Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
The Bible talks a lot about bread. Today we’ll read as our Lord and Savior teaches on bread to the Israelites of his day. Jesus dealt with the issue frequently that the people Israel were more concerned about food than they were about holiness. After a particular event in which Jesus fed five-thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus became very popular. In fact, the miracle had made Jesus a super star overnight and the next day the people were hoping for a sequel (or perhaps seconds) to the infamous bread-increasing miracle. However, our Lord had already crossed the lake and went over towards Capernaum to continue his ministry. We read in John 6:22-25,
The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”
Notice that when they found Jesus, they weren’t all that shocked that he had seemingly crossed the lake without a boat (and more than likely they didn’t care), but instead they asked very casually, “Oh, when did you get here?” As though Jesus couldn’t tell that they had followed him. But the people didn’t care about Jesus and his ministry, as he quickly found out. They cared about what he could do for them. They’d seen the bread, they had eaten it, and they had been satisfied. Jesus brought them bread, which reminded them of another prophet long ago;
So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (John 6:30-31).
It had been more than a thousand years and the Israelites were still talking about Moses. Even more than that, the people, who had already seen an amazing miracle the day before, were pressing Jesus to do it again. After all, their forefathers had eaten manna. And everyone knows that manna was not a one-time event. For the Bible tells us,
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions (Exodus 16:4).
Didn’t Jesus know? He had only fed them one time, but the Lord, the real Lord had fed them every day while they were in the desert, for it is written, “The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan” (Exodus 16:35). If Jesus was the prophet he claimed to be, he’d have to prove it.
Jesus was instantly disappointed by their request. For the people didn’t care about their eternal lives, but they wanted to make sure that their physical needs were taken care of before talking about anything else. The people may have known of the scriptures, as proved by their referencing Exodus, however, they didn’t understand the scriptures. Exodus 16:19-20 tells us about one of the characteristics of the manna they craved,
Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”
However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.
The bread from heaven had a shelf life of less than 24 hours. Similarly, all foods spoil, even canned foods will if you leave them alone long enough. However, it wasn’t the fact that the people were putting their hopes into things that wouldn’t last that disappointed the Lord. No, it was the fact that he had just finished teaching them about it. John 6:27 (just a few verses before the request), records Jesus’ teaching, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” And it was after this, about five minutes later (and only four verses) that the people said “Our forefathers ate manna in the desert.” Being the Lord and Savior was a hard job, not just on the cross, but every day. We need to remember this teaching as well though. Everything here on earth will spoil and fall away, and when that’s gone, there’s only one thing that will be left: God. So instead of setting things up on earth, we should be looking towards heaven, where we’ll spend eternity (pending we have accepted Christ). Jesus taught on this subject before, he tells us,
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).
This is a message for us just as much as it was for the Israelites. They too were in a huge financial bind when Jesus taught them (what with being under Rome’s thumb and all). Don’t focus on what you can see here, as it will disappear, but look to the Lord, for with him is life. Anyway, back to the Israelites and Jesus. Knowing their hearts, Jesus told those looking for manna what happened to their ancestors they were so excited to talk about. He said, “Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died” (John 4:49).
So, Jesus began to try again to teach the people who were waiting for the day’s main course. We read in John 6:32-33,
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
In saying this, Jesus was trying to get people to focus off of the prophet from whom God did his works in the desert and onto the Son, who had come from heaven to save the world. For a relationship with Jesus is far more important than bread. Of course though, all of this went over the people’s heads. They replied in John 6:34, “’Sir,’ they said, ‘from now on give us this bread.’” Ok, some of Jesus’ teachings were a bit lofty for the people to catch onto. But he was a patient man (what with being the son of God and all). So, in John 6:35, he tried again; clarifying his previous statement, “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’” Our Lord continued to explain that he was there to give them life and that anyone who came to him would be saved. However, the people still didn’t’ get it. We read,
At this the Jews began to grumble about him 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’?” (John 6:41-42).
How quickly the people forgot about the miracle from the day before. Jesus knew their hearts though and he also knew that many would not accept his testimony. We read in John 6:43-44, “’Stop grumbling among yourselves,’ Jesus answered. ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.’” Simply put, some people aren’t gonna get it; God knows who will and who won’t.
Now, as I am dramatizing all of this out, I don’t want to make light of the fact that quite honestly the people did want the Bread of Life. They may not have understood what it was, or accepted Jesus’ teaching on it; but even how, we read in John 6:28-29 the people asking Jesus how to get this magic bread, and Jesus’ response, “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” This is the same for us today; all we need to do to stave off death forever (by gaining eternal life) is to believe in the Lord Jesus. The Christ continued, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life” (John 6:47). The people were confused though, as they had just been talking about bread, so Jesus again tried to explain the doctrine of eternal life using bread as the example. Jesus explains,
But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world (John 6:50-51).
Still not clear? Don’t worry, you’re not alone, the people didn’t get it either. We read in the very next line (John 6:52), “Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” It was an odd statement from Jesus, I know that I stop on it every time I read through the Word and ponder it for a while. One would assume many Christians do.
Knowing that the son of a carpenter being the Bread of Life is a little hard to swallow, the Messiah tried again,
Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever (John 6:57-58).
God sent Jesus, so those who believe in Jesus are made righteous in the eyes of God, thus allowing them into heaven (since without the cleansing of Jesus’ blood sacrifice on the cross none are without sin and therefore unable to approach God). Jesus is the only way to live forever; we know this because he was sent from the Father in Heaven. Every other form of trying to attain heaven is insufficient. There is only one road to life, and it’s Jesus. If you believe in him, you will have eternal life. What is easily understood by Christians though is very often difficult to accept by others. Such was the case on the day that Jesus taught on the bread of life. We read in John 6:60, “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” Knowing their hearts, Jesus called after them to explain the importance of salvation, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Those called by the Lord know that what Jesus says (and actually the whole Word of God) is life. But even how, many could not accept the Lord’s words and so we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6:66).
Jesus says a lot of strange things when you read the Gospels. There are a lot of difficult rules in and regulations that don’t make sense in Leviticus (especially since we don’t follow them today in churches). There’s a whole sacrificial system in that has somehow been finished by Jesus dying on a cross. There are books and books of prophecy that don’t seem to apply to us and yet we’re supposed to read. And the capstone to it all is that according to the Bible, because one man died 2000 years ago, we can go to heaven, and that man is Jesus (Oh, and we say “is” because he’s not dead currently). Maybe you’ve been reading through this and none of it has made any sense, and yet something has driven you to keep going as you search for the way to connect with God. Maybe you’re a Christian who is dealing with doubt and confusion regarding our Scriptures. Maybe you’re trying to spread the Gospel and quickly realizing that a lot of people just don’t get it. You’re not alone, Jesus’ disciples struggled with this every day of his ministry and even after his atoning death on a cross (and after his resurrection as well). John records,
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).
Stick it out. If you don’t understand any of this, and yet you feel like God is calling you, just believe that he’ll make it more clear later. If you’re having trouble with the Bible (which is a difficult book), pray for the Lord to help you through your disbelief. If people aren’t getting it when you preach to them, don’t give up; your people are out there. We, the faithful don’t really have a choice. I mean, we know there’s only one way and it’s Jesus. If you don’t understand the finer points, that’s fine, but what else is there? Even if you don’t like his teachings, there’s nothing that will bring eternal life except for Jesus. Some people never will get it, but those called find the Gospel irresistible. Paul explains,
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).
Still don’t it? That’s fine. Just pray for clarity, and the Lord will give it to you. Because if you’re at the point of prayer, then you can already know that the Lord has called you onto his team, and if you’re on his team, then you have the Bread of Life on your side.