John 6:1-71 Bread

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

In this chapter John gives us an account of Jesus' use of metaphor. In this case it is the metaphor of bread, and we can see the difficulties the disciples and other hearers had in grasping the meaning of Jesus as "Bread of Life.".

The chapter is introduced by the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 (probably the fourth sign, see 2:11, 4:54, 5:8,9, 6:14,26). This miracle is recorded in the other three Gospels (Matthew 1:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17), but only John remembers the young person who offered his or her lunch as a contribution to feeding that huge crowd.

The miracle is followed (as in Matthew 14:22-33, Mark 6:45-52) by the account of the storm-tossed night for the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. John, the writer of the Gospel, was in that boat, and the two events were connected for ever in his mind.

Partly due to their inability to grasp Jesus' metaphor of himself as the bread of life (6:52), and eating his flesh and drinking his blood, "many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (6:66). To this day it seems that many who began with faith in Jesus the Son of God later drift away due to being stumbled by a misunderstanding of what he has in mind. This does not mean that people who get miffed and quit are all damned for ever. If their heart really longs for the love of God, they may have tough experiences of trying other ways, but the Holy Spirit will keep working with them till they come back on track (In The Pilgrim's Progress John Bunyan described Christian going into "by-pass meadow" which at first sight looked inviting but eventually turned out to be a disaster.

6:1 As in "the next day" (1:29, 35, 43, 2:1), the words "after this" (5:1, 6:1, 7:1) can be paraphrased as "on another occasion." In this astonishing book of very creative writing the arrangement is topical rather than in chronological sequence.

6:2 John has collected some signs (2:11, 4:54, see note on 5:36, 20:30-31) among the many other evidences of the power of the Spirit in Jesus' ministry. Instead of turning to God in personal faith, some merely viewed Jesus as a miracle worker to satisfy their physical needs.

6:3 The Greek definite article points to a particular mountain where Jesus used to gather not only his inner circle of disciples but any others who came for teaching. This mountain was on the east side of the Sea of Galilee (6:1). There was another mountain chosen for days of teaching on the west side of the lake above Magdala (the home of Mary Magdalene).

6:4 John remembers the occasion took place just before Passover that year (see 6:4).

6:5-6 Jesus had already decided on looking to the power of the Spirit (see Luke 5:17) to meet the needs of this huge crowd. Here the testing is not like an examination question to be answered correctly. It is more like saying to Philip "How could one feed all these people?"

6:7 Philip is very practical. He makes a quick calculation of what it would take to satisfy the hunger of 5,000 families. The answer is two hundred denarii, and a denarius was a day's wage for unskilled workers (Matthew 20:2), which adds up to over half a year's income.

6:8-9 In the other Gospels the disciples say "we have nothing here but 5 loaves and 2 fish" (Matthew 14:17). Only John records that Andrew brought forward a young person (paidarion means a young boy or girl) who wanted to give his or her bag lunch for Jesus to bless. The loaves are not made of the fine flour of the rich, but of barley (krithinos) which is the black bread of the poor. The fish might be the size of sardines. The smallness of what was offered by a young person from a poor family is contrasted with what Jesus did with it to meet a huge need.

6:10 The five thousand were easily counted because they were carefully seated in "groups of hundreds and of fifties" (Mark 6:40). John remembers they are seated on "a great deal of grass" because it was Passover time (6:4) in the spring.

6:11 The other three Gospels mention that Jesus "blessed" the food before distributing it. John uses the term eucharistysas (having given thanks) from which we get the name eucharist for the last supper. That Jesus gave thanks on this and other occasions was obviously of great importance to the early Christians (see the references to giving thanks in every situation, Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, 1 Timothy 4:4).

6:12 The other three Gospels tell us the people "were filled" which speaks of their stomach being filled with food. By using the expression "When they were satisfied" John suggests the end of a joyful picnic with everyone very happy about the occasion.

6:13 The other Gospels mention the gathering of the food that remained, but John remembers that it was Jesus who ordered the disciples to gather the fragments in baskets. They filled twelve picnic baskets (kophinos) as opposed to the seven large hampers (spuris - - big enough for Paul to be lowered in from the wall of Damascus, Acts 9:25) used at the second feeding of 4,000 (Matthew 15:37, Mark 8:8).

6:14-15 This seems to be the fourth of the signs (see 2:11, 4:54, 5:8,9, 6:14,26) that John chose for his stated purpose in writing the book (20:30-31).

Moses had said "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people" (Deuteronomy 18:15). This could refer to the fact that God would again and again raise up prophets among the people. But Jewish interpreters often assumed this referred to a particular messianic figure who would appear among them. John the Baptist denied he was that particular prophet (1:21).

And having come down from the mountain, when the people wanted to anoint him as their earthly king (another Old Testament term for Messiah), Jesus withdrew from them back up into "the mountain by himself."

6:16-20 John vividly remembers the darkness of that terrible storm in the night. And by giving us the distance as 25 to 30 stadia John locates the event of Jesus' walking on the water about half way across the sea of Galilee. Modern skeptics reject the possibility of walking on water, but they forget that water can easily change its properties to become the ice on which we walk every winter in Canada. They also forget that with the power of a motor boat pulling up a water skier it is easy to move all over a lake. By the power of God. The intervention of a greater power removes the impossibility (see Luke 5:17, Acts 10:38, Romans 1:4, 2 Corinthians 4:7, 10:4) all sorts of things can happen (as in the account of the Exodus, and the saving of Jonah) which normally would surprise us.

6:21 The disciples wanted (were about to take) Jesus on board, but John remembers the fact that Jesus did not join them (6:22), but their boat immediately "reached the land to which they were going."

6:22-25 The crowd had seen the disciples leave in one boat, and some of them rode in other boats which had come across the lake from Tiberias to look for Jesus in Capernaum (his usual residence, Matthew 9:1). These verses convey the tremendous zeal people had to pursue Jesus.

John was obviously impressed by Jesus giving thanks (6:23) before feeding the crowd the previous day (see note on 6:11).

6:26-27 Jesus realizes that, like rice Christians in missionary situations, people would go anywhere for free food. So he explains how ordinary food feeds us for this life in contrast to spiritual food that feeds our eternal life (3:16, 5:24, 6:40). Jesus is referring to Moses words "God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deuteronomy 8:16, quoted by Jesus in his temptation, Matthew 4:4). For the people of the Exodus the hunger was literal and it was satisfied by a miraculous provision from heaven. But Jesus is pointing to the metaphor of spiritual hunger and God's gracious provision though his Son

6:28-29 Receiving what God has in mind or believing is like eating food (6:27, 35, 53). Bread is no good to us unless we take and eat it. The metaphor of eating is common in ordinary language. "She feeds on love stories He feeds on pornography." Faith is feeding our minds on Jesus ideas, words, his way, his plan for the world.

6:30-31 John uses the word "sign" in the good sense of pointing in the direction of God's power (2:11, 4:54, 5:36, 20:30-31). But signs can be misunderstood by being treated as a proof (6:14).

Jesus' hearers all knew the account of the manna being provided every week of the wilderness wanderings (Exodus 16:14-18, 35, Numbers 11:7-9, Deuteronomy 8:3, 16, see comments on 6:48-51). And before they will accept Jesus as Messiah they want a sign like that.

6:32-34 We might translate "It wasn't Moses who gave you manna from heaven but God, and God the Father is now giving you "the true bread from heaven." That gained their attention, and with more humility than before they ask "Sir, give us this bread always" (at all times, as in "our daily bread," Matthew 6:11).

6:35 In his Gospel John has collected a series of characteristic metaphors of Jesus beginning with the words "I am." " I am the light of the world (9:5), the gate (10:7), the good shepherd (10:11), the Way (14:12), the Vine"(15:1). In each case grasping the metaphor is important. On the one hand there is the reality of a personal appropriation (6:53), not in a literal way but by the Spirit (6:63). We do not look for a wooden gate (10:7), nor are we sheep with wool on our back (10:11).

Faith is like enjoying a good meal when we are tired and hungry. Or finding water when we are thirsty. There is a sense of hunger being satisfied and thirst being quenched (see 6:55).

6:36 They had asked for "bread always" (6:34), and Jesus points out that he himself is right there among them and they refuse to believe (take and eat, as in 6:27).

6:37 At first sight this looks as if the Father chooses those who come to faith in the Son, and others are left out. But it seems better to paraphrase "The Father will make sure that every one who is given to me will eventually arrive at our home." That enables us to include the idea that God wants to include everyone in his family, but many only come after long struggles and in strange ways. No one is forced in and no one is excluded. But the assurance is that by all loving means the Father will bring us safely home if there is any way for us to come to enjoy the perfect love of heaven.

6:38 Jesus goes back to the Father/Son relationship which he had explained in 5:17-30.

He has not thought up his own agenda. He never goes against the Father's mind, and we might add that all his work is done by the power of the Spirit (see 1:33, 3:34, see Luke 4:14, 5:17).

6:39 The Father's will is that not one person given to the Son (see the note on 6:37) should fail to be resurrected for heaven. And this is what the Messiah made possible by opening up the way through death and resurrection. This would happen even while Jesus' dead body was still hanging on the cross (Matthew 27:52-53, see Romans 8:11, Philippians 3:10-11).

6:40 "Seeing the Son" cannot refer to seeing him in the flesh. As the prologue points out, "The true light, which enlighten everyone, was coming into the world" (1:9). And that means anyone can see and turn towards that light (3:19-21).

6:41-43 Having seen the implications of what Jesus is saying about his relationship to the Father and his heavenly origin, there remained an ad hominem (directed at the person) argument. "We know your family in the village of Nazareth." But Jesus ignores that and moves back to the real point at issue.

6:44 As we saw in 6:37, Jesus is not suggesting that the Father chooses some to be drawn to faith and the rest are consigned to eternal damnation. But we should remind ourselves that the Father has made all the provision we need to be drawn to him. We are designed to be in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) which means we have all the equipment we need to hear the Father's voice and respond to him.

6:48-51 (see comments on 6:31-32, 35, 58). But now Jesus adds that he is "the living bread," and it is his "flesh" (the natural instinctive body in contrast to the Spirit, Romans 8:3-8) that will be given on the cross "for the life of the world."

6:52-58 The disciples of Jesus had problems understanding the strong metaphors of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (6:53, 60). "I am the bread of life" (6:35) is a metaphor, and metaphors are not to be taken literally (as among those who believe there is transubstantiation of the communion bread and wine). And yet the full force of the metaphor must be grasped. "She is a tower of strength" does not refer to bricks and mortar, but it certainly means that in the support of others she is a strong woman. There is to be real eating of his flesh and real drinking of his blood, but not in the sense of cannibalism.

6:59 This powerful teaching was given, not across the lake by the mountain where 5,000 people were fed, but in the Capernaum synagogue (see 6:24).

6:60-63 Jesus realizes that many disciples were having difficulties with his very strong metaphorical statements. He does not answer them but wonders how they would cope with the idea of the ascension? And then he reminds them again that it is the spiritual meaning of the metaphor that needs to be grasped (6:63, see 3:5-6).

6:64 Here is a first hint of the problem of Judas, one of his closest disciples. It is mentioned again in 6:70-71, and it will come to the fore at the last supper (13:21-30).

6:65 This verse goes better with the next verse. It was Jesus' statements about believers being given to him and drawn to the Father (6:37 and 47) that caused the turning back of so many.

6:66 These were disciples who had believed in Jesus as Messiah, and been baptized to begin learning with Jesus (see comments on 4:1). But now large numbers had turned back. In our day we also have many who get miffed and quit church for various reasons. "The church is full of hypocrites," or "When my mother was sick, I prayed and God did not answer, so I will never go to church again."

In the model used on this site we speak about only one church in each city (as in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Rome), but it meets in many locations and different names (denominations). So quitting church is not moving from meeting in one place to learning with other disciples in another location. It means losing all interest in learning from the Messiah with others in a community of the Spirit.

6:67-69 Having seen the large numbers who were miffed and turned away (see 2 Timothy 1:15, 4:10), Jesus asks the twelve chosen apostles if they also intend to leave him? Speaking for the twelve, Peter says there is nowhere else to turn. When we are tempted to doubt and move away from the Messiah, it is important to set out clearly what alternatives the world has to offer in this life and the next.

6:70 Judas had presumably chosen another direction to follow, and Jesus already knows that he will need to replaced as a personal eye-witness of every aspect of his ministry (Acts 1:21-26).

7:1-52    The Messiah