Living Bread gives life:
An exegesis of John 6:47-58
Main idea & Outline
Jesus, is the living bread from heaven and is fully sufficient for eternal life. The life He offers is real and must be taken in faith. Additionally, Christ brings with Him a close intimate union with Himself like the relationship He has with the Father.
- Jesus is the living bread from heaven and offers eternal life. (John 6:47-51)
- Believers are bonded with Christ because of His death and resurrection. (John 6:52-56)
- Jesus has the right to give life. (John 6:57-58)
In the Gospel of John, Jesus makes at least 7 I AM statements and performs 7 miracles or signs. Each statement is designed to “allude to the Old Testament name of God” and each action or miracle is a sign that points to divinity. Jesus being a first-century Jewish man spoke to the people and performed miracles in ways they understood. The people of Jesus’ day understood His use of I AM statements to be a message of equality with God. What will be focused on here in John 6:47-58 is the statement that Jesus is the bread of life and that one must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life which is a reference to His death and resurrection. Christ here presents Himself not only as the sufficiency for life but union with Him is required for the life He offers. This statement is important for several reasons including the implications brought on by it and the difficulty in interpreting it. In truth, the statement is so difficult to understand that after making it many disciples left Jesus because they claimed this teaching is hard (John 6:60).
There should be little doubt that the author of the fourth gospel was a disciple of Jesus. The details that are recorded require an intimate knowledge of the not only the people involved but the situations themselves. It could be argued that a later writer added in details or stories like that of the woman caught in adulty in chapter 8 but even if this is assumed the bulk of the work still requires a close knowledge of the situation and characters involved. It has been suggested that the gospel was written by a Johannine community, but recent research and scholarship has been showing that “distinct gospel communities can no longer be assumed.” By removing later writers and a Johannine community the options are limited to a disciple of Jesus as the author.
Excluding Judas Iscariot, there are eleven possible authors that remain and while much could be said of each of them space does not permit an in-depth detail. In summery Matthew and Luke already have accounts to their credit and while Mark was not a disciple most believe, partly on Papia’s testimony, that Peter was the “authority behind Mark’s gospel.” This leaves only eight possible candidates. As previously mentioned the details recorded in the Gospel of John require an intimate knowledge suggesting the writer to be one in Jesus’ inner circle. However, because James the brother of John is recorded as being killed in Acts 12:2 and the Gospel was not written until later he is not a viable candidate. There are additional points that could be made for John being the author of the gospel but for brevity, it should be said the best research and historical evidence point to John as the author.
Moving on to date and original audience, most evidence points to John writing the gospel in Ephesus around mid to late A.D. 80 to early A.D. 90. This in part is because John “lacks reference to the Sadducees” and John’s gospel seems to have been after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. Irenaeus in Against Heresies writes that John was not only the disciple leaning on Jesus at the Last Supper but that he wrote his gospel account “during his residence at Ephesus.” The larger question remains did John only intend for the residence of Ephesus to read his gospel? To answer this question the purpose for writing must be examined.
John records in 20:31 that his reason for writing is so that the reader may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing they may have life in His name. This simple statement allows the reader to not only interpret everything written through that lens, but it shines light on original audience. While the first audience would have been the residence of Ephesus and as previously mentioned there seems to be little support for “distinct Gospel communities” it is easy to see that the message put forth in John was to travel. Further, the text of the gospel itself has John assuming his readers are “unfamiliar with Jewish topography” because of the way he details the location of events (see Jn 5:2).
True to his purpose for writing John continually presents Jesus not only as the Messiah but as the one in whom true life cconsists Jesus is presented as one who understands His role, divine nature, and mission. There is little doubt that Jesus is not only aware of His mission but that He is actively engaging people to reveling Himself and the life He offers. For example, the discussion Jesus has with Nicodemus in John 3, the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, the I Am statements of Jesus, the recorded signs, the high priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17, and so on all together help to showcase not only the importance of Jesus as the Messiah the Son of God but that He was aware of His mission and role.
The Gospel is filled with comparisons, dualism, and words or phrases that have deeper meanings which create difficulties for readers. An example of deeper meaning can be seen in the prologue of John where John discusses the Word (logos) being both with God and being God. Logos itself has a simple definition meaning “the expression of thought” but it also carried different ideas for first century Greeks and first century Jews. John uses the simple word logos but the way he uses the word creates a new meaning and gives a new depth to the understanding of who the Messiah is. Another example can be seen the discussion Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4. Jesus on this occasion uses the situation of water gathering to explain that He can provide water that will leave a person to never thirst again. Jesus is of course not discussing physical thirst but spiritual thirst. As often seen He uses physical examples to showcase a spiritual or eternal message.
In chapter 6 Jesus is seen feeding five thousand men with the donation of fives loaves and two fish. This sets the stage for a long discourse of bread and idea of sufficiency in Christ. The discussion of bread and sufficiency is started with the feeding of the multitude and ends with a discussion of eternal life. The flow is seemingly broken up with the recording of Jesus walking on the water. However, this is an important event because it shows Jesus’ mastery over the earth and because of Jesus statement to the disciples of “it is I” which as William McDonalds points out literally means I Am. In 6:35 Jesus moves to a more declarative public statement saying I am the bread of life. What is seen through the chapter is a miraculous transformation of a small amount of food to being enough to feed a multitude, Jesus having mastery over the earth with a veiled I Am statement, and finally Jesus’ first public I Am statement.
John chapter 6 shows that while Jesus is obviously concerned with physical needs He is more concerned with eternal life. Jesus states that He offers eternal life and that He is the bread of life. Jesus is comparing, and contrasting Himself, with the manna and what it represented. The wilderness experience was known to all Jews and the provision of manna was and remains an important miracle in the wilderness story. What exactly was the manna and what did the Israelites mean when they called it manna? That is a question that is still not answered as some say it is a statement while others argue manna is a question. The simple fact remains that the Jews of Jesus’ day would have known it to be a miraculous provision by God for the daily needs in the Wilderness.
The manna was miraculous for a few reasons namely that it appeared daily, it managed to fill an individual, and it only lasted the day except for the double miracle of the Sabbath portion and two-day shelf life. The manna was to be expected and collected for their daily needs. If someone attempted to save manna for the next day, it bred worms and smelled (Ex 16:20). While miraculous the manna was temporary both in that it was a physical item that decayed and second in that it was only provided during a specific time (i.e. the Wilderness).
The people who partook of the manna in the wilderness received daily portion yet died. Jesus states that whoever takes part in Him will not die if they first believe in Him. Faith or belief is required to receive the eternal life that He offers. He distinguishes Himself as living bread and as such He does not last only for the day but is eternal. The flesh statement made by Jesus is directly connected to the Word becoming flesh in John 1:14. Jesus is claiming equality with the known God by saying I AM a second time and He is claiming that He can provide life for those who partake of Him.
The response to Jesus’ statements from the crowd is one of shock because they assume they must literally eat His flesh and drink His blood to gain eternal life. This should not be thought that Jesus in any way was suggesting cannibalism as the practice of cannibalism was rejected in nearly every culture that would be receiving John’s Gospel. At first glance, it could be supposed that John recorded this encounter and chose the phrases of eating flesh and drinking blood to refer to the sacrament or ordinance of communion but that is not clear from the text. Craig Keener suggests that John does not record the last supper but instead chooses to show Jesus as the Passover lamb. Read in this light Jesus may be showing that just as the Passover lamb is to be eaten and the wine is to be drunk for participation, dependence on His impending death is needed to show the “believers absolute dependence” on Him.
Adding to the confusion, however, is that John records Jesus as saying that His flesh and blood are real food (see 6:55). Kostenberger suggests here that real “carries the connotations of eschatological” fulfillment of the Old Testament types such as the manna. Jesus again is reiterating that not only is He real but that what He offers is real and tangible. What is seen then Jesus hinting at His sacrificial death and resurrection which will provide atonement for the sin of those who receive Him. There remains a possibility that John also included the words real to further dispel the idea that Jesus was not God in flesh but spirit only.
In verse 56 John records that the believing ones who eat and drink the flesh of Christ remain in Him. The Greek word remain (or live in the HCSB) is menō and carries with it the idea of remaining in a condition and in this context remaining with intimacy. This can be seen as a reference to eternal security. The union that a believer has with Christ in eating and drinking Him is like the act of consuming food in that the food becomes one with person but more so because as Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown remark believers “become spiritually one life, though personally distinct” with Christ. This is echoed later in John 17:21 where Jesus prays for a “perfect bond of unity” for believes like that of the unity He shares with the Father.
Jesus equates the intimacy of this union like His union with the Father stating that just as He is present in physical form because of the Father so too the believer will live because of Him. Jesus here combines the fact that the Father sent Him, and He claims that He has the right to grant life. This can be seen as a connection to John 1:12 where John says that to those who believe Jesus gives the right to be called children of God. Jesus then presents Himself not only as the one who can provide eternal life but as the one who has the authority to do this.
This is markedly different than the manna that was provided during the wilderness experience as that was a shadow of what was to come. The temporary miracle of manna was provided for a time and for a reason. The living bread that comes from heaven is now provided for all time for those who believe in Christ and take Him by faith. The people ate the physical food and died. The bread from heaven is spiritual food that is real but eaten by faith and results in eternal life.
Theological Interpretation & Application
Substitutionary atonement is seen in the verses discussed above as Jesus teaches that “His death is vicarious” providing eternal life and providing union with Him. The Law and the Manna were only shadows of what was to come. Jesus however, lays down His life for His sheep and takes it back up again so that they may be forgiven and have fellowship with God. The law could not provide righteousness and manna could not provide life. These come through faith in Christ, His finished work on the Cross, and His return to the Father.
The eternal union with Christ is also seen in these verses. Man was made to be in fellowship and union with God. The fall not only brought sin and death into the world but man’s relationship with God was fractured. Jesus came to not only restore the relationship but to abide in man and man in Him. This is not something man could accomplish on his own as life from God requires life in God. Paul in writing to the Galatians says that the life the believer lives is Christ living in them (Gal 2:20).
However, this must all be received in faith because without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Gerald Borchert says in his commentary on John, speaking of the Israelites in the wilderness, that the words they ate, and they died make “an interesting tombstone inscription” and that it could be said of contemporary Christians as well. One cannot simply like Jesus or think Him to be a good teacher; instead, they must take all of Him.
Bailey J. L. and L. D. Vander Broek. Literary Forms in The New Testament A Handbook. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press 1992.
Cirafesi, Wally V., The “Johannine Community” in (More) Current Research: A Critical Appraisal of Recent Methods and Models. Neotestamentica 48. Issue 2 (July 2014). Accessed October 5, 2017. SA ePublications Service.
Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Rev. ed. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2014. Accessed October 31, 2017. Apple iBook.
Freed, Edwin D., The New Testament a Critical Introduction 3rd Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001.
Irenaeus. Against Heresies 3.1.1.
Keener, Craig. The Gospel of John: A commentary. Peabody: Hendrickson Pub, 2010.
Kostenberger, Andres. Encountering John. The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.
Kostenberger, Andreas J. John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004). Accessed October 27, 2017. Axis 360.
Kostenberger, Andreas, J. L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Lion and the Lamb New Testament Essentials from The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012).
MacDonald, William. Believers Bible Commentary: A Complete Bible Commentary in one Volume. Edited by Art Farstad. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Stuart, Douglas K. New American Commentary – Volume 2 – Exodus. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006, 323. Accessed October 13, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.
Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed. Peabody: Hendrickson Publ.
Zvi, Ron. “‘What is it?’ Interpreting Exodus 16:15. Jewish Bible Quarterly no. 4: 234. RAMBI, EBSCOhost accessed October 13, 2017.
 Andres Kostenberger, Encountering John. The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic 2013), 27.
 All Scripture taken from the HSCB unless otherwise notes.
 Wally V. Cirafesi, The Johannine Community in (More) Current Research: A Critical Appraisal of Recent Methods and Models, Neotestamentica 48, Issue 2 (July 2014): 361, accessed October 5, 2017, SA ePublications Service.
 Edwin D. Freed, The New Testament a Critical Introduction 3rd Edition, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001), 124.
 Andreas J. Krostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Lion and the Lamb New Testament Essentials from The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2012), 108.
 Irenaeus’ testimony not only helps with the location of writing but as a proof of John’s authorship as well. Irenaeus Against Heresies 3.1.1.
 The implications for removing distinct communities that carried their own version of Christianity has implications for authorship, intent, and intended audience. See Cirafesi, The Johannine Community 361.
 The dualism in John is about this age and the one to come. See Kostenberger, Encountering John, 29.
 Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Unabridged Ed, (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ) s.v. λόγος, 1252.
 William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary: A Complete Bible Commentary in one Volume, edited by Art Farstad, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson 1995) 1501.
 Ron, Zvi. “‘What is it?’: Interpreting Exodus 16:15″ Jewish Bible Quarterly no. 4: 234, accessed October 13, 2017, RAMBI, EBSCOhost.
 Douglas K Stuart, Exodus. New American Commentary Volume 2, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2006), 323, accessed October 13, 2017, ProQuest Ebook Central.
 Gerald L. Borchert, John 1-11: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group 1996), 249, accessed November 1, 2017.
 Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publ 2010), 690.
 Andreas J. Kostenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 235 accessed October 27, 2017, Axis 360.
 Vines, s.v. μένω, 12.
 Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments (WORDsearch Corp, 2013), accessed October 31, 2017, WORDSearch 2013.
 Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Rev. ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2014), 200, accessed October 31, 2017, Apple iBook.
 Gerald L. Borchert, 250, accessed October 25, 2017.