THE BREAD OF LIFE – John 6:48-50

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There are many foods in this world of ours that are available only to a few people because of their cost or because of their scarcity or seasonal nature.  But bread is the universal food of mankind.  It is found on every table – rich or poor, king or peasant.  Whether it is made of wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice, or some other grain, it is bread, the cheapest and most nourishing food.  Bread represents all the elements needed to sustain life.  Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, gives the following description.  “Bread is a staple food prepared from a dough of flour and water, usually by baking.  Throughout recorded history it has been popular around the world and is one of the oldest artificial foods, having been of importance since the dawn of agriculture.”

Here in John’s gospel, Jesus has been described in terms of the basics of physical life.  He is called “light” in chapter 1, and describes Himself to Nicodemus, in chapter 3, as the “light that has come into the world.”  Jesus also describes the work of the Spirit of God by using the wind, the movement of air, as an illustration of spiritual birth.  When speaking to the woman at the well, in chapter 4, Jesus identifies Himself to her as the Source of “living water”, and now He is referring to Himself as the “bread of life”.   Putting those descriptions together, we have the basics for sustaining physical life in human beings:  light, air, water, and bread.  His purpose for all these illustrations is to transition from “physical basics” to “spiritual basics”, and so far He has been very successful in doing so.  There is more to be said about bread.  In this passage of Scripture we’re going to see how this information about Himself is received by this small crowd of people who crossed the Sea of Galilee in boats that morning, and found Jesus and His disciples in Capernaum.


Verse 48 contains these words of Jesus:  “I am the bread of life”.  He just said those very same words to them several minutes earlier in verse 35.  I think there is more to His words than just repetition for the sake of remembrance.  In Matthew’s gospel we find that Jesus spent quite a bit of time in the synagogues of the Jews.  It was His practice to visit the synagogues in Galilee when He was in that region.  Matthew 4:23 says, “And Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues . . . “.  Since a small portion of the 5000 crossed the Sea of Galilee in the early morning and found Jesus and His disciples, I personally think that Jesus was on His way to the synagogue in Capernaum when they joined Him, and Jesus spoke to them about the bread of life while they were walking into town.  As they approached the synagogue, bystanders along the way may have joined the crowd, and they followed Jesus into the synagogue.  Inside there were more people, gathered for the time of instruction.  I think Jesus may be repeating His earlier statements for the sake of the people in the synagogue, who were watching them enter the building and were, no doubt, curious about what they were discussing.  This may not be the first time that Jesus taught in their synagogue.  John 6:59 confirms this.  It reads, “These things He said in the synagogue, as He taught in Capernaum.”

I’m sure they all wondered what Jesus meant when he walked into the synagogue, waited for everyone to sit down and listen to Him speak, and then said those words, “I am the bread of life.”  Jesus was saying that in Him are all the elements for a healthy, growing spiritual life.  The famous missionary, Jonathan Goforth, had preached a series of messages in a chapel in southern China in the early 1900’s.  Afterward, a man asked to talk to him.  The man said, “I have heard you speak three times, and you always have the same theme.  You always speak of Jesus Christ.  Why?”  The missionary replied, “Sir, before answering your question, let me ask, ‘What did you have for dinner today?’ ”  “Rice”, replied the man.  “What did you have yesterday?”
“The same thing.”  “And what do you expect to eat tomorrow?”  “Rice, of course.  It gives me strength.  I could not do without it.  Sir, it is . . .”  (the man hesitated, as if looking for a strong word).  Then he added, “Sir, it is my life!”  The missionary responded quickly, “What you have said of rice, Jesus is to your soul.  He is the “rice” or “bread of life”.

There may yet be another reason why Jesus keeps repeating that He is the bread of life.  The Jews in Judea had grumbled saying that Jesus and His family were from Nazareth, and no prophet was supposed to come from Nazareth.  They didn’t ask Jesus where He was born and they didn’t do any research for themselves, or they would have learned that He was born in Bethlehem.  Did you know that the name “Bethlehem”  literally means “House of Bread”.  Jesus was speaking to them in Hebrew, and the word He was saying was “lehem”, the second half of the word “Bethlehem”.  He’s saying, “I am lehem” over and over again.  Wouldn’t you think that the town of Bethlehem might come to the minds of some of His listeners?  “I am ‘lehem’ from ‘Bethlehem’.”  “I am bread” from the “house of bread”.  I certainly wouldn’t rule out that possibility, and that’s a new insight for me.


Once again, Jesus also compares Himself to the manna for the sake of all the people who are present, many of whom did not hear the first statement in verses 28-32.  But this time Jesus changes the wording slightly to emphasize a different perspective.  Earlier, in verses 28-31 the crowd asked Jesus to show them a sign as proof that He came from God.  Then they describe the kind of a sign they want Him to perform.  To paraphrase, they said,  “Give us a sign like the one Moses gave the people of Israel.  Send us manna from heaven to eat.”  The crowd wanted another free meal; only this time they wanted it catered from heaven!

The Lord Jesus responds to them by telling them about the long-lasting effects of the bread He has to offer them.  In verse 35, He says, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”  Jesus is speaking spiritually, but they are taking it literally.  They want this bread, just as the woman at the well, in John 4:15, wanted that “living water”!  He also states, in verse 33, that the bread He offers is not exclusive to the Jews, but inclusive of the whole world.  He “gives life to the world”.  So the bread Jesus offers in Himself is long-lasting and inclusive of all peoples without distinction.


In verse 49, Jesus once again begins to compare Himself to the manna, but this time He emphasizes that He is the bread which will prevent death.  He says, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”  The manna sustained physical life but it didn’t prevent death.  All who ate the manna eventually died.  There would be no argument among the people listening to Him concerning that statement.  They were probably nodding their heads silently in agreement.  The Scriptures were clear that the manna was given to sustain the lives of their ancestors until they died or  until the next generation entered the promised land and could eat the fruit of that land.  However the next sentence from the mouth of Jesus is going to raise some eyebrows and start the grumbling again!  This is especially so because He is now inside the synagogue where there are probably priests, Pharisees, and Sadducees among those who are listening to Him speak.  The crowd isn’t friendly anymore!

This is not the Sabbath day.  They apostle John is very diligent about letting his readers know when it is a Sabbath or a feast day of the Jews.  The previous Sabbath was just a couple of days earlier, when Jesus healed the lame man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-17).  If it’s not the Sabbath, why would Jesus be going to the synagogue on a weekday?  This synagogue was a busy place during the week also.  It served as a community center, school, court, and place of study.  There was never a dull moment in the synagogues of that day.


In verse 50, the Lord Jesus once again makes a comparison between the manna and the bread He has to offer them.  He says, “But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.”  So far, the crowd has been thinking that Jesus is talking about physical bread, so they are naturally going to deduce that He is talking about physical death.  Two people from the Scriptures must have immediately come to their minds.  Their names were Enoch and Elijah, and they are the only two people in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings who did not die.  (Genesis 5:22-24; II Kings 2:1-15).  It’s also obvious from the Scriptures that it wasn’t bread that kept these two men from dying.  What is Jesus talking about?  Why is He making such a claim?

To begin with, I think the Lord Jesus wants to bring the subject of death to their minds.  The children of Israel were given the manna in answer to their fear of starving.  Jesus is going to give them an answer to their fear of death.  It’s a subject about which there was a considerable difference of opinion among first-century Jews.  Each of those present in that synagogue had ideas they were taught as children, along with their own personal ideas about death and the after-life, referred to in Hebrew as the Olam Ha-Ba (the World To Come).

A cemetery in Indiana has a tombstone that is over a hundred years old, and it bears this epitaph:

Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be,
So prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passerby had read those words and scratched this reply below them:

To follow you I’m not content,
Until I know which way you went.

The passerby was right.  The important thing about death is what follows.  Where are you going?

One sizable group of Hebrew people during the first century were the Sadducees.  They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead.  One of my professors in Bible college said something that I’ve never forgotten.  We were studying the Gospels and he said, “The Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection from the dead;  that’s why they’re ‘sad,you see’.”  If I didn’t believe in a resurrection from the dead, I’d be sad too; wouldn’t you?

From what I’ve read about first-century Judaism, the greater focus of attention appears to be on the here and now, rather than on the there and then.  If you have a computer, you probably get notifications of updates that need to be installed.  Some of those updates take quite a bit of time to install.  Usually you are given the option of three buttons to choose from.  You can click “install now”, “set a time”, or “remind me later”.  If you’re like me, you don’t want to be bothered by the interruption and so you click the “remind me later” button.  I’ve been clicking that button several times over the past weeks, putting it off again and again.  I need to stop and let the developers of my operating system get the job done!  First-century Judaism probably wasn’t much different from our society today when it comes to the issue of death.  It wasn’t a subject that they liked to discuss, so they often ignored it or kept putting it off until later.  Evangelist Billy Graham made the following comment:  Much of the world pretends that death does not exist.  We like to speak of the dead as “departed”, or persons who have died as having “passed on” or “expired”.  We do not like the word “death”.  It seems so final, so irreversible, so hopeless.

Do the Old Testament scriptures talk about the death and the afterlife?  Yes, in many places.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and others are spoken of as being “gathered to their people” after they died.  By contrast, the wicked were described as being “cut off from their people.”  Daniel 12:2 speaks of a conscious life after death in one of two places, and both are everlasting.  It never ends.  Many passages of Scripture use the word Sheol to refer to the place of the dead (in the Psalms, Job, Ezekiel, Lamentations, Jonah, Isaiah, I Samuel, and others).  Add to that the teachings of the Rabbis that were collected as part of the Mishnah and Talmud.  In these writings it seems that each of the rabbis had a different teaching about the afterlife.  This added confusion to the minds of the people, and increased their fear of what’s in store for them beyond the grave.

With that background in mind concerning death and the afterlife, the people’s ears must have been tingling and their attention focused on the Lord Jesus after He said those words in verse 50:  “This is the bread which comes out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.”  Everyone there was wondering, “What is He going to say next?”  “How can this be possible.”  I think Jesus is teaching His disciples, and us as well, a principle for sharing the Gospel message:  Sometimes, in order to awaken in people a desire for eternal life, you’ve got to put the fear of death into them!  By putting the fear of death into people, we may also be putting the fear of God into them:  “If there is a God, what’s He going to do to me when this life is over?”  “I’ve tried to be good, but so far I haven’t been very successful!”


Is death a subject that you don’t like to think about or talk about?  Do you sometimes worry about your own death and what might await you on the other side?  Would you like to put an end to those worries and have a genuine relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of life?  If so, please go to my sermon on John 1:12, entitled “What Does It Mean To Receive Christ”, and consider what God wants you to do, and what He gives you in exchange for your act of obedience and faith.  May you allow the Bread of Life to be the One who satisfies the deepest hunger of you souls both now and for eternity.


Let’s feast on the Word of God, which describes for us the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bread of life.




BEHOLD YOUR GOD – Background and Survey of the Gospel of John

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This study through the Gospel of John is going to keep us busy for over a year, and possibly over two years.  The apostle John says in I John 1:1, “From the very first day, we were there, taking it all in – we heard it with our own ears, saw it with our own eyes, verified it with our own hands.  The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! (The Message).

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to see the Lord Jesus face-to-face, to hear His voice, to hear Him call you by name, to embrace Him, to watch the expressions on His face, and to observe all the things He said and did while He was on this earth?  Does thinking about that fill your hearts with joy and excitement?  My desire is to try to imagine and simulate that first-hand experience as I study the text.  I plan to incorporate more of the Old Testament scriptures and the other three Gospels into the study, where appropriate, so that we might see Him in as much detail, and with as much clarity as possible.


Was there ever a time in your life when you asked yourself the question:  “Which book of the Bible should I read first?”  Has anybody ever asked you that same question, seeking your advice?  A question that is often asked by Bible translation teams is “Which book of the Bible should we translate first?”  The answer to those two questions is often the same:  the Gospel of John.

William MacDonald made this observation:  “The Gospel of John is the most familiar and perhaps the best loved book in the Bible.  Charles R. Erdman says of this Gospel:  “It has induced more people to follow Christ, it has inspired more believers to loyal service, it has presented to scholars more difficult problems, than any other book that could be named.”


That’s a commonly asked question also:  “Why are there four gospels?”  Actually, there is one gospel, written from the perspective of four different men who were moved by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote.

Matthew, formerly named Levi, was a Jewish tax collector who became a follower of Christ.  His purpose in writing was to demonstrate to his fellow-Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the “anointed One”, whose coming was prophesied in the Old Testament scriptures.  He begins his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus going back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation.  Matthew also quotes from the Old Testament scriptures more often than any other gospel-writer.  His intention is to show that Jesus fulfilled the prophesies that were written concerning the coming Messiah.

Mark, also called John Mark, focuses on the Lord Jesus as a servant.  A theme verse is Mark 10:45 where Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His live as a ransom for many.” (NIV)  We find no genealogy in Mark’s gospel, but we see Jesus involved in the lives of people.

Luke is writing to the Greeks, and looks at Jesus as a man.  Many of the Greek gods and goddesses had a pretty-sordid history and didn’t relate well to people.  The genealogy in Luke’s gospel goes all the way back to Adam, showing that Jesus was truly a member of the human race.  Luke also gives more insights into the birth and childhood of Jesus than any other gospel writer.

John looks at Jesus as God.  He focuses on the deity of Christ.  John’s gospel contains no details about the birth or the childhood of Christ.  It also contains no parables, no temptation scene, no Gethsemane, and no mention of scribes, publicans, lepers, or demoniacs.


The writer of this account of the life and teachings of Christ was John, the son of Zebedee.  He and his brother James were fishermen along with their father.  While James and John were mending their nets, Jesus came by and called out to them, asking them to come and follow Him (Mt. 4:21-22; Mk. 1:19-20; Lk. 5:9-11).  They both immediately left their nets and followed Him.  John outlived the other disciples and wrote three letters.  He also wrote “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” while living as an exile on the island of Patmos.  In this writing, John gives a message to each of the seven churches in Asia and writes down a description of the visions he received from God


We find John’s purpose for writing his gospel near the end of his book.  John 20:30-31 says, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”  (NIV)  John’s purpose was to provide the answer to these two questions:  First, “Who is Jesus Christ?”  And secondly, “What is to be our proper response to Him on the basis of who He is?”

Since John’s Gospel was the last to be written, and the others were already being copied and distributed, it makes me wonder whether Matthew, Mark, and Luke might have met with John concerning certain events which were not included in their accounts.  If so, the apostle John did a good job of “filling in the blanks” as well as focusing his attention on the deity of Christ!

There are three key words in John 20:30-31, and they need a bit of an explanation:

Signs” – John recorded six miracles that are not recorded in the other gospels:  the water changed into wine (chapter 2), the nobleman’s son healed (chapter 4), the paralyzed man healed (chapter 5), the healing of the man born blind (chapter 9), the raising of Lazarus from the dead (chapter 11), and the second great catch of fish (chapter 21).  Each one of these miracles, or signs, demonstrates Christ’s deity and authority.  These signs were performed on other people or for the benefit of other people.

Believe” – is the response that these signs were intended to produce.  The word is used 98 times in John’s gospel, and refers to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.  We find in John’s gospel that those who believed in Jesus Christ became His followers, whereas those who refused to believe became His opponents.

Life” – refers to the result that belief brings.  In John 5:24 Jesus said, “i tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (NIV)  Eternal life begins at the moment that we invite Jesus Christ to come into our lives and be our Savior and Lord.  John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.”  Jesus said that we can have an abundant and fulfilling life right now if we belong to Him.


John records the testimonies of seven eye-witnesses:

John the Baptist – “After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me. . . . And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1:30-34)

Nathanael – “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel”  (John 1:49)

The Samaritan woman – “Come, see a man who told me all the things I have done; this is not the Christ, is it”? . . . And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.”  (John 4:29, 39).

Peter –  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”  (John 6:68-69).

Martha – Yes, Lord, I have believed that you are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”  (John 11:27)

Thomas – “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God’ “.  (John 20:28).

John – “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God”. (John 20:31)

Each of these people had personal conversations with Jesus and proclaimed that Jesus was God.

John also records the seven “I am’s” of Jesus, (Jesus reveals Himself seven times using the words “I am”).

“I am the bread of life” (chapter 6)

“I am the light of the world” (chapters 8 and 9)

“I am the door”  (chapter 10)

“I am the good shepherd”  (chapter 10)

“I am the resurrection and the life” (chapter 11)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (chapter 14)

“I am the true vine”  (chapter 15)

In each of these descriptions of Himself, Jesus points to His deity, and thus His ability to meet their deepest needs.  Also, each time Jesus uses that format to describe Himself, He is bringing to their minds the question that Moses asked the voice that was coming from the burning bush, and the answer he received.  In Exodus 3:!3, Moses said to God, “behold I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘the God of your fathers has sent me to you.’  “Now they may say to me, ”What is His name?’  What shall I say to them?”  In verse 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.  That was God’s covenant name to the Jewish people, and Jesus is using it to refer to Himself (YHWH, usually pronounced as  Yahweh or Jehovah).

Finally, John records 27 personal interviews with Jesus.  Some of them were extensive and some were very brief.  The Lord Jesus wanted people of all belief systems and all walks of life to know who He really is, and that He cares for them.

If the things that John is saying about Jesus Christ are hard for you to believe at this point in your life, you are not alone.  John will be giving more and more evidence to verify Jesus’ claims.  Please continue to study this book with me and give it some thought and reflection.  I have personally observed that many people, including myself, have had an unclear concept of Jesus Christ and His teachings.  The Gospel of John, more than any other New Testament book, cleared my mind and changed my heart.  That is one of the reasons why I want to study it again.

It’s time to move on to the next construction site:  John 1:1-3.  I hope to see you there!