Jesus, as the "Bread of Life," parallels the manna in the desert, emphasizing divine origin, spiritual insight, and the grace of salvation through his impending sacrifice.
John 6:41-51 — More Bread, Anyone? — Aneel Aranha
Hello and welcome to the Bite-Sized Gospel with Aneel Aranha. Today we will reflect on John 6:41-51. Listen.
At this the Jews there began to grumble about [Jesus] because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." They said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I came down from heaven'?"
"Stop grumbling among yourselves," Jesus answered. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: 'They will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."
This passage is a continuation of the discourse on the "Bread of Life." At first glance, it appears to be about Jesus' divine origin and mission. However, when we reflect deeper, we discover layers of spiritual insights.
Jesus tells the Jews he is the bread that came down from heaven. At this, they begin to grumble. Their grumbling reminds us of the grumbling of the Israelites in the wilderness, especially in relation to the manna. This parallel is not accidental. John is drawing our attention to the typology —the relation— between the manna in the desert and Jesus, the Bread of Life. (Typology is a method of biblical interpretation wherein events, persons, or statements in the Old Testament are seen as types pre-figuring or foreshadowed by developments in the New Testament.)
Just as the Israelites struggled to understand the divine origin and significance of the manna, the Jews in Jesus' time grappled with the idea of Jesus being the bread from heaven. They ask, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I came down from heaven'?" (John 6:42).
They can't imagine how something extraordinary can come from something so ordinary. They are unable to see beyond Jesus' earthly lineage. This is a recurring theme in John's Gospel — the tension between the worldly and the spiritual, the seen and the unseen. The Jews are trapped in a literal understanding, unable to perceive the spiritual reality that Jesus is unveiling. (Let us not be condescending; we would not have reacted very differently.)
Jesus responds, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them" (John 6:44). This is another profound statement. It suggests that understanding Jesus' identity and mission is not merely an intellectual endeavor but requires a move of God. It's a reminder that salvation is a grace, a gift from God, rather than just a product of human effort. It led Paul to write: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).
Jesus then says: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:51). Here, Jesus is not only identifying himself as the source of eternal life but also referring to his impending sacrifice on the cross. The language of "eating" this bread, which is his "flesh," foreshadows the Last Supper and the establishment of the New Covenant. More about this tomorrow.
God bless you.