“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.” – John 6:47 NLT
This passage is all about bread. But it obviously deals with two types of bread. One literal and the other metaphorical or symbolic. The people are looking for Jesus, and John makes it clear that their interest is in having Jesus provide them with yet another free meal. They show up at the place where He had “blessed the bread and the people had eaten” (John 6:23 NLT), but Jesus is not there. So they jump back in their boats and head to Capernaum, where they finally find Jesus. But Jesus sees right through their motives. “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. Don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you” (John 6:26-27 NLT).
Right away, Jesus reveals the stark contrast that is going to take place in this exchange between the people and Himself. Their interest in Jesus is purely physical and temporal. Yes, He is obviously a miracle worker of some kind and they actually want to learn how to do what He does. They say, “We want to perform God’s words, too. What should we do?” (John 6:28 NLT). Their minds are on food and how nice it would be to be able to multiply their meager stores the way that Jesus did that afternoon on the hillside. By now, they must have heard that Jesus had given power and authority to the twelve disciples to cast out demons and perform miracles, so they seem to be asking Him to do the same for them. But again, Jesus knows their hearts and clearly sees that their motivation is selfish and they are missing the point. He tells them, “This is the only word God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29 NLT).
Immediately, the crowd demands that Jesus perform a sign to help them believe. And they even give Him a suggestion: “Our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness!” (John 6:31 NLT). They are so obvious, it’s almost embarrassing. All they want is food. To them, Jesus is little more than a 1st-Century vending machine, conveniently dispensing free food. But Jesus takes the opportunity to clear up their misconceptions about Him and about what their real needs are. Their problem is not a lack of bread, but a lack of belief. They do not understand who He is and what He has come to offer them. So Jesus makes it painfully clear. At least a dozen times in this next little sermonette, Jesus mentions eternal life. He tells them that He has come to offer them eternal life, and that anyone who believes can have it. If all He gives them is bread, they will die, just like their ancestors did in the wilderness. But there is a different source of sustenance that He wants to give them – Himself. He refers to Himself as the Bread of Life. “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41 NLT). “Yes, I am the bread of life!” (John 6: 48 NLT). “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51 NLT). “I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever” (John 6:58 NLT.
He is offering them eternal life! He is telling them the way in which they can live forever. These people believed in an after life. They spent their entire lives trying to please God by keeping the Law and obeying His commands so that they might inherit eternal life. Now Jesus was telling them that eternal life could be theirs, if only they would believe He was who He claimed to be. But they struggled with this concept. They said, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph? We know his father and mother. How can he say, ‘I came down from heaven?'” (John 6:42 NLT). They couldn’t bring themselves to believe in Him. They wanted Him to perform miracles for them. That they could believe in, because they had seen it with their own eyes. But when it came to believing in Him as the Son of God, that was another matter. As a result, many of them said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” (John 6:60 NLT).
Jesus knows they are struggling. So He says, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of God ascend to heaven again? The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me” (John 6:61-63 NLT). Jesus is asking them, “Does what I just said cause you to stumble?” He realizes that what He has just taught them is difficult for them to hear and even harder to understand. The imagery of eating His flesh and drinking His blood is graphic and disconcerting. But He tells them that things are going to get even harder to understand in the days ahead. There is still the cross to come. And before Jesus can ascend back into heaven, He will have to be lifted up on the cross as a payment for the sins of all mankind. That is going to be hard for every one of His disciples to comprehend, especially when it happens. But even in death, the Spirit will give life to Jesus, restoring Him completely and allowing Him to conquer the hold that sin and death had had on mankind since the fall. Jesus’ death and resurrection would make possible eternal life. Paul reminds us, “The Spirit of Gd, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (Romans 8:11 NLT). New life. Full life. Eternal life. That is what Jesus came to bring. “For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40 NLT). Ultimately, this is all about eternal life. What we experience here is nothing compared with what is to come. This is no longer our home. We are strangers and aliens here. We are sojourners, simply passing through on our way to somewhere else. We have His presence and complete access to His power while here, but we must never lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to bring eternal life, not just a slightly improved version of our earthly lives. Jesus told the crowd that day exactly what we need to hear, “But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you” (John 6:27 NLT).
Father, it is so easy to get consumed with perishable things. They are all around us. It seems as if we can’t live without them. And we end up working so hard to obtain them. But they cannot bring us the one thing we all need: Eternal life. Thank You for sending Your Son to make eternal life available to all who will believe. Never let us lose sight of the unbelievable nature of the gift we have been given. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men