The Living Bread
This sixth chapter of John’s Gospel with its seventy-seven verses is the longest chapter in this marvelous book telling of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. Someone has called John’s Gospel the most wonderful book in the world and perhaps this is its most wonderful chapter. It would have been more helpful if we could have taken the whole chapter at once but there is so much in it that it is impossible to do it in thirty-five or forty minutes so we have had to break it up. But I hope that this will not result in our losing sight of the setting. Jesus had fed the multitude and the next day people came to Him hinting that they would like to get another meal in the same way. They said, “What sign do you show? Our fathers did eat manna in the wilderness. We heard you did this yesterday. Are you prepared to do the same thing today?” But Jesus took the occasion to show them that there was something far more important than providing food for the body. We are told that “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” This was true even of the Son of man who came to give His life a ransom for the world. And in this chapter He expresses the mystery of His incarnation. The bread of God is He who came down from heaven. On other words, He did not just begin to live when begotten in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He was the preexistent Son of God who became man for our redemption. And it is in His incarnation, that is, God and man in the wonderful person of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He is presented to us as the Bread of God. Then He speaks of something deeper, something more serious. He says, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” And in saying this, He used terms that must at first have been almost abhorrent to some of those Jews for they knew that the Law said that man was never to eat blood. But He declared, “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood if you would have life and I will raise you up in the last day. If you do not eat and drink my flesh and blood you will have no life in you at all.” This has no reference to what is called the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It had not been instituted at this time, but He referred to His sacrificial death when His blood was separated from His body, His blood shed for sinners, and men must eat His flesh and drink His blood, that is, they must appropriate the value of His atoning work in order to avail themselves of God’s salvation. Eating the flesh of the Son of God and drinking His blood are figurative expressions and they mean laying hold of these precious truths by faith and making them our own. Eating is appropriating faith. Have you all done that? Have you received the Lord Jesus Christ in that way? Have you trusted Him for salvation? Do you recognize that His death was for you, that the shedding of His blood was that your sins might be put away? As you contemplate that cross—an empty cross now,—He who hung suspended on the nails is now seated at God’s right hand—and as you look from that empty cross to the throne of God can you say, “Lord Jesus thy blood was shed for me, I believe in Thee as my Saviour.” This is to eat His flesh and drink His blood. It is not that just at one particular time in our lives when troubled and convicted of sin we receive Him by faith, but it is living day by day in communion with Him, appropriating all that Christ is and all that He has done. This is indeed to feed upon the living bread. And we do that as we meditate upon the Word of God. I do not know of any other way by which we may feed upon the living bread. Those of us who have acquainted ourselves with the Word in the times of good health find that memory will bring up the words when we are sick and thus we feed upon that which we have already learned. How important then when we are able to read the Word when we are strong and well, that we give ourselves to the extensive study of this Book, to meditate upon it, to build us up and nurture us, as Scripture puts it, in the words of faith and sound teaching. We need this in order to enter into and enjoy communion with our Lord.
In verse fifty-seven, He says, “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateh me, even he shall live by me.” That is communion. The Lord Jesus Christ as a man here in this world lived in daily communion with the Father and it is wonderful to think that He studied His Bible just as He calls upon us to search the Scriptures. We read in the 16th Psalm how the blessed Lord was speaking to the Father and He said, “my goodness extendeth not to thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.” There He was, as man on Earth, looking up to the Father, not pleading His own merit, save on behalf of others, and yet living in daily communion with God. And the prophet Isaiah in the fiftieth chapter gives a wonderful illustration of His living by faith. There He says in verse 2, “Wherefore, when I came was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness: their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst.” Who is speaking here? The eternal God, the Creator and Upholder of all things. But which person of the Godhead? Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, for look at the next verses, four through six, where He speaks as man. In verses two and three, He speaks as God. But now we hear Him saying, “The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.” This is the same one who said, “I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.” He took the place of a learner that He should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. I like Leeser’s Jewish translation here which reads, “That I should know how to comfort the weary with the word.” Think of it! The Lord Jesus here on Earth studying the Bible day by day in order that He should know how to speak a word in season to weary souls, for their own comfort and help.
Then He adds, “morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned.” Three times we read in Scripture of the pierced or opened ear. There is that wonderful type of the bondservant who had served out his time, and was now ready to go out free. But we are told in the book of Exodus that “If that servant should say, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children, I will not go out free,’” then he was to take him to the side of the door and pierce the servant’s ear with an awl. Thus he became a perpetual servant. When one of his little ones would look at that ear and say, “Mother why has father such an ugly hole in his ear?” she would say, “Oh, don’t call that ugly, that tells how much he loves you and me. You see, he was a bond man and could have gone out free but he would not leave us, so his ears were pierced with an awl.” This is a picture of our blessed Lord in glory with the print of the nails still in His hands, the scars that tell of His unchanging love for His Father and His church. Yes, He is the Servant with the pierced ear.
Then again He says in the fortieth Psalm, “Mine ears hast thou opened,” and in the New Testament that is changed to “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.” It meant this:—when the Lord Jesus was one with the Father before the incarnation, He never had to take orders from anybody. He did not need the servant’s ear, but when He became a Man, He took the servant’s place and received instructions from the Father day by day. “For I came…not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” And here in the fiftieth chapter of Isaiah He says, “The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back.” Oh, we get so rebellious. God begins to show what He would have us do and we become rebellious. It was never so with Him for He lived in daily, hourly, momentary communion with the Father and delighted in the will of God. See what is brought Him. He says, “I have my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” Think of it! The One who could say, “I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering!” Now He says, “I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” So we see Him in the two natures of God and Man. And as Man here on Earth He lived in communion with the Father. “And I live by the Father.” So he who appropriates Him by faith day by day, even he shall live by Him. Paul expresses this when he says, “I have been crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” That was eating Christ—that was making Christ his own and part of himself as it were—“Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
We become in large measure like the food we eat. Someone has said, “What we eat, we are.” One who is really feeding on Christ will become like Him. Such an one will manifest His purity, goodness, tenderness, compassion, His kind interest in others. You take a professing Christian who is hard and bitter and critical of others and you know he hasn’t been feeding on Christ for a long time. That tells the story. You take a Christian who is drifting into worldliness and carelessness, who is becoming vain and haughty and self-centered—he has not been feeding on Christ. The Word says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” That is the humble mind, the lowly mind. It is the mind that thinks of others, and says “never mind me.” This is not natural to us but it is developed in us as we feed upon our blessed Lord. And this is to be our portion forever. So He continues, “This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”
But when the people heard this, it troubled them. Many had gone with Him that far and had recognized in Him a wonderful prophet and they were asking themselves, “Is not this the Messiah?” They were listening to His teachings and following Him, but when he spoke of eating His flesh and drinking Hs blood, when he opened up this wonderful truth of His atonement, it began to trouble them. They were looking for a great world ruler who would deliver them from the Romans and make them the first nation in the world. They were not prepared for what he talked of—dying, giving His life for the world. When they heard this they said, “This in a hard saying; who can hear it?” There are many like that today. They are willing to take Jesus as a great Teacher. They are ready to acknowledge that in His life He has given us a wonderful example and they talk about trying to follow in His steps, but they do not own His Saviorhood, they do not want His vicarious atonement, they are not willing or ready to believe that in Jesus we have God and Man in one blessed Person. They are ready to think of Him as a martyr for truth but they are not ready to admit that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures. There is no life in them, there is no new birth unless one receives Him as the incarnate Son of God, dying on the cross for our redemption. And so today there are many who would turn away from this truth saying, “This is a hard saying: who can hear it?”
Jesus knew what they were saying and He said, “Doth this offend you?” Does this cause you to stumble because I have told you that I have come down from heaven and become man, because I tell you that I am going to die that man might be saved, does this stumble you? I will tell you something more—someday I am going to ascend, as man, into heaven.” You see, when men resist the truth, the Lord Jesus makes it harder for them, but when they will receive the truth, then He makes it very simple. So, now, He makes it far more difficult than before: “What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” “Oh,” they would say, “We can’t believe that, that Jesus, as man, should ascend up into heaven—and yet, that is just what took place in God’s due time. God raised Him from the dead and He was taken up. Four times in the first chapter of the book of Acts we get that phrase. And He sits now at the right hand of God. You know some people believe that a great change took place in Christ’s body as He was taken up after His death. They think of Him as some strange mysterious spirit without a material human body but you remember He, Himself said, “handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” There was a physical form. He had poured out His blood for our redemption but He is there in heaven in a body—in the same body that hung upon the cross. He is the Man Christ Jesus at God’s right hand today and when we see Him we shall look up into the face of a Man, we shall grasp the hand of a Man, but we shall recognize a nail print in that hand. He will bear it through eternity.
“What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?” “Could you believe that?” But He says, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” It is only as we receive His words in faith that we can lay hold of eternal truth. The flesh, unless moved upon by divine grace, will not understand. His words are foolishness unto the natural man, because they are supernaturally discerned. But these words are spirit and truth and when you open your heart to receive them, a new life is created, and you are able to take them in.
“But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not.” He knew what was going on in the hearts of men. He knew whenever anyone made a profession that wasn’t real. He knows today. The Son of God knows whether you are genuine or not. Your friends may not know. Those you are close to may not know but He knows whether you have really put your trust in Him, the Bread of God that cometh down from heaven. Let us seek to be real before Him. Let us not rely on mere profession, it will not avail in that day. There must be reality. “And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me except it were given unto him of my Father.” And does that then shut anybody out? Does it make it impossible for some men to come? Does it mean then that there are some that God has decreed may come and some that may not? No. “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out.” All may come if they will, but apart from the drawing of the Father none would come.
Well this seemed like “strong meat” for many and we read that “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” They had kept company with Him up to that time. They hoped from day to day that He would put Himself at the head of the Jews, that He would lead them on to glorious victories, but now their hopes are dashed. They didn’t understand His words about dying and ascending to heaven. This is not the Messiah that they were looking for. Then Jesus turned to the twelve whom He had officially selected and asked, “Will ye also go away?” They had seen Him in prayer. They had listened to His teaching and apparently had received His word in their hearts. They knew His power. Alas, even of them there was one who had a devil.
“Will ye also go away?” or, “Do you desire to go away also?” Are you ready to leave Me? Have I told you more than you are ready to perceive? Do you want to go away? And then Peter speaks up—and we think of him as being so rash and speaking up out of place and yet so many times he speaks up in such earnestness and faith that our hearts rejoice. How ready he was to speak out in Caesarea Philippi. And then he answered and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou has the words of eternal life.” As much as to say, “There is no one that we can go to, we can’t turn to the sages of old or to the scribes. They cannot give us what you have given.” Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Oh, hear it dear friends! No one but Jesus can give us the knowledge of God. As you trust Him, as you receive Him and feed upon this living bread, you shall have life eternal.
But now Jesus looks compassionately upon the twelve and He knows of the eleven that are genuine and He knows of the one that is not real. And He says, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil (or is sold out to Satan).” What privileges and opportunities they had and yet one of them had never opened his heart to the truth. What a terrible thing! Dear friends, I wonder if there is anyone like that here today. You profess to be a Christian and yet all through the years Jesus has never been to you a Saviour from sin. You have never definitely united your soul to Him. You have never bowed before God as a repentant sinner. Oh, I beg of you, before your doom is sealed and you have to share the fate of Judas, I beg of you, come to His feet, confessing your sin and guilt. Judas never came. Judas never received the word, so at last he went to his own place in everlasting darkness.
“He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.” Judas was one of those who kept company with Him so intimately through the years but he will be separated from Him for eternity. Oh, God give us to be genuine, to feed upon the living Bread that cometh down from heaven.