This verse from the Gospel of John is just a bit unusual. We tend to believe that Christ died for our sins at His crucifixion and granted us eternal life in His kingdom with His resurrection. The reference to bread usually refers to the bread that was broken at the Last Supper. If it this bread that we use even today to celebrate communion, saying the words, “Take, eat, this is the bread of life. Do this in remembrance of me.”
So how could Jesus have said that He was the bread of life that came down from heaven while He was alive? In order to better understand this particular verse, it may be necessary to read the entire sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. It begins with Jesus and His followers followed by multitudes of people at the Sea of Galilee. While on the shores of the sea, the time to celebrate Passover, a feast of the Jews was nigh. And, of course, a Passover feast could not be celebrated if there was nothing to eat.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, came to Jesus with five barley loaves and gave them to Him to feed His followers and the multitudes that had followed them to the Sea of Galilee. Of course, not more than several people could be fed with five loaves of bread certainly multitudes (which we may assume to have been in the hundreds), could not have been. There would barely have been enough bread to give each person a crumb to celebrate Passover.
Jesus later, at the end of chapter 6, makes a comparison between the manna sent from heaven and the bread of life. He makes it quite clear that manna did feed the people, but did not give them eternal life. But the bread that Jesus fed the multitudes, the bread of life, would not only feed the body but feed the spirit and bring with it everlasting life.
So, whenever we eat the bread, it is not only the bread that was broken at the Last Supper but the bread of eternal life that Jesus fed the multitudes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that we might be conscious of. One we take because Jesus said, “I give this for the life of the world,” and the other, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
References: The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The MacArthur Bible Commentaryby John MacArthur and Concise Bible Commentary, David S. Dockery, General Editor
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