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When Jesus told the people in John 6:41, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” He was explaining the meaning and purpose of feeding the 5,000 earlier in the chapter. Jesus linked the miracle to the manna in the wilderness. But this calling was evident from the time of His birth, for that was the reason He was born in Bethlehem, which means the “House of Bread.”
To emphasize the point, His heavenly Father even caused the inn to be so crowded that He would have to be born in a stable, where He was placed in a manger (Luke 2:12, 16). A manger is where food is placed for the animals. Thus, Jesus was the “Bread” from the beginning, and the circumstances of His birth prophesied of this.
The fourth sign in John’s gospel manifested His glory by setting forth His calling in two ways. First, He was born to be the Bread of Life to feed the world and give it life. Second, because He broke the bread to feed the 5,000, it spoke of His death on the cross, where His body was broken, so to speak.
All of this was an act of Communion, which was thereafter celebrated by the church to remember Him and His primary mission in His first appearance. In fact, the fourth sign in John is a commentary on the meaning and purpose of Communion.
However, not everyone at the time could understand this.
John 6:41, 42 says,
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven. 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?”
Jesus probably said nothing at the time about the circumstances of His conception from the Virgin nor of the place of His birth. The disciples themselves had little understanding until later. It is interesting, however, that they knew Joseph and Mary. “The Jews” in question were probably the Pharisees among them, who had already investigated Jesus’ origins.
Jesus compared Himself to the manna that came down from heaven in the wilderness, and the people had little or no teaching that the Messiah was to originate in heaven. They all believed that the Messiah would be sent by God, of course, but they expected that Messiah to be born naturally from the seed of man. In this case, they assumed that Joseph had fathered Jesus.
They believed that the Messiah would give the people a banquet of delicious food. John Lightfoot quotes from rabbinic writings:
“Many affirm that the hope of Israel is that Messiah shall come and raise the dead; and they shall be gathered together in the garden of Eden and shall eat and drink and satiate themselves all the days of the world …. And that there are houses built of precious stones, beds of silk, and rivers flowing with wine and spicy oil.” “He made manna to descend for them, in which were all manner of tastes; and every Israelite found in it what his palate was chiefly pleased with. If he desired fat in it, he had it. In it the young men tasted bread, the old men honey, and the children oil …. So it shall be in the world to come [the days of the Messias]: he shall give Israel peace, and they shall sit down and eat in the garden of Eden; and all nations shall behold their condition; as it is said, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry, Isa. lxv.13.” (Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, Vol. 3, 1859, p. 304)
Lightfoot himself comments on this, saying,
“Alas, poor wretches! How do you deceive yourselves! For it is to you that this passage of being hungry while others eat does directly point.
Infinite are the dreams of this kind, particularly about Leviathan and Behemoth, that are to be served up in these feasts.” (Lightfoot, p. 305)
The Jewish expectations were very carnal and, in fact, did not even reflect the reality of the manna in the wilderness. Under Moses, the people complained bitterly that the manna was too bland for their palates. They said in Numbers 11:5, 6,
5 We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.
As it turned out, the people again complained at the manna that Jesus offered them. As we will see, the true manna was His own flesh and blood, and they were horrified at this, too.
John 6:43 begins, saying,
43 Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.”
Their grumbling (or murmuring) was precisely what their forefathers did in the wilderness (Exodus 16:2; 17:3; Numbers 14:2). There are a number of Hebrew words that mean “grumble” or “murmur.” One of these is hagah (Strong’s #1897), which sounds as if it is related, at least phonetically, to Hagar (Strong’s #1904).
Paul tells us that “Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children” (Galatians 4:25). This may suggest also that those who have an Old Covenant mindset tend to grumble at the taste of manna. Certainly, that is what happened under Moses and again in Jesus’ day.
In John 6:44, 45 Jesus continues,
44 No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught of God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.
Jesus’ teaching is based on the sovereignty of God. It is God alone who “draws” people, as He said earlier in John 6:37. If the Father does not draw someone, he will not come to Jesus. Hence, coming to Him is evidence that God has done something behind the scenes. Men usually think it is their own idea, but we ought to credit God Himself with drawing men, rather than crediting men for initiating their own salvation.
In verse 45 Jesus proves this assertion by quoting Isaiah 54:13,
13 All your sons will be taught of the Lord; and the well-being of your sons will be great.
Jesus also referred to Jeremiah 31:34,
34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
This is the climax of Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant, which is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12). By this we see that the New Covenant is God’s oath to save all mankind. He vowed to write His laws in our hearts, because men could not do this on their own initiative through the Old Covenant. The New Covenant, then, is also the foundation of Jesus’ statement, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
It is clear that Jesus did not expect the majority of the people to believe His words or to “come” to Him. Only those drawn by the Father would do so, and this was then the evidence that they were “taught of the Lord.”
John 6:46 finishes the thought, saying,
46 “Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.”
In other words, only Jesus Christ Himself, the Logos, has actually “seen the Father.” Why? Because He came from God. He descended from heaven at His incarnation and was therefore the fulfillment of the manna prophecy. He was the word with God (John 1:2) that later became flesh (John 1:14).
John 6:47-50 then summarizes His teaching,
47 Truly, truly [Amen, Amen], I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
This was Jesus’ testimony, taken under oath (Amen, Amen), by which He gave us a summary of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Those who are taught by God Himself are those who gather at the table of Communion to eat the true “manna” that came down from heaven. This “manna” did not originate on earth; hence, Jesus Himself did not begin to exist when He was born in Bethlehem. He pre-existed in heaven with the Father in spirit form before coming to earth in human flesh.
Those who partake of Communion worthily are those who have been drawn to Christ by the Father and not merely by men. Unfortunately, many have been coerced by threats or fear into partaking of His body. Their religious belief simulates true Christianity but is in fact an artificial and superficial religious decision that does not truly impart life. The evidence of this is seen in the outworking of their beliefs in their personal lives. They show signs of legalism in their daily lives, because the law is not written in their hearts but only in their heads. Others simply reject the law altogether through antinomianism, testifying against themselves that the law has not been written in their hearts.