41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— 46 not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:41-51 ESV
Many of the things Jesus did left His audiences amazed and in awe. They were legitimately dumbfounded by His miracles, whether it was making a paralyzed man walk or restoring to health a young girl who had been near death. They had been blown away by His miracle of the loaves and fishes and had sought Him out in the hopes that He might use His supernatural powers to feed them again. But when Jesus spoke, His words tended to have a dramatically different effect. Luke records that when Jesus spoke “the people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority” (Luke 4:32 NLT). In the very next chapter, John recounts the occasion when the Jewish religious leaders sent guards to arrest Jesus, only to have them return empty-handed and reporting, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46 ESV).
Jesus had a way with words, but not everyone understood what He had to say. And nowhere is that point illustrated more clearly than in His discourse concerning the “bread of life” recorded in John 6.
The people found Jesus’ miracles difficult to dispute because they could witness them with their own eyes. The evidence was right in front of them. The formerly blind could see. Those who had been lame could walk. The sick had been made whole. The demon-possessed had been set free and restored to their right minds. But Jesus’ words weren’t always so clear and easy to understand. He seemed to talk in riddles and make claims that were difficult to substantiate. And nothing seemed to confused His fellow Jews more than His claim to be the Son of God. John records that Jesus’ claim to be “the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41 ESV) caused them to “murmur in disagreement” (John 6:41 NLT).
This rather obtuse statement by Jesus left them arguing among themselves, debating the absurdity of His claim. How could He have come down from heaven if He had been born to human parents? After all, they reasoned, “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).
Their confusion is reminiscent of Nicodemus’ response to Jesus’ statement, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3 ESV). This learned Pharisee had quizically responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4 ESV). The words of Jesus made no sense to Nicodemus. And when Jesus claimed to have come down from heaven, the Jews who heard Him were just as perplexed. It made no sense to them. It contradicted human reason and failed to support their preconceived perceptions about life.
The people had shown up hoping to see Jesus perform another miracle or sign, and they had even used Moses providing manna to the Israelites as an example of what they were expecting. But they failed to recall that even that heaven-sent bread had left the Israelites dissatisfied and disgruntled.
Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!” – Numbers 11:4-6 NLT
Even the manna sent from heaven had failed to satisfy the people of God. So, why would the Jews of Jesus’ day be satisfied with “the bread of God…that gives life to the world” (John 6:33 ESV)?
But Jesus interrupted their debate by declaring, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44 ESV). As will be made clear, this was not exactly a point of clarification. In fact, it only muddied the waters and left the disbelieving Jews even more confused. But while they were busy arguing over Jesus’ place of origin, He was revealing the way men can be assured of their eternal destination. They could argue and debate the merits of Jesus’ claim to be divine. They could wrestle with the pros and cons of it all and come to their own conclusions, but all their efforts would be in vain. Unless God drew them, they would never receive Jesus as who He was. The Greek word helkō literally means “to drag” or to “to draw by inward power.”
There is a sense in which God must facilitate man’s acceptance of Jesus because, left to his own devices, man would reject Him. King David stressed that sad reality in his psalm.
God looks down from heaven
on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
not a single one! – Psalm 53:2-3 NLT
And the apostle Paul would paraphrase the words of David when stressing to the believers in Rome “that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin” (Romans 3:10 NLT).
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.” – Romans 3:10-11 NLT
Jesus is simply supporting this idea that sinful men have no capacity to seek God. And even the miracles of Jesus would prove insufficient to convince the unbelieving to accept the truth of His claim of equality with God. Unless God dragged them out of their sin-darkened stupor into the light, they would never recognize Jesus as who He really was: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.
Jesus quotes the Old Testament prophets, declaring that the ability to believe in Him requires instruction by God.
“‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” – John 6:45 (NLT)
God will speak to them, revealing to them the true nature of His Son. And when they hear what He has to say, they will come to Jesus willingly and gladly.
When Peter, James, and John witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus, God had spoken from heaven, declaring, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him” (Luke 9:35 NLT). God clearly revealed to them the identity of Jesus and then commanded that they listen to what His Son had to say. And one of the first things Jesus had to say to them after this incredible experience was a command to tell no one what they had seen.
As they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. – Mark 9:9 NLT
Jesus was the revelation of God. He came to earth in the form of a human being so that He might make God known. John opened up his gospel with the bold claim: “No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us” (John 1:18 NLT). And Jesus supported that assertion when He claimed, “Not that anyone has ever seen the Father; only I, who was sent from God, have seen him” (John 6:46 NLT).
Paul declared Jesus to be “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). And later on in his gospel, John records Jesus’ exclusive claim that “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father!” (John 14:9 NLT). But there is more required than the mere physical sight of Jesus. There were many who saw Jesus and failed to believe. That is why Jesus clarifies by adding, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life” (John 6:47-48 ESV). In other words, eternal life is reserved for those who believe that Jesus is the bread of life, sent down from heaven by God. It is to believe in His deity and His God-given role as man’s sole source of salvation.
Unlike manna that provided temporary relief from the physical need for food, Jesus provides a permanent solution to man’s hunger and thirst for righteousness. He alone can provide man with the one thing he needs to have eternal life.
“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:50-51 ESV
But even this fantastic truth will fall on deaf ears as the people continue to wrestle with unbelief and an inability to recognize Jesus as the Son of God.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.