would produce it as evidence of his "seal" or approval from God. The 5000 "McFish sandwiches" originated from earthly barley bread and, consequently, did not count as that "manna" from heaven.
THE BREAD OF LIFE
Jesus then makes a famous statement: "I am the bread of life (John 6:35)." It's a metaphorical and theological statement. Bread sustains life. But bread alone is not enough. We need more. We need meat. We need protein. We'll hold on that thought for now, but its coming. Essentially, Jesus is saying that when we experience (dine upon) his "bread" that we enjoy "life." The hunger and thirst for what the world offers disappears. We discover true and lasting peace, experience vibrant joy, show unfathomable love and grow in goodness, truth and perseverance. We are safe and secure. Our life is His life. Even though we die, there is life for those who believe. Jesus reminded these Jews that he'd not leave one of his own behind. He'd raise all who are "in Him" on that last day.
In John 6:41-51, we learn the reasons the Jews rejected Jesus and, by default, eternal life:
- They judged thing by human values and by external standards ("Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph...who we know?")
- The Jews argued with each other ("so the Jews kept murmuring [to each other] about him")
- The Jews listened, but they did not learn (v. 45). They listened to criticize, but they were resentful and apathetic.
- The Jews resisted the drawing of God (v. 44). God wants to bring them in, but they don't want it.
Ultimately, because Jesus is the "bread of life," those who refuse the invitation and resist the "drawing of God" will miss life and die.
Now we come to the most difficult part of the passage (vv. 51-59), as it uses language that is strange and even offensive. But to the ancient these words are rather common and understood through the sacrificial system (Jewish or pagan). Rarely was an animal completely burned in a sacrifice to the gods or, in the case of the Jews, to Jehovah God. Rather only a portion was burned, while the rest was cooked and devoured by the priest and the one who gave the sacrifice. The person who gave the sacrifice would usually enjoy his sacrificial meal with his friends, with the god to whom he/she sacrificed as their personal guest. It was also believed by the ancients that once a sacrifice had been made (whether its a grain, fowl or animal offering) that the god or Jehovah God (for Jews) would inhabit the sacrifice. Therefore, the worshipper was literally consuming his god. When the worshippers left the temple, they were "god-filled."
We would consider this theology delusional and idolatrous, but it was a common belief...even among the Jew. The leftovers consumed by the priest and worshipper were infused with Jehovah God. The ancient hungered to be part of the Divine. They found their identity within their god. Ancient Jews were no different. Their identity (as the chosen people of God) was what set them apart from all other nations.
The commentator William Barclay concluded:
It may be well that we should remember that here John is doing what he so often does. He is not giving, or trying to give, the actual words of Jesus. He has been thinking for seventy years of what Jesus said; and now, led by the Holy Spirit, his giving the inner significance of his words. It is not the words that he reports; that would merely have been a feat of memory. It is the essential meaning of the word; that is the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
This passage is clearly pointing to the Eucharist meal that Jesus instituted on his final night on earth. Also known as "communion" or the "Lord's Supper," it is a time when we dine upon the "body of Christ" (portrayed within unleavened bread) and drink the "blood of Christ" (portrayed through grape juice or the "fruit of the vine").
Here are the basic views that Christians hold about this communal meal:
ROMAN CATHOLIC ("TRANSUBSTANTIATION"):
The Eucharist (Greek: 'thanksgiving') is a Sacrament, and like all Sacraments, it conveys grace to all who receive it worthily. The Eucharist also makes present Christ's sacrifice on the Cross in an unbloody manner, for that reason it is sometimes known as the Holy sacrifice of the Mass. Through it, forgiveness of sin may be obtained. On consecration, the bread and the wine change completely into the actual body and blood of Christ. This change is known as "transubstantiation" and Christ's presence in the elements is called the Real Presence.
The Orthodox church accepts the Eucharist as a Sacrament (though it uses the term 'Mystery' instead of 'Sacrament') and also accepts the doctrines of the Real Presence and the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist. However, it does not make any attempt to explain how the change occurs, preferring to regard it as a divine mystery. The Eucharistic service is commonly known as the Divine Liturgy.
In Lutheranism, there is a Sacramental Union of the bread and wine with the body and blood of Christ. In other words, Christ's body and blood are present "in, with and under " the forms of bread and wine. This is sometimes known as "consubstantiation" (although Luther himself did not use this term). Luther explained his view by using an analogy of an iron rod placed into a fire: both are united in the red-hot iron, yet both are also distinct. Lutheranism rejects the view of the Eucharist as "making present" Christ's sacrifice on the Cross.
REFORMED AND PRESBYTERIAN ("RECEPTIONISM"):
The Reformed and Presbyterian view derives from the teachings of John Calvin: Christ is not present literally in the elements, but he is spiritually present. Those who receive the elements with faith can receive the actual body and blood of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit which works through the sacrament, a view sometimes known as "receptionism."
OTHER CHRISTIAN GROUPS ("MEMORIALISM"):
Many other groups (e.g. the Baptists) refer to the Eucharist as the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion and deny any form of physical or spiritual presence of Christ in the bread and wine. Rather, the Lord's supper is a remembrance of Christ's suffering and a reminder of his power to overcome sin and death. This view derives from the teachings of the Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli and is commonly known as Memorialism. The Anglican and Methodist Churches have a wide variety of views on this subject.
Whatever you believe about the Eucharist, Lord's Supper or Holy Communion, it's clear the early church practiced this sacrament often, and not just on Sundays. Originally, due to its connection to the Jewish Passover meal, it was part of a larger dinner (Paul speaks to this practice in 1 Corinthians 11:17ff). In this passage, the sacrament is clearly a memorial meal ("do this in remembrance of me") and a proclamation of Jesus' death: "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26)."
At MANNA! Life Groups we practice this sacramental and memorial rite at every gathering, regardless of the night we meet. It's an opportunity for us, as gathered believers, to remember what Christ Jesus has done for us (through his atoning death) and what He will do for us in raising us, just as He was resurrected, to LIFE ETERNAL. We make no judgments upon any one's "worthiness" to partake of these emblems, but only ask that each person be a believer who carefully examines his or her life prior to partaking, as per Paul's directive to the Corinthians:
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves (1 Corinthians 11:27-29)
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