Jesus Is the Bread of Life and Living Water
John 6:25–59; 7:37–39
John 6:34–40; 7:37–39
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Identify the hunger and thirst that Jesus meets.
2. Discuss how the Holy Spirit is a “river of living water” in our lives.
3. Interview a spiritually mature Christian to discover how Christ meets that person’s spiritual and emotional needs.
How to Say It
Judas Iscariot. JOO-dus Iss-CARE-ee-ut.
Moses. MO-zes or MO-zez.
Pharaoh. FAIR-o or FAY-roe.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Jan. 15—May Christ Dwell Within (Ephesians 3:14–21)
Tuesday, Jan. 16—Do Not Be Afraid (John 6:16–21)
Wednesday, Jan. 17—Jesus, the Heavenly Bread (John 6:25–34)
Thursday, Jan. 18—I Am the Bread of Life (John 6:35–40)
Friday, Jan. 19—Sustained by Living Bread (John 6:41–51)
Saturday, Jan. 20—Sing for Joy (Isaiah 49:7–13)
Sunday, Jan. 21—Living Water (John 7:37–41)
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.”
Why Teach this Lesson?
Food and water are basic. But people who have plenty of both don’t think about them much. Instead, they turn their hunger and thirst toward luxuries—gadgets such as MP3 players or the latest new sports car. When people focus on such things it can be difficult to redirect their attention to their spiritual needs.
Scripture teaches us that we are to seek that which is truly important: spiritual bread and water. This lesson helps the “hungry learner” see the source of these basic spiritual necessities: Jesus. It also helps those who are distracted by other things to recognize a hunger and thirst that they may be only vaguely aware of.
A. The God Who Is
Exodus 3 records Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush. Before this event Moses had sacrificed his privileged position in the Egyptian government in order to protect one of his Hebrew kinsmen. As a result Moses fled the country (Exodus 2:11–15). He became a shepherd. One day while tending the sheep on Mount Horeb, he suddenly heard God’s voice speaking from a flaming bush.
God had good news: he would rescue his people after years of suffering and slavery. Moses would have the special privilege of leading the people out of Egypt to the promised land. This would be the fulfillment of God’s ancient covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:18–20). One can easily understand why Moses was shocked by this information (especially from a bush!). He questioned his own ability to fulfill the task. He pointed out that his name carried no weight with Pharaoh or the Jews. He was certain that he lacked the skills needed for the job. God assured him that he would empower him.
Moses also raised another significant problem. The Hebrews had lived in Egypt for centuries, and the Egyptians worshiped many gods. Over the course of time, the Hebrews had been exposed to this corrupt practice. They would therefore want to know which “god” Moses was talking about.
God replied “This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’ ” (Exodus 3:14). In other words: “Tell them that the one God who actually exists—the one ‘who is’—sent you to deliver them.”
This one-and-only God delivered the Hebrews from Egypt. He continues to work through his people to reveal himself to the world.
B. Lesson Background
In the Gospel of John, we notice Jesus making frequent statements about himself that involve God’s sacred name, I Am. For the sake of convenience, we can call these “the ‘I am’ sayings.”
These sayings form an important distinctive in John among the four Gospels. For those interested in statistics, Greek “I am” is used 5 times in Matthew, 3 times in Mark, 4 times in Luke, but 30 times in John. If we take off the “am” part and just consider how often Jesus refers to himself as “I” in an authoritative way, then the occurrences are 29 times in Matthew, 17 times in Mark, 23 times in Luke, but 134 times in John!
These sayings take two forms. We will explore both forms in our lessons over the next several weeks. The first form occurs when Jesus simply applies God’s divine name, I Am, directly to himself. He does this to stress his complete union with the Father (John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19). For those interested in technical things, this is known as the absolute use of I am.
The second form occurs in instances where Jesus uses this phrase to start a sentence in which he compares himself to something else. Some examples are “I am the vine” and “I am the good shepherd.” Technically speaking these I am statements are said to have explicit predicates.
Jesus’ I am remarks in our passage today follow John’s account of the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 (John 6:1–13). Impressed with his power, the people sought to make Jesus king. Perhaps they hoped that he would lead them in a revolution against the Romans. To avoid this Jesus first withdrew to a mountain (v. 15), then to Capernaum (vv. 16–25). But the crowds found him anyway. When they did Jesus advised them not to focus on the bread that they had eaten but rather on food that is eternal (vv. 26, 27).
I. Feasting on the Bread (John 6:34–40)
A. Who Jesus Is (vv. 34, 35a)
34, 35a. “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.
The manna in Moses’ day was food for the body (see John 6:31, 32). Rather than focusing on this kind of nourishment, Jesus’ hearers need to receive “the bread of God” that “comes down from heaven and gives [eternal] life” (John 6:33). Of course Jesus’ hearers want to eat this bread. So they ask Jesus to give it to them.
What Do You Think?
How can the example of Jesus help Christians deal with the temptations that accompany popularity and power?
Clearly, however, Jesus’ audience does not understand fully that Jesus himself is the source of eternal life. Jesus uses an I am saying to show that he is superior to the old covenant. While Moses fed people bread in the wilderness, and while this was an incredible miracle of God, none of the people who ate that physical bread lived forever as a result of ingesting it. Jesus, by contrast, is the bread of life. The phrase of life has important implications, as we see next.
We often refer to bread as “the staff of life.” In our current culture with all the concern about carbohydrates, perhaps that is not as true as it once was.
But in first-century Palestine, bread was a crucial ingredient in the daily diet. The average family had meat only three times a month—it simply was too expensive. People subsisted on milk, cheese, vegetables, and bread. Of these, bread was probably the most important. Wheat flour for making bread was expensive. So most people ate bread made from barley (notice that in John 6:9 Jesus fed the 5,000 from barley loaves).
The Egyptians were the first to discover the effect of yeast spores in raising the dough. The result was a softer, lighter bread that most people considered a major improvement over the previously flat, unleavened loaves. The Egyptians were also the first to build ovens for baking bread; this was an improvement over baking in the open air and covering the dough with hot ashes. The importance of bread throughout history is demonstrated by how much attention has been paid trying to improve it!
Comparison to bread is thus a natural way for Jesus to illustrate truth. Throughout the Scriptures bread stands for food in general. “Breaking bread” stands for the entire meal. “Give us today our daily bread” refers to more than merely loaves. When Jesus says he is the bread of life, he is making a major statement to the people of his time and ours. Our souls hunger for spiritual nourishment, and Jesus promises that he is that food. He is the “required daily allowance” in our spiritual diet. —J. B. N.
B. What Jesus Offers (v. 35b)
35b. “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
The bread to which Jesus refers is “living bread” (John 6:51). It’s alive and standing right in front of them. (The two uses of me makes this emphatic.) This kind of bread is most unlike the inanimate manna that God provided through Moses! This bread gives life to those who accept it—to those who believe in Jesus.
Because the bread (Jesus) is eternal, the life that he provides is also eternal. Anyone who believes in him will never be hungry or thirsty again in a spiritual sense because Jesus will satisfy his or her desire for God forever. This too is quite different from the manna that Moses provided, which quickly spoiled (Exodus 16:20).
C. What People Decide (vv. 36, 37)
36. “But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.
At first glance it seems odd that Jesus would say this to people who have just tried to make him king because of the miraculous feeding in John 6:14, 15. The crowd clearly is impressed with Jesus, yet Jesus clarifies that their faith thus far is inadequate. It is not enough simply to believe that Jesus is a prophet or a great teacher; rather, one must accept that his miracles are signs that he is God’s unique Son.
Those standing before Jesus believe that he can feed them with miraculous bread. But they have not yet come to understand his true identity as the one sent from Heaven. They do not grasp that Jesus is so much greater than Moses (compare Hebrews 3:3).
37. “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.
This verse can be perplexing. Jesus seems first to imply that only certain people receive a special, mandatory calling from God to believe in him; then immediately Jesus insists that he will not reject (will never drive away) anyone who chooses to believe.
We can reach a reasonable solution by first recognizing that God knows the future. Through his foreknowledge God is aware of who will and who won’t accept Jesus by their freewill choice. Those whom the Father knows will accept Jesus are the ones whom the Father gives me.
What Do You Think?
The phrase I will never drive away provides great comfort! But at times some may ask, “If that promise is really true, then why did such and such happen to me?” How do you respond?
Jesus’ words thus provide assurance to those who believe—to those who recognize that the one who does miracles is actually God in the flesh. Jesus will never relinquish his love for them (us!). As Paul says, nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:37–39).
D. What the Father Wants (vv. 38–40)
38. “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that the example and teaching of Christ can help you assess the will of God for your life?
Jesus now returns to a theme that we have seen several times in this series: he does not come to do his own will, but God’s will. In this context doing God’s will relates very specifically to his mission of providing eternal life to all who accept him. This mission is explained in more detail in the next two verses.
39. “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
The idea of “losing” refers to the separation of a believer from Christ and, consequently, from the eternal life that Jesus provides. In Jesus’ great prayer in chapter 17, he will stress that he has protected his disciples so that none of them was “lost”except Judas, who betrayed him. But even that case wasn’t really an exception (in the sense of Jesus failing at his task) since Judas Iscariot was “doomed to destruction” by his own choice (John 17:12; compare 6:70, 71).
Jesus’ assurance will be of great comfort as churches are persecuted for their Christian faith (John 16:1–4). Such persecutions can create fear and discouragement. But Jesus reminds us that these experiences do not affect his love for us or our ultimate safety in him.
Raise them up refers back to theme of John 5:25–29 (see last week’s lesson). There Jesus assured believers that he would reward their perseverance with eternal life on the last day. Jesus is able to provide!
A friend of mine who went through medical school told me that many of his classes were like getting a drink from a fire hydrant without being able to spill a drop. I realize that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it points out how much he was required to learn—and lose nothing in the process. I have known only one person in my life who claimed to have a photographic memory. I’m not sure he remembered absolutely everything he had ever read but his memory was awesome, particularly for trivia.
I heard once that when Mozart was only about eight years old, he attended a concert and was fascinated by a ten-minute piece he had heard. Having heard it only once, he then went home and proceeded to write it out—every note for every instrument. He went back the next day to hear the piece again just to be sure he had transcribed it accurately. He had—every note for every instrument. How incredible to remember everything after just one hearing, and not lose a single note!
Jesus said that out of everything the Father had given to him, he would lose nothing. If humans can mentally remember vast amounts of information and lose nothing in the process, it should not be surprising that Jesus is able to do much the same thing with all the responsibilities the Father has given to him. We can be sure that our lives and our souls are safe in his hands. —J. B. N.
40. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
While many people do not accept Christ, this does not reflect on God’s will for them. John 3:16, 17 stresses that God loved the world and sent his Son to save the world. This is clear evidence of his desire for all people to have everlasting life.
Regrettably, however, many people reject this gift and refuse to accept Jesus’ offer. Jesus thus challenges his audience to see past the miracle of the bread itself and realize what the miracle points to: he is God’s only Son.
II. Drinking from the River (John 7:37–39)
A. Come and Drink (vv. 37, 38)
37, 38. On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
Visual for Lesson 8
Point to this refreshing waterfall imagery as you introduce the question at the conclusion on page 188.
The Feast in question here is the great Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Jesus has been impressing the crowds with his teaching during this feast. On each day of this celebration, a group of priests carries buckets of water from the pool of Siloam to the temple. There they pour the water on the altar as an offering while reciting Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.”
Jesus uses this ceremony as a symbol of the new life that is available to those who believe in him. This feast lasts seven days, with a closing assembly on the eighth day (Leviticus 23:33–36). The phrase On the last and greatest day of the Feast could refer to either the seventh or the eighth day—we’re not certain.
Another uncertainty is the possibility of interpreting these verses in two different ways. Jesus begins with an invitation for those who thirst for God to come to him and be filled. The way our English text is punctuated suggests that the person who drinks from Jesus (that is, the one who believes in him) will then become a source of living water. This rendering appeals to verse 39, making Jesus’ words a promise of the indwelling Spirit: every believer will have the Holy Spirit as an inner spring of life.
Some say, however, that the period in verse 37 should not come after and drink but after come to me. Without getting too technical about English and Greek sentence structure, this view promotes Jesus to be the source of the water; it emphasizes his unique authority to give the Spirit to those who accept him. This interpretation makes Jesus the source of the Spirit that gives life to those who believe.
We should not be too concerned with the differences in these two possibilities. In either case Jesus emphasizes the fact that the spiritual water that he provides is living. The Spirit that Jesus gives is active in the life of the believer.
The Scripture that Jesus has in mind could be Isaiah 58:11: “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
Most of us live in areas where water is abundant. When I was a youngster, our neighborhood did not have city water; each house had its own shallow well that supplied all its water needs. The water had a high iron content that soon stained drinking glasses orange—but at least we had water.
Not everyone is so fortunate. Areas of California face water shortages. Much of the Central Valley of California was unable to sustain agriculture until canals brought water from the snow packs in the Sierras. When I lived in California a number of years ago, we often had to endure water rationing.
An abundance of water does not guarantee a lack of thirst, however. Those stranded at sea know this all too well. As The Rime of the Ancient Mariner has it, “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” Trying to drink seawater is a big mistake. The high salt content of seawater will leach water out of a person’s internal organs. Then the thirst gets worse rather than better.
Desert areas are also dangerous. People who live in the Near East are familiar with the acute need for water. Witness the fame of an “oasis.” Therefore when Jesus said that he could relieve the thirst of anyone who needed a drink, they understood the significance of the imagery.
Yet Jesus was talking about a spiritual thirst rather than a physical one. People might misunderstand what he really was talking about, as did the woman at the well in John 4. Is our comprehension any better than those who originally heard Jesus’ words? —J. B. N.
B. Promise of the Spirit (v. 39)
39. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Jesus’ glorification refers to his forthcoming death and resurrection. In John 14:15–19 Jesus promises the disciples that the Spirit will come to take his place as their Comforter after his death.
The Spirit will act as the ongoing source of power and authority for the church as a whole and for individual believers. He will bring to mind Jesus’ promises so that his followers may enjoy peace in the face of trial (John 14:25–27). In this way Jesus continues to provide for our needs long after he leaves this world. We enjoy this comfort until his return!
What Do You Think?
In what ways have you found the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence to be an encouragement in living the Christian life?
In times past, and in many countries yet today, bread and water was the food of criminals. Prisoners and captives in wartime were kept barely alive on a sustenance diet of minimal amounts of these two. This fact reflects, however, the essential role that bread and water play in human life: they are things that we must have to survive. Human beings can live a long, long time on only air, bread, and water.
In our passages for today, Jesus uses bread and water figuratively to stress that he provides everything essential for our spiritual lives. When we need to know God’s will, we look to the one who “came down from heaven”; when we seek strength and guidance, his Spirit refreshes us with “living water.” And unlike physical bread and water, we never grow tired of the heavenly food that Jesus gives us. It tastes new and exciting every day.
But how do we communicate these facts to an unbelieving world? Bread is viewed with disdain by the low-carbohydrate diet plans. Bread is hardly a centerpiece of meals in the industrialized West. Many people let the bread sit untouched in a basket off to the side of the table when they go to a restaurant. We may even caution ourselves “don’t fill up on bread” before the main course arrives. The bread that most of us ingest these days seems to come in the form of pizza crusts.
Water imagery also causes problems. On the one hand pure, bottled water is all the rage in some quarters. This value enhances the image of Jesus as living water. On the other hand, we also see television commercials by companies selling sports drinks that attack the adequacy of water. They say we should buy their products instead, so we don’t miss out on electrolytes, etc. Soft drinks also attract our attention from every vending machine we see. Water did not have this kind of competition back in the first century AD!
Jesus spoke with images that were vital to the people of his day. It is not our prerogative to change that imagery (as in “I am the pizza crust of life”). Our task, rather, is to explain that imagery carefully. The Scripture will come alive when we do! This honors God.
What Do You Think?
How do you intend to use the images of hunger and thirst to communicate the gospel in the twenty-first century?
Thought to Remember
Christ is the source of everything that we should long for.
Lord, help us never forget that you already have met all of our spiritual needs through Christ. Give us strength as we feed on the bread and water that you have provided. We ask for your forgiveness for those times when we have not been satisfied with what Christ provides. In Jesus’ name, amen.